GENERAL ASSEMBLY THIRD COMMITTEE
SEVENTY-THIRD SESSION, 31ST & 32ND MEETINGS (AM & PM)
Lasting Stability Never Comes with Repression, Special Rapporteur Says, Describing ‘Sad Fate’ of Freedom of Expression in Belarus
With an economy in free fall, 70 per cent youth unemployment, widely contaminated drinking water and a collapsed health care system, Gaza has become “unliveable”, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, insisting that all parties — particularly Israel — bring an end to “this disaster”.
One of six country-specific mandate holders to present their findings, Michael Lynk recalled that cooperation is at the heart of his work. Yet, Israel continued to block his visits to the occupied territories. He painted a pessimistic state of affairs, noting that 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s security forces — 40 of them children — during peaceful protests each Friday along the Gaza frontier for the past seven months.
An observer for the State of Palestine, during the interactive dialogue, likewise rejected Israel’s use of deadly force against peaceful demonstrators and called “wilful killing” a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions.
In a similar vein, Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, said protestors railing against falling living standards, unemployment and marginalization of border regions were killed after a crackdown by security forces. “In challenging times, the right to freedom of opinion, expression and access to information are all the more important.”
He said the closure of the social network Telegram and reports of intimidation against media workers — including those employed by the British Broadcasting Company — are deeply disturbing. Other concerns centred on due process, especially for juvenile offenders, one of whom was executed after being convicted of murdering her husband when she was 17. Critical factors were ignored during her trial, including claims of a forced confession.
In response, Iran’s representative rejected the report as only serving political interests. In fact, the gravity of the cases mentioned do not warrant a country-specific report. He pointed to the number of peaceful demonstrations held daily as unprecedented and a clear indication of a vibrant and open society. There is no need for advice, especially when Israel was involved in choosing the Special Rapporteur, challenging his ability to act independently and impartially.
Meanwhile, Sheila B. Keetharuth, Special Rapporteur on the rights situation in Eritrea, while welcoming the country’s 9 July peace agreement with Ethiopia, said the overall legal context is unchanged. Eritrea still has no constitution, no independent judiciary, no legislative assembly where laws are discussed or debated, no institutionalized checks and balances, no free press and no avenue for citizens to voice their opinions.
In addition, she said, arbitrary detentions, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and breaches to freedom of expression and religion are amply documented. In September, Eritrea’s former Minister for Finance was forcefully picked up on the street of Asmara. No news has transpired regarding his whereabouts or health.
Eritrea’s representative responded by stressing that human rights is best served by dialogue rather than double standards, politicization and stigmatization. Thanks to the “dawn of peace” in the Horn of Africa, resources previously allocated to security will now be used to consolidate the rule of law and strengthen national institutions. The negative impact of sanctions on the full enjoyment of human rights cannot be underestimated, he stressed.
Also presenting reports today were Miklos Haraszti, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Bahame Tom M. Nyanduga, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia, Doudou Diene, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 25 October, to continue its discussion of promotion and protection of human rights.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights. For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4235.
Interactive Dialogues — Palestinian Territories
MICHAEL LYNK, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967, drew attention to Israel’s persistent non-cooperation with the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. As with his two predecessors, Israel has not granted him entry to visit the country, nor the Occupied Palestinian territory. He recalled that cooperation is a fundamental obligation of the Charter of the United Nations. The World Bank described Gaza’s economy in free fall, contracting by 6 per cent during the first quarter of 2018. In fact, the United Nations has stated that Gaza may well be unliveable by 2020: safe drinking water has almost disappeared, the economy is cratering and “the state of unlive-ability is upon us”, he said, urging the international community to insist that all parties bring an immediate end to this disaster.
In response to this inflicted misery, Gazans organized the “Great March of Return”, he recalled. To date, in the context of these demonstrations, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed, including 40 children. Almost 23,000 Palestinians have been injured, with half of them requiring hospitalization. In addition, the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar is being threatened with complete demolition by Israel, which plans to build new settlements and annex the area. The settlements are a grave breach of international law. Israel’s Knesset has adopted a number of laws that are a flashing green light for more formal annexation steps. For the past 50 years, “the international community has been playing checkers while Israel plays chess,” he said, stressing that a deep-rooted problem at the heart of this conflict is the lack of clarity of international law.
Mr. MANSOUR, observer from the State of Palestine, said the humanitarian crisis outlined in the report is the bleakest yet. Describing Israel’s violations, such as the transfer of more settlers to the occupied territories, he said Israel creates a coercive environment to forcibly displace people. The annexation of the territories must end. The deterioration of all aspects of the living situation is the result of 10 years of immoral blockade, he said, rejecting Israel’s practice of using deadly force against peaceful demonstrators and calling “wilful killing” a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions. He asked about Israel’s increasingly aggressive attempts to turn de facto annexation into de jure annexation. He also condemned Israel’s refusal to cooperate with mandate holders, calling on the Secretary-General and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to ensure that Special Rapporteur’s mandate is not obstructed and that Israel is to brought into compliance.
The representative of Turkey, noting that the “Jewish nation-state law” disregards the rights of Palestinians, asked for guidance on the 13,000 pending demolition orders in Area C.
The representative of Venezuela, expressing deep concern about the 2 million people who are isolated and besieged, said Israel’s blockade amounts to collective punishment and should be completely lifted. Israel must uphold its international law obligations, he said, appealing for urgent efforts to strengthen Palestinian institutions.
The representative of the Russian Federation said continued settlement building is draining the patience of Palestinians. Citing recent events at the borders, he said the use of force must be appropriate; any inappropriate such use must be investigated. He advocated an end to the occupation which would improve the human rights situation.
The representative of Norway recalling plans for new settlements in the West Bank, as well as the water crisis, called on all parties to act with restraint. She asked whether there had been any changes in the use of administrative detention for children. Turning to the torture of Palestinians by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, she asked about any improvements in the human rights situation over the past year.
The representative of South Africa said the right to housing is linked to the rights to water, food and dignity, which are interdependent and indivisible. She asked about the links between humanitarian assistance and the right to work.
The representative of Cuba condemned the continued ignorance of Israel and the United States. Rejecting the United States’ unilateral establishment of its embassy in Jerusalem, he called for a fair, peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict ‑ an impossible goal if justice continues to be denied and impunity prevails.
The representative of Nicaragua asked how the international community can ensure that Israel acts responsibly.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea condemned the killings of women and children by Israel’s military forces, as well as the illegal action by the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem and undermine the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The representative of Egypt, noting that the report provided an accurate picture, asked for recommendations on how to end the “colonization” and encourage Israel to abide by its legal obligations.
The representative of Brazil expressed concern about the lack of respect for the rights to health and health care service. He expressed support for the freedom of expression and assembly, and the right to peaceful protest. He asked about measures Israel can take to address the right to health without security concerns.
The representative of Syria condemned Israel’s criminal practices, systematic human rights violations and failure to respect hundreds of resolutions adopted by the United Nations for decades. He also condemned States that exert pressure on the United Nations, attempting to force it to change its attitude by withholding funding.
The representative of China said it will be impossible to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East without resolving the Palestinian question. He opposed all acts of violence, expressing support for the peace process and Palestinians’ just calls for an independent, sovereign State with Jerusalem as capital.
The representative of the European Union noted that unilateral actions undermine efforts to reach peace. The two-state solution, based on 1967-borders, is the only reliable way to end the conflict, he said, asking about the Special Rapporteur’s priorities.
The representative of Senegal pointing to the lack of decent housing and health care, called for redoubled efforts to improve cooperation with the Special Rapporteur.
The representative of Indonesia expressed deep concern over the denial of access for the Special Rapporteur to the occupied territories, calling on Israel to honour its obligations. For over 60 years, Israel has made the region a showground for tensions and violations, she said, condemning recent excessive use of armed force on civilians. Calling the expansion of illegal settlements a threat to peace within the context of the two-State solution, she asked about the United Nations study on the legality of Israel’s occupying territories.
Also speaking in the dialogue was the representative of Iran.
Mr. LYNK, to questions about the volume of legislation by the Knesset regarding annexation, replied that the Basic Law amendments have made it more difficult for Israel to achieve parliamentary consent. In addition, membership in the Knesset has increased from 60 to 80 members, essentially making it impossible to give East Jerusalem back to the Palestinian Authority. The report details annexation legislation, notably the regularization bill that “regularizes” settlements. He cited other proposals to quiet disputes around land titles by offering compensation to Palestinians, rather than return the land. All these actions are illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
Regarding demolition orders in West Bank Area C, he said it is almost impossible for the 180,000 to 300,000 people living there to receive a legal permit to renovate or build, noting more broadly that 40 children died during the Great March of Return. While characterizing the report as “overwhelmingly gloomy”, he pointed to one piece of good news: a Palestinian Bedouin village still stands despite orders to demolish it. Israel’s high court has let it stand, thanks to the activism of human rights defenders and determined European “missions” that have repeatedly stated their opposition to the demolition. Indeed, with unified action and activism, ominous human rights trends can be reversed, even if not immediately.
His recommendations are endless, he said. On Gaza, the international community must insist on an end to the 11-year old blockade, as Palestinians cannot trade with the outside world. Other issues concern the prohibition of settlement goods. He called for an end to activities that would deepen the occupation, such as relationships with banks that finance them, as well as for United Nations support for a study into whether Israel is still the legal occupant of the Occupied Territories after 50 years.
JAVAID REHMAN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said mounting challenges faced by the Government, its people and the international community should be met by a constructive response which places international human rights law at its heart. He welcomed Iran’s decision to amend its drug-trafficking law but expressed concerns over the violation of the right to life and the adherence to due process standards, in particular for juvenile offenders. Executions continue despite amendments to the Islamic Penal Code that allow judges to pronounce alternative sentences for juvenile offenders. He called for the abolishment of the practice of sentencing children to death and the commute of all death sentences issued against children, in line with international law.
On the numerous protests that recently took place across the country, he stressed that the right to freedom of opinion, expression and access to information is all the more important in challenging times. The closing of the social network Telegram and reports of intimidation directed against media workers ‑ including those employed by the Persian Service of the British Broadcasting Company ‑ are disturbing. He also expressed deep concern about the treatment of a human rights defender, civil society actors and lawyers, and the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual and foreign nationals in the country. He reiterated his desire to engage with the Government and to build on the cordial cooperation extended to him so far.
Mr. NEJAD PIRKOUHI (Iran) said today’s meeting exemplifies overlap and a waste of resources. Four identical and unsubstantiated reports are produced annually. The value added of today’s report is unclear. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate was designed as a pressure tactic and the report lacks credibility, only serving political interests. There is no special situation demanding a Special Rapporteur for Iran. The gravity of the cases mentioned does not warrant a country-specific report, he stressed, pointing to an unprecedented number of peaceful daily demonstrations as a clear indication of a vibrant and open society. There is no need for advice, especially when Israel is involved in choosing the Special Rapporteur, challenging his promises of acting in an independent capacity and wondering who had validated the Special Rapporteur’s impartiality.
Calling such advice hypocritical, he said the Special Rapporteur gave his first interview to the media outlet funded by the United States. On the illegality of United States sanctions, he referred to an International Court of Justice decision, stressing also that Iran has been a safe haven for minorities for thousands of years. Iran is openly and firmly targeted by a media war, he emphasized, expressing regret that such open assaults are not recognized. Rejecting country specific reports as politicized, he said Iran seeks a respectful dialogue, citing the country’s commitment to the Universal Periodic Review.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Venezuela said human rights issues must be tackled at the global level, taking historical, cultural and religious aspects into account. He expressed concern about selective Human Rights Council resolutions.
The representative of Cuba called the report politically motivated and an obstacle to international cooperation. He asked for the Special Rapporteur’s position on the recent United States sanctions and about measures for dealing with States imposing such measures.
The representative of the European Union expressed concern over use of the death penalty on juvenile offenders, enquiring about what could be done to encourage Iran to abolish that practice. He also wondered about how to end the prosecution of journalists and human rights activists.
The representative of Norway, deploring the high number of executions and capital punishment for adolescents under age 18, expressed concern over the arrest of journalists and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders. On the report’s paragraph 10, she asked how the Special Rapporteur can follow-up on Iran’s compliance without access to the country.
The representative of Canada, while encouraged by incremental progress, deplored the execution of persons aged under 18 when the crime was committed. He asked for more information on how the recommendations will be incorporated into the Universal Periodic Review.
The representative of the United States urged Iran to allow the Special Rapporteur unrestricted access, condemning the crackdown on nationwide protests and voicing concern over the detention of 800 persons exercising their rights.
The representative of Belarus rejected country-specific mandates as gender‑based and one-sided. He wondered why the Special Rapporteur is not concerned about the unilateral measures against Iran or violations of Iranians’ rights. He called for an end to politicization and for dialogue without coercion and blackmail.
The representative of Syria rejected actions that target certain countries, asking for the Special Rapporteur’s opinion on the re-imposition of United States sanctions and how this will affect the human rights situation. He also questioned the effect of unilateral coercive measures on the people of Syria, Cuba and other countries.
The representative of Burundi deplored the trend of using the Third Committee (Special, Humanitarian, Cultural) for political means, pointing out that the United Nations has appropriate mechanisms for analysing human rights in an objective manner, namely, the Universal Periodic Review.
The representative of the United Kingdom, noting Iran’s use of the death penalty, and crackdown on social media users, asked about measures to ensure that journalists and human rights activists are given a fair trial.
The representative of Pakistan, pointing to free elections in Iran as a sign of a democratic process, urged that human rights issues be addressed in a constructive, non-selective, fair and impartial manner. He stressed the need to promote better coherence between the Third Committee and the Human Rights Council.
The representative of Japan, noting that his country engaged in bilateral discussions to improve the human rights situation, asked how to make such progress in Iran given current realities.
The representative of China objected to the imposition of specific mechanisms without the consent of the countries concerned, expressing hope that the international community will regard human rights situations fairly.
The representative of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea strongly opposed country-specific procedures and drew attention to Iran’s “remarkable” human rights progress. Noting that Iran is under sanctions, he questioned whether the Special Rapporteur is really interested in the protection of human rights.
The representative of the Russian Federation rejected politicization at the United Nations, especially use of a patronizing tone, which will not improve the human rights situation. Emphasizing that individual States should not be isolated, he called on the international community to include them in a respectful dialogue.
Also speaking in the dialogue were representatives of Germany, Czechia and Switzerland.
The representative from Iran said it is not difficult to produce a more substantive and less erroneous report. That some countries preach to Iran reflects their deep historical amnesia, preferring not to see the violations taking place in their own countries. Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom refrain from taking to floor to discuss human rights in Palestine. And yet, they adamantly affirm Iran should allow access to a mandate holder whose mission is counterproductive to the cause of human rights in Iran. He voiced regret that the Special Rapporteur finds himself in a political show that has nothing to do with Iran’s human rights.
Mr. REHMAN replied that his mandate corresponds strictly to international human rights, and thus, allows him to speak to all interlocutors. What is important is the content, not the source. Recalling that there are dozens of juvenile offenders on death row, he said a main concern is the issue of executions, notably juvenile executions. Iran should commit to the obligation it has itself undertaken through the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government’s own commitments show that this dialogue on human rights was not imposed on Iran.
He expressed concern about the treatment and harassment of current and former BBC Persian employees, notably the freeze of their assets. Citing inequalities related to child marriage, family law, employment and the hijab, he regretted that the law is used to discriminate against women. Further, there is significant persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, including the Baha’i community, Kurds, and Sunnis. He asked why they are disproportionately represented in the justice system, notably on death row, if it is true that they are treated equally. Echoing the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s concerns, he said Iran must stop arbitrarily detaining persons, including foreign nationals.
Regarding sanctions, he took note of the political environment in which the they operate. A review of their impact on social and economic rights and their relation to the protests is ongoing. Reiterating that a visit to Iran would be welcome, he urged the Government to consider his request in a constructive spirit.
SHEILA B. KEETHARUTH, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said the country’s recent election to the Human Rights Council for the 2019-2021 term comes with weighty responsibilities. Yet, Eritrea’s overall legal and institutional context remains unchanged. There are persisting patterns of human rights violations, including incommunicado and arbitrary detentions, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and breaches to freedom of expression and religion. Mass arrests are carried out to instil fear, prisoners are not allowed to exercise their rights to due process, and detained persons, including children, are kept incommunicado. While some family members were able to discover their loved ones’ whereabouts, they are not formally notified of arrests and detentions.
She drew attention to the plight of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia and Libya, which requires a global response. Open borders have allowed trade between the two countries, but policies limit the amount of money Eritreans can withdraw from bank accounts and negatively impact small traders. Exit visas are still required to travel abroad, restricting freedom of movement. Further, the Government pursues a land policy that legitimizes forcible displacement and dispossession of indigenous populations and minorities, leading to arbitrary and uncompensated evictions. To uphold responsibilities associated with its election to the Human Rights Council, Eritrea should respect, protect and fulfil all universal human rights contained in treaties to which it is party, and cooperate with all related mechanisms. It should also extend a standing invitation to Special Procedure Mandate Holders to visit, and protect the survivors of human rights violations — as well as witnesses and civil society — from intimidation and reprisal.
Mr. SAID (Eritrea) said the promotion of human right for all remains a challenging task for every nation. International partnership on human rights is best served by dialogue rather than double standards, politicization and stigmatization. Thanks to the dawn of peace in the Horn of Africa, resources that were previously allocated to security will be used to accelerate socio-economic progress, consolidate the rule of law and strengthen national institutions. Leaders in the region are redoubling their efforts to make up for the lost opportunities.
He said the negative impact of sanctions on the full enjoyment of human rights cannot be underestimated. Those measures also harm regional cooperation and integration. The international community and the Security Council must work to end to these unjustified sanctions, he stressed, calling the Universal Periodic Review the best tool to address human rights in a constructive manner.
The representative of Comoros, speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed opposition to the politicization of human rights issues. She welcomed Eritrea’s initiatives regarding its citizens’ rights, also noting its participation in the Universal Periodic Review. The international community should recognize developments and support the Government.
The representative of the European Union expressed concern about the human rights situation in Eritrea. Serious improvements are needed for the Government to comply with its commitments under international human rights law. He called on Eritrea to grant the Special Rapporteur access to the country and strengthen its cooperation with OHCHR.
The representative of the United States asked if the Special Rapporteur has seen any evidence that Eritrea’s moves towards reconciliation with its neighbour has made it more willing to address its human rights issues.
The representative of Burundi commended Eritrea for its cooperation with the United Nations, noting that the peace accord has bolstered security and peace in eastern Africa. The international community must acknowledge steps taken, moving towards a balanced assessment of human rights and away from politicization.
The representative of the United Kingdom said he looks forward to Eritrea’s Universal Periodic Review in 2019. He asked how Eritrea can best use its membership on the Human Rights Council to reform its human rights processes.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the examination of issues in Eritrea is politicized. The human rights situation in individual countries should be examined in a constructive manner in cooperation with the concerned country. The Universal Periodic Review is the best avenue to that end.
The representative of China said the international community must acknowledge the progress Eritrea achieved. The cause of human rights should be advanced in light of the country’s needs and will.
The representative of Iran said the Universal Periodic Review is the best mechanism to examine human rights issues, with the participation of Governments.
The representative of Switzerland expressed regret that the Special Rapporteur has yet to gain access to the country, asking about the opportunities and priorities for strengthening human rights following the promising development in the Horn of Africa.
The representative of Ethiopia said the situation should be viewed in the context of the recent peace accord. She encouraged Eritrea to take measures to further protect and promote human rights and fulfil its international commitments. She expressed hope that the international community will recognize Eritrea’s achievements and support the Government.
Also speaking were the representatives of Germany, Greece, Czechia and Cuba.
Ms. KEETHARUTH replied that the peace agreement offers the potential for change, which is in the country’s best interests. The situation of “no war, no peace” should not be used as a pretext for violating human rights. The violations are recent and have the same patterns. They must be addressed. The first priority should be to open prison doors, allow people to go outside and inform families about where their loved ones are. She stressed the importance of accounting for all prisoners, and further, implementing the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (“Nelson Mandela rules”). She recalled that the male members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been in jail since 1994 are now middle-aged and have no idea what the Internet is.
On access to territories, she said this is a moment of opening, referring to Eritrea’s membership on the Human Rights Council. “Me not having access did not mean an impediment to my work”, she stated, underlining her ability to work in a consistent manner. She stressed the importance of looking at human rights in a non-selective manner, pointing out that this is a real issue which must be addressed. On the Universal Periodical Review, she said that despite contrary indications, a midterm report was not produced and she was unable to bring further information to the Committee. The issue of national service is the second priority: There are no indications about when that situation will change, she said, noting that service should have been no longer than 18 months. More than 9,000 Eritreans cross the border every month, she added.
Acknowledging signs of optimism, she expressed concern over the lack of policy change three months in, as she had not heard about clear plans to reduce national service. On property rights, she said people continue to be evicted from the port of Assab area on the Red Sea without compensation. She stressed the need for real actions and targets.
MIKLOS HARASZTI, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus, said most of the reasons prompting the establishment of his mandate six years ago remain valid, with some worsening, including a deeply entrenched system‑wide oppression of human rights and the “sad fate” of the freedom of expression. Two major developments testified to the narrowing of free speech. First, amendments to the law on mass media end the anonymity of online media publications, forcing them to register and closing down the last public space for free speech. Second, a crackdown on media freedom led to the arrest of at least 16 independent journalists on the pretext they used each other’s password to access a State-run news service. Freedom of peaceful assembly is restricted, and when authorization is given at all, protests face conditions that render them useless. Nobody can hold a peaceful gathering, or even a one-person picket. Just last week, police detained 14 people peacefully protesting the construction of a battery factory in Brest, with some given prison sentences.
Noting that Belarus is the only country in Europe and in the former Soviet Union to both deny the right to life and frequently apply the death penalty, he said it also disregards interim measures ordered by the Human Rights Committee meant to restore due process in death penalty cases. One political movement has been registered in the last six years — “Tell the Truth” — however it is not allowed to field any candidates. No new parties have been acknowledged in a decade. The oppressive legal system is backed up through cyclically recurring violent mass crackdowns, “as if reminding the new generations of the status quo”. While authorities have put forward a list of 100 activities labelled human rights action plans, none pertains to “real trouble”; nor are they followed. Legislation to combat domestic violence, prepared by one of two opposition members in Parliament, was swept away by the President who called it “nonsense from the West” and used the occasion to stress that “a good beating with a belt is sometimes useful for a child”. He pressed the Committee to remind Belarus that lasting stability never comes with repression of human rights.
Ms. VASILEVSKAYA (Belarus) expressed regret that even today — United Nations Day — the principles of solidarity, dialogue and mutual respect are violated. Calling today’s meeting a “farce”, she emphasized that the situation her country does not require a Special Rapporteur, which negates its purpose, and raised doubts about its continued existence. “What could be monitored in this country when the doors are open?” she asked, calling for an end to this confrontational approach. “Using human rights for political manipulation is disgraceful”, she stated, adding that “this discussion has no bearing on Belarus.”
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the European Union called on Belarus to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. Noting the entrenched denial of human rights related to freedom of expression, he characterized reforms as cosmetic. He called for continued monitoring during upcoming elections, asking more broadly about positive steps and the best ways to influence democratic reform.
The representative of Czechia said the freedom of expression is systematically curtailed. Describing arbitrary media restrictions and harassment of journalists and publishers, she asked about impacts of such measures on independent media in Belarus.
The representative of Germany described the findings as clear and worrisome, recalling that Human Rights Council scrutiny is a good tool to deter rights violations. As questions about a visit to Belarus remained unanswered, she wondered to what extent the lack of in situ visits influenced his work.
The representative of Syria underscored support for his counterpart from Belarus, expressing regret that this serves the political agenda of certain country.
The representative of Lithuania expressed regret that Belarus remains reluctant to engage or cooperate and deplored restrictions on the freedom of assembly and expression, as well as retaliation against social and political activists. She asked how the international community can encourage Belarus to allow a public debate with human rights defenders and environmentalists.
The representative of Poland expressed disappointment that the human rights situation remains unchanged, citing non-cooperation and problematic amendments to the mass media law. Calling on Belarus to review all legislation and bring it into compliance, he asked for guidance on how the international community can support human rights defenders and about the biggest challenges for religious minorities.
The representative of the United Kingdom expressed concerns about the consequences for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community after flying the rainbow flag. He asked about the priorities for the Special Rapporteur’s successor.
The representative of Norway, noting that Belarus is the only European country to use capital punishment, called for an immediate moratorium. She asked about efforts to facilitate access to the country.
The representative of the United States voiced regret over the lack of electoral reforms and deplored restrictions on the freedom of expression, on civil society and on the registration of human rights organizations.
Mr. HARASZTI replied the international community and United Nations human rights mechanisms should make it clear that cooperation is the only way and urged them not to yield to the “forces of non-cooperation”. True stability and real progress are only possible through compliance with the international obligations Belarus undertook.
In situ visits would demonstrate the Government’s openness and readiness to cooperate. Further, they would facilitate cooperation between human rights players inside the country — something his mandate allows him to do. Such an intervention would help thaw the situation and thus defuse the “civil war” the Government has waged against its own civil society.
Regarding the death penalty, it is irrational that the President continues to refer to a referendum that was deemed rigged by relevant international bodies, he said. Safeguarding environmental groups’ liberties is crucial. Belarus, as “the country of Chernobyl”, understands that safety and progress go hand in hand.
Echoing concerns about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, he stressed that, rather than consider human rights as granted to citizens, Belarus must acknowledge that rights cannot be taken away. The Government should therefore abolish legal provisions that allow for the punishment of so-called forbidden activities through administrative law and abandon arbitrary and politicized content-control practices.
BAHAME TOM MUKIRYA NYANDUGA, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia, said the Federal Government is working to consolidate the national security framework, which is key to the country’s stability, notwithstanding the political challenges between the two levels of Government. Recently, leaders of Federal member states suspended cooperation with the Federal Government in September, a matter of concern which requires resolution. Somalia’s economy meanwhile continues to record gains, a national development plan and budget have been adopted, and a National Economic Council established — all indicating improvement. Domestic revenue and financial management are improving.
In addition, he said recent elections marked a major achievement, especially as the number of women in Parliament increased from 14 per cent to 24 per cent, and two women were appointed to key positions. Yet, women’s rights continue to suffer, as sexual violence is prevalent, committed by youth, armed men and those in uniformed services. The absence of a proper justice system means cases go unpunished. Female genital mutilation persists, despite advocacy by the Government, with girls between the ages of 5 and 11 reportedly subjected to the practice and some dying because of it. Children are being recruited by Al-Shabaab as soldiers. He urged the Government to make the National Human Rights Commission operational as soon as possible, citing reports of journalist assassinations and the need for investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.
Mr. DHAKKAR (Somalia) said his country has not been in a good shape over the last 20 years but is nonetheless committed to enhancing the protection of children and enabling a constitutionally and legislatively progressive environment for women. “Women are the backbone of our society,” he said, highlighting the increase of female parliamentarians from 14 per cent to almost historic 25 per cent. One lesson learned from Somalia’s experience is that the international community should seriously concentrate, with sufficient resources, on the prevention, management and resolution of conflict, not only in Somalia but around the globe, he said.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of the European Union urged Somalia to strengthen the rule of law and to end impunity. He asked how the international community can support the country in improving its human rights situation, including in the Federal member states.
The representative of Djibouti said today’s interactive dialogue is an opportunity to strengthen cooperation with the Human Rights Council, and asked for more information about the consequences of premature withdrawal of assistance forces on human rights.
The representative of the United Kingdom, stressing the need to end impunity by strengthening the rule of law, said child soldiers after capture should be treated as victims. He asked how the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) can coordinate with OHCHR and more broadly about ensuring that human rights are incorporated into the traditional human rights system.
The representative of the United States advocated additional actions to stop the unlawful use of child soldiers. On the “one person, one vote” election, he asked how prepared Somalia is to institute this process and about the Special Rapporteur’s role in actions to enable free, fair and transparent elections.
Mr. MUKIRYA NYANDUGA replied that the federal Government has made considerable strides, but challenges remain. The judiciary and the police force are targeted by terrorist groups. Recalling that the military courts have had to assume a lot of power, notably by prosecuting civilians, he stressed the importance of strengthening the infrastructure to ensure security in these sectors. The international community should help Somalia rebuild the justice system at the federal and local levels, which would instil confidence, bolster other institutions and, more broadly, democracy.
While acknowledging the 2016-2017 electoral process was successful, he stressed that the potency of Al-Shabaab should not be underestimated, as it is targeting people who took part in the electoral process. If AMISOM withdraws before Somalia’s capacity is fully restored, new problems might emerge. Further, the existence of a human rights component in AMISOM illustrates the synergy between the Mission and OHCHR.
Steps have been taken to codify traditional norms and record decisions rendered by elders on the basis on customary law, he assured. Much work remains to be done to harmonize the rules and ensure their compliance with human rights standards. Once the permanent Constitution is adopted and the electoral bodies are established, it will be important to implement the electoral model Somalia has chosen. While expressing confidence in Somalia’s determination in that regard, he pointed out potential challenges, notably the availability of resources and the possibility that Al-Shabaab could thwart this endeavour.
DOUDOU DIENE, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, expressed regret over the Government’s opposition to dialogue with the Third Committee and that members of Commission have been declared persona non grata. The Commission has collected some 1,000 testimonies from victims, witnesses or alleged perpetrators of human rights violations. They confirm the persistence of extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and arrests, torture, cruel or degrading treatment, sexual violence and breaches to the freedoms of expression, association, reunion and movement. These acts mainly target people opposing the Government and ruling party, and those who are perceived as such. He expressed concern about population-control practices and violations carried out by Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth league.
Stressing that the State bears responsibility for Imbonerakure’s acts, as it has carried out actions at the behest or under the supervision of State agents, he said arms and military equipment were distributed to some of them, and physical and military training was organized. Recurring incitements to hatred and violence by authorities and generalized impunity have created an atmosphere conducive to human rights violations. But as the judicial system is not independent, its ability to sue perpetrators is doubtful. The International Criminal Court could fill the gap for crimes under international law perpetrated from April 2015 to October 2017. The social and economic rights of large swathes of the population have been impacted by this detrimental context, causing Burundi’s status to recede, from developing country to humanitarian emergency. The Government only aggravated economic difficulties by increasing sales taxes and creating new income taxes which were levied without any legal basis and often forcefully.
Mr. SHINGIRO (Burundi) rejected the report as biased and intended to destabilize his country. It is shameful that its authors did not respect ethical principles. Calling it “a mishmash of lies” seeking to control Burundi’s affairs by using human rights as a means to an end, he expressed the wish to take its authors to court for engaging in liability. He rejected their political interference. Moreover, refugee witness statements have no credibility. “We defy anyone to find anything that is not twisted”, he asserted, describing such claims as slander.
The report systematically incriminates the Government of Burundi, while the witness statements collected do not allow for a right of reply. On the allegation of impunity, he said Burundi has taken perpetrators to court and that delegates have the right to understand that what happens in his country is the fruit of relentless interference.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of the European Union said the Commission of Inquiry is the only instrument to follow-up on the human rights situation in Burundi. Citing executions, torture, sexual violations and a climate of impunity, he asked about the prospects for combating impunity.
The representative of Pakistan noted that Burundi’s cooperation with human rights treaty bodies shows its commitment, stressing the need to collectively address human rights issues. She noted that national sovereignty and non‑interference must be duly respected.
The representative of Venezuela, noting that social and cultural specificities of countries should be taken into account, called for greater consistency and complementarity between the Third Committee and the Human Rights Council, calling the Universal Periodic Review the main instrument for cooperation.
The representative of Comoros took issue with the artificial polarization, which divides the world into good and bad. “No country is in the position to give advice to others,” he said.
The representative of China noted that Burundi had made efforts related to reconciliation, adding that it should choose its own development path, while the international community should respect States’ independence and sovereignty.
The representative of Italy expressed full support for the mandate as an independent and impartial mechanism. Recalling that it is Burundi’s primary responsibility to protect the human rights of its population, he voiced regret that it will not attend the fifth interregional dialogue.
The representative of Slovenia, noting the absence of an independent mechanism to investigate human rights, asked about the well-being of children and about measures to be taken to improve their situation.
The representative of Morocco said the Council should carry out activities in a non-selective and impartial manner, expressing regret that the Human Rights Council opted for confrontation rather than dialogue with Burundi.
The representative of the Netherlands, noting that Burundi has recently re‑engaged with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, underlined that this has yet to translate into action. He asked how the Commission of Inquiry will build on this re-engagement.
The representative of Germany deplored that Commission members have been made persona non grata, asking how the international community can effectively support human rights defenders and civil society.
The representative of the United States asked about any changes since the referendum regarding the increase in human rights violations.
The representative of Myanmar said there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for human rights, adding that Burundi itself should improve its national situation.
The representative of France, rejecting Burundi’s decision to abstain from cooperation, as well as all forms of intimidation against members of the Commission, said that the fifth Arusha regional summit should address the deadlock and asked how regional organizations can foster lasting solutions in Burundi.
The representative of Norway said the build-up of parallel power structures undermines the rule of law. Non-governmental organizations should be able to resume their important work, as suspension of their activities could further deteriorate the human rights situation.
The representative of the Russian Federation condemned the attacks on civil infrastructure by extremists. The referendum on amending the electoral system is an internal issue. On Burundi’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, he noted that countries can independently define their national priorities. Using human rights rhetoric to fuel the situation in Burundi is useless and unilateral sanctions are ineffective.
The representative of Cuba expressed support for dialogue to promote and protect human rights in all countries and urged the Commission to find other ways to foster dialogue.
Also speaking were representatives of Belgium, United Kingdom, Spain, India, Luxemburg, Belarus, Czechia, Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Mr. DIENE, responding to questions and comments, drew the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee’s attention to declarations made by the representative of Burundi, notably his ad hominem attacks. The representative of Burundi alleged that members of the Inquiry Commission are subject to political pressure and that there would be prosecution against them. It is important for the Committee to take note of the fact that Burundi’s delegate thinks the report is “defamatory” and “will not go unpunished”. The Committee should ask Burundi what kind of punishment it has in mind, he said. The representative of Burundi also said the Chair of the Commission is an African who is selling out Africans. “What does Burundi believe the principle of universality to be?”, he asked, underscoring that such statements point to the very serious situation in the country.
He recalled that the Commission’s 250-page report is detailed and fact‑based. Burundi should indicate the points of fact that it considers not to be in line with reality. He urged the international community to be watchful of the situation in Burundi and reiterated that the Commission is determined to deliver on its mandate fully and impartially.
He stressed Burundi must take three important steps: reduce human rights violations or end them altogether; address impunity; and cooperate with all regional and international mechanisms put in place to address those violations in Burundi. The Government cannot criticize a report for not being objective while preventing the Commission from accessing the country. Assuring that everything in the report is carefully weighted, he drew attention to the plight of Burundian refugees.
The representative of Burundi replied that if you see an African leader applauded by non-Africans, it means someone has betrayed his brothers and sisters.
The Third Committee Secretary read out a statement by the former Chair of the Commission of Inquiry emphasizing that he did not resign due to political pressure but rather refused that his mandate by extended by one year for strictly personal reasons.
For information media. Not an official record.