Human Rights Council
28 February 2020
Concludes General Debate on High Commissioner's Oral Update and on Country Reports and Updates by the Secretary-General and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Human Rights Council this morning started an interactive dialogue with Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on the oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and country reports and oral updates by the Secretary-General and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Presenting his report, Mr. Melzer noted that his mandate could not deal with the many requests it received due to limited resources. The unprecedented measure by the Government of Norway to withdraw $ 100,000 from his mandate had deprived his office of its entire research budget and had caused significant delays in his thematic work. Given the increasingly constrained resources and the constantly growing demand, Mr. Melzer appealed for additional contributions and resources that would allow his mandate to better respond to the needs of its beneficiaries. The Special Rapporteur then proceeded to present his reports on his country visits to Comoros and Maldives, and his thematic report on psychological torture.
Comoros spoke as a concerned country.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers noted that the Special Rapporteur's thematic report made an important contribution to a holistic understanding of torture. They called upon all States to fully investigate all alleged cases of torture and to safeguard human rights for every individual. Torture could not be justified under any circumstance and all States were bound to prohibit torture under customary international law. The issue of psychological torture was very complex, but speakers affirmed that there was no difference between the physical and psychological or mental forms of torture. A definition of psychological torture should be incorporated within national legislation. It was noted that some countries already had psychological torture incorporated in their national anti-torture acts. Speakers noted that it was worthwhile exploring the impact of technological and communication advances and their impact on psychological torture as cyber torture was an emerging area of concern, as well as thoroughly look at the use of torture to fight terrorism.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Burkina Faso on behalf of African Group, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, European Union, Chile on behalf of a group of countries, Czech Republic, Pakistan, Brazil, Palestine, Cuba, Switzerland, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, Philippines, France, Ecuador, Malaysia, Tunisia, Fiji, Morocco, and Denmark.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on the oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and country reports and oral updates by the Secretary-General and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In the general debate, speakers regretted human rights abuses in many countries. They expressed alarm at the widespread and grave nature of human rights violations and crimes under international law observed in a number of States in the context of recent protests. Likewise, they noted that the attacks on environmental human rights defenders, particularly against indigenous peoples, were escalating. It would be a serious defeat for the United Nations human rights mechanism if that trend continued. Speakers drew attention to countries where legal systems had repeatedly demonstrated a chronic inability to address systemic and entrenched impunity for crimes under international law perpetrated by military and security forces. They thanked the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for continuing to focus on the risks from migration and urged the Human Rights Council to be more active in that respect. They underlined the United Nations' singular responsibility for non-self-governing territories, whereas some speakers suggested that the analysis of drinking water quality be used as an objective indicator of the state of human rights.
The following civil society organizations took the floor during the general debate: Procuraduria de los Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (video statement), Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos de Honduras (video statement), Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (video statement), International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Franciscans International, Synergie Feminine pour la Paix et le Développement Durable, American Association of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Zéro pauvre A, African Green Foundation International, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Africa Culture Internationale, International Service for Human Rights, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Association international pour l'égalité des femmes, Article 19 – International Centre Against Censorship, Center for Reproductive Rights, Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries, Réseau international des droits humains, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, Center for Justice and International Law, Association d'Entraide Médicale Guinée, World Muslim Congress, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Bureau International des Droits Humains – Action Colombie, Solidarité Suisse-Guinée, Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés, China Society for Human Rights Studies, International Buddhist Relief Organization, Iuventum e.V., International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Fundación Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarrollo Social, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Alsalam Foundation, Peace Brigades International Switzerland, TOBE Foundation for Rights and Freedoms, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, Women's International Democratic Federation, Action of Human Movement, Colombian Commission of Jurists, Women's Human Rights International Association, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Human Rights Watch, Commission africaine des promoteurs de la santé et des droits de l'homme, Global Action on Aging, International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, Human Rights Information and Training Center, Friends World Committee for Consultation, World Organisation Against Torture, Association Culturelle des Tamouls en France, Association Thendral, Association des étudiants tamouls de France, Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l'amitié entre les peoples, Liberation, World Peace Council, Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul, and Community Human Rights and Advocacy Centre.
The presentations of the High Commission of her reports and the first part of the general debate can be found
Speaking in right of reply at the end of the general debate were India, Venezuela, Iran, Cambodia, Cyprus, China, Armenia, Myanmar, Colombia, Chile, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and Bangladesh.
The meetings of the forty-third regular session of the Human Rights Council can be followed on the webcast of
UN Web TV.
The Council will continue its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment at 3 p.m. this afternoon, and will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.
General Debate on the Oral Update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Country Reports and Oral Updates by the Secretary-General and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Procuraduri de los derechos humanos de Guatemala said that last year in the Council, the challenges facing Guatemala had been discussed, which included closure of civic space by the Congress through attempts to destroy public institutions. Numerous demonstrations had taken place at the national level. It was very difficult to carry out the mandate of the Procaduria de los derechos humanos de Guatemala in such circumstances.
Comisionado Nacional de los derechos humanos de Honduras, in a video statement, said that poverty, and lack of institutional coordination between the society and the Government, was a serious threat to the living conditions of citizens. This had led to forced displacement both internally and externally. It was a priority to adopt proper national policies and to implement a national plan for sustainable development and human security.
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka was encouraged by the High Commissioner's recognition of the role played by the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution in strengthening independent institutions. There was a need to strengthen the office of missing persons and the office of reparations, and human rights defenders and journalists had to be free to act without fear of adverse consequences.
International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, in a joint statement, said they were deeply concerned about significant backsliding of human rights in Sri Lanka, underscored by the Government's decision to go back on commitments made through resolution 30/1. The Council was urged to hold Sri Lanka accountable under international law and to establish an international accountability mechanism on Sri Lanka.
Franciscans International remarked on the human rights situation in Guatemala, noting that measures taken by the Government were neither proportional nor necessary, with numerous indigenous territories under attack. The recent non-governmental organization law violated international treaties and the constitution of the country. They urged the new Government to respect human rights across all territories.
Synergie Feminine Pour La Paix Et Le Developpement Durable said that the use of mines in the conflict in Yemen, which was a crime, was only used by the Houthis, and they must be held responsible for their effects. A report to the Security Council showed that only Houthis used mines which were banned internationally. The Houthis must stop using mines and must provide maps to make it possible to locate these mines.
American Association of Jurists, speaking on behalf of more than 200 organizations of the Sahrawi National Commission for Human Rights, expressed serious concern about the policy of non-action by the Office of the High Commissioner related to violations in the occupied territory of Western Sahara that had been illegally annexed by Morocco. The organizations asked that technical missions to Western Sahara be resumed.
International Federation For Human Rights Leagues regretted the human rights abuses in Nicaragua, and noted that a culture of impunity remained pervasive, with the whole country effectively becoming a prison. Spying and physical persecution was asphyxiating, physical violence against journalists and civil society was pervasive, and civil society organizations were outlawed. The Office of the High Commissioner should continue to provide information on the human rights conditions in Nicaragua.
International Fellowship of Reconciliation voiced concern about the dire human rights and humanitarian disaster in Syria, as well as the killing of protesters in Iraq and Chile. It observed that the High Commissioner had not mentioned the disproportionate force used by the police against unarmed protesters in France. It also expressed an ongoing concern about the military service in Eritrea and Cyprus, and irregular recruitment practices in Colombia.
Zéro pauvre A reminded that in the war in Yemen imposed by the coup d'état by the Houthis, different international organizations had been providing humanitarian assistance. However, the Houthis had diverted that assistance and sold it on the black market. They had imposed a 2 per cent tax on humanitarian organizations, which was unheard of. Measures had to be taken to ensure that humanitarian assistance reached the beneficiaries.
African Green Foundation International welcomed the decision of the Sri Lankan Government to withdraw from co-sponsorship of resolutions 30/1 and 40/1. It was imperative to let Sri Lanka chart its own path to reconciliation in order for it to be sustainable. The Government of Sri Lanka had declared its commitment to achieve sustainable peace through an inclusive, domestically designed and implemented reconciliation accountability process.
Right Livelihood Award Foundation drew attention to human rights abuses in Western Sahara and expressed serious concern about the suffering of the Sahrawi people. Since 1975, Morocco had been systematically violating their legitimate rights, and all of that was taking pace right under the nose of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. The Foundation demanded that the monitoring of human rights in Western Sahara be included in the Mission's mandate.
International Association of Democratic Lawyers said that technical assistance and capacity building were fundamental to human rights advancement. It was important for Venezuela, where the population suffered from the effects of unilateral coercive measures. The Office of the High Commissioner was asked to look into the impact of sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights and to ask for the removal of these sanctions.
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies welcomed the update on Egypt which had highlighted enforced disappearances and the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders. The report on Libya called for the establishment of an investigative mechanism to promote accountability for human rights violations. There had been seven paramilitary assaults on public prosecution offices and Libyan courts and States were called upon to support the creation of the Commission of Inquiry.
Africa Culture Internationale said that the human rights situation had deteriorated in many areas around the world. The rights of 25 million displaced persons and refugees were being violated. Refugees had to enjoy their rights as guaranteed by international instruments. The Polisaro Front in the Tindouf camps, as a non-state actor, undermined the human rights of refugees. The Council was called upon to act in the face of such abuses.
International Service for Human Rights noted the arbitrary detention of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, systematic intimidation and reprisals against defenders in Egypt, and government inaction over lethal force used against peaceful protestors by police and vigilante groups in India. Both at home and abroad, China was silencing defenders. Venezuela had to accept and confirm visits by Special Procedures.
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development shared concerns on the human rights situation in Kashmir and called on India to release all human rights defenders currently detained. The Forum was alarmed at the recent surge in violence in India as a result of the new citizenship law, and called on India to ensure the right to peaceful assembly. The Forum called on Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy law, and address the persecution of minorities.
Association International pour L'egalite des Femmes regretted that the rate of extrajudicial killings in Iran had reached unprecedented levels. The crackdown showed the non-existence of freedom of expression in the country. The Internet was used as a tool for repression, and had recently been totally shut down. The Council should launch an independent investigation into the violence perpetrated from November to January, as a starting point to investigate human rights abuses in Iran.
The International Centre against Censorship, whilst welcoming the recent acquittal of several protestors by the Turkish authorities, called for the immediate release of all other detained journalists. In Honduras, the Centre noted the widespread violence by the security services, and the widespread sense of impunity. In Guatemala, violence in the run up to elections had targeted journalists in a bid to discourage independent reporting. The Centre called on all States to protect the media and investigate attacks.
Centre for Reproductive Rights, in a joint statement, noted the human rights situation in Colombia and the increase in sexual attacks against human rights defenders, especially women defenders. There needed to be a recognition of the transitional justice mechanisms created by the Peace Agreement, including of the reproductive rights violations that had occurred during the conflict, such as forced abortions and forced pregnancies.
Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries expressed hope that the new Guatemalan Government would extend the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Honduras continued to face major challenges, including physical attacks against indigenous peoples that often went unpunished. The vulnerability of the people who defended the right to a healthy environment was all the greater when they faced attacks.
Réseau international des droits humains called attention to the ongoing human rights violations in Nicaragua. The Government of Nicaragua was not changing its attitude at all. There were many political prisoners and many media outlets had been clamped down. Organizations had also been shut down in rural areas and there was no access to justice, despite the international community's pressures. The organization thus called for a new resolution on Nicaragua.
Amnesty International expressed alarm at the widespread and grave nature of human rights violations and crimes under international law observed in a number of States in the context of recent protests. It drew attention to countries, such as Iran, Iraq and Chile. As for the situation of human rights in Nicaragua, the organization urged the Human Rights Council to follow-up on the High Commissioner's clear recommendation to ensure enhanced monitoring.
International Commission of Jurists deeply regretted Sri Lanka's withdrawal of support for the process under resolutions 30/1 and 40/1. The Sri Lankan legal system had repeatedly demonstrated its chronic inability to address systemic and entrenched impunity for crimes under international law perpetrated by the military and security forces. The new President's promise to protect the military from accountability only deepened the concern.
International Human Rights Association of American Minorities said that the unprecedented human rights situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir had made it disconnected to the rest of the world. The Council had to call for an end of this blockade and to ask for the release of political prisoners. Alaska and Hawaii had to be included in the United States Universal Periodic Review. On Venezuela, technical assistance had to be provided there.
Centre for Justice and International Law said that at least 328 persons had died and over 100,000 had been displaced due to State repression in Nicaragua. At least 65 people remained arbitrarily detained. Lethal violence against the peasant population continued and people were exposed to torture. The Council was called upon to continue closely following the situation and Nicaragua was urged to continue its national inclusive dialogue.
Association d'Entraide Médicale Guinée said that Houthi militias continued to persecute activists in a range of organizations. They had carried out brutal torture on detainees and there was a clampdown on liberties. The Council's attention was drawn to the fact that Houthi militias had to implement agreements on prisoners; the militias had to inform family members on the whereabouts of detainees, and had to release them.
World Muslim Congress shared concern about the human rights situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Nearly seven months after the scrapping of article 370 and the birufcation of the state into two union territories, Kashmir remained a communication and information black hole. Agriculture, trade and tourism had suffered with no hope of recovery. The clampdown had crippled the media and thousands of young boys were behind bars.
CIVICUS –World Alliance for Civic Participation was alarmed at the unprecedented increase in the use of excessive force against protestors across the world. The most commonly logged violation of civil society rights was against the right to peaceful assembly. The Alliance shared the High Commissioner's concerns over the discriminatory citizenship law in India, the crackdown on unarmed protestors in Iran, and the killing of protestors in Iraq.
Oidhaco, Bureau International des Droits Humains - Action Colombie noted that the human rights situation had deteriorated in Colombia, especially for indigenous peoples. There had been no meaningful progress in 2019 with regard to the Peace Agreement. Raids and arbitrary detention against protestors continued. The organization urged the Government to ensure protections for legitimate protestors, and supported the extension of the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner.
Solidarite Suisse-Guinee remarked that women were the hidden victims in Yemen, and had hoped the report of the Office of the High Commissioner would raise the issue of women in the country. The Houthis had started a female militia, targeting women and facilitating their rape and mistreatment in Houthi detention centers. This violence had to be investigated and brought to an end.
Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation stressed that the widespread human rights violations in Sri Lanka during the conflict still needed to be addressed. The deaths of large numbers of Tamils during the last months of the war needed to be accounted for. The Government continued to fail to address the root causes of the conflict. As Sri Lanka had repeatedly failed in its commitment to a multi ethnic, multi lingual country, a different approach was now needed by this Council.
Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés stated that the decisive solution to conflict prevention and peace building in Yemen was to remove the root causes of the conflict. The two catastrophic elements present in Yemen were the Houthis and the legal Government led by the Islah Party (Muslim Brotherhood), who were the cornerstone factors that fuelled and sustained the conflict.
China Society for Human Rights Studies said that many people with which it interacted in Tibet did not recognize the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The reincarnation of the living Buddha must follow strict regulations and traditions, in line with the local people's right to religious freedom.
International Buddhist Relief Organization welcomed the High Commissioner's condemnation of the crimes committed by members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, thus sending a clear message to those posing as human rights defenders. Members of the organization living in Western countries were responsible for those crimes.
Iuventum e.V. recognized the tireless efforts of the High Commissioner to improve human rights around the world. The attacks on environmental human rights defenders, particularly against indigenous peoples, were escalating. It would be a serious defeat for the United Nations human rights mechanism if that trend continued. The organization suggested that the analysis of drinking water quality be used as an objective indicator of the state of human rights.
International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination highlighted peaceful protests nationwide in Iran of citizens who were fed up with the deteriorating human rights situation. Many protesters were detained, others were injured, and freedoms of speech and assembly were restricted. All forms of violence against protesters were denounced, in particular targeting of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran.
Fundación Latinoamericana por los Derechos Humanos y el Desarrollo Social supported technical cooperation as this was the best way to support human rights. Venezuela was congratulated for cooperating with the Office of the High Commissioner. The situation in prisons was improving. A few years ago, prisons had been places where people would be left to rot, but according to the Universal Periodic Review, detention conditions had improved.
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain called for continuing independent and international investigations into violations of international humanitarian law and war crimes occurring in Yemen. Despite the Stockholm agreement stipulating that a mutual reemployment of forces from Hodiedah would take place, there was only a partial redeployment by the de facto authority in Sanaa, but no reciprocation by the Saudi-led coalition.
Alsalam Foundation welcomed the resolution passed by the de facto authority in Sanaa on removing a 2 per cent tax on humanitarian aid. Cooperation between the de-facto authority and the United Nations agencies was imperative. The Saudi coalition's announcement of periodic flights of 30 civilians requiring medical treatment abroad was welcomed, though it was a drop in the bucket as there were 350,000 civilians who needed treatment.
Peace Brigades International Switzerland noted with concern trends towards the criminalization of human rights defenders around the world. In Colombia, exacerbations of the conflict meant it was urgent that the Government implemented the Peace Agreement. In Guatemala, the Government continued to respond to human rights defenders with violence. In Honduras, the Government was urged to recognize the rights of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
TOBE Foundation for Rights and Freedoms, said that women in Yemen were disproportionately affected by blockades with restrictions on access to food and medicines. They called for the release of women held by Houthis simply for defending human rights or working as journalists. They asked the Council to urge all parties to bring the conflict to an end, ensure salaries were paid, and prioritize humanitarian relief.
Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme commended the Government of South Sudan for the establishment of a transitional government. They called attention to the repression of protestors by the security forces in Guinea, and regretted the ongoing violence across the Sahel region. Intercommunal attacks in Mali and terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso necessitated the G5 countries to heighten their efforts, and they called on all parties to end the conflict in Yemen.
Women's International Democratic Federation regretted that women in Venezuela suffered from the economic blockade imposed by the United States, and only had medicines acquired from China, Cuba and Russia. The Council should take steps to alleviate the conditions faced by citizens. The brutal repression in Bolivia and Chile as a result of government actions should also be condemned and swiftly bought to an end.
Action of Human Movement noted that the High Commissioner's report continued to ignore who the victims were in Sri Lanka and that it continued to deny the genocide against the Eelam Tamils. Sri Lanka had done nothing to seek truth, justice and accountability. Eelam Tamils in the north and east of the country lived under military occupation. The Movement called for the organization of a special session on Sri Lanka.
Colombian Commission of Jurists regretted the reaction of Colombia after the presentation of the High Commissioner's reports. The report presented a comprehensive picture of human rights violations, mainly against women and girls, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, and elaborated on the impact of the civil conflict on the population. The peace agreement and lack of its implementation had promoted a situation where human rights were violated, and where the Government used excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.
Women's Human Rights International Association called attention to the continued application of the death penalty in Iran, including against juvenile offenders. During the uprising in November 2019, many teenagers had been killed by the security forces. People had been denied access to justice and to a lawyer of their choice. It was essential that the Council condemned that large-scale repression and that it demanded the release of all political prisoners.
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence expressed concern about the situation of human rights in Yemen, Myanmar and the occupied Palestinian territory. It called on the Saudi-led coalition to immediately cease attacks in Yemen and urged western countries to cease their arms sales. It called on Myanmar to live up to its commitments and prevent genocide. In the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel's control of natural resources was a major concern.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the publication of the database on business enterprises involved in Israeli settlements. Any access to China's Xinjiang region had to be unfettered so that in-depth analysis of the human rights situation could be carried out. By turning the resolution process from a consensual to a contested one, Sri Lanka had joined the ignominious ranks of Myanmar, Syria and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Commission Africaine des Promoteurs de la Santé et des Droits de l'Homme called on the High Commissioner to strengthen its the work against racism, in line with the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action. The intergovernmental working group had provided an important conclusion on the need to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action. This opportunity could serve to mobilize support for its implementation.
Global Action on Aging noted that climate change was a major threat for human rights to all. The High Commissioner was asked to provide proactive advocacy mechanisms to provide guidance on human rights norms in addressing climate change to States, non-governmental organizations and the general public. A Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change had to be appointed.
International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations noted the upsurge of racism across the world, signalizing the lack of implementation of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action. The High Commissioner was advised to organize the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action with a high level of visibility. This had already been requested by the intergovernmental working group.
Human Rights Information and Training Centre highlighted the need for the Office of the High Commissioner to do more to combat human rights abuses in Yemen. It was vital that the Office had representation in Yemen and was able to work across the country, not just in Sana'a, where its work was dictated by Houthi militias. The Office presence should be moved to Aden, and more work should be carried out to investigate forced disappearances.
Friends World Committee for Consultation thanked the Office of the High Commissioner for continuing to focus on the risks from migration, and recalled the 1,484 people who had died since the last Council meeting as a result of migration. The Council had repeatedly been reminded of the risks faced by migrants, but had done nothing.
World Organization Against Torture welcomed the Office of the High Commissioner's reports on Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia, and said that the mandates needed to be renewed. Excessive and arbitrary use of force by authorities in these countries should be denounced. In Guatemala and Honduras, torture was carried out with impunity. Violence in jails needed to be addressed, given the high levels of murder in custody.
Association Culturelle des Tamouls en France raised the issue of disappeared persons in Sri Lanka, noting that the current President had recently announced that no disappeared persons were in custody. The Association completely rejected this claim, and pointed to its contradiction of other government claims. The Association urged the Council to refer the matter to the Security Council to enable the prosecution of Sri Lanka at the International Criminal Court.
Association Thendral expressed disappointment with the continued delay of real investigations into the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka. It asked the Human Rights Council to refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court, to appoint a country-specific rapporteur on Sri Lanka, and to demilitarize and stop the colonization of northern and eastern Sri Lanka.
Association des étudiants tamouls de France noted that the unitary State system in Sri Lanka denied Tamils nationhood, sovereignty and the right to self-determination. Without those being addressed, there could be no political solution, no justice, no security and no reconciliation for the Tamil people. The Association asked the countries that had co-sponsored resolutions 30/1, 34/1 and 40/1 to organize a special session on Sri Lanka as soon as possible.
Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l'amitié entre les peuples drew attention to the independence of the judiciary in the Kurdish areas in Turkey, citing undue pressure on judiciary investigations against citizens of Kurdish descent. There were many examples showing that Turkey was using all methods to target Kurds. The organization thus asked the Human Rights Council to be more sensitive to the violations against Kurds.
Liberation stressed that the United Nations had a singular responsibility for non-self-governing territories. Nevertheless, there been no official and public reports elaborated by the Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in Western Sahara. It called on the Council to immediately send a technical mission there and to report on the situation of human rights.
World Peace Council said that in December, mercenaries had attacked barracks on the Venezuelan border with Brazil. Those responsible for this act had taken refuge in Colombia and Brazil. Unilateral coercive measure were having an impact on human rights. People were dying because of blockades. The murder of over 60 human rights defenders in Colombia was alarming, due to the fact that the peace agreement was not fully implemented.
Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul said that the Sri Lankan Government had been praised for co-sponsoring resolution 30/01, although the Tamil victims of genocide had been extremely sceptical on the substance of the resolution. After five years, the Government now openly stated it would not implement the resolution. Was it finally the time to own up to severe shortcomings of the Council and to refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court?
Community Human Rights and Advocacy Centre said that recent statements by the Secretary-General and efforts of the High Commissioner on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir were encouraging. For the last seven decades, Kashmiris had been punished for seeking their right to self-determination. Over eight million Kashmiris were under a brutal military siege and the worst type of communication blockade threw the region into dark ages.
The Council has before it the
Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/HRC/43/49). The link to the advance unedited version is
The Council has before it an
addendum to the
Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment – Visit to Comoros (A/HRC/43/49/Add.1).
Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, reminded that throughout 2019, his mandate had transmitted 114 communications on behalf of individuals exposed to torture or ill-treatment. That was only a small percentage of the requests received by his office, but limited resources had severely restricted the number of cases he could address. He thanked the Government of Switzerland for its generous support to the mandate, and regretted that the Government of Norway had asked the High Commissioner's Office to return approximately $ 100,000 donated to his mandate. That unprecedented measure had deprived his mandate of its entire research budget and had caused significant delays in his thematic work. Given the increasingly constrained resources and the constantly growing demand, Mr. Melzer appealed for additional contributions and resources that would allow his mandate to better respond to the needs of its beneficiaries.
Continuing with his presentation, the Special Rapporteur recalled that from 9 to 10 May 2019, together with two experienced medical experts, he had conducted a visit to see Mr. Julian Assange, detained at Belmarsh prison in London, United Kingdom, in order to assess alleged risks of torture or ill-treatment arising in relation to his possible extradition to the United States. His conclusion was that over the years, Mr. Assange had been exposed to various forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, which cumulatively amounted to psychological torture. Despite the urgent appeals by the Special Rapporteur and follow-up letters to the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden and Ecuador, no measures of investigation or redress had been taken. Accordingly, he was seriously alarmed about the continued credibility and functionality of the global human rights system.
Turning to his country visits, the Special Rapporteur reminded that from 12 to 15 June 2019, he had conducted a visit to Comoros, which he had to suspend halfway because full access to places of detention had been obstructed. Nevertheless, due to the urgent need for reforms and investment, he had decided to submit a full visit report to the Council. The collected information supported his findings that the conditions in places of detention amounted to ill-treatment. As for his country visit to Maldives, which had taken place from 17 to 24 November 2019, the Special Rapporteur said that Maldives was equipped with the necessary legal, structural and procedural framework, and a suitable political environment to prevent torture and ill-treatment. The biggest challenges faced by Maldives were over-incarceration, conditions of detention, and impunity.
Turning to his thematic report, Mr. Melzer explained that it examined conceptual, definitional and interpretative questions arising in relation to the notion of "psychological torture" under human rights law. His mandate had long recognized "psychological" or "mental" torture as an analytical concept distinct from physical torture. It had addressed specific methods or contexts of psychological torture and had pointed to specific challenges arising in connection with the investigation and redress of that type of abuse. The mandate had also dedicated a full thematic report to the practice of solitary confinement. Although those initiatives had been generally well received by States, national practice still tended to deny, neglect, misinterpret or trivialize psychological torture as what could euphemistically be described as "torture light."
Statement by Concerned Country
Comoros, speaking as a concerned country, underscored that addressing human rights was a recent development, which it was now committed to as demonstrated by the participation of the country in its first Universal Periodic Review cycle in 2014. In this context, Comoros was now making human rights a special concern. Regarding the problems observed by the Special Rapporteur, the Government acknowledged that whilst at a central government level, all authorities had cooperated with his work, at a decentralized level it was possible he had not enjoyed the cooperation he had wished. There was also a lack of information and data provision, as the religious and political schedule had not been favourable to the smooth operation of the mission, due to Ramadan and the elections. Ongoing steps were being taken with European Union partners to improve this. Although the deliberate focus of the report on the prison system meant that other areas were not focused on, they acknowledged that the legal system in general faced challenges, due to a lack of resources. The delegation also asked for the removal of reference to Mayotte from the report, which was a French territory.
Speakers noted that the Special Rapporteur's thematic report made an important contribution to a holistic understanding of torture and called upon all States to fully investigate all alleged cases of torture and safeguard the human rights of every individual. The report further provided States with an opportunity to recognize whether its current practice tended to deny, neglect or misinterpret psychological torture. Torture could not be justified under any circumstance and all States were bound to the prohibition of torture under customary international law. The issue of psychological torture was very complex, but delegations affirmed that there was no difference between the physical and psychological or mental forms of torture. There needed to be a definition of psychological torture within national legislation, and it was noted that some countries already had psychological torture incorporated in their national anti-torture acts. Countries also had prevention mechanisms, national human rights commissions, and special units that were assessing the rights of detainees and reporting on torture. One country said police officers had been undertaking seminars on torture screening, reporting, rehabilitation and promotion of humane treatment of persons deprived of liberty.
Delegations said that the conclusion on the importance of clarifying the distinction between permissible non-coercive investigative techniques and prohibited coercive interrogation as a manner of preventing both physical and psychological torture was welcomed. A question was also raised on programmes that could effectively combat psychological torture. Speakers noted that the report identified cyber torture as an emerging area of concern. It was worth exploring the impact of technological and communication advances and their impact on psychological torture. It was acknowledged that torture could occur in many different contexts, and both international and national efforts had to focus on the prevention of torture. Grave concern was expressed about the systematic use of psychological torture as a tool of oppression against people living under the yoke of foreign occupation. The use of torture in the fight against terrorism should also be looked at thoroughly. Growing incidents of psychological torture were being meted out to migrants and refugees, ostensibly for security reasons; these were alarming and had to be looked into. All States, particularly the members of the Human Rights Council, were further invited to extend a standing invitation to all Special Procedures. In enhancing normative, institutional and policy frameworks in relation to the prohibition of torture and ill treatment, appropriate policy tools were essential. Authorities were therefore called upon to apply a zero tolerance policy towards torture and abuse. Nonetheless, States also had to be given adequate support, technical assistance, flexibility but also sufficient time to develop national mechanisms. Relevant remedies had to be put in place to support victims of torture and States had to be supported in strengthening accountability and remedy mechanisms. In this context, the importance of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture was underscored.
Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, in interim remarks, thanked respondents for their support for his work. He stressed that psychological torture had to be distinguished from the psychological consequence of each instance of torture. There was a tendency to distinguish the method that was used to achieve the coercion, whether psychological or physical. However, in reality victims were subjected to both physical and psychological suffering at the same time, so differentiating between them was artificial. In contrast to physical torture, psychological torture targeted basic psychological needs, like the need for security, which was affected by threats and intimidation; the need for self-control or self-determination, which was affected by domination and submission, basically stripping a person of control over their life; the need for dignity, which was affected by humiliation and breach of privacy; the need for environmental orientation, which was affected by manipulation and sensory deprivation; the need for social and emotional rapport, which was breached by isolation and exclusion; and the need for communal trust, which was affected by dis-constant arbitrariness.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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