Header image for news printout

Human Rights Council holds general debate on the annual report of the High Commissioner, reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General

AFTERNOON

Hears Presentation of Country Reports on Colombia, Cyprus, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran and on the Human Rights Situation of Rohingya and other Minorities in Myanmar, as well as Oral Updates on Venezuela and Yemen

GENEVA (20 March 2019) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon heard the presentation of written reports on country situations in Colombia, Cyprus, Guatemala, Honduras, Islamic Republic of Iran and on the human rights situation of Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar, and oral updates on Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) and Yemen.  It then held a general debate on the annual report of the High Commissioner and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, introducing reports on Colombia, Cyprus, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran and on the human rights situation of Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar, said that in Colombia two years after the signing of the Peace Agreement, the number of killings of human rights defenders and social leaders was concerning.  The report on Cyprus noted that four decades of division of the island continued to hinder the realization of the people’s rights.  In Guatemala, there were serious challenges to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the fight against impunity and corruption.  Concerning Honduras, it was regretful that the National Political Dialogue, which had intended to overcome the crisis of November 2017, had ended in December 2018 without any agreement.  In Iran, amendments abolishing the mandatory death penalty for some offences were welcomed, but the death penalty was still in force for child offenders and at least six of them were executed in 2018.  Ms. Bachelet said there were no conditions for the voluntary and safe return of over 730,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh or 130,000 internally displaced Rohingya living in central Rakhine since 2012. 

Providing an oral update on the situation in Venezuela, Ms. Bachelet was concerned about the gravity of the human rights impact of the current crisis, and its destabilizing risk in the region.  In Yemen, the ongoing mediation effort by the Special Envoy had established a ceasefire in Hodeidah and the ports of Salif and Ras Issa, which offered a glimmer of hope though there was a long way to go as more than 24 million people needed aid and 2 million children suffered from acute malnutrition. 

Colombia, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the recognition of specific advances in the last year, such as the signing of the Social Pact for Human Rights and other related plans.  Colombia appreciated the presence of the Office of the High Commissioner in the country. 

Cyprus, speaking as a concerned country, regretted that 45 years after its invasion, Northern Cyprus remained under Turkish military occupation.  It was regrettable that the report did not state that Turkey was the responsible party and that the report overlooked the most abject violations of international law in Cyprus. 

Guatemala, speaking as a concerned country, noted that the Government was undertaking tireless efforts to contribute to the promotion of human rights, whether it was in response to a natural emergency such as the eruption of a volcano, or unprecedented events such as the caravan of migrants on the move through the country.  There were numerous challenges remaining.

Honduras, speaking as a concerned country, said that 80 per cent of the recommendations made in the first and second reports were being implemented. The human rights situation in Honduras remained complex due to the extreme poverty in the country, and historical structural issues. 

Myanmar, speaking as a concerned country, said that the report focused negatively on a narrow group, deliberately omitting the plights of other ethnic minorities and ignoring the commitments and genuine efforts of the Government.  Myanmar was not obliged to accept the report and its recommendations.

Islamic Republic of Iran, speaking as a concerned country, said that the report presented a blurred picture of Iran’s human rights as a result of overreliance on non-credible sources.  Following the important amendment to the Counter Narcotics Law, sentences of the death penalty had been sharply reduced.  The death penalty was hardly applied to underage offenders, pursuant to certain amendments made to the Penal Code and as a result of an extensive campaign. 

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), speaking as a concerned country, reiterated its firm opposition to resolution 39/1, which had only passed with a slim majority.  The Government of Venezuela had invited the High Commissioner to visit the country and see the situation for herself, and not as it had been described in the report. 

Yemen, speaking as a concerned country, said that the Government remained hopeful that the Houthis would honour their obligations under the Stockholm agreement to reach a comprehensive political solution, however if no progress was made, this would lead to a breakdown of the peace agreement4 and a return to military operations.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers deplored that humanitarian access to the Rohingya continued to be limited by the Government of Myanmar.  They called on the Government to immediately end the violence against the Rohingya and bring perpetrators to justice.  The establishment of the protection mechanism for human rights defenders in Honduras was welcomed.  Colombia’s work to bring sustainable peace to former conflict areas was commended.  Guatemala’s efforts to reduce the number of violent deaths were recognized but attacks against human rights defenders were alarming.  The recent conviction of human rights defender and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran was alarming and the called for her immediate release.  Speakers were disturbed by the humanitarian crisis and reports of extrajudicial killings, excessive use of force and the erosion of public space in Venezuela.  The food crisis was exacerbated by a health crisis.  The protracted conflict in Yemen had taken a terrible toll on the civilian population, creating one of the deepest humanitarian crises globally.  Some speakers warned the Council that its agenda item 2 should not be used as an excuse to discard objectivity and single out certain countries.  Double standards against certain countries were very harmful to their human rights situations.  Country reports before the Council lacked objectivity and contained unverified and groundless information.  Speakers opposed the use of human rights as a pretext to increase pressure and interfere in internal affairs and ultimately overthrow legitimate governments.

Speaking were: Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Peru on behalf of a group of countries, Cuba on behalf of a group of countries, Bahrain on behalf of a group of countries, Romania on behalf of the European Union, Sweden on behalf of Nordic countries, Pakistan, Spain, Brazil, Cuba, Croatia, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, Japan, Australia, Qatar, China, United Kingdom, Mexico, Israel, Germany, Jordan, Syrian Arab Republic, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Netherlands, Belarus, Switzerland, Norway, Georgia, Greece, Turkey, Ecuador, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Maldives.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Office for Human Rights - Action on Colombia, Oidhaco, Amman Center for Human Rights Studies, Peace Brigades International Switzerland, International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), Health and Environment Program (HEP), Union of Arab Jurists, World Muslim Congress, International-Lawyers.Org, Iraqi Development Organization, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Alsalam Foundation, Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l'Homme, Amnesty International, Verein Südwind Entwicklungspolitik, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Imam Ali’s Popular Students Relief Society, Center for Inquiry, Association of World Citizens, Le Pont, World Peace Council, World Organisation Against Torture, Franciscans International, in a joint statement with Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund and International Commission of Jurists,, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Fundación Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarrollo Social, in a joint statement with American Association of Jurists,, Save the Children International, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Colombian Commission of Jurists, Europe-Third World Centre, Lutheran World Federation, Defence for Children International, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM), Human Rights Watch, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, International Service for Human Rights, in a joint statement with Colombian Commission of Jurists, and The International Organisation for LDCs.

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Cyprus, Guatemala and Islamic Republic of Iran spoke in right of reply.

The Council will next meet on Thursday, 21 March at 9 a.m., to conclude its general debate on the annual report of the High Commissioner.  It will then hear the presentation of other reports or oral updates by the High Commissioner on Afghanistan and Libya under its agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building, and hold a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building.  The Council will then start taking action on resolutions and decisions.

Documentation

The Council has before it Activities of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala - Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/40/3/Add.1)

The Council has before it Situation of human rights in Honduras - Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Honduras (A/HRC/40/3/Add.2)

The Council has before it Situation of human rights in Colombia - Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/40/3/Add.3)

The Council has before it Question of human rights in Cyprus - Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/40/22)

The Council has before it Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran - Report of the Secretary-General (A/HRC/40/24)

Presentation of Reports and Oral Updates by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented reports of the Secretary General and the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Colombia, Cyprus, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran and on the situation of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.  Concerning the report on Colombia, two years after the signature of the Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC-EP, the Government was encouraged to implement the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in a comprehensive manner.  Aspects of the newly established Security and Defence policy which increased the use of military force and sought to establish citizen security networks was concerning.  The number of killings of human rights defenders and social leaders was concerning: in 2018 the Office documented the killing of 110 human rights defenders, one quarter being indigenous or Afro-Colombian people, and as of 8 March, reports were received of 27 more killings of human rights defenders this year and the verification was ongoing.  Many of them occurred in areas where FARC used to be strong and they were targeted for supporting aspects of the Peace Agreement concerning land restitution and victims’ rights.  The resumption of meetings by the National Commission on Security Guarantees was welcomed as was the reactivation of the National Plan for Human Rights.

The report on Cyprus noted that four decades of division of the island continued to hinder the realization of peoples’ rights and highlighted concerns over the right to life, missing persons, discrimination, freedom of movement, property rights and freedom of religion.  Positive developments were noted, including positive steps concerning missing persons.  Two new official crossing points had opened, enhancing freedom of movement.  Stronger efforts for mutual dialogue were urged.  On the report on Guatemala, there were serious challenges to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the fight against impunity and corruption.  Progress was made in 2018 concerning justice for grave human rights violations committed during decades of internal armed conflict, including the ground breaking judgment in the Molina Theissen case recognizing that practices of sexual violence and torture were part of a military strategy during that period.  Mounting threats to the independence and protection of members of the judiciary were troubling, as well as a number of legislative bills which risked reversing recent progress on accountability, including amending the National Reconciliation Act and bill No. 5257 which could impose restrictions on civil society organizations.  The Government’s decision to withdraw from the agreement establishing the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala was concerning.  In 2018, 26 human rights defenders were killed and the Office of High Commissioner was preparing a public report on the situation of defenders in Guatemala. 

On the report on Honduras, it was regretful that the National Political Dialogue which had intended to overcome the crisis of November 2017, had ended in December 2018 without any agreement.  Further steps had to be taken to demilitarize public order and develop professional civilian police.  Impunity remained a serious concern and there was little progress for the prosecution and trials of members of security forces who committed violations during protests following elections in November 2017.  Efforts to prosecute suspects for the murder of Berta Caceres were welcomed and efforts to establish a Special Prosecutor for the protection of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers were welcomed.  On the report on Iran, amendments abolishing the mandatory death penalty for some offences were welcomed.  However, there was serious concern regarding the establishment of special courts in August 2018 to address economic crimes, as at least five people were sentenced to death under this directive.  The death penalty was still in force for child offenders and at least six of them were executed in 2018 and at least 85 child offenders were on death row.  Longstanding economic grievances had led to sporadic protests across the country.  Re-imposition of sanctions in 2018 would further exacerbate economic challenges.  Discrimination against women and minorities remained.  There was a persistent pattern of intimidation according to the Secretary-General’s report.  The long prison sentence for human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh for representing women defenders was of great concern. 

Presenting the report on the situation of human rights of Rohingya people in Rakhine state, Ms. Bachelet said it was submitted in line with resolution S-27/1 to assess progress made by Myanmar in its cooperation with mechanisms in five areas: citizenship, participation in public life, fundamental freedoms, displacement and the right to return and accountability.  The report noted initial steps by the Government to implement some recommendations, particularly among those issued by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state.  However, it emphasised that the overall objectives of the recommendations remain largely unaddressed, with no significant progress observed on human rights concerns raised in previous reports.    There was a failure to reach an agreement on the Office of the High Commissioner’s presence and denial of access to a fact-finding mission.   No steps had been taken to address citizenship.  The report called for halting the issuance of National Verification Cards.  There was no representation of Rohingya at any level of decision-making and systematic discrimination continued.  There were no conditions for voluntary and safe return of over 730,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh or 130,000 internally displaced Rohingya living in central Rakhine since 2012.  There was an absence of investigations into allegations of grave violations occurring in Rakhine state.  In Kachin state and Shan state, armed conflict gave rise to concern.  Since 2012, Myanmar had created eight commissions of inquiry, all of which exonerated security forces from any criminal responsibility.

Ms. Bachelet provided an oral update on the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.  She was concerned about the gravity of the human rights impact of the current crisis, and its destabilizing risk in the region.  A technical team from the High Commissioner’s Office was in the country, and she stressed the importance that it had unrestricted access.  Economic and social rights had deteriorated dramatically since June 2018, with vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women and the elderly particularly affected.  Nationwide electricity blackouts, water shortages and hyperinflation continued to affect many people.  The healthcare system continued to deteriorate, and more than 1 million children no longer attended school according to a recent survey.  Although the devastating economic crisis began before the imposition of United States’ sanctions in 2017, these had likely had an aggravating effect.  Ms. Bachelet was also concerned about the shrinking democratic space in Venezuela, and the continued criminalization of peaceful protests.  The Office continued to investigate reports of extrajudicial killings by State security forces, carried out during illegal house raids, used as forms of reprisal and intimidation.  The High Commissioner was also concerned about increased restrictions of freedom of expression and the press in Venezuela, with arbitrary detention of journalists and opposition leaders.

As a result of this far reaching human rights crisis, more than 3 million people had fled Venezuela in search of food, healthcare, and work.  Venezuelans also faced enormous obstacles to obtain documentation that would facilitate regular migration to other countries.  Countries in the region had been confronted with the massive arrival of Venezuelans, and she applauded their efforts to address the needs of those arriving.  She applauded their efforts to keep combatting xenophobia and to maintain access to their territory.  The Office was committed to continuing to work with all stakeholders. 

Ms.  Bachelet, presenting an update on Yemen, said the ongoing mediation efforts by the Special Envoy had established a ceasefire in Hodeidah and the ports of Salif and Ras Issa, which offered a glimmer of hope though there was a long way to go as more than 24 million people needed aid and 2 million children suffered from acute malnutrition.  Vulnerable people, including displaced women and children, were at high risk of trafficking, forced marriage, sexual violence and exploitation.  Public employees had not received salaries in years, and the closure of schools further restricted access to education for more than 3.7 million children.  An estimated 300 health facilities were damaged or destroyed and less than half of the remaining facilities were fully functioning.  Non-communicable diseases were a greater killer than bullets and the lack of access to basic health services, and the continued closure of Sanaa airport exacerbated this.  Despite the signing of the Stockholm agreement in December 2018, civilians continued to be killed and maimed due to airstrikes, shelling and landmines across the country.  The escalation of hostilities in Hajjah governorate was of particular concern as were reports that the government coalition backed forces and Houthi forces continued to conscript and enlist children into armed groups.  There was little meaningful accountability for the human rights violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict.  She urged all parties to the conflict to remove the restrictions on the entry into Yemen of humanitarian supplies.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights continued to provide capacity building and technical assistance to the Yemeni National Commission of Inquiry to complete its investigative work.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Colombia, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the recognition of specific advances in the last year such as the signing of the Social Pact for Human Rights and other related plans.  Colombia appreciated the presence of the Office of the High Commissioner in the country, and highlighted that more than 1,300 field visits had been carried out in 2018.  All of this was a clear demonstration of its openness to international scrutiny.  The final agreement for the termination of the conflict was a significant step for the realization of rights and duties.  Colombia noted that the report referenced almost all of the elements of the agreement.  Colombia’s human rights policy was far reaching and pluralist, and went far beyond the requirements of international requirements.  Five decades of conflict had led to an imbalance between rural and urban areas, and as such a plan for addressing these inequalities was in place.

Colombia welcomed the work undertaken by hundreds of human rights defenders across the country.  Land control by illegal actors was causing a rise in violence against political leaders and civic defenders.  As a response to this, the Government was implementing the Timely Action Plan as a measure of comprehensive investigation of murder cases.  As Special Rapporteur Michel Forst had the opportunity to see, the Government had managed to solve 53 per cent of the crimes reported.  Furthermore, during the first month of the new presidential term, the Government had evaluated the negotiations held by the previous government with armed groups, and found that more than 400 terrorist attacks had been carried out since the ceasefire was announced.  As such there could be no agreement when faced with such a criminal force.  The Colombian State had made progress in protecting human rights in recent years, and would continue with that agenda. 

Cyprus, speaking as a concerned country, thanked the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for its continued interest in the situation in Cyprus but regretted that 45 years after its invasion, Northern Cyprus remained under Turkish military occupation.  He regretted that the report did not state that Turkey was the responsible party and that in an attempt to maintain “equal distances” the report overlooked the most abject violations of international law in Cyprus.  The Committee for Missing Persons needed unhindered access to archival information regarding disappeared people.  Greek Cypriots were denied access to and control of their properties.  Turkey was found guilty of violating Greek Cypriot property rights by the European Court of Human Rights in 2001 and 2014, yet the illegal sale and usurpation of Greek Cypriot properties continued unimpeded.  The enclaved people in the Karpas and Morpou regions were unable to conduct business and enjoy their livelihoods.  The Government provided equal access to education for all children as safeguarded by its constitution and children were educated in either Greek or Turkish in non-segregated schools or in private establishments.  The Government reiterated its commitment to work towards the reunification of Cyprus, free from foreign troops, based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality of the two communities in Cyprus as repeatedly set out by the United Nations, including in the latest January 2019 resolution.

Guatemala, speaking as a concerned country, said he was speaking in his capacity as President of the Presidential Coordinating Commission of the Executive Policy with Respect to Human Rights, and on behalf of the Guatemalan State.  Guatemala respected and maintained the separation of power.  He thanked the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the work done in Guatemala since it was set up upon the request of Guatemala in 2005.  The Government had continued to undertake tireless efforts to contribute to respecting and guaranteeing the enjoyment of human rights, both in the face of natural disasters, such as the eruption of the volcano, or events that had never been seen in the past, such as the caravan of migrants on the move through the country.  Guatemala continued to face many challenges, but it was committed to continue to fight for access to justice, and fight against corruption and impunity in an objective and impartial fashion, without any pressure.  Pressure or interests that took place in recent years, with the establishment of the International Commission against Impunity, meant that Guatemala had decided not to extend and finalize the agreement following the refusal of the United Nations Secretary-General to remove the Commissioner.  Therefore, this International Commission against Impunity no longer existed in Guatemala.  The national competent bodies cast with investigation, judgement and prosecution continued to work.  Guatemala continued to strengthen and guarantee citizen security.  There was a drop of homicide rates.  Important work was carried out by human rights defenders and their work was not restricted.  The Presidential Commission for Coordinating Executive Policy in the Field of Human Rights had put forward a proposal for human rights defenders.  Vulnerable groups faced complex challenges.  Thanks were reiterated to the United Nations mechanisms and commitment towards sustainable development and human rights was reiterated.

Honduras, speaking as a concerned country, said that 80 per cent of the recommendations made in the first and second reports were being implemented.  Honduras welcomed the attention given to economic and social rights as the State was committed to these rights via its policies.  The human rights situation in Honduras remained complex due to the extreme poverty in the country, and historical structural issues.  With this in mind, Honduras was seeking ways to secure its human rights system.  Regarding the points raised in the report, aligning human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals was important and Honduras was following this approach.  According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index, Honduras had been able to reduce poverty from 67.2 per cent in 2013 to 59.6 per cent in 2018.  The challenge was considerable but the efforts continued.  In terms of security, ongoing training for the police continued, with 20 per cent of the 18,000 new officers trained being women, and homicide rates in the country were down.  In terms of justice, the Commission against Impunity and Corruption continued to provide assistance to the Attorney General’s office, and the Government had established a task force to fight corruption.  On gender-based violence, they had increased the budget to improve investigations and protect women.  Honduras was the first country in the world to join the Spotlight Initiative promoted by the United Nations and the European Union.  Honduras welcomed the visit of the Special Rapporteur, and had requested technical assistance to implement the recommendations of his findings.

Myanmar, speaking as a concerned country, said that the report focused negatively on a narrow group, deliberately omitting the plights of other ethnic minorities and ignoring the commitments and genuine efforts of the Government.  The reliance of the report on information gathered from secondary sources and human rights groups with pre-determined agendas undermined its objectivity.  Myanmar was not obliged to accept the report and its recommendations.  The issues in northern Rakhine state were complex and their resolution was a priority on the Government’s agenda.  It was not a religious conflict but a political and economic issue involving prolonged cross boarder illegal migration, poverty and a lack of rule of law.  Myanmar had implemented a majority of the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission.  The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army had been leading a campaign of terror, targeting ethnic minorities and leading to massive displacement of people.  These attacks were calculated to undermine the Government’s efforts for a lasting peace in the region.  Myanmar remained ready to receive verified returnees in a safe, voluntary and dignified manner in accordance with agreements with Bangladesh, and was working with international partners to create a conducive environment for returnees.  Myanmar took seriously the allegations on the violation of human rights and the Government was willing and able to address the accountability issue and strongly rejected any move to bring the issue to the international judicial system.

Islamic Republic of Iran, speaking as a concerned country, said that the report provided a blurred picture of Iran’s human rights as a result of over reliance on non-credible sources or sources that were known for spreading disinformation and false claims.  The report failed to account for Iran’s progress in some areas.  The death penalty was imposed only for the most serious crimes.  Following the important amendment to the Counter Narcotics Law, the number of sentences of the death penalty had been sharply reduced.  The death penalty was hardly applied to underage offenders, pursuant to certain amendments made to the Penal Code and as a result of an extensive campaign.  In Iran, no one was prosecuted because of their beliefs.  Any restrictions imposed on social media were due to unlawful acts such as dissemination of criminal contents, including child abuse and pornography.  The re-imposition of the inhuman unilateral sanctions by the United States was a calibrated move to exert maximum pressure on Iran.  This was a crime against humanity.  Iran expected human rights mechanisms to hold the United States to account for its criminal act.  Iran would continue its constructive engagement with the Office of the High Commissioner.

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), speaking as a concerned country, reiterated its firm opposition to resolution 39/1, which had only passed with a slim majority.  The Government of Venezuela had invited the High Commissioner to visit the country and see the situation for herself, and not as it had been described in the report.  The country had seen many peaceful protests in recent years, which were permitted under national law.  However, some had not been peaceful, and had been violently stoked by subversive forces.  It was these that the Government had intervened in.  The Government of the United States, working with regional minions, had imposed sanctions on Venezuela, causing a great deal of suffering.  Among the many impacts of this, a number of financial transfers and bank disbursements had been blocked, even though these were for medical supplies and humanitarian goods.  Despite these challenges, social investment had increased, unemployment had dropped to 6 per cent, and more than 6 million families had benefitted from the free supply of food.  Since 2014, President Maduro had called more than 400 times in public to have dialogue with opponents, and the Government of Venezuela continued to believe that human rights should not be used for political purposes.

Yemen, speaking as a concerned country, said that the Government remained hopeful that the Houthis would honour their obligations under the Stockholm agreement to reach a comprehensive political solution.  However, if no progress was made, this would lead to a breakdown of the peace agreements and a return to military operations.  The Government and civil society had documented a number of human rights violations, including the abduction and trial of journalists in Houthi controlled courts.  There had been Houthi-led violations in Hajour region using medium and heavy weapons.  These attacks were considered violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law, and constituted war crimes.  The Government had launched a humanitarian appeal for the Houthis to stop the violations and relieve the people of Hajour.  Yemen called on the Council and the United Nations to take a position and recognize who was obstructing the peace efforts in Yemen.  Durable peace could only be achieved by ending the coup d’état in accordance with the terms of reference outlined by the National Dialogue, the Gulf Initiative, executive mechanisms, and Security Council resolution 2216.

General Debate

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said that report on Myanmar confirmed that despite the signing of the bilateral agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar, not a singled displaced Rohingya had returned.  Rohingyas continued to be discriminated against.  The issue of citizenship was one of the root causes of the crisis and was still not resolved.  The Government of Myanmar was called upon to grant access to all human rights bodies.

Peru, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, reiterated its deep concern over the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, which had forced 3.4 million persons, or over 10 per cent of the population, to flee Venezuela.  Lack of access to basic health services was registered, resulting in the increase of several diseases, including tuberculosis and measles.  Only through peaceful and democratic means would it be possible to restore order.

Cuba, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said it was lamentable that they were witnessing in the Council a circus of lies and hypocrisy.  There was an unprecedented media campaign against Venezuela, seeking to undermine the humanist project which had been begun by President Chavez and was continued by Maduro.  The theme of human rights was a pretext to undermine stability in certain countries.

Bahrain, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, stated that the High Commissioner’s report on Yemen had to be an objective assessment, and present pathways for long-term stability in light of the systematic violations by the Houthi coup militias.  The adoption of resolution 39/16 was controversial as it was established without the consent of Yemen.  Progress achieved in Sweden was encouraging, and the group of countries called for United Nations technical assistance to Yemen.

Romania, speaking on behalf of the European Union, noted that though the overall security situation in Guatemala had improved, violence was still a concern. Honduras faced problems because of impunity for perpetrators of corruption, and human rights violations were a cause of mass migration from the country.  In Colombia, efforts to implement the peace agreement must be continued.  In Yemen, the European Union called on all parties to implement the Stockholm agreement.

Sweden, speaking on behalf of Nordic countries, noted that in 2018 the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had expanded its presence in Liberia and Chad, and its field presence played an essential role in identifying and solving human rights challenges.  The group remained concerned that the Office continued to be denied access to several countries and called on all States to fully cooperate with them and grant unhindered access.

Pakistan deplored that humanitarian access to the Rohingya continued to be limited by the Government of Myanmar.  Pakistan called on Myanmar’s Government to immediately end the violence against the Rohingya, bring perpetrators to justice, and ensure the wellbeing of Rohingya, including their legitimate rights to citizenship.

Spain encouraged Colombia to continue implementing the recommendations of the report.  It emphasized the importance of addressing the human rights of women and girls in Honduras, was alarmed by attacks and threats against indigenous communities, and outlined the need to strengthen the independence of the judiciary.  Spain recognized Guatemala’s efforts to reduce the number of violent deaths.

Brazil was alarmed by the reports of extrajudicial killings, excessive use of force and the erosion of public space in Venezuela.  Brazil deplored the systematic denial of humanitarian aid and stated that the food crisis was exacerbated by a health crisis.  It would continue to receive and assist Venezuelans forced to leave their country and reiterated its hope for a peaceful transition to democracy.  Brazil supported Juan Guaidó.

Cuba opposed the politicized use of human rights.  Venezuela was the victim of an international media campaign and an unprecedented attempt to demonize the Government.  Cuba condemned military aggression, financial war and the theft of Venezuela’s assets by the United States.  This unconventional war carried out by the United States was being escalated.  The offensive against Venezuela was accompanied by lies and propaganda.

Croatia was deeply concerned about the humanitarian emergency and abuses of human rights in Yemen, particularly those against children.   All parties were urged to extend full access to the Group of Eminent International Experts.  Croatia supported the resolution presented at the thirty-ninth session of the Council and shared the views of the High Commissioner.

Bulgaria regretted the human rights situation in Venezuela, caused by a political, social, economic and humanitarian crisis in the country.  It had deprived the most vulnerable social groups from food and basic services.  The Government was urged to restore respect for human rights.  The protracted conflict in Yemen had taken a terrible toll on the civilian population, creating one of the deepest humanitarian crises globally.

Bangladesh said that despite Myanmar’s series of commitments to the international community, no tangible measures had been taken to create a conducive environment for displaced Rohingyas to return to Rakhine state.  Bangladesh concurred with the report’s conclusions and recommendations calling upon Myanmar to end impunity, and to restore the citizenship and other rights of Rohingyas.

Japan called on Myanmar to redouble its efforts to return displaced persons to Rakhine state.  Regarding Venezuela, it remained concerned at the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, and the wave of people fleeing.  Japan deplored the situation in Yemen and believed the Stockholm Agreement reached last year was an important step in establishing stability.  Japan continued to provide support to vulnerable Yemenis.

Australia noted with deep concern the reports that no positive progress had been made by Myanmar in upholding the human rights of the Rohingya people.  It joined condemnation of the Maduro regime in Venezuela, and its actions towards opposition groups.  Australia remained deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Yemen, and the disproportionate impact that the conflict was having on women and children, and called for urgent peace talks.

Qatar said that Yemeni people had been suffering humanitarian tragedy for many years.  All belligerents were called upon to respect international humanitarian and human rights law and protect civilians.  Qatar urged attempts towards reconciliation.  Violations perpetrated against people had to be brought to justice, in order to ensure non-repetition of such violations.  Qatar welcomed the conclusions of the Stockholm agreement and hoped they could be implemented.

China believed that the Office of the High Commissioner had to abide by principles of dialogue, mutual dialogue, sovereignty and territorial integrity.  As for Venezuela, the sovereignty of the State had to be respected.  China welcomed the efforts of the Government, and the internal problems of Venezuela had to be dealt with by its own people.  China was committed to the principles of the United Nations Charter and opposed outside interference.

United Kingdom was concerned about the situation in Yemen and about Iran’s human rights violations, including judicial processes inconsistent with international standards.  In Venezuela, the de facto regime was responsible for a humanitarian crisis.  The United Kingdom welcomed the establishment of a protection mechanism for human rights defenders in Honduras.  Attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala were alarming and Colombia’s work to bring sustainable peace to former conflict areas was welcomed.

Mexico shared the concerns of the High Commissioner regarding the situation of human rights in Venezuela, and strongly commended the invitation made by the Government of Venezuela for an official visit.  Mexico hoped that this would establish humanitarian channels to improve the situation in Venezuela.  Mexico emphasized the importance of not politicizing humanitarian aid. 

Israel took note of the human rights violations in Iran, including the continued use of the death penalty against minors.  However, when it came to the economic situation of Iran, the report failed to identify the main culprit, which was the Government of Iran.  Iranian citizens should know that money was wasted by the Government funding Hamas and Hezbollah, mercenaries in Syria.  Israel would not be lectured by anti-democratic countries like Iran.

Germany was deeply concerned about the recent conviction of human rights defender and lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran, and called for her immediate release. In relation to the situation in Venezuela, Germany called on the Government to work with international bodies to relieve the human suffering.  Germany also remained concerned about the shrinking civic space in Colombia, and called upon the Government to strengthen the implementation of the peace process. 

Jordan reaffirmed its support for Yemen’s legitimate Government and called for an end to the war in Yemen, within the framework of a political solution, the Gulf Initiative, and Security Council resolutions.  Jordan deplored foreign interference.  The security of Yemen and the Gulf were part of the security of Jordan.  Jordan called for support for the efforts by the United Nations Special Envoy.

Syrian Arab Republic warned the Council that its agenda item 2 should not be used as an excuse to discard objectivity and single out certain countries.  Double standards against certain countries were very harmful to their human rights situations.  This was the case in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) and Yemen.  Saudi Arabia had an aggressive stand towards Yemen.  Syria supported President Maduro and the people of Venezuela.

Bolivia (Plurinational State of) reaffirmed that the principles of the United Nations Charter were indispensable to promote human rights.  Bolivia respected the sovereignty of Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) and its right to exercise its own system, pursuant to sovereign decisions.  The causes of the crisis were far removed from what was shown in the media.  Bolivia regretted that countries had imposed sanctions on Venezuela and urged that they lift them.

Netherlands said that the reconciliation law breached Guatemala’s international obligations and contravened the reconciliation process.  Increased violence against human rights defenders in Colombia was alarming and the Netherlands urged the Government to step up efforts to address root causes and combat impunity.  All parties in the Yemen conflict should fully respect human rights and international humanitarian law to protect the lives of civilians.

Belarus regretfully noted the increasing politicization of the Human Rights Council, including under agenda item 2.  Considering the same country situations under different agenda items was counterproductive.  Belarus remained convinced that there was an alternative to the Council’s focus on countries, for example focusing on capacity building instead.

Switzerland said that the killing of human rights defenders in Colombia was of concern.  The numerous executions of underage persons in Iran was alarming. The humanitarian situation in Yemen remained of great concern and Switzerland called on all the authorities to cooperate with the Special Envoy. 

Norway shared concerns about the increase in violence and killings of human rights defenders in Colombia, and believed it was vital that the Government investigated these crimes.  The full implementation of the peace agreement was a unique opportunity to improve the human rights situation.  In Yemen, neither basic rights nor basic needs were met for millions of people, and Norway urged parties to abide by the Stockholm agreement. 

Georgia said the crisis in Venezuela had reached catastrophic levels, and condemned the use of violence against civilians by the security forces.  Georgia expressed its full support for Juan Guaidó in achieving a peaceful democratic transition.  With the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, Venezuela would be in a position to restore full-scale relations based on the principle of cooperation and territorial integrity. 

Greece noted that the continued illegal military occupation of part of the sovereign territory of the Republic of Cyprus, along with the illegal Turkish settlement policy had resulted in severe human rights violations.  Greece regretted that once more the term “Turkish Cypriot authorities” was used in a United Nations document, contrary to Security Council resolution 541/83 and 550/84.  The report also failed to address the issue of internally displaced persons.

Turkey rejected all allegations made against it regarding Cyprus.  The international community should communicate with Turkish Cypriots and set up mechanisms and dialogues.  The report did not effectively reflect the human rights violations suffered by Turkish Cypriots.

Ecuador was profoundly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, where 250,000 refugees had fled and taken refuge in Ecuador.  The Government had done everything to receive and support them, guaranteeing full respect for their rights. 

Democratic People's Republic of Korea said country reports before the Council lacked objectivity and contained unverified and groundless information.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was opposed to the use of human rights as a pretext to increase pressure and interfere in internal affairs and ultimately overthrow legitimate governments.

Malaysia encouraged the authorities in Myanmar to take the relevant steps to address the crisis in Rakhine state, including providing necessary humanitarian assistance to reach vulnerable groups, and to create a conducive environment to enable the return of Rohingya refugees to the state.  Malaysia called on Myanmar to ensure justice and accountability for the crimes committed, and implement measures to prosecute these.

Maldives was disappointed that the report had found no positive progress had been made by Myanmar in addressing the Rohingya crisis, since the previous report of June 2016.  Maldives was seriously concerned about reports of the impact this crisis was having on health care rights of the Rohingyas.  Maldives called on the Government of Myanmar to take concrete steps to realize the safe and sustainable return of Rohingyas to Myanmar. 

Procuraduria de los Derechos Humanos of Guatemala stated that there had been a concerted effort by the authorities in Guatemala to undermine democratic institutions and close down civic space.  The Congress of the Republic had taken various initiatives that were incompatible with human rights standards.  The law for a general amnesty should not be permitted to pass for this very reason.

International Office for Human Rights - Action on Colombia, Oidhaco regretted that despite the signing of the peace agreement between the FARC and the Government, there had been an increase in forced disappearances and violence, particularly against human rights defenders.  There was no progress made with the frameworks contained in the peace agreement.

Amman Center for Human Rights Studies called for action on the sale of arms in the Yemeni conflict and for humanitarian aid to be provided directly to civilians.  Weapons sold by the United States and Britain had killed over 1,000 people in Yemen and the international community had a responsibility to end this hypocrisy.  The Centre called on the Council to support the inter-Yemeni dialogue.

Peace Brigades International Switzerland said 2018 was particularly difficult for human rights defenders with a sharp increase of attacks against them in Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala.  The organization was disappointed in the underuse of justice in bringing violators to justice.

International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) called on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to work jointly with all civil society organizations in Venezuela and overcome the partiality that was evident in the work of her predecessor.  The Association called for the self-determination of nations with regard to the economic blockade of countries.  They called on Ms. Bachelet to visit Venezuela to see for herself the situation on the ground.

Health and Environment Program (HEP) said Yemen had been suffering from a coup d’état by the Houthi rebels, who had inflicted human rights violations across the country.  Concerning the group of eminent experts on Yemen, the Programme called on the international community to respect its limits within the mandate granted to it by the Security Council.  They believed civilians should be heard as well.

Union of Arab Jurists stated that in the last few years, over 3 million Venezuelans
had fled the country.  The exodus represented the largest in recent history in Latin America, and was due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis.  The Union warned that a military intervention would only exacerbate the situation.  They also criticized the effects of economic sanctions, which took their toll on ordinary civilians before anyone else. 

World Muslim Congress called on all States to fully cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner and Special Procedures to ensure that mandate holders had unhindered access to individuals and civil society.  India continued to deny access.  The speaker was stopped by the President.

International-Lawyers.Org said it was imperative that the United Nations addressed humanitarian crises through peaceful means and without military intervention.  The use of force was not a way to resolve international disputes.  The use of force only led to violations of human rights.  Iraq was a prime example.  Yemen had seen the same fate and now some States were considering the use of force against Venezuela.

Iraqi Development Organization said that if States truly cared for Yemeni lives and were serious about stopping the humanitarian catastrophe, they would withdraw support from the Saudi Coalition.  If they truly cared for Arab lives, they would condemn military interventions from Syria to Palestine.  The United Nations Charter had to be upheld.  The Saudi Coalition was the single biggest problem to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Yemen.

CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation was concerned about attacks against human rights defenders in South America, including 110 deaths in Colombia, and smear campaigns in Honduras.  In Guatemala, the environment remained hostile for human rights defenders, especially those working on indigenous and land issues.  CIVICUS called for the development of effective mechanisms and policies to protect human rights defenders.

Alsalam Foundation welcomed the High Commissioner’s statement of concern about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.  The Foundation agrees with the High Commissioner’s assessment of Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations.  The speaker was cut off by the President.

Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l'Homme said the Yemeni delegation had regrettably not called for the end of the war in Yemen, it had instead issued renewed threats.  The organization paid tribute to the Venezuelan revolution.  Civilians were suffering under economic blockades simply for refusing to live under the hegemony of the United States.

Amnesty International called on the Council to create a Commission of Inquiry to monitor and report on the serious human rights situation in Venezuela.  They remained concerned for the Rohingya in Rakhine state where their rights were still violated.  There was a need for international justice mechanisms to provide for the delivery of justice for the people of Myanmar.

Verein Südwind Entwicklungspolitik said it was with great disappointment that 40 years after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the right to independent trade unions in Iran was not recognized and the activists working on the right to trade unions and collective contracts were harassed, arrested and tortured.  

International Fellowship of Reconciliation welcomed the report in Cyprus.  In November last year, an organization held its General Assembly in Cyprus.  Nicosia liked to call itself the last divided city.  Somehow, it overlooked Jerusalem.  Indeed, the city was cut in half.  It was impossible to get a map of the country.

Imam Ali’s Popular Students Relief Society said that with respect to children’s rights in Iran, the Act to protect children and adolescents had been adopted in Parliament last year but the Council of Guardians had not yet approved it.  With respect to executions of juveniles, despite the amendments of the Islamic Penal Code, it was still possible to have juveniles under the age of 18 executed.

Center for Inquiry said that anyone suspected of being a non-believer in Iran was at risk of being sentenced despite article 23 guaranteeing freedom of belief.  Changing religion was a human right.

Association of World Citizens spoke about doctors who were imprisoned and therefore unable to practice their profession.  It asked what would happen to the families whose fathers languished in prison. 

Le Pont said the Colombian Government had the duty to implement the peace agreement, yet it hid the truth.  Regrettably the report did not reflect paramilitary activities and their harm to human rights defenders.  There had been no progress on human rights.  The killing of human rights defenders had increased.  There was one every 1.5 days.  There was a true humanitarian crisis in Colombia which the Council needed to address.
World Peace Council said that in order to understand the situation in Venezuela, it was important to consider sanctions by the United States.  The economy and the people were directly affected.  The systematic violation of international law was prominent.  Lack of justice was observed.  An investigation had to be carried out on who was violating human rights of Venezuelans

World Organisation Against Torture said that in Honduras, those guilty of violations remained unpunished.  In Guatemala, the rule of law was undermined, contrary to the separation of power, and there was aggression against human rights defenders.  In Venezuela, people who were participating in protests had to have their rights protected.

Franciscans International, in a joint statement with Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund and International Commission of Jurists, shared the concerns of the High Commissioner over Guatemala, particularly over the initiative to reform the National Reconciliation Law.  This reform would give amnesty to those who had committed serious crimes during the armed conflict, including those who had already been convicted.  States had to guarantee free participation to indigenous people.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development shared the concerns of the High Commissioner on the continuing violations, including sexual and gender based violence in Rakhine state.  It called on the Council to take concrete steps to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Fundación Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarrollo Social, in a joint statement with American Association of Jurists, said the financial blockade on Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) had caused the current crisis and called on all involved to be held responsible.  The Foundation rejected the update presented as it drew a veil on the enormous threat of intervention by the United States which had overshadowed activities in Venezuela.  The Foundation called on the High Commissioner to go to Venezuela to see the situation for herself.

Save the Children International noted that attacks on education in Yemen were exacerbating an already devastating crisis.  Some two million children were out of school and over 250 schools had been destroyed.  The organization called on the Yemeni Government to strengthen the implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration and on all other parties to the conflict to endorse and implement that declaration, noting that education was a prerequisite for ensuring sustainable peace and security in Yemen.

International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about the many human rights issues in Iran, especially with regard to the ongoing execution of minors, campaigns against people who demonstrated for their basic rights, and support for armed militias across the region.  It was also concerned about the destabilizing actions taken by Iran throughout the region.  For example, in Iraq, Iran supported armed militias that fomented violence and human rights violations across the country.

Colombian Commission of Jurists regretted that delays and failings in the implementation of the peace agreement by the Colombian Government, which raised questions about its readiness to fulfill the agreement.  The State had shown an intention to block the work of the special jurisdiction.  The peace agreement called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to include a special chapter on human rights and the organization called on the Council not to allow any accusations against the Office.

Europe-Third World Centre said it was important to highlight the interference of foreign countries such as the United States, European countries and those of the Lima Group, which had acted in a way that violated international law.  The established economic war against Venezuela was violating the rights of the Venezuelan people, and the organization urged the Council not to continue its campaign of destabilization, but to recognize its sovereign right.

Lutheran World Federation expressed its concern at the humanitarian situation in Myanmar.  The authorities’ camp closure policy was causing hardship, and they called on the Myanmar Government to adhere to international standards in the maintenance of refugee camps.  The Federation called on Myanmar to commit not to pursue coerced relocation of internally displaced persons, and to ensure their right of return at any point in the future.

Defence for Children International recognized the measures taken by the Colombian Government to prevent the recruitment of children by all armed groups in the country.  However, they noted that youth and adolescents in rural areas were not prioritized by the peace agreement.  Furthermore, vulnerable groups such as the elderly did not have access to health services and drinking water in rural areas.

Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development was concerned about the situation in Yemen.  Activities to protect children, educational activities and measures to combat violence were important and required technical assistance.  Assistance had to be provided to Yemeni women and children.

International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM) welcomed the High Commissioner’s report on Yemen, especially noting a Yemeni town which had been subjected to serious human rights violations and where 62 persons were killed by militias.  The Working Group on Yemen continued its work and the Association hoped that it would document all human rights violations and bring justice to the victims.  The immediate cessation of the use of landmines was needed and the protection of journalists’ rights was urged.

Human Rights Watch emphasized that in Venezuela, demonstrators were subjected to violence.  These were not some isolated incidents but part of a systematic pattern that had been documented by Human Rights Watch since 2014.  Another concern was the Venezuelan health system which had completely collapsed, resulting in an outbreak of measles.

International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists said this year marked the seventieth anniversary of the Convention against Genocide, yet there had been examples of genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda and more recently in Myanmar.  The Association called on all States to sign the Convention on Genocide and live up to their obligations.

International Service for Human Rights, in a joint statement with Colombian Commission of Jurists, said that although the overall number of murder cases had fallen since the peace agreement signed with the FARC, the rate of murder of human rights defenders had increased in Colombia.  The local frameworks on protection and reconciliation gave undue emphasis on militarization rather than civil society.  Their protection must be improved as bullet proof vests only went so far.

The International Organisation for LDCs said that the High Commissioner’s report on Yemen was not an exhaustive report and questioned the methodology used.  It urged the group of experts to review their findings in the field rather than base their judgments on allegations or place too much emphasis on local non-governmental organizations.

Right of Reply

Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), speaking in a right of reply, referred to the unfounded statements made by certain countries, including the “North American Empire.”  A pseudo-government was undermining the people of Venezuela, which had had many elections and had been able to set up one of the most transparent election systems in the world.  The opposition had lost its support and the attempted coup d’état had failed.  There had been fruitless attempts to destabilize Venezuela and its territorial integrity, undermining access to basic services, just to justify a military intervention.  How could those with questionable credentials question Venezuela’s democracy?  Venezuela stood ready to dialogue with the United Nations and it welcomed visits by the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Cyprus, speaking in a right of reply in response to Turkey, said that Turkey’s occupation power in Cyprus carried responsibilities that emanated from the Geneva Conventions.  Several European courts had ruled that Turkey had effective control over Northern Cyprus and that it carried responsibility for violations of human rights by Turkish soldiers and officials.  Any alleged isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community was due to this continuing Turkish occupation.   What the Cypriots could not digest was Turkey’s insistence on turning Cyprus into its protectorate, a satellite State.

Guatemala, speaking in a right of reply, stated that the International Commission against Impunity did not operate in Guatemala any more as it had been found to have participated in illegal acts.  It was an experiment and had caused enormous harm to the institutions of the Guatemalan State.  Guatemala respected the sovereignty of all Member States, and hoped that other countries would do the same.  Guatemala respected the sovereignty of its people, as was evidenced by the calling of elections, which would happen soon.

Islamic Republic of Iran, speaking in a right of reply, rebuked the United Kingdom for criticizing human rights in Iran, and urged them to first look at home before raising issues in other countries.  The United Kingdom continued to supply weapons to the region, causing tens of thousands of deaths in Yemen and Iraq, for which it should be held culpable.  As for the representative of Israel, Iran preferred to not waste time responding to these allegations, as that regime was responsible for seven decades of oppression.

_______

For use of the information media; not an official record