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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
25 March 2015
25 March 2015
Part 1: Item 2
Mr. President, Members of the Human Rights Council,
Excellences, Ladies and gentlemen,
This [morning/afternoon] you have before you five reports of the Secretary-General and of the High Commissioner, submitted under item 2, concerning the following countries: Guatemala, Bolivia, Colombia, Cyprus and Iran.
Let me start with the report on the situation of human rights and the activities of OHCHR in Guatemala. OHCHR has been working in Guatemala for almost a decade, and great progress has been made. But challenges remain.
The report welcomes the progress that has been made in addressing past and present human rights violations.
At the same time, the report also highlights developments that undermine the independence of the judiciary and the fight against impunity. In particular, there have been serious flaws in the selection of judicial authorities, and increased threats and attacks against judges and prosecutors involved in the investigation or prosecution of high profile cases linked to corruption and organised crime. In that regard, the role of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala remains crucial.
The country’s persisting insecurity is deeply worrying. It is regrettable that the Government’s response to the situation up to now has remained dominated by the militarisation of public security.
A repressive approach has also often characterised the authorities’ reactions to social unrest in indigenous territories, which have particularly arisen in the context of protests against extractive and energy development projects for which affected communities were never consulted. We urge the Government to give a far higher priority to dialogue and community-based solutions, and to ensure that the right to consultation is properly respected.
We are encouraged by the recent landmark adoption of a reparations policy to address human rights violations suffered by the communities that were displaced by the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam in 1975.
We also commend the work of specialized courts established to handle cases of femicide and other forms of violence against women. Sustained efforts are needed to prevent and sanction this deeply entrenched phenomenon, and to provide adequate remedies to victims.
In 2014, Guatemala saw increased attacks and media campaigns aimed at discrediting human rights defenders and journalists, with over 800 incidents recorded. This is simply appalling. The ability of human rights defenders and journalists to work freely and safely is the mark of an open and healthy society. We encourage the authorities at all levels to publicly recognize the importance of their work, and we ask them to ensure that such crimes are investigated and prosecuted.
We are fully committed to supporting the Government of Guatemala and other national and international partners to address these and other issues.
I will move now to the report on the activities of OHCHR’s office in Bolivia.
My report on the activities of OHCHR in Bolivia highlights the important policies that have been implemented by the Government to combat extreme poverty and malnutrition, and to improve access to education, health and water. These and other efforts to reduce inequalities and promote the inclusion of people in most vulnerable situations are vital, and we trust they will be sustained. OHCHR has been helping to set up human rights indicators to act as the basis for public policies that ensure real and measurable improvement in human rights.
The Government has also taken action to combat racism and other forms of discrimination. Greater political and financial support is needed to tackle chronic prejudice. We hope that legislation on consultation with indigenous peoples will be adopted this year, through a participatory process.
There has also been progress towards addressing another pernicious problem, that of gender-based violence, notably with the adoption of the Law on Guaranteeing Women a Life Free from Violence. The first cases under this law are now being handled by the judiciary. It is important to allocate sufficient resources to implementing the law, to ensure that investigations are not unduly lengthy. OHCHR is ready to assist the authorities in this endeavour.
Sustainable progress in these areas will partly depend on the consolidation of the rule of law. But structural deficiencies in the administration of justice remain a major challenge in Bolivia. The reform of the justice system, initiated almost five years ago, has not yet eliminated chronic problems - such as the excessive and prolonged use of pre-trial detention and impunity. A comprehensive justice reform plan is needed to effectively promote judicial independence. We also encourage further consultation with civil society and victims on draft legislation concerning violations by unconstitutional regimes - to ensure respect for the rights to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees on non-recurrence.
OHCHR is looking forward to continuing its support to the Government and other partners to further promote and protect human rights in Bolivia.
Let me now turn to the report before you on the situation of human rights in Colombia.
There are very promising developments, not least the peace efforts and the unprecedented decision to bring the voices of the victims of the conflict to the negotiating table. Both parties to the conflict have indeed recognized that sustainable peace rests on restoring the rights of victims.
Inequalities must also be addressed, for lasting peace. Large segments of Colombia’s population remain marginalised, notably indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, rural dwellers, women and children. All forms of discrimination and exclusion must be addressed effectively to achieve progress in fighting poverty.
The report also highlights the responsibility of businesses to uphold human rights, and their potential contributions to the peace process, as well as the need for communities to participate in decisions affecting their lives, including large-scale economic activities. We welcome the Government’s endeavours to address many social demands through negotiation. The joint search for innovative approaches to issues linked to the peace agenda, such as rural development, is also very encouraging and we trust it will be pursued.
However, I am bound to say that threats and attacks have continued against people who are participating in social dialogue and promoting the peace process. Protection measures are not enough: the investigations must progress.
Addressing past violations is also a cornerstone for peace. The report includes an appendix that demonstrates with great clarity that changes in the policies of the armed forces resulted in a significant drop in extrajudicial executions. However, despite efforts by the Attorney General’s Office, impunity persists for these and other gross human rights violations, particularly at command levels. Continuing efforts to expand the reach of military jurisdiction for these crimes is contrary to Colombia’s international human rights obligations.
The report also describes violations of international humanitarian law committed by organized armed groups, such as the use of indiscriminate explosive devices, killing of wounded civilians and the use of children.
Two years into the peace negotiations, the armed conflict continues to take a toll on human lives, and Colombia is at a turning-point. A negotiated end to the armed conflict can mean tremendous improvement to the human rights situation, on a scale not seen in a generation. We welcome the prospect of accompanying Colombia on this path.
Moving now to the report on the question of human rights in Cyprus.
The annual report on the question of human rights in Cyprus describes several positive developments in 2014. There has been progress in the identification and return of the remains of missing persons, progress in conservation works of cultural heritage sites, and an improved climate of interreligious communication and cooperation. This includes first-time visits and crossings of the Green Line by Greek Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders, and landmark religious ceremonies in, and pilgrimages to, places of worship on both sides of the Line.
However, the persisting division of the island remains an obstacle to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by the whole population of Cyprus. This has also been observed by various treaty bodies and special procedures, and in the context of Cyprus’ UPR, in February 2014.
Human rights and gender-related issues should be integrated in the negotiations and the political dialogue aimed at achieving a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. Such a settlement would improve the human rights situation throughout the island.
The final country report before you today under item 2 is the report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This report outlines patterns and trends in the human rights situation in Iran, particularly with respect to issues that were highlighted by the resolution, including the death penalty; limitations on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly; the continued arrest and persecution of media professionals, human rights defenders and lawyers; women’s rights; and the rights of minorities. The also highlights cases of reprisal against individuals who established contact with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.
In the report, the Secretary-General welcomes achievements in the field of women’s education and health, while encouraging the Government to eliminate discrimination against women in all spheres of life, including political, social and cultural.
He also reiterates calls on the Government to release human rights lawyers and other human rights defenders who have been detained solely for exercising their rights to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. They should be allowed to work without any restrictions, harassment and intimidation.
As in previous reports, the Secretary-General expresses concerns about continued executions in Iran, including for minors, and advocates a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
The Secretary-General welcomes the authorities’ engagement with the Universal Period Review and the United Nations human rights treaty bodies, as well as the Government’s invitation to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Iran. However, he regrets Iran’s lack of meaningful cooperation with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran – who, despite repeated requests, has still not yet been granted access to the country.
This concludes my introduction of country reports under item 2. Thank you for your attention.
Part 2: Item 10
Mr. President, Members of the Human Rights Council,
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
This [morning/afternoon] you have before you five reports of the High Commissioner, submitted under item 10, concerning the following countries: Afghanistan, Libya, Guinea, and South Sudan.
Let me begin by introducing the report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and on the achievements of technical assistance in the field of human rights in 2014. It has been prepared by the Human Rights Section of UNAMA.
In 2014, the human rights situation was considerably affected by the security, political and economic transitions. Anti-Government elements sought to exploit uncertainty by stepping up their offensives, including through more ground engagements, which resulted in an extremely heavy toll on civilians.
Last year saw the highest number of civilian deaths and injuries in a single year since UNAMA began systematically recording civilian casualties, in 2009. A 22 per cent increase in civilian casualties was documented compared to 2013 in UNAMA/OHCHR’s Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, which was released last month.
Violence against women and girls remains pervasive and unaddressed.
Impunity for abusive detention practices, including torture, has continued. In February 2015, UNAMA/OHCHR released its third detention report, documenting that one-third of the 790 detainees interviewed experienced torture or ill-treatment in government facilities. This was 14 per cent lower than in UNAMA’s previous observation period. In response, the Government committed to implementing a new national plan on elimination of torture. Of continued concern is the pervasive lack of accountability for those who commit acts of torture or ill-treatment.
Through its reporting, advocacy and engagement in strategic partnerships and dialogue with the Government, national institutions, civil society and communities across the country, as well as with international partners, UNAMA/OHCHR have prioritised four areas: Protection of civilians in armed conflict, including children; elimination of violence against women; prevention of torture and arbitrary detention; and human rights aspects of the peace and reconciliation processes. In addition, UNAMA/OHCHR provides support to strengthen the effectiveness and independence of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
These priorities reflect UNAMA’s mandate and highlight the main human rights concerns of the Afghan people. They also align the priorities of the newly elected Government, as part of its reform agenda, following the transfer of security and other responsibilities from international actors.
Despite the worsening conflict, the formation of the National Unity Government in September 2014, and its commitment to a reform agenda, provide a genuine opportunity to move forward on human rights. However, for reforms to take root they must be reinforced by accountability for those who commit human rights violations.
Let me turn to the report on the situation of human rights in Libya and related technical assistance.
This report was prepared in cooperation with the human rights division of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, which OHCHR supports.
The report describes the deterioration of the human rights situation in Libya in 2014. Armed groups indiscriminately shelled heavily populated areas in Tripoli and Benghazi, using heavy artillery and aircraft, killing and injuring many hundreds of civilians. Civilian objects, including hospitals, were attacked. Armed groups also committed reprisals in the form of unlawful killings, abductions, torture and other ill-treatment. Women, particularly those participating in political and public life, have been subjected to violence, and human rights defenders and media professionals have also been targeted.
Thousands of persons remain in detention since the 2011 conflict without due process.
Many migrants continue to be detained in abysmal conditions, and those seeking to leave Libya by sea have often died en-route.
Since the completion of the report, OHCHR has continued to receive information about violations and abuses committed across Libya. These include incidents in which people have been targeted because of their religious affiliation, such as the recent beheading of 21 mostly Egyptian Coptic Christians by the so-called ISIL group. Earlier today UNSMIL and OHCHR issued a joint report on the continuing attacks against human rights defenders across Libya and in some cases even after they have been forced to leave the country.
The recent wave of violence has also had a devastating impact on key institutions:
The offices of the national human rights institution in Tripoli have been forcibly shut down.
The justice system is not operational in parts of the country, and courts in Benghazi, Derna and Sirte have stopped functioning. Prosecutors and judges are being attacked. No prosecutions of armed group members have taken place, and impunity prevails. The report calls for accountability for all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and human rights abuses.
Other institutions function but need support, most notably the Constitution Drafting Assembly. A workshop was held for members of the Assembly last month to discuss the drafting of the human rights chapter – organized by OHCHR and UNSMIL with the support of Switzerland.
We will continue to support Libya in seeking to protect human rights in these times of crisis.
Moving now to the report on the situation of human rights in Guinea.
Guinea is preparing to hold a Presidential election at the end of the year in a difficult socio-economic context, which has been exacerbated by the terrible outbreak of Ebola – as was further confirmed by my assessment team during a three-country mission last month. The political environment is increasingly tense. It is essential to promote and ensure free and open dialogue, and to peacefully address any unrest and tensions, so as to create a serene environment ahead of the elections.
There have been improvements in reforming the security sector and in setting up a national protection system. But there has been a distinct and disturbing lack of progress in strengthening the rule of law and addressing impunity.
Therefore, OHCHR reiterates previous recommendations addressed to the Government and relevant stakeholders in view of improving Guinea’s human rights records, not least the need to prosecute the authors of human rights violations committed during the 28 September 2009 events , including in relation to the September 2009 events, the July 2013 ethnic violence in Zogota and other episodes of interethnic violence. Ahead of the elections, it is becoming urgent to tackle these unresolved matters.
The last two reports before you today under item 10 concern the situation of human rights in South Sudan. One concerns the panel discussion that this Council held in September 2014. The other has been prepared in cooperation with the human rights component of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Over one year after violence erupted in South Sudan, violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have continued, including the killing and wounding of civilians and conflict-related sexual violence, not only in the context of the hostilities between the main belligerents, but also in cyclical inter-communal clashes.
We have also received reports of grave violations and abuses perpetrated against children, including large scale recruitment of children by both parties to the conflict, as well as the military use and occupation of schools.
The numbers of civilians displaced has kept rising, with no likelihood that people will be able to return to their homes in the near future. Today, over 100,000 people live in the United Nations protection sites. There are over 1.3 million internally displaced persons in the country as a whole and around 500 000 refugees in neighbouring countries.
During the reporting period and beyond, the right to freedom of expression has further deteriorated. Civil society actors are harassed. Journalists are detained. Newspapers confiscated. Radio stations are closed by Government officials.
Administration of justice remains problematic, characterised by high levels of arbitrary arrests, detentions without charge or trial, and a lack of fair trial guarantees.
A key issue highlighted in the report is the continued impunity with regard to serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. We hope that the report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry, established to look into human rights violation and abuses committed in the course of the conflict as well as issues of accountability and reconciliation, will be made public promptly. Peace and justice cannot be dissociated.
We call on all parties to promptly cease all violence against civilians, and to urgently work on meaningful accountability and reconciliation measures.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This concludes my introduction of country reports under item 10. Thank you for your attention.