Human Rights Council
23 September 2008
Council Holds Interactive Dialogue on Situation in Liberia, Somalia and Burundi, concludes General Debates on Racism, Technical Assistance
The Human Rights Council this afternoon heard a presentation by the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi and held an interactive dialogue on the situation in Liberia, Somalia and Burundi. The Council also held a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building and concluded the general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Akich Okola, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi, noted the progress made by the successive Governments of Burundi on the political, social and economic fronts. However, the human rights situation in Burundi remained fragile. The relation between the Government and civil society had deteriorated significantly as well as the relation between the Government and opposition parties. Violations of the right to life, the right to physical integrity and the rights of assembly and freedom of expression continued to be a matter of serious concern. The work in Burundi was by no means over, he noted.
The Council then held an interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Liberia, Somalia and Burundi. The Independent Experts on the situation of human rights in Liberia and Somalia presented their reports on Friday 19 September. Speaking as concerned countries were Liberia, Somalia and Burundi.
Liberia, speaking as a concerned country, said the Government was deeply appreciative of the efforts of the international community and the Human Rights Council in supporting the people of Liberia in the rebuilding of their nation and securing the peace after many years of civil war. Liberia strongly endorsed the resolution tabled by the European Union to build the capacity of Liberian authorities and sought the support of Members States and partners for the adoption of this resolution.
Somalia, speaking as a concerned country, said its people had a responsibility in ensuring the future of their country and that of their neighbours and thus were strongly committed to a lasting peace in their country. Somalia strongly appealed to all friendly countries to support the relevant Security Council resolution in order to assist the Somali Government to fully restore a lasting peace. Somalia was ready to increase its cooperation with the Independent Expert and to prevent any human rights violations in the country.
Burundi, speaking as a concerned country, said that the Government had done everything to bring an end to the war and to combat impunity and stressed that even in the absence of an Independent Expert there were sufficient national mechanisms to monitor the human rights situation. Burundi accepted the appointment of an Independent Expert until the national independent commission for human rights was established and reiterated its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.
In the interactive debate, speakers welcomed the recent progress achieved in the peace process in Somalia, but also expressed concern over the dire humanitarian situation affecting large numbers of civilians. A number of States supported the Independent Expert’s request for appropriate funding and assistance for human rights work in Liberia and welcomed the progress made. Persistent human rights violations in Burundi, including an increase in sexual violence and continued impunity, were found by some States to be sufficient justification for the extension of this mandate, particularly in the light of the upcoming elections in 2010.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Okola said that he was deeply encouraged by a general recognition of the positive contribution of the work of the Independent Expert to the protection of human rights in Burundi. Recognizing all the progress and achievements accomplished by the Government of Burundi so far, he underlined the fact that a lot still remained to be done and addressed. A lot of resources had been invested in the peace in Burundi. But the peace would remain elusive if poverty, which was the main issue in the country, remained ignored.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Egypt on behalf of the African Group, Djibouti, France on behalf of the European Union, Belgium, Ethiopia, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Democratic Republic of the Congo, United Kingdom, Norway, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sudan, Yemen, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.
Also speaking were representatives of the following non governmental organizations: International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, World Organisation Against Torture, and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
After completing the interactive dialogue with the Independent Experts for Liberia, Somalia and Burundi, the Council held a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building.
Noting the fruitful dialogue and exchange with Special Procedures mandate holders during this Council’s session, some States underlined the excellent value Special Procedures country mandates had in bringing certain human rights situations to attention and in identifying measures for improvement. The extension of the mandates for Cambodia and Haiti were generally welcomed. Some speakers noted that the Human Rights Council should look into other situations as well, such as Turkmenistan, Sri Lanka, and Iran that could warrant action of the Human Rights Council. Special attention should be given to Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were France on behalf of the European Union, Brazil, Ghana, Canada, Sweden and Sri Lanka.
Also speaking were representatives of the following non governmental organizations: Human Rights Watch and Arab Commission of Human Rights.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded the general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and heard representatives of the following non governmental organizations: Action Canada for Population and Development, Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Al-Hakim Foundation.
When the Council resumes its work at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 24 September, it will consider the report on conference facilities and financial support to the Human Rights Council. It will then start to take action on draft resolutions and decisions before concluding its ninth regular session.
Continuation of General Debate on Racism and Racial Discrimination and Follow-Up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Work
ALEJANDRA SARDA, of Action Canada for Population and Development, said that last year, the Council in resolution 6/30 recognised the importance of examining, from a gender perspective, the intersection of multiple forms of discrimination and conditions of disadvantage, their root causes and consequences. The Durban review process was an ideal opportunity to turn these words into action. There was an evident relationship between the right to be free from discrimination and sexual and reproductive rights. Multiple forms of discrimination often played out in ways that violated individuals’ sexual and reproductive rights. Gender-based discrimination often resulted in sexual violence. Limitations of women’s autonomy and decision-making could restrict their access to sexual reproductive health information and services. Elimination of all forms of discrimination was vital for the protection of all peoples’ sexual and reproductive health.
WAJAHAT HASSAN, of the Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, expressed serious concern about the resolution of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on combating defamation of religion. The resolution was loosely worded and justified actions that were in conflict with the Council’s standards. The resolution was supposed to foster dialogue, but would instead impose restrictions and limit the freedom of expression beyond what was guaranteed by international law.
MALIN NILLSON, of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, in a joint statement with International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, said that they were concerned about the status of preparations for the 2009 Durban Review Conference, given that it would take place in barely seven months time. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom called for urgent measures at all levels to strengthen and upgrade the preparations. An executive secretary should be appointed to assist in the effective preparations and a clear roadmap should be adopted which included an additional third session of the Preparatory Committee. The roadmap had to include effective measures to ensure the full participation of non governmental organizations from all regions in the forthcoming meetings of the Preparatory Committee.
ABDUL AMIER HASHOM, of Al-Hakim Foundation, in a joint statement with Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association and Interfaith International, said that the international community was celebrating World Peace Day. Racism and racial discrimination resulted in many conflicts and incited hatred. It had led to the break up of several countries, such as Iraq and Rwanda. It was time to build a culture of cooperation, conciliation and understanding, in order to combat discrimination in all parts of the world. Discrimination was one of the most powerful weapons of mass destruction in the world. They called for a mutual understanding between civilizations.
Report of Independent Expert on Situation of Human Rights in Burundi
The Council has before it the report of the Independent Expert on the situation
of human rights in Burundi, Akich Okola (A/HRC/9/14), which notes that the overall human rights situation in Burundi has deteriorated. More than 4,000 cases of human rights violations were committed in the first half of 2008 by law enforcement and administration of provinces. Most violations registered related to cases of ill-treatment, rape, torture of suspects by police officials and violations of due process by police and judicial officials. During his visit in December 2007, the independent expert noted that the President had reached an agreement with the main opposition groups and formed a new Government after six months of crisis. However, the crisis resurfaced in March 2008, when the ruling party, the “Conseil national de défense et de la démocratie-Forces de défense et de la démocratie” (CNDD-FDD), decided to remove several members of Parliament. The political crisis deepened in May 2008 when the Constitutional Court ruled that the 22 rebels had lost the right to sit in Parliament. The President quickly replaced them with other members of the ruling party, thereby regaining the majority in Parliament, which the ruling party had lost as a result of the rebellion. The Independent Expert is deeply concerned about this decision. By acting in this compliant manner, the Court has lent credence to the widely-held belief that the whole machinery of justice in Burundi is beholden to the executive. The independent expert therefore calls on the Government to open dialogue with all political parties in order to avoid any institutional and political crisis, which would have a negative impact on the human rights and stability of the country. He further requests the international community to remain engaged with the Government to allow that matter to be solved. The Independent Expert also reiterates his call to the international community to support the Government in its efforts for the reform of the justice system and, more broadly, for humanitarian and development assistance.
Presentation by Independent Expert on Situation of Human Rights in Burundi
AKICH OKOLA, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi, said that during his mandate notable progress had been made by the successive Governments of Burundi on the political, social and economic fronts which had impacted on human rights. Among these were the adoption of a new constitution; the election of a parliament, a senate and a president; the creation of an integrated army following a brutal civil war; the implementation of educational and health programmes which have benefited the poor and the most vulnerable segments of the Burundian society; and the opening of some space for civil society and the media.
However, the human rights situation in Burundi remained fragile. The relation between the Government and civil society had deteriorated significantly as well as the relation between the Government and opposition parties. Political bickering and gridlock in parliament persisted and opposition parties complained about harassment by security organs of the State whenever they wanted to hold meetings.
Mr. Okola said that there was an increase in armed attacks, mainly targeting vehicles by alleged Palipehutu-FNL members. As a result, a significant number of civilians were killed during the reporting period. Violations of the right to life, the right to physical integrity and the rights of assembly and freedom of expression continued to be a matter of serious concern.
Mr. Okola remained concerned about impunity for violations committed in a number of serious incidents in Burundi. No progress had been made by the Government of Burundi to address the massacre of 119 refugees in Gatumba in 2004. There was also no interest in bringing to justice those who participated in the Muyinga massacre in 2006.
Furthermore, sexual violence and abuse of women and children by state, non-state and private actors continued unabated throughout Burundi. A culture of impunity for such crimes remained prevalent. There had been an increase in cases of sexual violence in Burundi since the last trimester of 2007 and a significant increase in the incidence of gang rape since the beginning of 2008. The Government had not taken sufficient measures to prevent human rights violations.
Mr. Okola said that the work in Burundi was by no means over. He hoped that the international community continued its engagement with Burundi. This was especially important regarding the impending elections.
Statements by Concerned Countries to Reports of Independent Experts on Liberia, Somalia and Burundi
DUDLEY MCKINLEY THOMAS (Liberia), speaking as a concerned country in response to the report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Liberia, said that the Government of Liberia was deeply appreciative of the efforts of the international community and the Human Rights Council in supporting the people of Liberia in the rebuilding of their nation and securing the peace after many years of civil war. Liberia was cognisant of the fact that in order to successfully keep the peace and ensure future stability, all of their efforts must be guided by a strong commitment to the promotion, preservation and responsibility for the individual and collective human rights of each and every Liberian citizen and foreign national in Liberia’s territory.
The Government of Liberia deeply appreciated and valued the indispensable role played by Ms. Charlotte Abaka, Independent Expert, in identifying human rights challenges in Liberia in a critical period of its history. The Government of Liberia took significant steps and would continue to address the issues highlighted by the work of Ms. Abaka. Liberia said it counted on of the Human Rights Council and other international partners, especially European Union, African Union and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in attaining the desired results that would ensure Liberia’s place as a respected member of the international community. Liberia strongly endorsed the resolution tabled by the European Union to build the capacity of Liberian authorities and sought the support of Members States and partners for the adoption of this resolution.
YUSUF MOHAMED ISMAIL (Somalia), speaking as a concerned country in response to the statement of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, said the people of Somalia had a responsibility in ensuring the future of their country and that of their neighbours and thus were strongly committed to a lasting peace in their country. Somalia welcomed help in capacity building. Concerning the current political circumstances in Somalia, the people of Somalia were the hostages of a small group. For the last 19 years the group had been able to speak louder and had blatantly kept threatening the International Airport in Mogadishu. The fingerprints of this group were also clearly behind the attack that had struck the police station the Independent Expert had planned to visit. Somalia strongly appealed to all friendly countries to support the relevant Security Council resolution in order to assist the Somali Government to fully restore a lasting peace. Somalia was ready to increase their cooperation with the Independent Expert and to prevent any human rights violations in the country.
PIERRE BARUSASIYEKO (Burundi), speaking as a concerned country in response to the statement of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi, said that the Government had done everything to bring an end to the war and to combat impunity. Burundi stressed that even in the absence of an Independent Expert there were sufficient national mechanisms to monitor the human rights situation in Burundi. Burundi stated that staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that were sent on mission to the country should speak at least one of the official languages of the country. It accepted the appointment of an Independent Expert until the national independent commission for human rights was established. Burundi reiterated that it was committed to promote and protect human rights.
Interactive Dialogue with Independent Experts on Situation of Human Rights in Liberia, Somalia and Burundi
OMAR SHALABY (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed deep regret that the Independent Experts on Liberia and Somalia were not available for the interactive dialogue. The African Group welcomed the recent progress achieved in the peace process in Somalia and the agreement by parties to the conflict in Somalia to allow humanitarian access to affected populations. Despite this promising progress, the human rights situation in Somalia was a source of concern to the African Group. The repeated attacks against African Union peacekeepers were worrying. The international community should fully support the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the African Mission in Somalia and should give due consideration to the request for a robust United Nations peacekeeping presence in Somalia.
The African Group noted the presence of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Somalia and said that their mandate should be based on a clearly identified framework and should be consistent with United Nations offices operating in similar circumstances. The African Group reiterated its position that the recommendations of the Independent Expert should always be consistent with his mandate and made particular reference to recommendations made to the Security Council.
The African Group commended the Government of Liberia for achieving democratic progress and advancing the reform agenda and its acceleration of progress on a number of human rights and development issues. The African Group reiterated the recommendations of the Independent Expert to the United Nations and the international community as a whole to support the capacity-building efforts in Liberia, focusing on the priorities set out by its Government. The African Group also commended the Government of Burundi and supported its efforts to promote and protect human rights.
MOHAMED-SIAD DOUALEH (Djibouti) said that Djibouti fully shared the view expressed by the Special Rapporteur that the situation in Somalia was one of the most painful humanitarian crises in the world today. Djibouti was particularly encouraged by the improvements made since the signing of the peace agreement in Djibouti last August. The history of peace processes in Somalia was a long history of missed opportunities; this peace accord should not be missed this time around. Somalia needed reinforced support by the international community.
JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Liberia had once again underlined the importance of the quick establishment of an efficient national commission on human rights. The European Union would like to know what the major challenges were to the establishment of such a commission. In addition, what were the key priorities regarding the reform of the judiciary, the reform of the police and the penal system? The European Union called on Liberia to enhance its political engagement in the issues mentioned by the Independent Expert, especially regarding harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation. The European Union expressed its concern regarding the death penalty in Liberia. Turning to the situation in Burundi, the European Union said that some progress had been made, as for example the establishment of the human rights commission. This had to be enhanced further. Furthermore, the international community had to continue to strengthen institutional capacities. A part of the mandate should therefore be external assistance in order to allow the Government to complete its work. Regarding the situation in Somalia, the European Union supported the mandate of the Independent Expert. The European Union was gravely concerned about the situation and reaffirmed its support of a global approach which would lead to a durable settlement of the crisis. The European Union thought that the Council should give more attention to the monitoring of the situation in Somalia. In this regard, the European Union wanted to know from the Independent Expert what role civil society could play to bring an end to impunity in Somalia.
NATHALIE RONDEUX (Belgium) commended the work of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi and his recommendations aimed at the improvement of the human rights work in the country.
The problems in Burundi persisted, especially the violence against women, including sexual violence that was on the increase. Impunity remained the major issue to address. Efforts must be made to build the capacity of Burundi in the area of human rights, including judicial reform and establishment of a national human rights institute in line with the Paris Principles.
Belgium welcomed the official stand of the President of Burundi who supported the extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert. Belgium wanted to hear from the Independent Expert about the necessary conditions for the establishment of a national human rights institute and how to ensure the institute operated in a transparent and efficient manner.
ALLEHONE MULUGETA ABEBE (Ethiopia) said that Ethiopia was supportive of the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia. The Ethiopian Government however was gravely disappointed with many elements of his oral report, which singled out Ethiopian troops for unjustified criticism and deliberately neglected actors that were aggravating the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Somalia. Ethiopia rejected in the strongest terms possible such methods of work. The presentation did not put the presence of the Ethiopian troops in context: that Ethiopia had been invited by a legitimate Government in Somalia and that its efforts in supporting the Somali Government and its institutions were supported by the United Nations and the African Union. The presentation was replete with inaccurate information and allegations. Eritrea continued to fuel humanitarian and human rights violations in Somalia by arming and supporting groups that used civilians as human shields and engaged in terrorist and indiscriminate acts. The international community had failed in Somalia and it could not compensate such a history of neglect by shifting blame.
SEBASTIEN MALO (Canada) said that the work of the Special Procedures was certainly not a stranger to many improvements in the human rights field carried out in recent years. Regarding Liberia, several sectors that needed improvement were mentioned, inter alia, the prison system and the judiciary. All had an impact on other sectors and Canada asked which sectors should be given priority. Canada also expressed its concern with regard to the death penalty. Turning to Burundi, Canada noted that the violation of human rights continued to thwart efforts for reconciliation in that country. The lack of a transitional judiciary and the growing intolerance with regard to criticism coming from opposition parties were major concerns. Canada encouraged Burundi to continue its efforts to promote and protect human rights.
ROBERTO VELLANO (Italy) said Italy had carefully examined the information provided by the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia and hoped the signature of the Djibouti peace agreement and an arrangement among the main Federal Transitional Authorities would result in a better political atmosphere. Italy expressed its support to the Transitional Federal Government and said it was evident that an effective promotion of human rights in such a difficult environment was strictly linked to security. Italy deemed it appropriate to extend the attention of the Human Rights Council on Somalia, with the involvement and cooperation of the Transitional Federal Government.
Among multiple violations that had occurred in Somalia in recent years, the worst were those involving children, including the use of child soldiers in conflicts. Italy wanted to hear the Independent Expert’s assessment of the present situation of children’s rights, more specifically in regards to the right to education and the condition of educational facilities.
The Representative of Switzerland said that all three country situations were considered as highly complicated situations. Concerning Burundi, the development of the situation of human rights was worrisome. The 2006 ceasefire had to be implemented without delay. Continuation of the dialogue between all parties was crucial. Switzerland would continue to work to support the transition of the judiciary system in the country. They also supported the extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi.
CLAUDE BAZIBUHE NYAMUGABO (Democratic Republic of the Congo) said that the report showed that Burundi had cooperated with the Human Rights Council and the Independent Expert. This was commendable and was reflected by the progress in the field. The Democratic Republic of the Congo welcomed Burundi’s effort above all in the consolidation of peace and urged Burundi to continue implementing economic and social rights. Regarding the mandate of the Independent Expert, the Democratic Republic of the Congo believed that it should always be the country concerned that should determine how it wanted to profit from the technical assistance of the Independent Expert. The Universal Periodic Review would help to improve the situation in Burundi. Regarding the renewal of mandates, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was always in favour of ending mandates that had started under the old Commission for Human Rights to avoid the same politicization that had discredited the Commission.
MELANIE HOPKINS (United Kingdom) thanked the Independent Expert for his interim report on the situation of human rights in Somalia and welcomed his support for the Djibouti Agreement. The United Kingdom particularly agreed with the emphasis that the Independent Expert placed on the Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia working together to implement the peace agreement and including other opposition groups to demonstrate to the international community their commitment to improving human rights. It was also important that the community assisted all Somali parties in implementing the Djibouti Agreement and to consider ways to offer financial and technical support to ensure human rights were integrated in the Transitional Federal Institutions frameworks.
The United Kingdom asked the Independent Expert what were his views on the contribution of the Djibouti Agreement to improving the human rights situation in Somalia and what were the key reasons for the increase in violence and human rights violations he had described.
BEATE STIRØ (Norway) congratulated the Government of Burundi for the establishment of the tripartite steering committee with the aim of organizing a national consultation on transitional justice mechanisms. The Government’s support for the establishment of a national human rights commission was another step forward. Norway called on Burundi to ensure that the necessary legal framework for the establishment and operation of the national human rights commission in accordance with the Paris Principles was put in place without delays. The problem of child soldiers had according to the report been partly solved; however the Independent Expert reported allegations of child soldiers among the Palipeheutu FNL. Actions leading to the demobilisation of these children should be implemented. Norway was also concerned about the high level of sexual violence against women and children.
AMY LAURENSON (New Zealand) said that New Zealand welcomed the signing of a peace and reconciliation agreement between the Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia. But Somalia continued to be a human rights tragedy on the largest scale. The situation was characterized by indiscriminate violence and frequent attacks against civilians, gender based violence and the recruitment of child soldiers. New Zealand stressed that the human rights violations were committed with virtual impunity. New Zealand asked what technical means the international community could provide to ensure that human rights were fully integrated in the institutions, frameworks and laws that were being developed by the Transitional Federal Authorities in Somalia.
JOHN ALHASSAN GANA (Nigeria) congratulated the Independent Expert on Liberia for a job well done and his cooperation and positive manner in carrying out the assignment. Nigeria also welcomed the drawing of attention to the need for assistance to Liberia to fulfil its human rights obligations. Nigeria supported the desire of Liberia for increased assistance for the promotion and protection of human rights and the consolidation of peace. Nigeria particularly welcomed the call to the international community for adequate funding and assistance to Liberia to consolidate human rights, peace and security for obvious benefits for the whole region.
OMER DAHAB FADOL MOHAMED (Sudan) said that Sudan followed with great interest the development of events in Somalia and welcomed the peace process. It was necessary to develop peace and security. The efforts by the Government and the neighbourly countries in this regard were welcomed. As for Liberia, Sudan endorsed the analysis of the report saying that the arrival of the new Government had accelerated the process on many developmental issues. One of the achievements had been the reform of schools and hospitals. Sudan encouraged Liberia to continue on this path and to uphold and protect human rights.
FADHL AL-MAGHAFI (Yemen) said that Somali refugees in Yemen were not mentioned by the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia. Neither were the horrific crimes covered in the context of the trafficking of Somali refugees. Yemen added that it was addressing the problem of piracy. The deterioration of the human rights situation was undoubtedly linked to the two decade long period of instability in Somalia. It was essential to provide support to the legitimate Somali institutions, to give technical and financial assistance, to help internally displaced persons, and to further the protection of economic and social rights. Yemen believed in dialogue to reach stability.
JEAN W. KIMANI (Kenya) thanked the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi for his comprehensive report and the excellent work he had done since his appointment. He had sought to address various challenges related to the post-conflict situation in Burundi. The present mandate had been extended at the request of the Government of Burundi, which demonstrated its commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.
Kenya thanked the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia and looked forward to his full report in March 2009. As a country adversely affected by the insecurity in Somalia, Kenya urged the international community to support all efforts to restore lasting peace in Somalia. Kenya welcomed the Djibouti Agreement and Addis Ababa road map and called on the international community to support the African Union Mission in Somalia and the request of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia for a robust United Nations peacekeeping force in Somalia.
ENCYLA M. SINJELA (Zambia) commended the people and the Government of Liberia for the progress that that country had made. Liberia required time and support to establish a legal and institutional framework for the promotion and protection of all human rights. In the view of the Independent Expert, was there a lack of commitment and political will to deal with the challenges and improve the human rights situation in Liberia?
DAVID NAHIMAWA, of International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, called on the Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi. The human rights situation did not improve during 2008 as the Independent Expert had mentioned. During that time, 300 cases of torture were documented and there were numerous crises in the parliament which led to the resignation of 22 parliamentarians. Human Rights League called on the Government of Burundi to fully implement the peace agreement with the Palipehutu-FNL to guarantee peace, security and justice. It also called on the Government of Burundi to guarantee the physical integrity and freedom of expression for human rights defenders.
JULIE DE RIVERO, of Human Rights Watch, welcomed the call of the Independent Expert for a special session of the Human Rights Council on Somalia. The dire humanitarian situation in Somalia was being exacerbated by daunting obstacles to humanitarian access and the continuing collapse of basic services. Indiscriminate bombardment, murder, rape, torture and arbitrary imprisonment had exacted a devastating toll on Somalia’s civilian population. A wave of targeted assassinations and death threats had recently driven many of the civil society actors from the country. As a result, since the end of 2006 more than 8,000 Somali civilians had lost their lives to violence, one million were displaced, while an estimated 2.5 million needed food assistance. These numbers were growing on a daily basis.
Human Rights Watch was convinced that the Human Rights Council could go further in addressing the human rights situation in the country. A special session, with the participation of the Independent Expert, relevant Special Procedures, the United Nations, non governmental organizations, and a representative of Somali civil society, could trigger an important exchange of information on the realities and complexities of the human rights situation in Somalia. It could help identify a list of priorities and main challenges regarding human rights protection.
EVELYNE SCHMID, of Amnesty International, welcomed the work of the Independent Expert on Burundi, as well as the Government’s cooperation with him. There remained significant threats to the enjoyment of human rights in Burundi. The security situation remained fragile. Divisions within the ruling party and between the ruling party and other opposition parties had paralysed the work of the Burundian National Assembly. Insecurity was also exacerbated by the widespread presence of small arms, a weak economy and high levels of crime and recently demobilized combatants. Widespread human rights violations were regularly committed by state and non state actors. Progress in establishing a truth and reconciliation commission and a special tribunal had been slow. Amnesty International urged the Council to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert to allow him to continue to monitor the implementation of its recommendations, including those on the compliance with the Paris Principles of a future human rights commission.
ORLANE VARESANO, of the World Organization against Torture, in a joint statement, expressed its support for the mandate of the Independent Expert for Burundi and asked for it to be extended since the human rights situation in the country had not improved. The situation required the ongoing attention of the Human Rights Council. The World Organization against Torture was particularly concerned about the increased number of acts of sexual violence that were committed by state agents and armed groups.
LUCIE NIZIGAMA, of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, supported the willingness of the Government of Burundi to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert. Progress in human rights in Burundi had occurred in recent years. However, recent events were indicative of the fragile relations between the Government and human rights defenders. The Independent Expert could help the Government of Burundi to create an institutional framework for the promotion and protection of human rights, including a mechanism of traditional justice and a national human rights institute. He could also support the initiatives for the reform of the judiciary system though capacity building and by ensuring that the system conformed to principles of independence and impartiality. The extension of the mandate was particularly important in the light of the 2010 elections to ensure that the authorities and civil society enabled consolidation of the democratic process. Extension of this mandate was important for the Great Lakes Region East Africa, given the growing interdependence of all sectors throughout the region.
Concluding Remarks by Independent Expert on Situation of Human Rights in Burundi
AKICH OKOLA, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Burundi, in concluding remarks, said that he was deeply encouraged by the sentiments that were expressed by the various delegations. It appeared to him that there was a general recognition that there was something positive in the work of the Independent Expert and that it could contribute in the protection of human rights in Burundi. He had outlined, in his presentation, his frank view of what still needed to be done. A lot of work had been done, beginning with the Transitional Government and then the current Government, to give human rights their rightful place in this society. There was also a new constitution in place. He had mentioned that now there was also a senate and a president; there was greater peace than there used to be. This was positive, but there was still a lot on the ground that had not been covered.
Concerning the question by Belgium, on the issue of the establishment of the national human rights institution, and what needed to be done to ensure that this institution was established properly, Mr. Okola said that what he could say without any doubt was that the Government had recognized the importance of such an institution and that they had given it legislative legitimacy by drafting a law for the creation of such a body. But this did not mean that it would be able to work without any intimidation. This could only happen if there was consensus upon the entire political divide. One had to ensure that there was no political interference with such a mechanism. Giving it life, was not an end in itself, it should also be given independence.
Concerning the question of Canada, Mr. Okola said that the international community and the Government of Burundi had invested a lot of resources on the question of peace. All the expenditures had been aimed towards the consolidation of peace, but peace would remain elusive unless these expenditures all converged to address the main issue in the country: poverty. At the end of the day, the people of Burundi should be able to see results.
General Debate on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building
JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Union attached great importance to the role of the Human Rights Council in the field of technical assistance and capacity building. Liberia, Burundi, Somalia, Haiti and Cambodia were specific examples of what could be achieved with the help of the international community in the field of human rights promotion and protection. The European Union welcomed the request formulated by the Haitian Government to extend the mission of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti until 2010. The European Union also supported the need for the Human Rights Council to continue to monitor closely the situation in Burundi and Liberia. The European Union hoped that the Special Procedures concerned would be able to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the near future to assess the situation and make the necessary recommendations at the next session in March 2009. In this context, the European Union considered that the credibility of the Council was at stake.
BRUNA VIEIRA DE PAULA (Brazil) said that the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had been given a specific mandate to provide technical cooperation in the field of capacity building in human rights. This mandate rested on both the Council’s primary objective of offering an open and balanced forum for dialogue and on each State’s sovereignty to decide on and to request international cooperation. Some Member States had already expressed their will to be assisted in the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations and asked for technical support. However, in spite of progress achieved so far in the Human Rights Council institutional building, Members States had not been able to develop the Human Rights Council co-operational dimension at the same pace. It was therefore important to take concrete measures to offer assistance to Member States in implementing the Universal Periodic Review recommendations. Brazil was convinced that this initiative could stimulate other forms of assistance and create a platform for a discussion on the feasible ways to overcome the difficulties faced while promoting and protecting human rights.
MERCY YVONNE AMOAH (Ghana) said that Ghana had closely read the three reports of the Independent Experts. The Council needed to contribute to monitor the situation in all three countries. Ghana welcomed the adoption of a new constitution in Burundi. Some progress had also been made in the process of establishing an independent national human rights institution. The report of the Independent Expert however indicated that the situation remained fragile. Ghana urged the Government of Burundi to implement the recommendations and to bring the perpetrators to justice. The international community should on its part continue to support the reform of the judiciary system, and should remain engaged with the Government and assist its efforts.
The Liberian Government had also made important efforts. But the report of the Independent Expert said that the Government faced serious challenges in respecting and protecting human rights and that the situation in the country remained fragile. Ghana endorsed the recommendations in the report and called the United Nations to continue to support the capacity building in the country.
ALEXANDER BESANT (Canada) welcomed the Haitian Government’s participation in the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Haiti. Although there had been progress, it had been halted by the existing instability. Canada hoped that the new Haitian Government would improve the living conditions of the Haitian population which had suffered from various natural catastrophes recently. Canada also encouraged the new Haitian Government to continue consolidating the rule of law.
HANS DAHLGREN (Sweden) said that the Special Procedures formed part of the concept of advancing the respect for human rights through offering advisory services, technical assistance or capacity building. Fruitful interactive dialogues had been held with the Special Procedures mandate holders for Cambodia, Liberia, Burundi and Somalia, again demonstrating the excellent value of Special Procedures country mandates in identifying measures for improvement.
Sweden welcomed the extension of the Cambodia mandate and believed that the country mandate for Burundi was another Special Procedures that had contributed to calling attention to a serious human rights situation and that Sweden would like to see extended. The mandate for Liberia had contributed to the significant improvements that the Government had instituted and Sweden found it reasonable that mandates were tailored to the factual human rights situation. In the case of Liberia, there still remained challenges for the Government, which the United Nations could help in overcoming. All those mandates had significantly contributed to calling attention to the situation on the ground.
Sweden believed that increasing attention had to be paid by the Council to how human rights mainstreaming in United Nations institutions could be improved, as human rights were one of the pillars of the whole United Nations system.
AMEER AJWAD OMER LEBBE (Sri Lanka) said that Sri Lanka had been emphasizing the importance of this agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building since the beginning of the Council’s work. The main purpose of the Council and its subsidiary organs should be to build capacity on request. Sri Lanka appreciated the help they had received. They also welcomed the help their friends offered to them during their Universal Periodic Review.
JULIE DE RIVERO, of Human Rights Watch, said that the situation in Burundi remained fragile. Rape and sexual violence continued to destroy the lives of many Burundian women and children. The Government had taken steps toward the establishment of a national independent human rights commission, but the bill establishing the commission had not yet been approved. Even under the best of circumstances, it was highly unlikely that a national independent human rights commission would be functioning effectively before next year at this time. Human Rights Watch said that if the Council discontinued a mandate when there was improvement, the reverse should also be true. In this context, Human Rights Watch had supported the restoration of the mandates for Afghanistan and Iraq which existed under the Commission on Human Rights. The discontinuation of the mandate of the Independent Expert on the Democratic Republic of Congo was absolutely unacceptable. There were many other country situations such as Turkmenistan, Sri Lanka, and Iran that could warrant action of the Human Rights Council.
ABDELWAHAB HANI, of the Arab Commission of Human Rights, said that the webcast allowed everyone to watch the proceedings of the Human Rights Council and contributed to capacity building of everyone, particularly of civil society. It was thus regrettable that the webcast of the meetings of the Human Rights Council was available only in English or the original language spoken, and thus missed on the opportunity to enhance the capacity building.
For use of the information media; not an official record