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Human Rights Council Opens Forty-Eighth Regular Session, Hearing the High Commissioner’s Global Human Rights Update and Her Separate Updates on Venezuela, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka

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13 September 2021

MORNING

13 September 2021

Council Holds Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, Hears Address by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its forty-eighth regular session, hearing a global human rights update from Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as separate updates on the human rights situations in Venezuela, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka.

In her global update, the High Commissioner addressed the climate change crisis “as the single greatest challenge to human rights of our era”. She also referred to the COVIC-19 crisis and urged the rebuilding of greener post-pandemic economies.

The interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s updates will be held on Tuesday, 14 September.

The Council then held an interactive dialogue with Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, who said that tragically, grave crimes and international law violations were still being committed in Myanmar. “There is more than ever a need to stop impunity and break the cycle of violence”, he said, adding that evidence showed security forces targeting specific categories of population as well as thousands being detained without due process of law.

Earlier this morning, China and the Russian Federation took the floor, expressing their concern that the country under discussion, Myanmar, should have the right to speak in specific countries dialogue. Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed its disagreement, stating that there was no requirement for the presence of the country concerned. Nazhat Shameen Khan, President of the Human Rights Council, said the dialogue would go ahead without the participation of Myanmar.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue on Myanmar were Finland, Pakistan, Lichtenstein, France, European Union, Indonesia, Luxembourg, Egypt, Australia, Bangladesh, Austria, Netherlands, United States, Turkey, Ireland, Malaysia, Namibia, Mauritania, Malawi, and United Kingdom.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, International Bar Association, Asian Legal Resource Centre, International Commission of Jurists and CIVICUS.

At the end of the meeting, the Council heard an address by Heiko Maas, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany. He said that after 20 years of engagement, the international community and Germany in particular had a moral obligation to continue helping the Afghan people. Germany supported a strong mandate for the Human Rights Council to monitor the human rights situation in Afghanistan and demanded that the Taliban respect basic human rights, particularly the rights of women and minorities

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-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 3 p.m. this afternoon to hold an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Opening Remarks by the President of the Human Rights Council

NAZHAT SHAMEEN KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, extended a warm welcome to Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and to all delegations and other stakeholders following this meeting physically and virtually. She welcomed 16 government officials whose participation had been made possible by the Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to support the participation of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in the work of the Council and its donor countries. The delegates were from Benin, Cambodia, Comoros, the Gambia, Lesotho, Maldives, Mali, Mauritius, Nepal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Sudan, Suriname, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia. She indicated that Heiko Maas, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Germany would speak to the Council this morning.

Ms. Khan reminded the audience that the Council would not tolerate any form of harassment, including sexual harassment, and that every complaint would be addressed immediately. She also assured that she would follow up on all allegations of acts of reprisal committed against persons in connection to their contribution to the work of the Human Rights Council, its mechanisms and procedures.

Participation of Myanmar in the Work of the Council

NAZHAT SHAMEEN KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, said that pending consideration by the General Assembly on the representation of Myanmar, the secretariat would not be in a position to process requests regarding the participation of anyone as part of the delegation of Myanmar in Council meetings, including during this session. In light of this situation, the Bureau proposed, for the approval of the Council, the postponement of the consideration and adoption of the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Myanmar to the forty-ninth session.

China expressed concerns that the country under discussion, Myanmar, should have the right to speak in the specific countries dialogue.

Russian Federation supported China’s position.

Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed its disagreement and said that the dialogue should be held as scheduled without the participation of the concerned country as this would set a dangerous precedent and that there was no requirement for the presence of the country concerned.

NAZHAT SHAMEEN KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, said the Council would proceed with the three interactive dialogues on Myanmar as scheduled, without the participation of the country concerned.

Adoption of Programme of Work of the Session

NAZHAT SHAMEEN KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, presented the draft programme of work for the forty-eighth session. The Council then adopted the programme of work.
Global Update on Human Rights by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she would update the Council on a series of human rights situations and themes that were of concern to her Office. Recent months had unleashed monumental fires, huge sudden floods, Arctic heatwaves leading to unprecedented methane emissions, and the persistence of interminable drought. “As these environmental threats intensify, they will constitute the single greatest challenge to human rights of our era”, she said.

In Madagascar, hundreds of thousands of people were facing extreme hunger after four years without rainfall, leading the World Food Programme to warn about "the world’s first climate change-induced famine". The humanitarian emergency in Sahel countries was also fuelled by climate change and the High Commissioner explained that sustaining peace required human rights-based approaches, and that her Office was implementing a project in the region with a specific focus on Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria. Displacement due to environmental disaster was a particularly serious phenomenon in Asia where the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre had reported that in 2019, China, Bangladesh, India and the Philippines had witnessed more disaster displacement than all other countries combined – amounting to 70 per cent of the global total. In Bangladesh, 17 per cent of the country would be submerged by rising sea levels, depriving 20 million people of their homes, whereas the Maldives was already experiencing severe harms which would only get worse as sea-levels rise. Moreover, across much of South East Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, forecasts indicated that by 2050 daily high tides could flood areas where over 48 million people now lived, while annual flooding would on average affect the homes of over 79 million people.

The High Commissioner said that immediate action should be taken for more sustainable environmental and resource management policies to address access to water in the Middle East and North Africa. In Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, the Central American “Dry Corridor” was a striking example of the impact of climate change on poverty, displacement and fundamental human rights. The High Commissioner stated that restoring the ecosystems of the Dry Corridor and recognising the rights of its inhabitants would support livelihoods and help prevent displacement.

In many regions, environmental human rights defenders were being threatened, harassed and even killed, often with complete impunity. In Brazil, the High Commissioner was alarmed by recent attacks against members of the Yanomami and Munduruku peoples by illegal miners in the Amazon and urged the authorities to reverse policies that negatively affected indigenous peoples, and to refrain from withdrawing from ILO Convention 169, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. Environmental human rights defenders in several South-East Asian States continued to face criminalisation, harassment, surveillance and other undue restrictions of their rights. Even where Governments had sought to preserve forests, these efforts had frequently fallen short of the sustainable and human rights-based conservation which was needed.

Concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, the High Commissioner stated that billions of dollars would need to be spent on rebuilding and supporting national economies and that policy choices could direct spending into new, green directions that tackled inequalities and stimulated innovative environmental solutions that also upheld and promoted human rights. “We must set the bar higher – indeed, our common future depends on it”, she declared, insisting that environmental damage usually hurt most those who were least protected – the poorest and most marginalised people, and the poorest nations, which often had the least capacity to respond.

Alongside this discussion on the urgent environmental crises facing humanity, the High Commissioner drew the Council's attention to a number of specific and fast-moving situations. In Chad, a formal Roadmap for Transition adopted by the Transitional Government in July included provisions for a national dialogue; a new Constitution and constitutional referendum; significant legal reforms; and national elections by September 2022. In Mali, following the coup d’état in May – the second in 10 months – violent extremist activity and severe human rights violations and abuses were unabated, spreading also to previously unaffected areas in the southern part of the country. She additionally expressed concerns about the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the Central African Republic, where long-standing patterns of impunity were a major concern in the country, due in part to weak national institutions and lack of independent and functioning justice systems.

In Haiti, last month's earthquake had added even more suffering to the country's extensive human rights crisis and she encouraged all actors involved in reconstruction efforts to focus on the need to build greater resilience for the country, with sustainable progress on economic and social rights, with special attention to women and girls. In the Czech Republic, the High Commissioner welcomed legislation adopted last month that enabled women and men to receive compensation for having been sterilized unlawfully and without consent.

She also noted with great interest China’s new National Action Plan on Human Rights 2021-2025 which had been released this month, including its focus on climate change, environment, digital privacy and responsible business practice. She regretted not being able to report progress on meaningful access to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. She acknowledged the Indian authorities’ efforts to counter terrorism and promote development in the region, noting that such restrictive measures could result in human rights violations and foster further tensions and discontent.

In Nepal, the High Commissioner hoped the new Government would take early steps to restore the independence of the National Human Rights Commission through a transparent process in line with the Paris Principles. In Iraq, she regretted the failure to hold accountable the perpetrators of human rights violations against demonstrators – and others voicing criticism, stating that this impunity, and continued violent attacks against people who had criticised assassinations, abductions, torture and other severe violations, facilitated the repetition of such crimes and raised serious concerns ahead of next month's elections.

In Tunisia, Ms. Bachellet explained that the President's suspension of Parliament and dismissal of the Prime Minister raised institutional questions for the effective protection of human rights in the future. She encouraged any reform measures to fully respect the principle of separation of powers. In Lebanon, she noted the rise of poverty and conjoined social, economic and political crises and their serious and deepening human rights impact. She expressed concerns over the growing inter- and intra-communal tensions. Mentioning the Syrian refugees, she said Lebanon should be commended for its welcome.

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the High Commissioner deplored continued and increasing instances of excessive or entirely unwarranted use of force against Palestinian civilians by Israeli Security Forces, specifying that the regular resort to lethal force was clearly at odds with international standards. She also expressed deep concerns about crackdowns on dissent by the Government of the State of Palestine in recent months and called on the authorities to ensure the safety of protesters and to respect fundamental freedoms. Concerned about reports of excessive and unwarranted force against people who had peacefully demonstrated for democratic reforms in recent months in Eswatini, she urged meaningful investigations and accountability for these human rights violations.

In Zambia, she welcomed last month's peaceful transfer of power, as well as the new Government's stated commitment to strengthening democracy, human rights and the rule of law with a diverse and inclusive approach.

High Commissioner’s Presentation of the Report on the Situation of Human Rights and Technical Assistance in Venezuela

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that following two years of her team’s presence in Venezuela, they kept expanding their areas of cooperation, access and presence and in this spirit had agreed, last Friday, to renew their Letter of Understanding, doubling the number of human rights officers in the country from 6 to 12. She explained that over the last year, her team had been providing technical assistance in various ways, including by assessing the compliance of public institutions with the Minnesota and Istanbul protocols as well as developing tailored protocols to guide increased accountability in relation to the protection of the rights to life and physical integrity. She reiterated her call for the full release of all those arbitrarily detained and welcomed the acquittal of Jaulio Bratar.

The High Commissioner said her team continued to accompany authorities in their preparation for the upcoming Universal Periodic Review and promote the ratification of all core human rights treaties, such as the Convention against Enforced Disappearance. Despite economic and social programmes put in place to alleviate the situation, and some improvements achieved over recent years, income levels continued to be dramatically low and insufficient to ensure an adequate standard of living and affected access to food and education. She encouraged the strengthening of access to basic services, particularly for the most vulnerable groups and with special attention to ensuring equal access, preventing discrimination, and guaranteeing participation, transparency and public oversight.

Presentation of Update by the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that since the Council’s special session on Afghanistan on 24 August, the people of Afghanistan had faced violence and yet further profound upheaval. She was concerned by reports of civilian casualties and human rights abuses, as a result of the fighting in Panjshir valley, as well as the growing hardship caused by the dire humanitarian situation there. Facing a deepening humanitarian and economic crisis, Afghanistan had entered a new and perilous phase, with many Afghans profoundly concerned for their human rights, particularly women, ethnic and religious communities.

The Office of the High Commissioner had received credible allegations of reprisal killings of a number of former personnel of the Afghan National Security Forces, and reports of officials, who worked for previous administrations and their family members, being arbitrarily detained, in addition to have received multiple allegations of the Taliban conducting house-to-house searches looking for specific government officials and people who had cooperated with United States’ security forces and companies. The High Commissioner was deeply troubled by Taliban raids on offices of some non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, as well as by women having been progressively excluded from the public sphere.

“All Afghans are entitled to respect of their fundamental rights and freedoms”, Ms. Bachelet said, adding that “Afghan women and girls have equal rights to men and boys”. In addition to the lack of inclusivity of the so-called caretaker cabinet – which included no women, and few non-Pashtuns, the High Commissioner was profoundly alarmed by the escalating humanitarian crisis and called on all States to assist the United Nations and other actors with the provision of humanitarian assistance to the country. Acknowledging the efforts of numerous States to evacuate and relocate, among others at risk, human rights and women’s rights defenders in urgent need of protection, she also emphasised the need to support neighbouring countries that were sheltering large numbers of Afghan refugees.

Presentation by the High Commissioner of the Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in Nicaragua

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that Nicaraguans should be able to exercise their right to vote without intimidation and violence, and that those who wished to do so should be able to freely present their candidacies, and voters should be able to engage in election campaigns. Her Office had documented the arbitrary detention of political leaders, human rights defenders, businessmen and businesswomen, journalists, and peasant and student leaders, including six men and one woman who had publicly stated that they wanted to run for the presidency. Several of these arbitrary detentions, especially in the case of women, present elements that could be considered torture or ill-treatment, she added. Attacks on freedom of expression had intensified and threats by the Public Prosecutor's Office against several journalists and media workers had prompted many of them to leave Nicaragua to seek protection. She said that similar patterns of repression were being registered against human rights defenders, social and political leaders, lawyers and medical and personnel of non-governmental organizations, among others.

With this deterioration of the situation in Nicaragua, it was imperative that the Government once again guaranteed the full exercise of the civil and political rights of all Nicaraguans. The solution to this crisis required the participation of all sectors of society and must be based on human rights norms and standards. The High Commissioner urged the Council to consider all measures within its reach to promote and protect human rights in Nicaragua.

Presentation by the High Commissioner of the Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in Sri Lanka

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was pleased that the Government of Sri Lanka was “committed to work with the United Nations to ensure accountability” and that it would implement "necessary institutional reforms” and looked forward to seeing concrete actions to this effect. Militarisation and the lack of accountability continued to have an impact on fundamental rights, civic space, democratic institutions, social cohesion and sustainable development, after a new state of emergency was declared in Sri Lanka on 30 August, with very broad emergency regulations which may further expand the role of the military in civilian functions. The High Commissioner feared that new regulations on civil society groups that were being drafted would further tighten restrictions on fundamental freedoms and urged that the draft be made public to allow the broadest possible discussion.

The new “de-radicalisation” regulations permitted arbitrary administrative detention of individuals for up to two years without trial, the High Commissioner said, noting that the Supreme Court had issued an interim stay order on their enforcement while it considered fundamental rights petitions to challenge the decree. As for the problematic Prevention of Terrorism Act, she explained that the Government had reaffirmed its intention to revisit it and had established a Cabinet sub-committee for this purpose, despite her Office expressing concerns about the continued use of the Act to arrest and detain people. Ms. Bachelet stressed the importance of transparent, victim-centred and gender sensitive approaches, adding that reparations programmes must be accompanied by broader truth and justice measures.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Presentation of the Report

NICHOLAS KOUMJIAN, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, said that tragically, grave crimes and international law violations were still being committed in Myanmar. “There is more than ever a need to stop impunity and break the cycle of violence”, he said, adding that evidence showed security forces targeting specific categories of population as well as thousands being detained without due process of law. Since the military coup in February, the Mechanism had received evidence of unjustified use of force against peaceful protests, arbitrary detention, torture, forced disappearance and murders. The Mechanism had received more than 219,000 information items on violations related to the coup, with proof that the security forces were systematically targeting specific categories such as journalists and health professionals. Based on international law, systemic attacks against civilians could be considered crimes against humanity, hence they fell under the mandate of the Mechanism.

Mr. Koumjian said the mandate of the Mechanism was to gather evidence and build cases that could help facilitate prosecutions under national, regional and international courts. The work of the Mechanism was challenging as investigating international crimes was a long and complex process. Since the Mechanism was not a court, accountability for the crimes it investigated depended upon finding competent authorities willing and able to hold the perpetrators accountable in fair proceedings. The Mechanism would then share its evidence as it had begun to do for proceedings in the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice. He expressed his gratitude to civil society organizations and stated that the Mechanism would continue to do all it could to collect evidence of the most serious crimes so that one day there would be justice for victims from Myanmar.

Discussion

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, speakers reiterated that the military coup from February 2021 and the multiple human rights violations forced the international community to remain focused on Myanmar. A number of delegations deplored the use of gender-based sexual violence as a way to target civilians, highlighting violence against children. Speakers regretted that the crisis in the state of Rakhine had still not been resolved and reiterated that accountability mechanisms were essential to find a just and sustainable solution to the Rohingyas crisis. The possibility of investigating crimes against humanity perpetrated by the military junta were also highlighted. The mandate of the mechanism had been judged essential to hold accountable the gravest crimes committed in the country. All parties urged the Government to facilitate access to information in order to facilitate the work of the Mechanism. Some speakers urged the Mechanism to work only as a proof-collecting body, not as a commission of inquiry.

Concluding Remarks

NICHOLAS KOUMJIAN, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, said that he was currently recruiting additional staff and trying to enhance their language capacities as many witnesses and victims spoke different languages. The Mechanism was also using social media such as a website that they had established to try and get their message out about what they were doing and how they worked. He highlighted that his highest priority was the protection of those who wanted to cooperate with the Mechanism, especially for those who felt at risk. The Mechanism, he added, was seeking ways of engaging safely with those individuals to ensure their safety and security, adding that he appreciated all cooperation in this regard. Cooperation with tribunals was something he was working on as he understood that it was very important that the efforts made to gather evidence would be usable in court.

Statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany

HEIKO MAAS, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Germany, said that after 20 years of engagement, the international community and Germany in particular had a moral obligation to continue helping the Afghan people. That was why Germany was significantly upping its humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries. Germany supported a strong mandate for the Human Rights Council to monitor the human rights situation in Afghanistan. Germany demanded that the Taliban respect basic human rights, particularly the rights of women and minorities. Beyond Afghanistan, the human rights situation was concerning in many other parts of the world. Human rights violations must not go unpunished. Germany had raised its voluntary contribution for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to more than $ 11 million this year.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-mme-bachelet-presente-ses-mises



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