Week Three of the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council

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Week Three of the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council

Country specific and thematic deliberations continued throughout the final week of the session. In addition, a panel discussion on democracy, human rights and the rule of law was implemented with representatives from civil society, governments and the UN. Thursday and Friday were dedicated to adoptions of Council resolutions and statements as well as appointments of Special Procedures mandate holders.

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Panel Discussion on Democracy and rule of law from a human right perspective

In her opening remarks, United Nations High Commissioner for human Rights Ms. Navi Pillay, said that rule of law and human rights are integral parts of any functioning democracy and must be recognized as interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Like human rights, the core values of democracy are universal and have been encapsulated in binding human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, she said. Furthermore, central in the nexus of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are accountability and transparency. Whether it concerns governing institutions or measures to combat adverse human rights actions, these concepts must be effectively put in place to safeguard citizens against abuse of power.

Moderated by BBC’s Imogen Foulkes, the panel consisted of representatives from civil society, governments and UNESCO. Mr Podgorean, Secretary of State for Political Analysis and Relations with Parliament of Romania,underscored the key role that a strong civil society and media outlets free from censorship must be allowed to play especially in developing democracies. He called on the Council to boost the efforts of Member States with regards to international cooperation in the field of human rights, democracy and rule of law.

Recognizing that various types of democracy exist depending on political, economic, social and cultural perspectives, Vice President of Arab Parliament, League of the Arab States Al-Mannai, identified State leaders as the chief impediment for democracy. She recommended training of political and religious leaders as well as the media in the field of human rights to promote mutual respect and ensure fair and equal treatment of all people. Such an approach would fight intellectual extremism through open dialogue and strengthen trust among people.

Mr. Helgesen,Secretary-General of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistanc eexpressed the need for a stronger emphasis on the link between States’ international human rights commitments and democracy at the national level. He raised the integrity of elections as a key tool on which to build and consolidate democracy and called on States to enhance the role of democracy, human rights and rule of law in the post-2015 development agenda.

Outcomes of the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council
The Council adopted 28 votes, some through a vote. Summaries of selected resolutions can be found below:

Right to Education
Portugal submitted a resolution on right to education. It was deeply concerned about the fact that, according to UNESCO, the MDG on education is unlikely to be met in many countries and stressed the unique role that education has in achieving other MDGs. The resolution calls upon States to take all measures to implement Council resolutions related to this issue and invites all stakeholders to increase efforts to achieve the goal of Education for All by 2015.
The resolution was adopted by consensus.  

Combating human trafficking in supply chains of businesses
Germany and the Philippines submitted a resolution on trafficking in persons, especially women and children. The resolution recognizes that human trafficking of persons in supply chains is a major challenge that needs to be addressed in various economic sectors. It calls upon States to ratify and implement relevant UN legal instruments and encourages businesses to take an active part in tackling this issue.
The resolution was adopted without a vote.

Access to medicines
A resolution on access to medicines in the context of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health was put forward by a number of States including Brazil, India and Gabon on behalf of the Group of African States. They highlighted the importance of focusing on local production, availability and affordability of essential medicines and transfer of technology to promote universal health coverage. The resolution stresses the responsibility of States to ensure access to medicines that are affordable, safe, efficacious and of quality. The US highlighted that access to medicines is a very complex issue and that a solution must be first identified at national levels. The EU stated that access to medicines had adequately been addressed by the Council through past resolutions and pointed out the need to avoid duplication. Both the USA and EU Member States therefore abstained from voting.
The resolution was adopted with 31 votes in favor and 16 abstentions. 

Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women: preventing and responding to rape and other forms of sexual violence.
The resolution was introduced by Canada who pointed to its importance in raising awareness about the long term mental and physical consequences for women affected by violence and its renewal for the mandate of the SR for 3 further years. The resolution furthermore urges states to publicly condemn rape and sexual violence against women and children at the highest levels, to engage all segments of society in prevention efforts, to educate, engage and encourage men and boys to take responsibility for their behavior and to measure effective policies and programs to prevent sexual violence.

While the United States expressed deep concerns of reoccurring incidents of rape in armed conflicts, Switzerland pointed out that the resolution fails to address the root cause of violence against women being gender inequality.The resolution was adopted by consensus. 

Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on internally displaced persons
Austria submitted a resolution on the mandate of the Special Rapporteuron the human rights of internally displaced persons. The resolution aims at extending the mandate for a period ofthree years. It invites the Special Rapporteur to promote effective strategies to provide internally displaced persons and communities with long-term support. It also highlights the need to integrate a gender perspective into the work of the mandate. Moreover, the resolution calls for the creation of national and international legal frameworks to protect internally displaced persons. The resolution was adopted by consensus.

Situation of human rights in Belarus
Ireland, on behalf of the European Union, submitted a resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus. They expressed concerns about limitations to human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country, especially connected to freedom of expression and opinion, right of assembly and association, use of torture and ill-treatment in custody, lack of transparency in death penalty decisions and lack of guarantees of due process and fair trial. The resolution requests the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Belarus for one year and calls on the Government to fully cooperate in order to facilitate the fulfillment of the mandate. The resolution was adopted with 26 votes in favor, 3 against and 18 abstentions.

Human rights of Migrants
Mexico, in its introducing remarks, outlined the efforts of the resolution to urge states to respect personal rights and liberties of migrants and to use detention only as a last resort. The need to provide medical assistance to migrants and to align language used in migrant policies with human rights principles, by abstaining from characterizing people as “illegal”, are two of the aspects promoted in the resolution.The resolution was adopted by consensus. 

The deterioration of the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic and the need to grant immediate access to the commission of inquiry
Qatar introduced the resolution by highlighting its importance for putting an end to the widespread violations of Human rights and massacres taking place in the Syrian Arab Republic. A special emphasis of the resolution is put on the need for the Syrian government to grant full access to the Commission of Inquiry to the country. In addition, the resolution condemns any involvement of foreign fighters in the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as massacres and Human rights abuses taking place.

It urges the Syrian government to take up its responsibility to protect the Syrian people and the international community to ensure that there is no impunity for violations or abuses of war crimes committed. The resolution was adopted with 9 abstentions and 1 vote against. 

Special Procedures mandate holders
On Friday, the council elected Mr. Suliman Baldo as Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali. Mr. Gustavo Gallón was elected as Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti.

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