INDEPENDENT NEWS AND COMMENT ON WORLD AFFAIRS
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30 December 2017: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein's email to staff saying he would not bid for a second four-year term in office in 2018 reflects not his reluctance to bargain away his integrity but the certainty that he would be unsuccessful. The reason for certainty is the damning criticism leveled at him in 2015 by an independent panel that investigated the UN's handling of child abuse by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic.
Not only did Hussein not act on information of the abuse available to his office, he victimized the only member of his staff who had the integrity to leak the information, leading to his resignation. The investigators recommended the reinstatement of that official, Anders Compass, but he chose not to return.
After the highly critical views of the Independent Panel became known prior to its publication Hussein emerged as a strident critic of those who violated human rights, despite the fact that it made him ineffective in negotiating remedial action. Among the targets of his vocal criticism was the immigration policy of US president Donald Trump. The loud public criticism seemed calculated to set himself as a principled warrior for human rights unlikely to escape punishment by corrupt states. It justified the argument he made in the email to staff that he had "decided not to seek a second four-year term [because] in the current geopolitical context [it] might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy.” In an interview with AFP lat week, Hussein said he rejected the idea of “wheeling and dealing” with political players to secure a second term.
2 June 2017: 41 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) engaged in protecting the rights of children in armed conflict have written an open letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressing dismay at his reported decision not to add parties to the 2017 UN list of those who commit grave violations against children in armed conflict. The list appears as an annex to the Secretary-General's annual report on that topic to the UN Security Council.
Urging the S-G to reconsider, the NGOs, led by Human Rights Watch, recall that "since the list was first instituted in 2002, it has been an invaluable tool" in "stigmatizing perpetrators, whether governments or non-state armed groups." By creating "pressure on parties to armed conflict to comply with international law" the list has "yielded many positive results," the letter says. "Over 25 governments and non-state armed groups have signed UN action plans and taken steps to end grave violations against children in order to be considered for “de-listing,” and more than 100,000 children have been released by armed forces or groups."
Israeli and Saudi Pressures
The letter notes that "in the past two years some Member States have exercised undue pressure, including threats to withdraw UN funding, to avoid being listed in your annual reports, despite UN-verified evidence pointing to grave violations." In "2015, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon succumbed to pressure to prevent the listing of the Israel Defense Forces, in spite of a recommendation from his then Special Representative, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, to do so on the basis of a documented pattern of grave violations during the 2014 war in Gaza."
"In 2016, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once again faced pressure, this time from Saudi Arabia, to remove the Saudi-led coalition forces from his list. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces had been listed for the grave violations of killing and maiming children and attacks against schools and hospitals in Yemen."
Freeze a Damaging Precedent
"Politicization of the list is something the international community must collectively guard against," the letter says. "Such pressure undermines the basic principle that a party to conflict is listed for one reason alone, i.e., a pattern of documented, UN-verified evidence of grave violations against children. In response to this worrying trend, civil society organizations have called on you to put children’s rights up front and ensure a credible and accurate listing of perpetrators in 2017."
"We understand that you are considering a “freeze” in part to have more time to engage with parties that are listed or may be listed. We support full engagement by the UN with parties of concern, but believe that a freeze sets a damaging precedent and undermines the list’s credibility. After fifteen years of annual lists, parties to armed conflict should be well aware that if they commit grave violations against children, they may be listed. Allowing extra time for them to make “commitments” that may or may not be fulfilled will only make the process vulnerable to additional politicization."
"We believe firmly that the list should be impartial, based on UN-verified evidence, and with all parties held to the same standard. Once parties have been listed, they should have every opportunity to engage in action plans to end their violations and, once these plans are successfully implemented, be de-listed.
"The evidence of grave violations against children continues to be overwhelming, and in some countries is only growing. In the face of widespread impunity, now is not the time to “freeze” new additions to the list, but to ensure that it includes all perpetrators, with no exceptions. To do otherwise would undermine your Human Rights up Front initiative, and efforts to achieve accountability. We urge you to place all perpetrators on the 2017 list annexed to your report, and state publicly that your office is committed to an impartial list, based on evidence, not politics. Children whose lives are devastated by armed conflict deserve nothing less."
The letter is signed by representatives of the following organizations:
Association Nationale pour la Promotion de l'Education et la Culture (ANPEC Mauretanie)
Center for Civilians in Conflict
The Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Child Fund Alliance
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
Child Soldiers International
Coalition Ivorienne pour la Cour Penale Internationale (CI CPI)
The Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC)
Colombian Campaign Against Landmines (CCCM)
Defenders for Medical Impartiality
Defense for Children International
East Africa Law Society
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
The Global Justice Center
Human Rights Watch
International Bureau for Children's Rights
International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
International Fellowship of Reconciliation – Austria
International Justice Project
The International Rescue Committee
The Middle East and North Africa Partnership for Preventing of Armed Conflict
Norwegian Refugee Council
Permanent Peace Movement
Pakistan NGOs Forum
Physicians for Human Rights
Protection against armaments
The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative
Save the Children
Terre des Hommes International Federation
United Nations Association Democratic Republic of Congo (UNA-DRC)
Vision GRAM – International
Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice
World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy
World Voice Uganda
30 May 2017: The President of the UN Human Rights Council, Joaquín Alexander Maza Martelli of El Salvador, has named a three-member team to look into the alleged atrocities inflicted on the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. The team was authorized by a Council decision of 24 March and will be led by Indira Jaising of India. The two other members are Sri Lankan lawyer Radhika Coomaraswamy and Australian rights consultant Christopher Dominic Sidoti.
The team will seek to “establish facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State”. Specifically, it will look into the security operations carried out last October in Myanmar's northeastern state of Rakhine, from where some 75,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. The military operations followed attacks by Rohingya insurgents on border posts in which nine police officers were killed. Based on interviews with some of the Rohingya refugees, a UN report in February 2017 said security forces had committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya in a campaign that "very likely" amounts to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar diplomats have said the Council's move is "not acceptable" and "not in harmony with the situation on the ground and our national circumstances". They have asked for time for a national investigation to conclude its findings. Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said she would only accept recommendations from a separate advisory commission led by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan. Any other input would "divide" communities, she has said.
Details About Mission
Under its terms of reference, the fact-finding mission will meet initially in Geneva to plan their work, report orally to the Human Rights Council in September 2017, and submit a written report in March 2018.
Indira Jaising the team leader is a veteran Supreme Court lawyer in New Delhi. In 1981 she co-founded the “Lawyers Collective”, an NGO fighting for human rights especially women’s rights. She served as Additional Solicitor General of India from 2009 until 2014, the first woman to do so.
Radhika Coomaraswamy is a civil society member of Sri Lanka's Constitutional Council and a former chairperson of the country's Human Rights Commission. She has worked as the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, and as Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
Christopher Dominic Sidoti is an international human rights consultant . Since 2000, he has worked with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNDP, UNICEF, the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and several national human rights institutions.
25 April 2017: The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) will convene an international Conference on the Artist's Resale Right in Geneva on 28 April. Meeting ahead of the next meeting of WIPO's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, the conference will provide a platform for dozens of artists from all regions to express their expectations and experiences.
Some 80 countries have laws protecting the right of artists to profit from the resale of their works but there is no international norm. Discussions at the conference are expected to promote a better understanding of the issues involved with the application of the resale right at a global level – looking at the matter from cultural and economic perspectives.
In addition to artists, participants will include high-level policy makers from WIPO member states, collective management organizations, academics and members of the private sector such as curators and gallerists, and auction houses. It is also open to the public, subject to availability of space.
Visual artists like painters, sculptors and photographers benefit from a resale right (droit de suite) in some 80 countries around the world; that is less than half the 193 member States represented at the United Nations. The "intellectual property right" of artists has not been recognized through most of history but has come to the fore as the creative arts have become important economic sectors of the world economy. Without a global norm to protect artists they are losing out on precious income as the art market globalizes.
The deadline for registration for attendance at the conference is April 26, 2017. Registration is free of charge, but attendance will be subject to availability of seating. The Conference will be webcast.
Welcome Addresses by Francis Gurry, WIPO Director General and Mbagnick Ndiaye, Minister of Culture and Communications, Senegal.
Discussion topic: The International Development of the Art Market. Who are the main players? What are the primary and secondary markets for contemporary art works? Where are the market places? How can visual artists benefit from the globalization of the contemporary art market? What is the role of copyright?
20 March 2017: The report “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley has been in the news because the head of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia(ESCWA) resigned after being told by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to take it down from the ESCWA web site. It is a pity the report was officially withdrawn, for it would have been educational to subject it to public analysis and criticism.
The report is a deeply malicious and stupid piece of work. Malicious because it seeks to enrage and manipulate Arabs/Muslims by focusing entirely on the Palestinian as victim perspective; it is stupid in ignoring not just the Israeli viewpoint but the history of the region.
A Legacy of Empire
The “Palestinian problem” was created by deliberate imperial strategy. Britain got control of Palestine when the League of Nations was dividing up the territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire after World War I. London led the Arabs to believe they would get the territory as part of a new independent kingdom while at the same time, promising Zionist leaders they would get it as a homeland for an ingathering of the Jewish diaspora.
Britain then proceeded to allow unrestricted emigration of European Jews into the territory, changing its demographics. Then it created the post of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem with large patronage powers and gave it to an Arab Nazi with a record of organizing anti-Jewish riots. A Zionist terorist group, the Hagannah, responded with attacks to drive out Arab populations from territories where immigrants were settling. With the two communities blooded like cocks in a pit, Britain then formed a “Jewish Brigade” in its army during World War II, providing a fully formed and battle-tested military force that proved invaluable to Israel when it declared independence in 1948. A few years later, France, which held Syria and Lebanon as League Mandates, and had as great an interest in manipulating the Middle East as Britain, helped Israel acquire nuclear weapons.
Deeply Sympathetic Exploiters
Since then, the European imperial Powers have posed as deeply sympathetic to the Palestinians and created the impression that the “international community” would come to their help when the situation got bad enough. In that belief, Palestinian leaders have led wave after wave of “resistance” in the ever more firmly occupied areas. They have persisted despite gaining nothing and steadily losing their land, resources and people. The so-called "international community" has done nothing but pass resolutions and provide charity.
The Falk-Tilley report is the latest maneuver in the manipulative imperial strategy. Its principal recommendation is that the United Nations declare Israel an apartheid State and initiate action against it. The rapid withdrawal of the report shows how utterly unrealistic a prospect that is. Meanwhile, Palestinians have been further enraged and made to feel more desperate. The two academics who wrote the report will feel none of the pain that they have caused; nor will they have to endure any of the negative impact the report will undoubtedly have on young lives.
It is high time Arab intellectuals took matters into their own hands. They should convene a congress to take stock of the current situation and set a new nonviolent course for the Palestinian cause. That will require admission of Palestinian responsibility for violence and unrelenting hate and a determination not to let the region be manipulated for the profit of foreigners.
21 January 2017: The beginning of the Donald Trump presidency has raised a large question mark over a UN initiative strongly supported by the Obama administration to establish a “Mechanism” to help investigate and prosecute those responsible for serious international crimes in Syria since March 2011.
The UN General Assembly established the Mechanism on 21 December 2016 and asked the Secretary-General to develop its terms of reference within 20 working days and “undertake, without delay, the steps, measures and arrangements” necessary to make it fully functional.
Initially funded from voluntary contributions, the Mechanism will support the work of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria established by the Human Rights Council in 2011. The Commission has been collecting, consolidating, preserving and analyzing “evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses” with a view to expediting and facilitating criminal proceedings.
The Mechanism will coordinate with the Commission of Inquiry to build on existing capacities, including recruiting or allocating impartial and experienced staff with relevant skills and expertise.
The General Assembly asked the Secretary-General to report on implementation of the resolution within 45 days of the adoption of the resolution.
At present, the UN has few ways of finding out where exactly the Trump administration will come down on this issue. A phone call initiated by Secretary-General Guterres earlier in January to the then president-elect did not go into any matter of substance. Nor are substantive issues likely to be resolved expeditiously in view of the enormous work of policy clarification and reorientation that face the new administration in Washington.
28 October 2016: The General Assembly has elected/re-elected 14 members of the 47-member Human Rights Council. Only two of the seats were contested: Russia lost out to Hungary and Croatia while Guatemala lost to Brazil and Cuba.
The uncontested picks were Egypt, Iraq, Japan, Rwanda, Tunisia, United States, along with second termers Britain, China, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. They needed a simple majority of those present and voting in the 193 member Assembly.
The Council’s Membership is based on a quota system to ensure equitable geographical distribution as follows:
African States: 13 seats
Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
Western European and other States: 7 seats
Eastern European States: 6 seats
Members of the Council serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
12 September 2016: In a report to the General Assembly the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, makes the case that the 50th anniversary of the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, is an opportunity to reflect “on the impact of dividing the unified rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into two categories.”
Of particular importance, she says was the choice to separate the right to life, which “does not actually belong to one or the other category,” from the right to adequate housing. “Lived experience illustrates that the right to life cannot be separated from the right to a secure place to live, and the right to a secure place to live only has meaning in the context of a right to live in dignity and security, free of violence.”
An anti-poverty activist in Canada when she is not working for the UN, Ms. Farha asserts that treating the right to adequate housing as a policy aspiration disconnected from the right to life and core human rights values has meant that the “urgency and outrage that should be provoked by the conditions in which millions of people are forced to live” have “gone missing.” The “failure of States to address systemic deprivations of the right to life tied to poverty, grossly inadequate housing and homelessness have not received the same attention” as direct violations of the right to life.
She thinks “emerging jurisprudence in domestic, regional and international human rights law, responding to the lived experience of rights holders,” offers grounds “to bring forward an integrated understanding of the right to life” so that “homelessness and grossly inadequate housing are seen and addressed as unacceptable violations of the right to housing and the right to life. The report is in document A/71/310.
8 September 2016: Environmental activists are being murdered at an alarming rate, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst. He notes one report that 185 “environmental human rights defenders” were killed in 16 countries in 2015, a 59 per cent increase from 2014. Another report documents the death of 156 defenders in 25 countries.
On average, over three activists were murdered every week in 2015, up from 2 per week in 2014. Activists are also being subjected to threats, harassment and intimidation. They are often “demonized by their opponents as anti-development or unpatriotic.
The killings are taking place mainly in developing countries, and the victims are unknown activists as well as those of considerable renown. In developed countries, activists are subjected to law suits and other harassments.
The sectors of mining and extractive industries (42 killings), agribusiness (20), hydroelectric dams and water rights (15) and logging (15) were major drivers of the murders in 2015.
Source: Situation of Human Rights Defenders (A/71/281)
2 August 2016: Twenty years after Graca Machel’s ground-breaking report on the impact of armed conflict on children, the single worst index of modern depravity continues to shame civilization as a whole and the United Nations in particular. The UN wears the scarlet letter because its treatment of the matter has become ritualistic, both in the debates of the Security Council and in the Secretary-General's pro forma reports. Machel's scalded outrage and grim detail have given way to clerical lists of offending "parties" with nothing to offend the most genteel sensibility.
In the last two decades the situation has improved enormously because prolonged wars of liberation against the most reactionary colonial regimes have ended, but the killing continues because Empires have been replaced by armed groups representing the old imperialists under one guise or another, as Al Qaeda, or Boko Haram or the Lord's Resistance Army. The UN studiously ignores evidence that would force it to see the problem in those terms. The August 2016 versions of both debate and report (A/70/836-S/2016/360) are now available, and it is an opportune time to consider what is missing.
The S-G’s report lists the armed groups (see below) that abuse children and tell us with superscript code which of them recruit or use children(a), kill or maim children(b), commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children(c), engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals(d), or abduct children(e).
The report says nothing about who profits from the activities of the armed groups. Nor does it explain their socioeconomic and political contexts. Such information would not identify the staid burghers who ultimately profit from the "commercial wars" that hide the theft of natural resources from poor countries but they would at least point to the corporations that provide the money and arms that keep the groups in business. It would underline the need to ban the "shell companies" and "tax havens" that rinse the blood from stolen wealth
Not all the armed conflicts affecting children most severely in 2015 fit the post-colonial mold. Syria is more about post-Cold War geopolitics compounded by the imperial machinations that pitted Sunni and Shia against each other throughout the old Ottoman territories in the Middle East.
Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen are all about drugs and oil, thickly camouflaged with talk of jihad. Every long-running conflict in Africa is about theft of natural resources.
The United Nations “engaged strongly during the reporting period with non-State armed groups, both inside and outside peace processes, from the Central African Republic, Colombia, Mali, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan and the Sudan;” to what effect it is difficult to say from the Secretary-General's report. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and Sudan have signed commitments to action plans to prevent and end recruitment and use of children by their security forces.
The number of children recruited for combat increased five-fold between 2014 and 2015, and the count of those killed and maimed multiplied six-fold. In Afghanistan the 2015 toll was the highest since the UN began keeping count of civilian casualties in 2009. (Why, one must wonder, was that task ignored over the previous decades?) In the list below, the groups underlined have been named in UN reports for at least five years.
1. Afghan National and local Police (a) (implementing UN action plan)
2. Haqqani Network (a,b)
3. Hezb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (a,b)
4. Taliban forces, including the Tora Bora Front, Jama’at al-Da’wa ila al-Qur’an wal-Sunna and the Latif Mansur Network (a,b,d,e)
Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (a,b,c,d,e)
Central African Republic
1. Former Séléka coalition and associated armed groups (a,b,c,d)
2. Local defence militias known as the anti-balaka (a,b,c)
3. Lord’s Resistance Army (a,b,c,e)
Democratic Republic of the Congo
1. Allied Democratic Forces (a,b,d)
2. Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (a,c,) (implementing UN action plan)
3. Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (a,c,d)
4. Forces de résistance patriotiques en Ituri (a,c,d)
5. Lord’s Resistance Army (a,b,c,e)
6. Mayi Mayi Alliance des patriotes pour un Congo libre et souverain “Colonel Janvier” (a)
7. Mayi Mayi “Lafontaine” (a)
8. Mayi Mayi Simba (a,c)
9. Mayi Mayi Kata Katanga (a)
10. Nduma Defence of Congo/Cheka (a,b)
11. Mayi Mayi Nyatura (a)
12. Raia Mutomboki (a,c)
1. Mouvement national de libération de l’Azawad (a,c)
2. Mouvement pour l’unicité et le jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (a,c)
3. Ansar Eddine (a,c)
1. Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (a)
2. Kachin Independence Army (a)
3. Karen National Liberation Army (a)
4. Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council (a)
5. Karenni Army (a)
6. Shan State Army-South (a)
7. Tatmadaw Kyi, including border guard forces (a) (implementing UN action plan)
8. United Wa State Army (a)
1. Al-Shabaab (a,b,e)
2. Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jama’a (a)
3. Somali National Army (a,b) (implementing UN action plan)
1. Sudan People’s Liberation Army (a,b,c,e) (implementing UN action plan)
2. Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Opposition (a,b) (implementing UN action plan)
3. White Army (a)
1. Government security, Armed, Popular Defence and Police Forces (a) (implementing UN action plan)
2. Justice and Equality Movement (a)
3. Pro-Government militias (a)
4. Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (a)
5. Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi (a)
6. Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-N (a)
1. Ahrar al-Sham (a,b)
2. Free Syrian Army — affiliated groups (a)
3. Government & National Defense Forces and the shabbiha militia (b,c,d)
4. Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (a,b,c,d)
5. Nusrah Front (a,b)
6. People’s Protection Units (a)
1. Houthis/Ansar Allah (a,b,d)
2. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula/Ansar al-Sharia (a)
3. Government Yemeni Armed Forces, the First Armoured Division, Military Police, special security forces and Republican Guards (a) (implementing UN action plan)
4. Pro-Government militias, including the Salafists and Popular Committees (a)
5. Saudi Arabia-led coalition (b,d)
The situations in the following countries are not on the Agenda of the UN Security Council:
1. Ejército de Liberación Nacional (a)
2. Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — Ejército del Pueblo (a)
1. Civilian Joint Task Force (a)
2. Boko Haram (a,b,d,e)
1. Abu Sayyaf Group (a)
2. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (a)
3. Moro Islamic Liberation Front (a), (implementing UN action plan)
4. New People’s Army (a)
Links to Security Council Debate
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11 December 2017: The following is the text of the statement by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a meeting in New York to initiate a year-long celebration of the 70th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"I am very pleased to be with you today to begin a year-long celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Over seven decades, this mighty document has helped to profoundly change our world. It establishes the equality and dignity of every human being. It stipulates that every government has a duty to enable all people to enjoy their inalienable rights and freedoms. And it establishes that these rights are universal. Wherever we live, whatever our circumstances or our place in society, our gender or sexual orientation, our race or religion or belief, we are all equal in human rights and in dignity.
"Let me emphasise this point: human rights are not bound by any single tradition, culture or belief. When the world’s nations adopted the Universal Declaration in 1948, they acknowledged the diversity of cultures and political systems. But they also affirmed the Declaration as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”. And it is by this essential yardstick that history will judge the leaders of nations and the United Nations itself.
"Have we, through our actions and our advocacy, advanced respect for human dignity, equality and rights? Have we created equitable and inclusive societies, based on justice and fair opportunities and services for all? Have we advanced freedom from want and fear?
"As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enters its 70th year, we can take stock of some of the achievements it has enabled. Over seven decades, humanity has achieved considerable progress. People around the world have gained progressively greater freedoms and equality.
They have been empowered to oppose discrimination, fight for protections, and gain greater access to justice, health, education and development opportunities.
"Conditions of profound economic misery and exploitation have been improved. Women’s rights have advanced, along with the rights of the child, the rights of victims of racial and religious discrimination, the rights of people with disabilities and a multitude of economic, social and cultural rights. Oppressive dictatorships have been replaced by participatory systems of governance. Perpetrators of horrific human rights violations – including sexual violence and genocide – have been prosecuted by international tribunals.
"So, there is much to celebrate, and many to thank.
"We have to thank a generation of world leaders, who emerged from a world war convinced that only justice would build peace among and within nations. And we have to thank activists and human rights defenders – hundreds of thousands of ordinary people around the world who have mobilized to defend fundamental rights with immense courage, often in the face of extreme danger.
"But as well as celebrating, we must also take stock of where we have fallen short.
"In practice, recognition of the inherent dignity and equal rights of human beings is still far from universal. Millions of people continue to suffer human rights violations and abuses around the world. And human rights defenders still face persecution, reprisals are rising and the space for civil society action is shrinking in very many nations. But the founders of the United Nations were right. Lasting peace and security can never be achieved in any country without respect for human rights. The Sustainable Development Agenda – which aims to lift millions from poverty and enable them to access their economic and social rights -- is deeply rooted in respect for human rights.
"So, Excellencies and ladies and gentlemen, we are here today not just to mark another anniversary and then go about our usual business. We are here to reflect on the core and enduring importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to engage those around us to put its powerful words into practice. We are here to affirm the existential commitment of the whole UN system to ensure that the central focus of all our policies is the advancement of human dignity, equality and rights. And we are here to speak out and take a stand for human rights. All of us have a role to play -- at work, in the street, in our daily lives.
"As Secretary-General, I take the pledge that we are all being asked to take today by the UN Human Rights Office – the pledge is the following: “I will respect your rights regardless of who you are. I will uphold your rights even when I disagree with you. When anyone’s human rights are denied, everyone’s rights are undermined, so I will stand up. I will raise my voice. I will take action. I will use my rights to stand up for your rights.
"As Secretary-General, I am committed and will remain engaged in human rights, including by speaking out for those in need, promoting justice for all, and by ensuring that human rights are integrated throughout the work of the United Nations. This is the path to a world of peace, dignity and opportunity for all. "
12 October 2017: Departing from his characteristically strident style, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has made a trip to Libya so low profile and brief the first public notice of it was upon his return to Geneva on Thursday. He issued the following statement describing the initiative (subheads below are ours):
"No UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ever managed to make an official visit to discuss the human rights situation in Libya during the time of Muammar Gaddafi or in the years following the end of his dictatorial regime.
So even though the security situation meant I could not announce in advance my brief official mission to Libya on Tuesday, I was at least able to make the visit and hold a round of useful discussions with Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, the Ministers of Justice and Interior, and the Head of the Department responsible for managing migration detention centres. I was also able to pay brief visits to one of the country’s main prisons and a camp for displaced people. My trip was further informed by a very useful meeting with Libyan civil society and women human rights defenders.
I wish to thank the Prime Minister for inviting me to Libya, and for the hospitality I received while I was in Tripoli. I also appreciate the assistance provided by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ghassan Salamé, and the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
Potentially Important Visit
The visit was very short but potentially important. It was intended to stimulate, and hopefully sustain, not just a productive dialogue but also concrete actions which could ultimately lead to significant improvements in the lives of the people of Libya.
Clearly, in a single day, we could not begin to cover all the human rights issues affecting the country, so I chose to focus on arbitrary detention, torture and other grave violations which are particularly urgent.
During the meetings, officials repeatedly highlighted Libya’s commitment towards ensuring the protection of human rights. I welcome these commitments, and note with appreciation that efforts are being made to facilitate the visits of Special Procedures mandate holders.
Officials also highlighted the significant challenges in Libya due to years of violence and instability, a near-breakdown in the rule of law, the proliferation of armed groups, a deteriorating humanitarian situation, the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, and severe disruption to the provision of basic services to the population.
I appreciate the magnitude of these challenges, and have heard how they affect the Government’s ability to undertake and fulfil its duties. At the same time, I have put forward suggestions in areas where progress can be progressively made if appropriate action is taken.
Widespread Abuses by All Sides
Despite the great hopes following the 2011 revolution, the human rights situation in Libya continues to be marked by widespread abuses and violations perpetrated by all sides to the conflict with complete impunity.
Thousands of people are held arbitrarily in detention centres across the country, some since the 2011 armed conflict, many subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Armed groups unlawfully kill and hold hostage civilians and combatants. Civilian men, women and children are killed and injured every week by the indiscriminate use of weapons. And yet, these aspects of the human rights situation in Libya rarely find themselves in the headlines.
Internally displaced people and civil society representatives painted a stark picture of the grave abuses carried out by armed groups and the impunity that they currently enjoy. The actions of armed groups hinder meaningful progress towards stability, development and peace in the country.
In many of my conversations, including with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Interior I raised the dire situation in detention centers across the country. I was pleased to see their commitment to work with the United Nations and others towards the full implementation of international standards, such as the Mandela Rules. I directly raised with officials the need to make rapid progress in screening the files of pre-trial detainees to ensure that either trials proceed or the detainees are released. I also raised the need for accountability within the penitentiary system and called for human rights monitors to be given unfettered access to places where suspects and convicted prisoners are held.
Individual centers, such as the Mitigia detention center, are of particular concern given the horrific reports emerging from them. The situation there needs to be addressed urgently, as do other facilities where abuses are endemic.
I call on the Government to formulate a plan of action to end arbitrary detention in the country, which would involve the transfer of detainees to prisons under the Judicial Police of the Ministry of Justice, the release of those in prolonged detention against whom no evidence of criminal conduct has been presented or whom are held without legal basis, and the screening of all detainees,
Human Rights Defenders
The consequences of impunity could not have been more starkly demonstrated when talking to human rights defenders. Human rights defenders told me about intimidation and attacks against them and the lack of protection and impunity for such attacks. I heard how women human rights defenders have faced virulent abuse and intimidation, and how civil society activists have been abducted and killed by armed groups. Many have been forced to flee or to stop their work.
Still, so many Libyans continue to bravely speak out and work in the name of human rights. I salute their courage, and my Office will seek to stand with them as they continue their work.
The situation of human rights defenders reflects a grave lack of protection for many groups in vulnerable situations in Libya. I spoke to internally displaced people from the Taweghan community who told me about the poor conditions and limited protection they endured while residing in camps over the past six years. Since the signing of an agreement between the Tawerghan and Misratan communities on a possible return, and the approval of the agreement by the Government in June, they say there has been little progress towards fulfilling their right to return to their homes. There is a need for positive signs soon to ensure the sustainable return of the Tawerghan people to their homes in safety and dignity.
Issues Needing Attention
I also raised with the authorities the distressing situation of migrants in Libya, including directly with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Interior, and the head of the Department responsible for migration.
I call on the Government to establish alternatives to detention in Libya, to halt the practice of arbitrary detention, and to ensure accountability for the abuses perpetrated against migrants in detention centres. The authorities indicated that one of the detention centres in Surman, where there have been serious allegations of sexual abuse, has been closed. We intend to work with the Government to confirm the closure.
The human rights challenges in Libya are massive, but they are not insurmountable. The large-scale near-collapse in the justice system, the power and influence of armed groups, and the many challenges faced by the Government are real. But the Government can and should lead. It can begin combating the practice of arbitrary detention and taking back the powers given to armed groups. The situation in detention centres can be addressed. A concerted effort by the Government, and all stakeholders, including the United Nations and the international community, can move the needle and improve the situation.
It is crucial that the challenges are addressed and that there is a constant effort to make progress – no matter how small, no matter how difficult - towards accountability. Everyone I met during the visit, from the Prime Minister himself, the Ministers, civil society, women human rights defenders to those in the IDP camp, wanted improvements in the implementation of the rule of law.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and I share the conviction that human rights, the re-establishment of the rule of law, and the need to combat impunity must be part and parcel of the political process and will underpin a sustainable political settlement in Libya.
I am optimistic that the openness of the Government, the implementation of the Plan of Action announced by the Secretary-General and his Special Representative last month in New York will bear positive and concrete results in our respective efforts to support an improvement of the human rights situation in Libya. We will continue to offer our support towards this end."
15 March 2017: Six "Rapporteurs" appointed by the UN Human Rights Council have sent a rare joint letter to the Chinese government "concerning events in 2016 that fit the textbook description of genocide as an attempt to exterminate an ethnic group. The actions are in keeping with the consistently genocidal policy Beijing has followed in Tibet ever since Mao Zedong colonized it in 1950. The letter stops short of tagging the events as genocidal but describes how Chinese authorities demolished houses and deported monks and nuns at Larung Gar, Tibet's largest center of Buddhist studies.
Rapporteurs are investigative officers appointed by the Council and focus on different areas so they seldom have occasion to combine their efforts. Their joint letter, sent to the Chinese government last November and released now on the occasion of the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, signals "grave concern" at "the serious repression of the Buddhist Tibetans’ cultural and religious practices and learning," the "concerted attacks on tangible and intangible cultural heritage," and the "ongoing demolition of monastic residences and the mass expulsions of monks and nuns. The official control of monastic affairs, arbitrary arrests, detentions and excessive use of force are other concerns.
Although the Rapporteurs do not specifically accuse the Chinese government of genocide, a four-page annex to their letter notes multiple grounds justifying it. They note that in addition to specific protections extended to religious freedom international human rights law covers more broadly the "right of access to and enjoyment of all forms of cultural heritage," deriving its legal basis from the right to take part in cultural life, the right of members of minorities to enjoy their own culture and the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination."
Mass Expulsions, 3 Suicides
The letter calls attention to "mass expulsion of religious practitioners from Larung Gar and Yachen Gar and demolitions of monastic homes in Larung Gar" in September 2016. Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, the letter explains, are "two of the major Buddhist Tibetan institutions that have become important centres for study, practice and promotion of Buddhist teachings in recent years. At least half of more than 10,000 monks and nuns at Larung Gar face eviction following the demolition of numerous residences. Reportedly, about 1000 religious practitioners were compelled to leave Yachen Gar."
"Family members of certain nuns at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar were allegedly pressured by the authorities to summon them home or face punishment, such as confiscation of family identity cards." the letter says, noting that the those targeted for expulsion included monks and nuns from seven prefectures, Lhasa, Ngari, Nagchu, Chamdo, Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan. Three nuns had committed suicide.
2000 Homes Demolished
Around 2000 homes of monks and nuns were demolished in Larung Gar, "one of the world's largest Buddhist Tibetan centers in eastern Tibet." The letter describes Larung Gar as "a living, vital center of Tibetan Buddhist teachings that is renowned worldwide and across China, and is of great significance in terms of Tibetan language, culture and religion as well as for a new generation of Chinese Buddhist scholars and pilgrims." The local authorities of Larung Gar announced the demolition of monastic homes without consulting the religious leaders, presenting their action as a 'construction development'that will add to 'a more orderly, beautiful, secure and peaceful land'.”
Government Administered Religion
The Rapporteurs say that the government's seven-point demolition order "contains detailed implementation steps that involve all the religious sections and units as well as the management and staff at Larung Gar." Monks and nuns were "obliged to sign letters pledging to practice religion in accordance with the law and publicize legal education videos and banners provided by the authorities." Further, the order separated the Larung Gar Institute from the Monastery and placed it under government administrators. The monastery "will be run by the monastery management committee that will be established and consist of government officials and monks."
The order "provided a clear timeline for the demolition of monastics residences and for the total population of Larung Gar to be restricted to only 3,500 monks and nuns and 1,500 students at the institute before 30 September 2017." It also required the separation of lay practitioners from the monastics in order for the authorities to control and monitor the lay practitioners directly."
The Rapporteurs note that the current demolitions are not the first; in 2001 som 1874 monastic residences were torn down "with all the household goods as well as shrines that had been created inside. In some cases, elderly or owners of dwellings were still inside their homes." That action was reportedly undertaken by more than 500 armed police and military personnel, who also demolished 2000 meditation huts and expelled about 8000 monastic and lay practitioners, including 1500 from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Republic of Korea. In Yachen Gar more than 800 dwellings were destroyed in 2001, with nuns being forced to carry out the destruction themselves.
Mining a Holy Mountain
Another matter the Rapporteurs raise is the mining of Gong-ngon Lari mountain in Amchok Township which many Tibetans consider one of their most sacred places. "Through numerous peaceful protests over two decades, Buddhist Tibetans have repeatedly expressed concern over the exploitation of their land, the destruction of the environment and the attacks against their religious faith," the letter says. On 1 June 2016 a peaceful protest ended in a brutal assault on demonstrators and the imposition of severe restrictions on movement and communications. An official circular denounced the anti-mining protests as manipulated by “a few evil and corrupted people ... in collusion with anti-China forces.”
The Rapporteurs who signed the letter are: Karima Bennoune Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; John H. Knox, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and Ahmed Shaheed Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
13 September 2016: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein opened the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council by complaining about"an emerging pattern: the growing refusal on the part of an increasing number of Member States to grant OHCHR, or the human rights mechanisms, access" when it "is requested explicitly, or in other instances to engage with us."
"Why and for what reason, do those who deny access place their shield before us?" he asked, evidently unaware that his strident, judgmental approach to a job that requires enormous diplomatic skill is undoubtedly a prime factor.
Expectations of the High Commissioner
When the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights was created in 1993, there was clear understanding that those who held it would not roar and fume publicly about terrible situations but rather, work behind the scenes to push for change. The long list of countries denying access to Mr. Zeid hammers home the need for quiet diplomacy. Does he really think the speech will make access any easier in any of the countries he has named? Does his threat of "remote monitoring" benefit any of the millions of oppressed people a whit more than do the actions of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch?
The following is a lightly edited text of what he said:
"In my statement before the 32nd Session of the Human Rights Council, I questioned the extent to which we did indeed have an international community. It is easy to take for granted we are committed to working together, because we have no choice. The organization we belong to was not created by humanity for trivial reasons, but was exhaled by a world broken and devastated by two immense wars. The entire human rights framework was likewise the product of catastrophe – enlightened yes, but given the scale of wartime savagery, it was created out of the sharpest and most profound necessity. Indeed, even today, the climate change and SDG agenda are anchored, layers deep, in that most strongly-held belief: only by working together can we solve our common problems. There is no alternative. No other choice offering any hope. We must remain committed to collective action.
Yet for some in power today, and others laboring to attain it, it would seem there are alternatives, and they claim to know better. Only dreamers, fools, they seemingly believe, think in terms of ‘we the people’, or in we ‘nations united together’, or in we as individuals who all hold equal rights. What is this United Nations? Outdated, laughable nonsense – bureaucrats and gilded elites! And those who believe this, think little of dividing humans into categories, and frightening or abusing the vulnerable; battering the truth; attacking regional or even international organizations – threatening to withdraw from them, abandon them, and jettisoning international law. And some are on the cusp of attaining political power. Others are already exercising it.
In the next several months, the centrifugal forces tearing away at us will remain strong: terrorism and its main exponent Da’esh, hateful and despicable as it is, will likely continue to mark its presence on us; while the alienation and frustration of many throughout the world who feel short-changed by poor governance and corruption will fuel the work of the deceivers. A number of elections will be held in well-established democracies, with dangerous xenophobes and bigots running for office, and what falls to us then could begin to determine, as never before, the future course of “we the peoples” of this earth. I will address this further next week in New York, at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants.
Ten years ago, when the Human Rights Council was created, it was designed to be more relevant than its predecessor; more credible; more impartial; and more focused on the rights and voices of victims.
On each of those points, the Council has achieved important successes. And yet I am concerned about a growing polarization within this body, as well as by increasing and clear attempts by States to block or evade human rights scrutiny –as I stated at the outset of this update.
I am told repeatedly by members of Government and Permanent Missions that human rights are being misused as a pretext for interference in the affairs of sovereign nations. It is suggested the struggle against discrimination violates cultural values. Officials have protested that human rights officers observing a public street demonstration are "interfering" in the State's internal affairs. Statements by my Office regarding credible allegations of violations – including excessively broad and violent security sweeps; prosecutions that appear politically motivated; and the massive use of capital punishment for crimes not consistent with the norms laid out by the ICCPR – are deemed "biased", "irresponsible", "misleading" or based on "false" premises. Monitoring activities, and advocacy intended to help better protect the people of your countries, are refuted as somehow violating the principle of State sovereignty – or even the UN Charter.
It may be useful to recall the many attempts made by the apartheid régime of South Africa to claim that the General Assembly’s resolutions opposing apartheid constituted a prohibited "intervention" in its domestic jurisdiction. These efforts to shield serious human rights violations from outside scrutiny were conclusively and repeatedly rejected by the General Assembly.
Under international law, wrongful "intervention" – as prohibited in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter – is by nature coercive. And it should be obvious that my Office has no coercive power. No activity that we undertake can possibly be considered constitutive of a prohibited "intervention". We seek to strengthen national protection systems, not violate them. We do not threaten invasion, nor do we finance or organize sedition; we request access, in order to establish a neutral clarity about the facts on the ground. And access only becomes possible when the State extends an invitation to us; it cannot be forced open by OHCHR.
We request access so we can better work to help bring your laws and practices in line with international agreements which you, the States drafted and ratified – and to assist you to comply with recommendations which you have publicly, and often fulsomely, accepted.
Are human rights exclusively a national issue? Governments have the responsibility to uphold their human rights obligations and to respect the standards. But the human rights of all people, in all countries, also require – unquestionably – our collective attention. The Vienna Declaration, adopted unanimously 23 years ago, confirmed this: "the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community." This language was also echoed by General Assembly Resolution 48/141, which calls on the High Commissioner to "play an active role in removing current obstacles... to the full realization of all human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world".
Human rights violations will not disappear if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity. On the contrary, efforts to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raise an obvious question: what, precisely, are you hiding from us?
I classify as refusals of access all unreasonable delays, elaborately ritualized and unreasonably prolonged negotiations, and responses to specific requests which seem to seek to fob us off with inadequate alternatives to real, fact-based assessment. Access delayed is access denied: two weeks is surely amply sufficient to secure a decision from all relevant officials. Claims that insecure conditions make it impossible to give my staff access are also less than acceptable. My staff work with great courage in some of the world's most severely threatened communities, and will continue to do so when called upon – or at least, we could be the judge of that.
States may shut my Office out – but they will not shut us up; neither will they blind us. If access is refused, we will assume the worst, and yet do our utmost to nonetheless report as accurately as we can on serious allegations. Our remote monitoring is likely to involve witness testimony, credible third-party reports and use of satellite imagery, among other techniques. Certainly, remote monitoring is a poor substitute for in-person observation by expert analysts. It makes it more difficult to verify and confirm the competing allegations of any party – including the Government. I regret that imprecision, and encourage all States to assist us to correct it, by permitting my teams unhindered access to events on the ground when requested.
I want to emphasize that some States do continue to cooperate fully. This was recently the case of the Republic of Congo, despite the severity of the violations alleged. The report of that mission is being finalized, and the prompt access granted by the authorities is appreciated.
In contrast, Syria, despite repeated requests, has granted no access to OHCHR or to the Commission of Inquiry since the crisis began in 2011. This is a State led by a medical doctor and yet is believed to have gassed its own people; has attacked hospitals and bombed civilian neighborhoods with indiscriminate explosive weapons; and maintains tens of thousands of detainees in inhuman conditions. Words cannot convey how profoundly I condemn this situation. The Government, which is responsible for some of the gravest violations on record in the history of this Council, has regularly sent notes verbales to my Office reporting abuses by armed groups. But it offers no possibility whatsoever for independent scrutiny.
For the past two and a half years, Venezuela has refused even to issue a visa to my Regional Representative. Its comprehensive denial of access to my staff is particularly shocking in the light of our acute concerns regarding allegations of repression of opposition voices and civil society groups; arbitrary arrests; excessive use of force against peaceful protests; the erosion of independence of rule of law institutions; and a dramatic decline in enjoyment of economic and social rights, with increasingly widespread hunger and sharply deteriorating health-care. My Office will continue to follow the situation in the country very closely, and we will state our concerns for the human rights of Venezuela's people at every opportunity. Respect for international human rights norms can create a narrow path upon which the Government and the opposition can both tread, to address and resolve peacefully the country’s current challenges – particularly through meaningful dialogue, respecting the rule of the law and the Constitution. My Office stands ready to assist in addressing the current human rights challenges, and I thank the Secretary-General of the Organisation of American States for recommending that Venezuela work with my Office on a Truth Commission, which could indeed offer the people an important voice.
My concerns regarding the rights of people living in south-east Turkey remain acute. We have received repeated and serious allegations of on-going violations of international law as well as human rights concerns, including civilian deaths, extrajudicial killings and massive displacement. We continue to receive reports of destruction and demolition of towns and villages in the south-east. Due consideration must be given to the humanitarian and protection needs of thousands of displaced and otherwise affected people. I have requested access to this area for a comprehensive independent assessment by my staff. But despite our on-going cooperation with the Turkish authorities across a number of other topics, that access has not been granted. We have therefore set up a temporary monitoring capacity based in Geneva, and we will continue to inform this Council of our concerns. While I thank the Government of Turkey for its personal invitation for me to visit the country, this does not replace our request for effective and unfettered access to the south-east by a team from OHCHR, which is so urgently needed.
While Ethiopia has made impressive gains in terms of economic development, we are deeply concerned about repeated allegations of excessive and lethal use of force against protesters, enforced disappearances, and mass detentions, including of children, as well as by worrying restrictions on civil society, the media and opposition. I have requested my Office be given access in order for it to conduct a human rights assessment, particularly to the Oromia and Amhara regions. In response, the Government has claimed the recent violence was inspired by outlaw and terrorist groups, and argued it will conduct its own national investigation into the killings of protesters. I welcome a national effort, but believe the Government should also consider the need for an independent, impartial and international effort to affirm or revise the allegations.
May I add that given our privileged relationship with Ethiopia, which hosts one of our regional offices, and our promising draft agreement with Turkey to set up a regional office there, I find it mystifying we are not being given access to areas where the expertise of my Office can so clearly be of immediate and sustained assistance.
India and Pakistan
Two months ago, I requested the agreement of the Governments of India and Pakistan to invite teams from my Office to visit both sides of the line of control: in other words the India-Administered Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. We had previously received reports, and still continue to do so, claiming the Indian authorities had used force excessively against the civilian population under its administration. We furthermore received conflicting narratives from the two sides as to the cause for the confrontations and the reported large numbers of people killed and wounded. I believe an independent, impartial and international mission is now needed crucially and that it should be given free and complete access to establish an objective assessment of the claims made by the two sides. I received last Friday a letter from the Government of Pakistan formally inviting an OHCHR team to the Pakistani side of the line of control, but in tandem with a mission to the Indian side. I have yet to receive a formal letter from the Government of India. I therefore request here and publicly, from the two Governments, access that is unconditional to both sides of the line of control.
In July I also requested from the government of Mozambique access for an assessment mission to the country, and was hoping for a swift response. Continued armed confrontation between RENAMO and the national army, beginning almost a year ago, has heightened the levels of violence, and we have received reports of mass graves, summary executions, destruction of property, displacement and attacks against civilians. Tensions are exacerbated by economic deterioration across the country, and an increasingly severe humanitarian situation resulting from drought. I trust the Government's response will be received soon.
Similarly, in the Gambia the UN has requested clearance to field a joint mission and we await a positive response. As I outlined at the June session of this Council, we have been alarmed by instances of inflammatory speech, as well as alleged violence against protesters in the context of the electoral campaign, and more recently, death in detention, and reported torture and ill-treatment of detainees. Given the potentially serious repercussions of any further decline in the situation, I believe it is urgent to assist the authorities to maintain respect for all human rights.
In Crimea, the de facto authorities have not granted my Office’s request to open a sub-office of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine on the same conditions as the five other HRMMU sub-offices. We will therefore continue to monitor the situation in Crimea remotely, and we will continue to issue impartial, independent and trenchant information, as is evident from the 14 quarterly reports already distributed, and the 15th which will be presented at this session.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia
Human rights protection is crucial in the context of protracted conflicts and legally unrecognized or disputed territories, where millions of people live in profound uncertainty. I am deeply concerned over the repeated refusals to permit access for my staff to both Abkhazia and South Ossetia by those in effective control – despite the Secretary-General's emphasis on the importance of that access in the context of the Geneva International Discussions. We continue to receive allegations of violations, including killings, arbitrary detentions, torture and ill-treatment and restricted freedom of movement. Other serious concerns include unresolved queries regarding missing persons and persistent difficulties regarding access to livelihood, education, property rights and administrative documentation, as well as the need to ensure the space for civil society and independent media.
My Office has had no access to the conflict situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, including since the events of April 2016. Consequently, conflicting claims of human rights violations cannot be verified, and the plight of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees has not received the kind of human rights scrutiny that it deserves, for the past decades – either from my Office or from the international community.
Discussions with China over the past 11 years regarding an official mission by successive High Commissioners have so far failed to produce an actual commitment to move ahead with a visit. Since 2011, our proposals for joint projects and workshops have also not led to action – despite our strong impression we could bring useful support, including on development, environmental and business topics related to human rights. The highly relevant observations made by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, who recently visited the country, provide a good example of the specific and useful recommendations which my staff could further build on. I welcome the recent passage of a national law against domestic violence and some progress regarding the country's high number of executions, and I hope my Office can assist China in this effort. I remain deeply concerned, however, over reports of continued harassment of human rights lawyers, human rights defenders and their family members, as well as allegations of discrimination, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and deaths in custody of members of ethnic and religious communities. First-hand access would allow my Office to better assess the situation, and to see the remarkable achievements of China, particularly in terms of poverty alleviation. I would like to embark on a genuine working relationship with China in a constructive and committed manner.
In 2011, the Government of Nepal chose to close OHCHR's field offices throughout the country, and since then we have encountered great difficulty in engaging on human rights. The Government has explained it has sufficient domestic human rights capacity, and requires no outside assistance. Yet the country continues to face serious and chronic human rights challenges. A decade after the civil war, accountability for gross human rights violations is still not pursued. Nepal remains among the poorest of the world’s nations and corruption is high. Despite a huge influx of aid following the earthquake last year, many victims have yet to receive adequate support. There are also severe and long-standing issues of discrimination based on gender, caste, religion and ethnicity, which as the past has demonstrated, could swiftly lead to violence.
Uzbekistan has refused to recognize my regional office for Central Asia in Bishkek for the past ten years, and has given none of its staff access to the country. Despite lack of access, we continue to document very severe human rights violations in Uzbekistan that deserve far greater attention. I hope we will soon be able to overcome these long-standing difficulties, and begin engaging with the authorities in line with their legal human rights obligations and the commitments made by the Government in the UPR.
I also regret also that Armenia has so far not accorded full access to our presence in Tbilisi, which supports countries in the South Caucasus. We have therefore been unable to cooperate and engage fully with the Government, its state entities and civil society organizations.
I regret the Dominican Republic's failure to respond to my offer of support and monitoring capacity in regard to forcible movements of people to Haiti. Among them is a sizable population of people descended from Haitian immigrants who were stripped of Dominican citizenship following the passage of legislation in 2013. My Office remains concerned about the deportations, which officially commenced a year ago, and is keen to ensure that any movements of people fully comply with international legal norms. I am aware the Government has worked closely with concerned UN agencies in the country, including the Human Rights Adviser, and I commend the establishment of mechanisms to redress wrongful or unlawful deportations. However, I must reiterate my request for unhindered access to border crossing points for a specialized team from OHCHR, and I look forward to closer cooperation on this with the authorities.
Regarding Burundi, while I note the continued cooperation of the authorities with my Office, I am very concerned at the failure of the Burundi delegation to appear or present replies during the Special Session of the Committee against Torture in July – an unprecedented course of action by any State. Deplorably, a number of civil society groups, media and lawyers who cooperated with CAT continue to face the threat of official reprisals. I am also disturbed by the Government’s refusal to comply with the Security Council’s request for a police component to monitor the security situation. You will receive a more detailed briefing on Burundi in the course of this session.
Turning to the United States, I have repeatedly expressed my dismay at the failure of the Government to accept the Special Rapporteur on Torture's request to enter the Guantanamo Bay detention center and conduct confidential interviews, as is the agreed practice for all the Council’s experts. Guantanamo has long been a space of reported serious violations. The evasive tactics of the US authorities with respect to requests by international human rights mandates are deeply regrettable.
On this and other failures by States to permit appropriate access to Special Procedures mandate-holders, I will report at greater length at a future session of this Council.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea extended an invitation to me to visit the country, yet has refused to engage on the modalities of the trip or to engage with our Seoul presence. This approach deprives my Office of further understanding the point of view of the DPRK authorities. Our remote monitoring indicates that grave human rights concerns persist throughout the country, including pervasive restrictions on all public freedoms, a vast and brutal prison system, torture, and violations of the right to food and other economic and social rights.
Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran, my Office has been given no access since 2013 – despite several years of good technical cooperation prior to that date.Our offers to begin a technical dialogue on the death penalty have been systematically overlooked, as have all other proposals of engagement. This is particularly regrettable given the reports we continue to receive of fundamental problems with the administration of criminal justice; continued execution of large numbers of people,including juveniles; allegations of discrimination and prosecution of religious and ethnic minorities; harsh restrictions on human rights defenders,lawyers and journalists; and discrimination against women both in law and practice.
I seize this occasion to share with you some broader thoughts regarding States' cooperation – or non-cooperation – with country-specific mandates, including Commissions of Inquiry, Council-mandated fact-finding missions and the specific country mandates of the Special Procedures. Currently, Belarus, Eritrea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria refuse to cooperate in any way with these mechanisms. Israel has had a long record of refusing to cooperate with most of them, in terms of allowing access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
A number of States have argued that unless the Human Rights Council can secure the approval of the concerned State, it should avoid looking into situations in which governments are alleged to be massively violating their people's human rights. I am wholly unpersuaded by this argument, a position buttressed by the fact that States espousing it use it inconsistently. Country-specific mandates ensure an expert, impartial and intensive monitoring process that keeps information flowing to this Council and to the world. This Council’s clear and universal mandate to address human rights violations is not conditional on the approval of specific governments.
The plural and sometimes overlapping voices of the Council, its mechanisms and my Office are frequently raised in support of each others' work. Where country-specific mandates are not forthcoming or when the Council is unable to express itself, for whatever reason, it is all the more important that the High Commissioner exercise his or her independent mandate to shine a spotlight on human rights violations.
In Bahrain, I am concerned by harassment and arrests of human rights defenders and political activists, and legislation which enables revocation of citizenship without due process. I urge greater attention to this situation. The past decade has demonstrated repeatedly and with punishing clarity exactly how disastrous the outcomes can be when a Government attempts to smash the voices of its people, instead of serving them.he authorities of Bahrain would be well advised to comply with the recommendations of the human rights mechanisms and UPR, and engage more productively with my Office, as well as with this Council's Special Procedures.
The President of the Philippines's statements of scorn for international human rights law display a striking lack of understanding of our human rights institutions and the principles which keep societies safe. Fair and impartial rule of law is the foundation of public confidence and security. Empowering police forces to shoot to kill any individual whom they claim to suspect of drug crimes, with or without evidence, undermines justice. The people of the Philippines have a right to judicial institutions that are impartial, and operate under due process guarantees; and they have a right to a police force that serves justice. I strongly encourage the Philippines to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. My Office is ready to assist, including with respect to rule of law institutions and the prevention and treatment of drug use in accordance with international norms.
My Office continues to enjoy broad access in Yemen. But as my recent report has highlighted, the national investigation effort has not been able to provide the impartial and wide-ranging inquiry that is required by serious allegations of violations and abuse. I recommend a comprehensive inquiry by an international independent body. There will be further discussion of this situation later in this session.
Human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent; if States pick and choose which rights they will uphold, the entire structure is undermined. Yet I am frequently surprised by assertions my Office is insufficiently concerned with economic and social rights. This is a statement often made by representatives of States which have few or no national accountability mechanisms to ensure that economic and social rights are effectively protected – and have adopted no legislative framework to give domestic legal effect to the CESCR.
I am convinced civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right to development, can only be effective when they are viewed as mutually supportive. And although there is no one correct model, applying human rights in practice requires that they be addressed as rights – not as neutral commodities or optional policy outcomes. I urge all Member States of this Council to move swiftly to establish the legal frameworks which can ensure implementation and accountability for economic and social rights.
I hope I have made clear this morning that even where the powerful might seek to deflect our work and evade our scrutiny, we and other human rights actors will always continue to seek the truth and stand up for the rights of all people. At a coming session of the Council, I will continue and expand this focus on countries which maintain minimal engagement with the human rights mechanisms, as well as my Office.
This Council is the torchbearer for the consistent and equitable protection of human rights around the world. It stands for principles which endorse the freedom of people – everywhere. Our human rights norms empower people to demand governments which serve them, instead of exploiting them; economic systems that enable them to live in dignity; the right to participate in every decision that impacts their lives. These are the essential steps which will lead to greater mutual respect and more sustainable development and justice, within a world of greater safety.
I am confident that in the coming decade, the Council will maintain its credibility, and further develop its reputation for consistent action, by clearly upholding the equal value of all human rights, and their equal validity across all geographies, all political systems, and all societies.
16 June 2016: In an emotional somewhat incoherent speech to the summer session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein went to town on the theme that "Hate is being mainstreamed." This is how he began the speech billed as a "global update:"
"When the Inter-American Commission announces it has to cut its personnel by forty percent – and when States have already withdrawn from it and the Inter-American Court;
"When States Parties have threatened to withdraw from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court – and, even more recently, others threaten to leave the United Nations, or the European Court of Human Rights and the European Union;
"When those calling for departure have seemingly already fled in their minds from the urge to protect the world from the untold sorrow and miseries which twice swept it, and brought about the creation of many of these very institutions;
"When filthy abuse by politicians of the vulnerable is tolerated; when the laws – human rights law, refugee law, international humanitarian law – are increasingly violated, and when hospitals are bombed – but no one is punished;
"When human rights, the two words, are so rarely found in the world of finance and business, in its literature, in its lexicon – why? Because it is shameful to mention them?
"When working for the collective benefit of all people, everywhere is apparently losing its ardor, and features only in empty proclamations swelling with unjustified self-importance and selfishness –
"Then do we really still have an international community? When the threads forming it are being tugged away and the tapestry, our world, is unraveling? Or are there only fragmented communities of competing interests – strategic and commercial – operating behind a screen of feigned allegiance to laws and institutions?
"I think of a video clip I saw on the internet only days ago, where the body of a young child, a young girl, with a face that is white with dust, nose bloodied, hair springing with life still – and her body crushed, inert as the rubble – dug out as she was from a bombed building in Syria, so reports said, just days ago. The poet Hafiz says:
"As pallid ghost appears
"Speak the epic of thy pain
"Please stop this, because this madness can be stopped."
However, he did not say how that could be done but continued:
"The common sets of laws, the institutions - and deeper still, the values – which bind us together are buckling. And suffering most from this onslaught are our fellow human beings – your people – who bear the brunt of the resulting deprivation, misery, injustice, and bloodshed. I, and many others, seek your support.
"Hate is becoming mainstreamed. Walls – which tormented previous generations, and have never yielded any sustainable solution to any problem – are returning. Barriers of suspicion are rising, snaking through and between our societies – and they are killers. Clampdowns on public freedoms, and crackdowns on civil society activists and human rights defenders, are hacking away at the forces which uphold the healthy functioning of societies. Judicial institutions which act as checks on executive power are being dismantled. Towering inequalities are hollowing out the sense that there are common goods.
"These trends bleed nations of their innate resilience. They do not make them safe: they make them weaker. Piece by piece, these mutually reinforcing trends are shearing off the protections that maintain respect, enable development, and provide the only fragile basis for world peace. They are attacks on sanity. And they can be reversed."
"In every situation of conflict, the principles of distinction, proportionality, precaution and necessity must be strictly observed, in line with international humanitarian law. I urge every State to fully comply with international human right norms and implement the recommendations of the human rights mechanisms and of my Office. All political detainees should be released, and reforms undertaken to ensure fair trials and an impartial and effective administration of justice. Independent national institutions and civil society organizations must be free to raise their voice. Freedoms of expression, assembly and association must be respected and wherever people are jailed for exercising these rights – and there are many – I urge the authorities to release them with immediate effect.
"The actions of the police, security forces and all other agents of the State must be in line with relevant human rights obligations and minimum standards. When reports suggest violations of human rights, I call on the authorities to conduct investigations to establish the facts, prosecute perpetrators and ensure redress for victims. Economic, social and cultural rights are vital, and their respect must include equitable access to resources, services and opportunities. Refugee law must also be respected, especially the principle of non-refoulement. And all forms of discrimination must be eradicated, to ensure that every member of society can freely make choices and participate in decisions."
The speech then turned to the migrant crisis engulfing Europe and the High Commissioner had this recommendation:
"The only sustainable way to resolve today’s movements of people will be to improve human rights in countries of origin, and I strongly urge the members of this Council to embark on that work. But meanwhile, the countries of Europe must find a way to address the current migration crisis consistently and in a manner that respects the rights of the people concerned. It is entirely possible to create well-functioning migration governance systems, even for large numbers of people, with fair and effective determination of individual protection needs. If European governments can remove hysteria and panic from the equation – and if all contribute to a solution – I am confident that they will be able to achieve this."
After a ramble of comments about various situations he came to this:
"In many parts of the Middle East and North Africa, the life-forces of society – which are the freedom and hopes of the people – are crushed by repression, conflict or violent anarchy. Torture, summary execution and arbitrary arrests are assaults on the people's security, not measures to protect security. It is a mistake to imagine that attacking the people’s rights makes them any safer or more content. The antidote to the savagery of violent extremism is greater rule of law. The best way to fight terrorism, and to stabilize the region, is to push back against discrimination; corruption; poor governance; failures of policing and justice; inequality; the denial of public freedoms, and other drivers of radicalization."
Mr. Zeid went on to comment on a long list of national situations of concern to him but said not a word about ISIS, al Qaeda or any of the other extremist groups engaged in massive human rights violations. The speech also was also almost totally deficient in anything constructive his office has done. In the two years he has held the post of High Commissioner Mr. Zeid does not seem to have figured out that moralistic commentary does little to improve dismal situations and is thus not part of his official functions.