Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Introduction to country reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner addresses by Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Yemen, Cambodia and Georgia
26 September 2019
42nd session of the Human Rights Council
Item 2 and 10
Geneva, 26 September 2019
Salle XX, Palais des Nations
Mr. President, Excellencies,
This [morning] you have before you three reports submitted under item 2 and 10, concerning Yemen, Cambodia and Georgia.
Let me start with the report of the High Commissioner on Yemen (A/HRC/42/33).
It follows your resolution 39/21, which requested OHCHR to continue providing technical support to the Yemeni National Commission to ensure that it continues to investigate allegations of violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen.
The conflict has turned Yemen into the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with the population trapped in a relentless armed conflict and other forms of violence, entailing serious violations and abuses of human rights as well as international humanitarian law.
On 10 September, the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen reported to you that “all the parties [to the conflict] are responsible for numerous violations of human rights, of international law and humanitarian law,” and that “some of these violations may constitute war crimes.”
It is in these extreme conditions that the National Commission has been operating, with the difficult mandate to investigate violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the midst of the conflict. Security and political constraints have significantly impeded its ability to safely and freely conduct comprehensive investigations throughout the territory of Yemen.
The report outlines the support we have been providing to the Commission. This support essentially focused on deepening the knowledge of the Commission’s members and staff in international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law, and on methodologies for human rights monitoring, investigations and reporting. All activities reflected a gender-sensitive approach.
This support has had impact. Over the years, the Commission has increased its reporting. Between August 2016 and March 2019, it produced six reports, which have thus far documented more than 17,000 human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by the various parties to the conflict. As its latest report shows, the Commission has enhanced its efforts to reflect violations and abuses committed by all parties, and to attribute incidents, including to Houthi-Saleh forces, Arab Coalition forces, and drone warfare.
However, the Commission continues to face considerable challenges.
It is still unable to access parts of the territory of Yemen. In particular, the de facto authorities have been unwilling to cooperate with it and to provide it access to the areas they control, on the grounds that its composition hampers impartiality and independence since it comprises members appointed by the Government of Yemen.
Moreover, given the volatile environment, the Commission’s members and staff has faced difficulties in interacting with victims and witnesses due to the lack of solid protection mechanisms.
The report before you includes recommendations that could reinforce the work and impact of the Commission. These include encouraging the Government to revise the mandate of the Commission to ensure it can safely and effectively fulfil its role as an independent mechanism, and the Attorney-General to systematically and promptly act upon the cases received from the Commission, whoever the alleged perpetrators are. Further recommendations are addressed to the Commission itself with a view to strengthening its effectiveness and impact.
The National Commission is willing to continue enhancing the capacity of its members and staff. We therefore call on all relevant parties to fully cooperate with the Commission so that it can safely and effectively fulfil its mandate, notably by granting it access to all areas of Yemen, including all places of deprivation of liberty, and providing it with all relevant information it may request.
I now have the honour to introduce the report of the Secretary-General on the work of OHCHR in Cambodia from January 2018 to May 2019 (A/HRC/42/31).
I am glad to report that during the period, we renewed our Memorandum of Understanding on human rights cooperation with the Government for the years 2019–2020. We have pursued our work with partners, including to strengthen the rule of law, promote the right to participation, and protect fundamental freedoms, economic, social and cultural rights and the rights of people in detention.
The report refers to positive developments, notably the adoption of the Cambodian Sustainable Development Goals framework and improved enjoyment of economic and social rights as a result of continued economic growth. It also includes recommendations for improvement.
To help advance sustainable development, we worked closely with relevant ministries to support indigenous land communal titling while advocating for a simplification of the process. We cooperated with national and sub-national authorities to support improved implementation of the Government’s social land concessions programme. We also continued to engage with authorities to promote and support fair, peaceful and durable outcomes to land disputes and relocations, including in relation to land concessions to private businesses. The Secretary-General recommends further improving land processes and undertaking studies to identify people at risk of being left behind in development.
During the period, we also continued to support the professionalization of the criminal justice system, notably to improve case management, raise awareness of relevant human rights norms - including torture and ill-treatment - and to build the capacity of judicial, police and prison officials. The Secretary-General recommends ensuring the independence of the judiciary and further improving its transparency and efficiency, as well as ensuring that the National Committee against Torture can carry out its mission in places of deprivation of liberty.
As the High Commissioner noted in the opening session, pressure on members and supporters of the former main opposition party remains of concern. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 16, requires the participation by everyone in decision-making – including people who offer critical views. The Secretary-General urges political dialogue and more public debate, with full respect for fundamental freedoms and the right to participate in the conduct of public affairs. Recent physical assaults on former officials and staff of the former opposition party will need to be fully investigated.
Some promising measures to reopen civil society space have been taken since late 2018 but there is still a lasting impact of past restrictive policies. The Government has established bi-yearly National Forums with civil society organizations but the latter continue to face restrictions and surveillance, including by local authorities. OHCHR continued to work closely with civil society partners, providing support including through grants in areas such as the monitoring of fundamental freedoms, legal aid or the rights of persons with disabilities. The Secretary-General calls for strengthening guarantees for the unhindered work of civil society organizations, including through a review of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations.
Let me join the Secretary-General in reiterating our commitment to continue to assist the Government and people of Cambodia in the realization of all human rights for all.
I am now pleased to present the report of the High Commissioner on cooperation with Georgia (A/HRC/42/34), as requested by your resolution 40/28.
I would like to first draw your attention to the continuing constraints related to the implementation of the mandate on Georgia, in a context where no dedicated budget is foreseen for this purpose. I reiterate our invitation to Member States to accompany future reporting requests with an adequate budget through the standard PBI process.
The report before you gives an overview of the technical assistance we provided between June 2018 and May 2019, through our Senior Human Rights Adviser based in Tbilisi.
It also outlines human rights developments during that period – including key areas which require further attention, and provides recommendations to further assist the Government in its ongoing efforts to strengthen human rights. These include improving the administration of justice; preventing torture and ill-treatment; addressing discrimination; promoting gender equality and combating domestic violence; addressing unsafe conditions of work; and protecting civic space.
We encourage the Government to prioritize stepping up efforts to combat discrimination and hate speech, particularly on the grounds of religion or belief, gender and sexual orientation.
We welcome developments that occurred after the finalization of the report, such as the appointment of the State Inspector as an independent body to investigate alleged violations by law enforcement agents. It is essential for this entity to be supported by sufficient resources to implement its mandate. At the same time, we reiterate the call for an effective investigation into the alleged use of disproportionate force and cases of violence in the context of the demonstrations that took place in Tbilisi in June.
Your resolution 40/28 called for OHCHR to be granted access to Abkhazia, Georgia, and the Tskhinvali region/ South Ossetia, Georgia. I regret having to report that there has been no progress on this issue as of yet.
As in previous years, due to the continued lack of access to these regions, the report presents an overview of the human rights situation concerning Abkhazia, Georgia, and the Tskhinvali region/ South Ossetia, Georgia, based on information received by our office.
The human rights of the population in these areas continue to be negatively affected by the unresolved conflicts.
Restrictions and impediments to freedom of movement in and around Abkhazia and South Ossetia have persisted. Measures related to the so-called “borderization”, including the situation around Gugutiantkari village, the temporary closure of the Administrative Boundary Lines, the limited availability of functioning crossing points, and ambiguities about the necessary identity and other documents, have continued to exacerbate the isolation and vulnerability of the local population.
The impact on their rights to liberty, health, education and property remains particularly serious.
In addition, one more individual died in custody in Abkhazia during the period under review. We call on all relevant parties to make utmost efforts to ensure accountability in this and the three previously reported cases of alleged unlawful death or killing in recent years.
This year, the report puts forward a series of recommendations to all relevant parties including towards improving the human rights situation in and around Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The High Commissioner reiterates the call for her Office to access both regions and its readiness to assist constructively towards building confidence and addressing the human rights needs of the affected people.
This concludes my introduction of reports this [morning]. Thank you.