National Seminar on “Universal Periodic Review”

18 Sep 2012

Speech by Mr. Neal Walker
UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative

Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel, Dhaka
18 September 2012

Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs;
H.E. Ambassador of Denmark;
Honorable Chairman and Members of the National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh;
Distinguished Representatives of Civil Society, the media, Ambassadors, Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Good morning to all!

Today’s seminar is the exciting culmination of a comprehensive, thematic series of consultations the NHRC has undertaken to help national stakeholders take stock of where we are on the recommendations raised at the first UPR cycle review. I have been privileged to participate in several and am honored to be speaking here today, as well.

I would like to sincerely congratulate NHRC for undertaking such a thorough process which is consistent with the spirit and intent of the UPR process outlined by the Human Rights Council. It also highlights the value of having a national human rights institution, such as the NHRC, to work with both government and civil society to assess progress made in a rational, evidence based manner.

Today’s event also provides a forum to discuss the NHRC’s draft stakeholder report, which reflects the outcome of this consultative process. It is the first ever report by the Bangladesh NHRC to the Human Rights Council. This is a very significant milestone in and of itself which is worth celebrating.

In my speech today, I will reflect on three areas:
i. the purpose of the UPR and the recommendations made to Bangladesh in the first UPR.
ii. I will then present the UN’s perspective on progress made in implementing the 2009 UPR recommendations and on the remaining challenges.
iii. I will finish with outlining how the UN System is supporting the Country to achieve its commitments under the UPR.

Let me start by reflecting on the role and purpose of the UPR mechanism.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a cooperative mechanism based on objective and reliable information and on interactive dialogue. It was only established by the Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2006, making it one of the more recent tools of the United Nations. What I like and admire about the UPR is that it objectively and EQUALLY assesses the human rights situation on the ground for all of the 193 UN Member States.

Another important aspect is that the UPR is led by the member states and requires the participation of relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions (NHRIs) such as the NHRC which is hosting today’s seminar.

Yes, 193 UN Member States have been assessed in the first cycle of the UPR, a major achievement. The UPR process has now entered into its 2nd cycle. Whilst the 1st cycle focused on the review of the human rights situation in the country and the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments, the 2nd cycle review looks at the recommendations accepted by the State during its first review and the progress to date in implementing those recommendations. NHRIs and other stakeholders may also refer to those recommendations that were not accepted by the State and any other human rights issues of concern that may not be reflected in the accepted recommendations.

So the main purpose of this 2nd review at the Human Rights Council is to look at the progress to date in implementing those recommendations which Bangladesh accepted.

So now let me turn to the recommendations which were made to Bangladesh in the 1st cycle back in 2009

Bangladesh received 42 recommendations to improve human rights protection and promotion. In response, Bangladesh accepted 35 recommendations, rejected 4 recommendations and did not provide a clear position on 6 recommendations. These recommendations were wide ranging and covered the whole gamut of human rights issues in Bangladesh. Recommendations included:
 the ratification of additional human rights treaties;
 the removal of reservations to particular articles of human rights treaties to which Bangladesh is a party;
 strengthening important institutions like the NHRC, the judiciary and tackling corruption;
 improving the rights of particularly vulnerable groups where reflected in a number of recommendations including the rights of women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, indigenous peoples and refugees; and
 urgently addressing the issue of extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance and torture.

In the NHRC’s draft stakeholder report, which everyone should now have a copy of the NHRC has helpfully categorized those 42 recommendations into 11 thematic areas:
1. Institutional Development
2. Ratification or accession of International Human Rights Treaties
3. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
4. Civil and Political Rights
5. Women’s Rights
6. Child Rights
7. Persons with Disability
8. Indigenous People
9. Refugees
10. Religious and Ethnic Minorities
11. Climate Change

Whilst it is not possible for me to provide comment on all these 11 areas let me make a few comments on the successes and challenges.

Firstly what has been achieved?

Quite a bit has, in fact, been done and I would take this moment to congratulate the Government for the steps they’ve taken to implement the recommendations made during the 2009’s UPR, including for instance:
 Ratification of the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers in August 2011;
 The establishment of the NHRC in 2009;
 The adoption of the national women’s development policy in 2011;
 The adoption of the Child Rights Policy in 2010;
 The adoption of the National Child Labour Elimination Policy 2010
 Adoption of National Labour Policy 2011
 The Domestic Violence Act in 2010;
 The development of draft legislation to protect the rights of people with a disability; and
 The restoration of religious freedom in the Constitution.

Challenges

As already mentioned by my colleague, Ambassador Olling, every country in the world has work to do and faces challenges in the effective implementation of their respective human rights commitments. This is also true in Bangladesh and I am sure that we would all agree, that even with the achievements that have been made since the 2009 UPR, there is still much work to be done. I strongly encourage Bangladesh to urgently build on the positive progress made on the pledges it made in 2009.

Additional actions, or extra efforts, are needed in the following areas:
 Let’s further develop strong institutions and watchdog bodies such as the judiciary, NHRC, ACC and the Right to Information Commission that can assist the Government to evaluate the situation on the ground and that provide independent advice on effective and timely measures for improving the human rights situation;
 Let’s urgently end the culture of impunity that has allowed extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearance and torture by law enforcement officials to continue. The UN notes with concern the lack of concerted effort to tackle this issue. One extra-judicial killing, enforced disappearance or act of torture is one too many. Let us remember the human dignity and worth of each individual.
 Compliance by all law enforcement agents with the law is crucial to upholding accountability and the rule of law. We are particularly concerned about instances where journalists are targeted. Let us be clear: Journalists have a critical role in upholding free speech and holding the government to account.
 Let’s ratify international conventions and human rights treaties including OPCAT (Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture) and the optional protocols to ICCPR;
 On the issue of women’s rights, the national commitments to the relevant treaties and conventions are powerful tools for promotion and protection of women’s rights. We encourage Bangladesh to withdraw its remaining reservations to CEDAW (articles 2 and 16 (1c). With a vibrant and active civil society platform mobilized around women’s rights and positive international status from having been 3 times member of the CEDAW committee, the country can only benefit by further championing its commitment to women’s empowerment by full ratification of this ‘Bill of Rights’ for women. I have said this before, but it is worth reiterating: not only are women’s rights a core element in and of themselves, they constitute the very fastest and the most effective path to the nationally held objective of middle income status that is defined in Vision 2021.
 I also hope that with the ratification of the Migrant Workers’ Convention, rights of women migrant workers from Bangladesh will also gain a new momentum toward economic empowerment of the country. The ratification of ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Workers will also foster cooperation between Bangladesh and other labour receiving countries benefiting women in the category of low skilled migrant labour.
 On the issue of Violence against Women, we are looking forward to the full operationalization of the National Women’s Development Policy , the Domestic Violence Act and the High Court Guideline on sexual harassment to ensure comprehensive and effective protections for women and girls as provided for in the relevant legislation and under the Constitution. I take this opportunity to remind the audience of the upcoming 16 day global campaign to end violence against women that
takes place in November. The UN System in Bangladesh, together with a wide range of stakeholders including many of you here today, will carry out a series of events during the campaign designed to raise awareness about VAW and on the actions that all of us can take, to stop it.
 Let us work to reduce corruption. Corruption is a major impediment to development and democratic governance it also undermines citizens ability to enforce their rights. Corruption weakens the rule of law, erodes public trust, increases business costs, reduces foreign investment, and slows economic growth.
 Let us protect the human rights of refugees. The best way to do this is for Bangladesh to commit to sign the Refugee Convention and work with UN agencies and the international community to ensure it is fully implemented in Bangladesh. I would emphasize the critical importance of respect for the principle of non-refoulement.
 Let us ratify ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.
 Bangladesh needs a comprehensive justice sector policy and the judiciary needs to be strengthened.
 Full implementation of CHT Peace accord signed in 1997, including setting a time frame for it, is very important for the long term stability and sustainable development in the region.

Almost all of these proposals were accepted by Bangladesh during the first UPR. It is now time for all stakeholders to come together to implement these commitments. Not only because Bangladesh has made the commitment to the Human Rights Council, but because proper implementation would go a long way to improving the promotion and protection of the fundamental rights of all Bangladeshis.

Now, if you’ll allow me, I would like to touch on how the UN System is supporting the Country to realize its commitments for improving human rights situation for the people of Bangladesh.

First and foremost, let me highlight that the United Nations System applies a Rights Based Approach in all our work. We can unequivocally state that successful work in inclusive economic growth, in achieving the MDG’s and even in building democratic governance, can only be sustainably built on the foundation of respect for human rights. This is why we attach such importance to the efforts of Bangladesh to effectively work towards the recommendations made in the 2009 UPR review, as well as to this consultative process prior to next year’s UPR review.

In response to challenges such as those I have outlined today, the UN System supports a wide range of activities with a wide range of partners both within Government and externally to articulate the issues, to develop capacities, to strengthen legislative and policy frameworks, to fulfill international reporting requirements and so on.

The UN System in Bangladesh is working with many stakeholders towards the achievement of human rights objectives. We share the national pride in progress towards those objectives. At the same time, we share the frustration when it is harder than anticipated to make progress. We do recognize that the country faces many constraints to achieving the objectives.

In conclusion,

The NHRC’s draft stakeholder report provides an excellent summary of progress so far in implementing the recommendations which Bangladesh accepted at the UPR. It highlights both the areas where the Government has been successful and areas where more needs to be done. We need to focus on those initiatives that can be achieved between now and the UPR review in mid-2013. At the same time, I would like to encourage the important efforts to define a longer term strategy to improve the human rights situation in the country.

Finally, it is important to note that UPR is not an end in itself but a means to improving the human rights situation on the ground. We must not lose sight of the fact that it is the human rights of ordinary men and women that is at stake. This Government has taken positive steps and even while we recognize that there is still work to be done, we see that the honorable Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, and her Government, are firmly committed to realizing human rights protections for the people of Bangladesh, in line with the provisions of the Bangladesh Constitution and the country’s international commitments.

The UN System stands firm in support of these initiatives as partner to the Government. We are truly grateful that the NHRC has organized this valuable opportunity for discussion and congratulate you all for taking part in this valuable process. I look forward to supporting your efforts to improve human rights protection for all.

Thank you all very much.