Civil Society Vital to Protecting Human Rights while Fighting Terrorism, Ensuring Judicial Independence, Experts Tell Third Committee

Civil society had a crucial role to play in protecting human rights while countering terrorism, and in assuring the independence of judges and lawyers, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) heard today as special mandate holders on those topics engaged in a spirited back and forth with delegates.
Civil society was an integral actor in preventing violent extremism, said Fionnuala Ni Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. Yet, civil society groups faced increasing pressure from State and non State actors, such as restrictive laws which made even the establishment of groups an arduous process in many States. Funding restrictions prevented those with potential to make a notable impact from operating. The precise role of an engaged civil society was to make statements that made State institutions uncomfortable, and limiting the right to speech was counterproductive.
Diego Garcia-Sayan, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said a civil society report had found that the judiciary was perceived as the second most corrupt institution, after the police. Interacting with delegates, he said that Colombia’s process toward setting up a transitional justice system had been transparent, and underscored the importance of civil society’s participation.
Idriss Jazairy, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, presented his report, focusing on issues of extraterritoriality in relation to unilateral sanctions. Such measures were unlawful under international law, he said, as they could affect the right to development of a targeted country and its population.
In the ensuing debate, the representative of the United States rejected the premise underlying the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, saying targeted sanctions did not violate human rights but in fact could hold accountable those violating them.
Others took a different view, with Venezuela’s delegate, on behalf of the Non Aligned Movement, expressing continued opposition to measures used as tools for political or economic and financial pressure. Syria’s delegate added that those who supported sanctions supported terrorism in his country.
The representative of the Russian Federation said sanctions were among the most powerful tools of the international community. Yet, plausible pretexts had been used to circumvent the Security Council, and such politically motivated actions undermined international law. Iran’s delegate meanwhile said the question did not concern the legality of such measures, but rather, how victims could be compensated.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 20 October, to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.
Background
The Third Committee met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights. (For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4204.)
Dialogue on Protection of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism
FIONNUALA NI AOLÁIN, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, said she was aware of the loss and harm involved in the nexus between terrorism, counter terrorism and violent extremism. Profoundly conscious of the damage that could be done to political and legal systems by terrorism and counter terrorism measures, she identified four target areas to guide her mandate. From the proliferation of permanent states of emergency to advancing the rights and protections of civil society, the target areas asserted the obligation of States to honour international law in countering terrorism. Noting that gendering counter terrorism was not a marginal activity, she pledged to mainstream gender into her work.
When national security norms had become the regular law, human rights violations invariably followed, she said. Yet, with a sizeable proliferation of legal norms for States, there existed obvious difficulties in keeping pace with all obligations. Those gaps were creating “grey zones” of State practice. As Special Rapporteur on the matter, she was uniquely placed to cut a path through that uncertainty and clutter, and affirm States’ normative human rights obligations, she stressed. Noting that civil society groups faced increasing pressure from State and non state actors, she said that countering terrorism called for the involvement of all of society. The harassment of civil society actors could not be legitimized by national security doctrines, she said, stressing that the counter terrorism architecture was being reorganized and pledging to positively engage in that process.
When the floor opened for interaction with Ms. NÍ AOLÁIN, the representative of Morocco asked how her mandate dealt with the impact of terrorism on the rights of victims of terrorism as well as societies where terrorist acts were committed.
The representative of Belgium said human rights protection should be mainstreamed through counter terrorism initiatives and asked how the Special Rapporteur planned to engage with civil society.
The representative of Mexico asked which measures States could adopt to strengthen the role of women in combating terrorism, and about specific actions the Special Rapporteur planned to take to promote civil society.
A representative of the European Union asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on how she planned to integrate a gender dimension in her work.
The representative of the United States asked the Special Rapporteur to share best practices when it came to civil society fostering resilience against terrorism.
The representative of Kenya asked the Special Rapporteur how to deal with terrorist elements usurping the human rights space to perpetrate their acts.
The representative of the Russian Federation said there were no universal approaches to anti terrorist work, and the good will of all States was needed. Terrorism was a phenomenon targeting human rights, and terrorist activity could not be justified by human rights considerations. Certain human rights could be subject to reasonable limitations.
The representative of Norway asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on civil society’s important role in preventing radicalization and violent extremism.
The representative of Iraq said the country had established an entity to fight terrorism, and strategic plans aimed to reduce the number of civilian losses. Iraq had also seen that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had practiced the worst form of crimes against civilians, especially against women.
The representative of Ireland, endorsing the European Union’s position, asked how States could ensure that freedom of opinion and expression were given due space when countering terrorism, adding that there was no conflict between countering terrorism and promoting human rights.
The representative of France said the definition of terrorism in national legislation was imprecise, which could have serious consequences in countries practicing the death penalty. The Special Rapporteur was asked how she would combat that situation.
The representative of Netherlands supported the Special Rapporteur’s emphasis on civil society and asked her what she saw as the most acute challenge related to her mandate.
The representative of Saudi Arabia condemned all terrorist attacks everywhere, and said there was a need to cut off terrorist funding. Citing the Special Rapporteur’s comments in the report on use of the death penalty, he asked what the most appropriate sanction was for those who had cut off the lives of others, and who had attacked women and children.
Also participating in the interactive discussion were the representatives of Qatar, Switzerland, Cuba, Maldives and the United Kingdom.
Ms. NI AOLÁIN replied that she would play and active role in asserting the rights of victims of terrorism. Victims were a vibrant part of civil society responses to terrorism and cracking down on civil society often meant cracking down on victims. Obligations to victims of terrorism included entitlement to due process and reparations to rebuild their lives. She said victims often had the strongest voice in countering and preventing violent extremism.
She said civil society organizations faced increasingly restrictive laws, with even the establishment of groups becoming an arduous process in many States. Funding restrictions prevented those with potential to make a notable impact from operating. The precise role of an engaged civil society was to make statements that made State institutions uncomfortable. Limiting the right to speech was counterproductive. Civil society was an integral component of preventing violent extremism, she reaffirmed.
Turning to questions on gender, she said mainstreaming of the issue would help address violent acts that targeted women and had not yet been identified as terrorism. Returning female fighters and their reintegration and rehabilitation was also crucial, and women could not be seen only as victims. There was a serious problem of female perpetrators in acts of terrorism and simply talking to men would ignore a large section of the population vulnerable to radicalization.
Independence of Judges and Lawyers
DIEGO GARCIA-SAYAN, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, said significant progress had been made since the establishment of his mandate in 1994, but old threats by political authorities continued to appear in various corners of the world. Noting that in June he had presented the Human Rights Council with his first report as holder of the mandate, he said he would shortly visit Poland. A visit to Morocco was also planned, and he had received invitations from Algeria, Guatemala and Honduras. His report linked crime and organized crime with how those factors jeopardized judicial independence, and identified three areas of focus. Those areas included the causes and factors leading to corruption, as well as the main methods and tactics used by organized crime to neutralize justice. Judicial systems were responsible for bringing all cases of corruption to court, he said, and there was growing evidence of corruption in judicial systems.
He said a civil society report had found that the judiciary was perceived as the second most corrupt institution, after the police. The United Nations Convention against Corruption was the main international tool to counter corruption, and both States and human rights groups should include it on the list of instruments protecting human rights. States, judges and prosecutors must work together to implement the Convention’s obligations. He concluded by underscoring the need for States to permanently monitor the causes of corruption, as well as to guarantee adequate budgetary resources to allow staff of judicial institutions to fulfil their tasks. His report further recommended that States ensure staff involved in administering justice were trained in an impartial way, and guarded against inappropriate influences.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the impact of organized crime on the judicial system was of particular concern. However, imposing anti corruption standards on States not ready to incorporate them was highly unacceptable. She asked the Special Rapporteur for clarification on his role within existing United Nations anti corruption mechanisms.
The representative of Kenya protested how the dialogue was being managed, stressing that it was impossible to address such pressing issues “under the gun of the clock”. He expressed “deep regret” about statements made by mandate holders regarding Kenya’s election processes.
The representative of Qatar emphasized the importance of fighting corruption to uphold human rights and asked what avenues existed to implement international mechanisms on the matter.
The representative of the European Union asked for information regarding best practices to implement anti corruption programmes for churches that also accounted for cultural and social values.
Also speaking were the representatives of Colombia, Maldives, United States, Cuba and Guatemala.
Mr. GARCIA-SAYAN, responding, observed that justice was a target for organized corruption, but the main tools against such threats were the judges and public prosecutors who could sanction those breaking the law. Noting that there was no single model to counter corruption, nor any one way of best organizing how legal systems could combat the problem, he said there could be no single plan for preventing corruption within the judicial system. But the one criteria was that all the methods must have judicial independence as a fundamental tool. To comments by Colombia’s delegate about the process in her country towards setting up a transitional justice system, he said it had been a very transparent process, and underscored the importance of civil society’s participation.
A number of delegations had mentioned the Convention against Corruption, which contained obligations for better establishing cooperation, he said, noting that awareness among judges, prosecutors was not great enough. Indispensable work must be done on the judiciary and public prosecution, which must be allowed better overall coordination. It was the responsibility of sovereign States but also the United Nations to find global strategies for human rights and in combating crime, he said, which could strengthen the international community’s ability to act in that area. To comments by Kenya’s delegate, he said any information could be contradicted with more solid and better information. The central concept of an independent judicial system was part of the critical mass of the United Nations system.
Unilateral Coercive Measures
IDRISS JAZAIRY, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, noted that resolution 71/193 requested more information regarding his proposals to the Human Rights Council. He had identified three proposals covering: a register of unilateral coercive measures, a declaration on unilateral sanctions and the rule of law, and a compensation commission under the United Nations to assist victims of unilateral coercive measures. This year’s report to the General Assembly and Human Rights Council focused on issues of extraterritoriality in relation to unilateral sanctions.
Such sanctions were unlawful under international law, he noted, adding that they could affect the right to development of a targeted country and its population. Addressing extraterritorial sanctions called for considering the accountability of targeting States for the human rights impacts caused by their actions. States had human rights obligations to individuals who were not their nationals, were not in their territories and over whom they did not exercise jurisdiction, he stressed. Both targeted and targeting States were obliged to protect all people to the best of their ability. This year’s report pointed to a more frequent, systemic use of unilateral sanctions as a foreign policy tool. He concluded by identifying progress in efforts to resolve the situation in Sudan and expressing concern for recent additional sanctions imposed against the Russian Federation.
When the floor opened for questions, the representative of Venezuela, on behalf of the Non Aligned Movement, reaffirmed full support to Mr. JAZAIRY’s mandate and expressed continued opposition to measures used as tools for political or economic and financial pressure, particularly against developing States. He expressed further concern over the continued imposition of such measures which created obstacles to the full realization of human rights.
The representative of the Russian Federation said sanctions were among the most powerful tools of the international community, adding that plausible pretexts had been used to circumvent the Security Council, and that such politically motivated actions undermined international law.
The representative of the United States rejected the premise underlying the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, saying targeted sanctions did not violate human rights but in fact could hold accountable those violating them. Offenders sought to justify their illegitimate rule, and the Special Rapporteur’s future reporting should condemn “Russia, North Korea and Venezuela”.
The representative of Cuba reiterated the importance of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, and expressed opposition to all unilateral coercive measures, particularly those used against developing countries.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates supported the intervention by Saudi Arabia’s delegate, adding that measures taken against Qatar did not constitute a blockade. The report had cited outdated information.
The representative of Iran said Saudi Arabia was engaged in violations of human rights. The question was not on the legality of the imposition of unilateral coercive measures, but how victims could be compensated. He asked about the future role the Special Rapporteur saw for the General Assembly in addressing those illegal acts.
The representative of Algeria, associating himself with the Non Aligned Movement, noted that the Special Rapporteur had mentioned the possibility of the International Court of Justice issuing an advisory opinion. He asked what the role of the General Assembly might be in that.
The representative of Qatar said her country was suffering from unilateral, illegitimate coercive measures and a blockade accompanied by false pretexts and specious justifications. The Special Rapporteur had not evaluated the impact of those measures, which had a negative impact on the population.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, associating himself with the Non Aligned Movement, said his country opposed economic sanctions against sovereign States, which was a violation of the United Nations Charter and many resolutions of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. The current economic and financial sanctions also hindered the humanitarian activities of the United Nations.
The representative of Syria said his country’s position was the position of the Non-Aligned Movement’s 2016 “Margarita Declaration”, which stated its opposition to unilateralism and unilateral coercive measures. Those who supported sanctions supported terrorism in Syria, he said, asking the Special Rapporteur if there were any positive indicators in terms of lifting measures against Venezuela, Cuba and others.
Mr. JAZAIRY responded to the rejection of his mandate by the representative of the United States by saying that the mandate had been created by the General Assembly, and that his only role was to try to implement it. His mandate had been involved with the question of Sudan to determine ways for the two positions to come closer together, he said, adding that his concern was to minimize the adverse human rights impacts. He respected the General Assembly resolution on Crimea, adding that quiet diplomacy might be a way to overcome ongoing difficulties. His work involved determining if there was a way to solve problems while reducing the adverse impacts on the most vulnerable groups, which was his only remit. Noting that some measures had been applied for 20 years, he said there must be smarter ways for diplomats to seek solutions. To a question on prospects, he said he was not taking sides, but observed that the international community was at a crossroads where major countries were considering further unilateral coercive measures. The international community was either on the verge of a large trade war in which everyone reciprocated, or moving forward by mutual agreement.
Also participating in the discussion were the representatives of Sudan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt.

Source: United Nations

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