Human Rights Council
14 September 2020
Begins Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Human Rights Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue on the report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar following a presentation by its Head, Nicholas Koumjian.
Speaking during the interactive discussion were the European Union, Pakistan, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Canada, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Austria, Switzerland, Venezuela, Malaysia, Australia, Russian Federation, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Philippines (video message), Egypt, Turkey and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Also taking the floor were the following non-government organizations : the International Commission of Jurists, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (video message), Jubilee Campaign, and CIVICUS.
The Council then began an enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic following an update by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Also participating in the enhanced interactive dialogue were Martha E. Newton, Deputy Director-General for Policy at the International Labour Organization, and Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization Health Emergencies Programme.
Speaking were the European Union, Finland, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Canada, Qatar, Afghanistan, Jordan, Brazil, United Nations Children’s Fund, Cuba, Sovereign Order of Malta (video message), UN Women, Germany, Fiji (video message), China, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Maldives, Portugal, Togo, Sierra Leone, Armenia, Morocco, Mauritania, India, Japan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Senegal, Iraq, Greece, Australia, El Salvador, Mexico, South Africa, Bangladesh, Namibia (video message), Paraguay, Iran, Switzerland, Cameroon, Bahamas, United Nations Population Fund, Republic of Korea, Venezuela, Malta, Nepal, Uruguay, Luxembourg, Malaysia (video message), Spain, Timor-Leste, Mozambique, Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf (video message), Viet Nam, United Arab Emirates, Costa Rica, Montenegro, Ethiopia, Philippines, Russian Federation, Sudan, Albania and Ireland.
China spoke in right of reply.
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-fifth regular session can be found here.
The Council will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 September to conclude its enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will then hold a general debate on the global human rights update by the High Commissioner and her updates on Nicaragua and Venezuela, presented this morning.
Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar
Presentation of the Report
NICHOLAS KOUMJIAN, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, said that in its first full year of existence, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar had built a team and infrastructure capable of implementing the challenging mandate it had been given. Aware of the challenging financial situation, the Mechanism had adjusted its structure and organization, enabling it to propose a leaner budget for 2021. It had made public outreach a priority. In May, the Mechanism had issued its inaugural Bulletin providing an update on its activities, and it planned to issue further Bulletins at regular intervals. The Mechanism had been in discussions with Facebook for over a year, and they had agreed some time ago to preserve material at its request and recently had begun sharing materials that partially complied with its requests. By conducting its evidence collection efforts objectively and professionally, it hoped to convince all that only those responsible for crimes had anything to fear from the Mechanism. Given that the mandate of the Mechanism was ongoing, it was closely following events in Myanmar and reports of violence that might qualify as war crimes or crimes against humanity. It was watching, and those perpetrating violence should know that evidence was being recorded and preserved.
Condemning violations in Myanmar and urging the Government to stop them, speakers asked how the Council could support the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar and strengthen its cooperation with States and other entities. They requested information on the Mechanism’s approach on gender-based violence. They suggested that the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court should be applied on an ad hoc basis to punish perpetrators of violations. While some speakers pointed out that Myanmar had stepped up its efforts to address violations, and set up mechanisms to that end, others said such efforts were insufficient. Some speakers said that the unilateral mandate did not generate positive impacts on the ground, and in light of the liquidity crisis, the continuation of the work of the Mechanism should be carefully considered. Other speakers noted that accountability processes were crucial to finding a just and sustainable solution. The Mechanism was an evidence-gathering body, not a commission of inquiry, said some speakers. Others pointed out that its work was only the first step towards delivering international criminal justice. The continued rejection by the Myanmar Government of the Mechanism, and the ensuing lack of access, was concerning, as was its refusal to hold the military accountable.
In his concluding remark, Mr. Koumjian stressed that the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar depended on the support of the Council and the international community to discharge its very difficult mandate. All of the staff would be trained on gender issues, and additional staff members specialized in gender violence would be hired.
Enhanced Interactive Discussion on the Human Rights Implications on the COVID-19 Pandemic
MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Council would discuss how human rights-based policies could help to shape the impact of this pandemic – taking stock of some of the good practices that had demonstrated their efficacy to date. A number of States had been able to count on adaptable human rights based systems for key services, such as healthcare and social protections. The importance of these pre-existing systems for the delivery of fundamental rights could not be overstated. To learn from what went right, all must look at what went wrong. Today’s multifaceted crisis had unmasked the strong link between race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and health outcomes. Pre-existing inequalities should be contextualized within historic, political, social and economic spaces, and be effectively addressed to build back better with equality and quality. In today’s context, social protection represented a critical tool for facilitating access to health care, protecting people against poverty and ensuring the satisfaction of basic economic and social rights.
MARTHA E. NEWTON, Deputy Director-General for Policy at the International Labour Organization, said the right to equality and non-discrimination, to work, to social security, to safe and healthy working conditions, and to just and favourable conditions of work must be at the centre of the socio-economic response to the pandemic. International Labour Organization research showed that women had been, and continued to be, impacted disproportionately by the pandemic – women were heavily represented in sectors with the highest job losses, and decrease in hours, including in the informal economy. Gender often intersected with other personal characteristics such as ethnicity, age, nationality and disability, leading to multiple layers of discrimination and disadvantage, and increasing inequalities in the COVID context. Sustainable and equitable responses required inclusive voice and representation through social dialogue, which rested on respect for fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly for all.
MIKE RYAN, Executive Director of the World Health Organization Health Emergencies Programme, said people living in detention centers and prisons were of particular concern to the World Health Organization as overcrowding was an obstacle to the response to COVID-19. The pandemic had robbed many older people of their lives, and affected older people disproportionately, especially those living in long-term care facilities. The needs of older generations should be seen as a rights issue. The international community could not leave behind women, migrants, older people, refugees and children. In epidemiology, it was common to speak in terms of populations. But when it came to human rights, every person and every life mattered. The World Health Organization would continue to work to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, that was access that was based on needs, not the ability to pay.
Speakers touted their countries’ response to the pandemic, such as targeted action to protect indigenous peoples, and the advantages of universal health care. They warned against the detrimental effect of the pandemic on children, whose exposure to domestic violence for instance, had increased because of COVID-19. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on people in vulnerable situations, such as people with disabilities, as well as restrictions imposed on media freedoms, were deeply concerning. Recognizing the gendered impact of the pandemic was necessary, and women and girls should be put at the centre of response efforts, speakers said. Governments should put the life and health of people first, and unilateral sanctions should be immediately lifted. The pandemic had shown that when a social security net was lacking, poverty remained just around a corner. It had brought into focus the inherent vulnerabilities of small island developing States, further compounding the challenges already brought about by climate change. Developing countries were disproportionately affected due to fragile health sectors and sizable foreign debts, speakers said. Not a single country had the resources to tackle the pandemic alone. Civic space was crucial in a time of emergency ; any restrictions must be necessary, proportionate and applied in a non-discriminatory manner.