The United Nations Member States advised caution against the “politicization” of human rights issues today in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), even as some delegates found themselves embroiled in a political discussion on the human rights situations in particular countries — in some cases, calling for an end to juvenile executions, and in other cases urging greater freedom of expression and religious belief.
As part of the general discussion on the promotion of human rights, the representative of New Zealand urged those few countries that continued to execute juvenile offenders to take steps to prohibit that practice. She also addressed the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, where extrajudicial executions and torture were reported to be widespread. That country was believed to have imposed severe restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of belief, expression, peaceful assembly, association and religion.
India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN said the work of the Human Rights Council is getting more contentious. The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, remarked that human rights in the Sudan continued to be flouted, leading him to urge the Government to implement the decisions made by the judges of the International Criminal Court with immediate effect. He also said that it should step up deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur. In Belarus, he noted that the legislative elections in September 2008 had not met the democratic standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), leading him to call on national authorities to address those shortcomings.
The representative of India, expressing a view that was echoed by several other speakers, noted that there had been regular attempts to subject individual countries to intrusive monitoring, so as to point out the failure of the State mechanisms to promote and protect human rights. The international community needed to reflect on whether such action had genuinely improved the human rights situation, she said, adding that instances of gross and systematic violations of human rights anywhere must be addressed collectively by the international community, based on dialogue.
India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Tanmaya Lal, said that even as the Human Rights Council continues to expand with a growing number of resolutions, frequent meetings and special sessions, the effectiveness of its work is not always clear. He was speaking at the UN General Assembly session on the Report of the Human Rights Council on Friday. “While a very comprehensive normative framework of human rights treaties and covenants has evolved, the work of the Human Rights Council and its associated procedures and mandates is, regrettably, getting more contentious and difficult,” Lal said.
Lal said the ineffectiveness of the global governance mechanisms to find commonly acceptable solutions has posed challenges to the “spirit of multilateralism”. “The reasons for many of the difficulties surrounding the discussions on the human rights agenda are not hard to find,” Lal said. “They flow from the often very divergent priorities and concerns of member states in terms of their levels of development, social and cultural contexts and governance systems.”
He said country-specific procedures have largely been counter-productive. “Instances of such mechanisms and offices operating on their own without any mandate and producing clearly biased documents only further harm the credibility of United Nations,” Lal said.
He also raised concerns regarding the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, which he described as having “deteriorated”. All concerned parties should be held responsible for taking concrete measures to guarantee the safety and freedom of movement of civilians and to enable humanitarian organizations to safely carry out their work. Turning to the situation in Zimbabwe, which he said had worsened since the first round of presidential elections, he called on national authorities to re-establish the rule of law. Noting that humanitarian aid to that country had been suspended at around that time, and as the European Union was the largest donor to Zimbabwe, he stressed the importance of maintaining unrestricted humanitarian access.
Ngonlardje Mbaidjol, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who introduced several reports of the Secretary-General on the promotion and protection of human rights earlier in the day, was prompted by a few delegates to defend the accuracy of figures used in some reports, which had come from non-governmental sources. As pointed out by the representative of the Sudan, the Secretary-General’s mandate required him to submit a report based on information provided by Member States and, if information was meant to come from other sources, the mandate would have explicitly asked for “other stakeholders” to be included. Even if other sources were going to be included, it would be necessary to have standard criteria under which the authenticity and credibility of the information would be checked.
Throughout the discussion, delegates from all parts of the world called for better dialogue between States, as well as between States and United Nations human rights procedures mandate holders. The representative of Pakistan, for example, remarked that the Committee had listened to different Special Rapporteurs, but noted that many reports had been presented in a selective manner. There had also been a failure to discuss the criteria on which countries were selected for visits, with the Special Rapporteurs often only selecting invitations to developing countries.