HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ADOPTS OUTCOMES OF UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW PROCESS ON BOTSWANA, BAHAMAS AND BURUNDI



Human Rights Council
MORNING
18 March 2009



The Human Rights Council this morning adopted the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review process on the reports on Botswana, the Bahamas, and Burundi.

Augustine Makgonatsotlhe, Secretary for Defence, Justice and Security in the Office of the President of Botswana, presenting additional information on the review, said most of the recommendations proffered by delegations were currently being implemented by the Government. Consultations towards the establishment of an independent national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles had been concluded. While the Children's Act was still under review, Botswana's position on children's rights was that corporal punishment was still lawful, and the Education Act and Regulations prescribed a strict framework within which corporal punishment was to be administered in schools. It was viewed as a legitimate and acceptable form of punishment. Botswana did not accept the recommendations implying the existence of harmful practices to women, especially alleging the persistence of early contract marriages and the existence of polygamy. There were no practices that were harmful to women, and the law forbade polygamy.

During the discussion on Botswana, speakers recognized Botswana's investment in improving health care for its citizens; its progress towards improving access to primary education and increased enrolment rates for children; and the role women were playing in Botswana's Government and society was commended. The Government of Botswana should pay close attention to the coverage of the rights of the child and women, and combating poverty, education and health in particular. The international community had as its responsibility to support Botswana with technical assistance and durable financial assistance tailored to the needs expressed by Botswana, a speaker said.

Speaking during the discussion on Botswana were Algeria, Senegal, the United States and Djibouti, as well as a representative of the non-governmental organization, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Joshua Sears, Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas, presenting additional information on the review, said the Government fully understood that respect for and the promotion and protection of human rights required eternal vigilance and actions to ensure that those rights were effectively enjoyed by all members of society, and acknowledged the vital role civil society had to play in that whole process. Since its review, the Bahamas had signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which would enter into force on 23 March 2009. Also highlighted were the signature of the United Nations Convention against Torture in December 2008, and the Police Amendment Act 2009, which permitted civilian oversight. With respect to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, the Government continued to implement recommendations designed to enhance the environment and management of the facility and continued to maintain close collaboration and cooperation with the United Nations Refugee Agency.

During the discussion on the Bahamas, speakers raised such issues as the fact that the Bahamas was a small island developing country, which faced the difficulties attendant on that status, including a lack of resources. In those circumstances, the Bahamas had made considerable and laudable efforts, and deserved recognition. Small States like the Bahamas required the aid of the international community to implement the recommendations made. The communications made regarding efforts under way to implement the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review were welcome. That showed the Bahamas' firm commitment to further human rights.

Speaking during the debate on the Bahamas were Egypt, Cuba, France, Chile, on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, Barbados, Algeria, Pakistan and Botswana. A representative of Amnesty International also spoke.

Rose Nduwayo, Minister for Human Rights and Gender of Burundi, presenting the additional information on the review, said there had been a number of changes since the review, notably with regard to the Penal Code, which had just been adopted. The Government was seriously considering the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Forced Disappearances, but, in the meantime, measures had been taken to prevent and repress related acts. A national strategy to fight against sexual violence had also been adopted by the Government. Concerning civil and political freedoms, those were guaranteed by the judiciary. Finally, Burundi had had its foreign debt cancelled, which would help to increase the State's resources for the protection of human rights in general, and economic, social and cultural rights in particular.

During the discussion on Burundi, speakers observed that, following a deep political crisis, the Government was taking measures to build a viable and sustainable society. Burundi had also cooperated fully with the international community, in particular the United Nations human rights mechanisms. A speaker deeply respected the determination of the people of Burundi to escape the devastating remnants of civil war and build a peaceful, prosperous and inclusive society for future generations, and supported the recommendation that the Government increase its efforts to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate children involved in armed conflict. Education would be a key part of the reintegration process, offering opportunities to youth who had only known war and conflict.

Speaking in the discussion on Burundi were Algeria, Senegal, the United States, Nigeria, Djibouti and Burkina Faso. Representatives of the following non-governmental organizations also spoke: Canadian HIV/Aids Legal Network, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation of Human Rights Leagues - FIDH, and Cercle de recherche sur les droits et les devoirs de la personne humaine (CRED).

Over the next few days, the Council will review all 16 States considered during the third meeting of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group. Under the terms of Resolution 5/1 and the subsequent President's Statement 8/1, the State under review is expected to examine all recommendations made. At the end of each discussion, the Council adopted the outcome of the decision on the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review for the relevant country.

The next meeting of the Council will be at 3 p.m. today, when it will proceed with the consideration of the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review process on Luxembourg, Barbados, and Montenegro.

Consideration of Outcome of Universal Periodic Review for Report on Botswana

Augustine Makgonatsotlhe, Secretary for Defence, Justice and Security in the Office of the President of Botswana, said Botswana approached the review process with an open and transparent spirit, and had undertaken to consider all the recommendations put at a later stage with a view to carefully and constructively reflecting on all the recommendations. To that end, Botswana had been able to engage all relevant stakeholders. Most of the recommendations proffered by delegations were currently being implemented by the Government, and it was on that basis that Botswana indicated its acceptance of some of the recommendations. Consultations towards the establishment of an independent national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles had been concluded. Botswana currently had several institutions that directly addressed human rights issues, including the Department of Social Services for Children's Welfare, the Department of Women Affairs for Gender Issues, and others, which derived their authority from the Bill of Rights.

The Children's Act was still under review. Regarding Botswana's position on children's rights, corporal punishment was still lawful, and the Education Act and Regulations prescribed a strict framework within which corporal punishment was to be administered in schools. It was viewed as a legitimate and acceptable form of punishment. There were also recommendations relating to the so-called minority groups or indigenous peoples, which seemed to suggest the existence of discrimination against certain groups of people. Moreover, the language used in some of the recommendations implied that little or nothing was being done for the protection and promotion of the human rights of the so-called minority groups, which was not true. All indigenous groups were accorded opportunities guaranteed to every Motswana.

The Government maintained that the Constitution prohibited discrimination against any person on the grounds of race, tribe, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex, and as such any person who was of the view that their rights had been violated could at any time petition the High Court to seek redress. There was no known case of any person who had been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. Inasmuch as some of the recommendations relating to women's rights and gender issues had been accepted, since ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Botswana had undertaken various initiatives and activities with a view to protecting and promoting the rights of women. Botswana did not accept the recommendations implying the existence of harmful practices to women, especially alleging the persistence of early contract marriages and the existence of polygamy; there were no practices which were harmful to women, and the law forbade polygamy. Botswana looked forward to further interaction during the session.

BOUALEM CHEBIHI (Algeria) said that it was encouraged by Botswana’s will to meet its human rights obligations. Algeria shared Botswana’s concerns about the lack of adequate means necessary to comply with the obligations stemming from international instruments to which it was a State Party. Algeria understood that that was a decisive element in a country’s decision to accede to an international instrument. Algeria welcomed Botswana’s effort to implement a pilot action plan to fight HIV/AIDS. The international community had as its responsibility to support Botswana with technical assistance and durable financial assistance tailored to the needs expressed by Botswana.

ABDOUF WAHAB HAIDARS (Senegal) thanked the head of the Botswana delegation for the clear and detailed presentation he had made in outlining the measures his country had made in light of its recent examination by the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Senegal appreciated that Botswana had welcomed many of the recommendations made. Particularly stressed was the need for the Government of Botswana to pay close attention to the coverage of the rights of the child and women, and combating poverty, education and health in particular. Senegal wished Botswana all success in continuing the improvement of the human rights situation in their country.

MARK CASSAYRE (United States) commended the Government of Botswana for its commitment to democratic principles and appreciated its leadership in promoting similar progress in the Southern African Development Community region and the continent as a whole. The United States recognized Botswana's investment in improving health care for its citizens and its progress towards improving access to primary education and increased enrolment rates for its children and commended the role women were playing in Botswana's Government and society. Increasing the access of women to development assistance and provision of better legal protections for women would help to consolidate the gains for women. Botswana was commended for its intent to improve its national capacity to promote and monitor human rights.

AHMED MOHAMED (Djibouti) thanked the Botswana delegation for its presence today. Botswana was facing enormous challenges regarding poverty and AIDS. It had now started efforts regarding HIV/AIDS, which Djibouti welcomed. That experience should be shared by many countries that were faced by the disease. Djibouti thought that the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review process would be fruitful in effectively improving the general situation in Botswana.

JOHN FISHER, of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, commended the Government of Botswana for clearly identifying the responses of the Government in regard to the recommendations made. The Network urged the Government to repeal the provisions of its Penal Code criminalizing same-sex conduct between consenting adults. Last December, 66 States from all regional groups – including 6 from the African region – had called for an end to laws criminalizing homosexuality. That call was also supported by the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

AUGUSTINE MAKGONATSOTLHE, Secretary for Defence, Justice and Security in the Office of the President of Botswana, in final remarks, said he appreciated the constructive dialogue. Botswana appreciated the advice and suggestions made both at the Review and today, believing that all partners would appreciate that the suggestions put to Botswana had short-, medium- and long-term implications with regard to their implementation. Those included financial issues and Botswana relied on its international partners to help it in that regard. Botswana looked forward to the next phase of the exercise – the implementation and follow-up phase – with even more determination and commitment.

Consideration of Outcome of Universal Periodic Review for Report on Bahamas

JOSHUA SEARS, Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, observed that the Bahamas had joined the international community some 35 years ago and in doing so it had given its solemn undertaking to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity, human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. The Bahamas had at every important moment of international significance reaffirmed its commitment to those principles, which had played an indispensable role in the institutionalization and consolidation of democracy, political stability and economic and social progress and development in the Bahamas. The Government also fully understood that respect for and the promotion and protection of human rights required eternal vigilance and actions to ensure that those rights were effectively enjoyed by all members of society, and acknowledged the vital role civil society had to play in that whole process.

During the review of the Bahamas, which had taken place at the third working session of the Working Group, held from 1 to 15 December 2008, the Bahamas had committed to further review the recommendations contained in the report of the Working Group and to report on the status of the recommendations at this session. In that context, the Bahamas wished to highlight its signature and ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on 4 and 23 December 2008, respectively. Both Covenants would enter into force for the Bahamas on 23 March 2009. In addition, on 16 December 2008, the Bahamas had signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment. Also of note was the Police Amendment Act 2009, which permitted civilian oversight, as indicated in the follow-up report. With respect to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, the Government continued to implement recommendations designed to enhance the environment and management of the facility and continued to maintain close collaboration and cooperation with the United Nations Refugee Agency in that regard. The number of persons detained at the Centre was now 75.

During the review, the Bahamas had indicated that it expected to submit outstanding reports due under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women by 31 December 2008. Unfortunately, the Bahamas had been unable to meet that self-imposed deadline, but informed the Council that the Consultative Process was almost complete.

AMR ROSHDY HASSAN (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the African Group, welcomed the delegation of the Bahamas and said that the African Group attached great importance to the Bahamas. The fact that the delegation took the trouble twice to visit Geneva – first to submit their country report and second to present the outcome of the review – showed that the Bahamas was committed to human rights. The African Group recalled that in that context the Council needed to do something for countries that were not represented in Geneva. The African Group expressed its utmost support to the choices the Bahamas had made with regard to human rights.

MARIA DEL CARMEN HERRERA (Cuba) endorsed what was just said by Egypt. The Bahamas Government had shown the right approach by sending a delegation to take part in the adoption of the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review. Bahamas was a small island country in the Caribbean and was also a developing country that faced the difficulties attendant on that status, including a lack of resources. Cuba acknowledged that, under in those circumstances, the Bahamas had made considerable and laudable efforts and deserved recognition. The Government had worked to ensure all human rights for all its people. Cuba supported the Bahamas and urged them to carry on working to implement the recommendations of the review and to protect and promote the human rights of all its people.

MARIE-ANNA LEBOVITS (France) thanked the Bahamas for taking part in this process personally. France welcomed the announcement of the Bahamas that it would bring its national legislation into line with international norms. France encouraged the Bahamas to do so particularly as regarded the Convention on Racial Discrimination and the Convention on Women.

RODRIGO DONOSO (Chile), speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries, welcomed the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Bahamas for travelling so far to take part in this process. Chile welcomed the communications made to the efforts that were underway with regard to the recommendations made as a result of the Universal Periodic Review. This showed the Bahamas firm commitment to further human rights and the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries supported that commitment.

NATALIE BURKE (Barbados) said the presence of the delegation and its statement demonstrated the firm commitment of the Bahamas to human rights and its acceptance of the recommendations made. Small States like the Bahamas required the aid of the international community to implement the recommendations. Barbados supported the Bahamas and would do its best in providing support.

BOUALEM CHEBIHI (Algeria) extended a very warm welcome to the Bahamas and commended the Bahamas on their progress made in the field of human rights, particularly regarding the challenges this country had to face in its development. The international community had a duty to support that country in a durable and sustainable way, according to its needs.

IMRAN AHMED SIDDIQUI (Pakistan) welcomed the delegation of the Bahamas and thanked them for their presentation. Pakistan believed that the Universal Periodic Review process encompassed a comprehensive approach to human rights. Pakistan expressed satisfaction that the Bahamas welcomed the recommendations made during the process. Pakistan noted that it would continue to deepen its cooperation with the Bahamas concerning technical cooperation and expertise in the field of human rights.

AUGUSTINE MAKGONATSOTLHE (Botswana) said the presentation of the Bahamas had been comprehensive. Botswana noted with appreciation and admiration that the Bahamas had accepted most of the recommendations. The commitment of the Bahamas to the protection and promotion of human rights was evident in the debate. The Bahamas was also including civil society, and that was a positive step.

MARIANNE LILLIEBJERG, of Amnesty International, welcomed the Bahamas’ prompt ratification of the two International Covenants, following the announcement in the Universal Periodic Review Working Group of its intention to do so. However, Amnesty International was disappointed that the Bahamas had rejected a wide range of recommendations by many States regarding the death penalty, including to establish a moratorium on executions, to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to abolish the death penalty. Amnesty International welcomed the undertaking by the Bahamas to respond to concerns raised by several Special Procedures regarding conditions in the Carmichael Road Detention Centre. However, recent reports indicated that abuses continued to take place in the facility.

JOSHUA SEARS, Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, in closing remarks, thanked the delegations that had spoken for their constructive ideas and for the support which they had expressed. The Government of the Bahamas was particularly pleased with the level of support received from the international community and in particular thanked the Troika – Djibouti, Malaysia and the Netherlands – for their support during the Universal Periodic Review process.

A number of issues had been raised during the Working Group and had been addressed in the report of the Bahamas and most recently updated in the addendum to the report. With respect to the Carmichael Road Detention Centre, as mentioned by Amnesty International and others, a review of the addendum to the report of the Bahamas would address those issues raised. The Bahamas reaffirmed their commitment to furthering human rights and to the Universal Periodic Review process. The Bahamas was also committed to continue efforts with other States in a cooperative way. Furthermore, over the next term the Government sought to implement those obligations and the Government was able to do so.

Consideration of Outcome of Universal Periodic Review for Report on Burundi

Rose Nduwayo, Minister for Human Rights and Gender of Burundi, presenting the additional information on the review, said, with regard to what had been agreed upon during the Review process in December, that Burundi was to respond to the observations of delegations. The Government was seriously considering the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons Against Forced Disappearances, but in the meantime, measures had been taken to prevent and repress related acts. The Government had noted a positive change with regard to protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A training programme was under way for those who were responsible for implementing laws on prevention and repression of sexual violence, jointly with civil society. A transitional justice mechanism had been agreed between Burundi and the United Nations. During the review, it had been stated that the abolition of the death penalty had been included in the new Penal Code project, and, indeed it would be abolished shortly. Regarding equality between boys and girls in the context of access to education, discrimination against girls had been eliminated. Both rape and torture were crimes in the new Penal Code.

Concerning the situation of human rights since the Review, there had been a number of changes, Ms. Nduwayo highlighted, notably with regard to the Penal Code, which had just been adopted. The network of criminals who had been killing albinos would shortly be entirely dismantled and a national strategy to fight against sexual violence had been adopted by the Government. With regard to civil and political freedoms, those were guaranteed by the judiciary, as demonstrated by the recent freeing of a number of prisoners. Finally, Burundi had had its foreign debt cancelled, which would help to increase the State's funds for the protection of human rights in general, and economic, social and cultural rights in particular.

SELMA MALIKA HENDEL (Algeria) thanked the delegation of Burundi for their complete update on measures taken since the Universal Periodic Review process. During the review, Algeria had commended Burundi’s commitment to work towards the implementation of human rights. A number of commitments arose from the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review and Algeria reiterated its earlier appeal to the international community to increase support for Burundi so that it could effectively implement measures and promote human rights in accordance with its national priorities.

ABDOUF WAHAB HAIDARS (Senegal) said Senegal welcomed the efforts made by the Government thus far in furthering human rights in their country. In particular, Senegal welcomed the acceptance on behalf of the Government of Burundi with regard to recommendations concerning vulnerable groups. Furthermore, that illustrated Burundi’s commitment to meet the needs of those groups. Senegal supported Burundi’s further work in that regard, and urged the Government to request technical assistance as needed in continuing the efforts already made.

ANNA CHAMBERS (United States), said the United States deeply respected the determination of the people of Burundi to escape the devastating remnants of civil war and build a peaceful, prosperous and inclusive society for future generations, and supported the recommendation that the Government increase its efforts to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate children involved in armed conflict. Education would be a key part of that reintegration process, offering opportunities to youth who had only known war and conflict. The Government's commitment to promote education was evident. A number of the recommendations found in the Working Group report indicated concern about recent increases in sexual violence and rape, and the United States hoped that impunity for those crimes would continue to be addressed. Other recommendations expressed concern about the freedom of association, expression, opinion and peaceful assembly in Burundi. The United States looked forward to the establishment of an independent national human rights institution and offered its support to the Government in its efforts to promote human rights and democracy.

IFEANYI NWOSY (Nigeria) thanked the Government of Burundi for its presentation. Nigeria was glad to note that Burundi had accepted most of the recommendations made to it during the Universal Periodic Review process, including to intensify efforts to uphold the respect for the rule of law as well as undertake a reform of its judicial system. It was Nigeria’s hope that Burundi would have greatly improved its human rights record, with the support and cooperation of the international community, by the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.

AHMED MOHAMED (Djibouti) welcomed the presence of the Burundian delegation today. Following a deep political crisis, the Government of Burundi was taking measures to build a viable and sustainable society. Djibouti welcomed the efforts made by that sister country in their work on the recommendations contained in the Universal Periodic Review process and would continue to support Burundi in reconstruction efforts.

SAWADOGO SALAMAKA (Burkina Faso) noted with satisfaction the continuing improvement of the situation of human rights in Burundi, despite the crisis situation which the country had undergone. Initiatives had been taken in the field of primary education and health care for children under five years of age, and there had also been progress with regard to the protection and promotion of the rights of women. Burundi had also cooperated fully with the international community, in particular the United Nations human rights mechanisms. Burkina Faso fully supported the appeal by the international community to support the efforts of Burundi in the implementation of the recommendations stemming from the Universal Periodic Review.

MARIANNE LILLIEBJERG, of Amnesty International, said that Amnesty International welcomed the support by Burundi to establish an independent national human rights commission. Amnesty International was concerned, however, that the draft bill of 27 November 2008 by the Council of Ministers would create a commission that would fall far short of the Paris Principles by severely restricting its mandate, powers of inquiry, jurisdiction and independence. Amnesty International also noted that several States called on Burundi to ensure that no one was subject to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and Burundi was therefore asked to reconsider the inclusion of provision criminalizing same-sex relations in the draft criminal code.

JOHN FISHER, of Canadian HIV/Aids Legal Network, said an issue of concern was the proposed criminalization of consensual homosexual conduct in the proposed revision of Burundi’s Criminal Code. Such provisions, if adopted, would be a violation of established international human rights law and a major blow to public heath. The criminalization of homosexual conduct would place Burundi at odds with the overwhelming movement across the world that for two decades had seen progress toward decriminalization.

PHILIPE DAM, of Human Rights Watch, said the Working Group’s report included important recommendations concerning the proposed criminalization of homosexual conduct, the establishment of a national human rights commission, arbitrary and illegal detention, the possibility of election-related violence, and freedoms of association and expression. A law on the criminalization of homosexuality should be vetoed. Steps taken to establish a National Human Rights Commission were welcomed. There was deep concern about the prevalence of illegal, arbitrary arrests, many of which were politically motivated. The judicial system had been abused for prosecution of opposition leaders and others who spoke out against the Government. There was also concern that there had been attempts to intimidate opposition members, and Burundi should act immediately to put an end to such activities.

CHANTAL NIYOKINDI, of International Federation of Human Rights Leagues - FIDH, said, concerning the establishment of a national human rights commission in conformity with the Paris Principles, that Burundi should reintroduce to the draft bill provisions ensuring its independence. Further, Burundi should make efforts to guarantee equality of men and women and the protection of the rights of women, and provide sanctions for those responsible for guaranteeing impunity to perpetrators of sexual violence. The Federation also urged Burundi to take steps to improve the situation of children in Burundi.

HILAIRE BELL, of Cercle de recherche sur les droits et les devoirs de la personne humaine (CRED), noted with satisfaction that Burundi had been subject to the Universal Periodic Review and congratulated the Minister for Human Rights and Gender, Mrs. Nduwayo, for the quality of her presentation to the Working Group at its third session. They appealed to countries to show solidarity with the Government of Burundi to help foster peace, tolerance and human rights as a whole as Burundi emerged from a difficult situation. Further, they regretted that the report of Burundi, and the recommendations made by States in the Working Group, had not recorded instances of violence against men in Burundi.

Rose Nduwayo, Minister for Human Rights and Gender of Burundi, in concluding remarks, said Burundi wished to thank all those who had contributed to preparing the report on human rights in Burundi, including civil society, and all those delegations who had taken the trouble to read the report and make recommendations. The Human Rights Council was thanked for establishing the Universal Periodic Review, which had allowed Burundi to assess its progress in protecting and promoting human rights in Burundi. Burundi promised to bring together all those involved in protecting human rights in the country to study how the recommendations could be implemented. By the next session of the Council, a further step would have been taken to promote and protect the human rights in Burundi. The support of the international community was appreciated.
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