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45th session of the Human Rights Council - Item 10
Presentation of reports by Ms. Georgette Gagnon Director, Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division

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5 October 2020

Geneva, 5 October 2020

Room XIX, Palais des Nations

Madam President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have the honour to introduce three reports on behalf of the High Commissioner:

  • 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/45/56);
  • The Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Cooperation with Georgia (A/HRC/45/54); and

  • The report of the High Commissioner on the implementation of technical assistance provided to the National Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen (A/HRC/45/57).

Let me first introduce 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, which covers the work of the OHCHR office in the country from 1 June 2019 to 31 May 2020.

OHCHR has continued to provide technical assistance to strengthen the administration of justice and protect fundamental freedoms and economic, social and cultural rights, including in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the period covered by the report, the situation in Cambodia was marked by a further tightening of political and civic space. We continued to observe the use of legal and administrative measures targeting political activists, human rights defenders and critics of the Government. During this period, at least 140 persons associated with the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party were arrested; and the ongoing treason case against Mr. Kem Sokha, the acting president of that party, is part of a larger pattern of laws arbitrarily applied to target political opponents.

The report outlines at least 46 instances where the activities of civil society organizations were subjected to interference, intimidation or harassment by authorities. Following the finalization of the report, at least 24 more human rights defenders have been arrested and detained in the space of one month. On 7 September, one female human rights defender was arrested after leaving the OHCHR office in Phnom Penh. We have also witnessed unnecessary and excessive use of force by security forces against women peacefully demonstrating, including violently pushing and dragging them along the ground.

We call on the Government to immediately and unconditionally release those detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms and to bring an end to the environment of intimidation against civil society.

The Office continues to provide technical assistance to improve safeguards for the right to fair trial and to address the long-standing issue of prison overcrowding. We have thus been encouraging the Government to introduce non-custodial measures and alternatives to detention, and to develop guidelines and procedures to reduce pre-trial detention.

The Office also supports Cambodia in addressing challenges to land and housing rights, specifically forced evictions, resettlement and land titling processes. The allocation and use of land continue to exacerbate structural inequality, disproportionately affecting persons living in poverty and in situations of marginalization. We have made practical recommendations for the Government to streamline the communal land titling process for indigenous peoples and to adopt national guidelines to ensure any necessary evictions and relocations are conducted in line with international human rights standards.

While acknowledging the efforts of the Government to address the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage a robust human rights-based response. This includes measures to protect groups of particular vulnerability, including indigenous peoples and minorities, floating communities, persons deprived of their liberty, pregnant women, persons with disabilities, older persons and persons with underlying illnesses.

OHCHR remains committed to engage with the Government, civil society, communities and other United Nations partners, and to assist Cambodia in addressing the pressing human rights challenges outlined in the report of the Secretary-General.

Madam President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am now turning to the report of the High Commissioner on cooperation with Georgia.

The report provides an update on the technical assistance delivered by OHCHR and on key human rights developments from 1 June 2019 to 31 May 2020, including main concerns in and around Abkhazia, Georgia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia.

OHCHR appreciates the productive cooperation with the Government of Georgia, the Public Defender and civil society, and welcomes important steps, such as the establishment of the Office of the State Inspector and the inclusive process to elaborate the 2021-2030 National Human Rights Strategy. We also note the Government's efforts towards a human rights centred response to COVID-19.

We regret that LGBTI persons continue to face obstacles in exercising their rights, and note the persisting challenges faced by the Muslim community in Batumi in obtaining a permit to build a mosque. We encourage the Government of Georgia to intensify its efforts to combat all forms of discrimination.

Madam President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

OHCHR still has no access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite repeated requests by the Human Rights Council to that end.

The report highlights persisting human rights violations in and around these regions, notably restrictions of freedom of movement, discriminatory criteria to access personal documentation, and violations of the rights to education and property. The continuation of the so-called "borderization", prolonged closure of crossing points, and detentions for "unauthorized crossings" exacerbate the vulnerable socio-economic condition of the conflict-affected populations. In particular, we urge relevant parties to guarantee access to prompt and/or regular medical assistance available in Tbilisi-controlled territory, not least in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The death of a young man in South Ossetia, reported in August 2020, allegedly due to injuries sustained from torture or ill-treatment in custody, renewed concerns about the treatment of detainees. We urge all relevant authorities to ensure accountability in this and four previous cases of deprivation of life that occurred in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

To conclude, we reiterate the call for OHCHR to access both regions, and our readiness to assist in addressing human rights protection gaps and to contribute constructively to building confidence.

Madam President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to introduce the report of the High Commissioner on the implementation of technical assistance provided to the National Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen (A/HRC/45/57).

The conflict in Yemen is now in its sixth year, with no respite for the civilian population. Since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015, OHCHR has recorded the killing of 7,897 civilians, including 2,170 children, and the injury of 12,554 civilians.

The conduct of hostilities by all parties to the conflict continues to have an extreme impact on civilians, and many attacks may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law. 3.65 million people have been displaced; their living conditions are disastrous as they lack access to food, education, adequate housing and basic health care facilities.

It is in this difficult context that the National Commission continues to operate.

Over the last year, the Office organized activities to strengthen the knowledge of the Commission's investigators and field monitors - on international standards for human rights monitoring and documentation of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances; and on the standards of evidence in criminal investigations, and evidence collection and preservation.

Unfortunately, the capacity building activities planned for April to September 2020 had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the restrictions imposed to prevent its spread. OHCHR is in discussion with the Commission to identify alternatives to in-person activities, including on-line workshops and discussions.

OHCHR's technical support over the past years has strengthened the Commission's capacity to monitor, document and report. It has thus enhanced its reporting on different types of human rights violations and abuses and of violations of international humanitarian law, including child recruitment and forced displacement. To date, it has produced eight reports, documenting over 21,000 human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by the various parties to the conflict.

Yet, the Commission continues to face considerable challenges, including security and political constraints, which have significantly impeded its ability to safely and freely conduct comprehensive investigations. The de facto authorities in Sana'a have not cooperated with the Commission and have not granted it access to areas they control.

The Commission's members and staff have faced difficulties in interacting with victims and witnesses due to the lack of solid protection mechanisms. Moreover, as the Commission has only one office in Aden and a sub-office in Taiz, it is almost impossible for individuals living in remote areas and areas under the control of the de facto authorities to report cases to it.

The report includes recommendations that could reinforce the work and impact of the Commission. This includes strengthening the mandate of the Commission so that it can effectively fulfil its role as an independent mechanism, and providing it with sufficient financial resources to expand its accessibility and outreach. The report also recommends that the Attorney-General systematically and promptly act upon the cases received from the Commission, whoever the alleged perpetrators are. Further recommendations are addressed to the Commission itself.

We call on all parties to the conflict to fully cooperate with the Commission to enable it to safely and effectively fulfil its mandate, notably by granting it access to all areas of Yemen, including all places of deprivation of liberty, and providing it with all relevant information it requests.

OHCHR has taken note of the Commission's willingness to continue enhancing its capacity, and we stand ready to continue to support it.

Thank you.


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