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Tánaiste's address at the UN Human Rights Council

Statement by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore TD

 on behalf of HR/VP Catherine Ashton

Geneva,  27 February 2013


22nd session

(25 February to 22 March 2013)

EU Statement

High-level Segment

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues,

It is my pleasure to address you today on behalf of the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy /Vice-President of the European Commission. Catherine Ashton regrets that she cannot attend this Ministerial week of the Human Rights Council, particularly as we in the EU consider the Council a forum of crucial importance for the promotion and protection of human rights world-wide.

Mr President,

Yet again, and very sadly so, this Human Rights Council session is dominated by the shocking developments in Syria, where grave human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity continue unabated. It is imperative that all those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes be held accountable.

The EU recalls that the United Nations Security Council can refer the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic to the ICC at any time and calls on the Security Council members to uphold their responsibilities on the situation in Syria in all its aspects, including this issue.

We strongly urge the Human Rights Council at this session to come to a unified condemnation of the human rights violations and abuses in Syria and to support a strong call for accountability, preventing impunity.

Against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating situation, the independent Commission of Inquiry has our fullest support. We will advocate for a further mandate extension of one year so as to give the Commission a solid basis for the continuation of its utmost important work.

Mr. President,

The situation in Mali which is brought to the Council by a broad coalition of countries is another situation very high on the EU's agenda.

It is a country that the Human Rights Council has addressed for some time, thus proving that the systematic monitoring of a country's human rights situation is a good crisis indicator.

Last week, EU Foreign Ministers expressed alarm at the allegations of breaches of international humanitarian and human right law in that country and reminded the Malian authorities that they have an overriding responsibility for the protection of the civilian populations. The EU will support the deployment of civilian human rights observers. All perpetrators of human rights violations must be held responsible for their actions.

Mr. President,

One strong feature of the United Nation's premier body for human rights issues is the regular consideration of country situations or themes which are not making daily headlines, but which are by no means less important.

A human rights situation that requires the continued attention of the international community is that of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). For too long the population of the country has been subjected to widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses.  For too long,   the Government of the DPRK has persistently refused to cooperate with the Human Rights Council and its Special Rapporteur.

The EU is alarmed by the recurring reports of torture, summary executions, rape and other patterns of human rights violations in the country and especially in the prison camps where reportedly 200,000 people are being held. This is why the EU, together with Japan, will, when presenting a resolution this year, urge this Council to opt for increased international scrutiny of the human rights situation in the DPRK. There must be an investigation into these alleged crimes.

Mr President,

The EU also remains seriously concerned by the worrying human rights situation in Iran where grave violations continue to be perpetrated.

We cannot remain silent in the face of violent oppression of dissent, as well as detention and execution without fair trial, severe discrimination against women and members of ethnic and religious minorities, restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and religion or belief, and harassment and arrest of human rights defenders, including lawyers defending political prisoners and their families. The Human Rights Council, therefore, must act and  extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran.

Moreover, the EU believes that the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and accountability and reconciliation, should remain on the agenda of this Council. The impartial application of the rule of law is crucial to progress in these areas, and it is essential to safeguard the independence of the judiciary.

Mr. President,

It is heartening that one country regularly on the agenda of the Council is a source of good news: Burma/Myanmar has made important progress regarding human rights, democracy and reconciliation, which we acknowledge and welcome, while also recognizing ongoing human rights concerns, for instance regarding the remaining political prisoners, the situation of the Rohingya in Rakhine State and the reconciliation with ethnic groups.

Based on the experience with many transitions, we strongly believe that addressing and improving the human rights record of a country is an essential part of the transition to democracy and prosperity. It is our sincere wish to assist Myanmar on this path, and we cooperate intensively to that end . We believe that the country would benefit greatly from the work of an OHCHR country office with a full mandate, and that, in the meantime, the continued work of a Human Rights Council mandate holder will be helpful.

Mr President,

The EU also pursues many important thematic priorities, which feature very prominently on the Council's agenda. The great majority of the HRC special procedures have a thematic mandate and the EU highly values work undertaken by the Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts.

Freedom of religion or belief is an inalienable human right and an essential pillar of safe and prosperous societies. The EU is concerned by the increasing number of acts of discrimination based on religion or belief occurring across the world and has condemned the violence against persons belonging to religious minorities. Against this background, the EU will again present a resolution on Freedom of Religion or Belief, aiming this year also at the extension of a strong, independent mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  The EU will continue to engage with all partners in the fight against religious intolerance, including in the context of the implementation of consensual resolutions adopted on this theme.

Mr. President,

The advancement of women’s rights and gender equality is a key component of  the human rights policy of the European Union. Yesterday, we co-organised a high-level event on the Power of Empowered Women. It also described the role that women played in the Arab spring and other transition situations. These powerful testimonies confirmed once more  the important contributions to society that women can make if they are fully empowered. The EU  strongly advocates for the increased participation of women, both in public and political life. We remain committed to combating  discrimination against women and girls. We will also continue to support efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls – be it at home, in communities or in situations of armed conflict.

Mr. President,

The European Union remains committed to advancing the rights of the child, both inside the EU and in its external human rights policy. 

Guided by the principles of equality and non-discrimination, we reaffirm our determination to promote and protect the rights of all children. As in previous years, together with Latin American and Caribbean countries, the EU will devote particular attention to the rights of the child, this year focussing on the right to the enjoyment by children of the highest attainable standard of health.

The EU also remains gravely concerned by incidents of discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. This issue needs to remain on the agenda of the United Nations. The Human Rights Council should follow-up its landmark resolution of the June 2011 session and the successful awareness-raising activities in New York.

Mr. President,

We all recognize that the work of human rights defenders and civil society organizations is essential for democratic societies. This makes restrictions placed on NGO activities in many countries, including through restrictive legislation, an even greater concern.

These organisations need space, and human rights activists must be able to exercise their rights, including freedom of expression offline and online, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. The Human Rights Council is the ideal forum to discuss what needs to be done so that States fulfil their obligations to create an enabling environment allowing NGOs to make their contribution to the creation or consolidation of "rights-respecting democracies", including in transition countries.

Civil society representatives and human rights activists also play a very important role in the UN context, and we all stand to benefit from their participation in our meetings. We are also deeply concerned by reports of threats and reprisals affecting those who cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures. We will continue to strongly condemn and speak out against such incidents.

Mr. President,

We celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Conference on Human Rights this year. Its landmark outcome document – the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action - places a special emphasis on the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Its clear statement that human rights are universal is as valid today as it was then. The EU will continue vigorously to defend universality of human rights.

The EU wishes to underline how crucial a body the Human Rights Council is for the promotion of universal human rights standards. As the UN's premier human rights forum it enables world-wide scrutiny of the human rights performance of all countries, including through the Universal Periodic Review. The EU calls upon all UN Member States to effectively cooperate with this mechanism. 

Mr President,

Expressions of commitment are important, but what really counts is a concrete improvement in the human rights impact of our activities. In this respect, 2012 was a significant year of change for the EU's human rights policy. By adopting the EU Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy on 25 June, Foreign Ministers committed the EU to promoting human rights in all areas of its action, without exception, and created an agreed basis for a collective effort, involving EU Member States and EU institutions alike, in a genuine partnership with civil society.

An important element of this new strategy is the appointment of an EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr Stavros Lambrinidis, who participated in the high-level segment last Monday. He has a key role to play in contributing to the implementation of the EU human rights policy and to enhance its effectiveness and visibility.

An important feature of our new policy is working in partnership. With this in mind, we look forward to productive cooperation with many partners here and through cross-regional initiatives, all aimed at addressing human rights issues of real concern while mobilizing global support for the strengthening of the multilateral human rights system as a whole.

Mr President,

In closing, I would like to pay tribute to the leadership of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay in an office which also celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The EU strongly supports her work and that of her staff, underlining the full independence and integrity of the mandate of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Thank you very much.