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Human Rights Council Marks International Women’s Day and Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia

The Human Rights Council this morning marked International Women's Day and concluded its interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Federico Villegas, President of the Human Rights Council, said that discrimination against women was the oldest, and the most persistent and massive violation of human rights. The Human Rights Council should assume its historic responsibility and be at the forefront of the fight for the promotion and protection of women's rights around the world.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the climate and environmental crisis had had a particular impact on women around the world. Minority women, as well as migrants and women of African descent among others, were particularly vulnerable to these risks. Women faced intersecting cultural and economic factors that made them vulnerable to these risks.

Finland, speaking on behalf of Mexico, Finland and 54 States, said that a backlash against women's and girls' rights and gender equality had been witnessed. Advancing gender equality was crucial to comply with human rights obligations, but also key to enable peace and sustainable development.

Centre for Reproductive Rights said International Women's Day took its origins in the struggle of women in a society that did not recognise their agency or autonomy 100 years ago, and today women and girls were still seeking for their rights to be recognised, in particular those facing intersectional discrimination.

The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on her oral update on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The interactive dialogue started on Monday, 7 March and a summary can be found here.

In the discussion, speakers expressed concerns about the violation of human rights in Tigray, Amhara and Afar, including gender-based violence, and calls were made on all actors to respect international humanitarian law. Speakers were gravely concerned that almost 1 million persons were facing human-made famine conditions. Further concerns were expressed about extra judicial killings, forced displacements, violence against refugee camps and internally displaced persons, and the killing of humanitarian aid workers, amongst others. Other speakers welcomed the positive measures taken by Ethiopia. They denounced the targeting of Ethiopia under the pretext of the Tigray crisis. The Ethiopian people had the capacity to handle their internal affairs. The Council should be impartial, non-politicised and non-selective.

Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in concluding remarks that she was encouraged by the parallel tracks established for follow-up to the joint report. Progress against impunity and redress for victims required sustained political will and also resources. Action must be taken to send a strong message to perpetrators, victims and survivors. The Office of the High Commissioner was working to operationalise the mandate they had been given. A start-up team was already in place. It was regrettable that the Advisory Committee on Budgetary Issues had advised a cut of one third, which would limit posts and capacities.

Speaking in the discussion on Tigray was Philippines, United Nations Children's Fund, Venezuela, China, Cuba, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Russian Federation, Australia, Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Albania, Eritrea, South Sudan, New Zealand, Malawi, Iran, Ireland, Sudan and Belgium.

Also speaking were the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination, International Bar Association, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience, Society for Threatened Peoples, and Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council's forty-ninth regular session can be found here.

At 10 a.m., the Council will hear the presentation by the High Commissioner for Human Rights of her global oral update on the activities of her Office, followed by the presentation of reports by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Cyprus, as well as an oral update on Eritrea, followed by a general debate.

Statements on the Occasion of International Women's Day

FEDERICO VILLEGAS, President of the Human Rights Council, said on the occasion of International Women's Day, he wished to take this opportunity to encourage all to commit themselves to supporting and protecting the rights of women everywhere. Discrimination against women was the oldest, and the most persistent and massive violation of human rights. The Human Rights Council should assume its historic responsibility and be at the forefront of the fight for the promotion and protection of women's rights around the world.

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the climate and environmental crisis had had a particular impact on women around the world. Minority women, as well as migrants and women of African descent among others, were particularly vulnerable to these risks. Women faced intersecting cultural and economic factors that made them vulnerable to these risks. Across the globe, female human rights defenders continued to fight for the planetary crisis, and demand a seat at the negotiation table, despite facing obstructions. The inclusion of women had led to more effective climate policies across the world. In this work, the High Commissioner stood for a more just today and a more equal and just tomorrow.

Finland, speaking on behalf of Mexico, Finland and 54 States, said that a backlash against women's and girls' rights and gender equality had been witnessed. Advancing gender equality was crucial to comply with human rights obligations, but also key to enable peace and sustainable development. The COVID-19 crisis had exacerbated pre-existing gender-based discrimination and violence. It had also given rise to a second, nefarious "shadow" pandemic of gender-based violence, particularly for women and girls living through humanitarian crises. The root causes of gender inequalities must be addressed.

Centre for Reproductive Rights said International Women's Day took its origins in the struggle of women in a society that did not recognise their agency or autonomy 100 years ago, and today women and girls were still seeking for their rights to be recognised, in particular those facing intersectional discrimination. The pandemic had led to an increase in gender-based violence, and centred the threat on reproductive rights, with many States backpedalling and restricting access. As for women human rights defenders, there were constant threats to their work, life and well-being, and they were subjected to many human rights violations, often with no access to justice or accountability.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on her Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia

The interactive dialogue with United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on her oral update on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia started on Monday, 7 March and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers expressed concerns about the violation of human rights in Tigray, Amhara and Afar, including gender-based violence, and calls were made on all actors to respect international humanitarian law. The need to hold to account perpetrators of human rights violations was highlighted. Calls were made to cease all hostilities, including aerial bombing. Justice and meaningful accountability were needed, hostilities must cease, and humanitarian access must be restored. Speakers were gravely concerned that almost 1 million persons were facing human-made famine conditions. Further concerns were expressed about extrajudicial killings, forced displacements, violence against refugee camps and internally displaced persons, and the killing of humanitarian aid workers, amongst others. The lifting of the state of emergency was welcome and calls were made to release the prisoners detained during the state of emergency, mainly following the mass detentions on the basis of ethnicity. Trends towards de-escalation were welcome as they offered the prospect of hope, however, for peace to take root, crimes committed during the conflict could not be left in the shadows.

Other speakers commended the Ethiopian Government for establishing an inter-ministerial task force to implement the recommendations of the joint investigation body that had already identified areas of concerns; they welcomed the positive measures taken by Ethiopia. The complex situation on the ground was showing signs of improvement and speakers welcomed the national political will shown to improve the situation. The role of the Ethiopian Commission for Human Rights was noted and its impartiality highlighted. Some speakers denounced the targeting of Ethiopia under the pretext of the Tigray crisis and insisted that the mandate of the Council was not to target specific countries. The protection of citizens belonged to the Ethiopian State and the Commission for National Reconciliation should be recognised as the only institution investigating violations. Some speakers urged the Council to terminate the specific, unjust and unfair treatment of Ethiopia. Speakers believed that the Ethiopian people had the capacity to handle their internal affairs, and called for the Council to be impartial, non-politicised and non-selective. Forcing country specific mechanisms would only add complication to the Ethiopian issues.

Concluding Remarks

NADA AL-NASHIF, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was encouraged by the parallel tracks established for follow-up to the joint report. Progress against impunity and redress for victims required sustained political will and also resources. Action must be taken to send a strong message to perpetrators, victims and survivors. The Office of the High Commissioner was working to operationalise the mandate they had been given. A start-up team was already in place. It was regrettable that the Advisory Committee on Budgetary Issues had advised a cut of one third, which would limit posts and capacities. All parties to the conflict should allow unfettered access for both humanitarian workers and investigators, and protect all witnesses and other sources from reprisals. The Government had made concrete commitments in this regard.

The gravity of the situation and the magnitude of the reports of violations received had been huge, which was the reason for the investigations and the establishment of the investigatory body. It was critical to build on the work of the Joint Investigatory Body, to develop a full view of the situation. A forum of major stakeholders on implementation of recommendations had been held in February, with positive outcomes with regard to organization. There was ongoing work. Ethiopia needed to speed up investigations against perpetrators and alleged perpetrators, and ensure justice by reinforcing its judiciary. It was only through accountability that the cycle of violations and impunity could be broken. A genuine national dialogue would help to curb the violence. All States should reinforce the capacity of civil society organizations on the ground, both technically and financially. Ethiopia sat at a critical juncture, with significant reforms being made, but it was also grappling with multiple challenges. The regional office required funding for Ethiopia specifically in order to do justice to the long-term work, including on capacity building, and there was a need for these also in other countries of the region.