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Human Rights Council Begins Interactive Discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Annual Report and Concludes Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea

22 June 2021

The Human Rights Council this morning began an interactive discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her annual report after concluding its dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. It also heard a statement by the Attorney General of Ethiopia.

In the discussion with the High Commissioner, speakers stressed that many pillars of democracy were being challenged today, including by countries which had ratified international treaties. All forms of intimidation and reprisals against civil society actors and human rights defenders were condemned, and countries were asked to address them. Some countries used human rights as an excuse for military intervention and unilateral coercive measures, which had brought untold sufferings to the people of other countries. The Office of the High Commissioner and the Council were commended for promoting a human rights response to COVID-19 and its recovery, as COVID-19 severely tested the potential of governments to exercise the enjoyment of all human rights globally. Speakers said that human rights must not be instrumentalised and noted that some situations were intensely scrutinised, while others were completely ignored - there was a collective crisis of solidarity that threatened the basic principles of the Council.

Speaking were Costa Rica on behalf of a group of countries, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Norway on behalf of a group of countries, Netherlands on behalf of a group of countries, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Netherlands on behalf of a group of countries, United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Haiti on behalf of a group of countries, Timor Leste on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Russian Federation on behalf of a group of countries, Belarus on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Canada on behalf of a group of countries, Qatar, Liechtenstein, Canada, Cuba, Luxembourg, Germany, Kuwait, Ecuador, Slovenia, Switzerland, France, Viet Nam, United Nations Development Programme, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, State of Palestine, Portugal, Australia, Finland, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Republic of Korea, Fiji, Czech Republic, Senegal, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Japan, Bahrain, Estonia, Armenia, Iraq, Syria, China, Chile, Burkina Faso, India, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Maldives, Morocco, Lebanon, Norway, Algeria, Iran, Venezuela, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, United States, Jordan, Greece, Slovakia, Namibia, South Africa, Austria, Latvia, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Belarus, Ireland, Pakistan, Belgium, Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Timor-Leste, Georgia, Argentina, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Turkey, Afghanistan, Cabo Verde, and Ethiopia.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

Speakers welcomed the Special Rapporteur's report and said it pointed to a lack of political will, not a lack of capacity in addressing human rights violations. The situation in Eritrea was worsening and the Council was urged to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Rape and deliberate targeting of civilians in Tigray region was alarming. Despite the recent releases, individuals continued to be held incommunicado and detained indefinitely, some for decades.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Babiker said that the international community could alleviate the plight of the Eritrean refugees by encouraging civil society in the diaspora to engage with the mandate as they had access to Eritrean refugees. He encouraged countries to adopt best practices on laws relating to the integration of refugees to mitigate their being exposed to human trafficking in the region. States were invited to help Eritrea to improve its human rights record and resolve the conflict in Tigray. Mr. Babiker expressed hope that Eritrea would be willing to cooperate with the mandate in the future.

The following civil society organizations took the floor: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Elizka Relief Foundation, Centre for Global Nonkilling, Human Rights Watch, and CIVICUS.

At the end of the meeting, the Council was addressed by Gedion Timothewos, Attorney General of Ethiopia. He informed the Council that the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front had rebuffed the Ethiopian Government's repeated plea to resolve differences in a peaceful manner and had attacked the Ethiopian National Defence Force. This act of aggression and treason posed a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ethiopian State and a danger to the stability of the entire Horn of Africa region. Therefore, it was a duty upon the Government of Ethiopia to take appropriate measures against the illegal army and to restore lawful authority in the Tigray region. Mr. Timothewos said that premature and untimely resolutions in this Council's session would constitute undue interference with ongoing investigations and would only undermine the integrity of ongoing investigations and do nothing to advance the cause of human rights.

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-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to conclude the interactive discussion on the annual report of the High Commissioner. It will then hear the High Commissioner for Human Rights present the report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Iran, followed by her oral update on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, followed by statements from the concerned countries. This will be followed by the presentation of a report by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, taking stock of the right to adequate housing 20 years after the creation of the mandate, and on the mission of his predecessor, Leilani Farha, to New Zealand, followed by an interactive discussion.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea

The interactive dialogue with Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, started on 21 June and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers welcomed the report and said it pointed to a lack of political will, not a lack of capacity in addressing human rights violations. The situation in Eritrea was worsening and the Council was urged to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Reports of rape and deliberate targeting of civilians in Tigray region were alarming. Despite the recent releases, individuals continued to be held incommunicado and detained indefinitely, some for decades. The situation regarding arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and religious persecution was also concerning. Grave violations of international humanitarian law by Eritrean troops were alarming and the authorities were doing nothing to address this, despite being members of the Council. The Eritrean Government continued to be one of the most repressive globally. What other avenues of international pressure could be leveraged in the continued rejection of the Eritrean Government to cooperate?

Concluding Remarks

MOHAMED ABDELSALAM BABIKER, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, in his concluding remarks, said that the international community could alleviate the plight of the Eritrean refugees by encouraging civil society in the diaspora to engage with the mandate as they had access to Eritrean refugees. States in the region could also facilitate his mandate in the region, especially in host countries. He encouraged countries to adopt best practices on laws relating to the integration of refugees to mitigate refugees being exposed to human trafficking in the region. States could also adopt best practices on laws relating to the integration of refugees to mitigate their being exposed to human trafficking in the region. States were invited to help Eritrea to improve its human rights record and resolve the conflict in Tigray. It was difficult to ascertain the degree of arbitrary detention. There was a complete lack of the rule of law. It was not acceptable that people were detained without charge or being informed about the reason for their arrest. Eritrea must stop arbitrary detention and release all detained persons. Freedom of thought and religion must be respected and the recent closures of Muslim schools must stop. Before capacity building could work in Eritrea, the country must undergo significant institutional reforms. To ensure accountability for human rights violations, States should consider institutional and individual sanctions, as well as protecting the independence of any investigations. Mr. Babiker expressed hope that Eritrea would be willing to cooperate with the mandate in the future.

Interactive Discussion on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Michele Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented an oral update on her annual report on 21 June and a summary can be found here.

Interactive Discussion

Speakers stressed that many pillars of democracy were being challenged today, including by countries which had ratified international treaties. All forms of intimidation and reprisals against civil society actors and human rights defenders were condemned, and countries were asked to address them. Attention was drawn to political, economic and social crises as well as human rights violations in a number of countries and regions. Some speakers noted that certain countries were using baseless accusations as a means to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, severely violating the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, while turning a blind eye to their own serious human rights problems. Also, some countries used human rights as an excuse for military intervention and unilateral coercive measures, which had brought untold suffering to the peoples of other countries. States should enhance peace and development and promote true multilateralism instead of encouraging divisions and confrontations.

There was an increased tendency by the Office of the High Commissioner and mandate holders to interpret themselves the provisions of intergovernmental decisions and to use disrespectful language in public statements and news releases. The Office of the High Commissioner and the Council were commended for promoting human rights response to COVID-19 and its recovery, as COVID-19 severely tested the potential of governments to exercise the enjoyment of all human rights globally. Recovery efforts had to focus on socio-economic and cultural rights and the vaccination process should be offered to all. All Member States were urged to pay their contributions to the United Nations. Hope was expressed that new technologies and digital space offered better means for monitoring abuses and mobilising support to human rights defenders.

The rise of nationalism, racism, Islamophobia and terrorism was concerning to speakers. Freedom of expression and freedom of the media were important components of any democratic society, speakers said, calling on States to protect journalists. Societies had the right to choose their principles and values, and must not be forced to fit into a particular template. All independent human rights mechanisms and mandates must have full access to the territories where violations were taking place. The promotion of human rights was all the more important during the period of global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. These ongoing challenges complicated the protection of human rights around the world. The most vulnerable persons in every society must be prioritised, as many speakers outlined their national strategies and achievements in this regard. Speakers in particular welcomed the ongoing technical assistance provided to countries that requested it, but noted that there was an increase in interventions into the internal affairs of States - this was not helpful in addressing human rights situations. The High Commissioner's call to reduce the debt burden of developing States in order to return to the path of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was praised by speakers.

Speakers noted the recent global digital transformation, highlighting the need to promote human rights during the digital age and implement the international human rights framework in cyberspace. Human rights must not be instrumentalised, speakers said, noting that some situations were intensely scrutinised, while others were completely ignored - there was a collective crisis of solidarity that threatened the basic principles of the Council. Countries had a sovereign right to use and enforce capital punishment to ensure justice. Many speakers criticised a large number of violations in a wide variety of countries, regions and territories across the globe, including: violations committed by occupying powers in occupied territories; the assault on religious and ethnic minorities, the deteriorating situation of refugees; criminalisation of human rights defenders; deep-rooted racial discrimination that resulted in violations committed by police forces; unacceptable impunity in certain territories where alleged war crimes were committed; the ongoing arbitrary attacks on political opposition by various Governments; and the historic and current treatment of indigenous populations.

Statement by the Attorney General of Ethiopia

GEDION TIMOTHEWOS, Attorney General of Ethiopia, said that reform efforts in Ethiopia had been faced with serious challenges, including the attempt by the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front, a terrorist group well known for committing human rights violations over the last three decades, to reclaim power through illegitimate and violent means. The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front had rebuffed the Government's repeated plea to resolve differences in a peaceful manner and had attacked the Ethiopian National Defence Force. This act of aggression and treason posed a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ethiopian State and a danger to the stability of the entire Horn of Africa region. Therefore, it was a duty upon the Government of Ethiopia to take appropriate measures against the illegal army and to restore lawful authority in the Tigray region. Seven months after the successful conclusion of the law enforcement operation against the terrorists, the federal Government had been working to grant unfettered humanitarian access to humanitarian workers while rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts were underway and had made progress in restoring basic social and economic services.

Following reports of alleged crimes committed in the Tigray region during the past few months, the Government of Ethiopia had committed to carrying out investigations to bring the perpetrators to justice. The investigation into the atrocities committed in the town of Mikadra had been completed and the trial of the suspects would commence in the coming weeks. Investigation into the crimes committed in the city of Axum were also being finalised. A joint investigation team composed of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had already been deployed and had commenced its work. Those who were involved in committing crimes would be brought to justice and the Council needed to let justice run its course. Mr. Timothewos said that premature and untimely resolutions in this Council's session would constitute undue interference with ongoing investigations and would only undermine the integrity of ongoing investigations and do nothing to advance the cause of human rights. Ethiopia called on the Council to support its efforts, particularly by providing the requisite time and space for the investigations to be completed.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/06/conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-lethiopie-demande-de-ne-pas-adopter

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For use of the information media; not an official record