Relativist Claims on Culture Do Not Absolve States from Human Rights Obligations, Third Committee Expert Says as Delegates Denounce Country-Specific Mandates

So-called “sensitivities” and relativist arguments invoking culture do not absolve States from their human rights obligations, the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as delegates sparred with experts over country-specific mandates for situations in Myanmar and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Seeking to dispel misconceptions about cultural diversity, Special Rapporteur Karima Bennoune emphasized the destructive impacts of cultural relativism — which uses culture to take away rights rather than amplify them.  The presence of relativist arguments in United Nations resolutions is reprehensible.  “Sensitivities” cannot justify the criminalization of sexual orientation or gender identity or racial discrimination, for instance.

“Tradition is often invoked to justify the status quo,” she stressed.  Diversity is not a threat to universal rights, but a reality and a resource.  The exterminations that occurred in Nazi camps resulted from a murderous ideology that rejected universal human rights and cultural diversity — one echoed today in many places.

In a similar vein, Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, said statelessness is neither accidental nor neutral because it involves discrimination against minorities.  “Just as was the case for the Jewish minority in Germany before the Second World War, minorities too often continue to find themselves ‘unworthy’ of citizenship, with consequent obstacles in accessing basic public services, even including in some cases education,” he said.  More must be done to ensure respect for stateless people, especially in addressing arbitrary requirements for citizenship.

For his part, Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, described the “alarming” assassination of nearly 3,500 defenders in recent years.  Noting that oppression is once again “in fashion”, he urged open and frank dialogue with all actors to address this reality in a spirit of solidarity.  Practices must also be renewed to better interact with those who are in the field or feel excluded or estranged from the community of rights defenders.

When the Committee turned to country-specific mandate holders, Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said the country continues to deny her access.  Led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Government is increasingly demonstrating that it has no real interest in establishing a fully functioning democracy.  It will not investigate allegations of human rights violations when presented with evidence.  In Rakhine State, relocations into newly built areas appear to cement Muslim segregation, she said, amounting to an “apartheid-like situation”.

On that point, Marzuki Darusman, Chair of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said the Rohingya are being subjected to large‑scale massacres, mass gang rape, burning and looting in “clearance operations” that led to their mass exodus to Bangladesh.  The Security Council must refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.

Failing this, he recommended that all nations exercise universal jurisdiction over such crimes through their domestic courts.  They should end any engagement with the Tatmadaw and adopt sanctions through the Council, including an arms embargo.  He recounted the experience of a Rohingya woman locked in her burning house who was forced to decide which of her small children to save, insisting:  “These crimes must have consequences.”

Myanmar’s representative responded that, despite extended cooperation with the successive Special Rapporteurs, his country is still treated unfairly and discriminated against under the pretext of human rights.  Myanmar is subject to the selective scrutiny of the Human Rights Council, and the Special Rapporteur’s comments remain negative and unconstructive.

Allegations contained in this report are based on stories told by alleged victims living under the influence of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army terrorist group.  Noting that the independent commission of inquiry into events in Rakhine will conclude its mandate and submit a report within a year, he underscored Myanmar’s ability to ensure accountability where there is sufficient evidence.

Also presenting reports today was Tomas Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 24 October, to continue its consideration of promotion and protection of human rights.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.  For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4235.

Interactive Dialogues — Minority Issues

FERNAND DE VARENNES, Special Rapporteur on minority issues, said statelessness is a minority issue:  a handful of minorities represent a staggeringly high proportion of the world’s stateless population.  Focused measures and attention are needed because statelessness as a minority issue remains unrecognized and unaddressed by international organizations and human rights groups.  Statelessness is neither accidental nor neutral as it involves discriminatory practices and a disregard of minorities’ human rights.  “Just as was the case for the Jewish minority in Germany before the Second World War, minorities too often continue to find themselves ‘unworthy’ of citizenship, with consequent obstacles in accessing basic public services, even including in some cases education, and the exercise of other basic human rights,” he said.

While commending Slovenia for its long-standing and positive measures in relation to minorities, such as the Hungarian and Italian communities, he called on the Government to address the particular vulnerability and marginalization of the Roma community, by notably removing the distinction between “autochthonous” and “non-autochthonous” Roma communities.  It should also implement comprehensive legislation for the protection of all minorities, while respecting the currently established constitutional status of Hungarians, Italians and Roma.  Regarding the situation in Cameroon, he expressed hope that the minority question — including the English-speaking minority — will be discussed dispassionately and comprehensively now that the election is over.

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Hungary, referring to the education law in Ukraine, expressed concern over obstacles to enjoying the right to education in the mother tongue.  Calling for immediate steps to protect minority rights, she asked how the Special Rapporteur will address these concerns.

The representative of Spain, inviting the Special Rapporteur to visit, asked whether he would soon organize an international forum on resolving statelessness issues and about the mechanisms needed to ensure that nationality cannot be refused.

The representative of the European Union said it is a national prerogative of States to establish citizenship regulations.  He asked for guidance on how to determine whether State requirements constitute discrimination and how to better address the denial of registration at birth.

The representative of Mexico asked about additional actions for increasing birth registrations, especially of isolated nomadic groups.

The representative of Slovenia, making a distinction between historically established minorities in a certain area and migrant communities, asked how to consider the needs of these different groups when designing policies and legislation.  She also asked about data collection for policy making and good practices.

The representative of Iraq drew attention to a quota for minorities in Parliament, adding that Iraq guarantees birth registrations of all groups.

The representative of the Russian Federation stressed the need to analyse the issue of refusing or striping citizenship.  Referring to two Baltic countries, he called on the Special Rapporteur to work with authorities on the issue of non‑citizens.

The representative of Myanmar expressed opposition to the report’s use of the controversial term “Rohingya minority”, stressing that the issue of citizenship is entirely the prerogative of a sovereign State.

The representative of Latvia, referring to the report, said non-citizens are not considered stateless; the only difference to citizens is in the right to vote or work in civil service.

The representative of Austria asked about the outcome the Special Rapporteur hopes to achieve from the forum, and addressing legal measures.

The representative of Syria expressed regret that the Special Rapporteur’s report did not refer to the information sources for paragraphs 37 a and d, nor mention the real reason behind the loss of citizenship of many Syrians, referring to Israel and countries supporting terrorism in that context.

The representative of Cameroon, drawing attention to Anglophone minorities in Cameroon, asked about good practices for preserving linguistic minority languages, stressing that linguistic minorities should not be confused with ethnic minorities.

The representative of Ukraine said reforms to the education law enables his country to provide systemic education aimed at independently acquiring knowledge.

The representative of India replied to the Special Rapporteur’s comments by noting that the rights of minorities are safeguarded by the Constitution; the situation referenced is not a minority issue.

Mr. DE VARENNES replied to questions about statelessness by emphasizing the fundamental human right to be free from discrimination.  Decisions relating to citizenship are not the sole prerogative of the State.  More must be done to ensure respect for the rights of stateless people, especially in addressing arbitrary requirements for citizenship.  Once this issue is recognized, remedies must be found.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has provided citizenship guidelines for women and children, he said, stressing that similar tools must be developed to address statelessness.  He identified the use of minority languages in education as a thematic priority, recalling his plans to organize three regional forums in that regard.  Addressing countries with multiple official languages, he invited Cameroon to exchange ideas about good practices related to linguistic minorities.  Another priority is to address hateful propaganda and its use against religious minorities, he added.

Human Rights Defenders

MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, recalled that the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders not only acknowledges the importance of defenders, but also establishes the responsibility of States to protect them.  Over the past 20 years, the male archetype of human rights defenders was complemented by various other figures:  women fighting against corruption and impunity, indigenous communities denouncing the devastating consequences of so-called development projects and parents advocating for the rights of their transgender child.

All victories, whether small or great, that contributed to the recognition and protection of human rights defenders must be celebrated, he said.  And yet, the advances, if significant, remain insufficient.  The current situation is alarming:  almost 3,500 defenders have been assassinated in the past few years.  Countless more were attacked, slandered or jailed.  Even States previously spared are now falling into authoritarianism.  When human rights defenders are attacked, the edifice of human rights as a whole is undermined.  The future of the community of human rights defenders must now be envisaged with audacity and pragmatism.  Noting that oppression is once again “in fashion”, he urged open and frank dialogue with all actors to address this reality in a spirit of solidarity.  Practices must also be renewed to better interact with those who are in the field or feel excluded or estranged from the community of rights defenders.

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Spain, noting that 3,500 human rights defenders have been killed since the Declaration to protect their rights was adopted 20 years ago, asked about measures for addressing the negative consequences that human rights defenders can face while working with the mandate holder.

The representative of Iceland, stressing that environmental human rights defenders facing risks, asked for new approaches to enhance their protection.

The representative of Canada said States increasingly criticize human rights defenders.  She asked how the international community can best assist and provide remedy for defenders who are victims of States which should protect them.

The representative of Australia encouraged the Special Rapporteur to continue working with treaty bodies and to deepen the awareness about the work of human rights defenders.

The representative of the European Union asked for examples of when States negatively limited the activities of human rights defenders.

The representative of Poland, underscoring the need to legally and physically protect rights defenders, asked about practical responses to States that are reluctant to broaden such protections.

The representative of Ireland asked whether there have been developments on the topic of reprisal, and more broadly, about effective measures to address this issue.

The representative of Switzerland asked about the best ways to achieve positive narratives in the fight for human rights and efforts to reinforce cooperation in the fight against intimidation and reprisal.

The representative of Liechtenstein asked for guidance on increasing accountability for perpetrators of violence against rights defenders and journalists.

The representative of Estonia asked for recommendations on how to better advance human rights online and for proposals on increasing participation of non-government organizations in that regard.

The representative of Slovenia asked how to translate developments in protection into actual measures.  On reprisals, she said human rights defenders engaged with the United Nations are silenced and asked for guidance on how to best fight impunity and address causes.

The representative of Belgium said a vibrant civil society is the cornerstone of democracy.  Noting the attacks and threats against human rights defenders, he said efforts to protect them should be put forward at all levels.

The representative of the Russian Federation recalled that the Declaration is not legally binding and cited pressure by the United Nations on States.

The representative of China said human rights defenders should not be treated as a special group.  On the negative and groundless assertion by the mandate holder, he expressed hope that the Special Rapporteur will conduct his work in an impartial and objective manner. Regarding comments by his counterpart from the United States, he said that country should pay attention to their ethnic minorities, including Asian minorities.

The representative of the United Arab Emirates said limitations on rights must be prescribed by law, noting the establishment of a national human rights institution.

The representative of Cuba objected to claims by the United States to be judge and jury, noting that in Cuba, human rights defenders have broad guarantees for their safety.  He rejected attempts to declare political prisoners as human right defenders.

Also speaking were representatives of Mexico, Czechia, Colombia, France, Norway, United States and Iran.

Mr. FORST replied, expressing hope that the “Webb report” — which contains important information about human rights defenders around the world — will be posted on the United Nations website.

More broadly, he said the Human Rights Defenders World Summit, to be held in Paris, will focus on gains made over the past 20 years.  A statement will be prepared, and ultimately presented to the United Nations, outlining that more could be done to protect defenders.  Noting that he has visited 25 countries, he said the United Nations could redouble efforts at the country level, notably by executing a better strategy.  He expressed hope that UNHCR and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) will become more aware of the situations of human rights defenders around the world.  While not a binding instrument, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders does refer to such instruments, including those that mention the freedom of association and the right to foreign funding.  He expressed concern over information he had received from non-governmental organizations about the lack of access to United Nations premises, noting that his next report will focus on the at-risk category of women human rights defenders.

Cultural Rights

KARIMA BENNOUNE, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, said the universality of human rights, which enhances the lives of all human beings, is under sustained attack.  Cultural diversity is still wrongly construed by Governments and actors who use it to violate the very universal rights in which it is embedded.  Cultural diversity and universal human rights are mutually reinforcing:  one cannot be used to override or justify the violation of the other.  Cultural relativism ‑ which uses culture to take away rights rather than amplify them ‑ is destructive and the exclusions from rights protection it creates are grave.  The fact that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is the human rights instrument subject to the most reservations — many of them based on cultural relativism — is a matter of urgent concern.  It is reprehensible that relativist arguments find their way into United Nations resolutions.  “Sensitivities” do not overrule States’ international human rights obligations and they cannot justify the criminalization of sexual orientation or gender identity or racial discrimination.

She said laws that discriminate on the basis of cultural or religious arguments should be reviewed and brought in line with international human rights standards.  States must refrain from using culture, cultural right or tradition to justify violations of international human rights in national and international forums.  Recalling that universality is about human dignity, not homogeneity, she emphasized the importance of recognizing the “diversity of diversities”:  the diversity that exists not only between but also within human collectivities.  In that spirit, States should recognize and respect cultural dissent, syncretism and cultural mixing, as well as the right to reinterpret cultures.  They must also ensure the separation of religion and State and reaffirm the importance of secular and intercultural spaces.  Diversity is not a threat or an impediment to universal rights, but a reality and a resource, she stressed.

The representative of Egypt recalled that an individual had allegedly been persecuted for cooperating with the United Nations.  There can be no double standards or impunity for such crimes.

The representative of European Union said the universality of human rights is under threat.  It is vital to respect cultural diversity as a human right and to avoid using culture or traditions to justify rights violations, he said, encouraging Member States to adopt the resolution on cultural rights and asking how human rights education can promote universality.

The representative of Russian Federation expressed surprise over the resolution on the role of the family.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the family unit as “natural”, she said, disagreeing that it is an outdated institution.

Ms. BENNOUNE advocated broader support for the universality of human rights, as it is a critical time to do so.  She highlighted the importance of State discussions on the challenges around cultural rights, calling the popularity of cultural relativism discourse “worrisome” and stressing that relativist ideas must be challenged through funding and scholarships for students.  To comments about the limits of her mandate, she said she bases her views on international standards.

Turning to the role of family, she said the family can play a positive role in human rights, and on the other hand, offer a place for rights violations to be carried out against women and children.  She noted the lack of definition in debates about traditional values.  “Tradition is often invoked to justify the status quo”, she stressed, recalling that culture evolves over time in accordance with dignity and human rights.  She said slavery and alien domination are considered repugnant and must be left behind.

Myanmar

YANGHEE LEE, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, recalled that the Government continues to deny her access, creating difficulties for her ability to assess the human rights situation the country.  Led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Government is increasingly demonstrating that it has no real interest and capacity in establishing fully-functioning democracy.  Despite repeated appeals, it will not investigate allegations of human rights violations when presented with evidence.  She urged the State Councillor to use her moral and political power to end any atrocities, violations and abuses.  Draconian colonial laws wielded as weapons against those who speak out in favour of human rights have created a culture of silence and self-censorship.  On a regular basis, there are reports of charges lodged against lawyers, journalists and activists exercising their legitimate rights and freedoms.

In Rakhine State, she said relocations into newly built areas appear to cement Muslim segregation, amounting to an “apartheid-like situation”.  Reports of harassment, extortion and forced labour indicate life is difficult, particularly for the remaining Rohingya.  She welcomed the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court allowing it to exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh.  However, the current development towards accountability through the Court and the Human Rights Council may not be sufficient to address longstanding impunity for crimes committed across Myanmar.  The Security Council must refer Myanmar’s situation to the Court without delay.  Failing that, the international community should consider commencing cases under universal jurisdiction and establishing an ad hoc tribunal.  Paying tribute to the women human rights defenders of Myanmar, she stressed:  “These women work tirelessly to advocate for accountability for human rights violations in Myanmar; we owe it to them to ensure that their work has not been in vain.”

Mr. HAU DO SUAN (Myanmar)said that despite extended cooperation with the successive Special Rapporteurs, his country is still treated unfairly and discriminated against under the pretext of human rights.  Myanmar is subject to the selective scrutiny of the Human Rights Council, and the Special Rapporteur’s comments remain negative and unconstructive.  Negative attitudes will not contribute to mutual trust and constructive cooperation, he stressed.  Myanmar has a good track record of collaboration with the Special Rapporteur, having allowed her into the country six times.  It had no choice but to suspend its cooperation because she went “far beyond” her mandate.

Moreover, he said the Government welcomed the appointment of a Special Envoy by the Secretary-General and accepted the opening of her office in the country.  In a period of five months, she has held meetings with numerous stakeholders and visited Kachin and Rakhine States.  Stressing that no “quick fix” will lead to a sustainable solution, he said Myanmar has worked closely with the United Nations on such concerns as the situation of children, and sexual violence in armed conflicts.  They are working to sign a joint communiqué for cooperation in the future.

He emphasized that lasting peace will only be possible when a democratic federal union is established, and ethnic strife and armed conflicts have ended.  Myanmar has undertaken the repatriation of people who have fled to Bangladesh.  It also reached out to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States to address the complex issues in Rakhine State.  He expressed appreciation for their assistance as well as that of neighbouring countries.  The Government is cooperating with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNHCR to ensure the speedy resettlement and rehabilitation of returnees.  He assured that an independent commission of inquiry is in place, which will conclude its mandate and submit a report within a year.  Myanmar is willing and able to ensure accountability for human rights violations where there is sufficient evidence.

The representative of Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and reaffirming the need for greater coherence between the Third committee and the Human Rights Council, cautioned against duplication and overlap in their activities.

The representative of Switzerland, noting the dialogue between the Government, the military and armed groups, reaffirmed his long-term commitment to support efforts of transition for peace, democracy and prosperity.

The representative of the United Kingdom said accountability is needed to break the ongoing violence in “Burma”.  Welcoming the establishment of new mechanisms, he asked about how best to encourage domestic justice.

The representative of Bangladesh, expressing regret that the Special Rapporteur continues to be denied access to Myanmar, called for reining in the ultra-nationalist tendencies among certain sections of the Myanmar population.

The representative of the United States expressed deep concern about restrictions on the freedom of movement and access to citizenship.  Calling on Myanmar to ensure accountability and to release unjustly imprisoned people, she asked for recommendations on how to support such reforms.

The representative of Ireland urged Myanmar to engage with the mechanism for achieving justice for victims.  Myanmar should also restore citizenship to the Rohingya, he said, asking how to handle emerging risks related to long-term refugee camps.

The representative of Canada said that strengthening the rule of law is a critical component of Myanmar’s democratic transition and asked about areas where there had been the most progress and setbacks.

The representative of Czechia, noting the detention of two Reuters reporters, urged an end to the prosecution of journalists, human rights activists and lawyers.

The representative of Germany asked how the global community can positively influence domestic debate in Myanmar.

The representative of Australia, calling on Myanmar to restore cooperation with the Special Rapporteur without delay and to maintain cooperation with UNHCR, expressed concern over ongoing constraints to media freedom, including the arrest of Reuters journalists.

The representative of Malaysia, while recognizing the principle of non‑interference, stressed the need to continue vocally addressing the humanitarian plight of the Rohingya.  Considering the legal obstacles to accountability, Malaysia would support a judicial mechanism to try those responsible for crimes.

The representative of Viet Nam, expressing concern over conditions in Rakhine State, welcomed Myanmar’s efforts to establish an independent commission for alleged human rights violations and called for constructive, balanced engagement.

The representative of China stressed the importance of respecting Myanmar’s sovereignty.  Noting that issues in Rakhine State cannot be resolved overnight, he advocated dialogue and negotiation, rather than exerting pressure.

The representative of the European Union expressed regret that Myanmar decided to discontinue cooperation.  He asked how to better address the causes underlying hate speech and about strengthening efforts to secure justice for those who suffered rights violations.

The representative of Norway stressed the need to strengthen good governance and the rule of law, expressing concern over the use of sexual violence as a terror tactic and underlining the importance of providing refugees with education.

The representative of Burundi expressed concern about country-specific reports.  Dialogue, cooperation and the Universal Periodic Review are the only ways to ensure protection and promotion of human rights.  Burundi will categorically reject investigations that are country specific in nature.

The representative of Japan noted the importance of the engagement by United Nations agencies as key to realizing rights of displaced people.  It is important that Myanmar carries out investigations into alleged rights violations and takes measures to provide information to the independent commission.

The representative of Democratic People's Republic of Korea reiterated his constant opposition to country-specific investigations, stressing the importance of ongoing dialogue between the parties concerned to foster peace.

The representative of Lao People's Democratic Republic said that human rights resolutions would not help address such country situations.  The Universal Period Review is the only appropriate venue for addressing those concerns in any country.

The representative of the Republic of Korea expressed concern over the lack of progress on the ground.  He underlined the importance of creating conditions for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees and displaced persons, and of creating an independent commission of inquiry.  He urged Myanmar to grant full access to United Nations humanitarian mechanisms to concerned areas.

The representative of Cuba outlining his opposition to country-specific reports which only lead to confrontational approach and do not resolve human rights concerns, called on Myanmar to take full advantage of the Universal Period Review, citing the principles of equality, non-selectivity and impartiality.

Ms. LEE replied that there has been progress in the educational and health sectors.  But there are still dire needs for improvements regarding freedom of speech, association and assembly, as well as democracy in general.  Further, accountability does not fall within the purview of the recently established Commission of Inquiry.  While underscoring Bangladesh’s generosity, she urged donors to fulfil their pledges soon in order to address emerging risks.

MARZUKI DARUSMAN, Chair of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said that his report documents the utter disregard of Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, for human life and international law.  It presents horrific patterns of human rights violations inflicted on the Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine, Kaman Muslims, ethnic or religious minorities in Kachin and Shan, and Bamar human rights defenders.  These violations are linked to Tatmadaw tactics that encourage civilian attack and rape.  The report is based on a year-long investigation, conducted in line with international best practice on fact-finding methodology.  “We strictly adhered to the principles of independence, impartiality and objectivity,” he assured.

The Rohingya are being subjected to brutal treatment in “clearance operations” that led to the mass exodus of the Rohingya to Bangladesh, he said, where in six villages, large-scale massacres, mass gang rape, burning and looting occurred.  The Mission verified similar operations in 54 locations across the northern Rakhine State.  At least 392 villages were partially or totally destroyed and over 725,000 Rohingya fled.  Estimates of 10,000 Rohingya deaths are conservative, as the attacks were systematic.  While the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacks contributed to this escalation and must be condemned, the security forces’ operations were “utterly disproportionate and brutal”.

Such extreme violence can only be understood against the backdrop of State policies implemented over decades, steadily “othering” the Rohingya and resulting in institutionalised oppression that has impacted the Rohingya from birth to death.  The process is fed by hate campaigns and enabled by a Government that has consistently failed to attribute responsibility, giving the perpetrators a “stamp of approval”.  He recommended a comprehensive and unified international approach towards Myanmar, based on respect for accountability.  Entrenched impunity is at the root of the problem:  it has derailed every attempt at reform towards democracy, emboldened perpetrators and silenced victims.

He said the Security Council must refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.  Failing this, States parties to the Rome Statute can take the initiative, and all nations can exercise universal jurisdiction over such crimes through their domestic courts.  They should end all engagement with the Tatmadaw.  The Fact-Finding Mission has pressed the Council to adopt sanctions against the perpetrators and provided the names of six commanders to that effect.  It should also impose an arms embargo.  In imagining the sheer brutality of events, he recounted the experience of a woman locked in her burning house who had to decide which of her small children she would save.  “These crimes must have consequences,” he insisted.

Mr. THEIN (Myanmar) said the release of the report, which is based on narratives rather than hard evidence, will inflame tensions and hinder the Government’s work to create social cohesion in Rakhine State.  The sincerity of the Fact-Finding Mission in questionable and its methodology flawed.  Allegations contained in this report are based on stories told by alleged victims living under the threat and influence of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army terrorist group.

He reiterated the Government’s strong commitment to accountability for human rights violations in Rakhine State and elsewhere in Myanmar.  Legal actions have been taken against military and police officers as well as civilians who were found in breach of standard operating procedures and rules of engagement following the Inn Din incident.  Myanmar is not party to the Rome Statute and the Court has no jurisdiction in the country whatsoever.  The Court’s September ruling was made on dubious legal grounds and concerns a situation in which domestic remedies have not yet been exhausted.  Such action only erodes its moral and legal authority, and stands as a stark warning, particularly to developing countries.  He categorically rejected inference of “genocidal intent” regarding counter-terrorist actions in Rakhine State, as this idea is based on unverified circumstantial evidence.

The representative of France said that crimes against Rohingya could be considered genocide and crimes against humanity.  He asked about how to support civil society efforts to achieve justice.

The representative of Iceland, noting that Facebook was used to spread hate propaganda, asked how the Fact-Finding Mission should use social media.

The representative of Australia stressed the importance of new international accountability efforts and called for creating conditions conducive to the safe, dignified and voluntary return of refugees.

The representative of Liechtenstein, welcoming the newly created commission, recommended making use of the best practices of the “Syria mechanism” and reassessing State efforts to bring justice to victims.

The representative of Japan stressed the importance of Myanmar carrying out the investigations itself, urging the Government to provide the necessary information to the Commission of Inquiry.

The representative of the Netherlands urged Myanmar to become party to the Rome Statute and more broadly asked about challenges between the newly established mechanism and the mandate holder.

The representative of Bangladesh asked about innovative ways to deal with obstruction to justice to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.

The representative of Germany asked about steps most needed to facilitate independent criminal proceedings.

The representative of the European Union asked about steps that Myanmar can take to ensure further atrocities are prevented.

The representative of the United States called on Myanmar to establish conditions for voluntary and dignified return, adding that the military must be placed under the Government.

The representative of the United Kingdom said that denying what happened does not make Myanmar a safer place.  He asked how best to ensure that the mechanism, when operational, is rights-based and victim-oriented.

The representative of Czechia, noting an increase in hate speech in relation to ethnic and religious minorities, asked how to assist Myanmar in tackling these issues.

The representative of Singapore said the immediate goal of achieving a peaceful return for the Rohingya should not be lost, underlining that repatriation requires a political solution.

The representative of Indonesia said crimes must be brought to justice, noting that accountability is part of the solution.

The representative of Thailand recommended a holistic approach and enhancing development assistance.

The representative of Saudi Arabia, expressing concern about crimes committed by the armed military forces, strongly condemned brutal attacks and the systemic destruction of houses.

The representative of the Philippines expressed hope that the Commission of Inquiry will work with independence and impartiality, and offered assistance to Myanmar.

The representative of the Russian Federation recalled that information in the report is based on one category, and thus, not objective.  The Special Rapporteur should have looked into history, as this development is the result of the United Kingdom empire.  If he had done so, the conclusions would have been different, he said, voicing support for steps taken by Bangladesh and Myanmar at their borders.

Mr. DARUSMAN replied to Myanmar’s delegate that the Fact-Finding Mission did not approve groups other than those in Cox’s Bazaar, the Bama ethnic groups, Hindus and Kashin.  In fact, the Mission was barred from entering Myanmar.  Those in the country had said it was unhelpful to have the Mission look into the matter, and therefore in effect, implicitly agreed that there is a problem.  If the Mission had been granted access, he said it would have met the same people who would have fled to Bangladesh, and so he stands by his findings.

He invited the Government to read the report in full.  As Myanmar has had eight commissions of inquiry, and not one has produced a report, patience is not the answer to settling Myanmar’s problems.  A stage has been reached where a definite analysis has been made of what transpired in Myanmar over the years.  The Fact‑Finding Mission has chronicled the most serious crimes, encompassing war crimes.

Turning to social media, he said the Fact-Finding Mission started with an approach that was led by the facts, with social media — Facebook in particular ‑ pointing it towards atrocity acts.  Genocidal intent can clearly be inferred from content in the postings.  To date, Facebook has taken down all these accounts and pledged to preserve them for prosecutorial purposes.  He expressed hope that the General Assembly and the Security Council will open an accountability process, underscoring the crucial importance that the international community deliberates on the best course of action.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said that there is now the possibility of achieving longstanding peace following 70 years of division.  Having emphasized the importance of dialogue with the Government since his 2016 appointment, he welcomed the geopolitical developments over the last year, notably family reunions, discussions on the return of United States soldiers’ remains, and the announced move to grant a general amnesty to prisoners convicted of “crimes against the country and the people”.  While the ongoing denuclearization process is complex, he nonetheless expressed regret that human rights have remained off the agenda of the expanding high-level dialogues, with a complete absence of any such terminology in talks over the last 10 months.  He recalled the 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which documented grave human rights violations, including of the freedom of expression and movement, as well as murder, torture, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, religious persecution and prolonged starvation.

He said respect for human rights is the responsibility of parties involved in negotiations — and of the United Nations as a whole.  He called for dialogue channels on peace and denuclearization.  Recalling his December 2017 visit to the Republic of Korea and Japan, and July 2017 follow-up visit to the Republic of Korea, he said he had received first-hand accounts of those who had recently left the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Although the Government continued to reject his requests to visit, his other missions enabled him to collect information on the dire living conditions, chronic food insecurity, severe restrictions on freedom, and situations of those detained.  The forcible return of women repatriated from China should be considered an act of refoulement, given the likelihood of rights violations they will face.  Seeking justice is critical and efforts can be undertaken hand in hand with those to support peacebuilding.  He encouraged UNHCR and the United Nations country team to offer all necessary technical expertise, noting that the recent appointment of the High Commissioner for Human Rights opened an opportunity for meaningful engagement.

In opening the floor to questions, the representative of China objected to the politicization of human rights issues, stressing that the parties concerned should do more to facilitate dialogue and cooperation.

The representative of the Russian Federation said discussions on human rights situations do not add value, calling them an ineffective working method that exacerbate conditions in Member States and the Universal Periodic Review a platform that offered opportunities for constructive dialogue.

The representative of Syria rejected the double standards involved in human rights issues, stressing that the approach of confrontation, accusation and character assassination cannot achieve common objectives.

The representative of Argentina asked how denuclearization talks foster improvement in human rights situations and how the international community can help in that context.

The representative of Cuba objected to country-specific mandates; international cooperation is the only appropriate path and he expressed regret that the path of sanctions had been chosen instead.

The representative of the European Union asked how to assist the mandate holder in fulfilling his mandate and about the chances of receiving an invitation to the country.  He also asked how the international community can use the upcoming Universal Periodic Review to accelerate progress.

The representative of Japan said family abductions are most serious and asked about additional ways to strengthen the capacity of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The representative of Australia urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to engage with United Nations processes and representatives, and to facilitate visits.

The representative of Norway, welcoming diplomatic efforts to achieve peace, cautioned against use of sanctions which may have adverse impacts on humanitarian needs.

The representative of Germany urged the Government to take immediate and effective steps to end rights violations, asking about any new opportunities for the international community to improve human rights situation.

The representative of the United States said the “Kim regime” should know that it can choose a better path and called for an immediate release of prisoners.

The representative of the Republic of Korea stressed the need to improve humanitarian cooperation in efforts to unite families and asked about possible ways to engage on the issue of safe drinking water in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The representative of Belarus opposed the selective nature of country‑specific mandates, calling such reports one-sided and gender-driven.

 The representative of Czechia said human rights must be integrated in the talks and asked for any sign about whether the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had extended cooperation.

The representative of Burundi said the United Nations has been used for political purposes.

The representative of Myanmar expressed his opposition to country-specific mandates and called the Universal Periodic Review the most effective process for addressing human rights.

The representative of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic echoed support for the Universal Periodic Review as the appropriate tool for addressing human rights issues in any country.

The representative of the United Kingdom asked about opportunities for opening dialogue.

The representative of Iran expressed opposition to country-specific mandates as they undermine dialogue.  The Universal Periodic Review provides mechanisms for addressing human rights issues which must not be weaken by parallel means.

Mr. QUINTANA replied the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had decided not to attend these meetings, which is relevant considering the importance of the peace talks and the huge opportunities offered by them.  He expressed hope that he and others would have a constructive dialogue with the Government going forward, to improve the human rights situation and come up with creative proposals.

To the question concerning visits, he said the challenge for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is in opening access to the human rights mechanisms, which is important.  There must be leadership within the context of the peace talks.  Pyongyang has resisted contact with the mandate holder, which is not positive, but he remained committed to turn that situation around.  The new Human Rights Commissioner has the opportunity to build relations with the Government, as well as others, and he expressed hope the Committee will build relations to enhance cooperation.  Regarding accountability, truth and justice, he said these concepts are proof that if abuse is not tackled, and the United Nations does not seek truth, it is possible that violations will persist.  Regarding the Security Council sanctions, he suggested that humanitarian assistance be continued.

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