Monday, August 21, 2017 | ePaper

Facing human rights violators

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Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein :
(From previous issue)
Turning to States which are not members of this Council, Bahrain, Laos, Tanzania and Turkmenistan have permitted no visits at all by Special Procedures in the course of the past five years, and have accumulated more than five requests each. Jamaica also fits into this category, but has agreed to the visit of the Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent and I encourage the Government to establish specific dates for the visit. Zimbabwe, with 14 requests pending, has never accepted a single mission by a mandate-holder.
I strongly contest the self-serving argument presented by some, that this Council should avoid addressing country situations - a view which is usually voiced by leaders of States that feature few independent institutions, and which sharply curtail fundamental freedoms.
The Governments of Belarus, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Israel and Iran have also rejected resolutions creating country-specific mandate holders for them, and consequently do not allow visits by those mandate holders.
In the case of Syria, there has long been no access either for my Office or for the Syria Commission of Inquiry. This notwithstanding the continued horrific suffering of the Syrian people, particularly in besieged communities. I repeat my call for the release of all detainees wrongfully imprisoned in Syria. The UN is finalising the recruitment of the head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.
Last month the Democratic People's Republic of Korea did accept its first-ever Special Procedures visit, by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, an action I welcomed. Given the extreme severity of reported violations in the country, it should be clear this in no way diminishes the urgency of engagement with the country mandate holder and my Office, including our field-based structure in Seoul.
Myanmar has been providing access to the country mandate-holder, but specific locations requested are often off-limits, with conflicting explanations for these restrictions. I urge the Government to cooperate fully with the recently established independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, including full and unmonitored access to Rakhine State, where we believe the violations of human rights have been horrifying in the extreme.
In this survey of global cooperation and non-cooperation with Special Procedures, a particular mention should go to Cuba, which in April, after ten years of no visits by mandate-holders, accepted a mission by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons. It appears unusual for such an active member of the Human Rights Council to maintain such limited engagement with the Special Procedures.
China has invited four Special Procedures mandate holders to the country in the past seven years but, as with some other countries, these missions have faced challenges with regard to the necessary freedom of movement and access to independent civil society.
Finally, and in contrast, several States have devoted considerable efforts to cooperating with mandate holders, facilitating more than five country visits in the past five years: Australia, Brazil, Chile, Georgia, Italy, Mexico, Tunisia and the United States. However, not all these visits have been free of difficulty.
In the United States, which has received six country visits from Special Procedures in the past five years and has agreed to a further two during 2017, it remains essential to enable access for the Special Rapporteur on torture to the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, in line with the terms of reference of Special Procedures visits.
Australia, a candidate for membership of this Council, has not given access to all detention centres for migrants and despite multiple recommendations, the situation at centres in Nauru and Manus has not been adequately addressed.
Becoming party to an international human rights treaty is a commitment which the State makes, above all, to its own people. Reporting procedures aim to identify gaps in protection and measures taken to correct them. They are not optional.
Yet reports by 74 States have been overdue for a decade or longer - and in a few minutes, when the full text of this speech is posted to the Office website, the list of those countries will be appended. As many as 280 initial reports have never been submitted - meaning States have ratified the related treaty or optional protocol, and then seemingly turned their back on their obligations, reneging on their commitment.
Report HRI/MC/2017/2 last month, for consideration by the Chairs of the human rights treaty bodies, explores in often shocking detail this non-compliance by States parties. The treaties with the highest proportion of States parties not complying with reporting obligations were the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
These are fundamental instruments. Sixty-five States that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography have failed to report to it. Almost 30% of States Parties have not submitted their initial report to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The UN has been webcasting all public reviews by the Treaty Body Committees since last year, inspiring considerable interest in the respective countries; in April, Tunisia's third report to the Committee against Torture was livecast in a cinema, to an audience that included government officials, activists, media and victims. And rightly so: the aim and subject of human rights reporting is to be of benefit to the people. It is not an end in itself, or a purely mechanical process to feed bureaucratic demands.
Only 33 States are fully up to date with their Treaty Body reporting: Australia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bhutan, Canada, China, Cook Islands, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Holy See, Honduras, Italy, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Montenegro, Niue, Oman, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Singapore, Sweden, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United States of America, Uruguay and Uzbekistan. As I have said, reporting is essential - but taken alone, it does not necessarily translate directly into real progress.
I am happy to report a number of situations for which access by my staff has improved or seems likely to advance in the near future.
In Uzbekistan, when I visited Tashkent last month, officials at the highest levels agreed to cooperate with my Regional Office for Central Asia and pledged to invite Special Procedures mandate-holders to visit the country, beginning with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Uzbekistan still faces major human rights challenges but the leadership is, I believe, pointing the country in the right direction.
Armenia has also recently informed me of its intention to upgrade its engagement with the Office, and we will continue discussions with the Government in this direction.
During my mission to Ethiopia last month I signed a Memorandum of Interest with the Government, and held important discussions with the authorities, including on the need to increase democratic and civic space. Although access has not yet been granted to my staff to assess the recent events in Oromia and Amhara regions, I am hopeful this will take place, and I have pledged to lead a follow-up mission to Ethiopia next year. The recent sentencing of opposition leaders, apparently for expressing dissenting views, is of considerable concern to me, as are the periodic shutdowns of social media.
The Government of Mozambique has accepted a technical mission by my staff, and has requested OHCHR provide assistance to train police, improve administration of justice and prison conditions, and assist with issues of transitional justice. I am hopeful this will ultimately lead to OHCHR and Special Procedures gaining greater access to verify allegations of summary executions, arbitrary killings and enforced disappearances.
The already dire situation in the Kasai provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to deteriorate, spreading to other provinces and across the border with Angola. Given the difficulties in accessing the areas where violations and abuses are occurring, I will be dispatching a team to the region next week to meet with people fleeing the attacks. Unless I receive appropriate responses from the Government regarding a joint investigation by 8 June, I will insist on the creation of an international investigative mechanism for the Kasais.
On Western Sahara, discussions are ongoing with the Government to resume technical missions. My Office is also reviewing options for access to Crimea .
I deeply regret the need to report that in a number of other areas there has been no change since my speech to the Council in September 2016 regarding this essential question of access. In the south-east region of Turkey, our efforts to inquire into allegations of serious violations continue to be denied, while the volume of people awaiting trial across the country makes it difficult to imagine due process guarantees are being respected.
Despite repeated high-level requests to India and Pakistan, permission for my staff to have unconditional access to both sides of the Line of Control in India-Administered Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir has still not been granted, and we continue to receive reports of increasing violence, civilian casualties, curfews and website blackouts.
In Venezuela, the growing human rights crisis - including killings of at least 60 people, according to the Attorney General, as well as widespread shortages and hunger - highlights the increasingly urgent need for an impartial analysis and rapid assistance. I urge the Government to accept my request for a mission to the country at working level.
As this Council is aware, where the human rights situation appears critical, and where access is repeatedly denied to my Office, the only option open to us may be to conduct various forms of remote monitoring. So long as refusals to enable access persist, I will be compelled to consider reporting publicly and regularly on their findings.
Last week, the Central African Republic authorities, OHCHR and MINUSCA launched the human rights Mapping Report. It is our sincere hope that this report will galvanise national and international efforts to fight impunity and send a strong signal that justice will be done to all those who are engaged in or backing the current wave of appalling violence threatening the country.
Guatemala recently extended the host agreement of my country office for three more years, a welcome development. However, I regret that the OHCHR country office in Bolivia will close at the end of the year, following the Government's decision. We will nonetheless continue to follow the human rights situation in Bolivia to the extent possible.
Every State has accepted that it "is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms" - to reprise the Vienna Declaration. Every State is party to at least one of the nine core human rights treaties. And it would be intolerable if delegations were to conclude that by maintaining minimal engagement with the human rights mechanisms they can evade or betray those commitments to their own peoples, and to the peoples of the world.
Leaders may wish to deny this reality, but whether we like it or not, humanity is connected. The torture of children in Daraa in March 2011, and violent attacks by the Syrian security forces on the subsequent protests by their parents, neighbours and supporters have led to a conflict whose slaughter, destruction and shockwaves continue to wreak havoc well beyond Syria's borders. We see again and again, more and more brutally, around us the results of discrimination, deprivation and injustice - in the escalation of crises and suffering, and the outbreak of war.
Whether or not individual leaders consider this truth convenient, it is nonetheless a fact that denial of human rights in one county concerns every State in the Organisation.
To achieve progress in human rights takes a great deal more than the flourish of a signature at the bottom of a document. My Office, the Council's Special Procedures and the Treaty Bodies offer States the benefit of objective and expert scrutiny, extensive experience, and practical, targeted tools.
I believe we have a tremendous opportunity to build on the Secretary-General's commitment to prevention, and on the 2030 Agenda, which is powered by a drive to end discrimination on any grounds built around a core of commitment to rights - most particularly the right to development. We can use these entry points to develop new openings for human rights work that can impact the lives of vast numbers of people. But the principal responsibility for opening those doors still rests on Governments, Excellencies, and on this Council.

(Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in his address to the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva). K

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