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High Commissioner to Human Rights Council: the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar Has Deteriorated Significantly and Some Violations May Amount to Crimes against Humanity

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In South Sudan, Peace Continues to be Plagued by Staggering Levels of Localised Violence by Community-based Militias that Threaten to Further Destabilise the Country and Endanger Sustainable Peace, Deputy High Commissioner Says

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, followed by an enhanced interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the human rights situation in Myanmar had deteriorated significantly as the far-reaching impacts of the military coup continued to devastate lives and hopes across the country. She said her report had documented many serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of person; the prohibition against torture; fair trial guarantees; freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly. Several of these violations may amount to crimes against humanity committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population – or, to the extent arising in armed conflict, war crimes.

In the discussion on Myanmar, speakers called on Myanmar to provide the Office of the High Commissioner with full and unhindered access and to ensure that those who cooperated with it were not subjected to intimidation and reprisals. The Rohingyas continued to be the victims of human rights violations and abuses. Entrenched and systemic discrimination continued to affect Rohingyas disproportionately. Some speakers regretted attempts by certain countries to use the United Nations platform to politicise the Myanmar question and make it a confrontational issue.

Speaking on Myanmar were: European Union, Lithuania on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Germany, France, Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, Albania, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, Malaysia, Mauritania, Libya, New Zealand, Philippines, United Kingdom, Romania, Jordan, Iran and Sudan.

Taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, International Commission of Jurists, Article 19 - International Centre Against Censorship, Edmund Rice International Limited, International Bar Association, Asian Legal Resource Centre, Centre pour les Droits Civils et Politiques, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Amnesty International and Next Century Foundation.

The Council also held an enhanced interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that peace in South Sudan continued to be plagued by high levels of localised violence that threatened to further destabilise the country and endanger sustainable peace. The implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement continued to be slow and selective, which additionally contributed to the uncertainty surrounding the peace process. She remained deeply concerned about the staggering levels of localised violence attributed to community-based militias, which continued to be the main form of violence perpetrated in South Sudan. Despite the numerous allegations of serious violations and abuses of human rights and humanitarian law, there had been minimal progress in combatting impunity.

Yasmin Sooka, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said that South Sudan’s transition was faltering, with a humanitarian crisis unfolding, characterised by insecurity and the erosion of human rights. The prospect of elections in this insecure and unstable environment further heightened concerns.

Andrew Clapham, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said that the failure to provide adequate resources to fulfil the rights to health and education was related to the misappropriation of the revenue in South Sudan. Urgent action was needed to stop the revenue from the oil and non-oil sectors from being deviated away from the State’s accounts and put in private bank accounts.

Ruben Madol Arol Kachuol, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of South Sudan, said that to address the crimes committed by the people in uniform, some military court martials had been instituted across the organised forces in the country, with perpetrators arrested, prosecuted and sentenced. The report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, as usual, did not reflect genuine findings that should be reflected to the Council as far as the steps taken by the Government to implement the peace agreement. He questioned the mandate of the Commission to report on economic activities in South Sudan. The Government deemed the report of the Commission to be outrightly beyond its mandate while selectively neglecting positive progress being undertaken by the Government.

In the discussion on South Sudan, speakers echoed the concern of the Commission that much of the past decade since independence had been marked by violent conflicts and on-going human rights violations and abuses. Concerns were expressed at unjustified restrictions on freedoms of expression and assembly imposed by the Government. Some speakers regretted the politicisation and selectivity represented in the interfering nature of the initiatives against specific countries promoted in the Council, which did not have the consent of the country concerned.

Speaking on South Sudan were: Norway on behalf of a group of countries, Netherlands on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries, Liechtenstein, Germany, Switzerland, France, Australia, Albania, Venezuela, United States, Russian Federation, Ireland, China, United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran and Eritrea.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: CIVICUS, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Amnesty International, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, Human Rights Watch, Meezaan Center for Human Rights, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada and Advocates for Human Rights.

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-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 3 p.m. this afternoon to hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Written Update on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting the written update on the situation of human rights in Myanmar A/HRC/48/67, said that the human rights situation in Myanmar had deteriorated significantly as the far-reaching impacts of the military coup continued to devastate lives and hopes across the country. Over 1,100 individuals had reportedly died at the hands of the security forces since the coup, and over 8,000 individuals – including children – had been arrested, with over 4,700 remaining in detention. Most were held without any form of due process, and lacked access to legal counsel, or even the ability to communicate with their families. The report documented many serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of person; the prohibition against torture; fair trial guarantees; freedom of expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly. The High Commissioner said that several of these violations may amount to crimes against humanity committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population – or, to the extent arising in armed conflict, war crimes.

The High Commissioner explained that faced with this overwhelming repression of fundamental rights, a movement of armed resistance was growing, alongside the peaceful protests that had taken place for seven months. Earlier this month, the interim President of the National Unity Government – which comprised representatives elected in 2020 who opposed the coup – issued a call for nation-wide armed uprising against the military. The Army had launched offensives and reprisal raids against villages perceived to be the bases of people’s defence forces or ethnic armed groups. Hundreds of individuals had been killed and injured, and many had been forcibly displaced amid escalating humanitarian needs for food, water, shelter, and medical care. Ms. Bachelet appealed once again to all armed actors to respect human rights and ensure that civilians and civilian structures were protected.

Ms. Bachelet urged action by members of the Council to actively support a political process that engaged all parties to this crisis, including the National Unity Government, civil society, and representatives from the ethnic minority communities, especially women. The initiative of the Association of South-east Asian Nations should urgently be accompanied by other influential Member States, using a mix of incentives and disincentives to reverse the military coup and desperate spiral of violence. There must be immediate release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders. It was crucial that the perpetrators of the most serious international crimes, including potentially genocide, were duly held to account. In this regard, the expanded work of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, with its ongoing mandate over current events, had become even more important. The High Commissioner concluded by saying that Myanmar’s stability and path to democracy and prosperity had been sacrificed over these last months to advance the ambitions of a privileged and entrenched military elite. The international community must redouble its efforts to restore democracy and prevent wider conflict before it was too late.

Discussion

Speakers thanked the High Commissioner for presenting her written update and for the ongoing efforts of her Office to document the human rights situation in Myanmar. They called on Myanmar to provide her Office with full and unhindered access and to ensure that those who cooperated with it were not subjected to intimidation and reprisals. Condemnation in the strongest terms of the deposition by the military of the duly elected civilian government last February were expressed. Speakers called for an end to the systematic and targeted killings, arbitrary detentions, sexual and gender-based violence, and the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, in particular of activists, journalists and human rights defenders. They raised concern about freedom of expression. In a crisis, where the military regime sought a monopoly over information and political opinion, freedom of expression was vital in keeping alive the spirit of democracy.

Speakers expressed grave concerns about the situation of Rohingyas. They continued to be the victims of human rights violations and abuses. The entrenched and systemic discrimination continued to affect Rohingyas disproportionately. One speaker regretted that the 15-page report contained only two paragraphs on the Rohingya. Speakers urged Myanmar to immediately halt human rights abuses and targeted violence against Rohingyas, roll out an inclusive COVID response to protect Rohingyas, including ensuring their access to vaccines, and end impunity by ensuring accountability for human rights violations, bringing all perpetrators to justice, and implementing all recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, including restoring citizenship and voting rights of Rohingyas. Some speakers stated that the international community had a responsibility to protect the people of Myanmar, prevent further atrocities and violations, and ensure civilian protection and humanitarian access.

Some speakers were concerned about the rise in extremist sentiments among the opposition, which was taking place against a background of a general decline in protest activity and the gradual stabilisation of the situation in the country as a whole. They regretted that attacks on civil servants and representatives of local administrations and the detonation of improvised explosive devices had increased, leading to numerous casualties. One speaker regretted attempts by certain countries to use the United Nations platform to politicise the Myanmar question and make it a confrontational issue. They believed that the task of the international community was to promote the normalisation of the situation in Myanmar without interfering in its internal affairs and they appreciated the balanced position of Member States of the Association of South-east Asian Nations. The effective and meaningful implementation of the Five-Point Consensus reached at the Leaders’ Meeting of the Association in Jakarta on 24 April was imperative.

Concluding Remarks

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the current cycle of violence needed to stop and that the international community needed to work together for a political solution in line with the process of the Association of South-east Asian Nations. The root causes of the conflict should be taken into account and the Rohingyas could be granted citizenship and return to safety and security. Ms. Bachelet said that her Office was ready to support the Association’s Special Envoy and his team, further explaining that they could provide assistance and advice, and help facilitate consultation with the civil society, among others. She welcomed the suggestion that the Association’s Commission on Human Rights could play a role in the situation and believed their work could complement the work of her Office. The state of Rakhine was calm at the moment, but Ms. Bachelet warned that this did not equate to stability, adding that there was no formal ceasefire between the warring parties. It was critical to support Bangladesh with regard to the refugees and to press Myanmar for conditions of return. The High Commissioner concluded by saying that when the military escalated the situation, she warned that it might reach a full-blown conflict. This process could not be allowed to drift, as it would only be more difficult to solve and would have wider regional ramifications. She urged the international community to work together on the situation in Myanmar.

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

Keynote Statements

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that peace in South Sudan continued to be plagued by high levels of localised violence that threatened to further destabilise the country and endanger sustainable peace. The implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement that was signed three years ago last month, continued to be slow and selective, which additionally contributed to the uncertainty surrounding the peace process. She remained deeply concerned about the staggering levels of localised violence attributed to community-based militias, which continued to be the main form of violence perpetrated in South Sudan. Despite the numerous allegations of serious violations and abuses of human rights and humanitarian law, there had been minimal progress in combatting impunity. She strongly encouraged the Government to work closely with local leaders to attain peaceful resolutions to localised conflicts, including by holding perpetrators accountable, particularly the high-ranking politicians and commanders, from both the national army and the opposition, inciting inter-ethnic violence and exacerbating localised grievances.

Transitional justice in the context of South Sudan was critical to achieving sustainable peace, national reconciliation and healing, and rebuilding the rule of law, she Ms. Al-Nashif. Decades of violent conflict characterised by unspeakable atrocities combined with weak rule of law institutions had resulted in diminished security, lawlessness and a population sharply divided along ethnic lines. Immense political and social investment was therefore required to rebuild such a society and to achieve durable peace where the rule of law was re-established, gross human rights violations and abuses were addressed, and measures of reconciliation and healing were prioritised. She concluded by saying that while the Government had taken steps in the right direction, further actions, including the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union for the establishment of the Hybrid Court, would have to be made towards the implementation of transitional justice mechanisms as stipulated in Chapter V of the Revitalised Agreement. She encouraged the African Union to strengthen its support to transitional justice efforts for the realisation of these critical transitional justice mechanisms, including the Compensation and Reparations Authority.

YASMIN SOOKA, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said that South Sudan’s transition was faltering, with a humanitarian crisis unfolding, characterised by insecurity and the erosion of human rights. The prospect of elections in this insecure and unstable environment further heightened concerns. Women and children were reportedly raped and sexually violated, before being killed, and between 80,000 and 125,000 civilians were reported as displaced, with hundreds of children separated from parents. Tens of thousands of civilians were experiencing famine conditions. The national authorities appeared to have abandoned their responsibility to fulfil their socio-economic rights obligations to the people of South Sudan. Conflict-related sexual violence, and sexual and gender-based violence were raging and had had a devastating impact on women and girls, who had been forced into marriage and sexual slavery. Government forces were mainly responsible for these conflict-related sexual violations. The lack of accountability for these crimes further entrenched impunity. The complete absence of enforcement agencies and survivors’ support structures exacerbated victimisation and suffering.

Ms. Sooka said that the Commission had urged the Government of South Sudan and the African Union to demonstrate political will and implement the provisions of Chapter 5 of the Peace Agreement so that the long delayed transitional justice mechanisms could be established. However, despite the commitments made by the Government and the African Union in March this year, the Hybrid Court had yet to be set up. Most South Sudanese had lost faith in the Government’s commitment to justice and accountability for serious crimes. The Hybrid Court and the Commission on Truth, Healing and Reconciliation must be established in order to secure peace and security as stipulated in the Revitalised Peace Agreement. She concluded by saying that sustainable peace in South Sudan required the pursuit of a shared inclusive vision of power sharing which drew in all of South Sudan’s constituencies and regions. South Sudanese political elites needed to be willing to share power, resources, and sovereignty in this national state they had struggled so long to achieve.

ANDREW CLAPHAM, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said that the Commission had been working on the question of economic crimes and the diversion of resources. The Minister of Justice had asked in his prepared written statement whether the Commission had a mandate to look at economic activities in South Sudan. The Commission had in fact received a mandate from the Council to clarify responsibility for alleged violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes. The Government of South Sudan had responsibility for violations of the right to health and the right to education. The failure to provide adequate resources to fulfil these rights was related to the misappropriation of the revenue, which should be deposited in the bank accounts of the State and then used to provide education and health. For the Commission, the economic crimes were related to violations of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights, including the rights to health and education.

The Commission strongly recommended that urgent action was needed to stop the revenue from the oil and non-oil sectors from being deviated away from the State’s accounts and put in private bank accounts.

RUBEN MADOL AROL KACHUOL, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of South Sudan, was happy to inform the Council about the security situation in South Sudan, which was relatively calm and peaceful. Incidents were largely caused by the hold out group to the Revitalised Peace Agreement. The Peace Agreement, which was reached in 2018, was a significant milestone towards achieving stability in the country and was now being implemented in phases. The Government remained committed to implement transitional justice mechanisms pursuant to chapter 5 of the Agreement. This had led to the formation, on 30 July 2021, of the Taskforce to oversee and coordinate efforts to implement chapter 5, plus the Technical Committee which would conduct public consultations to inform the design of the legislation to regulate the establishment of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing.

To address the crimes committed by the people in uniform, some military court martials had been instituted across the organised forces in the country; and perpetrators had been arrested, prosecuted and sentenced. Regarding targeted killings, the Government had set up community police units in most parts of the country. The report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, as usual, did not reflect genuine findings that should be reflected to the Council as far as the steps taken by the Government to implement the Peace Agreement and to address issues of refugees and internally displace persons and others. Noting that the Commission’s report focused on exclusive alleged economic crimes and corruption practices in South Sudan, the Justice Minister asked if the mandate of the Commission was to report on economic activities in South Sudan. The Government deemed the report of the Commission to be outrightly beyond its mandate while selectively neglecting positive progress being undertaken by the Government. The Government thanked the Council for adopting the resolution under the agenda item 10 on capacity building and technical assistance for South Sudan, as this would help provide needed assistance in the area of the promotion of human rights in South Sudan. The Minister asked for the removal of the consideration of the situation in South Sudan under agenda item 4 on human rights situations, which was a total distraction to efforts and progress being exerted by the Government of South Sudan to achieve a lasting and sustainable peace in the country.

Discussion

Some speakers echoed the concern of the Commission that much of the past decade since independence had been marked by violent conflicts and on-going human rights violations and abuses in South Sudan. They welcomed the convening of the transitional parliament and the announcement made by President Kiir that general elections would be held in 2023. Speakers expressed concerns about the prospect of a dangerous interruption of general dialogue among parties, and about unjustified restrictions on freedoms of expression and assembly imposed by the Government. Speakers mentioned that threats of violence and intimidation by the Government, including threats of use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters, were unacceptable, as well as the arbitrary detention of civil society actors. Further concerns were expressed at the intercommunal armed clashes in a number of areas in South Sudan. Speakers strongly condemned any violations of the Revitalised Peace Agreement and acts of violence against civilians, including humanitarian workers. Transitional justice mechanisms must be fully established, and the people of South Sudan needed to be given an opportunity to choose their own government through an inclusive constitution-drafting process and free and fair elections by mid-2023.

Some speakers welcomed the Government’s repeated commitment to addressing human rights challenges, and remained committed to supporting a better future for all South Sudanese. Speakers further recognised that South Sudan had advanced on the path of dialogue and understanding, towards the longed-for peace and national reconciliation that were necessary to improve the human rights situation of its people. Some speakers reiterated their condemnation of the politicisation and selectivity represented in the interfering nature of the initiatives against specific countries promoted in the Council, which did not have the consent of the country concerned. They explained that this was why they had voted against resolution 46/23 ont South Sudan, which had given rise to this debate. Support for the inclusive process of national dialogue, as well as the implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement, was expressed. One delegation said that it would continue to oppose attempts by some countries to turn the Council into an arena of confrontation, using human rights as an instrument of political pressure against developing countries. Relations between States must be based on the universal principles of respect for sovereignty, self-determination of peoples, and non-interference in the internal affairs of States, all of which were enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.

Concluding Remarks

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the human rights situation in South Sudan remained extremely worrying and urged the Government to intensify its efforts to deal with the violence , to hold those responsible accountable, and to provide compensation for victims. While she welcomed the steps taken by the Government, more needed to be done. The cycle of impunity had to stop for healing to take place. The Hybrid Court was a concrete step but it was still a long way to being operative. She noted the tangible progress but expressed concerns about the slow pace of the transitional justice mechanisms. On the upcoming elections, she called on the Government to refrain from any action that could curtail individual freedoms and human rights as well as craft conditions for free, fair and transparent elections

ANDREW CLAPHAM, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said that the link between corruption and human rights violations was obvious. Nearly 4 billion dollars had been embezzled in South Sudan, money that could have been used to build schools and hospitals. Instead, it was used to fund localised violence. The United Nations Convention against Corruption imposed obligations on States to promote the return of embezzled money. The States receiving this money should therefore ensure that these sums were returned to the people of South Sudan.

YASMIN SOOKA, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said that the Truth Commission was critical to understanding the root causes of the conflict. It was critical that the signing of the Memorandum Of Understanding allowed the African Union to establish the Hybrid Court. She concluded by warning that the ongoing cycle of violence might not be interrupted and that South Sudan might be drawn into greater levels of violence.

RUDEN MADOL AROK, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of South Sudan, said that he had heard lots of concerns about the human rights situation in South Sudan but that the biggest concerns for the international community seemed to be about the way to resolve the problem of human rights by implementing the Revitalised Peace Agreement. In this regard, the Government was willing to discuss the details of these concerns with the Commission and others who had expressed their concerns. The issue for the people of South Sudan was that they had put their hopes on the implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement. Therefore, it should not just be momentarily about human rights. It needed to be more than that. He urged all to join hands and discuss the details in a way that would help all to implement the Peace Agreement.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/la-violence-attribuee-aux-milices-communautaires-reste-la