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Reports of Extra Judicial Executions Continue in the Context of Security Operations in Venezuela and Access to Basic Services Continue to be Scarce, Says High Commissioner to Human Rights Council

Commission of Inquiry on Burundi tells the Council that Serious Human Rights Violations Continue to be Committed and Omnipresence of Imbonerakure in Public Sphere Must be Restricted

Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan Says Current Violence is the Worst since the Onset of the Civil War and is Worsened by a Humanitarian Crisis, COVID-19 and Floods

10 March 2021
MORNING

The Human Rights Council this morning held separate interactive dialogues on the oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, on the oral update of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, and on the report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. 

In her oral update, Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted the positive steps taken by the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, noting that the Office would continue to provide technical assistance.  Reports of extra judicial executions continued in the context of security operations and in early January, at least 14 individuals were allegedly killed during an operation conducted in the Caracas neighbourhood of La Vega.  Since September, the access to basic services like medical assistance, water, gas, food and petrol, had continued to be scarcer, and was further limited by the effect of the pandemic.  This had contributed to sparking social protests, and severely compounded the humanitarian situation. 

Venezuela, speaking as a country concerned, reiterated its steadfast rejection of imposing resolutions against sovereign countries, particularly, when they did not have the consent of the State concerned.  The High Commissioner’s concerns were noted and a detailed response to them would be provided in due course.  The oral update lacked balance.  Facts and circumstances were presented that had not been duly verified with the Venezuelan authorities, despite the presence of the office in the country.  Venezuela reaffirmed its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and its willingness to continue cooperating with the Council, its mechanisms, and the Office of the High Commissioner.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers regretted the missed opportunity for democracy in Venezuela, referring to the 6 December 2020 legislative elections that had lacked the minimum standards for a democratic process.  The persistent deterioration of the human rights situation in Venezuela was a matter of great concern for speakers, who denounced escalating restrictions on civic and democratic space, including press freedoms.  Other speakers noted that Western States preferred not to notice Venezuela’s efforts and its significant achievements, particularly in the areas of eliminating racial, national, religious, gendered and ageist discrimination, as well as providing access to education and culture to its population.  The constructive engagement of Venezuela with the Office of the High Commissioner was welcomed - the brutal impact of unilateral sanctions against the country could not be ignored.

Speaking were European Union, Peru on behalf of a group of countries, Brazil, Russian Federation, Ecuador, Japan, Iran, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Peru, Spain, Albania, Uruguay, Belarus, China, Syria, United Kingdom, Georgia, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Cuba, Slovakia, Argentina, Colombia and Bolivia.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Fundación Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarrollo Social, Caritas Internationalis (International Confederation of Catholic Charities), Ingenieurs du Monde, International Commission of Jurists, United Nations Watch, Asociacion HazteOir.org, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, Centre for Justice and International Law, Amnesty International, and Advocates for Human Rights.

The Council then held an interactive dialogue on the oral update of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. 

In his oral update, Doudou Diène, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, noted that since the last report, the Security Council had decided to withdraw Burundi from its work programme and the European Union had begun a gradual resumption of political dialogue with the Burundian authorities.  In recent months, the repatriation of Burundian refugees from neighbouring countries had accelerated, including from Rwanda.  However, serious human rights violations continued to be committed; the freedom and safety of journalists and of the press must be guaranteed; and it was crucial to restrict the omnipresence of Imbonerakure in the public sphere, as they continued to replace law enforcement and security forces on a regular basis. 

Burundi, speaking as a country concerned, reiterated its firm opposition to the political allegations made against it in violation of the United Nations Charter with regard to the obligation of non-interference in the internal affairs of States.  Burundi had made great progress - internally the Government was working to improve good governance, public health, justice for all, the fight against poverty, tackling youth unemployment, social protection, and the strengthening of peace, reconciliation and social cohesion.  Over 5,000 prisoners had just been granted a presidential pardon, including four journalists.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers welcomed the release of four journalists from the media group IWACU after receiving a presidential pardon, the reopening of certain media, the presidential decree of 5 March aimed at improving detention conditions, as well as the lifting of the Internet blockade by the authorities.  The Government of Burundi was urged to cooperate with the Commission.  The human rights situation in Burundi was still fragile and reports of continuing violations by the Imbonerakure and security forces were alarming.  Some speakers said that imposing country specific mandates was inefficient and only served political interests.  It represented a violation of the United Nations Charter and the principle of non-interference.  Such a practice was counterproductive and did not contribute to a conducive spirit of cooperation. 

Speaking were European Union, Norway on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, Russian Federation, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Venezuela, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, United States, Egypt, Belgium, Belarus, China, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, South Sudan, Cameroon, Cuba, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Iran, Sudan and Tanzania.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Centre pour les Droits Civils et Politiques - Centre CCPR, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, International Service for Human Rights, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Advocates for Human Rights, and Amnesty International.

The Council then began an interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan that presented a report on an overview of the situation of human rights in South Sudan.

Yasmin Sooka, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, noted that South Sudan was fast approaching its 10-year anniversary since independence.  However, the Commission believed that the current violence wreaked on South Sudanese civilians was the worst since the onset of the civil war in December 2013, worsened by a humanitarian crisis, COVID-19 and floods.  Independence had not brought peace to nearly two million inhabitants of the Jonglei and Greater Pibor Administrative Area.  Militia groups had murdered and forcibly displaced thousands of civilians after entire villages were razed.  Central Equatoria was experiencing an upsurge in violent insurgency for the second year in a row.  Sadly, the Revitalised Peace Agreement had not reduced levels of violence at the local level. 

South Sudan, speaking as a country concerned, presented an update on what the Government was doing to promote human rights in the country.  The security situation was calm, despite sporadic intercommunal clashes occurring in parts of the country.  On matters of accountability for sexual and gender-based violence, the Penal Code had been adopted and it prohibited all forms of sexual violence.  A gender-based violence court had been established in Juba in 2021 and perpetrators had been convicted.  South Sudan requested that the situation in the country be moved to agenda item 10 on technical assistance and capacity building. 

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 meet next at 3 p.m. this afternoon to hold an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.  It will resume its interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan at 10 a.m. on Friday, 12 March. 

Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Presentation of Oral Update

MICHELLE BACHELET, High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted the positive steps taken by the Government, adding that the Office of the High Commissioner would continue to provide technical assistance.  Reports of extra judicial executions continued in the context of security operations and in early January, at least 14 individuals were allegedly killed during an operation conducted in the Caracas neighbourhood of La Vega.  Since September, the access to basic services like medical assistance, water, gas, food and petrol, had continued to be scarcer, and was further limited by the effect of the pandemic.  This had contributed to sparking social protests, and severely compounded the humanitarian situation.  The tragic death of at least 28 Venezuelan migrants in the Caribbean Sea in December 2020 was another reminder of the tough choices some had to make.  Ms. Bachelet welcomed the ad-hoc solutions taken to reduce judicial delays and overcrowding in detention centres, reiterating her call for the unconditional release of all those arbitrarily detained.  Humanitarian assistance was all the more essential in the context of the pandemic. 

Ms. Bachelet expressed concern about the recent initiatives to impose undue restrictions on non-governmental organizations’ ability to operate, including freezing of assets, calling for the resumption of suspended projects.  Multiplying signs of shrinking civic space were concerning, with at least 66 cases of intimidation, harassment, disqualification and criminalization of journalists, media outlets, human rights defenders, humanitarian workers, union leaders and members or supporters of the opposition since September.  In January alone, at least three search and seizures operations were conducted at the premises of media outlets.  This did not help ease tensions – to the contrary.  The mere threat of detention had a paralysing effect on all those engaged in legitimate and essential activities.  Recalling the obligation of the authorities to protect fundamental freedoms and ensure conditions for meaningful participation in public life, including dissenting voices, she stated that the appointment of the upcoming National Electoral Council was a test to the credibility of the upcoming elections.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, speaking as a country concerned, reiterated its steadfast rejection of imposing resolutions against sovereign countries, particularly, when they did not have the consent of the State concerned.  Promoting and protecting human rights should be based on the principles of cooperation and genuine dialogue.  The Council’s work should ensure universality, objectivity and non-selectivity in reviewing human rights issues and avoid all politicisation.  The High Commissioner’s concerns were noted and a detailed response to them would be provided in due course.  The oral update lacked balance, presenting unverified information that had spurred the media campaign against Venezuela.  Facts and circumstances were presented that had not been duly verified with the Venezuelan authorities, despite the presence of the office in the country.  There was a dialogue between the staff of the Office and representatives of the State, including directors of the Venezuelan Police, to ensure technical support to strengthen police work in the area of ​​human rights. 

With regard to access to basic services and the deeply tragic loss of Venezuelan migrants and the depreciation of the minimum wage, the delegation recalled the content of the draft report of the Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of unilateral measures and illegal sanctions after she visited the country.  Venezuela reaffirmed its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and its willingness to continue cooperating with the Council, its mechanisms, and the Office of the High Commissioner.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers deeply regretted the missed opportunity for democracy in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, referring to the 6 December 2020 legislative elections that had lacked the minimum standards for a democratic process.  The persistent deterioration of the human rights situation in Venezuela was a matter of great concern for some speakers, who denounced escalating restrictions on civic and democratic space, including press freedoms.  The human rights situation in the country had resulted in the second largest migration and refugee crisis in the world, and the pandemic had only made it worse - ensuring accountability for violations was key.  Other speakers noted that Western States preferred not to notice Venezuela’s efforts and its significant achievements, particularly in the areas of eliminating racial, national, religious, gendered and ageist discrimination, as well as providing access to education and culture to its population.  The constructive engagement of Venezuela with the Office of the High Commissioner was welcomed - the brutal impact of unilateral sanctions against the country could not be ignored.  The Council must adhere to the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.  Speakers welcomed the recent visit of the Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures to Venezuela, who had confirmed their negative impact. 

Some speakers said that this oral update was not helpful - Venezuela’s cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner and the Council was broad and active, and this process was inconsistent with the Office’s mandate.  Others asked what actions should the international community take in response to attacks against human rights defenders in Venezuela?  The only solution for the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the country was free and fair elections.  The oral update showed that there was progress, with visits continuing to detention centres, as speakers urged the Government to establish a permanent presence of the Office of the High Commissioner in the country.  The High Commissioner should condemn the sanctions by the United States which affected Venezuela’s capacity to purchase technology, medicine, COVID-19 vaccines and food.  The pandemic, as well as the restrictions that were imposed to stop it, had led to higher food insecurity.  Venezuela, as a member of the Council, did not meet its obligations to the Council, given that the Fact-finding Mission had found evidence of violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.  Political considerations appeared to be a driving factor in the COVID-19 vaccine prioritization plan, instead of objective and public health criteria.

Concluding Remarks

MICHELLE BACHELET, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that her Office had a presence in Venezuela and it was monitoring the human rights situation and providing support to victims and their family members.  The office was taking note of any progress and where progress was lacking, it was looking at how recommendations were being implemented.  There had been some shortcomings in implementation.  Talks had been held with members of the opposition in order to ensure a frank dialogue with all.  Technical cooperation continued to be provided to the Government in key human rights situations such as preventing torture and strengthening investigations into human rights violations.  The office was also providing technical assistance on how to implement previous recommendations so that the human rights situation improved.  Monitoring helped to improve the recommendations and how to be more effective in preventing human rights violations.  There were challenges, but some legislative reform had been seen, which would provide for longer lasting solutions.  The High Commissioner would continue working on the Memorandum of Understanding and establishing a permanent country office in Venezuela.  The High Commissioner hoped that the newly elected national assembly would be able to work in such a way that democratic standards were guaranteed.  She had called for sanctions to be lifted.  People who had cooperating with the office and the Fact-finding Mission had faced reprisals, and her office was investigating these very serious allegations.  She called for an immediate halt to this. 

Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 

DOUDOU DIÈNE, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, noted that since October 2020, the investigations of the Commission of Inquiry had been conducted under difficult conditions.  The global health situation in particular limited the possibilities of carrying out missions in the field and the United Nations liquidity crisis had had a severe effect on the work of the Commission.  Since the last report, the Organization de la Francophonie had lifted sanctions, the Security Council had decided to withdraw Burundi from its work programme, and the European Union had begun a gradual resumption of political dialogue with the Burundian authorities.  In recent months, the repatriation of Burundian refugees from neighbouring countries had accelerated, including from Rwanda.  Since coming to power, President Ndayishimiye had made many promises to improve the human rights situation, and in recent months, there had finally been some first steps in this direction, which were welcome, but simple ad hoc gestures and declarations of intent were not enough.  Other developments were clearly more worrying: there was a general feeling of uncertainty about the developments underway in Burundi and the path followed by President Ndayishimiye.

Mr. Diène said that in order to pursue progress, Burundi had to, first of all, end human rights violations and fight impunity.  Serious human rights violations continued to be committed, especially following the numerous security incidents that had taken place since the summer of 2020.  Second, Burundi must guarantee the freedom and safety of journalists and the freedom of the press, and Mr. Diène welcomed positive developments in this regard, also noting that no developments had been made in the third aspect of guaranteeing the freedom and security of human rights defenders.  Fourth, opposition should not be seen as an enemy and President Ndayishimiye must guarantee the freedom and security of political opponents.  Fifth, the right to freedom of association must be guaranteed, as the Government was undoubtedly seeking to increase its control over the functioning of civil society organizations.  Sixth, it was crucial to restrict the omnipresence of Imbonerakure in the public sphere, as they continued to replace law enforcement and security forces on a regular basis.  Finally, full cooperation with the United Nations must be ensured - not only in economic and humanitarian matters, but also in the political sphere. 

Statement by Country Concerned

Burundi, speaking as a country concerned, reiterated its firm opposition to the political allegations made against it in violation of the United Nations Charter with regard to the obligation of non-interference in the internal affairs of States.  Burundi had made great progress - internally the Government was working to improve good governance, public health, justice for all, the fight against poverty, tackling youth unemployment, social protection and the strengthening of peace, reconciliation and social cohesion.  Burundi welcomed the resumption of cooperation with La Francophonie following the lifting of the sanctions taken against it yesterday, and the political dialogue with the European Union which was continuing in a constructive spirit.  The historic decision of the Security Council to remove Burundi from its political agenda was welcomed.  Over 5,000 prisoners had just been granted a presidential pardon, including four journalists.

Interactive Discussion

Speakers welcomed the release of four journalists from the media group IWACU after receiving a presidential pardon, the reopening of certain media, the presidential decree of 5 March aimed at improving detention conditions, as well as the lifting of the Internet blockade by the authorities.  The Government of Burundi was urged to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry, to grant it full and unhindered access to the country and provide all the information necessary to fulfil their mandate.  Speakers welcomed the peaceful transfer of power after the general elections in May 2020.  The Government’s willingness to re-engage with the international community was welcomed.  Some delegations called for the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission for Human Rights and the Commission of Inquiry to strengthen the protection of human rights.  The Commission of Inquiry had noted that there were many cases of torture, rape and arbitrary arrests, which was very concerning.  The Government was called upon to lift measures restricting freedom of expression and to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner. 

Some speakers said that imposing country specific mandates was inefficient and only served political interests.  It represented a violation of the United Nations Charter and the principle of non-interference.  Such a practice was counterproductive and did not contribute to a conducive spirit of cooperation.  Authors of resolution 45/19 were called upon to stop examining the situation in such a manner.  The human rights situation in Burundi was still fragile and numerous violations of fundamental freedoms were alarming, including the situation of human rights defenders.  Reports of continuing violations by the Imbonerakure and security forces and the erosion of the spirit of the Arusha Accords by the current composition of the cabinet were alarming.  Ending impunity and bringing to justice perpetrators of human rights violations would allow Burundi to progress towards national reconciliation and development.  Burundi was thus called upon to cooperate with regional and international human rights bodies.  The Commission of Inquiry was asked to provide recommendations on a genuine opening of civic space.

Concluding Statements

FRANÇOISE HAMPSON, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, noted that the Security Council had expressed its continued concern with regards to the human rights situation of Burundi, despite withdrawing it from its work programme.  Burundi must undertake structural reforms, reopen the democratic space and strengthen the independence of the judiciary.  An effective system of control over the legality of detention must be introduced.  The international community must help Burundi improve its human rights situation, and the Government should reopen the country office.  The Commission was hopeful it would receive responses to communications it had sent to various national mechanisms.  The Government must be pressed to ensure positive changes.

DOUDOU DIÈNE, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, asked when should the international community and the Council change their position regarding the human rights of the concerned country, and under what criteria?  It was important to know that a change in position could lead to an improved situation.  Here were the proposed criteria that should be taken into account when deciding on this issue: first, take into account the regional and international context; second, the historical roots of human rights in Burundi; third, whether violence and violations persisted; fourth, the situation of the people and their suffering; fifth, the work of the Commission of Inquiry. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan 

Report

The Council has before it the Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan A/HRC/46/53 on an overview of the situation of human rights in South Sudan

Presentation of Report

YASMIN SOOKA, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, noted that South Sudan was fast approaching its 10-year anniversary since independence.  South Sudanese should have been celebrating democracy but instead were contending with devastating localised violence and the fear of conflict escalating across the whole nation.  The Commission believed that the current violence wreaked on South Sudanese civilians was the worst since the onset of the civil war in December 2013, worsened by a humanitarian crisis, COVID-19 and floods.  Independence had not brought peace to nearly two million inhabitants of the Jonglei and Greater Pibor Administrative Area.  Militia groups had murdered and forcibly displaced thousands of civilians after entire villages were razed.  All the warring groups targeted women and girls, using them as chattels, treating them as the “spoils of war”.  Last year, hundreds of women and girls were abducted, raped, gang-raped, sexually enslaved or forcibly married off.  Central Equatoria was experiencing an upsurge in violent insurgency for the second year in a row.  Sadly, the Revitalised Peace Agreement had not reduced levels of violence at the local level as political elites remained preoccupied with sharing power and resources at the centre, deliberately fuelling local ethnic violence for political gain.

Since 2011, the Government of South Sudan had systematically clamped down on freedoms of speech, expression, peaceful assembly and association.  Through its pervasive surveillance of journalists, activists and human rights defenders, the Government continued to stifle dissent.  These acts were carried out primarily by the National Security Service, which recently expanded its reach beyond security institutions, systematically targeting civil society organizations, the media, and universities.  Despite the formation of the Revitalised Government in February last year, hardly any of the provisions of the Peace Agreement had been implemented.  The lack of accountability for gross human rights violations entrenched impunity and was building resentment and deepening ethnic divisions and violence.  The Commission reiterated that military courts were not the ideal forum to deal with rape and sexual violence involving civilian victims.  The Commission had compiled dossiers on 111 individuals with command or superior responsibility who were linked to violations that warranted further investigations or prosecutions, adding 17 this past year.  Political will, sustained international pressure and continued engagement to kick-start and accompany the healing process was needed.

Statement by Country Concerned

South Sudan, speaking as a country concerned, presented an update on what the Government was doing to promote human rights in South Sudan.  The security situation was calm, despite some sporadic intercommunal clashes occurring in parts of the country.  On matters of accountability, sex and gender-based violence, the Penal Code had been adopted and it prohibited all forms of sexual violence.  A gender-based violence court had been established in Juba in 2021 and perpetrators had been convicted to various terms.  On the demobilization of children engaged in armed groups, South Sudan said that a comprehensive action plan had been signed, 10 children had been released and police officers were being trained on protecting children in armed conflict, rehabilitation of children and gender-based violence, among others.  On transitional justice, a resolution was adopted reaffirming South Sudan’s commitment to start the process with the stakeholders to establish three transitional justice institutions and the Ministry of Justice was in charge of supervising the process.  The Government continued to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and was seeking support from the international community.  South Sudan requested that the situation in the country be moved to agenda item 10 on technical assistance and capacity building. 



Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/03/morning-reports-extra-judicial-executions-continue-context

 

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For use of the information media; not an official record