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Top UN official urges human rights body to begin country reviews

Top UN official urges human rights body to begin country reviews

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today urged the Human Rights Council to press forward with its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, which allows the human rights records of every country to be scrutinized.

“We are acutely aware that the credibility of the United Nations human rights system hinges upon satisfactory implementation of the review, since the UPR has the potential to greatly influence and address human rights situations on the ground,” she told the Council which is currently meeting in its sixth session in Geneva.

Under this new mechanism, over the course of four years, all UN Member States – at the rate of 48 a year – will be reviewed to assess whether they have fulfilled their human rights obligations.

“Through the UPR all UN Member States will now be reviewed in the same comprehensive manner on the basis of universal and equal parameters and standards,” she said. “At the same time, countries under review will be fully involved in what is envisaged as a participatory and inclusive review process.”

In her address to the 47-member body, the High Commissioner also highlighted problems faced by countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Iran and Myanmar.

On the DRC, Ms. Arbour voiced concern over the lack of progress in the vast Central Africa nation which is seeking to rebuild after a brutal six year civil war that killed 4 million in fighting, attendant hunger and disease.

The High Commissioner pointed out that no perpetrators who committed serious crimes committed in the first half of this year have been arrested and brought to justice. “Interference by military and political authorities in the administration of justice is prevalent, particularly in high-profile cases,” she noted. “Recent trials raise serious questions about the independence of the judiciary.”

While visiting Teheran, Iran’s capital, earlier this month, Ms. Arbour met with senior Government officials as well as with local women’s rights defenders on how to improve respect for human rights. She expressed to them her particular concerns regarding the death penalty being applied to juveniles and the need to defend the right to peaceful public expression, she told the Council, which began its session on 10 September.

Ms. Arbour also said that she has been following the suppression of peaceful protests in Myanmar with mounting concern. “I urge the authorities to release detainees and political prisoners and ensure respect for fundamental rights,” she told the Council, whose three-week session wraps up on 28 September.

In a related development, UN independent experts today jointly called on Myanmar to immediately release over 150 people brutally arrested last month after protesting the surge in fuel prices.

“It is shocking that peaceful demonstrators have received life sentences in trials without any basic guarantee of the due process of law and that local journalists were prevented from reporting on these measures,” three Special Rapporteurs said in a joint statement.

Noting the “important and courageous role” that women, student leaders and monks played in the protests, the experts said that the “Myanmar authorities should be proud of its vibrant civil society and engage without hesitations in a constructive and transparent dialogue with all parties so as to lay down a roadmap for a healthy and empowered democratic society, for the benefit of the country and the region at large.

They also warned that Myanmar can push forward with political transition unless “ordinary people have the space to express their views and discontent, peacefully and in public.”

The three experts who issued today’s statement are Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; Ambeyi Ligabo, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Leandro Despouy, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.