Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
52nd session of the Human Rights Council
I am pleased to present the reports of my Office on Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Cyprus. My remarks this morning will include updates on recent issues in the countries under discussion.
I begin with the report on Colombia, A/HRC/52/25.
I visited the country in January and was impressed by the Government’s openness to frank discussion of human rights challenges. The resumption of talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) in November 2022 is very much welcome, as is the Government’s commitment to “total peace”, including full implementation of the 2016 peace agreement with the FARC-EP. I encourage the Government to adopt a human rights approach to talks with armed actors and to ensure meaningful participation by victims – including women – and affected communities, and this was part of the conversations I had both with Government and with civil society actors during my mission.
In 2022, my Office documented 92 massacres, in which 321 people were killed, and 116 killings of human rights defenders. This violence is mainly committed by non-state armed groups and criminal organisations, and disproportionately affects indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples. I urge all armed actors to respect human rights and, where applicable, international humanitarian law, and call for the dismantling of criminal groups, as well as greater presence of State civilian institutions epecially in those areas where discussions are taking place.
Steps to address structural inequalities and root causes of conflict, in particular through rural reform, in line with the peace agreement, are very much welcome. The announced shift on drug policy may also address a key cause of violence, and my Office is ready to support a strong human rights-based approach in this regard. Other important steps that the Government is taking include ratification of the Escazú agreement and the adoption of a new Emergency Plan to protect human rights defenders and former FARC-EP combatants. The Ministries of Defence and of the Interior – and I met with both Ministers – are working to integrate a human rights approach to security policies, and my Office, as we discussed, will strengthen our cooperation in this area.
Major advances in transitional justice have been achieved in 2022 by the Truth Commission, Special Jurisdiction for Peace and Search Unit for Persons Deemed as Missing. I look forward to the integration of the Truth Commission’s recommendations into policy.
I urge the Attorney General’s Office to advance accountability for violations reportedly committed by security forces during protests. The charges of serious offenses, such as terrorism, against protestors, needs to be reviewed.
I deeply appreciate and thank the Government for the recent signing of a new agreement that has extended the presence of my Office for another nine years, a sign of strong commitment to human rights and the work of my Office.
I now turn to the report on Guatemala, A/HRC/52/23
While there has been some progress on social and economic issues over the past year, people in Guatemala continue to face systemic and underlying challenges related to discrimination; inequalities; accountability; access to justice; and civic freedoms. I welcome advances in justice and accountability in some transitional justice cases.
I am, however, concerned by the increase of over 70 per cent in the number of justice officials subjected to harassment and intimidation because of their work, notably in the context of the non-international armed conflict and in cases of alleged corruption. We also registered a 54 percent increase last year in harassment, intimidation and use or misuse of criminal procedures against human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, human rights organizations, media and journalists. Three human rights defenders, and one journalist, have been killed.
A number of steps are needed, including to strengthen protection mechanisms for justice officials; to ensure the independence of the judiciary; and to devise an effective policy, together with civil society, for the protection of human rights defenders and media freedoms.
Women and girls in Guatemala continue to suffer very high levels of violence. In 2022, the authorities registered over 48,000 cases of violence against women, a year-on-year increase of 5 per cent that included 502 killings and femicides. I encourage and urge continued efforts to strengthen specialized justice systems and the relevant capacities of the Office of the Attorney General, including actions for the prevention of violence against women.
Stronger efforts to ensure respect of human rights standards in disputes over land ownership and extraction of natural resources are also required. The right to free, prior and informed consent of all indigenous peoples, and their meaningful and effective participation in decision-making, must be fulfilled.
My Office is committed to assisting the authorities to advance the human rights of all the people of Guatemala. Alongside its cooperation with international human rights mechanisms, I encourage the country’s swift acceptance of visits by Special Procedures mandate holders.
The next report before you is on Honduras, A/HRC/52/24
I welcome the Government’s political will to advance the human rights agenda. Longstanding structural challenges persist across the country, including deep-rooted poverty and inequalities; persistent land conflicts; widespread violence, including gender-based violence; impunity; and an extremely dangerous context for human rights defenders and journalists.
Advances made over the past year are very welcome. They include a new framework for more transparent and independent selection of Supreme Court justices, to which my Office has given support; legislation to address the causes leading to forcible displacement and better protect internally displaced people; the repeal of the Law for the Classification of Public Documents Related to National Security and Defence; the repeal of all regulations related to the Employment and Economic Development Zones; and progress on environmental issues.
I regret that no progress has been made in investigations of serious human rights violations committed in the 1980s; the 2009 coup d'état; and the violent crisis in 2017. Numerous attacks against journalists and defenders of human rights and the environment have also not met with justice. In 2022, the Office registered at least 173 such attacks, including 14 killings. The number of these incidents has been rising since December, including two recent killings of members of the Guapinol community. It is important that there is prompt and independent investigation into all these cases, and better protection of human rights defenders, particularly those defending rights to land and the environment.
Conflicts linked to land, and natural resources, as well as the agrarian conflict, remain a serious concern, given their impact on human rights, security, poverty and displacement. I call on the authorities to ensure that the rights of indigenous and Afro-Honduran peoples, peasant groups and other historically excluded communities are respected.
These issues are a persistent feature of our work across Latin America, and in fact we need to use the landmark anniversaries this year as an opportunity to discuss these issues globally and regionally.
The poverty in which a majority of the population lives remains of profound concern. Violence remains widespread, with women and LGBTI people disproportionately affected. Civil society has documented 43 killings and two disappearances of LGTBI people, and the killing of at least 252 women.
The Government’s commitment to demilitarizing public security functions has not yet materialized. The State of Emergency introduced in November, as part of efforts to combat extortion and organized crime, should not be viewed as an alternative to a comprehensive, civilian-led policy of security based on human rights.
I appreciate very much the authorities’ cooperation and frank dialogue, and remain committed to promote human rights in the country.
I turn now to our report on Cyprus, A/HRC/52/18.
The division of Cyprus continues to affect the rights of people across the island. Our concerns persist with respect to the right to life; missing persons; non-discrimination; the freedom of movement and the right to seek asylum; the freedoms of opinion, expression, and religion or belief; property rights; the right to education; and the right to participate in cultural life.
The negative socioeconomic impact of the pandemic – which has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine – continues to affect economic, social, and cultural rights across the island, particularly for people in already vulnerable situations.
Crossing points are now functioning normally following the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions on movement, enabling increased opportunities for direct engagement. The Office encourages stakeholders to renew efforts to build trust between communities.
I commend the efforts of those who have continued to work to advance human rights for all people living in Cyprus, despite the challenges. They include representatives of civil society, religious leaders and faith-based actors, and members of many bicommunal technical committees. Of particular note: with the support of my Office and the European Union, civil society members in the northern part of Cyprus engaged in human rights monitoring and reporting.
Equal and meaningful participation by women in the settlement process is essential. The agreement by the leaders of both communities on a joint Action Plan to this end is welcome, and sustained efforts are needed to ensure its implementation.
I am concerned by the lack of progress on educational reform, which many Cypriots say is indispensable for reconciliation. Stakeholders are encouraged to make this a priority, including by promoting peace and human rights education across the island.
I also urge all parties to enhance their dialogue and cooperation with a view to advancing equal enjoyment of all human rights by all people in Cyprus, and a just, lasting and peaceful solution regarding the island’s division.
This concludes my introduction of country reports and updates under item 2. In each case, I urge all stakeholders to implement the specific recommendations made in the respective reports, and of course we stand ready to assist you in such endeavours.