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36th session of the Human Rights Council - Item 10 - Cambodia, Georgia, and Yemen

Addresses by Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 28 September 2017
Salle XX, Palais des Nations

Mr. President, Members of the Human Rights Council, Excellences, Colleagues and Friends,

This morning/afternoon you have before you three reports of the Secretary-General and of the High Commissioner, submitted under item 10.  These concern the human rights situations in Cambodia, Georgia and Yemen, respectively.

Allow me to start with the Secretary General’s report on Cambodia (A/HRC/36/32).

This report describes the work and achievements of our office in Cambodia over the period July 2016 to July 2017.  Implementing its mandate, our Office pursued a programme of technical cooperation in areas critical to the advance of human rights, in particular, by supporting the right of Cambodians to participate in public affairs and supporting measures to ensure the protection of all related fundamental freedoms; strengthening the rule of law; and promotion too of economic, social and cultural rights.

During the period covered by our report Cambodia enjoyed rapid economic growth and achieved welcome advances in poverty reduction. However, that same period was marked by continued political tensions and a further narrowing of civic space, under force of measures targeting the opposition and human rights defenders.  This targeting intensified over the pre-election period in May and June this year. 

We are further concerned about the amendments made to the Law on Political Parties that were enacted in February 2017.  These amendments contain provisions that are inconsistent with Cambodia’s international obligations.  We must also advise that several judicial actions were brought, reactivated or processed against members of the opposition, resulting in new criminal convictions. The two leaders of the main opposition party (CNRP), Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy, were summoned, accused or convicted in relation to 10 cases, mostly related to defamation and incitement charges.

Since the finalization of the report before you, other developments regrettably have confirmed that civic space is indeed contracting, in particular, the recent arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, and the Government’s issuance of instruction to shut down the Cambodia Daily newspaper.

We urge the Government to fully uphold civil and political rights for the people of Cambodia, including their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and of association.  Such respect, and fulfilment of the associated duties, will help pave the way for credible and legitimate elections scheduled for 2018. I will now introduce the report on Georgia (A/HRC/36/65),  

This report sets out examples of the technical assistance provided by OHCHR in Georgia in the areas of administration of justice, combating torture and ill-treatment; protecting the right to privacy; promoting gender equality; and combating discrimination.

Regrettably the authorities in control have not granted OHCHR access to either Abkhazia or South Ossetia which in our view only heightens questions about and intensifies concern for the human rights situation of the people living in these regions. Without access, we cannot present a comprehensive account of their human rights situation as is requested of us in resolution 34/37. 

Nonetheless, our report does present key human rights issues and developments, based on information received and analysed by OHCHR. The human rights costs of earlier conflicts continue to weigh heavily on these communities today – who are left with a legacy of anxiety and distrust, including those still missing a loved one. Lingering restrictions on freedom of movement and impediments to the exercise of various rights, including to health and education, significantly affect the daily lives of the local populations. Controls of movement often lead to deprivation of liberty and have driven related allegations of torture and ill-treatment. 

It is for these reasons that we call upon duty-bearers in Abkahzia and South Ossetia to take measures so that all rights guaranteed under international law are upheld, without discrimination.  We reiterate our request that unhindered access be granted to the human rights office and to international and regional human rights mechanisms in order that we might assist in protecting the human rights of the affected populations.

Excellencies,

We are very grateful for the openness of the Government of Georgia to addressing human rights concerns, as has been demonstrated through the cooperation extended to our Human Rights Adviser. We encourage the Government to pursue further efforts to enable an environment conducive to the peaceful settlement of protracted conflicts – and we stand ready to provide assistance in this regard.
 
I now turn to the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Yemen, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 33/16.
 

As requested, our report provides an overview of the human rights situation since September 2014, and also examines allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that reportedly occurred between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017.  Particular attention is paid in our report to attacks affecting civilians and protected objects; impediments to humanitarian access; recruitment of children; arbitrary or illegal detentions; and restrictions to freedom of expression.

The report also examines accountability measures and provides an update on cooperation between OHCHR and the National Commission established to investigate violations of human rights, including technical assistance provided to it by the Office.

Excellencies,

Since September 2014, the human rights situation in Yemen has steadily deteriorated. The conflict has had a devastating impact on the population. Since March 2015 when our Office in Yemen began its reporting on civilian casualties, we have verified and documented the killing of over 5,000 civilians and found that almost 9,000 civilians were injured.  But the actual numbers are likely to be much higher.

Excellencies

Yemen today is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. According to OCHA, out of a population of 27.4 million people, 18.8 million today are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 10.3 million in acute need. 7.3 million people are on the brink of famine. More than 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes and, since April 2017, more than 680,000 suspected cases of cholera have been identified.

Public and private infrastructure has collapsed.  Less than half of the health facilities are functional. Factories and farms have been damaged, while public sector salaries have not been paid. 

This catastrophe is entirely man-made.  The parties to the conflict, and their supporters, are directly responsible for these appalling and inhumane conditions. The imposition of sieges, blockades and restrictions on movement that they have chosen to impose have severely impacted on the availability and accessibility of critical life-sustaining goods and services, including even humanitarian relief.

Excellencies, increasingly the population of Yemen is just impoverished: hungry, displaced, sick, injured or dying.  And this situation is worsening day after day.

The international community must act to alleviate these unconscionable levels of human despair,  to protect civilians and take the necessary steps down the path that will lead to and secure peace and stability.

In this, we must here stress, impunity is a cause, consequence and sustainer of the current conflict in Yemen.  Peace and accountability are not competing alternatives; they are not to be ranked in false sequence whereby peace comes first, with accountability somehow a poor second. To the contrary, accountability is essential now and it is overdue.  It must begin today so that peace in Yemen can be secured and sustained tomorrow.

This is the third year in which the HC has warned that reliance on the accountability processes of parties to the conflict would be wholly inadequate, given the gravity and extent of the violations perpetrated by all parties and their pernicious consequences.  He has recommended instead the establishment of an international, independent mechanism to investigate these atrocities and  violations of international law in Yemen.  However, Excellencies, on this, to date, the Council has demurred. 

The persisting absence of justice on all sides – the lack of investigations, of prosecutions, the deprivation of due remedy to victims and appropriate redress? Neither the mere passage of time nor more compromise will sufficiently disturb this toxic pattern of unchecked impunity nor remedy the failure of the inadequate accountability efforts on which the Council has relied. An independent international mechanism is necessary; further compromise on this particular matter is not.

While the Council hesitates, the people continue to suffer.  The Council has responsibilities to the people of Yemen, from which it must not step away. 

Given the deepened crisis, under these circumstances that overwhelm the people of Yemen, this Council is urged once again to mandate the establishment of an authoritative, international, independent investigative body to carry out comprehensive, impartial and transparent investigations so that at least some hope for justice may be extracted from underneath the rubble to which three years of conflict has reduced this now long suffering country.

Thank you.