Addresses by Ms. Kate Gilmore United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 22 March 2017
Mr. President, Members of the Human Rights Council,
Excellences, Ladies and gentlemen,
This [afternoon] you have before you five reports of the Secretary-General and of the High Commissioner, which are submitted under item 2. They concern the following countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Cyprus, and Iran.
Let me start with the report on Guatemala (A/HRC/34/3/Add.1).
It is with deep sorrow, that I express our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the at least 40 girls who on International Women’s Day this year died in a fire at a government-run youth shelter, trapped inside because they were locked inside. The cause and circumstance of this tragedy must be investigated and those responsible must be brought to justice. The only fitting tribute to those who died will then be additionally, the necessary profound reforms to Guatemala’s child welfare system.
We wish to advise that last year Guatemala again achieved significant results in the fights against corruption and against impunity for past and present human rights violations, including through prosecutions of several ex-military officers for crimes against humanity. In this regard, the collaboration between the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and Guatemala’s Office of the Attorney-General is to be commended.
However, we must stress that this progress will not take hold as intended unless and until the pending structural changes to the country’s justice system are carried out.
Again, the engagement of the State’s three branches in proposals for constitutional reforms in the area of justice is to be commended. Nonetheless, the stalling of debates on those reforms is disappointing, as is the rejection of the recognition of indigenous jurisdiction. We encourage Congress to move ahead with the bill’s adoption without undermining either the essence or the coherence of the reform.
The High Commissioner is worried by increasing hostility directed towards those judicial actors who are engaged in the fight against impunity, as illustrated by the attacks against the Attorney-General and several judges presiding over high-profile corruption cases.
We are further concerned about persisting threats to and attacks against human rights defenders and journalists and by the prevailing impunity for such acts. Some human rights defenders have been victims of spurious legal cases, especially in relation to social protests.
Still outstanding are steps 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.
For these reasons and in the interests of human rights for the people of Guatemala, we look forward to the continued cooperation between the Government of Guatemala and our office.
It is now my pleasure to introduce our first annual report on the activities of our new office in Honduras (A/HRC/34/3/Add.2).
As you may be aware, at the request of the Government and with the direct support of the President, we were proud to open officially an Office in Honduras at the end of 2016. This strengthened partnership with the Government is most appreciated.
However, we must also stress that country’s human rights situation is cause for grave concern. Overall, the levels of violence and insecurity in Honduras remain alarming. Impactful, human rights-compliant security and justice responses – in particular to organized crime – are urgently needed.
In our advisory role, our Office has cautioned the authorities against expanding the role of the armed forces to encompass civilian security tasks and likewise we have counselled against the overly broad definition of terrorism contained in the recently adopted Law for the Strengthening of the Security Policy. Vaguely defined crimes of incitement to terrorism can result in unreasonable restrictions on legitimate exercises of freedom of opinion and expression. We again urge the authorities to take concrete steps to address these concerns.
In this regard, we are also encouraging the Government to invest further in the strengthening of the judiciary and in the Office of the Attorney General. We believe this will further formal and lawful accountability – which can be a powerful deterrent in the fight against criminality.
Supporting protection for those at risk of human rights violations and abuses specifically in remote rural and indigenous communities, will be key and is one of our top priorities. Last year’s tragic killing of Berta Cáceres illustrates the risks that human rights defenders face. While efforts to implement the law for the protection of human rights defenders are encouraging, true progress requires both a wholehearted pursuit of accountability for attacks on human rights defenders and a national fostering of an environment in which the positive contribution of human rights defenders is recognized and appreciated.
Our Office is also working with Honduran human rights defenders to address the persisting high levels of gender-based violence and the legislation and practices that discriminate against women – which include a ban on emergency contraception, the criminalization of abortion, and the limited provision of information on sexual and reproductive health.
2017 provides for many opportunities to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in Honduras, including the elections that will take place later this year which we hope can be conducted safely and freely. OHCHR will continue to engage closely with the Government of Honduras and other counterparts to support them in addressing the challenges faced by the country and advancing respect for the human rights of the people of Honduras.
The next report before you concerns the situation of human rights in Colombia (A/HRC/34/3/Add.3).
First and foremost, we wish to once again applaud the peace agreement reached between the Government and FARC-EP and warmly welcome the peace negotiations initiated with ELN.
While visiting Colombia in September 2016, the High Commissioner having witnessed the ravages of the internal armed conflict, and the associated violence and inequality, particularly on rural, indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, also felt the palpable and formidable promise of peace for all people in Colombia, and we know that every day in pursuit of peace, the country is progressing.
The Government’s Peace Agreement with FARC-EP is permeated with human rights, providing a unique platform to address structural deficiencies, including poverty, inequality and discrimination. Of course, to live up to its potential, this Agreement must be implemented diligently, which will require coordination, participation and sustained international support – including from OHCHR.
We are honoured that OHCHR has been entrusted with supporting the implementation of the Peace Agreement, as concerns, for instance, security guarantees and reintegration mechanisms. The Agreement also requires that, through the High Commissioner’s annual reports to the Human Rights Council, we report on the implementation of the Peace Agreement’s human rights aspects. The report that we presented today provides the first opportunity for us to so report.
To consolidate peace for the people of Colombia, it is essential that victims’ rights be given full effect, particularly through reparations and through accountability for past human rights and international humanitarian law violations.
The challenges yet to met are numerous. The recent increase of violence we have observed in rural areas, forcefully illustrates the danger posed by armed actors who engage in organized crime and other illegal economic activities. Sixty human rights defenders have been killed in 2016 and already 10 more have lost their lives in 2017. This must be addressed, as must persisting corruption and inequality in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.
The role of OHCHR complements that of the United Nations Peace Mission in Colombia, mandated by the Security Council to monitor the ceasefire and disarmament for 12 months. OHCHR therefore welcomes the Government’s extension of the host country agreement until 31 October 2019 which means we can continue to assist Colombia in overcoming conflict-related and structural human rights challenges. United Nations policies on the role of human rights in peace missions should be applied to make the successor mission foreseen by the negotiating parties as effective as possible in supporting Government efforts at reintegration.
Moving now to our report on Cyprus (A/HRC/34/15).
The report on human rights in Cyprus provides an overview of developments between 1 December 2015 and 30 November 2016. The report takes note of a number of positive steps, including progress in the search for, and identification of the remains of missing persons, increased interreligious communication and cooperation, initiatives for the conservation of cultural heritage sites, and the work of the bi-communal committees on gender equality, on cultural heritage and on education.
These welcome developments occurred in the context of the commitment of the parties to the resumption of peace talks, which gave a positive impetus and has raised hopes that a comprehensive settlement of the question of Cyprus may be reached. These efforts should inter alia open avenues to improve the situation of human rights on the whole island. Addressing underlying and persisting human rights issues and concerns should underpin the political dialogue aimed at achieving a comprehensive settlement. It is also imperative to ensure adequate women’s participation and consideration of gender-related issues in these discussions.
Indeed, as noted in previous reports, the persistent division of Cyprus continues 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, restrictions to freedom of movement, freedom of religion, cultural rights, freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to education.
Our report stresses that a continuing strong, impartial, in-country human rights capacity should ensure that emerging issues affecting all communities are rapidly addressed. Therefore, further visits by special procedure mandate holders are encouraged, including on minority issues, the human rights of internally displaced persons, enforced or involuntary disappearances, and the right to education. It is also critical that OHCHR and other relevant actors have access to the whole island, and enjoy full cooperation from the Government of the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot authorities.
The final report before you under item 2 concerns the situation of human rights in Iran (A/HRC/34/40).
In this report, the Secretary-General welcomes the Citizen Rights Charter that was signed and declared in December 2016. However, the SG also expresses his concern about the alarming rate of executions, including of juveniles, drug offenders and political prisoners; about the continued practice of public and mass executions, and about the sentencing of individuals to stoning.
Since the publication of this report, two juveniles were executed, while OHCHR successfully intervened to prevent two more such executions. Practices such as flogging, amputations and forced blinding that amount to ill treatment against individuals convicted of certain offences, are also deplored.
2016 was marked by pervasive restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, including the continued crackdown on journalists, artists and anti-death penalty and women rights activists. Reprisals against individuals who have cooperated, or established contact, with the United Nations human rights mechanisms were also reported.
In December 2016, several detainees were on a life-threatening hunger strike to context the legality of their detention. Some remain in a critical condition, particularly Mr. Arash Sadeghi who is currently prevented from receiving adequate medical treatment outside of Evin prison despite severe kidney and respiratory problems.
Various forms of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities persist. I want to highlight abuses directed against members of Iran’s Baha’i community which are considered by Special Procedures mandate holders as the most severely persecuted religious minority in Iran - enduring abuse and discrimination by religious, judicial and political officials who have engaged in incitement to hatred against the Baha’i. This is simply unacceptable.
The Secretary-General further deplores the authorities’ failure to take needed steps to repeal discrimination against women and girls in law and practice and he notes with grave concern the introduction of legislative initiatives which, if adopted, would result in further eroding the human rights of women and girls. His report highlights the harmful practice of child marriage, which remains both legal and pervasive in the country, as well as the restrictions placed on women’s freedoms of movement, and religion and belief.
While the Secretary-General welcomes the engagement of the Government with the United Nations treaty bodies and appreciates the increasing dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, he regrets the Government’s continued refusal to allow the Special Rapporteur to visit the country.
This concludes my introduction of country reports and updates under item 2.
Thank you for your attention.