Human Rights Council
19 June 2018
The Human Rights Council this afternoon heard the presentation of reports by Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Ms. Callamard said her thematic report focused on the obligations of non-state armed actors who were subject to international law. Non-state armed actors had carried out countless violations. Such groups must be tied by the principle of non-discrimination, obligation of respect to the right of life, and an absolute prohibition of violence against women and children. She spoke about her country visits to Iraq and El Salvador.
Mr. Kaye said that since his last report, there had been an increase in attacks on freedom of expression around the world. Allegations of breaches to those freedoms included attacks and even the murder of journalists and media figures; laws that increased pressure on individuals who expressed themselves, particularly through social media; the diminished space for expressing opinions through peaceful assembly; and restrictions on speech before political elections, to name just a few. He spoke about his missions to Mexico and to Liberia.
Cambodia, Venezuela, India, Egypt, Maldives, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Russian Federation, Bahrain, China, Nicaragua, Gabon and Pakistan spoke in exercise of the right of reply in response to statements made during the general debate on the oral update of High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. A summary of the general debate can be found here.
The Council will reconvene on Wednesday, 20 June at 9 a.m. to hear from concerned countries responding to the Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and hold a clustered interactive dialogue with them. It will then hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women and on the human rights of migrants. In the afternoon, the Council, time permitting, will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women and with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.
The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (A/HRC/38/44).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – mission to Iraq (A/HRC/38/44/Add.1).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – mission to El Salvador (A/HRC/38/44/Add.2).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – Observations on communications transmitted to Governments and replies received (A/HRC/38/44/Add.3).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – replies by Iraq (A/HRC/38/44/Add.4).
The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (A/HRC/38/35).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions - Overview of submission received in preparation of the Report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/38/35/Add.1).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – mission to Mexico (A/HRC/38/35/Add.2).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – mission to Liberia (A/HRC/38/35/Add.3).
The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – comments by to Mexico (A/HRC/38/35/Add.4).
Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and on Freedom of Opinion and Expression
AGNES CALLAMARD, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said that her thematic report focused on the obligations of non-state armed actors who were subject to international law and had to uphold international standards. The report was based on two observations. Non-state armed actors had carried out countless violations, amounting to crimes against humanity and even genocide. They had an impact on millions of people across the world. However, the legal framework was insufficient in holding them to account. Non-state armed actors were governed by four bodies of law, including a State’s responsibility to protect, international humanitarian law, international penal law and the international framework for combatting terrorism.
The framework for combatting terrorism did not include rights of victims, including the right to repatriation. Overall, the current legal framework was unfair for violations committed by non-state armed actors. That situation had been recognized by States in the past 20 years, resulting in numerous Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions as well as Human Rights Council resolutions. In 2009 Ban Ki Moon had proposed to develop a global approach to improve the respect of law by non-state armed actors. The report sought to develop such an approach, proposing that it had to occur in context, specific to each armed conflict. Non-state armed actors had to be tied by the following obligations: the principle of non-discrimination, the obligation to respect the right to life, and the absolute prohibition of violence against women and children. A range of positive obligations relating to minimum survival requirements were also needed. Some international civil society organizations had engaged with non-state armed groups to ensure better respect for human rights and humanitarian standards, such as Geneva Call Deed of Commitments for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines or the 1990 Declaration on Minimum Humanitarian Standards. The report highlighted a range of existing enforceability mechanisms, including the use of targeted sanctions, the International Criminal Court, special tribunals and so forth.
The Governments of Iraq and El Salvador were thanked for their cooperation in preparation of visits. The report on Iraq acknowledged challenges confronted by the people and the Government following the years of unspeakable violence, particularly at the hands of Daesh. The Government had embarked on a large judicial endeavour to hold Daesh fighters to account for the violations committed. However, a number of concerns had emerged such as unsuitability of the 2005 anti-terrorism law to try crimes which amounted to massive human rights violations and repeated allegations of fair trial and due process breaches. In El Salvador, successive Governments had followed a “mano dura” strategy against gangs, characterised by mass incarceration and the militarization of policing and privatization of security. The Government was urged to ensure that prevention and rehabilitation measures got all the resources they deserved; the international community was also urged to support such initiatives. A pattern of behaviour existing among security personnel amounting to extrajudicial executions and excessive use of force had been nurtured by very weak institutional responses. Breaking the cycle of impunity was an absolute necessity. In conclusion, Ms. Callamard said that over the last year, the mandate had sent 122 communications to 55 States and 3 non-State actors. Responses were received to 75 communications, while 47 communications were yet to be responded to.
DAVID KAYE, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said that since his last report, there had been an increase in attacks on freedom of expression around the world. Allegations of breaches to those freedoms included attacks and even the murder of journalists and media figures; laws that increased pressure on individuals that expressed themselves, particularly through social media; the diminished space for expressing opinions through peaceful assembly; and restrictions on speech before political elections, to name just a few. There had been only a 54 per cent response rate of governments, however he thanked those delegations whose States participated in upholding the mandate.
On a recent mission to Mexico, Mr. Kaye said he and his colleague were concerned about the safety of journalists. Mexico faced a major security crisis, at the heart of which was a breakdown in the rule of law and governance at local levels across the country, which led to and was exacerbated by murders, disappearances and torture. The suffering was widespread, yet violence singled out journalists, whose stories unveiled corruption, conflict and criminality. To protect these people, Mexico needed to strengthen mechanisms to prevent attacks on journalists, reinforce the Federal Mechanism for Protection of Journalists and Human Rights Defenders, adopt substantive and sustainable measures to strengthen the capacity of the federal prosecution unit, and eliminate impunity for attacks on journalists. Recommendations to Mexico concerning protecting journalists from attack would include protecting journalistic sources according to international standards, strengthening the legal framework for access to information, and amending laws regulating government advertising to ensure compliance with international human rights standards. With an election on the horizon, the critical nature of free and fair elections to secure Mexico’s democracy was of utmost importance.
A separate mission to Liberia revealed that the country had embarked on a remarkable path of progress towards building and strengthening its democracy since the end of its civil war in 2003. Part of that progress was due to the establishment of a society whose members enjoyed the right to exercise their freedom of expression and where the media was vibrant and often critical. The country’s free press was celebrated with reserve, as its sustainability was called into question as Liberia was under great economic duress. Liberia’s President George Manneh Weah expressed a strong commitment to the freedom of expression, which he said he would reinforce along with the freedom of political assembly. However, government officials repressed the media through the threat of civil lawsuits. Recommendations to Liberia would include the decriminalization of defamation, establishment of strict limits on damages available in civil defamation suits, adoption of an Independent Broadcasting Regulator Bill, and improved implementation of the information law.
Turning to his thematic report on content regulation, with particular attention to social media, Mr. Kaye said the Internet had become a place of hate, abuse and disinformation as much as it was an extraordinary tool for global access to information. Companies were enigmatic regulators, in which clarity, consistency, accountability and remedy were elusive. In terms of governmental regulation, States regularly required companies to restrict illegal content to meet conditions of legality and necessity, however, some States took this a step further, relying on censorship and criminalization to shape the online regulatory environment. There was also an inquiry into how governments sought to regulate Internet companies; smart regulation should be the norm, he said. Also, for the first time in a report to the United Nations, the ways in which companies governed expression was also detailed. Several major companies had already improved their approaches to transparency at all stages of their operations, but they needed to recognize the freedom of expression as human rights law and evaluate their content standards accordingly.
In conclusion, Mr. Kaye said that he would expand on his conclusions and ideas in the present report as well as include information concerning the role of artificial intelligence and its impact on the freedom of opinion and expression.
Right of Reply
Cambodia, speaking in a right of reply, said New Zealand and its cohort had a hidden agenda to discredit the Cambodian Government. Those countries were undermining the Human Rights Council and meddling in Cambodia’s upcoming elections. In 1993, Cambodia had held elections under very similar conditions and no international condemnation had been issued, a clear indication of present-day politicization of international relations. It was contradictory to call on the Government not to intervene in court proceedings but at the same time urge authorities to release people involved in court proceedings.
Venezuela, speaking in a right of reply, deplored the fact that imperialist countries were seeking to destroy Venezuela’s democracy. Governments with presidents sanctioned for abuses and associated with illicit networks were shamelessly trying to intervene in Venezuelan matters. Some States criticized Venezuela while at the same time maintaining a colonial presence in Latin America. Those governments were weakening democracy in the region.
India, speaking in a right of reply, deplored Pakistan’s relentless efforts to mislead the Human Rights Council with false narratives on Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan had created a cross-border infrastructure to promote terrorism. Pakistan was in blatant disregard of international counter-terrorism obligations. The people of Jammu and Kashmir had nurtured a vibrant democracy that stood in clear contrast to Pakistan’s actions in the region. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation was using incorrect information regarding India. The Organization had a clear bias.
Egypt, speaking in a right of reply, said that civil society organizations actively participated in reform processes in Egypt. Over 48,000 civil society organizations existed in Egypt and many more foreign civil society organizations were working freely. The Government was investing efforts to provide adequate space to civil society organizations to function and operate freely in accordance with the law. No constraints were imposed. The United States was advised to improve its policies concerning migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and not to deal with them based on ethnic differences. Excessive use of force against migrants was unacceptable.
Maldives, speaking in a right of reply, said that the European Union, United States and United Kingdom had made claims concerning political arrests in Maldives. It was articulated that persons were imprisoned for reasons such as abduction of a sitting judge, attempting to overthrow the government, corruption, bribery or high treason. Maldives was committed to upholding the rule of law under its Constitution. All elections in the past decade had been carried out peacefully and in a free and transparent manner. Thus the presidential elections in September would be no exception.
Iran, speaking in a right of reply, categorically rejected politically motivated allegations made by Saudi Arabia. It was believed that the real aim of such claims was deviating public opinion from the facts and realities on the ground in Yemen. Yemen was currently experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis featuring indiscriminate bombardment of civilians by the Saudi-led coalition. Launching constant baseless accusations against another country which had no presence in Yemen would not dilute the attention of the international community from the daily news on the occupation of Yemen by foreign forces from several countries. Other members of the coalition forces were invited to contribute to settling the dispute through peaceful means.
Saudi Arabia, speaking in a right of reply, addressed allegations by the European Union of the arrest of certain Saudi citizens. The European Union should rely on reliable sources of information. The fact that the person in question was a member of a civil society organization did not make him immune to the judiciary process. It was added that the Head of State Security had the duty to arrest people that were working to undermine social peace in the country. Of 17 people arrested, a number were released temporarily, with others still under arrest, and others who had confessed to their crimes. Those arrested were treated with dignity and provided with full human rights in accordance with international law.
Philippines, speaking in a right of reply, took exception to claims made by a group of countries led by Iceland, the United Kingdom, Australia and Finland. The Philippines had invited the Foreign Minister of Iceland to observe the human rights situation for himself, however, the visit did not occur. Furthermore, the campaign against illegal drugs was conducted with full respect for human rights and the rule of law. The decision of the Philippines to pull out of the Rome Statute was in consideration of the well-orchestrated campaign to mislead the international community, by distorting the human rights situation in the country. Media representatives and human rights defenders in the Philippines were also free to pursue their advocacies. The State was appalled by the rising xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiments in parts of Europe and elsewhere, including the persistent abusive and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers.
Russia, speaking in a right of reply, regretted that Ukraine, which had enough enormous human rights problems, was criticizing and attacking Russia in the Human Rights Council. Ukraine should be inspired by Russia’s organization of the World Cup for Football.
Bahrain, speaking in a right of reply, said that the Government of Bahrain was committed to an inclusive and pluralistic society with firm protections enshrined in the Constitution. There were no restrictions on democratic freedoms. Bahrain continuously worked on improving the protection of human rights and recently added a new article to its penal code to further strengthen citizens’ rights to freedom of expression.
China, speaking in a right of reply, said that China was accused by a non-governmental organization which lacked facts. It was necessary to respect the law and it was very regrettable that the non-governmental organization had failed to respect the law and the efforts of the international community to combat dangerous sects.
Nicaragua, speaking in a right of reply, said it was fostering dialogue and invited international bodies to help ensure stability. Nicaragua urged the international community not to join bloody campaigns that were affecting the country. Nicaragua placed on record the solidity of its democratic institutions. The humanist vocation of the Government would lead to the defeat of violence in the country.
Gabon, speaking in a right of reply, said in response to the European Union that enhanced dialogue was the tool needed to strengthen peace and ensure the happiness of the people of Gabon. References to post-election violence from 2016 were uncalled for. Turning to upcoming legislative elections, Gabon had established an independent centre for elections characterized by opposition membership. Now more than ever, the Government was working to respect custody rights of detainees. Efforts were underway to improve detention conditions.
Pakistan, speaking in a right of reply in response to India, said that the Government had resorted to polemic and distorted rhetoric. India’s forcible annexation of Jammu and Kashmir had no legal basis. The region was not, and had never been, a part of India. Pakistan welcomed the High Commissioner’s recommendation to create a commission of inquiry in Jammu and Kashmir. India feared an independent investigation that would shed light on its wrongdoings. Hindu extremists in Jammu and Kashmir were using atrocities as political tools. Minorities in the region were facing persecution.
India, speaking in a second right of reply, said that the biggest threat to Jammu and Kashmir was the cross-border terrorism. The scale of cross-border terrorism was evident in the loss of 14,000 civilians and over 5,000 security forces. In spite of that, Indian security forces were exercising restraint. Pakistan was sponsoring terrorism and the world would be a much safer place if Pakistan stopped exporting terrorism to its neighbourhood and beyond.
Pakistan, speaking in a second right of reply, said it did not want to engage in a war of words with India. However, the report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner had asked for a commission of inquiry to investigate atrocities in India. If India had nothing to fear, then India could accept the commission of inquiry and show that there was nothing to hide.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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