UNITED NATIONS

Press Release



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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HEARS STATEMENT
BY UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR
HUMAN RIGHTS

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Human Rights Council AFTERNOON
13 September 2007

Holds General Debate on Council’s Institution-Building Process,
Situation of Human Rights in Certain Countries

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour this afternoon urged the Human Rights Council to take all necessary steps to ensure that activities related to the Universal Periodic Review began at the earliest date because the credibility of the United Nations human rights system hinged upon satisfactory implementation of the Review.

Ms. Arbour said the review of mandates would be an important opportunity to identify and close protection gaps in the Special Procedures system, and she encouraged the Council to seize this opportunity. She urged States to increase their cooperation and to extend invitations to mandate holders. The High Commissioner also spoke about her visits to Indonesia, Iran, Colombia and the Great Lakes Region.

In the general debate that followed, delegates emphasized a number of issues, including that the Universal Periodic Review should begin at the earliest possible date, but only after adequate preparation time for countries concerned. The Council had to take all necessary steps to rationalise and improve the entire system of Special Procedures. The review of mandates should not lead to weakening the system. The Code of Conduct for mandate-holders should be swiftly operationalised. There was a need to improve cooperation, transparency and accountability. In the Universal Periodic Review, it was important to meaningfully address areas of duplication, as well as gaps yet to be addressed. Credible assessments, recommendations and follow-up were essential. Effective presence in the field was also a key factor. The opening of new country and regional offices provided promising opportunities, though the Office’s representation in the north as well as in developing countries should be observed. Human rights and cultural diversity were two sides of the same coin, and several delegates complimented the High Commissioner on her participation in the Non-Aligned Movement’s Ministerial Meeting on Tehran in 2007.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council heard concluding statements from the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, after the presentation of their reports and the interactive debate during the morning meeting.

Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, said a genuine dialogue of inter-faith relations would only yield the best results when held in a context in which human rights were central to the dialogue. There was effective dialogue at the grass-roots level, and regional dialogue was extremely important, as each region had its own particularities. Legislation in matters of religion should be created with caution. Regarding minority groups, each was different from another. Policies and strategies had to be appropriate for each vulnerable group and tailored to their needs.

Rudi Muhammad Rizki, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, said there were three focus areas in which the mandate could be expanded. It was important to study these areas in depth and draw out their links and he would continue to do that. Millennium Development Goals reflected a fundamental agenda for human development and human rights. Progress would depend on cooperation with Member States, human rights mechanisms, international and non-governmental organizations.

Speaking in the general debate were the representatives of Egypt on behalf of the African Group, Iran, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Portugal on behalf of the European Union, Russian Federation, Indonesia, China, Peru, India, Chile, Mexico, Canada, Netherlands, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Cuba, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Nicaragua, Nepal, Chile, Sweden, Australia, Ecuador and Colombia.

The Human Rights Council will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Friday, 14 September to conclude the general debate on the High Commissioner’s report and to hear other outstanding reports presented under item 9 of the agenda, namely racism and racial discrimination, defamation of religions, and follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

LOUISE ARBOUR, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at the session, the Council would need to adopt a number of decisions on technical modalities, which were essential both to the effective functioning of the Council itself, as well as to the smooth operation of all its mechanisms and bodies. In particular, it should take all necessary steps to ensure that activities related to the Universal Periodic Review began at the earliest date possible. The credibility of the United Nations human rights system hinged upon satisfactory implementation of the Review, since the Review had the potential to greatly influence and address human rights situations on the ground.

The Council had recognized the unique characteristics of the Special Procedures system and reaffirmed the central importance of the independence of mandate holders. The review of mandates, which would unfold over the coming year, presented an important opportunity to identify and close protection gaps in the Special Procedures system, and the High Commissioner strongly encouraged the Council to seize this opportunity, urging States to increase their cooperation, and to extend invitations, in particular standing invitations, to mandate holders.

With regards to developments since the previous session of the Council, Ms. Arbour said she had had the opportunity to see at first hand the progress Indonesia was making in Aceh, both in terms of transition from the conflict and in the recovery from the terrible consequences of the tsunami. She had urged Indonesia and other ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) Member States to move forward with the adoption of human rights elements in the new ASEAN charter and supported the establishment of an ASEAN human rights mechanism. In this respect, she had been following with growing concern the suppression of peaceful protests in Myanmar and urged the authorities to release detainees and political prisoners and ensure respect for fundamental rights.

Earlier this month, Ms. Arbour said she had had the opportunity to address the Non-Aligned Movement ministerial meeting on Human Rights and Cultural Diversity in Iran. She had just returned from Colombia where she signed the agreement through which the comprehensive mandate of my Office there was prolonged for three years. At the last session she had reported on her visit to the Great Lakes region, which focused primarily on the question of impunity. In that respect, she continued to be concerned with the lack of progress in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A number of positive developments had occurred with regard to the establishment of new offices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the field, including in Bolivia, Panama City and Togo, and progress has been achieved in the establishment of Regional Offices for West Africa in Dakar, and for Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan. This year the Office had been able to deploy new human rights advisors to Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Ecuador, Guyana, Georgia, Somalia and Rwanda. Ten additional human rights advisors were expected to be dispatched in 2008. In the coming months, the High Commissioner said she was very much looking forward to country visits to both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

General Debate

SAMEH SHOUKRY (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that the African Group believed in the importance of a successful completion of the institution-building process. The success of the Human Rights Council was a collective responsibility of all parties, and the Universal Periodic Review would play a central role in this regard. While the African Group agreed that identifying and closing protection gaps in the Special Procedures system was important, it reiterated the view that the immediate objective remained the review, rationalization and improvement of mandates. The High Commissioner had referred to her earlier visit to the Great Lakes Region, and had expressed her continued concern with the lack of progress in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the issue of impunity. The African Group would like to express its solidarity with the work and efforts done in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The African Group regretted that neither the mandate of the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nor the mandate-holder himself, had been able to be of use to this African country. The African Group looked forward to addressing the institutional relationship between the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and it expected this discussion to take place in this session in order to ensure that the activities of the Office were in line with existing United Nations rules and practices and conformed with the intergovernmental nature of the Organization.

ALIREZA MOYERI (Iran) said the Non-Aligned Movement Ministerial Meeting on Human Rights and Cultural Diversity in Tehran had provided a platform for greater emphasis on respect for culture as a fundamental human right. Objective and fruitful discussions had led to a Declaration and Programme of Action on human rights and cultural diversity in which the Non-Aligned Movement’s Member States renewed their commitment to promote and protect all human rights including the preservation of cultural identity. A new Non-Aligned Movement Centre for Human Rights and Cultural Diversity in Tehran would be established and would act as a focal point for cooperation and dialogue

MASOOD KHAN, ((Pakistan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the High Commissioner’s commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights was appreciated. Prior to her address to the Council there was uncertainty regarding the availability of space for an interactive dialogue, and the OIC believed such uncertainty should be removed. Clarity in this regard would make her engagements with the Council more productive.

The High Commissioner had emphasised the need for the commencement of the Universal Periodic Review at the earliest possible date, and the OIC had proposed that such a date should fall in April 2008 following the March session. The review of mandates was also an unfinished business, and the Council had to take all necessary steps to review, rationalise and improve the entire system of Special Procedures. Before taking decisions on the establishment of regional Offices, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should closely consult Member States so they had a sense of ownership. The Human Rights Council should have a regular dialogue with the Office and a greater say in managing the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as this would make the United Nations human rights machinery more effective.

FRANCISCO XAVIER ESTEVES (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Union strongly supported a wider field presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and valued the existing partnerships to provide monitoring as well as advisory services and technical assistance. The efforts by the Colombian Government to bring peace in their country were welcomed as well as was the cooperation between the Office and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some good results had been carried out in terms of strengthening national human rights capacities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Still of concern was the worsening climate of insecurity in some parts of the country. In the Great Lakes, the European Union continued to encourage Burundi’s democratic process and welcomed its cooperation with international institutions and bodies. It remained deeply concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe and had asked the Office to follow closely the developments in this country. The European Union was also looking forward to the results of the High Commissioner’s upcoming visit to Sri-Lanka.

VALERY LOSHCHININ (Russian Federation) said qualitative improvements in terms of field offices would strengthen national capacity to protect and promote human rights. The Russian Foreign Minister had confirmed an agreement for a joint comprehensive programme of cooperation between Russia and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), covering the full range of human rights issues. There was a need to extend and improve cooperation, transparency and accountability to UN Member States regarding financial and programme questions. Concerning the Universal Periodic Review, the principle of fair geographic distribution should be observed. The involvement of OHCHR in the Durban Review Conference should focus on technical and financial assistance.

MAKARIM WIBISONO (Indonesia) said Indonesia was grateful for the support given by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the work of the Council throughout the first labour-intensive year. Her visits to several countries, including to Iran to address the Non-Aligned Movement’s Ministerial meeting on human rights and cultural diversity, were appreciated, and the planned visits to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka reflected a positive gesture for the enhancement of constructive dialogue as well as good will and cooperation.

As the Council began its sixth session, it had just about completed the first, institution-building process stage of endowing the human rights body with solid, dependable, and impartial mechanisms by the end of its first year of existence. As the second year got underway, the Council entered a new phase in which the institutions should become fully functional. However, before it could do so, the two key issues, the Universal Periodic Review and the review of mandates as well as others, still needed to be finalised. Indonesia fully supported the Council’s mission to protect and promote human rights through its mechanisms and through the actions of the High Commissioner and her Office.

LI BAODONG (China) noted that local offices and bodies of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) were mainly located in developing countries. China hoped that the High Commissioner would show equal global representation in the north and south. OHCHR should also review its policies to increase the representation of the Asian and African regions in the Office. It was believed that in order to preserve the quality of country reports and the Universal Periodic Review, sufficient time should be given to countries.

CARLOS ALBERTO CHOCANO BURGA (Peru) said the task of the Council in this session was to make progress on concluding the institution-building package and rationalization and revision of mandates. There was an important opportunity to identify weaknesses in the system of Special Procedures and strengthen promotion and protection. Coherent structures and avoidance of overlapping roles were essential. Actions to finalise the Universal Periodic Review mechanism should be pressed forward as a matter of urgency, taking account of developing countries’ individual needs and capacities.

SWASHPAWAN SINGH (India) said the successful adoption of the institution-building package gave a signal to many people across the world. It was expected that the new Universal Periodic Review mechanism would successfully allow the Council to avoid the issues of bias, politicisation and selectivity which plagued the work of its predecessor, the Commission. There should be early implementation of the mechanism, and discussions so far showed convergence. Given the complexity of the mechanism, the Universal Periodic Review process should be launched only after adequate provisions had been made.

The current session would also examine follow-up issues, and the process of review and rationalisation of the Special Procedures should commence. The process should meaningfully address the areas of duplication, as well as gaps hitherto not addressed. The Council should address other substantive issues as well, and should keep in mind the fact that it functioned virtually as a standing body, and should treat issues from an action-oriented standpoint.

LUIS ALFONSO DE ALBA (Mexico) said that Mexico agreed with the view of the High Commissioner that major work was still ahead of the Council and they were convinced that strengthening the Council could only be achieved by making it fully functional. Mexico trusted that with the equivalent political will, the Universal Periodic Review would become fully operational by next February at the earliest. The opening of regional offices provided opportunities to foster the regional implementation of human rights.

MARIUS GRINIUS (Canada) welcomed the High Commissioner’s visits to Iran, where violations of human rights against women, detainees and minors, and suppression of peaceful demonstrations, were to be condemned. Canada condemned Sri Lanka’s deteriorating situation including displacement of civilians and reiterated the need to safeguard access to humanitarian aid. Canada called on the Government of Zimbabwe to expedite the appointment of an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Senior Human Rights Advisor. Canada also shared concerns over the violation of human rights and impunity of violators in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where reform in the justice and security sectors was needed.
ARJAN HAMBURGER (Netherlands) said the High Commissioner was to be congratulated for the positive developments with regard to the strengthened presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the field. Also warmly welcomed were her efforts to promote the mainstreaming of human rights in the United Nations. Activities related to the Universal Periodic Review should begin at the earliest date possible, and should not be delayed by, for instance, practical reasons. The Netherlands was ready to be reviewed in the first session.

It was appreciated that the Council had recognised the importance of the Special Rapporteurs and the fact that the independence of the mandate holders was of the utmost importance. Both country and thematic mandates would be discussed in the coming year. The Netherlands attached great importance to the continuation of existing mandates, including country mandates. The review of mandates should not lead to weakening the system of independent Special Procedures; instead, it should be aimed at improving and further strengthening the system.

MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh) said that significant progress in the remaining work of the institution-building process had already been made in the informal meetings. There was a need to expedite the review process with a view to streamlining the Special Procedures system. An open mind and rational and objective thinking would be essential. The collective action in the field of human rights should be founded on the principle of universality, impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, dialogue cooperation and action. Countries would need time to understand and internalise the Universal Periodic Review. Developing countries, particularly least-developed ones, would require enough time to prepare and present reports before the Council. The High Commissioner’s commitment to establish a trust fund was welcomed.

RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said the High Commissioner had helped focus on key pending tasks. Cuba thanked the High Commissioner for attending the Non-Aligned Movement’s Ministerial meeting in Tehran. Cooperation with the High Commissioner was important in enhancing the fair geographical distribution of her office, and the extension of regional offices was a positive trend. Cuba suggested activities and future meetings within the Human Rights Council to ascertain what was being done in regions. Appointing human rights advisers on the ground would also be positive, in both north and south. Cuba asked what was being done in this respect and whether countries were to give their consent on the appointment of the advisers.

BLAISE GODET (Switzerland) said the Universal Periodic Review was an important innovation, both for the implementation of universal provisions, but also for a dialogue between States and with civil society. The Council should do everything it could to ensure that activities related to the Universal Periodic Review began as soon as possible. Delegations should be able to participate actively in the work of the Universal Periodic Review, as well as other work of the Council. Active participation was the best guarantee of open and transparent debates.

The Special Procedures mechanism should be strengthened. The review by all States was a fundamental contribution by all States. Switzerland would in the future work to strengthen these mechanisms. Switzerland welcomed developments in the deployment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in various countries. Effective presence in the field was essential to contribute to the protection and promotion of human rights.

DAYAN JAYATILLAKE (Sri Lanka) noted that the Sri Lankan President had met with the High Commissioner and had invited her to visit the country in a spirit of respect for human rights. That was one of a number of policies and constructive measures taking place in Sri Lanka in the area of human rights. In addition, two Special Rapporteurs would be visiting the country. Other work was also being done in the human rights area outside the UN framework. That openness was taking place at time that was not easy – after the resumption of hostilities by Tamil leaders. One had to be careful of anything that could derail the actual spirit of cooperation, for example through ill-meaning criticism. Also, one had to guard against pressure exerted by non-governmental organizations. Sri Lanka was open to the idea of a field presence in the country in the form of a regional office.

SERGIO ABREU E LIMA FLORENCIO (Brazil) said the statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights had provided food for thought. Brazil believed that the address should also deal with the independence of mandate holders. The agreement on the Code of Conduct had been a positive development in enhancing legitimacy of the mandate-holders. Identifying and closing protection gaps should be a central concern.

Brazil also stressed the need for the Universal Periodic Review to be functioning as soon as possible in 2008. Brazil had been present at the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran as an observer, and had shared the High Commissioner’s views expressed at that meeting. Human Rights and cultural diversity were two sides of the same coin. Human rights could not be fulfilled without cultural diversity and vice versa. The new regional office for Central America and developments concerning the offices in Bolivia and Colombia were positive. Brazil also welcomed the reference to racial profiling and the protection of fundamental freedoms in countering terrorism.

MARTIN IHOEGHIAN UHOMOIBHI (Nigeria) said the Universal Periodic Review played a central role in the institution-building process of the Council, in particular with regard to its potential impact on the work of the Council to address human rights situations. While it was true that delay in the take-off of the Universal Periodic Review could undermine the desire and determination of the United Nations system in general, and the Human Rights Council in particular, to design and operationalize mechanisms for promoting human rights, a hasty commencement of the review process would not yield the appropriate results envisaged for the Review.

Nigeria believed in the unique and useful role of the Special Procedures system, and had, over the years, demonstrated commitment to continued cooperation with the system. However, under the ongoing review and rationalization of the mandates, it was important that an appropriate and effective Code of Conduct, as unanimously adopted at the fifth session of the Council, be carefully thought through and operationalized in a manner that would facilitate the work of the Council.

ERLINDA F. BASILIO (Philippines) agreed with the High Commissioner that the Universal Periodic Review should be a comprehensive and meaningful review. All States should be given equal treatment in terms of preparation of the Review. For that reason the Philippines joined its voice to the delegations that had called for moving the first Universal Periodic Review session until after March 2008, so that developing countries could be adequately prepared for it. On the human rights advisers, it was hoped that coordination and consultation between concerned Governments and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could be enhanced in their deployment.

JANG JAE-BOK (Republic of Korea) said that with the institution-building package agreed upon, the Council was now about to embark on the substance of its work programme. It was important not to put new wine in old bottles regarding the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. It was hoped that the process would match the optimism invested in it. Success depended on sincere cooperation, effective implementation and enforcement in regard to non-cooperative States. The Republic of Korea called on Member States to embrace a cooperative attitude. Success of the Universal Periodic Review was vital to the Council’s own success. Failure of the process would cast serious doubts on the Council.

NESTOR CRUZ TORUŅO (Nicaragua) appreciated the efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen the protection of human rights both on the ground and in the regional areas. For Nicaragua, it was fundamental that at this sixth session all the mechanisms of the Council would be established and adopted. The Universal Periodic Review should get off the ground as soon as possible. It should be a universal, cooperative mechanism, helping to improve the human rights situation across the world.

GLAUDINE MTSHALI (South Africa) appreciated the support given by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the preparatory work for the Durban Conference. The application of the Universal Periodic Review to all United Nations Member States would ensure the protection of the human rights in all those countries. South Africa looked forward to the High Commissioner’s visit to Sri Lanka and commended the collaboration of the Sri Lankan Government in that regard.

ANGELICA NAVARRO (Bolivia) said there would hopefully be accelerated implementation to set up the newly agreed national office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bolivia. Bolivia hoped for support for the huge changes the country faced, particularly for ministers who had ardently promoted human rights, notably regarding indigenous peoples’ rights, access to water and others. It was a time of change, and Bolivia hoped the High Commissioner’s Office would monitor progress in cooperation with the Government of Bolivia.

Bolivia added that professional experience and academic value had to jointly find their place in the criteria for selection of mandate holders.

MUSA BURAYZAT (Jordan) said the activities of the High Commissioner were highly appreciated and her interest in the work of the Council welcomed. Jordan wished for the process of the Universal Periodic Review to be kick-started as soon as possible. However, the credibility of the system required more than the implementation of the Review, although of course that was important. Human Rights Council decisions should be implemented, supported and respected by all, and that would have the greatest impact on its credibility. All stakeholders should bear that in mind.

The attention of the High Commissioner to situations where flagrant and chronic violations were taking place was highly credible, and this reflected positively on the entire human rights system. The relationship between the High Commissioner and the Council should be streamlined further, and a process of consultation to that effect should be launched at this very session.

BHARAT RAJ PAUDYAL (Nepal) was impressed by the High Commissioner’s desire to address the modalities of the relationship between the Council and her Office. That cooperation would be vital to realize, in its true spirit, the vision of the Member States of the Council. The ongoing peace process in Nepal was moving remarkably well. The forthcoming election to the Constituent Assembly had remained a major event for the people from all sections of Nepalese society. The Government had requested the international community to send elections observation teams during the elections. The issue of protection and promotion of human rights had remained at the centre of every step of the peace process.

JUAN MARTABIT (Chile) said the Universal Periodic Review should begin as soon as possible. Scrutiny of individual countries would only be credible if due space were given for information provided by civil society and non-governmental organizations. Permanent invitations by Governments for visits by Special Procedures mandate holders should not be an end in themselves and, if extended, there should be a visit in response. The involvement of the High Commissioner’s Office in the Durban process was important. Chile would soon establish a regional office to replace the existing one, and it was hoped that it would quickly become operational.

HANS DAHLGREN (Sweden) said it was important to identify and close protection gaps in the Special Procedures system, as suggested by the High Commissioner. It was hoped that States would not see the Universal Periodic Review primarily as an exercise in trying to cover up deficiencies in their human rights records, but rather as an opportunity to have a dialogue with their peers, and that that dialogue would result in some common ground on what issues might be in need of special attention by the Government concerned, and possibly thoughts or recommendations on measures to be taken by that Government.

The adoption of a human rights element in the new Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Charter was good news, and it was hoped that the steps now taken by ASEAN would also contribute to an improvement of the deplorable and alarming human rights situation in Burma. In Africa, widespread impunity in connection with the Great Lakes region unfortunately remained one of the worst scourges impeding the rule of law and promotion of human rights in many countries there. The positive developments with regard to the establishment of new offices of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the field were welcomed.

CAROLINE MILLAR (Australia) thanked the High Commissioner for her support of the Universal Periodic Process, where her Office's support for technical and capacity-building activities would assist countries' abilities to participate in and respond to Review recommendations. The Universal Periodic Report had the potential to become an effective tool with which to assess the human rights records of United Nations members. A strong mechanism was critical if the Council was to be regarded as a credible voice in the international community. For that to occur, the Universal Periodic Review needed to be allowed to function with a robust mandate and produce credible assessments and recommendations. All Members were urged to work towards the development of a strong Council. The opening of new field offices was welcomed, as well as the deployment of new human rights advisers to a number of countries.

JUAN HOLGUIN (Ecuador) said Ecuador had always participated in international forums and actively promoted a strengthening of mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Council and its mechanisms. Ecuador hoped that the Universal Periodic Review would produce not just an official report, but a real, in-depth analysis of human rights situations in the countries concerned. Credibility depended on proper implementation of the Review process. Ecuador had fully cooperated with Special Rapporteurs and would continue to do so.

CLEMENCIA FORERO UCROS (Colombia) thanked the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her visit to Colombia, and the renewal of the agreement governing the functioning of the Office there. That represented the will of the Colombian Government to discharge its obligations and functions in conjunction with the international community. Human rights were one of the fundamental pillars of the political agenda of Colombia, and the suggestions of the High Commissioner on how to strengthen the rule of law were appreciated.

Colombia acknowledged its shortcomings and difficulties, and would continue to allocate further funds to human rights institutions. The protection of threatened persons was an issue to which Colombia attached the highest priority. The comments made by the High Commissioner on the commitment of all Colombians to continue to improve the human rights situation were appreciated.

Concluding Remarks by Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity

ASMA JEHANGIR, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, responding to the questions raised during the morning session, said a genuine dialogue of inter-faith relations would only yield the best results when held in a context in which human rights were central to the dialogue. There was effective dialogue at the grass-roots level, and regional dialogue was extremely important, as each region had its own particularities. It was crucial that the dialogue continue at the level of the Council. With regards to the issue of missionaries, Ms. Jehangir urged countries not to extend impunity.

Legislation in matters of religion should be created with caution. Extremist views could not be made to disappear through legislation, and Governments had other initiatives which they could implement in order to minimise extremism. Access to education, in particular right education, was one way in which to minimise extremist views. There had been legislation that ruthlessly suppressed freedom of religion or belief, and this oppressed those with minority views. This could be taken care of through dialogue, education and debates. Rigid laws on registration took away the right of freedom of religion and belief from certain communities.

On how to protect vulnerable groups, each was different from another. With regards to women, mainstreaming gender issues was one way of protecting women. In the case of refugees and immigrants, an assessment policy that was neutral in terms of religion could be helpful. Access of children to education that nurtured a pluralistic atmosphere was also helpful. Policies and strategies had to be appropriate for each vulnerable group and tailored to their needs. The objective was to promote tolerance and to create a world where groups were not the targets of discrimination based on religion.

RUDI MUHAMMAD RIZKI, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, responding to questions raised in the interactive debate during the morning meeting, said there were three focus areas in which the mandate could be expanded. It was important to study these areas in depth and draw out their links and he would continue to do so. Millennium Development Goals reflected a fundamental agenda for human development and human rights.

Mr. Rizki reiterated that proper exercise of his mandate would continue to require cooperation from Member States, other human rights mechanisms, international and non-governmental organizations and support from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
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