Government to assess country's human rights situation

17 Aug 2012

The Government of Lao PDR is looking to invite UN Special Rapporteurs to Lao PDR to examine and monitor the human rights situation in the country. At a workshop on 17 August, government representatives and development partners discussed the practicalities involved of working with the Rapporteurs.

To invite the Rapporteurs the Government has to work through the UN Special Procedures mechanism that comes under the Human Rights Council (HRC). The Rapporteurs, who are independent experts, will then have the mandate to assess the human rights situation and provide advice to the Government, as well as publicly reporting their findings.

Such a procedure can improve the human rights situation of country by initiating dialogue and discussion, as well as fostering research, raising awareness, developing human rights standards and providing advice and support for technical cooperation.

The workshop was chaired by Ambassador Ouan Phommachack, Director General of Department of Treaties and Law, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and Ms. Sudha Gooty, Assistant Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Lao PDR.

In his opening remarks Ambassador Ouan Phommachack said that inviting Special Rapporteurs to Lao PDR is in line with the recommendations the country received under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2010. He also stated that there have been already numerous interactions between the Government and Special Rapporteurs, through written correspondence and discussions held in Geneva and New York. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, visited Lao PDR in 2009.

Ms. Gooty congratulated the government for its willingness to participate in the UN Special Procedures mechanism, which will further enhance Lao PDR's cooperation with the human rights system, as a follow-up to the implementation of the UPR recommendations. She also reaffirmed UNDP's commitment in assisting Lao PDR to further advance the human rights situation in the country , particularly under the new EU-UNDP programme starting in 2013, which will support the implementation of the Legal Sector Master Plan.

The Government of Lao PDR is considering addressing three thematic areas; adequate housing; cultural rights; and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

A presentation on the role of Special Rapporteurs was given by Ms. Yu Kanosue, Human Rights Officer of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for Southeast Asia in Bangkok.

She emphasized that Special Rapporteurs are independent, impartial and flexible, as they servein a personal capacity, and on a voluntary basis, withthe majority having fulltime professions outside of the UN system.

Rapporteurs can address human rights issues via communications, which can be based on either claims of an individual or on certain policies that are affecting a group of people. The communications are sent to the Government, through its permanent mission in Geneva, to seek clarification or to call for preventive or investigative action in case human rights of groups or individuals are threatened.

These communications include Letters of Allegation (LA), if the alleged human rights violations already occurred, or Urgent Appeals (UA), if the violations are life-threatening and imminent. Their content is treated as confidential for a certain time frame (but will be published during the following HRC session), and the Government has 30 (for UA) or 60 (for LA) days to respond.

Last year 124 countries received 605 communications, Lao PDR wasn't among these countries. According to Ms. Kanosue, the last time the Lao Government received a communication was in 2010.

Rapporteurs also take part in fact finding missions to obtain first hand information on countries' legal framework, policies, and reported human rights violations. This helps them to establish productive relationships with the Governments they are going to report to, and to learn about good practices that could be implemented in other countries.

These visits take place either upon request of the experts or at the invitation of the Government. The latter can be done either by sending invitations to individual experts or by joining those 91 countries that have already extended a “standing invitation” that allows all thematic experts to visit. These standing invitations make the waiting times shorter, and many more Rapporteurs could become interested, including some the country did not think of before.

Once in the country, experts meet with national and local authorities, representatives of civil society, witnesses and alleged victims of human rights violations, UN agencies, and the media.

After the visit, the Rapporteurs submit a public report to the HRC, which describes the situation, as related to their mandates, identifies the problems and makes recommendations to the Government and the international community.

The experts can provide technical advice to Government's in promoting and protecting human rights, to effectively address issues of concern and to follow up on UPR recommendations. These visits are also important to signal to the outside world that the Government is constructively engaged with the UN Human Rights Council and its human rights mechanisms.

For reference - Mandates of the Special Rapporteurs

There are 36 thematic mandates for UN Special Rapporteurs in the flelds of civil and political rights (e.g. freedom of expression, torture, arbitrary detention), economic, social and cultural rights (e.g. culture, food, health, education, housing) and specific groups (e.g. children, indigenous groups, internally displaced persons, women, migrants).

There are 8 countries that have their own UN Special Procedures mandates, including Burundi, Cambodia, DPR Korea, Haiti, Myanmar, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Somalia, and Sudan.

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