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OHCHR in the field

OHCHR presents annual reports on a number of countries to the Human Rights Council - © UN PhotoThe annual country reports from the UN Human Rights office cover human rights developments in 2009 in several countries where OHCHR has a field presence: Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Afghanistan, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone. On behalf of the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner also presents a report on the situation of human rights in Cyprus.

In the field UN Human Rights officers work with Governments and civil society to promote and protect human rights.

While the human rights situation varies greatly from one country to another, a number of common issues emerge in the report: most have suffered or still suffer from the effects of armed conflict; weak rule of law and consequent, impunity is a critical concern; and discrimination, particularly against women and girls and indigenous persons remains institutionalized and a major barrier to progress. 

Presenting the reports to Council, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang, commended the Bolivian Government for its renewal of the office mandate and for extending a standing invitation to the Human Rights Council protection mechanisms and procedures. She also noted the adoption of the new constitution which grants increased levels of recognition to the rights of indigenous peoples and of economic, social and cultural rights but highlighted that efforts were required to effectively protect these advances. While noting some progress in addressing past human rights violations, she added that the judicial system must be strengthened to address impunity.

The report on Guatemala pays particular attention to the human rights implications of the alarming level of insecurity in the country and the high level of impunity in general. It also refers to the food crisis of 2009 which affected an estimated 2.5 million people. Kang noted some progress in regard to achieving justice for past violations.

Sierra Leone has advanced its national capacity for the protection of human rights, Kang said, with some important legislative developments, including the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons. However, the process of law reform has made little progress. In her presentation, the Deputy High Commissioner drew attention to the financial resources needed to ensure the operational effectiveness of the Independent National Human Rights Institution and the reparations programme – both central to the reconciliation process.

In Afghanistan the UN Human Rights office operates in partnership with the United Nations Assistance Mission (UNAMA) in particularly difficult circumstances. The report, Kang said, highlights the challenges of addressing human rights issues in an environment characterized by intensifying armed conflict, heightened insecurity, poor governance, disputed elections, widespread poverty, deeply entrenched impunity and persistent discrimination against women. Efforts to develop accountable governance and the rule of law, she said, continue to be thwarted by abusive power holders. Kang drew attention to particular legislation which will grant amnesty to perpetrators of serious human rights violations and said it should be repealed.

The Deputy High Commissioner welcomed the Colombian Government’s openness to international scrutiny and noted that in 2009, Colombia received more visits of Special Rapporteurs than any other country. Colombia, together with Bolivia and Guatemala has initiated a process of self-monitoring of the recommendations arising from the Universal Period Review. In Colombia, Kang said the government has taken bold steps to address the illegal use of intelligence services, including against human rights defenders. The internal armed conflict, however, continues to pose serious challenges. On going efforts are needed too, the Deputy High Commissioner said, to better address the issue of impunity.

The UN Human Rights office does not have a presence in Cyprus and the Secretary General’s report describing the human rights situation in the country is therefore based on information garnered from several official sources. Despite commendable efforts on all sides, Kang reported there has been no resolution of the underlying situation. Nevertheless, some progress has been made in the implementation of a series of key European Court of Human Rights judgements where property was compensated for, restituted or exchanged.

The report of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo starts with the observation that “recommendation fatigue” is setting in, as over many years various parts of the UN human rights system have made recommendations to the Government of DRC, yet, implementation has been very limited. The report describes a number of daunting human rights challenges, including arbitrary and/or illegal arrests and detentions; appalling conditions in the penitentiary system; the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners; sexual violence and impunity of offenders; and violations of economic and social rights and illegal exploitation of natural resources. In her statement, Kang drew attention to the issue of impunity – failure to hold to account the Congolese security forces, she said, had led to continuing waves of violations. The situation is exacerbated, she said, because there is no vetting process in place to exclude perpetrators of human rights violations from the armed forces. Kang recommended the Council prioritise the existing recommendations and develop benchmarks to monitor progress.

The final report presented to the Council by the Deputy High Commissioner described the work of the office in Nepal. OHCHR has continued to monitor the human rights situation in Nepal and provide advice and technical cooperation to the Government and other national counterparts, consistently highlighting the centrality of human rights to the peace process. The peace process had stalled for much of 2009 but the Deputy High Commissioner told the Council there had recently been signs of progress. Parliament had resumed, ‘disqualified’ combatants, including minors were discharged from the Maiost Army, specific measures have been taken to address discrimination, there has been a campaign against sexual and gender based violence and in December the Government ratified the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, determined and consistent efforts must be made, Kang said to end impunity and restore confidence in rule of law institutions.

1 April 2010