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Human Rights Council Hears Presentation of Reports on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and on Myanmar and Starts General Debate on Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

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12 March 2021

Concludes Interactive Dialogue with Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

12 March 2021
MORNING

The Human Rights Council this morning heard the presentation of the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of recommendations made by the group of independent experts on accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as well as an oral update of the Secretary-General on the involvement of the United Nations in Myanmar.  It then began its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.  The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Mahamane Cissé-Gouro, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting the High Commissioner’s second written report on the progress made towards promoting accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said the Office of the High Commissioner continued to gather information and analyse it in light of relevant international law, including over 400 interviews conducted by the field based structure in Seoul.  To develop strategies for accountability, the Office had created forums for cooperation among practitioners on accountability issues.  The Office’s analysis continued to confirm that there were reasonable grounds to believe that numerous crimes against humanity remained unaddressed and continued to be committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said the Secretary-General had been resolute in his condemnation of the use of lethal force against peaceful protestors and arbitrary arrests in Myanmar.  He continued to call for all parties to uphold the clear will of the people of Myanmar as expressed in the 8 November elections and release all detained persons, including State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint.  Since the coup of 1 February, the United Nations had undertaken a review of its programmes in Myanmar.  Only needs-based humanitarian assistance would continue, in keeping with the Organization’s solidarity with the people of Myanmar, while all other programmes would be subject to a rigid review against a number of criteria, including the human rights due diligence policy.

The President of the Council said the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was absent.

Myanmar, speaking as a country concerned, reiterated its commitment to honouring existing bilateral and multilateral agreements in line with its national interest and international obligations.  Myanmar always stood ready to cooperate with the Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Country Team, the main role of which was to take actions for effective integration, and to assist the development of the host country in accordance with the objectives and priorities of the host country at its request.  The Human Rights Council must uphold the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.  Politicisation and double standards should be avoided.

The Council then started its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Speakers said any anti-terror operations must comply with human rights law.  Many speakers expressed deep concern over the increasingly hostile environment experienced by human rights defenders across the world.  Persisting armed conflict, terrorism and migration crises exacerbated by COVID-19 were particularly worrying, as States were urged to more effectively protect human rights in their countries.  Some speakers said that police brutality, racial discrimination and political disinterest were deeply rooted in some developed countries, they must take concrete actions to solve their human rights problems rather than pointing fingers at developing countries. 

Speakers also discussed human rights violations taking placing in, or involving the following countries and territories: Myanmar, European Union Member States, United Kingdom, Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Poland, Russian Federation, China, Egypt, Belarus, Venezuela, Yemen, Philippines,  Ethiopia, Libya, Turkey,  South Sudan, Syria, Azerbaijan, Iran, Syria, Nicaragua, United States, France, Netherlands, Uganda, Somalia, Israel, Bahrain, India, Burundi, Ukraine, Georgia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Cuba and Zimbabwe.

Human rights violations in the following areas were also raised: Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, Tigray (Ethiopia), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, Jammu and Kashmir, Paris (France) Nantes (France), Lyon (France), Toulouse (France), Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, Tibet Autonomous Region of China, and Crimea (Ukraine). 

Armenia, Ukraine, Bahrain and China discussed the human rights situation in their own country.

Speaking in the general debate were Denmark on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Belarus on behalf of a group of countries, Cuba on behalf of a group of countries, Venezuela on behalf of a group of countries, Poland on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Finland on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Slovenia on behalf of a group of countries, Germany, France, Armenia, Venezuela, Philippines, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Japan, Netherlands, Namibia, Denmark, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Cameroon, China, Austria, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Sudan, Cuba, Bangladesh, Côte d'Ivoire, Czech Republic, Eritrea, Mexico, Finland, Israel, Canada, Slovenia, Belgium, Australia, Sweden, Malaysia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran, Malta, United States of America, Sri Lanka, Spain, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Syria, Luxembourg, South Sudan, Cyprus and Estonia.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

In the discussion, speakers welcomed South Sudan’s cooperation with the Council, but remained extremely concerned about the brutality and scale of human rights violations evidenced in the report.  Speakers expressed horror at the severest forms of sexual and gender-based violence, particularly conflict-related sexual violence that was committed in a climate of impunity.  Some speakers said it was important to avoid the politicisation of the international human rights mechanisms and urged the Council to consider moving the resolution on South Sudan under item 10, which was most appropriate for providing technical assistance.  Others said that the Truth Commission and the Hybrid Court must enjoy the full support of the Government - at this point they were not fully operational, thus speakers called on the Council to renew the mandate of the Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan for another year. 

Speaking were United Kingdom, European Union, Norway on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, Germany, Russian Federation, France, Netherlands, Venezuela, United States, Egypt, Belgium, Albania, China, Sierra Leone, Botswana, Ethiopia, Sudan, New Zealand, Ireland, Kenya, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Cameroon, Australia, Eritrea and Switzerland.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Elizka Relief Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Legal Action Worldwide.

In concluding remarks, Barney Afako, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, recalled that the Commission’s mandate was to collect evidence to support transitional justice; provide technical support related to transitional justice; and support the implementation of the Peace Agreement.  All countries should continue to support South Sudan and accompany the political transition. 

Andrew Clapham, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, in concluding remarks, expressed particular concerns about attacks on humanitarian actors.  To ensure transitional justice despite ongoing fighting, he said transitional justice efforts should go ahead and cover the Truth Commission and the Reparations Authority.

Yasmin Sooka, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said addressing impunity was fundamental to stop the carnage.  Women’s and girls’ bodies were used as spoils of war.  Armed groups believed they could use them as chattels, and believed they could get away with it, as impunity had become entrenched. 

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-sixth regular session can be found here

The Council will next meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon to resume the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, followed by a debate on the mid-term review of the International Decade for People of African Descent.  The general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention will resume on Monday, 15 March at 10 a.m. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

The interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan started in a previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers welcomed South Sudan’s cooperation with the Council but remained extremely concerned about the brutality and scale of human rights violations evidenced in the report.  They expressed horror at the severest forms of sexual and gender-based violence, particularly conflict-related sexual violence, committed in a climate of impunity.  Much more needed to be done, and quickly, to implement the Revitalized Peace Agreement.  All major armed groups bore responsibility but the Government of South Sudan had the primary responsibility to protect the population.  Violations of the right to privacy, including by the National Intelligence Service, were alarming.  Some speakers emphasised that the necessary conditions to move the country forward had already been created with the establishment of the Transitional National Unity Government and the Hybrid Court of Justice.  At the same time, the process had slowed, with parties appearing not ready to make further compromises.  Some speakers said it was important to avoid the politicisation of the international human rights mechanisms and urged the Council to consider moving the resolution on South Sudan under item 10, which was most appropriate for providing technical assistance. 

Speakers said that attacks on humanitarian workers remained unabated, making South Sudan one of the most dangerous areas to operate in the world.  The Truth Commission and the Hybrid Court must enjoy the full support of the Government - at this point they were not fully operational, thus speakers called on the Council to renew the mandate of the Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan for another year.  Speakers were alarmed that politically motivated violence was triggering and exacerbating a food crisis on levels not seen since the country’s independence.  Over 100,000 citizens had already experienced famine and over 60 per cent of the population were at risk of food insecurity by mid-2021.  Conflict at the local level and attacks against civilians and human rights defenders were particularly concerning.  A pervasive culture of intimidation restricted press freedom and female civil society representatives were intimidated and harassed.  Women across the country were in a vulnerable position, as abductions, sexual violence, rape and sexual slavery were too common.  Extrajudicial executions, child soldier recruitment, forced displacement and torture committed by all parties were alarming.  South Sudan must muster the political will required to strengthen democratic institutions. 

Concluding Remarks

BARNEY AFAKO, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, recalled that the Commission had been established after the conclusion of the peace agreement in 2015.  Accordingly, its mandate was to collect evidence to support transitional justice; provide technical support related to transitional justice; and support the implementation of the Peace Agreement.  All countries should continue to support South Sudan and accompany the political transition.  The roadmap was outlined in the Peace Agreement, notably as regards the establishment of a national army and reconciliation institutions.

ANDREW CLAPHAM, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, expressed particular concerns about attacks on humanitarian actors.  To ensure transitional justice despite the ongoing fighting, transitional justice efforts should go ahead and cover the Truth Commission and the Reparations Authority.  The Commission was providing support to the Government in that regard.  The voices of civil society should be included in any arrangements.

YASMIN SOOKA, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said the Commission was grateful for the continued support for the Government of South Sudan by the international community.  Addressing impunity was fundamental to stop the carnage.  Women’s and girls’ bodies were used as spoils of war.  Armed groups believed they could use them as chattels, and believed they could get away with it, as impunity had become entrenched.  The Government should sign the memorandum of understanding with the African Union to kickstart the process of accountability and justice.

Presentation of the Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Report

The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights A/HRC/46/52 on promoting accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Presentation of Report

MAHAMANE CISSÉ-GOURO, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting the High Commissioner’s second written report on the progress made towards promoting accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said the Office of the High Commissioner continued to gather information and analyse it in light of relevant international law, including over 400 interviews conducted by the field based structure in Seoul.  To develop strategies for accountability, the Office had created forums for cooperation among practitioners on accountability issues.  The Office also provided support and technical advice to civil society organizations, international lawyers and victims’ groups.  Over 4,000 files had now been preserved in the evidence repository, a key resource for any future truth and justice process.  The Office’s analysis continued to confirm that there were reasonable grounds to believe that numerous crimes against humanity remained unaddressed and continued to be committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  In this regard, the Office continuously sought to cooperate with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to support it to ensure accountability for human rights violations and to undertake broader law reforms.  The Government had refused all such offers. 

The work of the Office in pursuit of justice and accountability for human rights violations was an investment in the future and a necessary precondition for a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.  The Office was concerned about the longstanding and enduring suffering of the victims - time was running out for them.  The prosecution of the alleged international crimes committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must remain a priority, including through a referral to the International Criminal Court or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal.  It was imperative to ensure that information continued to be collected and preserved to support future accountability strategies as well as complementary, non-judicial measures that assisted the victims in their quest for justice, truth and reparation.  Mr. Cissé-Gouro expressed hope that the Council would make clear that these crimes should not go unpunished, and that the human rights of the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had not been forgotten.

Presentation of Secretary-General’s Oral Update on the Involvement of the United Nations in Myanmar

KHALED KHIARI, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said a discussion on the implementation of the recommendations contained in Gert Rosenthal’s report, entitled “A brief and independent inquiry into the involvement of the United Nations in Myanmar from 2010 to 2018”, could not be more timely.  The prevention capacity of the United Nations continued to be challenged, including once again in Myanmar following the military’s takeover on 1 February.  The Secretary-General had demonstrated early and strong leadership.  This had included his call on Member States to collectively come together, including in the Security Council, to help prevent further escalation of the crisis.  The Secretary-General had been resolute in his condemnation of the use of lethal force against peaceful protestors and arbitrary arrests in Myanmar.  He continued to call for all parties to uphold the clear will of the people of Myanmar as expressed in the 8 November elections and release all detained persons, including State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint.  The Secretary-General accepted all recommendations included in Mr. Rosenthal’s report. 

In Myanmar, the Resident Coordinator and the Country Team had made a concerted effort to strengthen capacities to engage on human rights matters and developed a human rights strategy and accompanying implementation plan to guide this effort.  They had also put into place an early warning mechanism, and the development of a due diligence framework was underway.  However, calls for a more robust monitoring presence in Myanmar were difficult to pursue when access to the country was not granted.  Since the coup of 1 February, the United Nations had undertaken a review of its programmes in Myanmar.  Only needs-based humanitarian assistance would continue, in keeping with the Organization’s solidarity with the people of Myanmar, while all other programmes would be subject to a rigid review against a number of criteria, including the human rights due diligence policy.

Statement by Concerned Country

The President of the Council said that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was not present in the room.

Myanmar, speaking as a country concerned, took note of the oral update by the representative of the Secretary-General and said that Myanmar reiterated its commitment to honouring existing bilateral and multilateral agreements in line with its national interest and international obligations.  Myanmar always stood ready to cooperate with the Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Country Team, the main role of which was to take actions for effective integration, and to assist the development of the host country in accordance with the objectives and priorities of the host country at its request.  In this regard, consultation with the host country was the utmost requirement of the Country Team.  Myanmar believed that mutual trust between the host country and the United Nations agencies could be built and strengthened through coordination and cooperation manners, not confrontational approaches.  In this regard, transparency and sincere cooperation played an important role in building trust among all relevant stakeholders.  The Human Rights Council must uphold the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.  Politicisation and double standards should be avoided.

General Debate on Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

Speakers said that interference into affairs that fell strictly within a country's national jurisdiction contravened the United Nations Charter and international law.  They drew attention to the danger posed by Islamophobia and urged the Council to consider the human rights situation in contexts of occupation in particular.  The issues of poverty and gender inequality should also be on the top of the Council’s agenda, as should be an equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines.  Some speakers deplored the numerous instances of use of force by the police against desperate people merely exercising their human rights, including the recourse to water cannons.  All sides should promote and protect human rights through constructive dialogue and cooperation and firmly oppose the politicisation of human rights and double standards.  Speakers emphasised the importance of the Universal Periodic Review, as the main mechanism of the United Nations to address all United Nations Member States’ human rights issues, based on the sovereign equality of States, cooperation, and constructive dialogue, which had proven its full effectiveness.

Any anti-terror operations must comply with human rights law.  Many speakers expressed deep concern over the increasingly hostile environment experienced by human rights defenders across the world.  At a time when the COVID-19 virus was ravaging the world, too many countries continued to detain those standing up for human rights.  Persisting armed conflict, terrorism and migration crises exacerbated by COVID-19 were particularly worrying, as States were called on to more effectively protect human rights in their countries.  Police brutality, racial discrimination and political disinterest were deeply rooted in some developed countries, which must take concrete actions to solve their human rights problems rather than pointing fingers at developing countries.  Speakers expressed their belief in the value of the work in the Council, particularly with regard to the prevention of human rights violations.  The pushback on women’s and girls’ rights, as well as the shrinking civic space in many countries was alarming.  An active civil society provided a key contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights.  The rights of ethnic and religious minority groups must be protected.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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