Hears Presentation of Report of the High Commissioner on Findings of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, and Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in Libya
GENEVA (26 September 2018) -
The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Yemen, after hearing the presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on Yemen which contained the findings of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen. It also held an interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Libya, after hearing the oral update of the High Commissioner.
Presenting the High Commissioner’s report on Yemen, Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, regretted that despite international appeals and the unwavering efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, peace was yet to come to Yemen. The report found that individuals in the Government of Yemen, from among coalition members, including Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates, and from the de facto authorities had committed acts that may have amounted to international crimes. The Group of Experts had identified a number of individuals who may have been responsible for the perpetration of those crimes. The suffering of the Yemeni people was intensified by blockades and restrictions on imports and humanitarian assistance. Some 22 million Yemenis were in need of assistance, while eight million were at risk of famine, Ms. Gilmore underlined.
Kamel Jendoubi, Chairperson of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, said the Experts had sought to investigate violations perpetrated by parties to the conflict in Yemen and had faced immense challenges when it came to gathering information for security and logistical reasons. The Houthi and Saleh forces had targeted civilians and had allegedly used a wide range of weapons forbidden in civilian areas. Various parties to the conflict had hampered civilian access to humanitarian aid and food. The Group of Experts expressed concern about widespread arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture in detention centres, and reports of secret detention centres. New waves of displacement, poverty and sexual violence were on the rise with no justice or protection measures in place, Mr. Jendoubi noted.
Speaking as the concerned country, Yemen said that the report was not impartial and did not mention the crimes committed by Houthis, although even the Security Council was clear on that matter. It failed to identify the causes of the conflict. The report also ignored the fact that Houthi militias were killing civilians and launching missiles on many cities. It brought into question the credibility of the Group of Eminent Experts.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers called on the Human Rights Council to respond meaningfully to the dire situation in Yemen. Many countries raised concern that the report ignored violations committed by the Houthi rebels, while assigning responsibility exclusively to the coalition and overlooking steps taken by the Yemeni Government to contain the crisis and protect civilians in the armed conflict. Time and resources available to the Group of Eminent Experts were inadequate and there was insufficient information so the report was not exhaustive, conclusive or balanced. Speakers welcomed the efforts of Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in bringing all parties of the conflict to the negotiation table, despite the fact that the Houthi delegation had not taken part in the last United Nations-sponsored peace talks.
Speaking were European Union, Bahrain on behalf of a group of countries, Netherlands on behalf of a group of countries, Kuwait, Qatar, Slovenia, Germany, Libya, Cuba, France, Switzerland, UN Women, Saudi Arabia, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Croatia, Czechia, China, Egypt, Australia, Sudan, Iran, Bahrain, United Kingdom, Iceland, Norway, Slovakia, New Zealand, Jordan, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf.
The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Iraqi Development Organization, Association of World Citizens, Baha'i International Community, Ius Primi Viri International Association, International Save the Children Alliance (in a joint statement with CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Defence for Children International and International Federation for Human Rights Leagues), Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, International Institute for Rights and Development Geneva and Defence for Children International.
Presenting the oral update on the situation of human rights in Libya, Georgette Gagnon, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that armed groups continued to proliferate in Libya and to commit grave violations of human rights with almost complete impunity. Those included armed groups integrated into State institutions without serious attempt to screen out the worst perpetrators. Ms. Gagnon highlighted the plight of migrants and refugees, detainees and journalists. She urged Member States to prioritize addressing impunity, to adopt a human rights centred approach when addressing migration, and to strengthen the processes of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of fighters.
Ghassan Salame, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, in a video message, spoke with concern about the situation in Libya, particularly about the conflict which broke out in Tripoli on 26 August 2018. He emphasized that security could not remain in the grips of the armed groups but must be in the hands of the State. The reign of armed groups was not limited to the capital, but it had spread across the country with armed groups operating in a climate of impunity. Mr. Salame drew particular attention to the plight of migrants, who he said faced unimaginable suffering, including rape, torture, slavery, forced labour and all forms of exploitation.
Speaking as the concerned country, Libya clarified that its Government had undertaken great efforts to restore security, particularly in Tripoli, which had been under attack since August 2018. The priorities of the international community should be focused on helping the Government to restore economic security in the south and alleviate the suffering internally displaced persons, who lacked basic needs, such as water. Libya said that it had always been a country of migrants. However, the current security vacuum made migrants an easy target as they tried to cross into Europe. Illegal migration could only be addressed through international efforts, and cooperation between the European Union and the African Union.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers welcomed the recent renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, and encouraged all sides to the conflict to engage meaningfully in dialogue. They appreciated the efforts of the Libyan Government of National Accord to build a new State and ensure security, all the while dealing with illegal migration and terrorism. Accordingly, they reiterated the importance of continued technical assistance and capacity building to the Libyan authorities. Nevertheless, speakers remained concerned about the serious violations and abuses of human rights, in particular against civilians, migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons, including women and children. They called on the Libyan authorities to assure that search and rescue operations were conducted in accordance with international maritime law. Some speakers warned about the danger represented by the contributions of some countries to the armed militias in Libya, which threatened the Government of National Accord.
Speaking were Togo on behalf of the African Group, Tunisia on behalf of the Arab Group, European Union, Qatar, Germany, Egypt, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Spain, China, Tunisia, Sudan, Bahrain, United Kingdom, Yemen, Lebanon, Malta, Mali, Jordan, Algeria, Netherlands, France, and Greece.
The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation, International Commission of Jurists, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, Amnesty International and Conseil de jeunesse pluriculturelle (COJEP).
The Council will next hold separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, the Independent Expert on Somalia and the Independent Expert on Sudan.
The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Yemen, including violations and abuses since September 2014 (A/HRC/39/43).
Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Yemen
VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, said that in its resolution 36/31, the Human Rights Council requested the High Commissioner to establish a group of eminent, international and regional experts, with knowledge of human rights law and the context of Yemen, and that the group submit a report to the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights, including violations committed since September 2014.
KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, regretted that, despite international appeals and the unwavering efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, peace was yet to come to Yemen, and the tragic suffering of the people was continuing with pervasive human rights violations. Ms. Gilmore presented a report containing the findings and conclusions of the Group of Eminent Experts established by the Council, which found unequivocally that individuals in the Government of Yemen, from among the coalition members, including Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates, and from the de facto authorities, had committed acts that subject to determination by a competent court may have amounted to international crimes. The Group of Experts had identified a number of named individuals who may be responsible for the perpetration of such crimes, and that confidential list was now with the Office of the High Commissioner. Ms. Gilmore highlighted the contributions of the Eminent Experts as significant to efforts to ensure that accountability mechanisms were established for the victims of the conflict in Yemen. The Deputy High Commissioner also warned the Council that, so long as the conflict continued, there must be independent and international investigations into all allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and war crimes.
Ms. Gilmore expressed concern that the suffering of the Yemeni people had further intensified due to blockades and restrictions on imports and humanitarian assistance. Some 22 million Yemenis were in need of assistance, while eight million were at risk of famine. A whole generation of children was without reliable access to education, whereas increased prices of basic food commodities were pushing 3.5 million people into food insecurity. The Deputy High Commissioner drew the attention of the Council to the very strong probability that prolonged assault on Hudaydah would result in civilian casualties. In a rare glimmer of hope, Ms. Gilmore welcomed news that the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen was working with the World Health Organization to open a life-saving air bridge for civilians suffering from medical conditions that could not be treated in Yemen. Finally, Ms. Gilmore told the Council that during the reporting period, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights continued to provide technical assistance to the National Commission of Inquiry, including organizing training sessions and workshops on applicable international law, human rights monitoring and documentation and investigation methodologies, among others.
Statement by the Chair of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen
KAMEL JENDOUBI, Chairperson of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, expressed his gratitude for the support and trust of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. The Experts sought to investigate the violations and abuses perpetrated by parties to the conflict in Yemen, and when possible, to identify perpetrators of crimes. The Group had submitted a confidential list of names to the High Commissioner to be used in the future. It had sent letters to the Yemeni Government and coalition members with relevant information on human rights. However, the Group had not received any reply from them so far. The Group had sent the list of issues to the Government of Yemen, members of the coalition, and the de facto authorities. Moreover, it had extended the deadline for receiving responses for an additional month upon the request of the Government of Yemen. It had received a joint response from both the coalition and the Government of Yemen on 8 August 2018. The Group was thus unable to include those official responses in the report. The Experts had conducted nine field visits to Yemen in addition to several visits to neighbouring and other countries. They had visited sites and met with witnesses, families of victims, and had considered a wide range of documentation, including videos, photos and analysis of satellite imagery. They had vetted all the information using a strict methodology developed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. They had also taken into account various views and opinions, including those of human rights workers in the field. Security and logistical challenges had prevented the gathering of some information.
The Experts had faced immense challenges when it came to the security and safety of victims and sources of information. For particular periods of the conflict, they relied on information gathered and verified by the Human Rights Office, and they corroborated incidents investigated by other United Nations entities and verified findings. Based on a solid analysis by experts, the Group reiterated that it was deeply concerned by air raid attacks against civilians, which were contrary to the principles of distinction, effectiveness and proportionality. The Houthi and Saleh forces had targeted civilians, and had allegedly used a wide range of weapons forbidden in civilian areas. Given the humanitarian impact of the blockade on civilians, the Group had determined the blockade to be a violation of the proportionality rule of international humanitarian law. Various parties to the conflict hampered access to humanitarian aid and food by civilians. Widespread arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture in detention centres were alarming, as well as reports of secret detention centres. Human rights defenders faced intimidation. Women human rights defenders, journalists and activists had faced specific suppression based on their gender. Adopters of the Baha’i faith continued to face increasing limitations to their right to freedom of religion and belief, and they were subjected to unfair and unjust judicial measures. New vulnerabilities had emerged from displacement, poverty and indiscriminate violence. Women, children and men were at serious risk of all forms of sexual violence and there was limited space to pursue protection and justice. The Experts had also found reliable information on the conscription and enlistment of children in many conflict-affected governorates by parties to the conflict.
Humanitarian partners were preparing to respond to a possible third wave of cholera as the number of suspected cases increased across Yemen. Some 22 million people in Yemen were in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, while 2.9 million children and women were acutely malnourished, and less than 50 per cent of health facilities were functioning in the country with 18 per cent of districts without doctors. Yemenis had the right to life, to be free of torture and ill-treatment. They also had the right to exercise their freedoms of religion and speech without suppression or censorship. They had the right to protection, to peace and to live in dignity. Those rights should be guaranteed, Mr. Jendoubi stressed. Any sustainable and inclusive peace must involve respect for human rights. That required ending violence, seeking truth, establishing accountability, justice, and putting an end to rampant impunity. It also required full participation of all sectors of society, including women, youth and minorities in a political resolution of the conflict. Those were prerequisite conditions to achieve peace, stability and security.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Yemen, speaking as the concerned country, said it was informed of the conclusions and recommendations made by the Group of Eminent Experts. Yemen thanked Ms. Gilmore for the presentation of the High Commissioner’s report, but noted that it had not received the draft report in advance. The report was supposed to be fair and should have shed light on human rights violations, including the coup d’état carried out by the Houthis in Yemen. Yemen regretted that the report did not seem to be impartial and that there was no criticism against Houthi groups, who were responsible for the coup d’état, even though the United Nations Security Council was clear on that matter. Accordingly, the report did not exhibit the necessary level of probity and neutrality. It ignored the terrible crimes committed by the Houthis. The Government of Yemen had submitted its comments to the Secretariat of the Human Rights Council and those comments had to be officially published. The report failed to identify the causes of the conflict, and it ignored the fact that the residence of the Head of State had been sacked. Houthi militias were killing civilians in many cities in the country. Missiles launched by Houthis in many cities were also not mentioned by the report. The report thus brought into question the credibility of the Group of Eminent Experts. Three weeks ago, the Houthis had refused to attend the peace talks in Geneva organized by the Special Envoy Martin Griffiths.
European Union expressed deep concern about the continuing deterioration of human rights and the humanitarian situation in Yemen, and it called on all parties to comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. What were the most significant challenges that the Group of Eminent Experts encountered while implementing its mandate? Bahrain, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, noted that the report was based on personal prejudices and beliefs of victims, and, as such, it was not neutral. It expressed concern that the report ignored the violations committed by the Houthi rebels. Netherlands, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, voiced concern about the situation in Yemen, expressing concern that there was no sign of improvement for the Yemeni people; in many if not most cases, things were simply getting worse. The Netherlands called on the Council to respond meaningfully to the dire situation in Yemen.
Kuwait said it highly appreciated the role of the Arab coalition in restoring hope for the Yemeni people. There was an ethical responsibility towards the brotherly Yemeni people, who suffered from human rights abuses in every aspect of their life, but the report of the Group of Experts lacked accuracy on many points. Qatar expressed deep concern about the violations and crimes committed against the Yemeni people. It called on all parties to the conflict to find a solution and activate an encompassing national dialogue. Slovenia expressed concern about the findings of the Group of Experts who had found that most civilian casualties had been caused by the indiscriminate airstrikes by the coalition forces on residential areas, markets, funerals, and weddings. Slovenia also voiced deep concern that all sides had recruited and used children to participate actively in the armed conflict and other hostilities.
Germany supported the efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide technical support to the Yemeni National Commission politically and financially, adding that it would continue doing so in the future. It supported the efforts of Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and asked that he continue his efforts to bring all parties to the conflict to the negotiation table. Libya called on all parties to end hostilities, to establish a ceasefire, and to allow assistance to the Yemeni people. The start of a dialogue could save lives; the international community needed to live up to its promise to protect the Yemeni people. Cuba did not support those procedures and mechanisms that did not take into account the criteria of the country concerned. It opposed the politicization of cooperation in the area of human rights.
France encouraged the Council’s Member States to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen. France reminded all parties to the conflict that it was imperative to respect the principles of international humanitarian rights, particularly the principles of proportionality and the protection of civilians. Switzerland reminded all parties to the Yemeni conflict to facilitate rapid and unhindered access to humanitarian aid. It supported the renewal of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts, and encouraged all parties to the conflict to resume peace talks under the auspices of the United Nations. UN Women said it had provided an expert investigator to the Group of Experts on Yemen, who was instrumental in verifying sexual and gender-based violence, which had proliferated in the armed conflict since September 2014. Human rights investigators were one of the most important tools to uncover the horrific reality of the conflict.
Saudi Arabia noted that the Group of Eminent Experts’ report overlooked the responses that it had provided to the Group, which was looking only at a narrow list of violations, while its mandate covered all violations from 2014 onwards. The report overlooked the blockade of humanitarian access by the Houthis and their ballistic missile attacks. Japan strongly condemned the attack on civilian vessels in the Red Sea and the ongoing launching of ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia by the Houthi militias. It noted that Houthi militias were not considered to be the de facto authorities and it deplored the escalation of the military conflict over Hudaydah. United Arab Emirates rejected the report because it had not provided an objective background of the conflict, including the coup d’état. The report put Houthi militias on an equal footing with other parties; it overlooked their violations and the efforts of the Yemeni Government in containing the crisis.
Syria expressed concern over the suffering of 22 million people while the brotherly country of Yemen was involved in an aggressive war perpetrated by the Saudi regime. Coalition air raids on medical and detention facilities and ports were carried out and the situation had to be granted priority. Croatia stressed that the war in Yemen pushed over 22 million people to seek humanitarian assistance, including 11.3 million who were in acute need. Croatia called for international solidarity and humanitarian response, adding that it had provided contributions at a pledging conference earlier in 2018. Czechia fully supported the efforts of the Special Envoy aimed at facilitating a political solution for the conflict in Yemen. Coalition air strikes had caused most of the documented civilian casualties, hitting residential areas, as well as medical and detention facilities.
China expressed deep concern over the humanitarian situation in Yemen. China called on all parties to exercise restraint and resolve their differences, and expressed regret at the failure to hold the planned Geneva consultation on Yemen. China was ready to continue to play a constructive role in resolving the Yemeni issue. Egypt said that the report from the Eminent Group of Experts was flawed for not giving due attention to violations by the Houthis, while assigning responsibility exclusively to the coalition. Egypt also pointed out that the report overlooked positive steps taken by the Yemeni Government and coalition to protect civilians in the armed conflict. The report in its current form would further complicate efforts by the international community to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Yemen. Australia expressed deep concern at the alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and noted that the report had concluded that some acts may amount to international crimes. Australia expressed disappointment that UN-mediated talks scheduled in Geneva earlier in September had not taken place.
Sudan expressed deep sadness at the number of victims of the conflict in Yemen, and called on the Yemeni Government to facilitate all future visits from the Group of Eminent Experts. Sudan expressed concern about serious professional issues in the report, including various inaccuracies, and noted the failure of the Group of Eminent Experts to visit several Houthi-controlled areas. Iran expressed concern regarding the indiscriminate attacks against civilians using banned cluster bombs, and was also worried about torture, sexual abuse of detainees and war crimes in Yemen, underlining that the coalition’s air strikes had caused the most direct civilian casualties. Iran condemned gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws and requested the international community to take necessary action and prevent further war crimes and atrocities in Yemen. Bahrain condemned the coup militias in Yemen for placing restrictions on access to aid for the Yemeni civilians. Bahrain denounced the report for ignoring violations by the coup militias and expressed total disagreement for the methodology used by the Group of Eminent Experts. Bahrain was concerned about attempts by the Group of Eminent Experts to mislead the international community by describing the coup militias as legitimate.
United Kingdom said that the Group of Eminent Experts needed more time to fully examine the conflict in order to ensure that their future conclusions fully reflected the conduct of all groups. How would the Group of Eminent Experts assess engagement with the various parties to the conflict so far, and what would their priorities be in that respect? Iceland reiterated their condemnation of the indiscriminate air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Iceland agreed with the Group of Eminent Experts’ call for an immediate cessation of violence committed against civilians and said the Council should do its part by ensuring that the situation in Yemen remained on the agenda, including by renewing the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts. Norway urged all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, ensuring that civilians did not become targets. Only an inclusive, negotiated political settlement could end the conflict in Yemen. Norway they urged all parties to support the efforts of Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to revive the political process.
Slovakia regretted that this month’s peace talks in Geneva had collapsed and expressed their full support for the United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen to resume negotiations. They also encouraged the parties to the conflict to fight impunity by means of their domestic law enforcement and judiciary systems and bringing those responsible to justice. New Zealand said it was a travesty that the international community was unable or unwilling to stop the humanitarian and human rights disaster in Yemen. New Zealand was concerned that eight million people were on the verge of starvation and that indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks had resulted in 6,600 civilian deaths. The immediate priority for all sides must be the cessation of violence. Jordan reiterated its support to the legitimate Government of Yemen and the efforts to resolve the crisis. Jordan supported the efforts of the Special Envoy to create appropriate conditions for the settlement of the conflict and stressed the need for continued technical support so that the Yemenis could address human rights violations.
Nigeria said that the time and resources available to the Group of Eminent Experts to carry out a thorough job were inadequate and there was insufficient information. Due to such deficiencies, it was a surprise that the Group had made far-reaching conclusions on the human rights situation in Yemen as the report was not exhaustive, conclusive or balanced. Kyrgyzstan shared the aspirations of the legitimate Government that was standing for the territorial integrity of the country. The content of the report had to contribute to, rather than prevent efforts of the legitimate Government to restore the rule of law. Ukraine supported efforts of the legitimate President Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi and his Government to restore order. Mediation efforts of the Special Envoy were appreciated, although the Houthi delegation did not take part in the last United Nations-sponsored peace meeting. Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf welcomed the work of aid organization, local bodies and United Nations bodies to coordinate humanitarian efforts in Yemen. The refusal of Houthis to take part in the Geneva consultations and the launch of ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia were condemned.
Iraqi Development Organization said that given the lack of independence of the national commission, the organization supported the extension of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts. The coalition air strikes caused most of the documented civilian casualties, but the lion’s share of deaths among civilians was from the blockade and the Group of Eminent Experts had to pay attention to those crimes. Association of World Citizens recalled that the deterioration of the situation in Yemen started after the Houthi coup d’état. The report failed to include many violations amounting to war crimes, including shooting at displaced persons by Houthi militias.
Baha’i International Community expressed concern at the findings of the Group of Eminent Experts regarding the dire situation facing the Baha’i community in Yemen. It highlighted the arbitrary detention of the Baha’i purely on the basis of religious beliefs. The Baha’i international community expressed concern for the immediate safety of the Baha’i community in Yemen. IUS PRIMI VIRI International Association expressed concern regarding the recruitment of children carried out by all parties in the Yemeni conflict, holding hostage the future of Yemen. It expressed disappointment that the Group of Eminent Experts was not able to visit some rebel-controlled towns, and expressed regret that the report’s methodology was not even-handed when looking at the violations of human rights in Yemen. International Save the Children Alliance, in a joint statement with CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Defence for Children International and International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, expressed concern for the welfare of 400,000 children under the age of five in Yemen who were at risk of severe malnutrition, and that the parties continued to delay access to basic humanitarian services. Save the Children also condemned the attacks and military use of schools and hospitals, and called on Member States to hold all parties to the conflict to account for violations of international law.
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada expressed concern that all parties involved in the conflict were perpetrating violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. It also expressed concern at the Group of Experts’ findings that some attacks from the coalition may amount to war crimes. The Council should renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies expressed regret that Yemenis were living through yet another blood-soaked year. The Cairo Institute called on the Council to renew and strengthen the mandate of the Eminent Group of Experts to investigate human rights violations. International Institute for Rights and Development Geneva expressed deep concern over violations of the human rights of civilians in Yemen, especially those perpetrated against women and children. It also called on the Council to exert pressure on all parties to end arbitrary and enforced detention, release all detainees and enforcedly disappeared persons, and provide psychological support to victims. Defence for Children International underlined the impact of violations of human and humanitarian rights in Yemen on children. They urged the Council to condemn those violations; to cease and prevent the recruitment and use of children in the armed conflict; to include measures to protect civilians, particularly children; and to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts.
KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanked all speakers for the active and rich engagement. She hoped that there would be a renewed energy to find a lasting solution for Yemen, in line with human rights. Concerning the comment of the European Union, rather than seeking to open a second office in Aden, the correct framing of the intention of the Office of the High Commissioner would be that they were planning to open a sub-national office in Aden.
KAMEL JENDOUBI, Chairperson of the Group of Eminent Experts, thanked all for their remarks and gave the floor to his colleagues to address several points raised.
CHARLES GARRAWAY, Member of the Group of Eminent Experts, noted that the obligations imposed by international humanitarian law applied to all parties in the conflict in Yemen, however, it would in no way affect the legal status of the parties themselves. On the mandate and methodology, the mandate concerned human rights abuses in Yemen; they could not look at effects outside the country because time and resources were short. From 2014 onwards, they were also hindered by scope. They concentrated on cases they could examine themselves and were not reliant on secondary sources, but they were hindered by security and logistical restrictions. Taiz was an example. In a submission received after the report had been completed, investigations on the ground had raised concerns about the targeting of coalition forces. In relation to airstrikes, Mr. Garraway continued, it was incorrect to say that violations amounting to war crimes had been found; the Group of Eminent Experts had expressed serious concern that the “apparent flaws in the targeting process may amount to violations - and even to war crimes”. Inevitably, the report was incomplete and they could only touch the surface and most pressing issues. There remained much to do.
MELISSA PARKE, Member of the Group of Eminent Experts, said there was concern that the report put the Houthis on the same level as the Yemeni Government. When an armed group exercised authority and had control of land, it could be held accountable for its actions like a country; that was the case of the Houthis. The Experts did not dispute the fact that the Government of Yemen controlled more territory in Yemen but the de facto authorities controlled large portions of territory where citizens lived. Evidence also indicated that the coalition forces had caused the majority of casualties. There were also allegations of violations of human rights law by the Houthis but the Experts were not able to investigate those because of United Nations security restrictions in places like Taiz. It was not correct to say the report neglected serious crimes committed by the Houthis as notes were made concerning arbitrary detentions, torture, ill-treatment, recruitment of child soldiers and other violations. There were also restrictions by the Houthis in Taiz with regard to humanitarian relief. It was said the report neglected the cultural perspective, but the purpose of the report was to examine the conduct of the parties during the conflict, thus the history and causes were not included. The report did not intend to denigrate the work of the National Commission, however, because of the way it was set up, there was concern as to its independence. Matters covered in the present report required further examination. Many other serious allegations of widespread sexual violence, economic, cultural and social issues and the internal displacement of refugees and migrants remained, this was why they had requested an extension of the mandate.
Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update of the High Commissioner on Libya
VOJISLAV ŠUC, President of the Human Rights Council, recalled that the Council had requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in its resolution 37/41 to monitor and report on human rights violations and abuses across Libya, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such abuses and violations, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring full individual accountability. The same resolution had also requested that the High Commissioner present an oral update to the thirty-ninth session of the Council during an interactive dialogue, with the participation of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya.
GEORGETTE GAGNON, Director of Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that armed groups continued to proliferate in Libya and to commit grave violations of human rights with almost complete impunity. Those included armed groups integrated into State institutions without serious attempt to screen out the worst perpetrators. A recent upsurge of violence in Tripoli despite the ceasefire agreement of 4 September 2018 had led to high numbers of civilian casualties – 115 killed and 383 injured according to the Ministry of Health, as well as to forced displacement of the population – some 12,000 families had been displaced just during the past weekend. Throughout the country, parties to the conflict continued to use weapons with wide-area impact in densely populated residential areas. Up to 17 September 2018, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had documented 469 civilian casualties mainly because of shelling, air strikes, indiscriminate use of gunfire, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices. The so-called Islamic State had claimed a number of deadly attacks in the country, including on headquarters of the High National Election Commissioner in Tripoli, which had left 12 people dead.
After the self-styled Libyan National Army had taken control of most of the eastern city of Derna in June 2018, widespread pillage and destruction and appropriation of property had been reported. Libyan National Army forces had since arbitrarily detained and continued to hold, sometimes incommunicado, civilians including medical professionals, activists and local officials. The Libyan National Army had pursued extrajudicial executions of captives and other unlawful killings in a climate of total impunity. No Libyan National Army officials appeared to have been held to account. Places of detention remained of particular concern, particularly those run by armed groups, including those nominally under the oversight of Government ministries. Thousands of detainees were being held arbitrarily, subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and denied adequate medical care. In a significant blow to the commitment of the Government of National Accord to improving human rights protection, human rights monitors belonging to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya had been denied access to prisons under the judicial police of the Ministry of Justice as of April 2018. Ms. Gagnon voiced particular concern about the situation of women prisoners. At the Jdeida Women’s Prison in Tripoli, members of the Special Deterrence Force armed group had reportedly beaten women, including with water pipes and the backs of rifles, and placed them in prolonged solitary confinement. They detained women arbitrarily and in the absence of female guards, increasing the detainees’ vulnerability to sexual abuse and exploitation. Ms. Gagnon also informed that on 15 August 2018 a Tripoli court had convicted 45 men to death in relation to alleged crimes committed during the 2011 armed conflict. Proceedings had fallen short of international standards for fair trial.
On 3 June 2018, local officials from Misrata and Tawergha had signed a reconciliation charter which had fallen short of international human rights standards. The charter had not secured the unconditional safe return of the estimated 40,000 Tawerghans forcibly displaced since the 2011 armed conflict. Ms. Gagnon called on all actors to ensure the right to a safe and dignified return for all internally displaced persons, to allow demining, and to immediately put in place measures to rebuild and deliver basic services in Tawergha. Turning to migrants, Ms. Gagnon noted that their plight was visible to all. Their situation had continued to deteriorate and their rights were increasingly violated. Migrants in Libya continued to suffer from widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses. They were at risk of unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, rape, murder, sexual and gender-based violence, slavery, forced labour, and extortion by both State and non-State actors. Thousands of migrants were detained arbitrarily in centres under the Department for Combatting Illegal Migration in squalid conditions. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya had not been permitted to conduct visits to those centres, but it had received consistent information that torture and ill-treatment, forced labour and extortion at those centres were rampant. Despite the ongoing technical support training it had received, including from the European Union and its Member States, the Libyan Coast Guard had continued to show reckless and often violent behaviour during interceptions and rescues, endangering the lives of migrants in distress at sea.
Journalists in Libya continued to work in a dangerous and unpredictable environment. Human rights officers had documented cases of killings, arbitrary detention and harassment of media professionals, including by armed groups affiliated to the Government. Moreover, the Government’s Foreign Media Department had imposed restrictions on foreign journalists and Libyan correspondents working for foreign agencies. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights were working to support local civil society to better respond to the immense human rights challenges facing the country, and had conducted targeted trainings for activists and lawyers inside Libya for the first time since 2014. Ms. Gagnon urged Member States to prioritize addressing impunity, including through engagement with the Libyan authorities and active support for the International Criminal Court and other complementary accountability mechanisms. She underscored the urgent need for broader and sustained engagement of Member States on human rights issues in Libya, including when working with security forces. Efforts must be stepped up to prevent further violations, to release all those arbitrarily detained, to adopt a human rights centred approach when addressing migration, and to strengthen the processes of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of fighters.
GHASSAN SALAME, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, in a video message, spoke with concern regarding the situation in Libya, particularly the conflict which broke out in Tripoli on 26 August. Since this conflict had overtaken the city, at least 120 Libyans had died, and 400 had been injured. Meanwhile, thousands of families had tried to flee to safety. The city had been plunged into darkness and water was in short supply. Armed groups had carried out abductions against civilians perceived to be supporting their rivals. Critical infrastructure had been severely damaged.
On 4 September, a ceasefire had been brokered, which was consolidated on 9 September, to replace armed groups controlling the capital with regular police and military forces. The ceasefire envisioned the withdrawal of armed groups from sovereign institutions and critical infrastructure. However, Mr. Salame noted that past arrangements in Tripoli had not brought real security to the capital. He called on the international community to prevent a coup d’etat against the Government.
Mr. Salame emphasized that security could not remain in the grips of the armed groups but must be in the hands of the State. The reign of the armed groups was not limited to the capital, but this was just the most visible example – across the country, armed groups were operating in a climate of impunity. They had held thousands of men, women and children in prolonged arbitrary detention, and transferred these detainees from one location to another at their will. They had also committed torture and other human rights violations. In many cities and towns, civilians were grabbed from their homes, simply for holding the wrong opinions. Some of these appeared in prisons, others were tortured, others ended up on the list of missing persons. Meanwhile, human trafficking was routine in towns up and down the country, and the smuggling of fuel was widespread – armed groups had effectively seized control of several refineries. Impunity must be challenged, greater sanctions must be imposed, and perpetrators must be brought to national courts or the International Criminal Court. Mr. Salame detailed how, since the eastern city of Derna had come under control of the Libyan National Army in June 2018, there had been consistent reports of pillage and destruction of private property. Civilians, activists and health workers had been arrested and remained detained.
The situation on the ground in Libya continued to be marked by violations of humanitarian law perpetrated by armed groups on all sides. Forces across the country were unable to guard against terrorist attacks, which had attacked armed groups and government institutions alike – over 57 people had been murdered by ISIS in 14 separate incidents. Mr. Salame drew particular attention to the plight of migrants, who he said faced unimaginable suffering, including rape, torture, slavery, forced labour and all forms of exploitations. Mr. Salame said perpetrators routinely violated human rights with little thought as they could not imagine that they would be punished for these transgressions. This belief must be shattered. Member States were urged to exponentially increase their sanctions against perpetrators. He also called on authorities to facilitate the return of internally displaced persons to their homes. Finally, Mr. Salame underlined the plight faced by women detained in facilities without female guards, who were at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Libya, speaking as the concerned country, wished to clarify that the Government had undertaken great efforts to restore security, particularly in Tripoli, which had been under attack since last August. The Government had enacted decisions to consolidate security and worked to stabilize the ceasefire agreed on 4 September. It was using all means necessary to diffuse the war in Tripoli and its suburbs. They believed that the priorities of the international community should be focused on helping the Government to restore economic security in the south and help with the suffering internally displaced persons, who lacked basic needs, like water. Libya believed that migration was a natural behaviour, the reasons as varied as moving from one place to another to earn a living or to flee starvation or conflict. Libya had always been a country of migrants, however under the status quo and lack of stability, the security vacuum made migrants an easy target as they tried to cross into Europe. Libya believed that illegal migration could only be controlled through international efforts as well as cooperation between the European Union and African Union. Through mega-development projects in countries where migrants were leaving, proper work could be provided allowing them to have opportunities. Libya affirmed its keenness to move forward with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and had extended an invitation to the Working Group on arbitrary detention. They would continue to promote human rights issues in Libya and also in the world at large.
Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, paid tribute to efforts Libya had made to work with the African Union and cooperate with international mechanisms. The African Group encouraged cooperation between the United Nations Support Mission in Libya and the Libyan authorities to bring stability to its institutions, particularly with the upcoming elections. Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, supported Libya’s efforts to smooth obstacles to ensure a seamless transition in the country. The Arab Group also recognized that Libya had a heavy burden, particularly concerning clandestine migrants, and was working hard to protect migrants that passed through its borders.
European Union welcomed the recent renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, and encouraged all sides to the conflict to engage meaningfully in dialogue. It remained concerned about continued violations of human rights and about the appalling situation of migrants and refugees. Qatar voiced concern about the warring factions in Libya, which had led to the economic crisis and the spread of terrorism. All parties should immediately work on achieving reconciliation and set aside their narrow interests for the sake of a wider national interest. Germany remained deeply concerned about the serious violations and abuses of human rights, in particular against civilians, migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons, including women and children. It called on the Libyan authorities to assure that search and rescue operations were conducted in accordance with international maritime law.
Egypt stated that the Libyan crisis had given rise to concerns about terrorist groups which attempted to undermine the State. Egypt warned about the danger represented by the contribution of some countries to the armed militias in Libya, which threatened the Government of National Accord. Switzerland noted that the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Libya had given rise to serious risks for the civilian population. It called on all parties to protect the civilian population in line with their obligations under international law, noting that the majority of victims were civilians who were not involved in hostilities. Saudi Arabia regretted the sabotage and violent acts taking place in some towns in Libya and firmly condemned all terrorist acts, which had had an adverse impact on human rights. It emphasized the importance of technical assistance and capacity building provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Italy said that in their conference on Libya next November, security would be the priority issue and participants would also deal with reconciliation and the respect of human rights. On migration, Italy was committed to working with the Libyan authorities to enhance their capacity to act at sea, and in the management of camps to improve migrants’ living conditions. United Arab Emirates supported the United Nations Action Plan in Libya, finding it was the best framework to find a political solution to the conflict. It was now crucial to step up efforts to overcome obstacles to hold transparent elections and they expressed their support to find a solution to the Libyan crisis for the stability of the region as a whole. Spain insisted on the need to guarantee the rights of vulnerable groups: women, girls, journalists, human rights defenders, migrants and refugees. Spain called on all parties to guarantee the ceasefire and cessation of violence and implement the Action Plan proposed by the Special Representative.
China followed closely the situation in Libya and called on all parties to solve the conflict through constructive dialogue. They supported mediation efforts by the Special Representative and said the future of the country should be decided by the Libyan people and their sovereignty needed to be respected as well as the independence of their elections. Tunisia supported political efforts made in Libya which ensured their engagement in reconstruction, guaranteed the rule of law, fostered elections and concluded the drafting of a constitution. There were longstanding relations between the two countries and Tunisia had spared no effort in providing assistance to Libya without interference in its domestic policies. Sudan fully supported the friendly and brotherly country of Libya. Both Africa and Europe faced challenges on terrorism and illegal migration. Libya was also facing armed groups that violated human rights. Sudan asked that Libya be supplied with technical assistance as well as capacity building and financial aid.
Bahrain appreciated the efforts of the Libyan Government of National Accord to build a new State and ensure security, all the while dealing with illegal migration and terrorism. Accordingly, it reiterated the importance of continued technical assistance and capacity building to the Libyan authorities. United Kingdom welcomed Libya’s continued commitment to work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, but it remained deeply concerned about continuing human rights abuses committed with impunity across the country. It expressed concern about the treatment of migrants in detention centres and about the fatality rates of those attempting to reach Europe. Yemen underlined that Libya needed more help and assistance in the area of human rights, and to better deal with illegal migrants and organized crime. It called on the international community to provide more technical assistance and capacity building to Libya.
Lebanon appreciated the efforts of the Libyan Government despite many obstacles and challenges, and it called for technical assistance and capacity building to combat illegal migration and organized crime. It was important to address the root causes of these problems. Malta reiterated its strong commitment to working with Libya to overcome the current challenges and towards a lasting solution to the conflict and humanitarian situation. Migrants continued to be exposed to unlawful killings, torture, exploitation and other forms of violence. Mali commended the Government of Libya for its efforts to overcome the many challenges, including arbitrary detention, torture and other forms of violence, which were obstacles to the achievement of stability, peace and sustainable development in the Sahel region.
Jordan welcomed efforts taken by the Special Representative to restore peace in Libya. Jordan appreciated the return of legitimacy in Libya through stability, security and preserving its territorial integrity and reaffirmed its support to efforts that sought a political solution that would be accepted by the Libyan people. Algeria supported efforts undertaken by Libya to overcome challenges in combatting terrorist organizations as well as illegal migration. The international community needed to cooperate with Libya to shoulder its burden: efforts needed to be redoubled to develop the countries of origin of migrants and provide a political solution that would protect Libya’s sovereignty. Netherlands welcomed the ceasefire in Tripoli and called on all parties to join and abide by that agreement and to work in good faith towards its consolidation. They asked the High Commissioner how their Office could cooperate with other United Nations agencies to develop a transitional justice agenda and accountability in Libya.
France regretted the deterioration of security in Libya and called for an end to attacks against civilians. They also called for an end to human rights violations, particularly against migrants. Libyan authorities should do their utmost to uphold the rights of migrants, while making headway in the democratic transition. Greece attached particular importance to the international efforts to stabilise Libya and strongly supported the continued implementation of the Action Plan to facilitate a Libyan-owned political process. Greece urged Libyans to work together in a spirit of compromise to ensure the required conditions for credible, inclusive and peaceful elections.
United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation said that Tawergha region in Libya was suffering and victims included women and children. The region had seen wide-scale suffering caused by various forces and it needed urgent reconstruction. International Commission of Jurists said that impunity prevailed for crimes committed during and after the 2011 uprising, and broad amnesty laws allowed those responsible to avoid prosecution. Unfair trials and unlawful sentences deprived the victims of the right to know the truth about the legacy of past violations. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom said that women activists strongly supported the call on States to prevent the transfer of arms to Libya. Efforts for stabilisation had to include disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration and had to address emerging online markets for arms.
Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development said that the international community had not risen to the challenge in Libya, in particular in terms of reconstruction. Libya was being used as a platform to attack other countries; Tripoli was being bombarded and many civilians had become displaced. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said that fighting between militias in Tripoli this month led to the killing of hundreds of civilians. The Libyan Presidency Council had failed to abide by its legal obligations and had, in effect, financed and empowered militias in the western region of Libya. Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme said that tribal militias had blocked access to humanitarian aid and residents of Tawergha, Derna and southern regions experienced shortages of water and medicine. The ceasefire of 4 September 2018 had changed nothing and the warlords had become millionaires.
Amnesty International said that seven years from the fall of Gaddafi, Libya remained in turmoil. In Tripoli, power was consolidated in the hands of four main militias which were terrorizing the civilian population, leaving the already fragile United Nations-recognized government paralyzed. Conseil de jeunnesse pluriculturelle, in a joint statement, voiced deep concern about human rights violations in Libya, especially the extent of detentions in the country. Due to the violence in Tripoli, the Government of National Accord had established a National Commission of Inquiry, which the organization hoped would investigate committed crimes.
GEORGETTE GAGNON, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recognized the scale of challenges faced by the Libyan Government, as well as their efforts to uphold obligations under international law. The Office welcomed the Government’s dialogue with the human rights mechanisms, and it now expected concrete response to the recommendations on detention in Libya. The Office also recognized all efforts by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to reach a comprehensive solution to the crisis, which would include women. With respect to institutional building and technical cooperation, Ms. Gagnon highlighted that the Office was currently providing capacity building to judges, prosecutors and lawyers. As for further technical cooperation, Ms. Gagnon said that the support should be provided for the transfer of detention centres under Government control, to address arbitrary detention and prolonged pre-trial detention, and the human rights situation of migrants.
On efforts to address impunity, Ms. Gagnon clarified that addressing impunity would be no easy task in the current context, but steps could be taken to strengthen relevant mechanisms. It was important to work on the demobilization of armed brigades, on investigating grave human rights violations, and on strengthening the justice sector more broadly, such as establishing monitoring and accountability mechanisms for the Libyan Armed Forces. All parties should fully cooperate with the International Criminal Court. Turning to the impunity of armed groups, Ms. Gagnon noted that the Government should end all forms of support to them, launch a process for the demobilization and reintegration of armed groups, and strengthen the administration of justice. As for migrants, Ms. Gagnon stressed Libya’s views that migration was a collective responsibility and she urged the European Union to ensure cooperation with the Government of Libya, while respecting the rights of migrants, and not to support the return of migrants to Libya. She also welcomed the decision of the United Nations to impose a global assets freeze and travel bans on six high ranking Libyan officials. On coordination with regional and international organizations, Ms. Gagnon reminded that the United Nations Support Mission in Libya was a member of the United Nations country team, and it frequently referred cases to the relevant United Nations agencies. Its human rights component frequently provided factual updates to Member States and relevant organizations, and it held discussions with the African Union and the European Union. Transitional justice could make a critical contribution to ensuing a sustainable solution to the political crisis in Libya.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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