The Human Rights Council held a general debate on follow up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (Item 8) on 15 June. Controversy arose early on when Norway presented a joint statement on behalf of 54 States highlighting concerns with the human rights situation in Iran. On mentioning the country, Iran objected and argued that it was against the Council’s rules of procedure to address a particular country situation under this item. A coordinated group of countries (Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Cuba, Nicaragua, China, Venezuela, Bolivia, Sudan, Malaysia, Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) each intervened to support Iran’s position that the discussion should be limited to thematic issues and that no reference to countries should be allowed. The President twice maintained that a statement is within the rules as long as it addresses issues relevant to the item under discussion and that references to countries are admissible. No State spoke in favour of Norway’s right to deliver the joint statement. The President agreed to suspend the meeting as suggested by Pakistan, who argued that if agreement could not be reached the matter would have to be taken to a vote within the Council.
The Council resumed after consultations, with the President giving the floor to Norway to continue its statement, while noting that this decision did not serve as a precedent, and that the scope of Item 8 would be discussed further in the context of the review of the Council.
Norway’s statement recalled the one-year anniversary of human rights violations in Iran following elections held there. It underlined that the statement represented States’ wish to improve the situation of individuals in Iran. It called on Iran to live up to its commitments undertaken through the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA), particularly by allowing special procedures and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Iran; by guaranteeing freedom of expression, freedom of the media and of assembly; protection of religious minorities; respect of the human rights of prisoners and detainees; equal treatment of women and girls in law and practice; and to conduct an investigation into election-related killings.
Cuba, Lebanon and Syria again criticised Norway’s statement as ‘politicisation’. Others, including the UK and Switzerland indirectly defended the statement with the UK arguing that the VDPA had recognised that human rights violations anywhere are a legitimate concern of the international community.
Amnesty International highlighted the situation of Uighurs in China, to which China objected arguing that specific country situations should not be mentioned under item 8. Amnesty International continued by pointing out that the VDPA concerned real people in real communities and real countries. It said the Council needed to hear accurate accounts of human rights situations, and the notion that such situations could not be discussed ‘made a mockery of the Council’.
Iran exercised its right to reply calling the allegations of human rights violations ‘baseless’, and Norway’s statement biased and politically motivated, opposing it as a precedent for future sessions.