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Introduction to country reports/briefings/updates of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner

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22 March 2018

37th session of the Human Rights Council - Under item 10
Addresses by Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 21 and 22 March 2018
Salle XX, Palais des Nations

Mr. President, Members of the Human Rights Council, 

Excellences, Ladies and gentlemen,

This morning you have before you, four reports or oral updates by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner submitted under item 10, concerning Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti and Yemen.

I will start with the report on Afghanistan(A/HRC/37/45).

 Despite positive developments and constructive initiatives led by the Government, the enjoyment of human rights remains elusive for the people of Afghanistan amidst protracted conflict that has limited prospects it seems of a negotiated political solution.

In 2017, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded 10,453 civilian casualties (3,438 people killed and 7,015 injured).

While this is a 10 per cent decrease overall compared with 2016, there has been an alarming increase in casualties from suicide and complex attacks. For instance, on 31 May 2017, 92 people were killed and 491 injured in Kabul, when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device exploded.  This was the single deadliest incident registered by UNAMA since 2009. And just yesterday, 33 people were killed and 65 injured in an attack that took place in Kabul, for which the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) has claimed responsibility.

We also note with concern, the increased number of children being recruited by both pro-government forces and anti-government elements.  The recorded numbers went up from 88 in 2016 to 115 in 2017.

However, the decrease in casualties at the hands of pro-government forces resulting from measures adopted by the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces to protect civilians is commendable. The Government also formally adopted the National Policy on Civilian Casualty Prevention and Mitigation, which will further strengthen measures to prevent conflict-related civilian harm.

A revised Penal Code entered into force last month, and it contains positive human rights provisions: It prohibits the recruitment and use of children by armed forces; criminalizes the bacha bazi (the practice of maintaining a male or intersex child for sexual entertainment), and it includes a definition of torture that is in line with the Convention against Torture.

However, at the same time, we deeply regret the removal from the code of the chapter on violence against women, noting too how persistent and prevalent is violence against women, including through harmful traditional practices.

With Afghanistan serving on the Human Rights Council, OHCHR looks forward to further engaging with the Government for the implementation of its voluntary commitments and pledges and of the recommendations presented in the report – including on the need for a strengthened criminal justice system, particularly for cases involving torture during arrest and interrogation.

The next report concerns Cambodia(A/HRC/37/64).

It describes the activities we undertook to assist the Government and the people of Cambodia from July to December 2017 – in respect of the rule of law; economic and social rights; fundamental freedoms and the right to participate in public affairs.

We continued to support the professionalization of the criminal justice system, notably for the purposes of strengthening legal reasoning and assisting the roll out of a legal cases database.

We also worked closely with relevant ministries to support indigenous communal land titling - an essential step in protecting not only people’s rights to land and housing, but also other rights essential for the preservation of indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and traditional cultures. 

We worked in partnership with the Ministry of Information, UNESCO and civil society organizations to draft an access to information law in conformity with international standards.

We continued to support civil society partners, including through provision of grants in areas such as legal aid and business and human rights, and we provided advice to an increasing number of organizations, journalists and other individuals seeking information on human rights protection.

There were notable improvements in economic and social rights, such as the introduction of social protection policies and an increase in the minimum wage. However, economic, social and cultural rights are indivisible from civil and political rights and, we urge the Government to take action to reverse the recent serious deterioration in the status of political rights and fundamental freedoms.
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Moving now to the oral update on Haiti,

Following the termination of the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti last year - and in compliance with Presidential Statement 34/1 of 3 April 2017 – through the human rights component of MINUSTAH/MINUJUSTH, our Office has been supporting preparation of a plan of action to implement the human rights mechanisms’ recommendations.

Under this framework, we have supported, for instance, trainings for the Inter-ministerial Human Rights Committee and the accreditation process of the national human rights institution. Although after a protracted selection process marked by controversies about the independence and transparency of the process, in October 2017 a new Ombudsman was appointed, which was a welcome development.

However, within the Executive branch the high-level focal point needed to coordinate action on human rights has yet to be appointed.  Yet, such leadership is essential for the effective preparation and implementation of a whole-of-government Action Plan. One year after the Human Rights Council called upon the Government of Haiti to take this action, we regret to report a lack of progress in this respect.

Our Office has also continued activities to strengthen the rule of law, including to help address the long-standing issue of pre-trial detention and prison overcrowding, and to promote accountability for human rights violations.

We remain gravely concerned about continuing allegations of human rights violations committed by elements of the National Haitian Police.  In one of the most serious incidents, in November 2017, members of the National Haitian Police conducted an operation in Grand-Ravine to “neutralize” gang activity.  That operation resulted in the killing of at least eight civilians. And, to date, no judicial measures have been taken to hold accountable the members of security forces involved in this tragic incident. 

As per the Presidential Statement 34/1, the High Commissioner will submit a written report on the development of a plan of action to implement recommendations of human rights mechanisms at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council, in June 2018.

Excellencies,

Our last update concerns the critical human rights situation in Yemen. 

As Yemen enters its fourth year of conflict, we continue daily to receive reports of conflict-related civilian casualties. 

Since 26 March 2015, OHCHR has verified that 6,100 civilians have been killed, including deaths of at least 1,491 children and 9,683 civilians injured. The number of civilian casualties dramatically increased during the past six months, peaking in December 2017 with 714 civilian casualties in that month alone. 

The actual numbers of casualties are likely to be far higher

I wish to note that in February this year, in Taizz,  Reeham Badr Al Dhubhani, a young woman working as a field monitor for the Yemen National Commission of Inquiry, was killed in shelling by Houthi forces.  Reeham had participated in human rights monitoring training provided by our Office.  We mourn her loss as we do the hundreds of lives that have been lost senselessly and tragically because of the conflict over the past few months alone.  

The leading cause of civilian casualties are the airstrikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition.  Those strikes are responsible for over 61 per cent of all civilian casualties, with indiscriminate shelling and sniper fire in densely populated areas by the Houthis accounting for much of the remainder. 

Drone attacks by the United States, and other attacks by groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and Islamic State have continued, mostly in the southern governorates. 

Toward the end of last year, this deadly conflict escalated as clashes erupted between Houthis affiliated forces and forces loyal to former president Saleh. 

Today, civilians remain on the frontline areas of the conflict – victims of fighting between pro-government forces and the Houthis in the governorates of Hudaydah, Taizz, Hajjah, and Sa’ada

In January, armed clashes in Aden between forces affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council and the forces loyal to president Hadi also resulted in a number of civilian casualties. 

The already unbearable suffering has been compounded by the malicious imposition of blockades and restrictions on imports and humanitarian assistance, which severely impedes the availability and accessibility of critical life-sustaining goods and services, including humanitarian aid. 

The health system is broken, with less than half of all health facilities functional. The spread of suspected cholera has affected over one million people. 

Public-sector salaries continue to be unpaid. 

Minimal efforts towards accountability undertaken by all parties to the conflict over the past year have been wholly insufficient to respond to the gravity of the daily violations and abuses suffered by civilians. 

It means 22 million Yemenis remain in need of assistance, and 8 million are at risk of famine

Pursuant to this Council’s resolution 36/31, the High Commissioner has appointed the three members of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen

Colleagues of integrity and expertise, Mr. Kamel Jendoubi, Ms Melissa Parke and Mr. Charles Garraway will implement their mandate in an impartial and comprehensive manner. supported by a secretariat that we have deployed to Beirut. 

The Experts and their team have begun a comprehensive examination of violations of human rights and of other applicable international law, including by conducting missions to Yemen and other concerned States.  They will present a comprehensive written report to the High Commissioner, as requested by the time of the thirty-ninth session of this Council.  That will then be followed by an interactive dialogue, in September 2018.  We thank all concerned Member States and the relevant parties for the cooperation extended to the Experts and their team.

Pursuant to your resolution 36/31, and as part of efforts to strengthen accountability and the rule of law, we have also continued to provide substantive technical support to the National Commission of Inquiry

Over the past four months, three workshops were held for members of the Commission on international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as well as on human rights monitoring and documentation. We have also provided the Commission technical assistance on data management. Further workshops and seminars for the commissioners and staff members of the National Commission of Inquiry are foreseen in the months ahead.

Excellencies,

This concludes my introduction of country reports and updates under item 10. 

Thank you for your attention.


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