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Human Rights Council hears the presentation of country reports on Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Cyprus and Iran

Human Rights Council

AFTERNOON

22 March 2017

 Starts General Debate on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner and Reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General

The Human Rights Council this afternoon heard Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting country reports by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and by the United Nations Secretary-General on Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Cyprus and Iran, and then started a general debate on the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General.
 
Presenting the report on Guatemala, Ms. Gilmore commended the progress in the fight against corruption and against impunity for past and present human rights violations, including through prosecution of several ex-military officers for crimes against humanity.  She urged the Congress to adopt the bills on justice reforms and the recognition of indigenous jurisdiction without undermining the essence or the coherence of the reform.
 
In Honduras, Ms. Gilmore said the human rights situation, in particular the levels of violence and insecurity, were alarming.  Impactful, human rights-compliant security and justice responses, in particular to organized crime, were urgently needed.  The Office would work on supporting protection of those at risk of human rights violations and abuses, specifically in remote rural and indigenous communities, and on addressing the persisting high levels of gender-based violence.
 
The Peace Agreement in Colombia was permeated with human rights, providing a unique platform to address structural deficiencies, including poverty, inequality and discrimination, the Deputy High Commissioner said.  Victims’ rights must be given full effect, through reparations and accountability for past human rights and international humanitarian law violations, in order to consolidate peace.
 
In Cyprus, Ms. Gilmore said the commitment of the parties to the resumption of peace talks raised hope that a comprehensive settlement of the question of Cyprus could be reached.  The outstanding issues related to the question of missing persons and property rights; continued discrimination; and restriction to freedom of movement, freedom of religion, cultural rights, freedom of expression, and the right to education.
 
The rate of executions in Iran, including of juveniles, drug offenders and political prisoners, was alarming, said Ms. Gilmore.  Various forms of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities persisted, particularly of the Baha’is who were the most severely prosecuted religious minority in Iran, and the harmful practice of child marriage remained both legal and pervasive in the country.
 
Colombia, speaking as a concerned country, assured that the necessary changes to the institutional, legislative and judicial framework were being made, and that there would not be impunity in the country.  The cases of threats and murders of social leaders and defenders were being investigated on a case by case basis.
 
Cyprus, speaking as a concerned country, said that the most blatant violations of human rights occurring on the island included disappearances of Greek Cypriots which did not lead to any investigation, restrictions imposed on the accessibility of religious buildings, sites or cemeteries, and non-implementation by Turkey of relevant judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.
 
Guatemala, speaking as a concerned country, recognized that the report contained appreciation and observations that were correct, but lacked information on the activities of some important institutions.  The report did not reflect important information about the steps and measures taken to enable the work of civil society and units to analyse attacks against human rights defenders. 
 
Honduras, speaking as a concerned country, stressed the enormous challenges it faced in the implementation of human rights, such as poverty, extreme poverty, insecurity, violence and corruption.   Honduras recognized the importance of the work of human rights defenders and stated the commitment to meet the needs of some 174,000 persons who had to flee violence by organized crime and drug trafficking groups.
 
Iran, speaking as a concerned country, said that the report presented did not provide a thorough and appropriate image of the real situation of human rights in Iran.  Iran had constructively engaged in human rights processes at various national, regional and international levels, and had adopted the “Charter on Citizens’ Rights” in December 2016.
 
The Council then held its general debate on the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General, in which speakers expressed appreciation for the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the country level, and voiced concern about violence and reprisals against human rights defenders in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras, particularly those who defended the land, environment and indigenous peoples’ rights.  The impunity for those crimes was a concern as well, and speakers noted that police had often ignored death threats and intimidation that had preceded many killings of human rights defenders.  The dire humanitarian and human rights situation in Yemen was very worrying; all parties should commit to a durable cessation of hostilities. 
 
Speaking were Malta on behalf of the European Union, Switzerland, Germany, United Kingdom, United States, Greece, Australia, Turkey, Ireland, Norway and Spain.
 
Also taking the floor was Bureau International des Droits Humains – Action Colombie.
 
Speaking in right of reply were Russia and the Philippines.
 
The Council will resume its work at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 23 March to conclude its general debate on the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General.  The Council will then hear the presentation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Afghanistan and an oral update on Yemen, followed by a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building. 
 
Documentation
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of his office in Guatemala ( A/HRC/34/3/Add.1). 

The Council has before it an addendum to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of his office in Honduras (A/HRC/34/3/Add.2).
 
The Council has before it corrigendum to an addendum to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of his office in Honduras (A/HRC/34/3/Add.2/Corr.1).
 
The Council has before it an addendum to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia (A/HRC/34/3/Add.3). 

The Council has before it  corrigendum to an addendum to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of his office in Guatemala (A/HRC/34/3/Add.4/Corr.1).
 
The Council has before it the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the question of human rights in Cyprus (A/HRC/34/15).
 
The Council has before it situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran - report of the Secretary-General (A/HRC/34/40).
 
The Council has before it the report of the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the field of Human Rights (A/HRC/34/74).
 
Presentation of Country Reports by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and by the United Nations Secretary-General
 
KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented five reports of the United Nations Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Cyprus and Iran. 
 
Starting with the report on Guatemala, the Deputy High Commissioner expressed deep sorrow at the death in a fire of at least 40 girls trapped in a government-run shelter on International Women’s Day.  They had been locked inside and unable to escape; that tragedy had to be investigated and those responsible brought to justice.  Ms. Gilmore commended the progress in the fight against corruption and impunity for past and present human rights violations, including through the prosecution of several ex-military officers for crimes against humanity.  However, the stalling debates on reforms in the area of justice reforms, and the rejection of recognition of indigenous jurisdiction, were disappointing.  The Congress should move ahead with the adoption of the bill without undermining the essence or the coherence of the reform, and steps ought to be taken to safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples and to ensure their full and genuine participation in decision-making, especially in the context of hydroelectric, mining and other projects.  
 
In Honduras, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had proudly opened a country office at the end of 2016.  Ms. Gilmore said the human rights situation in the country was a cause for grave concerns, and the levels of violence and insecurity remained alarming.  Impactful, human rights compliant security and justice responses – in particular to organized crime – were urgently needed.  The Office had cautioned the authorities against expanding the use of the armed forces to encompass a civilian security task and had also counselled against the overly broad definition of terrorism contained in the recently adopted law.  One of the top priorities in Honduras was supporting the protection of those at risk of human rights violations and abuses, specifically in remote rural and indigenous communities.  While the efforts to implement the law for the protection of human rights defenders were encouraging, true progress required a wholehearted pursuit of accountability for attacks on human rights defenders.  Further, the Office was working with human rights defenders to address the persisting high levels of gender-based violence and the legislation and practices that discriminated against women, including criminalization of abortion.
 
Ms. Gilmore further noted that the Peace Agreement in Colombia was permeated with human rights, providing a unique platform to address structural deficiencies, including poverty, inequality and discrimination.  The Office was honoured to have been entrusted with supporting the implementation of that Agreement, as concerned security guarantees and reintegration mechanisms.  It was essential for the victims’ rights to be given full effect, through reparations and accountability for past human rights and international humanitarian law violations, in order to consolidate peace.  The challenges were numerous – the recent increase of violence in rural areas, violence including killings against human rights defenders, and the persistent corruption and inequality in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.
 
The report on Cyprus noted progress in the search for and the identification of missing persons, increased interreligious communication and cooperation, and cooperation for preservation of religious sites, said the Deputy High Commissioner.  Those developments occurred in the context of the commitment of the parties to the resumption of peace talks, which raised hopes that a comprehensive settlement of the question of Cyprus could be reached.  The persistent division of Cyprus continued to hinder the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, with outstanding issues related to the question of missing persons and property rights, as well as continued discrimination, restriction to freedom of movement, freedom of religion, cultural rights, freedom of expression and the right to education.
 
Ms. Gilmore said that in his report on Iran, the United Nations Secretary-General expressed concerns about the alarming rate of executions, including of juveniles, drug offenders and political prisoners, the continued practice of public and mass executions, and the sentencing of individuals to stoning.  2016 had been marked by pervasive restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, including a crackdown on journalists, artists and anti-death penalty and women rights activists.  Various forms of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities persisted, particularly of the Baha’is, who were the most severely prosecuted religious minority in Iran.  The authorities failed to take steps to repeal discrimination against women and girls in law and in practice, while the harmful practice of child marriage remained both legal and pervasive in the country.
 
Statements by Concerned Countries
 
Colombia, speaking as a concerned country, said that it considered the peace agreement between the Government and FARC-EP as an opportunity to work together to guarantee the respect of human rights and a stable and lasting peace.  Colombia assured that necessary changes to the institutional, legislative and judicial framework were being made, and there would not be impunity in the country.  It reiterated its commitment to the victims, and said that the cases of threats and murders of social leaders and were being investigated on a case by case basis.  Colombia said that it hoped to continue to have the support of the international community, for which it was grateful.  It hoped to improve the coordination between stakeholders, build synergies and do all it could to promote equality in the country.
 
Cyprus, speaking as a concerned country, recognised the value and the necessity of the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which highlighted the most blatant violations of human rights occurring on the island.  Those included disappearances of Greek Cypriots, which had not led to any investigation, restrictions imposed on the accessibility of religious buildings, sites or cemeteries, and non-implementation by Turkey of relevant judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.  The report also noted the massive destruction of cultural heritage sites and artefacts in the northern part of Cyprus.  Cyprus confirmed its commitment to the negotiation process, and called on Turkey to transform its rhetoric so that the negotiations could be successful.  It also urged Turkey to end its military occupation.
 
Guatemala, speaking as a concerned country, explained that the Government was working to respond to the protection needs of children in shelters and to ensure accidents would not take place again.  It recognized that the report included appreciation and observations that were correct, as well as acceptable recommendations.  However, there was also a lack information on the activities of some important institutions.  Guatemala was committed to implementing all human rights enshrined in the Constitution, including on the freedom of assembly, association and peaceful protest, and the rights of human rights defenders.  The report did not reflect important information about the steps and measures that the Government had taken to enable the work of civil society and units to analyse attacks against human rights defenders.  The Government was ready to cooperate and provide any additional information to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
 
Honduras, speaking as a concerned country, reminded that the Government faced enormous challenges in the implementation of human rights; the challenges included poverty, extreme poverty, insecurity, violence and corruption.   At the moment, Honduras was devoting most of its efforts to combat poverty, especially extreme poverty in rural areas.  The most vulnerable groups were those prioritized in that respect, namely women, children, youth, indigenous peoples, persons of African descent, persons with disabilities, elderly persons, migrants and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.  Guatemala recognized the importance of the work of human rights defenders.  As for organized crime and drug trafficking, some 174,000 persons had had to leave their homes due to violence in the country.  The Government was ready to meet their needs and to find lasting solutions.  Since 2011, the State had managed to reduce the murder rate by 30 per cent. 
 
Iran, speaking as a concerned country, said that it was unfortunate that appropriate attention had not been paid to the information provided by Iran to the United Nations human rights mechanisms.  The report presented did not provide a thorough and appropriate image of the real situation of human rights in Iran.  The Government attached great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights, and the facts showed that Iran had made achievements in areas such as constructively engaging in human rights processes at various national, regional and international levels.  In December 2016, President Rohani had introduced the “Charter on Citizens’ Rights” and ordered all departments of the executive branch to implement it.  Iran had also reported to relevant treaty bodies in accordance with international obligations.  Several mandate-holders among the Special Procedures had been invited to Iran, including the Special Rapporteur on the right to food.  The continuation of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate with regard to Iran was unconstructive and unnecessary.
 
General Debate on the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
 
Malta, speaking on behalf of the European Union, valued the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the country level.  The European Union voiced concern about the situation of human rights defenders in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras, particularly those who defended the land, environment and indigenous peoples’ rights.  It drew attention to the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and the occupied Syrian Golan.  The European Union reiterated its strong opposition to Israel’s illegal settlement policy, and called for the lifting of the Gaza blockade. 
 
Switzerland remained concerned about reprisals against human rights defenders in Honduras and the fact that no adequate investigations had been carried out.  It was also concerned about the new law curbing the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in Honduras, and about the attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in Guatemala.  As for Colombia, Switzerland was concerned about the threats against civil society.
 
Germany commended the peace agreement reached between the Government of Colombia and the FARC.  Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras faced the challenge of the fight against impunity, as well as the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders.  That was particularly true for those who defended the environment, land and indigenous rights.  It was of concern that police had often ignored death threats and intimidation that had preceded many killings of human rights defenders.
 
United Kingdom welcomed the historic peace agreement in Colombia and urged all those supporting the agreement to ensure that human rights remained a guiding principle.  In Guatemala, the continued high level of violence against women and girls was of concern.  The safety of human rights defenders in Honduras, particularly those defending the rights of indigenous peoples and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, was a source of great concern, and the United Kingdom welcomed the adoption of the law on their protection.
 
United States was concerned about the dire humanitarian and human rights situation in Yemen and called on all parties to commit to a durable cessation of hostilities.  In Bahrain, the steps taken since 2016 raised serious concerns about respect for freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.  The commitment of Turkey to ensure transparency in bringing to justice those responsible for the coup was welcomed.  Turkey should investigate any allegation of detainee mistreatment, and continue to grant access to independent monitors.
 
Greece said that the reports needed to comprehensively address the human rights situation of about 500 Greek-Cypriots enclaved in the occupied part of the island, as well as address the root cause of internal displacement, which was the persistent denial, based on ethnic grounds, to more than 200,000 Greek-Cypriots, of their right to property and residence in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
 
Australia expressed concern about ongoing reports of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines and called on the Government of the Philippines to ensure due process and accountability.  The Philippines was further called on not to reinstate the death penalty.  The Government of Venezuela was urged to address human rights concerns and allow visits by the relevant Special Rapporteurs.  Australia commended Tunisia for its efforts to place human rights at the centre of its transition to democracy. 
 
Turkey spoke about the continued isolation of Turkish Cypriots and said the lack of preventive measures was not accurately reflected.  There was not a single Turkish language school and Greek Cypriots refused to allow crossing which was a discriminatory policy.  Turkey continued to support a comprehensive solution in Cyprus.
 
Ireland congratulated Colombia on the peace agreement and noted that while the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights had undertaken additional responsibility under the peace agreement, the resources available to it had not increased.  All three complementary aspects of United Nations action, namely peace, development and human rights would be crucial in achieving sustainable peace in Colombia, and Ireland would continue to support the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in carrying out its work.
 
Norway welcomed the final peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and FARC-EP and commended the country’s efforts.  Norway expressed its concerns about the increase in violence against human rights defenders and community leaders and urged Colombia to prevent and investigate those acts of violence.  Norway also expressed its concern about the situation of human rights defenders in Honduras and the overall high murder rate in the country, and urged it to recognise the role of human rights defenders in promoting democracy and the rule of law.
 
Spain congratulated Columbia for the historic peace agreement it had signed with FARC-EP, considering it the beginning of a new era of hope for the country.  Spain hoped Colombia would carry out all the necessary effort to fully implement the agreements in terms of reparations for the victims, the rights of the indigenous peoples and ensuring security for human rights defenders.  Spain recognized the efforts of the Government of Honduras towards human rights defenders, and urged the Government to implement legislation and effective protection for them.
 
Bureau International des Droits Humains – Action Colombie, in a joint statement, stated that human rights monitoring was an important component of the peace agreement in Colombia.  However, the situation of human rights defenders had worsened, with increasing attacks on them.  The main persons responsible were military groups which had taken over areas abandoned by the FARC.  Without human rights there would be no lasting peace in the country.
 
Right of Reply
 
Russian Federation, speaking in a right of reply, responded to the unfounded statements made by Ukraine, the European Union and Turkey about Crimea, which was part of the Russian Federation.  The citizens of the peninsula had chosen to become part of the Russian Federation.  Thus it was incorrect to discuss the human rights situation in the Russian Federation during a consideration of human rights in Ukraine.
 
Philippines, speaking in a right of reply, responded to statements made by Australia and the United States.  The Philippines clarified that the campaign against the drug trade was conducted in line with the rule of law and due process.  The campaign had the overwhelming support of the citizens of the Philippines.  The Government opposed extrajudicial killings and it was baseless to claim that the campaign against drugs used extrajudicial killings.  As for the death penalty, it was noted that such punishment was allowed by international human rights standards for the most serious crimes. 
 
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