Sanaa, 3 October 2013
Good morning and thank you all for coming,
This is my first visit to Yemen as Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. As many of you know, I spent four happy years in this country as UN Resident Coordinator from 2004 to 2008 and I am delighted to be back. It was a pleasure being back in Sanaa, but I regret that I could not travel to Aden, as I had initially intended, to meet with people in other parts of the country.
The purpose of my visit to Yemen was to meet with Government officials and partners to discuss the human rights situation in the country and how my Office could support Yemen’s efforts in the current transition phase.
I also took the opportunity to inaugurate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Yemen, which started its operations in March 2012 and has now 12 human rights staff covering issues across the country. Our staff work closely with national institutions and civil society partners as well as interacting with individual citizens. I would like to express my appreciation to the national authorities for their readiness in facilitating the presence of a UN Human Rights office in the country, as well as to the UN Resident Coordinator and UN sister agencies for their strong cooperation.
Yemen has seen great changes in the past two years. It was a difficult time but also a time for people to come together in an innovative way through the National Dialogue, which aims to find a solution through dialogue to the country’s many challenges. The ongoing political transition in Yemen is clearly at a critical juncture and the NDC is a welcome initiative. This has been a process of which Yemen can be proud, which can indeed even serve an example of peaceful transition for other countries in the region.
We look forward to the conclusion soon of the National Dialogue Conference, to the recommendations that the National Dialogue will provide and, most importantly, to their swift implementation by the authorities.
While I acknowledge that civil and political issues should receive the right priority, I also encourage the authorities to pay attention to the economic and social issues and thereby the basic needs of the people of Yemen. Due attention to and achievements in this area would be crucial to complement the successful completion of the political dialogue. Furthermore, it is necessary that human rights are taken into due consideration in the upcoming constitutional process and I was pleased to have heard President Hadi indicate his strong commitment to seeing a Constitution enshrining all international human rights conventions. A strong message needs to be sent in the constitutional process with respect to women’s rights, children’s rights and the rights of the marginalized communities, particularly the Muhammasheen.
In this transitional phase, there are a number of positive achievements that I would like to highlight. First, as I mentioned earlier, I commend the authorities for conducting a National Dialogue and for the efforts undertaken to be inclusive and to discuss matters that will hopefully bring much-deserved stability to the country.
Secondly, I look forward to the approval of a law establishing the minimum age for early marriage, which I understand has been decided at the National Dialogue to be 18. The National Dialogue has also recommended that 18 should be considered as the age for adulthood. I strongly hope the Parliament and the President will stand behind these proposals.
Thirdly, I would like to congratulate the authorities on the action plan to end child recruitment and on proposals to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Similarly, I understand that the draft law establishing a National Human Rights Institution will be submitted to the Cabinet and the Parliament for approval. This extremely important institution should be given a full mandate, independent and credible members and adequate funding to conduct its activities.
Let me now move on to the issues on which I feel advancements have not been recorded as fast as we would have hoped. Little progress has been made on a draft law on transitional justice and national reconciliation. At least two drafts of the law exist and no agreement was reached on the final version of the law, pending the recommendations of the Transitional Justice Working Group at the National Dialogue. My concerns, which I reiterated during all my meetings, is that addressing human rights violations that occurred in 2011 and earlier, is necessary to rekindle trust among the citizens. Yemen would benefit from a holistic and comprehensive transitional justice program that would seek to address the legacy of past violations in order to turn over a new leaf for the country.
I also regret that the appointment of the members of the Commission of Inquiry into the 2011 events is still pending. I stressed the need for the members to be individuals of integrity, independence and expertise and reiterated that the OHCHR stands ready to provide the necessary assistance and technical expertise to support the implementation of a transitional justice program as well as in carrying out the commission’s mandate.
The capacity of the judiciary to be free, independent and fair has been put to the test in these past years. The Minister of Justice, the Attorney General and the President of the Supreme Judiciary Council have all highlighted the serious challenges the judiciary sector is facing, the lack of resources and staffing and the need for capacity building in the area of international human rights standards. I have extended OHCHR’s support to the judicial system toward a fully re-established and strengthened rule of law in the country.
Significant challenges have also been recorded with regard to the juvenile penal system, namely on the execution of minors charged with murder. OHCHR’s position remains that the death penalty should be abolished. Until then, Yemen should ensure scrupulous respect of due process-related rights, including fair trial guarantees in cases involving the death penalty, and ensure that the death penalty is not applied to minors. I refer here to the minors who are on death row or at high risk of receiving the death sentence if no action is taken. There are two main, interrelated issues here. First, the Specialized Forensic Committee needs to be strengthened and utilized by the authorities when adjudicating cases in which the accused might have been a minor at the time of committing a crime. Secondly, there is the issue of birth registration. Serious efforts need to be taken to improve the poor birth registration rate in the country. This can only have a positive impact on a number of human rights issues: it would be easier to ascertain the age of girls for marriage purposes; it would be possible to establish the age of minors being accused of serious crimes like murder and the commitment to cease recruitment of minors in armed forces would be easier to respect.
Over the past five days I have discussed these issues with President Hadi, the Prime Minister, Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Legal Affairs, Human Rights, Justice and Interior, members of the Shura Council and the Speaker of the Parliament, the Attorney General and the President of the Supreme Judiciary Council as well as the Governor of Aden. I have also held talks with members of civil society, national and international ones, and of the diplomatic community including the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Yemen. I also had the opportunity to listen to the concerns of victims of human rights, the relatives of those who have disappeared and relatives of detainees. I also held a meeting with representatives of the Muhammasheen community.
Among the many outstanding individuals and organizations I had the honour to meet during my visit, I would like to express my utmost appreciation for the work undertaken by the two judges working on the property and dismissals commissions for the south of Yemen. I was impressed by the sheer amount and complexity of their work, and by the passion with which they are trying to accomplish their mandate. Their efforts are only the first step. The implementation of their recommendations is key to rebuilding trust among the people of the South.
To sum up, I end this visit to Yemen with mixed feelings. I had some good meetings, and heard some important commitments, but the road ahead is still a steep one. The future of Yemen cannot be built on impunity for past violations whenever and wherever they occurred.
I urge an extra effort by the President and his Government to ensure that human rights are not sacrificed for the sake of political expediency. Rather, they must be enshrined in Yemen’s Constitution and laws and effectively implemented.
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