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Human Rights violations suffered by displaced persons are well known, but the extent to which they are affected by contemporary forms of slavery is often overlooked - Special Rapporteur to Human Rights Council

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17 Сентябрь 2021

MORNING

17 September 2021

High Commissioner Calls on the Council to Enhance its Focus on the Experience and Human Rights of Women and Girls in the Council’s Analysis of Conflict and Post-conflict Situations  

Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development 

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, started an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the current state of play of the mainstreaming of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations in the work of the Council, and concluded its interactive dialogue with the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development.

Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, said he had devoted his new thematic report to a very pressing issue: the nexus between displacement and contemporary forms of slavery.  At the end of 2020, there were globally 82.4 million forcibly displaced persons in 2021 and this number had increased further in the context of the mass displacements which had taken place in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  The multiple human rights violations suffered by displaced persons were well known but what was often overlooked and less understood was the extent to which they were affected by contemporary forms of slavery.  He further highlighted the gendered nature of some contemporary forms of slavery, such as forced/early marriage and domestic servitude, as displaced women and girls were severely affected by these practices and faced an additional risk of sexual violence, which may amount to sexual slavery.  He had also

assessed the worst forms of child labour and other practices affecting displaced children. 

In the discussion, speakers said that the Special Rapporteur’s report clearly showed how vulnerability to contemporary forms of slavery was further exacerbated by displacement, be it internal or international.  The gender dimension of slavery was undeniable and of particular concern: over 70 per cent of slavery victims were girls and women.  Speakers applauded and extended the Special Rapporteur’s call to see displaced persons not as a burden, but as rights holders with the potential to actively contribute to the economy.  They warned that displaced children were at high risk of contemporary forms of slavery, including sale and trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced or compulsory labour, and forced recruitment into criminal groups, including armed and terrorist groups. 

Speaking in the discussion were: European Union, China, Liechtenstein, Sovereign Order of Malta, France, United Nations Children’s Fund, Indonesia, Ecuador, Australia, Israel, Japan, Egypt, Iraq, South Africa, Thailand, Venezuela, Cuba, United States, Russian Federation, Belarus, Malaysia, Brazil, Namibia, China, Libya, Mauritania, Pakistan, Ukraine, UN Women, Algeria, Philippines, United Kingdom, Lebanon, Mali, Malawi, Panama, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Iran. 

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Anti-Slavery International, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi, International-Lawyers.Org, Association for Defending Victims of Terrorism, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Beijing NGO Association for International Exchanges, and China Society for Human Rights Studies.

The Council then heard the presentation of the analytical report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the current state of play of the mainstreaming of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations, followed by an interactive dialogue.
Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the peace and security of societies were intrinsically interconnected to the human rights of women and girls.  This linkage was clearly reflected in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325.  In conflicts and disasters, women and girls – already burdened by wide-ranging discrimination – often faced heightened vulnerability and even deeper discrimination.  Insecurity and displacement also fuelled increased sexual and gender-based violence, as well as other crimes and human rights violations.  In the last five years, the Human Rights Council had contributed to the increased promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post conflict situations through its resolutions, Universal Periodic Review recommendations, Special Procedures reports and the work of investigative bodies.  However, focus on the experience and human rights of women and girls was still not consistent throughout the Council’s analysis of conflict and post conflict situations and should be enhanced. 
In the discussion, speakers welcomed the High Commissioner’s report and stated that the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations lay at the heart of their transformative goals to achieve zero maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning and zero gender-based violence, including harmful practices everywhere.  Regardless of the setting, conflict or post conflict, gender inequality continued to underpin the perpetration of gender-based violence.  There were still remaining gaps that deserved the attention of the Human Rights Council and speakers regretted that these kinds of violence were still rarely prosecuted as a war crime or a crime against humanity. 

Speaking in the discussion were: European Union, Egypt, Argentina, Denmark, State of Palestine, Greece, Sovereign Order of Malta, France, Israel, Armenia, Indonesia, Ecuador, Slovenia, United Nations Children’s Fund, Spain, Australia, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq and Republic of Korea. 

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development. 

Speaking in the discussion were Syria, Sudan, South Africa, Nigeria, Tunisia, Malawi, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Tanzania, Suriname, Cambodia and Azerbaijan. 

The following national human rights institution took the floor: National Human Rights Commission India.  The following non-governmental organizations also spoke: You Change China Social Entrepreneur Foundation, Disability Association of Tavana, Centre du Commerce International pour le Développement, China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetian Culture, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Rahbord Peimayesh Research & Educational Services Cooperative, Jameh Ehyagaran Teb Sonnati Va Salamat Iranian, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, Sikh Human Rights Group,  and Beijing NGO Association for International Exchanges.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 3 p.m. this afternoon to continue the interactive dialogue on the analytical report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the current state of play of the mainstreaming of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations.  This will be followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to development. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development
Klentiana Mahmutaj, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development, presented the Mechanism’s reports on Thursday, 16 September, and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers said that the right to development was an essential cornerstone for building societies, adding that nations must pledge the right to development as a right for all individuals and peoples.  All around the world, primarily in the Global South, projects by transnational corporations used their lobbying and economic power to further policies of privatisation, deregulation and tax cuts, all with the promise of development, while opposing the advancement of other rights, dividing them or relegating some over others.  There was already enough evidence on the profound mismatch between neoliberal capitalism, patriarchy, racism and colonialism and the right to development and the environmental crisis.  Speakers called on the Human Rights Council, the United Nations system and Member States to recognise that a comprehensive and radical change and approach on the current economic and political order was the only way to achieve sustainable development and human rights.  Some speakers insisted that the right to development was a basic human right and highly related to all other human rights, adding that development was the foundation for human rights protection

On climate change, speakers stated their firm belief that the right to development offered the right lens through which the international community should address the climate threat.  In fact, they added, the right to development brought a holistic vision of human needs and development - a vision that should be applied in creating new economic models and ways of production and consumption that were inclusive of and protected the most vulnerable people.  The training of professional technical and skilled personnel in climate and environmental protection at the vocational education level was an important way to effectively respond to climate change and fulfil climate protection responsibilities.  The right to development must be enjoyed by every individual regardless of race, colour, political affiliation, or country.  One speaker said that the right to development in a number of countries was threatened because of unilateral coercive measures.

Concluding Remarks

KLENTIANA MAHMUTAJ, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development, said that she agreed with the comments made on vaccine nationalism and that the unequal distribution of vaccines was an issue that impacted the right to development.  Vaccines should be treated as a public good.  On racism, she explained that it was a barrier to the right of development and that the Expert Mechanism’s second study would focus on this.  This study would provide advice on how to levy those barriers and highlight the relevance of civil and political rights in the context of development.  “We must reflect on the impact of the pandemic not only on the domestic level but also regional and global level as COVID-19 has been relentless with effect on human rights”, she said.  Developing countries and least developed countries had suffered the most and this was the time to treat international cooperation as our common legal duty".

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery

Presentation of Report

TOMOYA OBOKATA, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, said he had devoted his new thematic report to a very pressing issue: the nexus between displacement and contemporary forms of slavery.  At the end of 2020, there were globally 82.4 million forcibly displaced persons and in 2021 this number had increased further in the context of the mass displacements which had taken place in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  Over 40 per cent of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons were children under the age of 18 and it was estimated that one in three displaced persons was stateless.  The multiple human rights violations suffered by displaced persons were well known but what was often overlooked and less understood was the extent to which they were affected by contemporary forms of slavery.  It was important to understand from the outset that several factors rendered displaced persons vulnerable to contemporary forms of slavery and related practices.  Among these were poverty; discrimination on multiple grounds; a person’s migration status; informality of employment; camp settings; and exposure to criminal groups, traffickers and people smugglers.  These factors were often exacerbated by emergency situations such as armed conflicts, disasters and the effects of a health crisis like COVID-19.  He further highlighted the gendered nature of some contemporary forms of slavery, such as forced/early marriage and domestic servitude, as displaced women and girls were severely affected by these practices and faced an additional risk of sexual violence, which may amount to sexual slavery.

2021 marked the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour.  In that context, he had assessed the worst forms of child labour and other practices affecting displaced children.  Displaced children, including stateless children, often had no or limited access to education, and therefore were vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.  He specified that the risk was greater when displaced parents were unable to work due to various hurdles imposed by host communities or countries, as this forced some families to send their children to work in order to survive.  Despite the imminent concerns mentioned, he was able to identify some good practices in his report, particularly regarding displaced persons’ access to employment, which could prevent them from being victimised in contemporary forms of slavery.  He had received information that those with medical qualifications had been at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas and Europe.  These were positive examples, he further explained, but States needed to do much more, particularly in emergency settings: "displaced persons must have freedom of movement and access to decent work so that they can secure their livelihood and decrease dependence on humanitarian assistance as well as vulnerability to exploitation" he said.  The inclusion and integration of displaced persons in host communities was also a key for establishing durable solutions as temporary solutions were mostly inadequate given the protracted nature of today’s displacements, most of which were lasting more than 10 years.

Discussion

Speakers said that the Special Rapporteur report clearly showed how vulnerability to contemporary forms of slavery was further exacerbated by displacement, be it internal or international.  They welcomed in particular the special focus he put on contemporary forms of slavery affecting displaced children as it was of utmost importance that the human rights of all were protected, especially of individuals in vulnerable situations.  The gender dimension of slavery was undeniable and of particular concern: over 70 per cent of slavery victims were girls and women.  Further speakers shared the Special Rapporteur’s concern about internally displaced persons and refugees because of the situations of extreme vulnerability to which they were exposed, such as exploitation and contemporary forms of slavery.  The neoliberal, capitalist and predatory economic system exacerbated social stratification by creating opprobrious patterns of exploitation of human beings.  Poverty, discrimination, armed conflicts, as well as the imposition of illegal unilateral coercive measures, were factors that could generate situations of human mobility and expose people to exploitation and other forms of contemporary slavery.

One speaker thanked the Special Rapporteur for outlining his view of the relationship between displacement and contemporary forms of slavery and shared the view that these phenomena must be considered together.  A large part of the report, albeit justifiably, was not so much about slavery as it was about migration, poverty, trafficking in persons, including children, and sexual exploitation, especially of women and girls, along with the situation of people of African descent, mercenary issues, religion and beliefs.  Without questioning such a comprehensive approach, some speakers said they did not agree with all the recommendations as some seemed to be too intrusive.  With regard to the call for unconditional acceptance of displaced persons "not as a burden but as rights holders", speakers said that they were convinced that the rights of displaced persons, even if they were truly vulnerable, did not remove their obligation to respect the laws and regulations of their host States.

Intermediary Remarks

TOMOYA OBOKATA, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, said that in order to provide specific support to victims of contemporary forms of slavery, States must collect disaggregated data and apply a gender-sensitive approach.  No country was spared from contemporary forms of slavery, and each of them must take appropriate measures to fight this phenomenon.   He welcomed the initiatives presented by countries to fight against contemporary forms of slavery and invited delegations to send him their good practices, so that he could share them.  Additionally, he underlined the fundamental role of faith-based organizations in the fight against slavery, as they carried out very important field work.  He also recalled the importance of working with the private sector to fight against modern slavery.  Mr. Obokata also stressed that he was aware of the difficulties encountered by some countries and insisted on the need for international cooperation in this field between States and with international organizations.  He concluded by inviting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to work on this issue and to develop cooperation with other human rights mechanisms working in this field.

Discussion

Speakers applauded and extended the Special Rapporteur’s call to see displaced persons not as a burden, but as rights holders with the potential to actively contribute to the economy.  By increasing access to labour and social protections, States and other actors could make essential strides towards the eradication of contemporary forms of slavery.  In conflict areas, sexual slavery, recruitment of children, forced labour and abduction of women and girls for forced marriages were commonly reported.  Speakers emphasised the importance of addressing the gendered nature of modern slavery and the linkages between gender inequality, modern slavery and displacement.  Women and girls that lived in displacement were at significant risk of abduction, extortion, forced marriage, sexual exploitation and forced labour.  Displacement disrupted the lives of the women and girls who were forced to move, including their schooling, training, employment, and livelihoods.  Displaced children were also at high risk of contemporary forms of slavery, including sale and trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced or compulsory labour, and forced recruitment into criminal groups, including armed and terrorist groups.  Children who migrated alone and stateless children were particularly at risk, as well as displaced children who may not have access to birth registration.

Some speakers also stated that the vulnerability to slavery was exacerbated in situations of crisis where protective laws and norms were threatened – including political unrest, armed conflict, disasters, and public health emergencies.  Climate change was one of the greatest emergencies facing the world today.  It was a human rights disaster that hit hardest those who were least responsible for it.  Speakers called for the recognition and prioritisation of the connection between climate-induced migration and slavery and integrated actions into climate resilience plans, migration response plans and national development plans and an integrated social, economic, and environmental response that prioritised the needs of, and listened to the voices of, those most affected as well as for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence laws with strong liability provisions at state and regional levels.  States labour regulations, social protection programmes, international borders management, and weak human rights institutions were at the centre of violations of human dignity for all those moving across countries to survive and rebuild a dignified life.  There was a need to address lawmakers and to enforce national policies to make sure that every person on this planet was free from exploitation and persecution. 

Concluding Remarks

TOMOYA OBOKATA, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, said it was difficult when States did not ratify treaties related to his mandate as treaties were making it an obligation to address moderns form of slavery.  He called for more research to be carried out on slavery being a cause of displacement, adding that his door was open as he invited people to reach out to him.  On emergency situations, he stated the importance of integrating anti-slavery into humanitarian strategies, highlighting how much access to decent work was key, and how internally displaced persons and refugees could positively contribute to national economies, particularly through formal employment.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Current State of Play of the Mainstreaming of the Human Rights of Women and Girls in Conflict and Post-conflict Situations in the Work of the Council

Presentation by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BECHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting her report on the current state of play of the mainstreaming of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations in the work of the Council, said that the peace and security of societies were intrinsically interconnected to the human rights of women and girls.  This linkage was clearly reflected in the landmark Security Council resolution 1325.  In conflicts and disasters, women and girls – already burdened by wide-ranging discrimination – often faced heightened vulnerability and even deeper discrimination.  Insecurity and displacement also fuelled increased sexual and gender-based violence, as well as other crimes and human rights violations such as trafficking, child, early and forced marriages, or denial of access to sexual and reproductive health services.  In the last five years, the Human Rights Council had contributed to the increased promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post conflict situations through its resolutions, Universal Periodic Review recommendations, Special Procedures reports and the work of investigative bodies.  However, focus on the experience and human rights of women and girls was still not consistent throughout the Council’s analysis of conflict and post conflict situations and should be enhanced. 

The High Commissioner said that approximately 20 per cent of relevant country resolutions contained references to the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations.  Despite significant progress, women’s and girls’ rights in conflict contexts were still not given consistent and adequate attention in some of the Council's resolutions and mechanisms.  Furthermore, essential issues affecting women and girls in these contexts were often overlooked.  The existing imbalance resulted in an overall narrative still mainly reducing women's experience of conflict to victimisation. 

The analysis and recommendations produced did not consistently take into account how gender-based discrimination shaped women’s and girls’ experience of conflict.  Being displaced, having reduced access to food, disruption of education and health services, just to mention some common features of conflict, had different and specific impacts on women and girls.  Not taking these into account resulted in overlooking exclusion and suffering and were failing to provide adequate attention to matters that could determine life or death or condition the capacity to thrive and recover after conflict.  A full understanding of women’s experience of conflict was critical for inclusive responses, and for promoting an enabling environment for women and girls in all their diversity to thrive and meaningfully participate in peace processes, peacebuilding, and recovery efforts.
Discussion

Speakers welcomed the High Commissioner’s report and stated that the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations lay at the heart of their transformative goals to achieve zero maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning and zero gender-based violence, including harmful practices everywhere.  Regardless of the setting, conflict or post conflict, gender inequality continued to underpin the perpetration of gender-based violence.  Some speakers highlighted that the intersection between the women and youth peace and security agendas pointed to the need to enable young women and girls to be active peacebuilders and participants in addressing conflict and post-conflict situations.  This could be achieved by developing capacities for meaningful and informed participation while promoting an inclusive and enabling environment for the exercise of their civil and political rights free from discrimination, harassment and reprisals.

Some speakers welcomed the pertinent and sound report on the mainstreaming of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations and commended the progress made in this regard.  However, they mentioned that there were still remaining gaps that deserved the attention of the Human Rights Council.  Especially in times of conflict and post-conflict, women and girls were more at risk of human rights violations and abuses, and conflict-related violence, including sexual- and gender-based violence, than men.  These kinds of violence were still rarely prosecuted as a war crime or a crime against humanity.  One speaker said that the rights of women and girls must be promoted and protected in all countries, with full respect for national legislation and sovereignty, through cooperation and dialogue, and without impositions.  The Council should be able to address these issues without the need to legitimise the harmful practices of Security Council interference in other bodies, nor the securitisation of the human rights agenda.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/les-nombreuses-violations-subies-par-les-personnes-deplacees

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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