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International human rights standards “can and must” be translated into programmes on the ground, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, pointing to gender-related killings in Central America, massive migration from Myanmar to Bangladesh and ongoing tragedy in Syria.
“The world’s people are crying out for more justice, greater accountability, more respect for civil, cultural, economic, social, and political rights as well as the right to development,” said Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, presenting his annual report.
In that context of rising turmoil, he said the Office had assisted national authorities, democratic institutions and civil society in upholding human dignity and rights. To tackle femicide in Central America, it recently set up a virtual training in Argentina, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama of a Model Protocol developed to investigate gender-related deaths of women.
To ensure migrants’ rights, he said the Office had organized monitoring missions to European border and transit locations such as Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to assess protection needs. It had also published a report of “shocking” abuses suffered by migrants in Libya.
In Bangladesh, two rapid expert teams had been sent to interview refugees from Myanmar’s Rohingya community and report on violations. While they had been refused access by Myanmar authorities, his Office would continue to seek accountability for any such abuses, and coordinate with Bangladesh to ensure the integration of rights into humanitarian operations.
Faced with Syria’s refusal to enable access, he said the Office had established a Syrian Team — essentially virtual country offices in Beirut, Gaziantep, Amman and Geneva — that included monitoring and human rights advisors. In a similar lack of access, it had set up a team to conduct remote monitoring of the human rights situation in Venezuela, given recent countrywide demonstrations.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates affirmed their commitment to upholding human rights obligations, and asked a range of questions — from how the High Commissioner had increased representation of developing countries in his Office, to how States could work with the United Nations to ensure sufficient space for civil society. Delegates from Switzerland and the United Kingdom asked how Member States could work with the Office to prevent human rights abuses from taking place, while representatives of Latvia and the United States pointed out that countries with grave human rights abuses should not be on the Human Rights Council. They asked what measures could be taken to improve the Council’s credibility.
Venezuela’s delegate said indivisible and progressive respect for all human rights was enshrined in its Constitution, which was among the reasons it had been elected to the Human Rights Council. He pressed the Office to comply with its General Assembly mandate to conduct its work on the basis of non‑politicization, transparency and non‑application of double standards, stressing that its report had omitted facts about crimes by armed groups.
Singapore’s representative asked why the Office had not presented a report to the General Assembly this year and requested clarity about its reporting responsibilities, a point echoed by Egypt’s representative.
There was growing understanding among States about the Office’s mandate, which must proceed without groundless accusations spread through false information, added the representative of the Russian Federation. Despite current trends, the Office was not supposed to be a human rights arbiter.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 17 October, to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.
Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights. The Committee had before it the following documents: A/72/127, A/72/128, A/72/131, A/72/132, A/72/133, A/72/135, A/72/137, A/72/139, A/72/140, A/72/153, A/72/155, A/72/162, A/72/163, A/72/164, A/72/165, A/72/170, A/72/171, A/72/172, A/72/173, A/72/187, A/72/188, A/72/201, A/72/202, A/72/219, A/72/230, A/72/256, A/72/260, A/72/277, A/72/280, A/72/284, A/72/289, A/72/290, A/72/316, A/72/335, A/72/350, A/72/351, A/72/365, A/72/370, A/72/381, A/72/495, A/72/496, A/72/502, A/72/518, A/72/523, A/72/279, A/72/281, A/72/322, A/72/382, A/72/394, A/72/493, A/72/498, A/C.3/72/2-S/2017/798, A/C.3/72/3–S/2017/799, A/C.3/72/4–S/2017/800, A/C.3/72/5-S-2017/816, A/C.3/72/6-S-2017/817, A/C.3/72/7–S/2017/818, A/C.3/72/8-S-2017/819, A/C.3/72/10–S/2017/852 and A/C.3/72/11.
ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said his Office had made a real difference in several countries, assisting national authorities, democratic institutions and civil society in upholding human dignity and rights. Presenting his annual report, covering August 2016 to July 2017, he highlighted the Office’s work in Cambodia, its oldest field presence, which illustrated how well-targeted technical cooperation had built trust with partners. It was working to expand a criminal case database to ensure nationwide coverage by 2019, as well as training judges and lawyers in human rights law and fostering improved conditions of detention.
In El Salvador, he said the Office had drawn up a specific protocol for investigating femicide, with the help of judges, prosecutors, police and victims, as well as supported the development of a model protocol for investigating gender-related deaths of women, which had been widely adopted by justice officials across the region. On the protection of migrants, the Office had played a lead role in supporting the historic negotiation of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, and developed a compendium of good practices. It had organized monitoring missions to European border and transit locations such as Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to assess migrants’ protection needs.
Just last week, the Office had completed a mission to assess protection needs of migrants in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, he said, while in Tunisia, a national consultation had been conducted to gauge respect for migrants’ health, education and labour rights. With the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), it had published a report of “shocking” abuses and violations suffered by migrants in that country, and in the Pacific, met with migrants stranded in both Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
On the massive movements of people from Myanmar’s Rohingya community to Bangladesh, he said two rapid expert teams had been sent to interview refugees in Bangladesh and report on violations. While the experts had been refused access by Myanmar authorities, their reports continued to provide crucial information to Member States and the Security Council. Further, the work of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, established by the Human Rights Council, was underway. His Office would continue to seek prevention and accountability for rights violations, and would coordinate with Bangladesh to ensure integration of rights in ongoing humanitarian operations.
Also this year, the Office had deployed a team to Angola to interview refugees fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo, he said, and in the absence of access, had established a team to conduct remote monitoring on the human rights situation in Venezuela in the context of nationwide demonstrations. He went on to highlight important work on the right to food and access to land in Malawi, and efforts to combat violent extremism in Mali. In Syria, the Office continued to support the Human Rights Council’s International Independent Commission of Inquiry. Faced with Syria’s refusal to enable access, the Office had established virtual country offices — in Beirut, Gaziantep, Amman and Geneva, including monitoring teams and human rights advisors.
Finally, he said the Office had also supported the creation of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law committed in Syria — a new and unique body mandated by the Assembly to collect and analyse evidence of alleged crimes in Syria. It was committed to do its utmost to ensure recommendations of all human rights were carried out. The Secretary-General’s reform efforts presented an opportunity to ensure that human rights were no longer viewed as ancillary but as central to sustainable development, peace and security.
“The world’s people are crying out for more justice, greater accountability, more respect for civil, cultural, economic, social, and political rights as well as the right to development,” he said, pledging to assist Governments, regional and national institutions, civil society organizations and human rights defenders in upholding the rights of all people.
The representative of Brazil supported the work carried out by the High Commissioner’s Office on protecting people from being discriminated against based on their sexual or gender identity.
The representative of China asked what specific measures would be taken to increase the representation of developing countries in the staffing of the High Commissioner’s Office, and about how the Office would invest more human and financial resources in the units responsible for economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to development.
The representative of Morocco asked the High Commissioner to expand on his Office’s contribution to protecting migrants through the global compact on migration.
The representative of Australia asked how States could best work together to ensure space for civil society at the United Nations.
The representative of Argentina asked whether the High Commissioner believed the existing international legal framework was sufficient to protect the rights of older persons.
The representative of Latvia said countries which committed grave human rights abuses should not be on the Council, and asked the High Commissioner what measures could be taken to improve the credibility of the Council.
The representative of the United States asked what should be done to ensure the worst human rights violators were not able to serve as members of the Human Rights Council, also asking what could be done to prevent reprisals against members of civil society.
The representative of Switzerland asked what the best way would be for the Council to improve its preventive work, and what the High Commissioner expected from Member States in order to achieve that goal.
The representative of Venezuela said indivisible and progressive respect for all human rights was a commitment enshrined in its Constitution, which was among the reasons why Venezuela had been elected to the Human Rights Council. He pressed the Office to comply with its General Assembly mandate to conduct its work on the basis of non‑politicization, transparency and non-application of double standards, stressing that the report had omitted facts about crimes by armed groups. Venezuela would work with the Office as long as it took a balanced approach.
The representative of the United Kingdom asked the High Commissioner about how Member States could assist his Office in its preventive and early warning work.
The representative of Cameroon said political, social and cultural rights were interlinked and should be dealt with on the same footing, adding that further efforts must be made towards members of civil society working to protect those rights.
Mr. AL HUSSEIN replied that his Office had come under intense pressure from all sides, stressing that there were no countries with perfect human rights records. To a question on underrepresentation of certain geographic areas and developing countries on the staff of OHCHR, he said he was a strong believer in the broadest possible geographic range of staff, adding that his Office was committed to improving women’s representation on staff and welcoming the Secretary-General’s commitment to gender parity. To a query on strengthening work on economic, social and cultural rights, he said his Office would work to integrate those rights into the United Nations system and turn them into realities on the ground. On the integration of his Office’s work into broader work on migration, he said he had led follow-up to developing a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.
A lack of cooperation with Special Procedures Mandate-holders was deeply concerning, he said, adding that a number of States with standing invitations to those mandate-holders did not honour that commitment in practice. To a question on the rights of older persons, he described significant normative gaps, and absent or weak national standards regarding age discrimination. Regarding changes that could be envisaged in the composition of the Human Rights Council to ensure its greater credibility, he said the General Assembly resolution guiding membership should be observed, adding that there was no selectivity. To questions on reprisals, he said his staff relied on civil society for insight and information, and when those individuals were harmed, it was considered an attack on the United Nations. A report on that topic had been presented. On conflict prevention and early warning, he said one of the key parts of his Office’s work was access, which it needed to verify and confirm information. He pleaded for Member States to grant access when OHCHR felt it was needed.
The representative of Iran said that OHCHR’s work should not be steered by political motives, cautioning against entertaining any such initiatives. Referencing discrimination, he requested additional information regarding OHCHR duties in countries without United Nations presence.
The representative of the European Union asked how States and relevant agencies could ensure civil, political and social rights were advanced in tandem.
The representative of the Russian Federation said several non‑State actors continued to pose threats to human rights and that some States were using human rights issues to further their own political goals. There was growing understanding among States about the Office’s mandate, which must proceed without groundless accusations spread through false information. Despite current trends, the Office was not supposed to be a human rights arbiter.
A representative of the Observer State of Palestine asked how the database to monitor Israel’s illegal settlement campaign would address non‑profit organizations engaging in business in the settlements, and further, when the report on that matter would be presented.
The representative of Cuba asked about activities being undertaken to avoid politicization of human rights and development issues. He requested information regarding operational changes at OHCHR and what effects those changes would have on the Office’s work.
The representative of Azerbaijan expressed concern over the increasing number of displaced persons around the world and asked what work the Office would do to address the matter.
The representative of Ethiopia encouraged the High Commissioner to promote migrants’ rights, asking whether earmarked funding had affected the Office’s work and about any gaps identified regarding the rights of migrants.
The representative of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the African Group, asked for clarification regarding the Office’s reporting mechanisms.
The representative of Singapore also asked for clarity on the Office’s reporting responsibilities and why no report had been presented to the General Assembly this year.
The representative of Indonesia asked the High Commissioner what was expected of relevant parties in the fulfilment of social and cultural rights.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea asked the High Commissioner to explain what measures would be taken to address the abduction of a group of girls by the Republic of Korea.
Mr. AL HUSSEIN, responding to Iran’s query, said engagement with countries without a United Nations presence was done through the Office’s regional representatives and through its staff in Geneva. Remote monitoring and capacity-building workshops were also an option, he noted.
Turning to the European Union’s question, he said using international human rights law to pursue peace could address the causes of conflict and benefit post‑conflict rebuilding efforts. He recognized the link among all rights, and said recognizing them as universal was the first point of departure to ensure all rights were promoted in tandem. Strengthening United Nations capacity to respond to emerging crises was also pivotal.
He said he was well aware of the pressure being placed on Member States by non‑State actors, and that his Office had a responsibility to “hold a mirror” to States’ conduct. Without the work of his Office the world would be much less stable, he assured.
In response to Cuba’s question, he said his Office would continue to pursue ways to promote the right to development. The Secretary-General’s human rights initiatives brought all United Nations pillars together and called for greater focus on human rights, including those of migrants. On funding, he expressed appreciation for States’ voluntary contributions, whether earmarked or not. Currently, earmarked funds were provided for areas in which his Office did not have budget allocations.
Responding to queries by delegates from Egypt and Singapore, he said that on the basis of relevant resolutions, his Office must submit reports to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly. Producing both reports required countless staff hours and the coordination of all offices around the world. This year, a note had been issued, instead of a report to the General Assembly, referring to the report presented to the Human Rights Council to streamline the process. He said that approach had saved resources without sacrificing information. If States expressed dissatisfaction with that approach, the practice could be modified next year.
Turning to the concern expressed by the delegate of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea over the abduction of the girls, he assured he was taking the matter seriously and engagement avenues were being explored.
He closed by saying that a report on the database of Israeli settlements would be produced by the end of the year.
Also speaking were the representatives of Qatar, Belarus, Ukraine, Japan, Norway, Libya, Liberia, Eritrea, Syria and Nepal.