Month: February 2019

Call for applicants: Consultation on the permanent forum on people of African descent

In accordance with resolution A/RES/73/262, adopted by the General Assembly, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is organizing a one-day consultation on the permanent forum on people of African descent to be held at the United Nations in Geneva on 29 March 2019.

OHCHR invites civil society representatives interested in participating in the consultation to submit their application for accreditation and assistance by 4th March 2019. For more information: click here

Human Rights Council Advisory Committee concludes its twenty-second session

GENEVA (22 February 2019) – The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee today concluded its 22nd session, which was held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva from 18 to 22 February 2019.

At the opening of the session, Coly Seck, President of the Human Rights Council for 2019, addressed the members of Advisory Committee updating them on the work of the Council.  Thereafter, the 18-member Committee elected its bureau for the year, namely Ms. Elizabeth Salmón as Chair, Mr. Kaoru Obata, Mr. Lazhari Bouzid, Mr. Ion Diaconu, as Vice Chairs, and Mr. Jean Ziegler as Rapporteur.

During the weeklong session (18 to 22 February), the Committee discussed and took action on eight thematic issues.  The Committee also held separate meetings with the Bureau of the Human Rights Council, regional and political coordinators, and held a public meeting with non-governmental organizations. 

On the activities of vulture funds and their impact on human rights, the Committee adopted its draft final report ad referendum entrusting its Rapporteur, Jean Ziegler, with its finalization before it is submitted to the Human Rights Council at its 41st session in June 2019. 

On the negative impact of the non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin on the enjoyment of human rights, the Committee requested the drafting group to finalize the report to the Human Rights Council in the light of its discussion.

On the negative effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of all human rights, the Committee requested the drafting group to finalize the report to the Human Rights Council in the light of its discussions.

On the contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights, the Committee adopted its draft final report ad referendum entrusting its Rapporteur, Mikhail Lebedev, with its finalization before it is submitted to the Human Rights Council at its 41st session in June 2019.

On national policies and human rights, the Committee invited its members to continue intersessional discussions, participate in, and contribute to regional consultations on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.   The Committee also decided to continue the exchange of views with external experts and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on activities related to the preparation of the report.

On the global call for for concrete action for the total elimination of racism, the Committee decided to address a note verbale to Member States and other stakeholders, including international organizations, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations, in which it requests them to submit, by 30 April 2019, inputs on appropriate ways and means of assessing the situation regarding racial equality in the world.  It also requested the drafting group to submit a preliminary outline of the study, taking into account the above-mentioned inputs from stakeholders, to the Advisory Committee at its twenty-third session.

On the role of technical assistance and capacity-building in fostering mutually beneficial cooperation in promoting and protecting human rights, the Committee requestedthe Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide an overview of its technical assistance programmes, complete with an oral presentation, at the twenty-third session of the Advisory Committee. It also requested the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation to provide input on the role of technical assistance and capacity building in fostering mutually beneficial cooperation in promoting and protecting human rights.  Finally, the Committee requested the drafting group to submit a draft study to it at its twenty-third session, taking into account the replies received pursuant to the above-mentioned note verbale and the discussions held at the present session.

Documentation relating to the twenty-second session, including the agenda and draft programme of work, is available on the Advisory Committee’s webpage. The Committee took action on eight thematic issues.

On the importance of a legally binding instrument on the right to development, the Committee established a drafting group composed of Lazhari Bouzid, Ludovic Hennebel, Xinsheng Liu, Ajai Malhotra, Ion Diaconu, Hananía de Varela, Elizabeth Salmón and Cheikh Tidiane Thiam.  It appointed  Mr. Hennebel as Chair and Mr. Malhotra as Rapporteur.

The twenty- third session of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee will be held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva from 22 to 26 July 2019.

Background

The Advisory Committee is a body of 18 independent experts serving as a think-tank to the United Nations Human Rights Council. It was established in 2008, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1, to provide studies and research-based advice, as requested by the Council, and meets twice annually. The Committee’s work is implementation-oriented and follows thematic issues linked to the mandate of the Council, namely, the promotion and protection of all human rights. It interacts with States, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and other civil society bodies.

Membership

The membership of the Advisory Committee is as follows: Ibrahim Abdulaziz Alsheddi (Saudi Arabia, 2021); Mohamed Bennani (Morocco, 2020); Lazhari Bouzid (Algeria, 2019); Alessio Bruni (Italy, 2021); Ion Diaconu (Romania, 2020); Karla Hananía de Varela (El Salvador, 2019); Ludovic Hennebel (Belgium, 2020); Mikhail Lebedev (Russian Federation, 2019); José Augusto Lindgren Alves (Brazil, 2021); Xinsheng Liu (China), 2019); Ajai Malhotra (India, 2020); Kaoru Obata (Japan, 2019); Mona Omar (Egypt, 2019); Elizabeth Salmón (Peru, 2020); Dheerujlall Seetulsingh (Mauritius, 2020); Changrok Soh (Republic of Korea, 2020); Cheikh Tidiane Thiam (Senegal, 2021) ; and Jean Ziegler (Switzerland, 2019).

ENDS


“I will bring back hope to people”.

Muhamat is the 2019 winner of the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders.

For nearly six years, he did not have a name, just a number: QNK002. To receive food, water, any sort of assistance, he and the hundreds of other men detained in Manus Island detention centre in Papua, New Guinea, had to give their assigned number to the guards. It was meant to dehumanize and punish him and the others held on the island seeking refuge in Australia, he said. They were meant to be kept secret, hidden from the eyes of the rest of the world, he stated.

But Abudul Aziz Muhamat, QNK002, told a packed house of human rights activists and supporters in Geneva, that despite this bureaucratic dehumanisation, he and his fellow refugees retained their names, their humanity and their hope. Muhamat is the 2019 winner of the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders. In accepting the award on behalf of those he left behind on Manus Island, he said winning it is a chance to highlight the suffering of refugees everywhere.

“This award means a lot. Today the international community recognises our existence, our struggle, our fight,” he said. “And they lead us to believe in hope for another day.”

Muhamat is a human rights defender who campaigns for the rights of himself and other refugees caught up in the Australian offshore immigration system. He fled conflict in Darfur, Sudan and in October 2013, he was forcibly transferred to Manus Island as part of Australia’s offshore refugee policy, when the boat he was on was intercepted by authorities.

Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore called the award and the ceremony a chance to show solidarity with human rights defenders the world over.

“In these extraordinary laureates and nominees … in their example we have a human face for courage,” Gilmore said. “It is their work that places compassion and justice at the heart of public participation. It is their action that puts not complaint and wound but solutions … rooted in human rights answers to human wrongs.”

Two other finalists for the award were also honoured at the ceremony. Marino Cordoba Berrio from Colombia, has fought for the rights and welfare of the Afro-Colombian community for decades.  And Eren Keskin was the third nominee. The lawyer from Turkey has fought for the rights of women, Kurdish people and the LGBT+ community for more than 30 years. She was unable to attend the ceremony in Geneva because the Turkish government refused to give her documents to allow her to travel.

Defending the rights of others

Muhamat has spent the last few weeks in Geneva, meeting with human rights and refugee organizations, as well as the press. He told the stories of Manus Island, the lack of resources, access to medical care or decent food. He talked of the lack of livelihood, of hundreds of men spending months and years on end, trying to find ways to fill their days and find hope to survive to the next. Muhamat told these stories to remind everyone that the people on Manus Island and Naru exist.

He met with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, whom he said was receptive to his stories and gave him a message of his own: We are not giving up on you and you, nor are we giving up on your friends.

“This is the message I am going to take back with me to tell people we are not just a number,” he said. “People are calling our names. People are still believing in us that we are human beings and we have a dignity.”

And Muhamat said, he will return to Manus Island, rather than remain in the relative comfort of Geneva. He said he realizes it is hard for people outside to understand, but his life, his purpose is back on the island, with his friends, providing hope, fighting for dignity.

“I came here to share the message” Muhamat said. “And I want to go back to that dehumanisation to make sure that …the dehumanisation will no longer continue. So my presence on Manus Island and in that prison, it will only bring hope back to people.”

22 February 2019

Bachelet concerned about criminalization of dissent in Nicaragua

GENEVA (22 February) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned on  Friday 22 February, 2019  that if the arrests and convictions of people expressing dissenting opinions continue in Nicaragua, current efforts to start dialogue to solve the political and social unrest in the country could be seriously undermined.

Over the last six months, several hundred people – including peasant leaders, students, former politicians, journalists and civil society activists – have been arrested and held in pre-trial detention for long periods in connection with their alleged roles during the protests between April and July 2018.

Since December, amid rising concerns about the independence of the judiciary, various criminal courts in Managua have handed down guilty verdicts and extremely heavy sentences to a number of prominent opposition and community leaders, some of whom had cooperated with the UN and helped to highlight human rights abuses in Nicaragua.

Other people who have raised dissenting voices – including students, journalists, and a Supreme Court judge – have fled the country.

The proceedings in many of the cases that have reached the courts have been marked by a lack of transparency, issues relating to the credibility and independence of witnesses, undue restrictions on evidence and witnesses for the defence, and insufficient access of defendants to their lawyers.

“I am deeply concerned about the apparent lack of due process and increasing criminalization of dissent in Nicaragua,” Bachelet said. “The arrest and jailing of opposition leaders, possibly in some cases as a reprisal for cooperating with the UN, clearly hinders the creation of an environment conducive to holding a genuine and inclusive dialogue – which the Government says it wants.”

Prominent leaders convicted or sentenced in controversial circumstances in recent weeks include student leader Jonathan López, sentenced to five years and three months in prison; peasant leaders Medardo Mairena and Pedro Mena sentenced to 216 and 210 years in prison respectively; and former army officers Carlos Brenes and Tomas Maldonado for whom the Prosecutor is seeking sentences of 32 and 34 years.

“There needs to be an independent review of the convictions and sentences imposed on opposition leaders and activists who took part in the protests to ensure that their cases were properly handled at every stage by the police, prosecutors and judges,” Bachelet said.

“I also call on the authorities to release all those deprived of their liberty in connection with their intrinsic right to peaceful protest and dissent, and to ensure people who cooperate with the UN and other human rights organizations do not face reprisals.”

“It is a fundamental tenet of democracy that people from all parts of society should be able to engage freely in debate about the future of their country, without fear of arrest or intimidation,” the UN Human Rights Chief said.

ENDS

Opening Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council

25 February 2019

President of the General Assembly,
Secretary-General,
President of the Human Rights Council,
Excellencies, Heads of State and Government,
Ministers,
Colleagues, Friends,

I am honoured to address this High Level Segment of the Human Rights Council. The impressively high number of national, regional and international dignitaries among us today speaks to the importance and relevance of the Council’s deliberations.  

In my service as a Head of State and Head of Government I learned many things, but there are two lessons that I would like to share with you this morning.

One was very simple: there was rarely a serious gap between the interest of humanity, and the national interest of my country.

Is this because of Chile’s long coast and exposure to many strong outside forces? Or is it really much more simple, and common to every region?

If a policy seems in the short term to advance a narrow interest, but hurts the future of humanity, that policy is surely counter-productive.

Today, we sometimes hear human rights being dismissed as supposedly “globalist” – as opposed to the patriotic interest of a sovereign government. But how can any State’s interests be advanced by policies that damage the well-being of all humans?

This is true of climate change. You may know the saying: if you think economic interests are more important than the environment, try counting your money while holding your breath.

It is true of war: the devastation of today’s conflicts, and their huge economic and humanitarian cost, create broad and enduring harm.

It is true of discrimination, which holds back all of society. And it is true of inequalities, which are at the heart of our struggle to protect and promote human rights.

These challenges can be addressed. And this is the second lesson I want to share with you this morning. In my capacity as a Head of State; as a government Minister, a member of non-governmental organisations; and a refugee myself, I saw many human rights measures being debated, enacted, updated and upheld.

And I watched these measures work.

Human rights-based policies are effective. They deliver better outcomes for people – people across the social and economic spectrum, and beyond borders. They prevent grievances, conflicts, inequalities, and suffering and discrimination of all kinds.

Policies that build social justice also help to develop stronger economies.

They drive more inclusive political systems, better frameworks for education, health-care, and other basic services.

They build confidence and social harmony. They deepen trust. They build hope.

Steps to ensure the authorities engage in respectful dialogue with civil society make for much better, broader development – and I want to emphasise this point: there cannot be optimal, sustainable or inclusive development when the voices of civil society are absent.

Policies which support the rights of every woman and man to make their own choices help drive the 2030 Agenda; they are good for communities and nations.

Systems that deliver justice and redress for victims mean that grievances are recognised, and make it easier to build or rebuild security and peace.  

Mr President,

The universal appeal of human rights standards stems from their roots in many cultures and traditions. These norms and standards have proven their value in preventing calamity: they construct safety, resilience, fairness, social cohesion and peace.

This is the logic of my Office, this Council and its experts – and indeed the United Nations as a whole.

No country has a perfect human rights record, but all acknowledge that their people have rights, which the Government must uphold and protect.  

I am convinced States can meet these expectations, and I will continue my close engagement with Member States – to understand their approach and context, and assist them in fulfilling their responsibilities.

Where leaders have the foresight to see the advantages of human rights-based policies, and the political will to advance them, we will be eager to bring practical assistance. Our technical cooperation programmes and policy guidance – which benefit from careful human rights monitoring and analysis – will have powerful effect.

I know that in today’s political landscape, the will is not always there. In some countries, important human rights advances are being dismantled – for example, on the rights of women, of minorities and of indigenous peoples.

Other States drag their feet on issues such as climate change, where action today can preserve the future for the children of our countries. This harms us all.

Like many of you, in recent weeks I have watched children marching for sound climate policies and other measures. As a parent, a grandparent, and quite simply as a human being, they inspire in me a fierce determination to continue our struggle to uphold their rights.

We cannot give in to defeatism and watch passively as the structures, which maintain peace and security, and sound development, crumble. 

We have the opportunity. This generation of world leaders has the capacity to ensure far greater well-being for their people. The tools exist.

In today’s currents, in this uncharted storm of heavy winds and rising seas, careless leadership could carry our countries into catastrophe.

Or we can use fundamental principles to steer our vessels to safety in more peaceful waters.

 Every day, we deal with many challenges across the planet. The world’s eyes have been on Venezuela, especially in the last few days. Just yesterday my Office issued a statement regarding the situation: we hope violence will end, and that respect for human rights will be part of the solution.

Excellencies,

This Council, the Treaty Bodies and my Office, including its 72 field presences around the world, are honoured with the mandate to stand up for human rights.

I want to emphasise my admiration for the Council’s record in effecting early warning, and in naming experts to issue detailed guidance. The Special Procedures and Universal Periodic Review have become essential human rights tools. We need now to ensure not just early warning, but early action to prevent conflict and human rights violations.

I also take this opportunity to emphasise the importance of the Treaty Bodies, whose recommendations are often profoundly relevant.  Mindful of the need to avoid overburdening States with numerous and overlapping recommendations, we will continue working to help decision-makers devise appropriate policy responses.

My Office is sustained by the United Nations principles of impartiality, independence and integrity, and I view it as an essential springboard for the well-being and freedom of women and men across the world.

We will continue to engage with States and forge partnerships with UN agencies, regional and global bodies, business and other stakeholders. We will do our best to strengthen all the international human rights institutions with a sense of common purpose, and coordinated action.
And we will continue to amplify the needs and demands of civil society, to advance the principles of dignity, equality and justice.

I thank you Mr President.

Human Rights Council hears from 22 dignitaries as it continues its high-level segment

The Human Rights Council on 26th February, 2019 continued with its high-level segment, hearing addresses from 22 dignitaries, who expressed concern at the plight of human rights worldwide and the multilateral order, and spoke about the coordination of international efforts to reinforce human rights, ways to reaffirm the Council as the platform for addressing human rights and strengthen its mechanisms, as well as about the need to defend multilateral institutions.

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, spoke of the physical destruction and disintegrating social fabric he had witnessed in Mosul, Iraq.  He stated that conflict shattered communities and led to discrimination and ostracization.  Exclusion branded people on multiple levels, including being shunned from societies and denied access to basic services, but was also designed as a form of punishment.

Sameh Hassan Shokry Selim, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, recalled that the coordination of international efforts to push forth the reinforcement of human rights, build State capacities and provide them with support was the philosophy that had to remain the driving force of the Council.  Egypt paid the highest attention to initiatives to reinforce the work of the Council. 

Christos Stylianides, European Commissioner on Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, welcomed the package of measures regarding the Council’s efficiency agreed to in December, as well as the improved cross regional confidence and ownership across the Council that it had built.  Better complementarity between the United Nations activities in New York and Geneva was encouraged, as well as mainstreaming of human rights in the United Nations system.

Emanuela Claudia Del Re, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, reiterated Italy’s commitment to the work of the Office of the High Commissioner and to the Universal Periodic Review.  She expressed concern at the systemic, widespread and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Syria.

Andrej Žernovski, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, said it was fundamental that the Council spare no efforts to prevent human rights violations wherever they may occur.  Silence had never won rights, rather, the desire for freedom from want and fear, as well as for the right to be treated with dignity and respect must guide collective action.

Riad Al-Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine, said that shouts of “death to Arabs” were heard by Palestinian people on a daily basis from Israeli settlers in Palestinian cities, which were under siege.  In addition to racist threats, acts of destruction were performed by Israeli settlers. 

Dato’ Saifuddin bin Abdullah, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, said that major reforms were being undertaken by the Government, and promoting democratic principles, the rule of law, and the principles of sustainability, accountability and non-discrimination were priorities.  Freedom of religion and belief, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were no longer taboo in this new administration. 

Edgars Rinkēvičs, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, noted that “alarm bells” had rung repeatedly in this room about the continuous failure by a number of countries to cooperate with the Office and to grant unimpeded access to international human rights mechanisms.  Reports by the Office clearly showed the deterioration of human rights in illegally annexed Crimea, Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.

Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, reaffirmed Nepal’s firm commitment to promoting human rights at home and contributing to fulfil the mandate of the Council as its members.  Nepal held strong faith in principles and values enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mohamed Ali Alhakim, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iraq, said that in combatting terrorism, Iraq had paid a heavy price in terms of human life, but indicated that the rule of law had been re-established, and that security had returned to the country.  The new Iraqi Government had a four-year plan aimed at placing the interest of its citizens at the heart of its efforts. 

Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, stressed that the state of human rights across the world was challenging, as instability and conflict had given rise to a variety of human rights abuses.  The retreat in many advanced democracies, for short-sighted political interests, had undermined inclusivity, tolerance and respect for human rights. 

Carmelo Abela, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion of Malta, noted that last November, Malta had undergone its third Universal Periodic Review, and that, since the 2013 review, Malta had made huge strides in human rights legislation.  This included legal gender recognition, marriage equality, women’s rights, minority rights and child protection, among others. 

Kyaw Tin, Union Minister for International Cooperation of Myanmar, stressed that the Council had to avoid the recurrence of failure of its predecessor, which had been abolished for its shortcomings.  The true picture of Myanmar stood in stark contrast to narratives heard repeatedly in the Council. 

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid of Germany, expressed concern at the plight of human rights worldwide and the multilateral order.  She stated that human rights politics should not only be defensive but that the Council should work on a progressive agenda. 

Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, delivered three main points on democracy and its decline, on women’s rights, and on the need for multilateral cooperation.  For the first time in decades, more people in the world lived in countries with authoritarian tendencies than in countries with democratic progress.  Decline was seen in all dimensions of democracy, and in country reports on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Paul Teesalu, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, noted that as of 1 January, Estonia had established the National Human Rights Institution, which it hoped would support the Government’s continuing work in promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights in ever more challenging times. 

Martha Delgado Peralta, Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of Mexico, noted that Mexico was moving towards a new paradigm of respect, promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms, as a result of an unprecedented democratic process and driven by the new Government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018. 

Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, celebrated the 11 members of the Commonwealth currently serving on the Council, including the Bahamas and Fiji, the only small island developing States on the Council.  She welcomed the adoption of the Georgetown declaration in Guyana in November 2018 by the former beneficiaries of the Trust Fund from the Caribbean region that recognised the role played by the Commonwealth in supporting small island developing States.

Luis Fernando Carranza Cifuentes, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, said that the policies and actions of the Guatemalan Government had focused on a zero tolerance for corruption and on modernizing the State, healthcare, education, development and security.  Guatemala was also implementing a national development plan, with goals aligned to the 2030 Agenda. 

Kiyoto Tsuji, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, said that the world order, based on universal values, was confronted with several challenges, and the United Nations had an important role in defending the world order, but could not be left alone.  As a member of the Council from the Asia-Pacific region, Japan had actively engaged in the protection of human rights in the region.

Andrei Dapkiunas, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, stated that the current trend toward hybrid wars, full-scale military conflicts, the war on terror, and their consequences restricted the ability of contemporary civilizations to provide every human being with their right to a decent life, and urged the Council to stop the slide towards a world governed by rationales of national security. 

Yousef A. Al Othaimeen, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, emphasized the need to maintain a focus on cultural diversity, the only guarantor for the future of humanity, and called on the Council to find objective and impartial solutions to human rights problems.  A resurgence of discrimination and xenophobia and an increase in Islamophobia were noted with particular concern. 

The Council will meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 February, to continue and conclude its high-level segment. 

High-Level Segment

PETER MAURER, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, spoke of the physical destruction and disintegrating social fabric that he had witnessed in Mosul, Iraq.  Conflict shattered communities and led to discrimination and ostracization.  Exclusion branded people on multiple levels, including being shunned from society and denied access to basic services, but this could also be designed as a form of punishment.  International humanitarian law held some of the answers as to how to repair social divisions and avoid intergenerational cycles of violence, as it was crystalized in the principles of impartiality, non-discrimination, inclusion and equality.  He drew attention to the seventieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions and urged States to engage more forcefully with each other on how to apply international humanitarian law in today’s complex wars where battles were asymmetric, and distinctions between civilian and fighters were difficult, and as a result civilians were more victimised that ever and stigmatizations were omnipresent.  It was crucial for humanitarian action to be implemented without discrimination, free from criminalization and without being hindered by overblown sovereignty positions, elaborate sanction procedures or counter terrorism measures.  He closed by stating that the world had changed since 1949 and it was time to reach new commitments to minimal standards of humanity and called for advocates of impartiality and humanity to step forward.

SAMEH HASSAN SHOKRY SELIM, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, recalled that the coordination of international efforts to push forth the reinforcement of human rights, building State capacities and providing them with support was the philosophy that had to remain the driving force of the Human Rights Council.  It was high time to re-evaluate and correct some practices in the Council because some actors had veered away from the Council’s main goals and had transformed it into an arena for settling political differences, exchanging accusations, and for attempting to impose controversial views, which only deepened differences.  Egypt underscored that human rights were interrelated and indivisible, and that the right to life was the most sacred right, which was currently under grave threat due to terrorist activities.  The Minister regretted that economic, social and cultural rights had been considerably overlooked nowadays, which had motivated Egypt to realize those rights, especially in light of the plight of developing countries.  Guaranteeing those rights was the way for individuals to claim their civil and political rights.  Member States needed to steer away from any politicization and polarization in the Council in order to foster its credibility and legitimacy.   No party was entitled to judge and evaluate others.  The rise of the extreme right and populism in many developed countries threatened to undermine the achievements of multilateral organizations.

CHRISTOS STYLIANIDES, European Commissioner on Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, welcomed the package of measures regarding the efficiency of the Human Rights Council agreed to in December, as well as the improved cross regional confidence and ownership across the Council that it had built.  Mr. Stylianides encouraged better complementarity between United Nations activities in New York, and the activities of the United Nations in Geneva, as well as the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the United Nations system.  The Commissioner acknowledged the opportunity created by the inter-Korean talks, and remained ready to critically engage with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on concrete improvements, but also invited the Council to approve a resolution recalling the dire human rights situation in “North Korea”, and on this basis, to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  More monitoring and reporting was still needed in Myanmar, given the persisting grave situation in the country for Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.  The European Union would once again table a resolution on the freedom of religion or belief, as intolerance, discrimination and violence against persons belonging to religious minorities remained widespread across the world, and he called on Council members to support this resolution which renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  All States were urged to grant unconditional and unhindered access to the United Nations and its Special Procedures. 

EMANUELA CLAUDIA DEL RE, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, expressed concern about the systemic, widespread and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Syria, called on all parties to refrain from violence and face accountability for crimes, and reiterated Italy’s support for the Special Envoy for Syria and for a political solution to the conflict.  A durable cessation of hostilities in Yemen remained a top priority, though the 2018 Stockholm agreement was an encouraging development.  Italy was concerned about the violations and abuses perpetrated in Rakhine, Myanmar, and called on the Government to ensure that those responsible were held accountable according to international humanitarian law.  Italy hoped for positive developments in the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The Deputy Minister joined others in calling for a peaceful and inclusive solution to the crisis in Venezuela, based on fully democratic presidential elections, adding that Italy urged the Venezuelan Government to accept humanitarian aid, and announcing a first emergency contribution of 2 million euros.  The Nicaraguan Government was urged to release political detainees and to relaunch the national dialogue.  She reiterated Italy’s priorities during its membership of the Council, including support for the fight against all forms of discrimination as well as commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, including efforts to eradicate harmful practices such as female genital mutilation.  Other issues included the death penalty, the right to freedom of religion or belief, the promotion of rights of people with disabilities, and human trafficking.  The Deputy Minister recognised the key role of civil society in promoting the work of human rights defenders.

ANDREJ ŽERNOVSKI, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of North Macedonia, said it was fundamental that the Council spare no efforts to prevent human rights violations wherever they may occur.  Silence, said Mr. Žernovski, had never won rights: rather, the desire for freedom from want and fear, as well as for the right to be treated with dignity and respect, must guide collective action.  The situation of human rights had deteriorated in most parts of the world.  The conflict in Syria was one of the worst and most fearsome in modern history, while the persecution of human rights defenders in Iran was of concern.  In Sri Lanka, North Macedonia welcomed the establishment of the Office for Reparations and expected the Office of Missing Persons to provide answers to the families of the disappeared.  The work of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, which had established gross human rights violations, was supported.  In Venezuela, the serious violations of socio-economic, civil and political rights, arbitrary arrests, and the restriction of freedom of expression were highlighted with concern.  The thematic priorities of North Macedonia would include the advancement of human rights norms; the elimination of torture; the advancement of the rights of women; non-discrimination; freedom of opinion and expression; and the protection of journalists.  The country would be vocal against racism and would continue to act as an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. 

RIAD AL-MALKI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine, said that shouts “death to Arabs” were heard by Palestinian people on a daily basis from Israeli settlers in Palestinian cities, which were under siege.  In addition to racist threats, acts of destruction were performed by Israeli settlers.  More than 71 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed but today, they were still defending human rights principles.  Speeches alone were not sufficient, serious action had to be taken.  Denying people their basic rights and the irresponsibility of countries made the world a better place for criminals.  The people of Palestine were marking the Hebron massacre when settler Goldstein came from Brooklyn and murdered 29 people and wounded 150 others at the Ibrahimi Mosque. Israel continued to violate Security Council resolutions.  The fascist right wing Government was seeking to promote its impunity and continued violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  The number of Palestinian martyrs had doubled over the last year, 32,000 martyrs had been wounded and there were still 7,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.  Despite the resolutions of the United Nations, Israel still enjoyed impunity.  Israel had passed racist laws, including the Racist State law, and it had pirated $ 140 million dollars, which were tax returns of Palestinians, directly undermining the Palestinian leadership and the viability of its institutions.  International silence was encouraging Israel to continue carrying out its crimes.  It was necessity to keep item 7 on the Council’s agenda.

DATO’ SAIFUDDIN BIN ABDULLAH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, said that Malaysia got its first independence in 1957 but in May last year it got its second, in the form of a new government and administration in Kuala Lumpur.  Major reforms were being undertaken by the Government, promoting democratic principles and the rule of law, while the principles of sustainability, accountability and non-discrimination were priorities.  Freedom of religion and belief, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons were no longer taboo issues in this new administration.  Malaysia was amending and repealing laws which had been oppressing the Malaysian people, including laws pertaining to freedom of opinion and expression, rights of the child, the rights of indigenous people, the right to health and housing, and women’s rights.  In addition, a moratorium on the death penalty had been signed, stronger checks and balances were carried out in the banking system, and multi stakeholder partnerships in the field of human rights including partnerships with civil society were being promoted.  Concerning the Rohingya in Myanmar, Malaysia believed the perpetrators must be brought to justice, and the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of displaced Rohingya must be ensured.  Malaysia supported the two-State solution for the Israeli Palestinian conflict and warned the Council not to be distracted from the plight of Palestinians and allow Israel to proceed with impunity.  The new Malaysia would do more for the respect of human rights and offered its membership to the Council at a future date. 

EDGARS RINKĒVIČS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, reiterated Latvia’s strong support for the independence of the Office of the High Commissioner and was ready to continue cooperation in promoting human rights and finically contributing to the work of the Office. “Alarm bells” had rung repeatedly in this room after the continuous failure by a number of countries to cooperate with the Office and to grant unimpeded access to international human rights mechanisms.  Reports by the Office clearly showed the deterioration of human rights in illegally annexed Crimea, Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region.  Latvia reiterated that the Russian Federation must comply with its human rights obligations, ensure impartial investigation and accountability, as well as safety of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, human rights defenders and civil society organizations in Chechnya.  Cooperation with the Special Procedure mandate holders presented a troubling picture.  Sixteen years ago, Latvia had launched the initiative to promote the universality of the standing invitations to all Special Procedures.  Since then, 119 Member States and one Observer State had extended a standing invitation.  Latvia was concerned that 54 journalists were killed in 2018 and three in 2019 and condemned the unacceptable disappearance of the renowned journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  The Council had to do all it could to advance the safety of journalists.

PRADEEP KUMAR GYAWALI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, reaffirmed Nepal’s firm commitment to the promotion of human rights at home and to contribute to fulfil the mandate of the Council as its member.  Nepal held strong faith in principles and values enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  All human rights had to be treated in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and the approach had to remain balanced. Peace and human rights could not be achieved without attaining inclusive development.  The 2030 Agenda and the Global Compact on Migration provided wider platforms to advance the inclusive human rights agenda everywhere.  The work of the Council should rekindle a hope for all those that looked upon the Council as a voice of conscience.  The Universal Periodic Review had successfully evolved as a platform of positive international cooperation in the human rights field.  Nepal represented a unique case of democratic political transformation.  It was one of the pioneering countries to mainstream human rights agendas into national policies and plans through its Human Rights National Action Plan.  Nepal was a uniquely successful case of nationally owned and nationally led peace process and was preparing for amending the laws in consultation with and participation of victims.

MOHAMED ALI ALHAKIM, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Iraq, said that in combatting terrorism, Iraq had paid a heavy price in terms of human life, but indicated that the rule of law had been re-established and security had returned to the country.  The new Iraqi Government had a four-year plan aimed at placing the interests of its citizens at the heart of its efforts.  Mr. Alhakim expressed hope that these efforts would meet the needs of Iraqi citizens, reduce the poverty people were suffering from, and achieve equality between women and men.  Iraq reasserted its intention to pursue cooperation with international judiciary bodies as they sought to protect human rights.  Mr. Alhakim thanked States that had participated in the Kuwait conference on the reconstruction of Iraq.  The Iraqi Government had made women’s empowerment a particular priority, and integrated the issue into all projects for sustainable development.  The Iraqi Government was also endeavouring to protect all minorities, including religious minorities, and to protect their civil and political rights.  Iraq was paying particular attention to human rights at the national level, but also sought to protect these rights at the regional and international levels.  In this light, Iraq called for the protection of Palestinian people who were still in the yoke of the Israeli occupation.  Regarding the crisis in Syria, Iraq supported international efforts aiming to create a conducive environment between different stakeholders in the Syrian crisis.  A political solution was underlined as the only possible solution to the conflict.

RETNO LESTARI PRIANSARI MARSUDI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, stressed that the state of human rights across the world was challenging, as instability and conflict had given rise to a variety of human rights abuses.  In Palestine, basic human rights continued to be denied.  The retreat in many advanced democracies, for short-sighted political interests, had undermined inclusivity, tolerance and respect for human rights.  Meanwhile, multilateral commitments to promote human rights principles, including in the Council, were taking a backseat.  It was a constitutional mandate for Indonesia to contribute in creating a world order, so Indonesia was pleased to present its candidature to the Council for the period 2020-2022.  As one of its founding members, Indonesia would continue its active contribution in line with General Assembly resolution 60/251.  Three points were elaborated on how to reenergise common pursuit of protecting human rights.  First, the Council had to reaffirm itself as the main and trusted platform for addressing human rights concerns, so it was imperative to strengthen the Council’s mechanisms in a unifying and efficient manner.  Second, regional cooperation and mechanisms on human rights had to be strengthened.  In south east Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and countries in the region were at the forefront in safeguarding human rights.  Third, constructive and effective engagement between governments, national human rights institutions and civil society had to be strengthened.

CARMELO ABELA, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion of Malta, noted that last November, Malta had undergone its third Universal Periodic Review, and that, since the 2013 review, Malta had made huge strides in human rights legislation.  This included legal gender recognition, marriage equality, women’s rights, minority rights, and child protection, among others.  With regard to women’s rights, Mr. Abela highlighted the setting up of a Council for Women’s Rights in Malta, with the aim of strengthening dialogue between the Government and civil society and mainstreaming equality in all aspects of government processes.  The progress on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in Malta was also highlighted: from marriage equality to gender-neutral markers, the advancements made by Malta were said to be the current global “gold standard” by the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  In 2018, Malta had launched its second national action plan on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, which focused on the social realities they faced, and the mainstreaming of their rights into society.  Regarding the reception and integration of migrants, Malta was working on improving its reception conditions and capabilities, and was dedicating more resources to asylum matters to quicken procedures, while doing away with detention as much as possible.  Malta was committed to keep striving to advance human rights for all, and, in turn, to live up to its international commitments.

KYAW TIN, Union Minister for International Cooperation of Myanmar, stressed that the Council had to avoid the recurrence of failure of its predecessor, which had been abolished for its shortcomings, including bias against certain nations, application of double standards, selectivity and politicisation of human rights standards.  Every independent mandate holder or mechanism created by the Council had to adhere to the principles of independence, impartiality and integrity.  The true picture of Myanmar stood in stark contrast to narratives heard repeatedly in the Council.  Myanmar was facing numerous challenges in its delicate democratic transition; still the world’s attention was narrowly focused on the northern Rakhine state, wrongfully portrayed as an issue of religious persecution by the massive media campaign launched against Myanmar.  It was neither a religious nor an inter-religious conflict, but a political and economic issue involving prolonged cross-border illegal migration, poverty, lack of rule of law and national security issues.  The Government was committed to finding a solution that would lead to peace and it was implementing the vast majority of the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission.  The most pressing issue was to commence the repatriation process and Myanmar was ready to receive the verified returnees in a safe and dignified manner in accordance with bilateral arrangements with Bangladesh.  The report of the Fact Finding Mission had obscured the view of many countries and misled their judgment on this issue.  Myanmar had set up an Independent Commission of Enquiry to investigate alleged violations of human rights and had made significant steps in promoting human rights.

BÄRBEL KOFLER, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid of Germany, informed the Council of Germany’s candidacy to re-join the Human Rights Council for a third term next year.  The Commissioner expressed concern about the plight of human rights worldwide and the multilateral order.  Being a member of both the Security Council and the Human Rights Council would enable Germany to use its voice to advance a comprehensive approach to security, based on the conviction that human rights violations could be both an indicator and a cause for instability.  The shrinking space for civil society participation was a concern, as human rights defenders were being harassed and women and children experienced violence and inequality.  Germany accepted that more had to be done to combat racism and Islamophobia within its own borders.  Human rights politics should not only be defensive, but the Council should work on a progressive agenda.  The Commissioner highlighted several human rights issues of particular concern for Germany, including the strengthening of women’s rights, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and the strengthening of human rights online in this digital age as well as the rights of victims of climate change.  The Commissioner called for the strengthening of competent human rights institutions, by contributing for instance to the United Nations treaty body system, supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and commitment to this Council and encouraging its reform.  Germany, in line with the European Union, believed that human rights concerns should be raised under agenda item 4 and continued to oppose the establishment of a hierarchy between human rights, emphasizing the conviction that socio-economic developments and prosperity were not sustainable if human rights were not respected. 

MARGOT WALLSTRÖM, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, noted that when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted, only two women were in the Commission, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Indian writer and independence activist Hansa Mehta, who insisted on an expression which recognized the equality of women and men, resulting in the first article “all human beings are born free”. Three main points were delivered on democracy and its decline, on women’s rights, and on the need for multilateral cooperation.  For the first time in decades, more people in the world lived in countries with authoritarian tendencies than in countries with democratic progress.  Decline was seen in all dimensions of democracy, and in country reports on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  Strong-armed leaders centralized political power and suppressed dissenting and minority voices. In 2018, 321 defenders in 27 countries were murdered for their work.  This was the highest number ever on record, according to the data from Front Line Defender.   Five years ago, Sweden launched its first feminist foreign policy.  In everything Sweden did, they asked whether women had the same rights, representation and resources as men.  Sweden continued to defend the independence of the human rights system, urged all States to fully cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner and the mandate holders, and supported the Council as the premier body for human rights issues.  Democracy, women’s rights and respect for multilateral order were being challenged, and the Council was encouraged to change these developments and not to fall into distrust and polarization.

PAUL TEESALU, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, noted that as of 1 January, Estonia had established the National Human Rights Institution, which it hoped would support Estonia’s continuing work in promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights in ever more challenging times.  Human rights were underlined as the cornerstone of sustainable development, with 90 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goals linked to international human rights principles.  The empowerment of women and girls, as well as their full enjoyment of human rights were emphasized as a prerequisite for inclusive and peaceful societies.  Unequal power relations and stereotypes were noted as some of the root causes of gender-based violence, which was seen as systemic in nature and occurring across a range of settings, both online and offline.  Estonia also emphasized the importance of ensuring sexual and reproductive health rights, as well as comprehensive sexuality education, crucial tools for preventing maternal mortality and morbidity.  Estonia welcomed the growing emphasis on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in the work of the United Nations, including the recent emphasis on fighting sexual harassment in all settings.  Estonia hoped to contribute to the better inclusion of civil society in United Nations activities.  Mr. Teesalu expressed concern for the increasing lack of Internet freedom thanks to a model of extensive censorship and automated surveillance systems embraced by several countries. 

MARTHA DELGADO PERALTA, Vice-Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights for Mexico, noted that Mexico was moving towards a new paradigm of respect, promotion and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms as a result of an unprecedented democratic process and driven by the new Government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018.  This new paradigm promoted an egalitarian, prosperous society that was respectful of human rights.   A key pillar of Mexico’s foreign policy was the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, particularly those facing vulnerability.  The Mexican Government was committed to achieving a true transformation of the country’s social fabric, one in which Mexican people could recognize and value the importance of respecting the human rights and dignity of all, the rule of law, and non-discrimination.  Last December, Mexico had established the Commission of Truth to investigate the case of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa who disappeared in 2014, and to also ensure that such grave human rights violations were not repeated.  Mexican authorities at the highest level had offered a public apology to journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro in keeping with a resolution from the United Nations Human Rights Council.  Mexico would also implement the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls.  Regarding the elimination of discrimination, the recently created National Institute for Indigenous Peoples had already launched its national programme for 2018-2024.  Mexico faced serious challenges at the national level and it had no intention of neglecting them.

PATRICIA SCOTLAND, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, celebrated the 11 members of the Commonwealth currently serving on the Council, including the Bahamas and Fiji, the only small island developing States on the Council.  She welcomed the adoption of the Georgetown declaration in Guyana in November 2018 by the former beneficiaries of the Trust Fund from the Caribbean region, which recognised the role played by the Commonwealth in supporting small island developing States, and enhancing their participation and the visibility of their work to the Council.  Another key area of work for the Commonwealth in supporting small island developing States was addressing the more than 10-year back log in treaty body reporting.  The Commonwealth continued to focus on building national institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles, especially in small island developing States.  This year marked the seventieth anniversary of the Commonwealth in its current iteration, the theme of the anniversary was “A Connected Commonwealth”, which required them to look ahead to advancing the dignity and equality of all.  The rights of marginalised groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, people with disabilities, indigenous people and religious minorities were of particular concern, both within the Commonwealth and globally.  The Secretary-General expressed concern that human rights defenders and the civil society space they occupied was under threat and stated that the ability to voice dissent and hold governments to account was crucial for both the enjoyment of human rights but also the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Human rights and climate change were inextricably connected and the Commonwealth remained committed to pursuing climate justice.

LUIS FERNANDO CARRANZA CIFUENTES, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, said that the policies and actions of the current Guatemalan Government had focused on zero tolerance for corruption and on modernizing the State, healthcare, education, development and security.  Guatemala had made important advances in the promotion of transparency and the fight against corruption, and it had driven necessary reforms and institutional improvements to increase their effectiveness.  Guatemala had also sought to strengthen the independence of criminal prosecution and the justice system through significant budgetary increases to the relevant Government bodies.  In terms of security, Mr. Carranza noted that the homicide rate in Guatemala had fallen by seven per cent thanks to investments in preventing violence.  At the end of March 2018, the Guatemalan army had finalized its support to the civil national police force in civilian security tasks.  Guatemala was also implementing a national development plan, with goals aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Guatemala was working, together with its neighbours, on formulating a development plan to address structural causes of migration, and to protect the human rights of migrants and prevent irregular migration.  Guatemala was cooperating with relevant international human rights mechanisms, and it had submitted five periodic reviews on human rights.  Guatemala also recognized the significant work carried out by human rights defenders, and the authorities had drafted a national policy on human rights defenders.  Finally, the Vice-Minister underlined his country’s commitment to multilateralism, and reiterated that prevention was an essential element to avoid the violation of human rights.

KIYOTO TSUJI, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, reminded that the world order, based on the values of freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law, was confronted with several challenges.  The United Nations had an important role to play in defending and bolstering that world order.  It was crucial that all other stakeholders took coordinated action to guarantee the efficiency of the United Nations in that endeavour.  As a member of the Human Rights Council from the Asia-Pacific region, Japan had actively engaged in the protection of human rights in that region.  While remarkable economic development had been achieved in the Asia-Pacific region, many challenges remained regarding the process of democratization.  People still witnessed violations of basic rights and human rights defenders were supressed.  The situation in Rakhine state was worrisome and Myanmar had to create conducive conditions for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of displaced persons.  The situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was also of concern, including the abductions of Japanese nationals by the “North Korean” authorities.  Japan had been promoting tangible efforts to realize a society where no one would be left behind, through the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Japan was one of the top contributors to the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict.  It was also the first country in Asia to accept third-country resettlement of refugees.  As for the issue of comfort women, Mr. Tsuji reminded that Japan had been sincerely dealing with the issue, and that it had reached an agreement with the Republic of Korea in December 2015, confirming that the issue had been resolved finally and irreversibly.  Japan had agreed to contribute $ 9.7 million to the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation in 2016.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, stated that the current trend toward hybrid wars, full-scale military conflicts, the war on terror and their consequences restricted the ability of contemporary civilizations to provide every human being with their right to a decent life, and urged the Council to stop the slide towards a world governed by rationales of national security.  In this regard, the President of Belarus had launched a new comprehensive global security dialogue where human rights should play an integral part.  Regrettably, the Council served as a mirror of the ongoing dangerous trends that degraded the system of international law by interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign States.  It was unacceptable that the Human Rights Council should intervene under the pretext of “concern for human rights” in countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua or Syria.  The Council had failed to deliver on the best interests of the majority of its members in terms of the agenda, tools and outcomes.  Belarus called for a reorganisation of the Council so that it could meet the deadlines of the Sustainable Development Agenda.  The rule of law was the responsibility of national governments, and all United Nations entities, including the Council, should contribute to national efforts and operate solely on the basis of national priorities as defined by governments.  The Council should more effectively protect economic and social rights by defending the most vulnerable members of the global society: women, children, the disabled, and victims of armed conflicts and human trafficking.  In closing, the Deputy Minister reiterated Belarus’ belief in the strength of a multilateral approach and expressed hope that the Council would move forward by reducing tensions in interstate relations and changing global trends of increased inequality between and within countries.

YOUSEF A. AL OTHAIMEEN, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, emphasized the need to maintain a focus on cultural diversity, the only guarantor for the future of humanity, and called on the Council to find objective and impartial solutions to human rights problems.  A resurgence of discrimination and xenophobia and an increase in Islamophobia were noted with particular concern.  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation had established a plan and a memorandum of understanding with a view to bringing an end to all these acts of discrimination.  Islamophobia and discrimination were noted as being of great concern to all peoples.  Mr. Al Othaimeen underlined that hate speech was being used by Islamic extremists, which underscored the need to strengthen dialogue between religions and bring an end to the human rights scourges of our time.  The plight of the Rohingya minority was highlighted as a grave humanitarian crisis, in agreement with comments from the High Commissioner.  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation recognized that the right to self-determination was an essential part of international law, and drew particular attention to minorities in Kashmir and in other Asian countries suffering violations of this right.  Mr. Al Othaimeen underlined the occupation of Palestine as a continuing violation of the human rights of Palestinian people.   The family was highlighted as the basis of every society, and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation would support all efforts by the Council to protect the family.  The Organization reasserted its belief in family values, and refuted any other values which would violate human rights. 

Names Of Counsel That Should Appear In Judgement Of Court; Highlighting The Court Of Appeal’s Decision In Elias V Ecobank Nigeria Plc (2017) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1549) 175

Ordinarily, the concerned part of the decision of Lagos division of the Court of Appeal in Elias v Ecobank (supra) ought not be of immense interest to practicing lawyers but for the requirement of a certain number of Court of Appeal judgments in an application for the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, which might have prompted the learned senior lawyer to make such an audacious application as would be seen later hereunder.

As it is my style, I will once again, lead my audience into the facts of the case under this spotlight for the necessary appreciation of the court’s ratio as to the names that ought to appear in judgment of courts.

As borne by the judgment, during the pendency of Appeal Number: CA/L/873/2013, Dr. Charles Mekwunye’s clients (the appellants) demolished the property subject matter of the suit and when delivering the judgment, although the name of the counsel who adopted the appellants’ brief was not reflected in the end of the judgment and in the judgment itself, Obaseki – Adejumo JCA held thus:

“In his brief of argument, appellants’ counsel was silent on the contemptuous conduct of the appellants by demolition of the property. It is the duty of counsel to exhibit high level decorum and candour and fairness to the court and to other lawyers … counsel appearing before any court owes a bounden duty to be diligent, treat, the court with respect, honesty and mutual courtesy…”

Dissatisfied with the omission of their counsel’s name in the judgment and the uncomplimentary remark of the presiding Justice, the appellants filed an application at the same court, for an order “reviewing and/or varying and/or annulling part of the judgement” to show that Mr. E. Nwonu holding the brief of Dr. Charles Mekwunye was in court and adopted the appellants’ brief and to “delete the said remarks made by Obaseki – Adejumo, JCA against their counsel to show that Dr. Charles Mekwunye appeared for them when judgement was delivered.

In ruling on the application, Augie, JCA (now JSC) held thus:

“Now the applicants are urging us to review and/or vary and/or annul part of the judgment to reflect three things… The third which is to vary the judgement to show that the said Dr. Charles Mekwunye was in court when the judgment was delivered, is out of the question because, as the respondent said, it is the names of counsel who argued the appeal itself that are listed in the judgment, not the name of counsel who merely appeared on the date of judgment…..so the Constitution recognizes that delivery of a judgment is a different process entirely from the writing of the judgment, wherein the names of counsel who adopted the briefs of argument at the appeal are listed.” (Emphasis mine)

From the foregoing decision which, to my knowledge, is yet to be set aside by the Supreme Court, the prevalent practice in judgment writing which lists the name of counsel present at judgment delivery at the expense of counsel who conducted the case or adopted the final address, ought to be relegated to the background on the strength of this 2016 but extant position of the Court of Appeal.

I however hope this decision doesn’t open a floodgate of applications for the correction of judgments and rulings which have omitted the names of counsel who argued the briefs or adopted the final addresses at the respective courts. By Olumide Babalola

Limitations To The Right To Life And The Use Of Force Against Violators Of Electoral Law.

Since the publication of the President’s statement on snatchers of ballot boxes paying with their lives for their illegality, I have come across so many opinions justifying extra-judicial execution of such violators of electoral law based on the provisions of section 33(2) of the 1999 Constitution.

My intention in this brief note is not to contradict the statement of the President, despite its inelegant and questionable construction, knowing that the legality of the use of force by law enforcement officers is a matter which is to be determined based on the particular circumstances leading to such use of force and that mere snatching of a ballot box may be combined with other surrounding circumstances that will necessitate the use of force to stem an imminent threat of death or serious injury. However, this academic intervention is inspired by the worrisome trend revealed in these opinions, to canvas an interpretation of the law that justifies extra-judicial murder or execution based on a statutory defence provided in the Constitution, without properly showing the limits of such a defense as interpreted by our apex Court. Such disservice to the law is indirectly emboldening the resort to self-help and extra-judicial killings by persons who are not aware of both the international and national regulation of the use of force and firearms. This will indeed cheapen the lives of our people and brutalize the psyche of citizens, thereby reducing us to the members of the legendary “suicide club” or a reversion to that state of nature where “homo homini lupus’ (man is a wolf to another man).

This is a very brief contribution which will not attempt to x-ray all the extant laws on the use of force by law enforcement officers especially the notorious Police Order No. 237 which had been criticized by Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur and other human rights stakeholders as being deeply flawed, because it provides close to a carte blanche to the police to shoot and kill at will. Such a thorough handling of the subject is best reserved for an academic audience that has the requisite time and focus for such detailed discourse. The cursory analysis of the law in this piece, will reveal that snatching of a ballot box or any other crime for that matter that is not accompanied with such violence that presents an imminent threat of death or serious injury to the law enforcement agents or other law-abiding citizens, does not qualify as a situation that will justify the use of lethal force to deprive the suspect of his right to life.

constitutional/statutory limitation on the right to life

Section 33(2) a and b of the constitution 1999 as amended provides:

(2) A person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life in contravention of this section, if he dies as a result of the use, TO SUCH EXTENT AND IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES AS ARE PERMITTED BY LAW, OF SUCH FORCE AS IS REASONABLY NECESSARY –

(a) for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property:

(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or

(c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny (capitalization supplied for emphasis)

Before considering the decision of the Supreme Court in IBIKUNLE V. STATE (2007) 2 NWLR (Pt.1019) 546, which involved the extra-judicial execution of a suspected criminal by a member of the Nigerian Police Force, you may wish to observe that the constitutional defense provided in this section for lawful use of force is limited by the following requirements

  1. That the use of force must be to the EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW
  2. That the use of force must be IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES AS ARE PERMITTED BY LAW
  3. That the use of force must be REASONABLY NECESSARY for the purposes outlined in that section namely, the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence of property, to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained, for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny

These provisions are in partial compliance with the requirements of the international Covenants on Human rights which Nigeria is a party to, which requires that any limitation of the human rights must meet the following conditions;

  1. The restrictions must be contained in a valid law
  2. The restrictions must be for the legitimate purposes recognized under international law
  3. The restrictions must be necessary to achieve the set objective
  4. The restrictions must be a proportionate means to attain the objective being sought. (see for example the decision of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the case of Lohe Issa Konate v Burkina Faso (Application No. 004/2013), [2014] 2 RCAfCHPR (Part 4) 104

To a thoughtful reader, those provisions entail a study of the extant laws on the use of force to determine the extent and the circumstances in which use of force is permitted in Nigeria, while a determination on the reasonableness or necessity of the force will depend on the case by case consideration of the circumstances necessitating the use of force. Be that as it may, the Supreme Court had pronounced on extra-judicial executions on many occasions, but the most apposite in this regard is the case of IBIKUNLE V. STATE (supra), which was decided on its peculiar facts. My interest in this note is the copious pronouncement of the justices who handled the case that section 33(2) of the 1999 Constitution does not provide a license to summarily execute any suspected criminal. The relevant holdings are reproduced hereunder;

“I am in agreement with the respondent that these statutory defences implied in these provisions set out above cannot avail the appellant, more so THAT NONE OF THEM GRANTED HIM A LICENSE TO SUMMARILY EXECUTE THE DECEASED EXTRA JUDICIALLY. Even if the deceased were to be a thief or a person of dubious character, which the evidence on record does not disclose him as one, the provisions of the Constitution and Criminal Procedure Law (ibid) quoted above DID NOT LICENSE THE APPELLANT TO BE THE COMPLAINANT, INVESTIGATOR, JUDGE AS WELL AS EXECUTIONER, ALL ROLLED INTO ONE… It is a misconception of the provisions of Section 7(1) and (2) of the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) for the appellant to contend that the use of firearm was reasonable in the circumstances of this case. Even if the deceased were to be a thief or a person of dubious character, a fact not disclosed on the record, the provisions of the Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Law (ibid), did not license the appellant to be the complainant, investigator, as well as the Judge and executioner, all rolled into one… THE USE OF THE FIREARM WAS TOTALLY UNREASONABLE, HIGHLY INTIMIDATING AND UNCALLED FOR IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THIS CASE. This is because as found by the court below, the deceased did not pose any scintilla of danger to the appellant. It was mischievous and unreasonable for the appellant to break the window of the deceased’s apartment, threw teargas into the room and then jumped into the apartment to callously release or pump bullets into the deceased. Per Onu J.S.C in IBIKUNLE V. STATE (supra) (capitalization supplied for emphasis)

Equally W. S. N. ONNOGHEN, J.S.C, stated

“The law does not permit or license any person, be he a policeman or soldier or otherwise to be the complainant, investigator, Judge and executioner all at the same time. In the circumstance of this case and particularly having regard to the provisions of section 33(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution and section 7(1) and (2) of the Criminal Procedure … appellant has no legal right to summarily execute any person who refuses him ingress into an apartment that he believes a suspect is hiding…. I am compelled by the facts and circumstances of this case coupled with the now notorious extra judicial killings of innocent people by some members of the Nigeria Police to condemn the inability of some members of the police force to realize that the foundation of the police institution is preservation of life and property.”

These are irrefutable statements of hallowed principles of law, which guide the application of section 33(2) of the 1999 Constitution which any official called upon to use force in any circumstance must bear in mind. Failure to caution about this is giving a blanket mandate to law enforcement agents and ignorant folks to engage in extra-judicial killings. Superior officers who give such license may become liable under domestic and international criminal law as co-perpetrators in criminal conduct by sub-ordinate officers which occur as a result of such instructions.

Relevant Provisions Of The United Nations Basic Principles On The Use Of Force And Firearms By Law Enforcement Officials

Principle 2 – Governments and law enforcement agencies should develop a range of means as broad as possible and equip law enforcement officials with various types of weapons and ammunition that would allow for a differentiated use of force and firearms. These should include the development of non-lethal incapacitating weapons for use in appropriate situations, with a view to increasingly restraining the application of means capable of causing death or injury to persons. For the same purpose, it should also be possible for law enforcement officials to be equipped with self-defensive equipment such as shields, helmets, bullet-proof vests and bullet-proof means of transportation, in order to decrease the need to use weapons of any kind.

Principle 4 – Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result.

Principle 5 – Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall: (a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved; (b) Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life; (c) Ensure that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment; (d) Ensure that relatives or close friends of the injured or affected person are notified at the earliest possible moment.

Principle 7 – Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law.

Principle 8 – Exceptional circumstances such as internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked to justify any departure from these basic principles

Principle 9 – Law enforcement officials shall not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury, to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, to arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape, and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these objectives. In any event, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.

Principle 10 – In the circumstances provided for under principle 9, law enforcement officials shall identify themselves as such and give a clear warning of their intent to use firearms, with sufficient time for the warning to be observed, unless to do so would unduly place the law enforcement officials at risk or would create a risk of death or serious harm to other persons, or would be clearly inappropriate or pointless in the circumstances of the incident.

Principle 24 – Governments and law enforcement agencies shall ensure that superior officers are held responsible if they know, or should have known, that law enforcement officials under their command are resorting, or have resorted, to the unlawful use of force and firearms, and they did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress or report such use.

Principle 25 – Governments and law enforcement agencies shall ensure that no criminal or disciplinary sanction is imposed on law enforcement officials who, in compliance with the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and these basic principles, refuse to carry out an order to use force and firearms, or who report such use by other officials.

Principle 26 – Obedience to superior orders shall be no defence if law enforcement officials knew that an order to use force and firearms resulting in the death or serious injury of a person was manifestly unlawful and had a reasonable opportunity to refuse to follow it. In any case, responsibility also rests on the superiors who gave the unlawful orders.

Comments

While acknowledging that some of these provisions are clearly guidelines rather than legal dictates, the Special Rapporteur has highlighted the fact that they were developed through intensive dialogue between law enforcement experts and human rights experts and that the process of their development and adoption involved a very large number of States and provides an indication of the near universal consensus on their content. Thus, some of its provisions, for example, principle 9 of the Basic Principles reflects binding international law.

These Principles are self-explanatory and do not require elaboration, although if one is interested in seeing how they have been implemented in the laws of progressive Nations, the amended section 49 of the South African Constitution provides a good example of such laws.

Principle 2 may make us wonder how possible it is for insufficiently trained law enforcement agents who are not provided with non-lethal incapacitating weapons for use in appropriate situations, to avoid use of lethal force which they might well consider their only option. This interrogates the neglect of the Police force and the contributory effect such neglect has on its professionalism and on corruption in the administration of criminal justice. However, this is a topic for another day.

The essence of these principles is that use of force is justifiable in the case of the imminent threat of death or serious injury, whether it is in self-defence or defence of others, or to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime, or to arrest a person presenting a danger of an imminent threat of death or serious injury and resisting their authority, or to prevent his or her escape. In all these outlined cases, there must be such an imminent threat of death or serious injury and such use of force or firearms must be only when less extreme means is insufficient to achieve these objectives. Thus, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.

The learned Law Lord, Onu J.S.C seems to have had this in mind when he stated in IBIKUNLE V. STATE cited above that “the use of the firearm was totally unreasonable, highly intimidating and uncalled for in the circumstances of this case. This is because as found by the court below, THE DECEASED DID NOT POSE ANY SCINTILLA OF DANGER TO THE APPELLANT” (capitalization supplied for emphasis)

W.S.N Onnoghen, J.S.C, also echoed the rationale behind these principles when he stated inter-alia that he was compelled “…to condemn the inability of some members of the police force to realize that THE FOUNDATION OF THE POLICE INSTITUTION IS PRESERVATION OF LIFE AND PROPERTY.

CONCLUSION

An instruction to the law enforcement agencies to use deadly force against violators of electoral law must be qualified to properly educate the enforcers of the law, on the permitted circumstances for the use of such force. This is imperative if we value the rule of law and the lives of our fellow men and do not wish to be grant a license to uninformed persons to take the law into their own hands and extra-judicially execute fellow citizens. For a legal practitioner it is also a great dis-service to the temple of justice and violation of the general responsibility of every legal practitioner to uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the course of justice as laid down in Rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, to advance an interpretation of the law that encourages jungle justice and extra-judicial executions without carefully advising the uninitiated about the safeguards and limitations of the law being touted. Snatching of a ballot box or any other crime for that matter that is not accompanied with such violence that presents an imminent threat of death or serious injury to the law enforcement agents or other law-abiding citizens, does not qualify as a situation that will justify the use of lethal force to deprive the suspect of his right to life. According to the UN special Rapporteur, “human rights standards on the use of force derive from the understanding that the irreversibility of death justifies stringent safeguards for the right to life, especially in relation to due process.

A judicial procedure, respectful of due process and arriving at a final judgement, is generally the sine qua non without which a decision by the State and its agents to kill someone will constitute an “arbitrary deprivation of life” and, thus, violate the right to life”. Thus, “States must not only refrain from killing but must also exercise due diligence in preventing murder”. Finally, it is worth bearing in mind the immortal words of Pope John Paul II that “the promotion of the culture of life should be the highest priority in our societies…If the right to life is not defended decisively as a condition for all other rights of the person, all other references to human rights remain deceitful and illusory.” Every individual who cares not only about his or her own family, but the whole family of man, must take seriously the fight for the right to life of every other human being, within the boundaries of the few recognized limitations to the right to life.

Nonso Robert Attoh is a law lecturer and writes from Enugu.