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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Update on Georgia and Nicaragua at the 41st Session to the HRC

10 July 2019

Statement by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore

Geneva, 10 July 2019,
PdN, Room XX

Mr. President,
Distinguished Members of the Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon [morning]. I am honored to present on behalf of the High Commissioner two oral updates under items 2 and 10 respectively on Nicaragua and Georgia.

I will begin with the human rights situation of Georgia, providing a summary of developments since June 2018.

At the outset, I thank the Government of Georgia, the Ombudsperson, regional organizations, civil society representatives and United Nations entities that responded to our call for submissions for this update.  I also draw the Council’s attention to the continuing constraints on the implementation of the mandate on Georgia given the absence of a dedicated budget and invite you to accompany reporting requests with an adequate budget through the standard PBI process.

During the reporting period, our Senior Human Rights Adviser for the South Caucasus, who is based in Tbilisi, continued to provide human rights technical assistance to the Government and institutions of Georgia, civil society and other actors.

These activities will be outlined in the report of the High Commissioner to your 42nd session in September. That report will also provide updates on Georgia’s ongoing efforts, and persisting challenges, related to the administration of justice, the prevention of ill-treatment, the fight against discrimination, and strengthening human rights in business.

Over the past year, a number of positive steps have been taken, including to combat domestic violence and ill-treatment. Efforts to establish the State Inspector as an independent body to investigate alleged violations by law enforcement agents are welcome and we note that sufficient resources should be allocated to allow for effective implementation of that mandate.

Continued efforts are also needed to further the fight against discrimination and hate speech, including on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation, religion or belief, and disability.

Regarding recent developments, we support the Ombudsperson’s call for an effective investigation into the alleged use of disproportionate force and cases of violence, including against journalists, in the context of the protests in front of the Parliament, on 20-21 June. On the most recent rallies, we call on all sides to show restraint, and on the authorities to take all measures to ensure the right to peaceful assembly of everyone.

Distinguished delegates,

Your resolution 40/28 reiterates previous calls for OHCHR access to Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region of South Ossetia, Georgia. As in previous years, we have written to the authorities in control in Abkhazia and in South Ossetia to seek unfettered access to these areas to observe the human rights situation on the ground. There has been no progress on this issue as of yet.

In such a context, the report on human rights in Abkhazia prepared by the independent experts Thomas Hammarberg and Magdalena Grono in 2017 remains an important reference with regard to the human rights issues in this region. We reiterate our call for implementation of the recommendations made in that report, and stand ready to support this process. A similar independent baseline study on human rights concerning South Ossetia is needed.

Mr. President,

Our report to your September session will elaborate on the human rights situation in and around Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the local population remains affected by the legacy of the past conflicts.

Restrictions to freedom of movement remains the most pressing matter, exacerbating the isolation and vulnerability of the affected people’s rights to liberty, health, education, and property.

One more individual died in custody in Abkhazia during the period under review. Bearing in mind the three other cases of alleged unlawful death or killing that took place in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in recent years, we call on all relevant parties to make utmost efforts to ensure accountability for these deaths and to prevent any further arbitrary loss of life.

To conclude, the information available to us continues to indicate serious human rights violations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We will pursue our efforts to access these regions so as to provide credible and verified information on the human rights situation and contribute to confidence building, with the ultimate objective of addressing the human rights needs of the affected population for whom simple aspects of daily life have become a challenge.

Mr. President,

I now turn to the human rights situation in Nicaragua.  

One year after the violent repression of nationwide demonstrations, which resulted in more than 300 people killed, 2,000 injured and over 70,000 people going into exile, human rights violations committed in that context remain unaccounted for.  Peaceful protest and dissent continues to be repressed.

The successive releases of persons who had been deprived of their liberty in relation to the 2018 protests were encouraging steps forward. 442 persons have been released since 27 February 2019: 336 of them under alternative measures to detention while 106 were set free in application of the recently adopted Amnesty Law. The Government indicated that it has released all persons detained in relation to the protests. However, according to various sources, more than 80 individuals remain in custody under severe conditions of detention.

We are deeply concerned about the situation of people deprived of their liberty in relation to the protests. Our Office has received allegations that some of them were subjected to torture or ill-treatment by correction officers. On 16 May 2019, amid protests inside La Modelo prison, one detainee was killed, allegedly shot by a police officer, while several persons were injured, including police officers.

We urge for the release of all individuals arbitrarily detained for their participation in the protests or for expressing dissenting or critical views, including those under alternative measures to imprisonment. We also reiterate our call for prompt, impartial and effective investigations into these torture allegations and violent events in custody.

While it led to the release of 106 people, the Law on Amnesty, adopted on 8 June 2019, contains ambiguities that may benefit the perpetrators of human rights violations committed during the protests. As highlighted by the High Commissioner in a recent press statement, the Amnesty Law as it stands currently does not guarantee the victims’ right to truth and reparation and nor does the Law on Comprehensive Care for Victims.  Both laws were adopted without sufficient consultation with civil society or victims’ organizations. We stand ready to assist in advising on how these laws can be improved.

Although our Office, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts of the Organization of American States have documented gross human rights violations in the context of the protests, the Government continues to deny the responsibility of State agents or pro-governmental armed elements. It is crucial to ensure accountability without any exception, to ensure victims’ right to truth and reparation, and to determine the guarantees the State will put in place to avoid the recurrence of human rights violations.

We remain concerned about the suspension of the negotiations between the Government and the Civic Alliance since April 2019, and about the non-implementation of the two agreements previously reached, notably on the strengthening of citizens’ rights and safeguards. While this latter agreement guarantees the restoration of freedom of peaceful assembly, the National Police has continued to prevent demonstrations by systematically denying authorization to assemble and arbitrarily arresting people attempting to demonstrate, occasionally using excessive force. For instance, during protests that took place between 16 March and 30 June this year, the Office received reports of at least 21 individuals injured, including three by gunshot. According to non-governmental sources, since mid-March 2019, more than 500 people have been arrested by police officers while attempting to stage protests in various cities. Most were held in custody during a few hours and then released without charges.

I am deeply concerned that human rights defenders and community leaders continue to be the targets of attacks, threats, harassment and constant surveillance. Our Office was recently informed that some of the persons released have been harassed and threatened by the police and attacked by pro-government armed elements, in some cases with the acquiescence of the authorities. The authorities have not yet re-established the legal status and assets of the nine civil society organizations critical of the Government, whose legal registration was cancelled in November and December 2018.

Violations of the right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the media, continue to affect journalists and other media workers, and media outlets. Our Office was informed that journalists and other media workers have been threatened, harassed and censored. Two prominent journalists were detained for more than five months under terrorism charges, and were released on 11 June 2019. According to non-governmental sources, as of 28 June, more than 100 journalists had gone into exile.

The crisis has also affected the enjoyment of economic and social rights. The recession, coupled with the effects of the El Niño-related drought, could further put at risk the most vulnerable, including indigenous and Afro-descendant people. We have also received reports about a shortage of antiretroviral and other drugs.

We urge authorities to engage in a genuine, meaningful and inclusive dialogue in order to address people’s legitimate demands for justice and reparation, and to undertake institutional and electoral reforms. We also call on the Government to honour the agreement it has signed by allowing the exercise of freedoms of peaceful assembly, expression and association, preventing, denouncing and sanctioning any attack against human rights defenders, community leaders, political opponents and journalists and ensuring the return of their property. 

A dedicated team in our Regional Office in Panama has been monitoring remotely, with a rigorous methodology, the human rights situation in Nicaragua. After the Government asked our team deployed in Managua to leave the country at the end of August 2018, we have been trying to regain access. In this regard, we see as a positive step the information provided by the Government on 5 July 2019, on the human rights situation in Nicaragua and the participation of the Minister Adviser to the President in a working session that will take place on 13 July, in our Regional Office in Panama. We trust this will lead to continued access for the Office in the future, as requested by Human Rights Council resolution 40/2. We stand ready to assist the Government in fulfilling its international obligations.

Thank you.