27th session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, 25 September 2014
Salle XX, Palais des Nations
I am pleased to introduce several country reports prepared by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner which fall under agenda items 2 and 10.
Let me start with the oral update on the implementation of resolution S-22/1, on the human rights situation in Iraq in the light of abuses committed by the Takfiri group who self-identifies as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and associated groups.
As the Secretary-General said yesterday, these groups “have nothing to do with Islam, and they certainly do not represent a state. They should more fittingly be called the 'Un-Islamic Non-State.'”
Since the Special Session on Iraq, on 1 September, the situation has continued to deteriorate.
At least 24,015 civilians were killed or injured in the first eight months of 2014. This number includes at least 8,493 civilians who were killed, almost half of them only between 1 June and 31 August. We estimate that the actual numbers could be much higher.
As for displaced persons, it is estimated that 1.8 million Iraqis continue to endure dire conditions of displacement due to the on-going violence.
Human Rights Officers in Iraq have continued to gather information indicating that serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been committed in areas under the control of the ISIL and associated armed groups. This information reveals acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale.
Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities have suffered the most, including Turkmen, Shabak, Christians, Yezidi, Sabaeans, Kaka’e, Kurds and Shi’a. ISIL and associated armed groups have intentionally and systematically targeted these communities, at times aiming at destroying, supressing or cleansing them from areas under their control.
Other abuses by ISIL include attacks directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, executions and other targeted killings of civilians, murdering captured soldiers and other security forces or government personnel, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence perpetrated against women and children, forced recruitment of children, destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance, wanton destruction and looting of property, and denial of basic rights and freedoms. Many of these abuses may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.
We have also continued to verify serious violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law committed by Iraqi Security Forces and affiliated armed groups. These include air strikes and shelling as well as conduct of particular military operations or attacks that may have violated the principles of distinction and proportionality. Armed groups affiliated to or supporting the Government also carried out targeted killings and abductions of civilians, and the killing of captured ISIL or associated armed groups’ fighters.
With a view to implementing resolution S-22/1, we have by now mobilised resources and initiated the recruitment process. We expect that the OHCHR team of 11 staff members, will soon be deployed in Iraq to gather information on and document allegations of human rights violations.
Allow me to reiterate that all parties to the conflict must abide by applicable norms of international humanitarian and human rights law.
And there must be accountability for the brutal, dehumanizing crimes that have been committed. Two weeks ago, the High Commissioner called on Iraq to consider accession to the Rome Statute. Today, we reiterate that call. The urgency of the situation merits that Iraq, as an immediate step, also consider accepting the exercise of ICC jurisdiction with respect to the specific, horrific situation facing the country today.
The international community must intensify its joint efforts to assist the Government to protect all Iraqis, including ethnic and religious communities, and those who are particularly vulnerable.
Moving now to the oral update on the implementation of resolution 25/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. A full version of this update is available [to you in the room].
The Government published its last update on implementation of the LLRC recommendations in July. It reported on further progress in implementing the national trilingual language policy, social cohesion initiatives, resettlement of IDPs, release of detainees, and reconstruction and development activities in the northern and eastern provinces.
One important initiative was the establishment of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate cases of abduction and disappearance between January 1983 and May 2009 of persons resident in the north and east of Sri Lanka. The mandate of the Commission has been extended to 25 February 2015 and broadened to include investigations into the adherence of both Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE to principles of international humanitarian law. The President also invited six international experts to act as an advisory group to the Commission, although at this time the nature of their involvement it not yet clear. Independent observers have, however, raised concerns with the line of questioning by the commissioners and counsel, the quality of translation services, and the lack of counselling support for victims. Families of the disappeared have also reported on harassment and pressure by police, military and intelligence prior to and at the time of the hearings.
This Council had requested the Government to publish the reports of other domestic investigations. This has not yet happened, nor has there been any further outcome in other emblematic cases reported by the former High Commissioner.
New mass grave sites have continued to be discovered, but exhumations and investigations have proceeded slowly.
Meanwhile, OHCHR has set up a dedicated team to carry out the comprehensive investigation mandated by the Human Rights Council.
As you know, H.E. Mr Martti Ahtisaari, Ms Silvia Cartwright and Ms Asma Jahangir have been invited to play an advisory role to the OHCHR team. They met with the OHCHR team earlier this month to review the methodology and progress in the investigation, and also consulted a coordinating group of Special Procedures mandate-holders.
On 5 July, the Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka informed High Commissioner Pillay that the Government “categorically and unreservedly rejected the resolution 25/1 on Sri Lanka and would not engage in any related process”. The High Commissioner met the Minister of External Affairs in New York this week, who indicated nevertheless that cooperation with OHCHR and the Council will continue. We very much regret the Government’s position on the resolution and encourage it to keep its channels open.
Indeed, this investigation is a unique opportunity to establish an accurate record of patterns of human rights violations and related crimes alleged to have been committed by both sides during the latter period of the conflict.
In this context, the ongoing campaign of threats, harassment, intimidation and reprisals by both state and non-state actors since March against civil society groups, human rights defenders and victims’ organisations, including those engaging with the international inquiry, is deplorable. On 4 August, in Colombo, a private meeting of civil society actors, the diplomatic community and families of the disappeared was disrupted by protestors (including Buddhist monks), reportedly representing families of missing armed service personnel. And during a security operation in March, some human rights defenders were detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act on suspicion of engagement with former LTTE cadres.
This climate of intimidation and threat constitutes a real challenge for the investigation mandated by the Human Rights Council. It also undermines the prospects for Sri Lanka’s own domestic investigations, where witness and victim protection has long been a major concern. I note in this regard that the Government submitted to Parliament the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Bill in August 2014. OHCHR will carefully study this draft legislation and its compliance with international standards, but already a preliminary analysis raises a number of concerns.
We are also deeply alarmed by the escalation in religious extremism and increasing attacks against Muslim and Christian minorities, largely led by militant Buddhist groups. One of the worst incidents of sectarian violence in Sri Lanka’s recent history occurred last June, in the town of Aluthgama. No prosecutions of those responsible have taken place to date. I urge the Government to ensure strong action against the individuals responsible for such attacks and to send signals of its commitment to protect minority communities.
Notwithstanding the commendable progress the Government has made in resettlement and reconstruction, a more fundamental and far-reaching accountability process which addresses both past and ongoing violations, is indispensable for Sri Lankans to come to terms with their past – to end impunity, to achieve reconciliation between communities, and to strengthen the rule of law. I therefore appeal once again to the authorities to cooperate fully with the investigation, as well as with the relevant Special Procedures, in the long-term interest of all people in Sri Lanka.
Let me now introduce the report on technical assistance and capacity-building for human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (A/HRC/27/42). It is based on the work of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office of MONUSCO and provides an overview of the situation and OHCHR’s activities in the country from June 2013 to May 2014.
Armed groups as well as members of the Congolese defence and security forces continue to commit serious human rights violations, particularly - though not only - in eastern provinces affected by conflict. While the MONUSCO Force Intervention Brigade neutralised some armed groups such as the Mouvement du 23 mars in the North Kivu province, and although the Front démocratique de libération du Rwanda has been undergoing disarmament, the population remains exposed to brutal attacks by various armed groups.
For instance, on 6 June 2014, at least 31 civilians of the Bafuliru community were killed in Mutarule, South Kivu province, by a Barundi / Banyamulenge militia. The incident once more demonstrated the need for more proactive engagement from the Congolese army and troop-contributing countries to protect civilians.
Other types of violence are also of concern, notably in the Katanga province, where, tensions have risen between the Bantu and Pygmy communities.
There has also been an increase in violations targeting those who are critical of the Government or perceived as such. The lack of democratic space for the opposition, journalists and human rights defenders is preoccupying, particularly in the lead up to the 2015 and 2016 elections.
On a positive note, there has been some progress in the fight against impunity - more specifically in the prosecution of elements of the armed forces and the police. According to information available to the UNJHRO, from June 2013 to March 2014, 162 State actors and members of armed groups were convicted for acts constituting human rights violations. Legal proceedings are ongoing against two former FARDC officers: Bedi Mobuli Egangela, known as “Colonel 106”, and General Jérôme Kakwavu Bukande. We also note the promulgation, in early 2014, of an Amnesty Law for acts of insurrection, acts of war and political offences, which excludes amnesty for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of human rights. While many challenges remain in the fight against impunity, including structural deficiencies within the judiciary, these are important steps.
The Office remains committed to continue providing technical cooperation and advice to the Government of the DRC in its efforts to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights.
Moving now to the report of the Secretary-General on the role and achievements of OHCHR in assisting the Government and People of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights (A/HRC/27/43). It describes OHCHR’s activities in Cambodia between June 2013 and June 2014, in the rule of law area, on prison reform, on public freedoms, and economic and social rights.
I was pleased to visit Cambodia last April, and to see that cooperation between the Government and OHCHR has further strengthened.
Progress has been achieved in several areas, including the administration of justice. The backlog of criminal cases awaiting appeal is now maximum five years. While this is still too long, it is half of what it was when first addressed three years ago. Based on best practices from the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia,judges are now called upon to articulate the legal reasoning for their decisions on pre-trial detention. Also, in March 2014, OHCHR published Cambodia’s first Annotated Criminal Procedure Code, which draws extensively from the ECCC jurisprudence.
We also welcome the agreement reached in July between the ruling and opposition parties. It resolved the political stalemate that had led to street protests – some of which had been met with excessive force and restrictions on freedom of expression. OHCHR’s monitoring of the protests, related detentions and court proceedings played an important role in diffusing tensions on several occasions.
During the reporting period, Cambodia continued to interact with UN human rights mechanisms, notably CEDAW and the UPR, and OHCHR is working closely with the Government towards the implementation of the resulting recommendations. The Office also continued to support the work of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Mr. Surya P. Subedi.
We remain committed to assisting the Government in pursuing an ambitious programme to reform key institutions that are fundamental for human rights, particularly the judiciary.
Let me now turn to the report before you on the situation of human rights in Yemen (A/HRC/27/44). It provides an overview of human rights developments between July 2013 and June 2014, based on the work of the OHCHR office in Yemen.
The report welcomes the Government’s active cooperation with OHCHR and mentions some activities conducted by OHCHR in Yemen, including advice to the development of a draft transitional justice law as well as to the Constitutional Drafting Commission on the integration of international human rights standards into the new Constitution.
The report highlights some positive developments, such as the conclusion of the National Dialogue Conference, in January 2014, and its outcomes on the human rights of women, children, minorities and marginalized communities.
We remain concerned however about the continued marginalization of and violations against the Muhamasheen and other minorities – and we hope that the positive outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference regarding these communities will be incorporated into the new Constitution.
The deteriorating security situation, including in the capital, is of concern. All parties must now contribute to a peaceful transition and cooperate constructively in implementing the Outcome of the National Dialogue Conference.
For the transition to be successful, progress in the fight against impunity for past and chronic human rights violations, is critical. Here, two important steps could be taken:
- Adopt a Law on Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation that is aligned with relevant international standards, and
- Establish the national commission of inquiry into allegations of human rights violations that occurred in 2011.
OHCHR is looking forward to continuing its cooperation with the Government of Yemen to address these and other human rights challenges and opportunities.
Before concluding, let me just briefly draw your attention to another report that is before you today: The report on the human rights situation in South Sudan (A/HRC/27/74), which you had an opportunity to discuss at yesterday’s panel debate.