Reports from and Rumors about the UN Human Rights Council – Sunday, 4.10.2009

Posted on 5 October 2009. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 632 |

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 632

Whoever observed the history of the UN special rapporteurs on the human rights situation in Cambodia – Michael Kirby (Australia, 1993-1996), Thomas Hammarberg (Sweden, 1996-2000), Peter Leuprecht (Austria, 2001-2005), Yash Ghai (Kenya, 2005- 2008) – was probably not surprised that the new rapporteur appointed in March 2009, Dr. Surya Subedi from Nepal, a Professor of International Law, with an impressive career as a scholar and also as an expert on international investment law and the World Trade Organization, was greeted, as reported in the Cambodian press, with the advice “to act faultlessly” and “not to be biased.”

As he presented his first report to the session of UN Human Rights Council on 1 October 2009, we present information, mainly by quoting UN documents and press releases, about this work – it is not the work just of an individual, and it is not shaped just by some UN bureaucrats, but by representatives of member states of the United Nations.

“The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the UN system made up of 47 States responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. The Council was created by the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 with the main purpose of addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.”

The work of the Human Rights Council is executed especially within the following framework:

“‘Special procedures’ is the general name given to the mechanisms established by the Commission on Human Rights and assumed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Currently, there are 30 thematic and 8 country mandates. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides these mechanisms with personnel, logistical, and research assistance to support them in the discharge of their mandates.”

Some of these 30 Thematic Mandates:

  • Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context
  • Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  • Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
  • Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
  • Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity
  • Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children
  • Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences

The list of 8 countries for which the Human Rights Council maintains Country Mandates:

  • Burundi
  • Cambodia
  • Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  • Haiti
  • Myanmar
  • Palestinian territories occupied since 1967
  • Somalia
  • Sudan

A new instrument was established by a resolution of the UN General Assembly – in which all member states are represented – in 2006:

“Universal Periodic Review

“The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations. As one of the main features of the Council, the UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed.

“The UPR was created through the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006…”

It is important to see this process as a general one – reports in part of the press that the Dr. Subedi had called for a special review of the Cambodian human rights situation are wrongly constructing a dramatic image for a procedure with is going to be implemented for all 192 UN member states.

The following sections are from UN press releases about the 12th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (14 September to 2 October 2009).

“The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi (A/HRC/12/40), based largely on the Special Rapporteur’s mission to Cambodia in June 2009. In initial findings, the Special Rapporteur says Cambodia has made remarkable progress over the last three decades in promoting human rights and democratizing the system of governance. Cambodia is now enjoying high economic growth and relative political stability and a great deal of credit for these achievements goes to the leaders in Government. Since 1993, the people have enjoyed an unprecedented degree of freedom of assembly, expression and movement, although people need by law to seek permission to hold public demonstrations, which is sometimes refused on unspecified security grounds, and arbitrary restrictions on travel or holding meetings have sometimes been imposed. The Government has also faced the complex issue of land ownership, including by making an effort to improve land tenure security for the population. An ambitious project of land titling is under way in mostly rural areas. Other noteworthy achievements have been made in combating trafficking in human beings, especially women and children for purposes of sexual exploitation. Efforts of the Government to combat HIV/AIDS have been widely commended, as have mine removal efforts. In spite of these achievements, a major challenge for the Government is the ability to strike a balance between economic development and human rights protection. There appears to be a disconnect between national law that recognizes people’s rights to own land and establishes clear property safeguards, and what appears to be widespread land grabbing and alienation, in both urban and rural areas. In the current context of escalating land values, evictions of communities which have been living for years in informal settlements appear to be commonplace. The Special Rapporteur has also been informed that in rural areas, indigenous and rural communities are often left without recourse to protect their land from being taken by powerful individuals, or for mining or land concessions. There is a need to strengthen the implementation of the land law in a fair manner in this domain, both by the administration and by the courts. Another concern was a series of defamation and disinformation charges filed by or on behalf of the Government against members of opposition parties and other critics of public policies or practices. That was a disturbing trend which, if allowed to continue, could seriously undermine the exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

“SURYA PRASAD SUBEDI, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, said that the human rights situation in Cambodia had been the subject of extensive analysis since the conclusion of the Paris Peace Accords, and that he intended to build on the work done, and engage with the Government in a constructive manner aimed at achieving tangible results for the people of Cambodia. In a society still in transition, the civil society had a great contribution to make in so many areas of activity to complement the Government’s action, maximize the potential of the people of Cambodia and help them realize their human rights. Since returning from his mission to Cambodia, the Special Rapporteur had joined a number of other Special Procedure mandate holders in expressing concern about the reported instances of lawsuits filed by the Government and high-ranking public officials against opposition party Parliamentarians and members. The Government of Cambodia had responded to the communication stating that they had taken the measures in compliance with the rule of law. Mr. Subedi was however concerned that the laws in question themselves fell short of the standards required by international human rights treaties and practice, and that Cambodia’s judiciary was taking a restrictive approach in interpreting these laws, ultimately leading to excessive restrictions on freedom of expression.

“The Special Rapporteur was of the view that, regardless of the practices in any given country, the spirit of the provisions guaranteeing freedom of speech in international human rights treaties was to treat any matters relating to restrictions on such freedom. With the new draft Penal Code before the National Assembly this was an important opportunity to decriminalize defamation altogether, and to curtail those provisions that could lead to excessive restrictions on fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.”

Mr. Sun Suon, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the UN offices, the World Trade Organization, and other International Organizations at Geneva, is quoted in the press release with the following statement.

“Cambodia, speaking as a concerned country, said Cambodia took note of certain concerns and challenges that had been addressed by the Human Rights Office in the report, and believed that in some areas there were discrepancies of views and perceptions regarding the progress and good commitment of the Government of Cambodia, with the requirement of a better understanding from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. As for the recent instances of cases involving the issue of freedom of expression and land problems, the Cambodian Government had already made its replies in the communication to the Special Rapporteur and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Regarding the support for the correction reform, the Government of Cambodia acknowledged that its capacity was limited despite the great efforts in addressing the related challenges. Cambodia acknowledged that the tasks ahead were challenging, especially due to the impact of the global food crisis, but the Government remained committed to guaranteeing individual rights.”

At the end, the UN Human Rights Council made also a decision related to Cambodia – among many others related to other countries:

“Under its agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building, the Council adopted two resolutions. It invited the Secretary-General, agencies of the United Nations system present in Cambodia and the international community to make further efforts with the Government of Cambodia in improving democracy as well as ensuring the protection and promotion of the human rights of all people in Cambodia; and decided to extend by one year the mandate of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.”

It is our sincere hope that the texts quoted her may contribute to a rational discussion in order to help achieving the goals for which the fellowship of nations has established the UN Human Rights Council.

.

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