HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ADOPTS OUTCOMES OF UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW PROCESS ON SRI LANKA, FRANCE AND TONGA



Human Rights Council
MORNING
13 June 2008



The Human Rights Council this morning adopted the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review process on the reports on Sri Lanka, France and Tonga.

Rajiva Wijesingha, the Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, said that Sri Lanka had voluntarily and in a spirit of openness and cooperation subjected itself to the Universal Periodic Review. Sri Lanka had been the recipient of a record number of recommendations and comments, numbering almost 80. Forty-five interventions and recommendations had been accepted. Eleven others were further discussed and Sri Lanka found itself unable to support 26 others. He noted that they were generally in agreement with a majority of the recommendations which ranged from action against torture to action to prevent the use of child soldiers. Sri Lanka’s commitment to engage with and implement recommendations of treaty bodies and Special Procedures was reiterated.

In the discussion, delegations congratulated Sri Lanka for its participation in the Universal Periodic Review process. They highlighted commitments of Sri Lanka and progress made in the area of child soldiers. They raised concerns regarding the freedom of the press, the independence of the National Human Rights Commission and called for a full investigation of any extrajudicial executions. Observers raised issues pertaining to the rights of children, enforced disappearances, and the need for a presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka.

Speaking during the discussion were the representatives of Denmark, Sweden, Algeria, Canada, Qatar, China, Bahrain, Indonesia and Japan. Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Amnesty International, Interfaith International,. International Educational Development, International Commission of Jurists, International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Asian Legal Resource Centre and International Women’s Rights Action Watch.

Jean-Baptiste Mattei, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that it was a privilege for France to be among the first 32 countries to undergo the Universal Periodic Review. France had supported the idea of the Universal Periodic Review since the beginning. The preparation for the review and the drafting of the national report of France had been the subject of a broad consultation inside the Government and with the civil society. He said France cared for the rights of migrants such as the right to education and the right to equal pay. France was committed to include systematically in their reports to treaty bodies and to the Universal Periodic Review a gender perspective. France was also committed to respect the Durban Deceleration, especially paragraph 101 of the Declaration which recognized the suffering linked to colonialism.

During the discussion, delegations congratulated France for its commitment to human rights and the Universal Periodic Review process. They raised the issues concerning colonialism, migrants, and measures combating terrorism. Observers raised issues relating to prison conditions, the rights of aboriginal peoples in Oceania, and the plight of religious minorities. France was urged to stop the ban on religious symbols.

Speaking during the discussion were the representatives of Qatar, Morocco and Algeria. Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Commission Nationale Consultative des Droites de l’Homme, France, International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action, and the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

Viliami Malolo, Deputy Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Tonga, acknowledged the 34 States which contributed to the Universal Periodic Review of Tonga. The contribution and involvement of States and civil society was important. He noted the sterling work of the Council and other members. He said that the National Report, which was the subject of a review last month, was the bedrock in which broad consultations, with civil society and the business sector, helped to set the tone from other voices from the Pacific to follow. In order to achieve the objectives of the Universal Periodic Review the cooperation and support of the international community was central, and even more for acute States like Tonga.

Delegations during the discussion congratulated Tonga for being the first small island State to undertake the Universal Periodic Review. They noted that Tonga faced many challenges, including not having a representative present in Geneva. Tonga was commended for beginning processes to ratify conventions to which it was not yet a party and for its engagement of civil society. The Human Rights Council was urged to provide the needed support and technical assistance to Tonga.

Speaking during the discussion were the representatives of Algeria, Morocco, the United Kingdom, the Maldives, New Zealand, Switzerland and Qatar. Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Canadian HIV/AIDS, Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action, International Women’s Rights Watch Asia Pacific, and Amnesty International.

The Council will convene again this afternoon at 3 p.m. to consider the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review process on the reports on Romania and Mali.


Consideration of Outcome of Universal Periodic Review for Report on Sri Lanka

RAJIVA WIJESINGHA, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, said that Sri Lanka had voluntarily and in a spirit of openness and cooperation subjected itself to the Universal Periodic Review. Their national report had been welcomed by most delegations in the Working Group. Their candid presentation and open engagement was believed to indicate their firm resolve to constructively discuss critical issues connected with the human rights situation in their country. They had expressed their concerns relating to the reflection of the interactive dialogue in the report of the Working Group and wished to place on record their recommendation that all countries who made interventions were given equal weight when such interventions were recorded in the report. Sri Lanka had been the recipient of a record number of recommendations and comments, numbering almost 80. They had sought to respond to as many of them as possible within the time allotted. Sri Lanka had demonstrated in its commitment to engage with the international community by seriously addressing every one of those interventions. Forty-five interventions and recommendations had been accepted. Eleven others were further discussed and Sri Lanka found itself unable to support 26 others.

Mr. Wijesingha noted that they were generally in agreement with a majority of the recommendations which ranged from action against torture to action to prevent the use of child soldiers. Sri Lanka’s commitment to engage with and implement recommendations of treaty bodies and Special Procedures was reiterated. With regard to further accession to international human rights instruments, Sri Lanka wished to conduct a further study on the implications of participation. They had to focus keener attention to the domestic legislative incorporation and implementation of their existing obligations under the seven core instruments they were already a party to. Close consideration had been given to the 26 recommendations made by countries which could not be supported as reflected in the report. They contained several common features relating to the expanded presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka with a monitoring mandate. Sri Lanka had already made their position very clear in this regard. They had also amply demonstrated their willingness to engage with Special Procedures. They would welcome back the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons later this year for a workshop.

Mr. Wijesingha underlined that Sri Lanka was facing increasingly brutal and vicious atrocities by the LTTE. The Government was steadfast in its determination to defeat the forces of terror. It was reasonable and legitimate to expect understanding and support of their international friends in their endeavours to rid the country of the scourge of terrorism. The Ministry was also taking on the task of preparing a national plan for the promotion and protection of human rights. Significant efforts had also been made in their efforts to train and upgrade their law enforcement machinery. Concerning the victim and witness protection bill, it had been presented to Parliament in June and would be taken up for debate in less than a week.

HANS GRUNNET (Denmark) said that the Sri Lankan Government had accepted 45 recommendations, and unfortunately refused to accept 26 other proposed recommendations. However, the Universal Periodic Review was an ongoing process; therefore they trusted that the Government would positively reconsider its position in the near future. Until such change Denmark found that the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review draft report did not sufficiently provide adequate recommendations. Denmark would have liked a firm recommendation that the Commission of Inquiry at once would be given total independence and the necessary funds, including a protection scheme for victims and witnesses. Of the 17 cases to be investigated only 2, as of March 2008, had moved to the public stage. The last two years had witnessed investigations which had inherent flaws leading to a culture of impunity. Furthermore, a strong recommendation to bring perpetrators to justice was missing in the Universal Periodic Review draft report, as well as to establish an international human rights monitoring mission. (On the points 7, 8, 26-28, 32, 55, 56, 61 and 75), “the lack of political will to support a search for the truth” might have also reflected the unwillingness by the Sri Lankan Government to allow for a presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Sri Lanka. Such an office should have been firmly recommended and accepted in the draft report.

A democracy without a free press and with scary intimidations against those journalists writing about the real human rights situation was a poor democracy, not a vibrant democracy as alleged in the report. The intimidations and killings of journalists must be stopped and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. But no firm recommendation on this existed in the draft Universal Periodic Review report. The Special Rapporteur on torture recommended 25 measures. They asked how many of these would be carried out. Non binding words without a set timetable were easily forgotten without any international observers or follow-up measures in the Council.

KLAS NYMAN (Sweden) welcomed Sri Lanka’s engagement in the Universal Periodic Review process, not least through the comprehensive answers to the written questions and the voluntary commitments made. It also welcomed that Sri Lanka agreed to a large number of recommendations, including Sweden’s recommendation on measures to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for serious human rights crimes such as enforced disappearances and recruitment of child soldiers. Sweden hoped that all of the recommendations would be implemented and followed-up. It regretted the lack of support for many recommendations, including those concerning independent international monitoring and the establishment of a proper presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka. Sweden remained convinced that increased international and independent monitoring would make a significant contribution to improving the human rights situation and the persisting impunity, which continued to give cause for great concern.

IDRISS JAZAIRY (Algeria) commended Sri Lanka for its open and clear cut answers to the questions regarding the Universal Periodic Review. The voluntary commitment made by Sri Lanka to guarantee civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights were encouraged. The efforts of the authorities to organise a regional seminar for parliamentarians and to launch a national human rights awareness campaign were welcomed. Also encouraging were the steps taken to safeguard and advance the rights of children and women. The commitment to restoring democracy and good governance in the newly liberated areas of the country was also welcomed. Politicisation of human rights assessments by some outside sources whenever Sri Lanka was concerned was deplored.

TERRY CORMIER (Canada) restated its strong recommendation that the Government of Sri Lanka allow for a full investigation of all allegations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings and bring the perpetrators to justice. Evidence given during public hearings of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry had implicated members of the security forces in the killing of 17 Action Contre le Faim workers and in the murder of five boys in Trincomalee. Canada strongly recommended that the Government fully support the Commission of Inquiry in determining the facts of these cases and that it take action so that the perpetrators were brought to justice.

Canada reiterated the importance of the Government of Sri Lanka ensuring that the TMVP, and any other groups with which it was affiliated, disarm, release the child soldiers within their ranks, and stop such recruitment. Canada continued to emphasize the importance of Sri Lanka providing for the independence of national human rights protection insititutions. They urged Sri Lanka to accept a presence of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with a full mandate to report on the situation throughout the country.

MANSOUR ABDULLA SALEM AL SULAITIN (Qatar) expressed appreciation to Sri Lanka for its cooperation with the Human Rights Council. Despite the challenges facing the country, Sri Lanka had responded to the Council’s review. Qatar highly valued that Sri Lanka had accepted most of the recommendations. It welcomed Sri Lanka’s commitment to improve its institutional capacity. It welcomed the country’s continued dialogue with the United Nations mechanisms, this with the view of improving human rights at all levels of society. Qatar was pleased that Sri Lanka engaged members of civil society during the Universal Periodic Review process and that it protected human rights workers and humanitarian aid worker. Sri Lanka had shown it was a State concerned with the rule of law. Qatar urged Sri Lanka to continue its reforms.

LI BAODONG (China) said that China appreciated the serious and responsible attitude of the Government of Sri Lanka and its acceptance of most of the recommendations. All knew that Sri Lanka was a country highly affected by terrorism. Despite this, the Government had never given up its efforts to protect and promote human rights and had established a national human rights body. Effective cooperation had also been ongoing with the United Nations. It was hoped that further efforts would be carried out towards the protection of human rights, democracy and good governance. It was also hoped that the international community would continue to provide support to the country.

ABDULLA ABDULLATIF ABDULLA (Bahrain) said that Sri Lanka had presented a valuable intervention in the Universal Periodic Review. Sri Lanka’s efforts in the promotion and protection of human rights had made strides. Their constructive approach during the Universal Periodic Review proved a political will and desire to further developments in human rights. Their commitment to rehabilitate former child soldiers through cooperation with the international community and the acceptance of 45 recommendations and voluntary pledges of 25 more was further based on their commitment to the process. Bahrain supported the adoption of the report on Sri Lanka by the Council.

BENNY YAN PIETER SIAHAAN (Indonesia) commended Sri Lanka for the straightforward and transparent manner in which it answered the questions raised by delegates. Indonesia applauded the Government’s commitment to democracy and good governance. The Government’s strong commitment to this goal was visible through its initiative to implement a National Plan of Action for the promotion and protection of human rights. Indonesia believed that the Government of Sri Lanka should be given ample time to achieve the desired results.

AKIO ISOMATA (Japan) welcomed the commitments made by the Government to address its human rights issues. It was essential for the Government to continue to make maximum efforts to improve the situation, taking into account the concerns of the international community. Japan especially welcomed Sri Lanka’s support of recommendations that it should increase its efforts to further prevent cases of kidnapping, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings and that it should put an end to the culture of impunity. Of concern was that they had not been able to see tangible results so far. Japan reiterated that it expected further efforts by Sri Lanka to improve its human rights situation.

YOLANDA FOSTER, of Amnesty International in a joint statement with Human Rights Watch, welcomed the recommendations to Sri Lanka, in particular to “investigate and prosecute all allegations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings, and bring the perpetrators to justice”. Their prompt and effective implementation was of crucial importance. The rate at which such killings continued was alarming; on 22 May, five persons were shot dead in the Batticaloa area. In May, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions informed the Council that the Government appeared to rely on paramilitary groups to maintain control in the east and that there was evidence that these groups were responsible for extrajudicial executions. Amnesty International welcomed the recommendation that Sri Lanka cooperate actively with the Special Procedures. Given the pattern of disappearances, and the increase in disappearances in May, noted by the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, they urged the Government to set an early date for the visit requested by the Working Group. Sri Lanka must end the current climate of impunity for human rights violations. Amnesty International welcomed the Government’s voluntary commitment to continue a constructive dialogue with the Office of the High Commissioner to strengthen national mechanisms in all aspects.

VISUVALINGHAM KIRVPAHARAN, of Interfaith International, said many States had raised the issue of child recruitment and insisted that this concern was not just for the LTTE but for all factions. It was also necessary to consider other child rights – related to child poverty, labour and sexual abuse. The Universal Periodic Review report failed to mention proposed recommendations in the report and he cited the solution proposed by the Special Rapporteur. Many States had recommended that the independence of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commissioner be strengthened, but the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur went further by suggesting that an internal monitoring body be established and they asserted that the National Human Rights Commission was no longer independent. He also urged that the High Commissioner for Human Rights should have a presence in Sri Lanka.

KAREN PARKER, of International Educational Development, appreciated the many concerns reflected in the report regarding humanitarian law violations but regretted that the process had not resulted in a more detailed evaluation of acts and policies of the Government of Sri Lanka in light of the Geneva Conventions. The recommendations of 16 States related to the armed conflict and the need for an enhanced representation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had not been supported by the Government. Many States had reiterated concerns that the Government had not fully complied with recommendations already made regarding human rights and humanitarian law. In fact, violations were escalating and Sri Lanka’s national human rights institutions did not meet the Paris Principles standards.

LUKAS MACHON, of the International Commission of Jurists, called for prompt implementation of all the Universal Periodic Review recommendations by the Sri Lankan Government. With regards to recommendations no. 2, 3, 14, 17 or 18, the Government must substantially strengthen the regular justice system and agree to re-establish the international monitoring presence. The Council remained concerned with the Sri Lankan Government’s complacent response to mounting criticism of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. The information provided in the Universal Periodic Review dialogue had proved that the elements of Sri Lanka’s national human rights protection system did not function as part of a coherent and regular justice system. The Government must strengthen the independence, impartiality and capacity of the justice system to ensure adequate investigation, prosecution and conviction of the perpetrators of gross human rights violations, as well of the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force and other breaches of international humanitarian law by both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE and other non-state actors.

NIMALKA FERNANDO, of International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism, in a joint statement with Pax Romana, said that countries raised many issues through the Universal Periodic Review process. The outcome document did not reflect issues like the racial profiling of detainees, the majority of whom were Tamils which heightened communal tensions. The International Movement agreed with the recommendations made by Portugal which urged Sri Lanka to address torture, combat impunity, and reconsider establishing a presence for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It called for the reconstitution of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, full implementation of the provisions of international human rights instruments, ratification of the Convention of Enforced Disappearances, and creation of an action plan related to the implementation of voluntary pledges.

NORMAN VOSS, of the Asian Legal Resource Centre, underlined the acknowledgement in the Working Group report that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka was worsening and welcomed the recommendations concerning the need for the Sri Lankan Government to investigate torture, extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances. The Government claimed that torture was only occasionally used by certain overzealous investigators, but this showed a lack of credibility and unwillingness to address the issue itself. Torture was widespread and impunity for such acts was systemic. The Centre called for the implementation of recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture, and the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the Rome Statute and the Convention against Enforced Disappearances.

LISA PUSEY, of the International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific, said that there was deep concern that the Government of Sri Lanka had rejected recommendations put to it during the interactive dialogue as well as the striking absence of recommendations relating to women’s human rights concerns in the review process. The rejection of the recommendations showed Sri Lanka’s lack of commitment to human rights violations. They expressed deep concern that the gravest of human rights violations were taking place with impunity in Sri Lanka including violations of the right to life and disappearances and that in this context Sri Lanka’s Government had rejected recommendations 28 (b), 33 (b), and 55 (a) of the outcome document relating to addressing impunity for human rights violations. They called on the Government to accept these recommendations. Further, the Government rejected recommendation 32 (d) of the outcome document related to implementation of the recommendations of the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders to Sri Lanka in relation to restricting the registration and activities of non-governmental organizations and civil society. Rejection of this recommendation and others maintained a lack of accountability and transparency in how the Government was responding to the human rights crisis in the country.

RAJIVA WIJESINGHA, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, said he wished to bear in mind that this was not an interactive dialogue, but a statement of principles. He then turned to the legal advisor to answer some questions.

MOHAN PEIRIS, Legal Advisor, said that one must appreciate that while accepting the recommendations, it had to be stressed that the Government did not condone torture. Sri Lanka refuted that it had undertaken torture and extra judicial killings systematically. There was a Constitutional ban on torture. The Supreme Court ruled on all cases. Victims also had civil means to seek redress. In some cases of torture, disciplinary action was taken against public officer holders who participated in torture. The law banned extrajudicial killings. Every effort was being made to bring to justice violators of human rights. It was not that the Government had no will to deal with torture. Structures had been set up, but needed further work. He requested technical support to help establish these structures. Sri Lanka believed that the Human Rights Council appreciated the difficulties Sri Lanka had in wanting technical assistance and capacity building. He pleaded that every effort be given to stop the funding of terrorism. He said that large sums flowed from other countries to Sri Lanka to fund terrorism. Sri Lanka had the mechanisms and laws in place to deal with questions of sexual violence against women. It was not new. The structures were in place. The Government was conscious of the constitutional guarantees for the right of expression. He asked for understanding when the Government criticized the press for matters concerning national security. The Government was committed to a free press and every freedom would be granted to every journalist in carrying out his or her work. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons was still in existence in Sri Lanka. The members of the Group decided not to function as the Group anymore, but it was still there and could still function. He called for technical assistance.

MR. WIJESINGHA, in concluding remarks, said that several speakers had raised questions of impunity and torture. The Government was concerned about this matter. It was eager to work with the Special Rapporteur on torture. The Government had tried to correspond with the Special Rapporteur on torture, but he did not write back. The Government had written to countries eager to assist with police training. Why was the report of the United Nations Development Programme suppressed? The report was extremely sympathetic to the backlog at the National Human Rights Commission. Sri Lanka was engaged in implementing the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review. Some countries had been very good at stopping the flow of terrorism funds. Unless there was firm dealing with that issue, then progress would not be made.

Consideration of Outcome of Universal Periodic Review for Report on France

JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that it was a privilege for France to be among the first 32 countries to undergo the Universal Periodic Review. France had supported the idea of the Universal Periodic Review since the beginning. The preparation for the review and the drafting of the national report of France had been the subject of a broad consultation inside the Government and with the civil society. Concerning the recommendations made, with regard to the international commitments that France had taken, they were in the process of achieving the ratification of the Convention against Enforced Disappearances. France did not plan to join the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, but it cared for the rights of migrants such as the right to education and the right to equal pay. It was in this spirit that France wanted to have a European Union agreement on migration, during their presidency of the European Union. They would continue to protect the rights of migrants, regardless of their status.

Concerning France’s cooperation with the United Nations system, they were committed to include systematically in their reports to treaty bodies and to the Universal Periodic Review a gender perspective, said Mr. Mattei. France would also continue to work to combat all forms of discrimination; it was one of the priorities of the Government. The Government also continued its efforts to counter racism, in particular anti-Semitism and the defaming of monuments and would also step-up its struggle against all racist attacks committed by security forces. Concerning minorities, they would commit themselves to improve the protection of persons belonging to minorities. The Constitution was currently being revised with regard to regional languages. It was further noted that a law specifically provided against acts of hatred vis-à-vis persons or a group belonging to a certain race. Racial hatred was thus explicitly forbidden and was severely punished.

Concerning freedom of religion, the interdiction to wear religious symbols in public schools was not planned to be revised, but they continued to carefully monitor the situation, Mr. Mattei said. They were also committed to respect the Durban Deceleration, especially paragraph 101 of the Declaration which recognized the suffering linked to colonialism. The French Republic also recognised that the transatlantic slave trade constituted a crime against humanity in a specific law. Article 2 of this law provided that education and research should give substantial coverage in education and research programmes to this subject. Concerning detention, a bill on improving prison conditions was currently being discussed; this topic would be further addressed in the follow up report to the Universal Periodic Review. While use of Taser guns was authorised in prisons, they had not been used at all for the last two years. Concerning the prevention of torture, it was noted that France had already an independent prevention mechanism in this regard. The French authorities were attentive to the conditions in which people were being treated during arrest. Concerning the extradition of foreigners, France was aware of the challenges and the French authorities were particularly attentive to such cases. An ongoing dialogue between the relevant ministries was taking place on a case by case basis when extraditing someone to countries that were termed as dangerous.

MESHAAL ALI AL ATTIYAH (Qatar) congratulated France on their presentation which further added to the Universal Periodic Review process. Qatar paid tribute to France for their constructive spirit and cooperative effort in the course of human rights. France had been able to accept most of the recommendations. France had taken up additional commitments in promoting and protecting human rights. They had a draft National Action Plan to follow up on the Vienna Convention; they had ratified the Convention on Enforced Disappearances. Further, France had also ratified other conventions aimed at improving the living conditions of minority groups. Qatar encouraged France to continue to meet all commitments and implement all recommendations which it had so graciously accepted.

MOHAMMED LOULICHKI (Morocco) thanked the French delegation for the replies. The nature and scope of their replies indicated the relevance of the Universal Periodic Review for the Council. Morocco noted the work France had taken on issues related to the rights of migrants. The priority France had given to specific measures to combat all forms of discrimination was also underlined. Morocco hoped that this was part of the communications that the French Government would be making to the Human Rights Council on the follow up.

IDRISS JAZAIRY (Algeria) said that Algeria was touched by France’s presentation. Algeria regretted that it was not possible for France to accede to the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and hoped that the time would come for this. They were however pleased that incitement to religious hatred was considered as a crime. Such actions could not be linked to free speech; additional standards were needed in order to clarify this issue. France’s recognition of the suffering during colonialism was noted and it hoped that this was also applied to Algeria.

MICHEL FORST, of National Consultative Commission for Human Rights of France, said that as a national institution and because of the consultative nature of the organization, they monitored France’s human rights activities, such as reports presented to treaty bodies and regional mechanisms, and implementing recommendations such as the recommendations on torture. On the question of prisons and detention centre conditions, France was found unworthy. They had certain reservations with respect to France’s commitment to international treaties, some had been qualified but others needed attention. With respect to minorities the defence of France was not tangible. The organization was devoted to analyzing the recommendations of the Council and following up the commitments made by France. They intended to follow-up with the Council and Member States on the progress France had made through their annual report.

CLAIRE CHIMELLI, of International Federation of ACAT (Action By Christians for the Abolition of Torture) in a joint statement with Human Rights Watch, noted the commitments made by France to alternatives to prison with regard to human rights. The International Federation opposed the use of electric stun guns. There was no automatic suspension of expulsion measures. They were sorry France did not go into details concerning people in custody for terrorism. They were concerned by the lack of access these prisoners had to legal council.

JOSHUA COOPER, of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action, said that France was one of the birthplaces of human rights. Would France be willing to issue an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people to visit Tahiti and Kanaky? The indigenous peoples of Oceania were pleased that France had stopped nuclear testing in the Pacific. It was important that France fulfilled its promises to the Tahitian workers in Mororua and Fangataufa, especially the promise to release health records. The people in Tahiti were interested in learning more about human rights, but there were little opportunities for them to do so. Would France be willing to work with non-governmental organizations in the region?

SEYFEDIN KARA, of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said that they were grateful for the conclusions and recommendations on the Universal Periodic Review on France. They were pleased to see the recommendations reflect their concerns, especially on the issue of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Cohesion and harmony of a society strongly depended on understanding and accommodating all the elements of that society. They noted a serious concern regarding the French Government’s failure to provide even the basic rights of ethnic and religious minority groups. By doing so the French Government harmed the minorities but consequently it also led to deprivation of the majority from taking advantage of a peaceful society. Some of the existing laws and many in their application were discriminatory, especially the headscarf (hijab) ban in the schools which damaged the progress and advance of the Muslim women by depriving them their basic right to education. The Commission strongly recommended that the Government remove this ban. Further they urged the French Government to halt its anti-religious attitude.

JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in closing remarks, noted what the delegations of Morocco and Algeria said concerning migrants. He replied that in an European setting, France could not ratify the Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. He took note of the comments by Algeria regarding colonialism. It was a difficult and sensitive issue which France continued to work on. The situation in prisons did not live up to France’s wishes. A new commissioner had been appointed to look at all relevant issues. France was deeply committed to the rights of asylum seekers. There was a need to combine the fight against terrorism with human rights. He then spoke on religious minorities and the law on religious symbols. This law had given rise to a small number of cases and expulsions. There was an open dialogue with the families to find solutions. France would continue to work with civil society and with the National Commission. He thanked Member States.

Consideration of Outcome of Universal Periodic Review for Report on Tonga

VILIAMI MALOBO, Deputy Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Tonga, in opening remarks, said that at the outset he wished to acknowledge with much thanks the 34 States which contributed on 14 May to the Universal Periodic Review on Tonga. The contribution and involvement of States and civil society was important. The sterling work of the Council and other members was noted. Special mention to Mexico, Nigeria and Qatar - the troika members - was also made. The Secretariat was thanked for its hard work, without which this process could not be achieved. The willingness of neighbouring countries in the region and international organizations that helped and assisted in the work was also commended. He also thanked the Government of New Zealand and the Commonwealth Secretariat. It had been a positive experience and Tonga hoped that in proceeding with the process it would be a rewarding one.

Keeping in mind the time and capacity constraints, the Government of Tonga undertook the process in a sincere attempt to support the work of the Council. The National Report, which was the subject of a review last month, was the bedrock in which broad consultations with civil society and the business sector helped to set the tone from other voices from the Pacific to follow.

As the Foreign Minister communicated last month, Tonga hoped to share the report with small island States and neighbouring countries. In order to achieve the objectives of the Universal Periodic Review, the cooperation and support of the international community was central, even more so for acute states like Tonga. He noted that Tonga would continue to support cooperation with the work of the Universal Periodic Review and the Council.

IDRISS JAZAIRY (Algeria) commended Tonga for its openness. Algeria noted the commitment of Tonga to continue public awareness and training programmes on the legal rights of women. Algeria was encouraged by the initiative to elaborate a Pacific Plan to set up a regional human rights institution by the Pacific Island Forum. It commended the core values expressed in the Tongan constitutional and customary history and welcomed the willingness of Tonga to implement paragraph 26 to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Tongans. Algeria urged the Human Rights Council to consider providing Tonga with much needed support and technical assistance.

MOHAMMED LOULICHKI (Morocco) thanked Tonga for their presentation and for their cooperation with the Council. The commitment shown by the authorities to ratify treaty body conventions to which they were not yet party was commended. The Universal Periodic Review of Tonga raised some questions with regard to the difficulties encountered by delegations having no representation in Geneva. They had difficulties in participating in the work of the Council and the proposal to open an office for Pacific island States deserved full attention. The expectations of Tonga in the area of technical cooperation and capacity building should be considered with the greatest interest by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

MELANIE HOPKINS (United Kingdom) said that the United Kingdom placed on record its thanks to the delegation of Tonga for the open and constructive approach it had taken to the Universal Periodic Review. As many other countries have noted, to be amongst the first countries to be reviewed by a new mechanism offered particular challenges. And for a smaller country, those challenges were greater still. The United Kingdom believed that Tonga’s approach to the Universal Periodic Review showed that this mechanism truly was universal and could offer added value to countries’ efforts to advance their record on human rights. The United Kingdom made recommendations to Tonga on ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and involving civil society in the follow-up to the review and was gratified to see that these, along with other recommendations were accepted by Tonga. They look forward to seeing progress on these recommendations at Tonga’s next review in four years time.

ABDUL GHAFOOR MOHAMED (Maldives) welcomed the report of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group and congratulated Tonga for being the first small island State to participate in the new process. Tonga had a long held and deeply seeded belief in individual freedoms. There were many useful recommendations made. Capacity constraints were the biggest factor in limiting the cooperation of small island States to engage with the Human Rights Council and in instruments of human rights. The Maldives called on the Human Rights Council and all Member States to remember the need for support and technical assistance of Tonga.

MICHAEL MCBRYDE (New Zealand) said that Tonga had been the first country of their region to undergo the Universal Periodic Review. They had given a high priority to the Universal Periodic Review. For small island States of the Pacific, participation in the Review was a major undertaking. The practical difficulties faced by them were recognised. It was New Zealand’s intention to convene a seminar on how to assist officials of Pacific island Governments in working through the Universal Periodic Review process.

JEANINE VOLKEN (Switzerland) appreciated the fact that a large delegation was able to take this long journey. Switzerland welcomed the commitment of this small island State, with its limited resources, which was able to contribute with a high level report. Switzerland encouraged Tonga to continue to step up dialogue with civil society. The Universal Periodic Review was designed to enhance dialogue, not to hinder it. Further, Switzerland appreciated Tonga’s spirit of openness in which they expressed their aspirations for human rights.

MANSOUR ABDULLA SALEM AL SULAITIN (Qatar) expressed gratitude to Tonga for its cooperation. Qatar was a member of the troika. Tonga responded quickly to the recommendations made during the interactive dialogue. Qatar welcomed Tonga’s expressed interest to continue this openness. Tonga expressed willingness to ratify a number of international conventions, provide training for police officers, and engage civil society. Qatar called on Tonga to continue to work on the promotion and protection of human rights.

JOHN FISHER, of Canadian HIV/AIDS, welcomed Tonga’s constructive engagement in the Universal Periodic Review process. However, they were disappointed that the Government would not decriminalize some sexual practices. As noted by the Human Rights Committee, it was undisputed that adult consented sexual activity was a matter of privacy. It was hoped that Tonga would address this issue.

JOSHUA COOPER, of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action, said that throughout the region of the Pacific, there was a very low record of ratification of the core international human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). There was equally a low level of completion of reports in a timely manner and participating fully in the United Nations treaty body mechanisms. The Foundation asked if Tonga would work with non-governmental organizations in the country as well as the region of Oceania to draft a working schedule for the ratification of the major core human rights instruments and institutions such as CEDAW. Establishing a presence in Geneva was crucial if the Pacific region was to succeed. They urged that more visits to the region should increase. Requests of Special Rapporteurs have been made, however, the Government had not responded to these requests. They looked forward to cooperating on a number of human rights initiatives with Tonga in the future.

LISA PUSEY, of the International Women’s Rights Watch Asia Pacific, in a joint statement, expressed concern that Tonga regretted recommendations which signalled an unwillingness to comply with international human rights norms protecting the rights of women and all people including sexual minorities. They were deeply concerned by the Government’s lack of willingness to bring national laws into conformity with international human rights norms relating to equality and non-discrimination between men and women. It was also concerned that Tonga had rejected recommendations calling on Tonga to decriminalize consensual same sex activities. They called on Tonga to accept the recommendations in the outcome document which related to addressing discrimination against women and sexual minorities.

MARIANNE LILLIEBJERG, of Amnesty International, appreciated the positive participation of Tonga in the Universal Periodic Review process. As the current Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Tonga’s leadership as the first State of the region to participate in the process should be inspirational. Tonga was encouraged to implement the list of recommendations of the Working Group, particularly in relation to accession to the core United Nations human rights treaties and its reporting obligations under the treaties to which they were already a party. Tonga was also encouraged to continue to engage civil society in human rights work. The challenges faced by the country in the preparation of the report were acknowledged. The outcome of the review should be widely disseminated to all stakeholders in the country.

VILIAMI MALOBO, Deputy Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Tonga, in concluding remarks said that the Government of Tonga deeply appreciated the attitude of the seven Member States who made comments today. Tonga was overwhelmed by the warm reflection contained in their comments and they were a positive reinforcement under the Universal Periodic Review process. Some of the initiatives set forth by the Government of Tonga, which had already been mentioned, such as the regional seminar to share the benefits of the process with other countries in the region, were still a priority. Enhancing the Pacific voice in Geneva had been noted and required consultation with fellow Member States of the Pacific region.

Tonga also thanked all the speakers representing other stakeholders. It was exactly these robust interventions that had defined the Universal Periodic Review process. With regards to comments made on the decriminalizing of certain sexual activities and the forms of discrimination against women, the Government was already dealing with those subjects. It was noted that interventions were made on those subjects last month.

The Government valued partnership with civil society. The foundation of the report was an intense and wide ranging engagement with civil society. The National Report reflected the views of civil society stakeholders in Tonga. The Government of Tonga sought assistance from the international community in order to fully realize their goals. The Government would ask civil society to lead an education programme; such a project would lead to an enhancement of human rights within the country.

Tonga would be happy to assist with efforts to have students visit from New York. Tonga made every effort to enhance the spirit of youth, children and especially students who came through the region from New York. Tonga looked forward to the next four years in the engagement of the review.

____________

For use of the information media; not an official record