HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL DISCUSSES REPORTS ON LIBERIA, BURUNDI AND CAMBODIA, AND HOLDS GENERAL DEBATE ON TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND CAPACITY BUILDING



Human Rights Council
MIDDAY
1 October 2009


The Human Rights Council today heard the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights present reports by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Liberia and Burundi, and a report by the United Nations Secretary-General on Cambodia, and then held a general debate on its agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building.

Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, introducing the country-specific reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Office was submitting its first report on Burundi, aiming at providing an overview of the human rights situation in that country. A number of significant developments in the political and legislative areas had taken place during the past year, as well as increased violations of civil and political rights by Government officials and members of the ruling party.

Ms. Kang said the report on the situation in Liberia noted that major developments had taken place: some important advances were made towards improving the institutional framework for human rights protection. Outstanding challenges remained, in particular cases of rape and other sexual crimes which were still prevalent, as well as harmful traditional practices which were widespread, and violence against children which was of alarming concern.

The report of the Secretary-General on the role and achievements of the Office in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the protection and promotion of human rights focused on issues related to correctional reform, the rule of law, and fundamental freedoms, as well as on the role of civil society. The land and livelihood programme was an innovative cooperative initiative between the Office and the Government, local communities, non-governmental organizations, and private sector and development actors to support the Government's compliance with national law and international standards pertaining to rights to land and housing, the Deputy High Commissioner said.

The President of the Council, Ambassador Alex van Meeuwen of Belgium, said the Secretariat had been in contact with Liberia, which was one of the concerned countries and had no representation at the United Nations Office at Geneva. Liberia had been duly informed about the report but unfortunately was not in a position to be present today.

Burundi, speaking as a concerned country, wished to highlight significant progress made in the promotion and protection of human rights in Burundi. On impunity, Burundi now had a Penal Code that abolished the death penalty, raised the age for criminal responsibility and prohibited genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and other sexual crimes. Currently, the law amending the Code of Criminal Procedure was being reviewed to harmonize it with the new Penal Code. The independence of the Magistrates had been declared a necessity and a priority for Burundi. Sexual violence against women and children were also priorities. The war was over in Burundi. The last rebel movement had been converted into a political party, and some of its members were today members of the governing institutions of the country.

Cambodia, speaking as a concerned country, said Cambodia took note of certain concerns and challenges that had been addressed by the Human Rights Office in the report, and believed that in some areas there were discrepancies of views and perceptions regarding the progress and good commitment of the Government of Cambodia, with the requirement of a better understanding from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As for the recent instances of cases involving the issue of freedom of expression and land problems, the Cambodian Government had already made its replies in the communication to the Special Rapporteur and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Regarding the support for the correction reform, the Government of Cambodia acknowledged that its capacity was limited despite the great efforts in addressing the related challenges. Cambodia acknowledged that the tasks ahead were challenging, especially due to the impact of the global food crisis, but the Government remained committed to guaranteeing individual rights.

In the general debate on technical assistance and capacity buildings, speakers said that cooperation, technical assistance and capacity building should be seen as common endeavours where mutual commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law were prioritised. While no one argued that the challenges of development might be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights, it was also important not to forget that development facilitated the enjoyment of human rights. The international community thus had an obligation to provide support to interested States to help realize their common objectives.

Speaking in the general debate were Sweden on behalf of the European Union, Brazil, Belgium and Viet Nam.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Human Rights Watch, Association for World Citizens, Interfaith International, Rencontre Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme and Cairo Institution for Human Rights Studies.

The Council today is holding three back-to-back meetings from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. During its afternoon meeting, it will start to take action on draft resolutions and decisions. The Council will conclude its twelfth regular session on Friday, 2 October.

Documents

The Council has before it the report of the Secretary-General on the role and achievements of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights (A/HRC/12/41), which notes that, in the past 18 months, OHCHR in Cambodia has stepped up its efforts to engage in effective dialogue and cooperation with the Government and has developed initiatives with government institutions critical to the protection of human rights. In doing so, OHCHR has carried out its protection mandate as an integral part of its technical cooperation. At the same time, OHCHR has continued to draw public attention to certain issues of concern, when avenues for dialogue were exhausted and insufficient to address the situation. While this approach has translated into fruitful partnerships with several government institutions, including the Ministries of Interior, Justice and Social Affairs, other institutions have shown little or no interest in dialogue and cooperation, much to the regret of OHCHR. During the same period, OHCHR also developed its cooperation with community-based organizations, non-governmental and other civil society actors, as well as with multilateral and bilateral development cooperation agencies. The report gives an overview of the specific activities undertaken by OHCHR to support the Government and people of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights.

The Council has before it the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the progress made in the situation of human rights in Liberia and activities undertaken in the country (A/HRC/12/42), which says that, during the period from September 2008 to June 2009, the Government has made some initial and important advances towards improving institutional human rights protection in Liberia. The Government commenced the drafting of strategic plans for the judiciary and the corrections sectors, while the strategic plan for the Liberia National Police was finalized. The legislature also passed amendments to the Act establishing the Independent National Commission on Human Rights. Despite these advances, a number of serious human rights concerns persist. Institutions in the criminal justice sector remain weak due, among others, to shortages of qualified personnel, insufficient funding, poor administration and corruption and prison facilities are massively overcrowded. Also, despite efforts to implement a joint programme to combat sexual and gender-based violence, cases of rape and other sexual crimes are still prevalent. Harmful traditional practices, including trials by ordeal, ritual killings and female genital mutilation continue to be widely practised, sometimes with the knowledge or encouragement of local authorities. There is inadequate protection of children’s rights, and children continue to suffer various forms of violence; children in orphanages live in poor conditions and run the risk of being trafficked; and children in conflict with the law are not appropriately dealt with. Moreover, a large percentage of the population still has limited access to education, health care and social welfare services. The report concludes with a set of recommendations for the Government and the international community, including that extensive training be provided for judicial and law enforcement personnel to ensure safe prosecutions and respect for due process.

The Council has before it the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights and the activities of her Office in Burundi (A/HRC/12/43), which notes that, during the reporting period, the highly politicized environment in Burundi has manifested itself in disturbing trends in restrictions on civil and political rights and in targeted violence. The rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly have repeatedly been denied to opposition and civil society groups. The legal framework for the protection of human rights, while significantly improved through a newly revised Criminal Code, has stagnated with respect to other key laws. Moreover, the application of the law is impeded by structural deficiencies in the judicial sector, often resulting in impunity. The Government is commended for its commitment to establishing a strong institutional framework for the protection of human rights, notably in the form of an independent national human rights commission, an ombudsman, a truth and reconciliation commission and a special tribunal. All those initiatives, however, have suffered from serious delays over recent years. In the absence of such bodies, particularly a national human rights commission, the advice of the international human rights mechanisms becomes even more critical in helping Burundi address its many human rights challenges. While Burundi is striving to catch up with its treaty reporting obligations, its cooperation with the special procedures system of the Human Rights Council needs to be improved, the report concludes.

Introduction of Reports by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

KYUNG-WHA KANG, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, introducing the country-specific reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Office was submitting its first report on Burundi, aiming at providing an overview of the human rights situation in that country. A number of significant developments in the political and legislative areas had taken place during the past year, as well as increased violations of civil and political rights by Government officials and members of the ruling party. Major challenges to the protection of human rights remained, and the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights continued to be denied to many Burundians.

Ms. Kang said the report on the situation in Liberia noted that major developments had taken place and some important advances were made towards improving the institutional framework for human rights protection. Outstanding challenges remained, in particular cases of rape and other sexual crimes which were still prevalent, as well as harmful traditional practices which were widespread, and violence against children which was of alarming concern. Although the humanitarian situation continued to improve, a large percentage of the population still could not realise their economic and social rights.

On the report of the Secretary-General on the role and achievements of the Office in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the protection and promotion of human rights, the Deputy High Commissioner said the report focused on issues related to correctional reform, the rule of law, and to fundamental freedoms, as well as on the role of civil society. The land and livelihood programme was an innovative cooperative initiative between the Office and the Government, local communities, non-governmental organizations, and private sector and development actors to support the Government's compliance with national law and international standards pertaining to rights to land and housing. At the same time, the report noted the constraints posed for freedom of expression by the growing recourse to criminal defamation or "disinformation" complaints to suppress public criticism by Parliamentarians, journalists and activists. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and movement had also been imposed, particularly against those advocating on human rights and land issues.

Statements by Concerned Countries

PIERRE BARUSASIYEKO (Burundi), speaking as a concerned country, wished to highlight significant progress made in the promotion and protection of human rights in Burundi. On impunity, during its Universal Periodic Review by the Council in December 2008, the delegation of Burundi had already mentioned a number of related reforms in its Penal Code. Burundi now had a Penal Code that abolished the death penalty, raised the age for criminal responsibility and prohibited genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and other sexual crimes. Currently, the law amending the Code of Criminal Procedure was being reviewed to harmonize it with the new Penal Code. The independence of the Magistrates had been declared a necessity and a priority for Burundi. In that regard, salaries of judges had been increased and the Council of the Magistrates and the Association of Magistrates were now operational. Moreover, an anti-corruption law and an anti-corruption brigade had been established.

Sexual violence against women and children were also priorities, and the Government had instituted at the provincial level centres to hear complaints by victims and to provide them with assistance so that they could bring cases against the perpetrators of such crimes. Regarding the killing of Albinos, the network had been dismantled, the perpetrators had been apprehended and convictions had been brought. Protection of minorities was a reality in Burundi, and six seats in Parliament were guaranteed for the "batwa" (pygmy) community. A major government programme, with assistance from non-governmental organizations and church groups, was also being carried out to integrate that community fully into Burundian society and to resolve problems regarding their access to education and to land. It was also necessary to highlight once again that freedom of speech and expression were also a reality and were respected in Burundi, which had many civil society associations and hosted many international non-governmental organizations, as well as private radio and television channels, newspapers and media networks. In addition, since 2005, Burundians had free primary education, and free health care for children under five and pregnant mothers. Finally, it was needful to state that the war was over in Burundi. The last rebel movement had been converted into a political party, and some of its members were today members of the governing institutions of the country.

SUN SUON (Cambodia), speaking as a concerned country, said that the delegation of Cambodia welcomed the report of the Secretary-General on human rights as well as the role and the achievements of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights. Cambodia further took note with encouragement of the efforts for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for its operational work in Cambodia over the last 18 months, stepping up its efforts to engage in an improved cooperation with Government institutions through a number of new initiatives that were essential to the enhancement of the capacity of relevant institutions in Cambodia. Cambodia took note of certain concerns and challenges that had been addressed by the Human Rights Office in the report, and believed that in some areas there were discrepancies of views and perceptions regarding the progress and good commitment of the Government of Cambodia, with the requirement of a better understanding from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As for the recent instances of cases involving the issue of freedom of expression and land problems, the Cambodian Government had already made its replies in the communication to the Special Rapporteurs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Regarding the support for the correction reform, the Government of Cambodia acknowledged that its capacity was limited despite the great efforts in addressing the related challenges. Cambodia acknowledged that the tasks ahead were challenging, especially due to the impact of the global food crisis, but the Government remained committed to guaranteeing individual rights.

General Debate on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building

ANNA UGGLA (Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Council was created to contribute towards the prevention of human rights violations and to respond promptly to human rights emergencies, one of the tools for which was the ability to combine addressing human rights situations with technical assistance and capacity building. Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts played a vital role in providing valuable advice to Governments as well as suggestions for technical assistance. The European Union noted that the report on Liberia mentioned some progress made, and believed that continuing reporting by the High Commissioner would be valuable. The Burundian Government should implement the many positive initiatives it had put forward to address human rights violations and impunity. The dialogue between the Government of Cambodia and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights' Office in Cambodia was noted with appreciation, and the Government of Cambodia was encouraged to ensure the independence of its judiciary and courts. The European Union also welcomed the extension of the mandate of the Office both in Nepal and Uganda. The responsibility for fulfilling the rights lay with States alone, but many different actors within society could contribute to strengthening the cause of human rights - all States should cooperate with these actors. Cooperation, technical assistance and capacity building should be seen as common endeavours where mutual commitment to human rights, democracy and rule of law were prioritised.

JAO ERNESTO CHRISTOFOLO (Brazil) said that while no one argued that the challenges of development might be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights, it was also important not to forget that development facilitated the enjoyment of human rights. The international community thus had an obligation to provide support to interested States in realizing their common objectives. The United Nations system had been an important tool in identifying challenges in the area of human rights all over the world, but they had to go beyond the identification of challenges. Brazil, for its part, was now negotiating an international instrument with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with a view to helping interested countries through South-South triangular cooperation. On the basis of a demand-driven process, Brazil intended to replicate in other developing countries best practices and successful experiences they had had in Brazil. Brazil hoped that its efforts might encourage others to do the same.

XAVIER BAERT (Belgium) said that Belgium remained convinced of the importance of the “country mandates” for the promotion and protection of human rights. These Special Procedures allowed to for a dialogue and a relationship of trust among mandate holders and concerned countries as well as technical on-demand assistance. Belgium was looking forward to the visit the Independent Expert had programmed to Bujumbura in Burundi for next November. The cooperation the Independent Expert had established with the Burundian authorities was particularly commendable, and Belgium hoped that this would be further strengthened in the future. Further, the position which the authorities of Burundi had taken in favor of the extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert could only be commended. Belgium also supported the extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, and would underline in this regard that it was the High Commissioner for Human Right’s prerogative to assess independently the need to open an Office in Somalia.

VU DUNG (Viet Nam) said Viet Nam had noted with satisfaction that in the recent past, the Government of Cambodia had made encouraging progress in the realisation of the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms in the country through promulgating a number of laws related to political, economic, social and cultural sectors, and continued implementation of legal and judicial reforms. The efforts by the Government to combat corruption and resolve the land issues were also welcomed. Cambodia was also commended for its reforms of decentralisation and de-concentration to achieve democratic development at the grassroots levels. The close cooperation of the Government with the human rights mechanisms and the international community was welcomed. Viet Nam shared the outstanding problems and challenges the Government of Cambodia was facing, including the high poverty rate and the gap between the rich and poor. Viet Nam encouraged the international community and the Human Rights Council to continue to provide technical assistance to Cambodia in order to help it overcome its difficulties, and the new constraints and challenges ahead.

PHILIPPE DAM, of Human Rights Watch, shared the concerns expressed by the High Commissioner on the precarious political situation in Burundi. Regular incidents of political repression – including the arrests of scores of opposition activists since mid-2008, the tendency of some CNDD-FDD officials to prohibit opposition parties from holding meetings, and the intimidating behaviour of members of the CNDD-FDD youth league – threatened to undermine any possibility of free and fair elections in 2009. The implementation of the peace agreement in April 2009 between the Government and the FNL was laudable, but had failed to stem the tide of violence, as noted by the High Commissioner. Here it was noted that the investigatory commission established by the Government to look into killings of civil society activists had virtually no resources and that, following the arrests of four suspects in May, the work of the investigatory commission had been nearly non-existent. Human Rights Watch also shared the High Commissioner's concerns about the lack of progress in establishing credible national mechanisms to protect and promote human rights, including a proposed National Independent Human Rights Commission, as well as a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Special Tribunal for the prosecution of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

GENEVIEVE JOURDAN, of the Association for World Citizens, echoed the sentiments expressed by Libya, which had called yesterday for contribution for the direct and collateral damage caused by colonialism. The Association wondered whether technical assistance could not also support economic, social and cultural rights. It wondered if assistance could be provided for those who came to Europe to study and became professionals so that they could bring back a cultural contribution to their countries. They should establish programmes for child soldiers, many of whom committed suicide. Programmes that had been in place through contributions of Norway were no longer functioning. They needed programmes that would provide a spark of hope to these children to ensure for them a future based on human rights.

ALIMA AHMED, of Interfaith International, said that, with regard to the chronic crisis in Somalia which had led to an increase in religious extremism, it was the opinion of Interfaith International that it was now time for the international community to take appropriate measures. The measures taken by the National Government also required consistency, and the current humanitarian deficit in Somalia needed to be tackled with the involvement of the relevant organizations within and outside the country.

BIRO DIAWARA, of Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, said that there was a need for inter-institutional dialogue, which was indispensable to meet the challenges in terms of technical assistance in the area of human rights. In 1950, Liberia had the highest growth rate in the world - today it had enormous difficulties in the area of justice and human rights, which was largely due to impunity and the presence of child soldiers who were often disenfranchised and of whom 80 per cent were impoverished and living in the streets. There was a threat to peace in this country if the international community did not find a way to provide for more consistent and coherent coordination in terms of providing technical assistance. This would also make it possible for citizens to benefit and to establish specific programmes for women who were victims of rape or torture.

HASSAM SHIRE SHEIKH, of Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said Burundi was at a crucial point: the Government and the last remaining armed group were putting the finishing touches on a lengthy peace process, whilst the campaign for the July 2010 Presidential elections were underway. In order to ensure that the positive steps taken so far were consolidated, the Human Rights Council should ensure regular monitoring and reporting of the situation on the ground. The Council, the High Commissioner and the Independent Expert should pay particular attention to three issues: the ongoing attacks, threats and harassment of trade unionists; the violation of freedom of expression and association of the media and civil society organizations, and the newly passed Criminal Code, which was both a victory for justice and a step backwards on the road to fulfilling the country's human rights obligations. The Human Rights Council should have the Independent Expert on Burundi report to the Council in 2010, regardless of the status of the independent national human rights commission.

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