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Press briefing notes on Myanmar, Colombia and 50th Anniversary of the Human Rights Covenants

Spokespeople for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 16 December 2016 

(1) Myanmar

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein today warned the Government of Myanmar that its “short-sighted, counterproductive, even callous” approach to handling the crisis in northern Rakhine – including its failure to allow independent monitors access to the worst affected areas – could have grave long-term repercussions for the country and the region.

“The repeated dismissal of the claims of serious human rights violations as fabrications, coupled with the failure to allow our independent monitors access to the worst affected areas in northern Rakhine, is highly insulting to the victims and an abdication of the Government’s obligations under international human rights law,” Zeid said*.

(2) Colombia

The Colombian peace agreement has great potential to improve the human rights situation in the country but we are concerned that practical aspects of the demobilization and disarming of FARC members set out in the accord are not being prioritized.

International experience shows that the initial days of demobilization are the most critical in ensuring combatants do not abandon the peace process and to prevent an increase in violence.

Under the peace deal, FARC guerrillas are supposed to gather in 27 zones where they will disarm and demobilize. But two weeks into the demobilization process, none of these zones are equipped to adequately receive them. There is limited access to safe drinking water, food, health services and electricity.

In the meantime, FARC members have been gathering in what are known as pre-concentration points prior to disarming and demobilizing, where there is similar lack of preparation and facilities. We are also concerned that there are no concrete security measures in place.

As FARC guerrillas leave areas traditionally under their control, the State has not yet fully stepped in, leaving a power vacuum. Armed and criminal groups are vying for control of illegal economic activities in these areas, such as coca-growing and illegal mining.

Amid this situation, there is a risk of increased human rights violations. The UN Human Rights Office in Colombia documented 61 killings in 2016 – mainly of human rights defenders and social leaders in rural areas. Twenty-one of these killings happened after the signing of the first peace accord on 26 September.

There are also long-term challenges given the ambitious scope of the peace agreement.

We therefore urge the Colombian Government to designate a crisis manager with executive authority to address these practical problems to avoid undermining a peace process that promises much, if properly implemented.

We are also calling for immediate, determined and visible State action on the ground to provide security and basic services and to begin implementing all aspects of the accord to ensure that it lives up to the promise of peace for Colombia.

The impetus given to the peace process by the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Juan Manuel Santos is welcome. We also hope that the decision by Colombia’s Constitutional Court to grant “fast-track” authority to implement legal reforms crucial to implement the peace deal with the FARC, including an amnesty law, will drive the process forward.

(3) 50th Anniversary of the Human Rights Covenants

Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, these two covenants comprise what is known as the “International Bill of Human Rights.”

Over the past half century, the Covenants have helped shape national constitutions and laws; they have contributed to policies and programmes that respect the will of the people; and they have been an invaluable tool in the fight against discrimination. The work of the two Committees that monitor the Covenants has provided guidance to countries the world over and helped many seek justice and law reform.

We urge States that are not parties to the two Covenants to ratify them as matter of utmost importance.**

ENDS

* Read the full press release on Rakhine at: 
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21042&LangID=E

Audio and video materials from the press briefing on will be available at UN Web TV:
http://webtv.un.org/

** To view a video message by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore on the importance of the two Covenants, please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=De-vc7NzqhE

To find more about the 2 Covenants and take action, please visit: http://2covenants.ohchr.org/index.html

For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org ) or Liz Throssell  ( +41 22 917 9466/ethrossell@ohchr.org )

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