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Statements and speeches Multiple Mechanisms
08 March 2022
8 March 2022
I am honoured to present my Office's reports on the human rights situations in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Cyprus. I will also briefly update the Council on the progress made in the cooperation between Eritrea and my Office and its impact on human rights in the country.
I will begin with my annual report on Colombia (A/HRC/49/19).
2021 marked the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Peace agreement between the Government and FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army). Major steps towards peace, democracy and political participation have been made since then, in particular the demobilisation of FARC-EP and its constitution in a new political party, as well as the 16 special peace seats created in Congress for victims of the armed conflict.
I call upon the Government to ensure the right to participate in the upcoming elections in an environment free of threats and violence.
I also welcome the substantial transitional justice developments achieved by the Truth Commission, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and the Search Unit for Persons Deemed as Missing. Their contributions have been essential for the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparation. I urge the authorities to support this independent work and protect victims and witnesses who participate in the transitional justice process as well as those working in those institutions.
Despite these advances, many serious challenges remain. Throughout 2021, my Office observed with concern a surge in violence against rural communities and social leaders in a context of continued territorial expansion by non-state armed groups and criminal organisations. Indigenous communities and people of African descent are particularly impacted.
In 2021, my Office documented 78 massacres and 100 killings of human rights defenders. Additionally, there were 54 killings of former FARC-EP combatants in 2021, as reported by the UN Verification Mission.
I call upon the Government of Colombia to urgently establish a more comprehensive presence of civilian authorities in the territories most affected by violence. In addition, the Government must urgently adopt, in consultation with civil society, a policy to dismantle criminal organisations and strengthen the response to early warnings from the Ombudsman's Office.
In 2021, my Office also documented 54 arbitrary deprivations of life by public security forces, including 28 cases as a result of the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by the police in the context of the protests of the National Strike. I call upon the Government to implement the recommendations of the report published by my Office in December 2021 including the necessary police reform, and to effectively guarantee the right of peaceful assembly through strict adherence to international standards on the use of force.
I also encourage the Government to redouble efforts to guarantee the right to land for victims of the armed conflict through implementation of the comprehensive rural reform outlined in the Peace agreement.
My Office welcomes continued cooperation with the Colombian authorities and civil society, and stands ready to support the implementation of the recommendations contained in my report.
I move now to my report on Guatemala (A/HRC/49/20).
Guatemala continues to face serious human rights challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and increased poverty levels in the country, particularly among indigenous peoples, people of African descent and people in informal employment, a situation which requires urgent attention from the authorities.
Throughout 2021, attacks and judicial persecution against justice operators for their legitimate work continued, including through the use of processes to remove their immunity. In addition, in the last months, my Office observed an increase in attacks against prosecutors and lawyers for their investigations in cases of corruption and impunity, and in emblematic cases of serious human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict.
These attacks represent a worrisome pattern that undermines the rule of law and judicial independence. While 2021 saw the election of magistrates to the Constitutional Court, I remain concerned about the lack of progress in electing judges to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals –a process that has been delayed for almost three years.
I do however welcome the advances made in the cases of human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict, and I encourage the authorities to continue moving forward on a number of pending cases.
Civic space continued to shrink, and attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders and journalists increased. Last year, my Office documented 103 attacks against human rights defenders and six killings, as well as 33 attacks against journalists. It is critical that authorities take action to strengthen legislation and policies to protect human rights defenders and journalists.
I am also alarmed that rates of violence against women and girls in Guatemala rose in 2021. The Women's Observatory of the Attorney General's Office recorded 60,089 cases of violence and 478 femicides. My Office had knowledge of at least 29 LGBTI people killed. Such high levels of violence require the authorities to take immediate preventive and protective measures.
Finally, I encourage the Government of Guatemala to continue to cooperate with all the UN and regional human rights mechanisms. My Office will continue to support and assist the Government, State institutions and various actors to advance the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.
Let me now turn to my report on Honduras (A/HRC/49/21).
The human rights landscape in Honduras in 2021 was marked by rising poverty, pervasive inequalities, impunity and corruption, ongoing discrimination and high levels of violence.
Highly participatory and peaceful elections on 28 November brought Honduras' first female President into power. However, the pre-election violence was of utmost concern, with 69 incidents, including 30 killings recorded by my Office. I underline the need to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses.
I am concerned by the installation in January of two Executive Boards in dispute over the control of the National Congress, but I welcome the recent dialogue between parties to resolve the situation. I call on the authorities to enhance the rule of law and the strengthening of democratic institutions.
I deplore the 318 violent deaths of women and 28 violent deaths of LGBTI people recorded by my Office and call for a prompt and exhaustive investigation. I also deplore the attacks and threats against 302 human rights defenders and journalists, 10 of whom were killed last year.
While I welcome the verdict on the murder of human rights defender Berta Caceres, I am concerned about the lack of judicial independence and access to justice for victims in other human rights related cases. I urge the Government to improve policies to strengthen the protection of all people who stand up for human rights.
Throughout the country, high poverty rates increased even further – from 64.7% in 2019 to 73.6% in 2021. At least 41% of school-aged children did not attend formal education and were left out of the education system in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they lacked access to the internet and electronic devices.
Corruption in Honduras also continues to be a serious structural problem, undermining the rule of law. I am particularly troubled by the issuance of Decree 93-2021 which reformed several laws. This facilitated the release from prison and the acquittal of several former officials who had been charged and convicted for corruption-related offenses and also restricted civic space.
Finally, I am alarmed that conflicts over land between extractive companies and communities are continuing to cause attacks against environmental and land defenders, as well as forced evictions. I strongly urge the Government to build an equitable and sustainable economic model that guarantees the rights of the affected communities and contributes to the quality of life for the population in general.
I now move to my report on Cyprus (A/HRC/49/22).
The ongoing division of Cyprus continues to hinder the enjoyment of human rights for all people across the island. The report underscores continuing concerns with respect to the right to life; the issue of missing persons; the right to non-discrimination; the freedoms of movement, opinion and expression, and religion or belief; the right to seek asylum; property rights; the right to education; and the right to participate in cultural life.
It also reiterates the importance of the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women in the peace process.
The COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions have exacerbated existing human rights challenges and limited direct engagement for people in Cyprus, with people in vulnerable situations being disproportionately impacted. At the same time, the pandemic provides a key opportunity to build back better with human rights at the centre of the response.
While I welcome the agreement reached last June to reopen all crossing points that were closed because of the pandemic, it is also paramount that renewed efforts are made to recover the prior progress achieved in trust building between communities.
I commend the efforts of all those who continued to work in the face of these challenges to advance human rights for all people living in Cyprus. They include civil society, religious leaders and faith-based actors, and many bicommunal initiatives. I also note that responses on both sides of community - including religious, political and human rights actors - have counterbalanced politically or ethnically motivated attacks.
However, I am concerned that there has been only limited progress in realizing the right to the truth for the families of missing people. I encourage enhanced efforts to further address this. I also urge and call upon all parties to redouble efforts for mutual dialogue and cooperation. These are the foundational pillars to ensure sustainable peace and to guarantee that all people in Cyprus can equally enjoy their rights.
I will conclude with my oral update on cooperation between Eritrea and my Office, and its impact on the situation of human rights (A/HRC/47/L.14).
I regret the very limited progress in any engagement over the past five years. However, in January 2022, our Regional Representative for East Africa was able to take part in a joint UN mission as part of the launch of Eritrea's UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework.
Our Representative noted some positive justice system reform initiatives underway. For example, a new criminal procedure law is being finalised that increases compliance with international human rights standards.
As the Council will recall, following a series of engagements and missions in 2015 and 2016, the Eritrean authorities identified three priority areas for cooperation with my Office. They were strengthening the judiciary; improving the human rights of people with disabilities; and improving access to water and sanitation. My Office has repeatedly offered support in all three areas. In 2017, we developed a detailed roadmap to strengthen the administration of justice and to contribute to an enabling environment for the advancement of human rights.
We have also offered our technical support to assist the Government to implement recommendations made by the Universal Periodic Review. During an interactive dialogue in the Council session in July last year, the representative of Eritrea stated that his Government was ready to engage with my Office on the three priority areas, as well as on the roadmap for cooperation. He requested that that my Office revise the roadmap, yet as of today, the authorities have not responded to our requests for discussion on this.
My Office has also sought dialogue with Eritrea in the context of the joint UN Human Rights and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report into the conflict in the Tigray region, which found allegations of human rights violations committed by Eritrean troops. There was no direct response to our request for dialogue, and the Eritrean Minister of Information issued a public rejection of the joint report following its publication.
To our knowledge, there have been no steps towards accountability for the violations of human rights and humanitarian law allegedly committed by the Eritrean Defence Forces in the Tigray conflict.
In this context, I am grateful that Eritrea's UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework brings a new opportunity for my Office to help fulfil this critical human rights agenda. I renew our offer of technical cooperation, and I urge the Government to facilitate another OHCHR technical visit to the country as soon as possible. I also call on the Government to engage with all Special Procedures mandate-holders, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.
This concludes my introduction of country reports and updates under item 2. I encourage stakeholders to implement their recommendations.