Human Rights Council opens sixth session in Geneva

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Date: 11/09/2007

UNITED NATIONS Press release, 10 September 2007 (latest press releases & meetings coverage).

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its sixth session, taking up organisational and procedural matters, hearing statements by the President of the Council, followed by representatives of the regional groups, and an address by the Minister of Justice of Mauritania.

Doru Romulus Costea, President of the Council, in an opening statement, said once the work of the Council began, it would continue until the job was done. The Council was reminded that during the cycle, its work needed to focus on achieving two basic categories or objectives: to conclude the institutional-building package, including the adoption of the guidelines for the documentation to be used for the Universal Periodic Review, technical criteria for mandate holders, and deciding the future of several Working Groups that were set up during the Commission; the other category included the approach and consideration of substantive issues. The Council would also listen to reports presented by Special Rapporteurs, Representatives or Independent Experts that were due.


The Council then heard statements by the representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the African Group and the Western Group, who raised, among other issues, how to ensure the effective conduct of the Universal Periodic Review. Speakers looked forward to concluding the work on institution building, and to getting a good start on the process of mandate reviews. A transparent and uniform formula should be applied in selecting mandate holders. A speaker noted that it was important to deal with the full range of issues before the Council at the appropriate moment.

Also speaking was Limam Ould Teguedi, Minister of Justice of Mauritania, who said the Council’s mission was a delicate one, in a world marked by massive human rights violations caused by war, disease, illiteracy, racism, intolerance and xenophobia. Mauritania was at an important turning point, and numerous measures had been taken to strengthen the rule of law, national unity and judicial authority.

Speaking this morning were the representatives of Pakistan for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Egypt for the African Group, the United Kingdom for the Western Group, and Algeria.

Speaking in a right of reply was the representative of Morocco.

The Council will hold informal consultations until 10 a.m. on Thursday 13 September, when it will resume its plenary and take up its substantive work.

Opening Statement

DORU ROMULUS COSTEA, President of the Council, said he wished to welcome all to the sixth session of the Council. Once the work of the Council began, it would continue until the job was done. The Council would proceed on the basis of the document on the institution-building package during this session. The Council was reminded that during the cycle, its work needed to focus on achieving two basic categories or objectives: to conclude the institutional-building package, including the adoption of the guidelines for the documentation to be used for the Universal Periodic Review, technical criteria for mandate holders, and deciding the future of several Working Groups that were set up during the Commission; the other category included the approach and consideration of substantive issues. The Council would also listen to reports presented by Special Rapporteurs, Representatives or Independent Experts that were due.

There was a close relationship between the two categories of objectives: substantive discussion on human rights-related matters could and would occur, while the Council debated reports of various natures, as well as during the interactive dialogue that would take place at different moments of work. With regards to the draft programme of work, this was the result of consultations held over the last few weeks. It was a living document, which could be amended as work made progress. It should be used therefore as a guideline. It contained items on the agenda, and topics that issued from the package on the institutions of the Council.

The review of mandates would be carried out in a manner allowing for the proper allocation of time to such an important issue. There was a possibility, on an exceptional basis, to extend the term of those mandate-holders who had served more than six years until the relevant mandate was considered by the Council and the selection and appointment process had concluded. This meant that the Council could, by a general decision, extend all mandate-holders to avoid a protection gap. However, this did not in any way prejudice the selection and appointment of mandate-holders. The process was Council-driven, and Member State-driven.

Statements

MASOOD KHAN (Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the OIC appreciated the process of transparency and inclusiveness that were being followed. The OIC condemned recent terrorist attacks in several countries, including Algeria. Universality, impartiality and non-selectivity were key principles to which the OIC attached great importance. The OIC wanted to see these principles followed closely. Reflection on the agreed agenda items in the programme of work would ensure that stability, predictability and uniformity in the work of the Council were followed. The report on the defamation of religions had been listed under agenda item 3. This was always an item concerned with racism and racial discrimination. The OIC requested the defamation of religions issue be listed under item 9 of the agenda.

The OIC welcomed the gender perspective that was to be discussed in the Council later on. It condemned blasphemous publications in a Swedish newspaper of the Prophet Mohamed, and was encouraged by the willingness of the Swedish Government to engage with OIC ambassadors on the issue. Concerning institution-building procedures, “make haste slowly” would be a wise proverb to follow. For an effective conduct of the Universal Periodic Review, its first inaugural session should be held after the March session. This would give time for consultations with all stakeholders. The OIC reiterated support for the Voluntary Trust Fund, and welcomed the inclusions of the review of mandates in this session. The OIC hoped a transparent and uniform formula would be applied in selecting mandate holders. Mandates’ objectives should be clearly stated and pursued. One designated session should be used for the review of mandates. The OIC welcomed the discussion on the Durban follow-up process. It was also important to streamline and strengthen relations between the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

SAMEH SHOUKRY (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the African Group wished to obtain draft programmes of work for the Council earlier next time in order to be able to organise the work as best as possible and to best manage the items throughout the year. The African Group noted that its suggestion that the examination of the mandates of the human rights situations in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as the situation in Sudan had been incorporated, and noted that they would probably not be taken up during the current session.

The African Group proposed that the mechanism of assessment of mandates be called a “review and rationalization of mandates”. With regard to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the African Group wished to cooperate with the Universal Process Review workgroup. The African Group had undertaken a review of the Universal Periodic Review guidelines and looked forward to the consultations to be undertaken.

NICHOLAS THORNE (United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of the Western Group, said the Western Group looked forward particularly to the dry-run on the Universal Periodic Review process, which had involved many in small groups trying to work out the mathematics of the process. Many issues of a technical nature had been raised by the President, which the regional groups had not yet had time to consider, therefore the right was reserved to come back to these. The Western Group looked forward to concluding the work on institution building, and to getting a good start on the process of mandate reviews. The Western Group believed it was important to deal with the full range of issues before the Council at the appropriate moment, and looked forward to a fruitful interaction with the other groups.

DORU ROMULUS COSTEA, President of the Human Rights Council, responding to the statements made, said the reorganising of the draft programme should begin with further consultations. He confirmed that there was uncertainty about the presence of Special Rapporteurs and this was an example of why and how the programme might evolve. The programme of work was a living document that would adapt itself to new realities. He had heard the proposal that the Universal Periodic Review discussion should be held after the March session, but he asked all delegations to take a close look at the consequences of certain proposals in order to have a clear view of the implications and arrive at the most do-able solutions. As for the suggestion that the assessment be called something else, what was an assessment? Call it a review, rationalization, whatever they would, but the aim would be to minimize the density of type in the programme.

LIMAM OULD TEGUEDI, Minister of Justice of Mauritania, said the Council’s mission was a delicate one, in a world marked by massive violations of human rights caused by war, disease, illiteracy, racism, intolerance and xenophobia. Mauritania was at an important turning point after the successful transition to democracy. Numerous measures had been taken to strengthen the rule of law, national unity and judicial authority. They included laws related to the High Court of Justice, penal procedures, laws to tackle HIV/AIDS, improved democratic rights for women including access to leadership posts, improved transparency in public life, anti-slavery measures making it easier to convict perpetrators of slavery-related violations, and other measures.

The Government of Mauritania was committed to resolving the problems facing Mauritanian refugees in Mali and Senegal. An inter-ministerial committee had been formed to this end and direct consultations with civil society, the refugee communities and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees were underway. There would be national consultation days to agree on a plan of action for the return of refugees and address humanitarian concerns. The Mauritanian Government was also determined to resolve the backlog of violations from 1990-1, and these would be pursued with fairness, justice and tolerance.

IDRISS JAZAIRI (Algeria) said he wished to thank those who had expressed sympathy and conveyed solidarity for Algeria’s mourning after the terrorist operation which had taken place, targeting the innocent. These acts were flagrant human rights violations, and the most sacred human right, the right to live, had been violated. Algeria was moved by the statement made by the Minister of Justice of Mauritania, and wished to applaud in him the representative of a country which was moving towards democracy, promoting human rights, and clearly showed that human rights was not a monopoly by any particular civilisational group, rather, it was based on inter-civilisational rights, common to all.

Mauritania represented the future of the entire sub-region, and Algeria’s destiny was linked to it. As an African nation, Mauritania deserved all encouragement for having courageously decided to take up these issues. Mauritania had remained loyal to Islam, whilst taking up various issues, including slavery, return of refugees, or the promotion of the role of women in Mauritanian society.

Right of Reply

MOHAMMED LOULOICHKI (Morocco), speaking in a right to reply reacting to the Mauritanian statement, said that he believed that the Mauritanian Government had sent the Justice Minister to the Council as a clear message of the importance they attached to the Human Rights Council. The Minister’s speech was a message of hope and expectation for the Human Rights Council. Mauritania was at a turning point. Underscoring the originality of some of the measures undertaken by the Mauritanian Government, he noted the criminalization of slavery and attaching more value to the role of women, as significant steps. Morocco congratulated the initiative of the Mauritanian Justice Minister to come before the Council.

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