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Asian issues figure prominently in the resumed Sixth Session of the UN Human Rights Council

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The Human Rights Council concluded its sixth session in Geneva, Switzerland, on 14 December. The session highlighted human rights situations in Asia, with reports by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on her visits to Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, and the report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar/Burma.
(Geneva, 15 December 2007) The Human Rights Council held its resumed Sixth Session from 10 to 14 December. Issues from Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, Pakistan and Sri Lanka figured prominently during the resumed session. The opening of the resumed session also was the opportunity for the Council to celebrate the 59th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, presented her report to the Council on 11 December 2007. She relayed to the Council the activities of her office, including her recent visits to Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. In regard to her visit to Sri Lanka, Arbour explained that she paid special attention to the issue of abductions and disappearances. She also proposed the idea of an independent entity to gather information and publicly report on the human rights situation in the country. This idea was supported by FORUM-ASIA, in a statement made together with the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID). The statement stressed that such a body is important considering that existing institutions and mechanisms established by the government have failed in their mandate to promote and protect human rights in the country. FORUM-ASIA and INFID also pointed out that the Sri Lankan National Human Rights Commission, for one, has been ineffective in protecting human rights defenders in the c
ountry and has not complied with the Paris Principles.

In regard to her trip to Afghanistan, Arbour reported that she was pleased to see the continued active role being played by the Afghan Human Rights Commission and by civil society. The present human rights situation of women disappointed her, and noted the transitional justice agenda also remained “stalled”.

The High Commissioner also shared her concern over the situation in Pakistan. While she welcomed the release of detainees, she was concerned that emergency rule and related actions inflicted “severe, long-term injury” to the judiciary and to civil society. Non-governmental organisations responded to her concerns about the situation in Pakistan, including the Asian Legal Resource Center (ALRC), which made a strongly-worded statement calling for the suspension of Pakistan from the Council.

On 12 December the Council discussed the situation of human rights in Myanmar/Burma. Responding to the report by Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, all speakers agreed that democratisation in the country can only be achieved through an all-inclusive political process and with respect for human rights.

In a joint statement with six other non-governmental organisations, FORUM-ASIA expressed “deep regret” that the Special Rapporteur was unable to conduct a “thorough, independent, and confidential investigation”. The organisations urged the council to dispatch a “full-fledged fact-finding mission or a commission of inquiry to the country”, and to establish a human rights monitoring presence there.

The resumed session concluded by adopting several resolutions that extended the mandates of the following special procedures:

  1. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing;
  2. Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health;
  3. Representative of the Secretary General on the human rights of internally displaced persons;
  4. Special Rapporteur on protection of human rights while countering terrorism;
  5. Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Sudan.

With respect to the report on the situation of human rights in Burma, Portugal, as one of the main sponsors, introduced a draft resolution wherein the government of Burma was urged to implement and follow-up on all the recommendations contained in the report of the Special Rapporteur. The resolution also called on the government to cooperate fully with humanitarian organisations working in the country and with the Council and its mechanisms. Portugal noted that the resolution is meant to be forward looking, “while not neglecting past responsibilities”.

The government of Burma commented on the resolution, taking the opportunity to assert that, with another resolution on Burma having passed only two months before, some states have an agenda to “exert pressure on the [Burmese] government”. The resolution was adopted by consensus.

During the closing session, President Costea noted that many resolutions had been adopted, and many of those by consensus. Although adoption by consensus is desirable, he stressed that it should not be pursued at every price. The president cautioned that consensus, for its own sake, is a trap that the Council should avoid.