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Address by Ms. Flavia Pansieri United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Introduction to reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner under item 2 (Guatemala, Bolivia, Colombia, Cyprus, Iran)

25th session of the Human Rights Council

Geneva, 26 March 2014

Mr. President,
Members of the Human Rights Council,  
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to introduce several reports prepared by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner which fall under agenda item 2 (in numerical order).

Addendum - Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Guatemala (A/HRC/25/19/Add.1)
The first addendum to the High Commissioner’s annual report provides an overview of the human rights situation in Guatemala, and of the work conducted by the OHCHR office in 2013. We warmly welcome the Government´s recent announcement to extend the mandate of the office until September 2017 – which demonstrates its willingness to tackle outstanding human rights challenges with OHCHR support.

During the reporting period, encouraging steps were taken in the fight against impunity, under the leadership of the country’s first female Attorney General, both with regard to criminal activities and past human rights violations.

In this regard, with the conviction of Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala became the first country in the world to convict a former Head of State for genocide, in line with international standards. This landmark case allowed the Ixil population - including indigenous women victims of sexual violence - to testify before a court for the first time, after  a 30 year long quest for justice. Although the conviction was later overturned, it proved that it is possible to conduct trials for gross human rights violations, crimes against humanity and genocide in national courts, even against former Heads of State.

We are concerned at the Constitutional Court’s provisional decision of 5 February calling on Congress to set up a Nominating Commission for the selection of a new Attorney General - seven months prematurely – and hope that this will not undermine continuity in the fight against impunity.

The report highlights progress to protect women’s rights, such as the new Special Cabinet for Women and specialized courts set up to handle cases of femicide and other forms of violence against women.

The report describes the Maya Programme, jointly implemented by OHCHR, UNDP and UNICEF, which has contributed to the litigation of cases affecting indigenous peoples’ rights and in developing important jurisprudence in this area.

Positive steps were also taken in the promotion of rural development and the fight against malnutrition.

We remain concerned, however, at the persistent high levels of violence – including in the context of protests against energy and mining projects, especially in indigenous territories. We encourage the Government to continue fostering initiatives to reduce violence, to strengthen the National Civilian Police, and to establish a timeframe to withdraw the army from public security functions.

Another outstanding issue are media campaigns and attacks aimed at discrediting human rights defenders and obstructing their work. I encourage the State to publicly recognise the importance of their work and to protect them.

Addendum - Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of her Office in Bolivia (A/HRC/25/19/Add.2)
The  second addendum to the High Commissioner’s annual report outlines the activities of OHCHR in Bolivia, against a background of positive developments on key issues, but also outstanding concerns.

Bolivia has continued to develop measures to combat racism and other forms of discrimination, particularly through public information campaigns. This is encouraging. Now it is critical to step up implementation of the Plan of Action to combat this persisting phenomenon and to allocate adequate resources. 

The enactment, in March 2013, of the Law on Guaranteeing Women a Life Free from Violence represents a significant advance towards combatting this widespread issue, including by typifying sexually-motivated killings of women as a crime, and through a comprehensive approach involving prevention, care of victims and prosecution of offenders. I call on the authorities to allocate sufficient resources to ensure this law is effectively applied.

OHCHR has also been assisting the Government in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and strengthening the administration of justice in the framework of inter-agency projects.

The elaboration of draft framework legislation on consultation with indigenous peoples, in conformity with international standards and through a participatory process, is a promising step. We hope that the law will be adopted soon this year.

OHCHR has also provided technical assistance to the judiciary for the adoption of broad reform measures to address problems such as the excessive and prolonged use of pre-trial detention. We observed limitations to the right to a fair trial in emblematic judicial proceedings (including the violent racist events in Sucre, the 2008 Pando massacre, and the alleged terrorist group dismantled in Santa Cruz the same year).   

Some governmental statements against the Ombudsman, as well as possible restrictions to the work of civil society organizations, were of concern during the reporting period. I trust that the Government will continue to respect the independence of the Ombudsman’s Office, facilitate the implementation of its resolutions and recommendations, and implement measures to enable human rights defenders and civil society organizations to carry out their work without undue constraints.

Addendum - Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia (A/HRC/25/19/Add.3)

The  third addendum to the High Commissioner’s annual report pertains to the situation of human rights in Colombia, where I note important developments in the human rights agenda in 2013.

Let me start by commending the Government for its determined pursuit of a negotiated end to the internal armed conflict. The objective of the accords should clearly be to improve the protection of all human rights for all in Colombia - peace means security and justice, and will also strengthen the Government´s efforts to fight poverty.

The report highlights positive trends and lessons learned with regard to the mass demonstrations that took place in Colombia in 2013. The many negotiations between social movements and the Government after the protests are commendable, and we encourage all parties to reach settlements that will improve the human rights situation.

We also welcome the efforts undertaken during the first two years of implementation of the Victims’ and Land Restitution Law, and observe the ongoing need to ensure meaningful participation by women and ethnic groups in this process, as well as a rights-based approach to truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition for the six million registered victims of armed conflict. We remain concerned about the situation of human rights defenders and of land restitution claimants, and about the impunity for attacks against them.

I also commend the close collaboration by the military with OHCHR on preventing further human rights violations. The recognition by the Ministry of Defence that “military errors” or “unavoidable errors” can constitute human rights violations are a first step towards the restoration of the rights of their victims, and we encourage the military to continue to strengthen internal controls and accountability, supported by robust democratic oversight.

As to the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia—Ejército del Pueblo) and ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional), among other things, they must deliver comprehensive information regarding civilians and security personnel disappeared or in their power, and on the location of land mines. They must also urgently cease to recruit and use children, and collaborate with the Government to disengage them.

Colombia has made significant progress in strengthening its human rights architecture, including through the joint State, civil society and international community initiative launched in December 2013: “From Violence to a Rights Society: a 2014-2034 comprehensive human rights policy”. We look forward to continuing our excellent cooperation with many institutions at the national and local levels, particularly with the Presidential Human Rights Programme. 

Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the question of human rights in Cyprus (A/HRC/25/21)

The OHCHR annual report on the question of human rights in Cyprus describes several positive developments in 2013 – such as measures to protect cultural heritage sites on both sides of the island, improved interreligious communication, steps to allow Greek Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders to cross the Green Line that divides the island, and the launch of the first bi-communal Internet broadcasting facility.

However, the persisting division of the island remains an obstacle to the full enjoyment, in mutual confidence, by the whole population of Cyprus, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, as also observed last year by various treaty bodies and special procedures, and in the context of Cyprus’ UPR, in February.

Reaching a comprehensive settlement would contribute to improving the human rights situation throughout Cyprus – particularly if human rights and gender-related issues are integrated in the negotiations.

Report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (document A/HRC/25/26)

This report reflects the patterns and trends in the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, particularly with respect to the issues highlighted in General Assembly resolution 68/184, including the death penalty; torture; limitations to freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly; the continued arrests and persecution of media professionals, human rights defenders and lawyers; women’s rights; and the rights of minorities.

In his report, the Secretary-General expresses particular concern over the abrupt surge in executions in 2013, including in public, and reiterates his call for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and a prohibition on executions in public.

The Secretary-General welcomes steps taken by the new Government, particularly the release of some political prisoners, but urges the release of human rights defenders detained solely for exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, and calls on the authorities to allow them to exercise their activities without any form of restriction, harassment or intimidation.

As in previous years, the Secretary-General regrets that Iran has not cooperated meaningfully with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran. He calls upon the Government to strengthen its collaboration with the international human rights mechanisms.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This concludes my introduction of our country reports under item 2.

Thank you for your attention.