Discussion on the Urgent Debate on Syria
REMIGUISZ A. HENCZEL, President of the Human Rights Council, said the Council would now take a decision with regard to the request to hold an urgent debate on "the deteriorating situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic and the recent killings in Al Qusayr". A decision had been made to hold it on Wednesday, 29 May, at 12 p.m. It would follow the format of regular Human Rights Council debates with a reduced speaking time of two minutes.
Venezuela said that it had asked for an extension of time to deal with this issue and called the decision to hold the urgent debate on Wednesday “irrational”, especially as a discussion with the so-called commission of inquiry on Syria would also be held. However, Venezuela said it would attend the debate due to the importance of the issue. It added that it did not believe the debate would not be dominated by politicized motives and double standards. In pressing ahead with this debate the Human Rights Council had jeopardized its credibility.
General Debate on the Update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Russia said that social protection was an obligation of Governments despite the economic crisis and its Government was doing all it could in this direction. Russia shared the alarm of the High Commissioner on the turn toward xenophobia as an effect of economic pressure, something that recalled the historical context of World War II, and said that it was in favour of the strengthening of Governments’ rights to counter extremism and “anti-facism”. Russia supported the closure of Guantanamo. Russia also stressed the right of internal actors to deal with the Syrian situation. It would resist the developing trend of external actors to deal with the deterioration of human rights in Syria as a threat to the stability of the whole region, and said that there was broad international consensus behind this position.
Algeria said that it was deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Syria and believed that the crisis should be resolved through political dialogue in order to allow all segments of the Syrian society to enjoy their human rights. The international community should take urgent action to put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people. Algeria also said that the issue of ransom paid for the release of hostages taken by terrorists was a serious issue and the international community must take urgent action to deal effectively with that problem.
Norway commended the High Commissioner on her work and called on the international community to take action in order to stop the escalating bloodshed and suffering in Syria. Norway urged the Council to live up to its responsibilities by adopting a resolution which would pave the way for a negotiated solution to the conflict. Norway remained particularly concerned about systemic and structural discrimination and violence faced by women human rights defenders and by those working on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Paraguay said that the High Commissioner’s annual report demonstrated that urgent action needed to be taken in areas where human rights continued to be violated. Paraguay had been developing policies with a specific timeframe and with quantifiable human rights components both in the social and political arena, and those efforts had already started to bear fruit. It stressed that priority should be given to the human rights of migrants, which needed to be consolidated. Paraguay would continue to support fully the High Commissioner’s work.
Turkey said that the international community had a moral duty to respond to the tragic situation in Syria and that was why an urgent debate on the situation in Al Qusayr was called for. The recent decision of Myanmar to impose a two-child limit on Rohingya Muslims added insult to injury; it was a shameful episode of discrimination that had to be brought to an end. The agony of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons required attention and the expanding settlements remained a major obstacle to the revitalisation of the peace process.
Syria utterly denounced the stark bias exercised by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in addressing the situation in Syria, particularly with regards to events in Al Qusayr, which were tied to rebels that were supported and armed by Qatar and Turkey. Syria challenged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and its team which convinced the High Commissioner of the flagrant allegations made. This set a serious precedent which drove Syria to be convinced that there would be no point in trying to change the biased position of the Office.
Sri Lanka said that the lack of financial independence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also led to disproportionate attention being paid to country-specific action in the Council which selectively targeted some countries, while situations, rights violations and restrictive practices in other parts of the world that warranted more urgent and immediate attention and action remained conveniently ignored. The ill-conceived resolution on Sri Lanka lacked legitimacy and credibility, was completely unwarranted, and was as such rejected by Sri Lanka.
China said that it supported the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office. China respected the independent path chosen by peoples of each country towards the protection of human rights on their own terms, including with respect to Syria. Economic protection was a part of human rights protection and China supported this sentiment. China said that the fight against terrorism should not undermine national sovereignty; it was a goal that all nations should pursue. The fight against terrorism should respect the human rights of citizens.
Jordan said that the tragedy unfolding in Syria was a source of great concern for the international community and that Jordan was in direct contact with the suffering of the Syrian people due to fraternal and geographical ties with that country. Jordan was putting all the resources it could into the support of Syrians. Jordan agreed with the High Commissioner that the Israeli occupation power was continuing with its human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories, denying the Palestinian people their right to self determination and setting up its independent State. Israel’s settlement building policy and its arrests and deliberate killings among others were policies against international law, international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
Tunisia expressed its concern for Palestinians. It stressed that all possible support should be given to those whose human rights were threatened by economic crisis and the subsequent danger of xenophobia. Tunisia reiterated its concern to move forward with its own programme for the improvement of human rights and legal reform but asked for understanding with regard to the difficulties of a post-revolutionary reform agenda. It thanked fraternal countries for monetary support in the establishment of a country office of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Tunisia.
South Africa stressed that human rights were universal, indivisible and interrelated, and reiterated its call on all States to fulfill their obligation to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms. South Africa expressed concern about the situation in Syria and said that a solution should be found through a negotiated settlement involving an inclusive and meaningful dialogue among all parties. South Africa noted that the global financial crisis had had a negative impact on the fulfillment and enjoyment of the human rights of vulnerable and marginalized persons.
Cuba said that xenophobia and discrimination were worrying phenomena with manifestations around the world, particularly in Europe and in the United States. Cuba supported the quest for a political solution in Syria which would fully respect the sovereignty of the country. It also condemned the use of the detention centre in Guantanamo and the use of armed drones and extrajudicial executions around the world. The issue of the continuing blockade against Cuba for several decades should be addressed.
Holy See expressed concern about ongoing violations of the right to freedom of religion in general and more specifically about attacks on Christian communities. In some Western countries where there had been a strong Christian presence, there was a tendency to marginalize Christianity in the public life, to ignore historic and social contributions, and even to restrict the ability of faith communities to carry out social charitable events. The Holy See stressed that the Catholic Church was carrying out important services to humanity around the world without any distinction of religion or race.
Iran said that sadly Israel continued to kill innocent Palestinians with impunity. Iran also noted the United States’ failure to close Guantanamo as this was a serious breach of international law. The High Commissioner was encouraged to look into the impact of armed drones on civilians. Iran condemned any act of violence but said there was no military solution to the conflict in Syria, no alterative to a political solution, and a negotiated settlement with inclusive dialogue among all parties was needed.
Iraq said that it shared the concerns of the High Commissioner about the high number of victims that was caused by lawlessness in conflict. Iraq supported putting an end to these phenomena. An enquiry was underway by the Parliamentary Commission to investigate the problems that gave rise to the Al-Rega incident, and the independence of this Commission would be ensured.
Belgium urged all States to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Procedures. Independence was an essential precondition for the effective carrying out of the High Commissioner’s mandate. Belgium could be counted on to support this independence. It was a major challenge to ensure adequate funding of the Office and Belgium would actively contribute to thinking on this topic within all the relevant United Nations bodies.
Nepal said that the economic and social rights of everybody were a top priority in the poorest parts of the world and that legislative protections were the goals of human rights. In March an Interim Election Council of Ministers was set up in Nepal with a task of organizing an election; the Government was committed to holding an election in November in order to complete a transition to democracy, and it said the understanding of the international community with regard to this endeavour was important.
United Kingdom said that it supported all points made by the High Commissioner in her report, especially her concern about women’s rights. The United Kingdom had taken initiatives in this direction with the belief that tackling the issue of sexual violence was an indispensible component of conflict prevention and peace building worldwide. The Government was reviewing its responsibilities toward the protection of human rights in the United Kingdom in light of the Woolwich murder which it was treating as a terror act.
Honduras said that it shared the High Commissioner’s concerns about the challenges to human rights worldwide but also in particular the urgency of the Syrian situation. It supported the call for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court and recognized and endorsed the focus of the Office on the protection of human rights defenders and civil society.
Myanmar said that there was a discrepancy between the concerns expressed by other States about Myanmar and the actual situation on the ground. Media had fabricated allegations about the Government being involved in the riots which had recently broken out in the country, which was not at all true. Myanmar had not used force and the State constitution guaranteed the right of all citizens to express freely their religious beliefs. All perpetrators of violence would be prosecuted and adequate measures had been taken to ensure that no violent incidents occurred.
Morocco said that the measures taken to counter the global financial crisis had had an impact on fundamental human rights and had hit vulnerable populations in developing countries particularly hard. Xenophobia had been aggravated because of the crisis and migrant workers had become the scapegoat in certain countries. Morocco underlined that non-governmental organizations played an important role in promoting and protecting human rights. Concerning the situation in Syria, the international community should find a lasting and peaceful solution to the crisis.
Belarus said that several European countries such as Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic had failed fully to investigate allegations concerning the illegal and secret detention and transportation of citizens. The European Union authorities were pushing populations to poverty by taking devastating measures in response to the financial crisis. Belarus noted the deterioration of the situation of migrant workers and called upon the High Commissioner to provide an analysis of the causes which had led migrant workers to resort to extreme ways of protest, for example in Sweden.
Council of Europe said that while the Council of Europe promoted human rights in the European context, it also recognised that these rights were fundamentally and substantially the same for everyone, everywhere. It had therefore participated in the worldwide efforts of human rights promotion by offering its decade-long experiences, methods, procedures and conventions which had proven to be effective in Europe, and which it was hoped would be useful for other regions as well.
Uzbekistan emphasized the importance of the Universal Periodic Review in which Member States of the United Nations took an active part, and highlighted the active and important role that was played by the recent series of recommendations. Uzbekistan had adopted a national plan of action to implement recommendations made and it was now looking at the second report on Uzbekistan.
Mexico said that it was alarming to see the level of violations of human rights of the Syrian population in an indiscriminate fashion and all perpetrators had to be held accountable. The documentation of violations should continue. The international economic crisis had generated a restriction of human rights and all States were suffering from the effects of the recession. However, there were no circumstances that could justify the restriction of fundamental rights.
Nigeria called on both sides in Syria to lay down arms and begin talks. It supported the initiative of a fact-finding mission to the Central African Republic and hoped it would be successful. Nigeria shared the High Commissioner’s concern about the treatment of minorities and migrants all over the world and that extremism and xenophobia in some European countries was identifying scapegoats for economic problems.
Movement contre le racisme et pour l’amitie entre les peuples said that the undermining of non-governmental organizations posed not only a threat to human rights protection but to the very lives of human rights defenders; it levelled its criticism at Morocco and called for a fact-finding team to be sent to Western Sahara.
Amnesty International welcomed the High Commissioner’s attention to Guantanamo and supported President Obama’s latest statement on the matter. The United States had put a man on the moon so it could close Guantanamo.
United Nations Watch said that the international human rights movement must not appease prejudice. A person who advocated violence against peace should never be celebrated as a model human rights activist, especially when the future of a whole people was at stake.
International Service for Human Rights said that the killing of independent journalists in Sri Lanka, the enactment of “homosexual propaganda laws” in Ukraine, and restrictions on access to foreign funding for non-governmental organizations in Russia, Ethiopia and Egypt were examples of a worrying new trend targeting civil society. It was imperative that States closed the gap between what was reported in Geneva and what actually happened on the ground.
Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik said that it remained deeply concerned about the growing conflict and the bloodshed in Syria, which had mainly caused civilians to suffer. Also, crimes against humanity were conducted on an ongoing basis in the Kahrizak detention centre in Tehran. The upcoming elections in Iran were unlikely to be free and the country suffered from poor governance, which had placed unnecessary pressure on the Iranian people.
World Muslim Congress said that despite advancement to combat impunity and to ensure accountability there were still far too many people that escaped justice for serious crimes. The situation in the Occupied Jammu and Kashmir had not received the attention of the High Commissioner in her update, which was of concern.
France Libertes: Fondation Danielle Mitterrand submitted to the attention of the High Commissioner the very serious and repeatedly raised issue of Ashraf and presently Camp Liberty refugees and appealed to her to take any action within her power and mandate to protect the rights of the refugees and proceed to a badly needed in-depth re-evaluation of the whole process.
International Human Rights Association of American Minorities referred to the situation in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir where impunity for the violations of the most basic human rights was occurring. Time and again this situation had failed to get the attention of the High Commissioner. The Association shared the views expressed by the High Commissioner about the reprisals and threats to human rights defenders.
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network commended the High Commissioner for her concern for the possibility of increasing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and the effect that the economic crisis had on such marginalized groups. It thanked her for her support for a conference in Oslo last month.
Clustered Dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Health and the Rights of Migrants
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (A/HRC/23/41); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Azerbaijan (A/HRC/23/41/Add.1), an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Tajikistan (A/HRC/23/41/Add.2); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Japan on the report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/23/41/Add.3); an addendum to the report concerning the comments by Azerbaijan on the report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/23/41/Add.4); and an addendum to the report concerning the comments by Japan on the report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/23/41/Add.5).
The Council has before it the Study of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (A/HRC/23/42).
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (A/HRC/23/46); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Tunisia (A/HRC/23/46/Add.1); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Turkey (A/HRC/23/46/Add.2); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Italy (A/HRC/23/46/Add.3); a corrigendum to the addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Italy (A/HRC/23/46/Add.3/Corr.1); an addendum to the report concerning the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Greece A/HRC/23/46/Add.4); an addendum to the report concerning the comments by Greece on the report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/23/46/Add.5); and an addendum to the report concerning the comments by Italy on the report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/23/46/Add.6).
Presentation of the Reports of the Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Health and the Rights of Migrants
ARNAND GROVER, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest standard of physical and mental health, said that he had undertaken country missions to Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Japan. In presenting the results of his thematic reports, the Special Rapporteur said one report focussed on the health of migrant workers. He concluded that this group often faced inequality and discrimination in accessing healthcare, thus leading to reduced health outcomes. States should extend social and health protections to this group. Migrants were also prone to draconian immigration policies, detention and deportations due to a perceived health risk or their legal status. This created a “vicious circle” of the negation of rights and poor health outcomes that was untenable. The second report looked at access to medicines. The Special Rapporteur identified the need for a paradigm shift away from the market to ensure non-discriminatory access to medicines. Political will and a coherent policy framework was needed to underpin this shift, as well as price-controls enacted by States. For various political, economic and cultural reasons such medicines as those needed to treat mental and sexual health were often made difficult to access. A number of logistic and infrastructure weaknesses were identified that made these problems worse and a number of suggestions for good practice were made. States were encouraged to become more transparent in their inspection regimes with regard to the efficacy and availability of medicines.
During a visit to Azerbaijan to assess tuberculosis in the country, the Special Rapporteur identified some progress with regard to drinking water and other infrastructure problems but said that the focus remained too squarely fixed on secondary and tertiary care systems. Prisons were of great concern as tuberculosis was easily spread through the penal system and not enough was being done to combat or understand this.
A visit to Tajikistan also revealed an underdeveloped and underfinanced primary healthcare system with tuberculosis being a prominent problem. The Special Rapporteur said he was pleased the Government had taken his recommendations on board and had prepared an action plan.
With respect to his trip to Japan, the Special Rapporteur said that it was a great challenge given the seriousness of the after-effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident. He praised the Government for certain of its actions in the wake of the accident but identified some limitations in its response. Despite the actions that had been taken an increase in the incidence of cancers could be expected in the future. The lack of transparency in the nuclear industry was also covered by the Special Rapporteur’s report.
FRANCOIS CREPEAU, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said that he had visited both sides of two external European Union borders: Tunisia-Italy and Turkey-Greece. Mr. Crepeau said that it was important to address the issue of irregular border crossings because that was where most human rights abuses appeared to take place. It was regrettable that within the European Union policy context irregular migration was largely viewed as a security concern rather than as a human rights issue. During his visits he had observed that, within the discourse of securitization of migration and border control, the systematic detention of irregular migrants had come to be viewed as a legitimate tool in the context of migration management, despite the lack of any evidence that detention served as a deterrent. Furthermore, in each of the countries visited, Mr. Crepeau said that he had witnessed inadequate procedures for detention, including the failure to respect legal, procedural and substantive guarantees, the detention of persons without prospect of removal, and the detention of children.
Concerning Tunisia, Mr. Crepeau said that he remained concerned that irregular departures were criminalized and that persons charged with that offence were sent to detention facilities. He also noted with concern that many migrants were kept in detention for extensive periods of time without even knowing the charges against them. Nevertheless, Tunisia was making efforts to improve its migration management and collaborated closely with the European Union.
Concerning Turkey, Mr. Crepeau said that he was deeply concerned about the widespread detention of a large number of apprehended migrants in an irregular situation, including families and children. During his visit he observed that there had been an increased prioritization of detention, including plans for the funding of new detention centres in Turkey by the European Union, and noted an insufficient regulation of the reasons for administrative detention of migrants.
Italy had become a key point of entry into the Schengen area. Mr. Crepeau observed a tendency towards a progressive “externalization” of border control through the conclusion of bilateral agreements between Italy and its non-European Union neighbours. He remained particularly concerned that those agreements were often not-transparent and appeared to have minimal human rights safeguards embedded within them. He also learnt of an increasing trend of “pushbacks” to Greece from the Italian coast.
Concerning Greece, he said that many irregular migrants had become stuck in the country as they were prevented from moving on to other European countries due to mechanisms at the European Union level. He expressed concern at Greece’s new policy of systematically detaining all irregular migrants detected on Greek soil. The detention conditions in the facilities he visited were inappropriate, and the detainees had limited ability to contact their families, limited access to legal assistance or consular services, and little or no professional interpretation services.
Statements by Concerned Countries
Azerbaijan, speaking as a concerned country, called on all mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council to use existing United Nations terminology with regards to occupied territories and to not insert new terms or expressions. The Government of Azerbaijan had increased its budget for health significantly. A number of comprehensive national programmes had been carried out against non-communicable diseases. Significant measures had been taken in the last six years to prevent the import of non-registered drugs in the country. Entities for control of food safety had been provided with the appropriate materials required, and financial funds had been fixed for the fight against tuberculosis.
Tajikistan, speaking as a concerned country, said that it was not in agreement with the data in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the prevalence and mortality related to tuberculosis in the country. Unfortunately, the calculations provided by its services had not been taken into account. Over the past year a number of events had been carried out to improve cooperation and services provided to migrants in the country to ensure their constant access to diagnosis and treatment in Tajikistan as well as in host countries. Tajikistan was also attempting to cut down on the stigma faced by those suffering with tuberculosis and was taking measures to provide for goods and services that supported the maintenance of mental health. It had developed a plan of action to address all shortcomings in the area of health.
Japan, speaking as a concerned country, said that since the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 it had made earthquake recovery a priority issue. The Government recognised that the health management of the residents affected by the situation involving Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station was of great importance and in that respect it had been working to address their health management while respecting both the latest findings of medical experts and international standards. During the drafting of the Special Rapporteur’s report Japan had provided comments to clarify misunderstandings of the facts from scientific or legal viewpoints but there remained areas of the report in which these explanations were not accurately reflected. Japan refused to be simply satisfied with the status quo and was committed to perpetual improvement.
European Union, speaking as a concerned party, said it was firmly committed to the human rights of migrants in transit or in destination countries and welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s assessment of its external border policies and its legislative systems. Border management was nevertheless only one way to manage this issue, and there were other instruments within the European Union system that ensured protections. Therefore the European Union did not share the Special Rapporteur’s assessment that the treatment of migrants had become a matter of security policy, it was rather a matter accounted for by European Union-wide rights laws. The European Union also regretted the Special Rapporteur’s criticism of the Mobility Partnership mechanism.
Tunisia, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s visit and took note of his recommendations. The geography of Tunisia had made it a centre of migration throughout history and put migration policy at the centre of the Tunisian Government’s activities. Thanks to the Libyan Revolution the pressure of migration flows had meant a greater concentration of efforts in this area with the aid of such organizations as the International Committee of the Red Cross and others. Since the Tunisian Revolution a migration body had been set up to manage the task and reform the legal framework. Although this was in a process of reform Tunisia pointed out to the Special Rapporteur that there was indeed some legal protection afforded to migrants under current legislation. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had established an office in Tunisia and it continued to work with the international community. The Special Rapporteur was in error in his identification of a particular case, cited in the report. Tunisia continued to adhere to the principles of migration policy set out in international norms.
Turkey, speaking as a concerned country, said that it was widely agreed that Turkey had become both a transit and destination country for migrants. It welcomed the report’s acknowledgement of a new law with respect to migrants. The law indicated Turkey’s commitment to European Union standards in migration policy without reducing it to a security perspective. Turkey maintained its commitment to the Geneva Conventions and other international instruments with regard to migrants and entered into this matter in the spirit of cooperation. Turkey expressed regret that the Special Rapporteur criticized the wording of certain laws which in any case needed to be seen in action before valid criticism could be made. Burden-sharing with the European Union was important, and Turkey welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s praise of Turkey’s response to the flows of Syrian refugees across its borders. Turkey was a longstanding member of international bodies with migration concerns, and was concerned by some of the wording of the report with regard to its policy toward migrants from Africa.
Right of Reply
Morocco, speaking in a right of reply, said that it usually abstained from replying to statements made by non-governmental organizations, whose work it respected. On this occasion, however, Morocco wished to reply to a statement made by Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples, which had been exclusively and impartially focusing its attention on Morocco for a number of years. Its claims were delegitimized by the hatred which it had shown towards Morocco. The organization undermined the role of non-governmental organizations fighting for human rights in an impartial manner with its behaviour.
Romania, speaking in a right of reply, said that it remained attached to law and democratic institutions and that, contrary to Belarussian allegations, there were no indications that there were detention centres in Romania or that the country’s airports had been used for the illegal transportation of detainees.
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