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Human Rights Council holds separate interactive dialogues on situations in the Palestinian occupied territory and in Eritrea

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The Human Rights Council this afternoon held separate interactive dialogues on the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on ensuring accountability for all violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territory, and on the oral update of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

Presenting the High Commissioner’s report, Ilze Brands Kehris, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said that between November 2018 and 31 October 2019, 131 Palestinians, including 23 children, had been killed by Israeli security forces, whereas 11 Israelis had been killed by Palestinians. Impunity prevailed with regard to the unlawful use of force by the Israeli security forces, confirming a worrying trend. Human rights violations had further fuelled the cycle of violence, Ms. Brands Kehris noted.

Israel was not present to take the floor as the concerned country.

State of Palestine, speaking as the concerned country, noted that Israel’s actions went against the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, which stated that all crimes committed against Palestinians could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. It therefore called on signatories of the Geneva Convention to invoke articles 146, 147 and 148 and apply relevant sanctions.

In the interactive dialogue that followed, speakers voiced alarm over the findings of the Commission of Inquiry. While they said that Israel had the right to self-defence, they condemned its excessive use of force and disproportionate attacks on civilian protesters in Gaza. Speakers welcomed the long-awaited publication of the database of business enterprises active in Israeli settlements. They noted that tackling impunity had to be the highest priority because it was precisely the lack of accountability that undermined chances for sustainable peace and security. Some rejected the so-called “Deal of the Century” as another attempt to violate the Palestinian people’s human rights, including the right to self-determination, noting that the only viable solution to the conflict was the two-State solution.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, European Union, Qatar on behalf of the Arab Group, Bangladesh, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Slovenia, South Africa, Pakistan, Luxembourg, Namibia, Cuba, Malaysia, Jordan, Kuwait, Tunisia, Morocco, Ireland, Egypt, Russian Federation, Syria, Iran, Spain, Mozambique, Turkey, Venezuela, Algeria, Indonesia, Lebanon, China, Libya, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Somalia, France, Albania, and Oman.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Institute for NGO Research, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Palestinian Return Centre Ltd., United Nations Watch, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Al-Haq Law in the Service of Man, and Mauritanian Association for the Promotion of Human Rights.

Daniela Kravetz, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, presenting her oral update, said that she had continued to monitor the progress made in relation to five benchmarks: progress in the rule of law, reforms of the national service, progress in promoting civil liberties, progress in promoting women’s rights and gender equality, and improvement in the operating environment for international agencies in Eritrea. However, she had not seen any concrete evidence of progress in any of those areas, and she regretted that her various requests to meet with Eritrean officials had gone unanswered.

Speaking as the concerned country, Eritrea indicated that there was no quick fix to its problems, but that it was building national capacity to increase macroeconomic growth. The oral update did not acknowledge those efforts. Instead, it recycled the fabrications of previous mandates and underestimated the challenges to strengthen peace in the country.

During the discussion, speakers said that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was pivotal for improving the human rights situation in Eritrea. They expressed concern about a series of violations of human rights, such as the indefinite national service, allegations of torture, sexual violence and enforced disappearances, as well as severe restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion and assembly. Eritrea’s decision to unilaterally close its borders with Ethiopia was worrying and speakers called on it to respect the peace agreement. At the same time, speakers welcomed some positive developments, such as the acceptance by Eritrea of Universal Periodic Review recommendations, as well as its Partnership Framework with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were European Union, Holy See, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Djibouti, Liechtenstein, France, Cuba, Switzerland, Sudan, Denmark, Greece, Russian Federation, Venezuela, China, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: International Fellowship of Reconciliation, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

The meetings of the forty-third regular session of the Human Rights Council can be followed on the webcast of UN Web TV.

The Council will next meet at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 27 February 2020, to hear the oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and hold an interactive dialogue on Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar in the morning. In the afternoon, it will hold a general debate on the High Commissioner’s oral update.

Interactive Dialogue on the Report on Ensuring Accountability and Justice for All Violations of International Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Including East Jerusalem

Report

The Council has before it Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem - Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/43/21).

Opening Remarks

ELISABETH TICHY-FISSLBERGER, President of the Human Rights Council, noted that a report would be introduced on ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, pursuant to resolution S-28/1 of the Human Rights Council.

Presentation of Report

ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, introducing the report, said it was an update on matters related to accountability for alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including in the context of large-scale civilian protests. The report took into account recommendations of the independent Commission of Inquiry established by the Council. Between November 2018 and 31 October 2019, 131 Palestinians, including 23 children, were killed by Israeli security forces, and 11 Israelis were killed by Palestinians.

During demonstrations known as the Great March of Return at the Israel-Gaza fence, which continued to take place almost every Friday, 39 Palestinians, including 12 children, were killed and 2,078 Palestinians, including 577 children, were injured with live ammunition; 110 paramedics and 62 journalists were also injured. In the West Bank, during the reporting period, 35 Palestinians were killed, including six children. As for the escalation of hostilities in Gaza in 2014, the lack of accountability had persisted. Impunity prevailed with regard to accountability for the unlawful use of force by Israeli security forces, outside the context of hostilities, confirming a worrying trend highlighted by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner. Such human rights violations further fuelled the cycle of violence.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Israel was not present in the room to take the floor as the concerned country.

State of Palestine, speaking as the concerned country, said the report outlined Israel’s actions in recent months that had led to the killing of 121 Palestinians, including five women and 21 children. In addition, many thousands of people were injured, including health workers and journalists. Last week more killings along the contested border were carried out by the Israeli army, with dehumanizing actions such as collecting the corpses of those killed with bulldozers. Israel’s actions went against the recommendations of the Committee’s report on the conflict, which stated that all crimes committed against Palestinians could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. The 13-year blockade of Gaza went against article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. As the international community had not fulfilled its obligations to uphold human rights, Palestine would continue to call on the international community to urge Israel to respect the rights of the Palestinian people. State of Palestine noted that speakers over the previous two days had all called on Israel to respect Palestinian rights, however, no concrete measures were being taken. He called on signatories to the Geneva Convention to uphold the requirements of articles 146, 147 and 148 of that Convention, which called for sanctions to be brought where serious violations of the Convention had occurred.

Discussion

Speakers were alarmed by the findings of the Commission of Inquiry, as they shed light on the gravity of the situation. Israel had a right to self-defense but excessive use of force and disproportionate attacks on civilian protesters in Gaza were condemned. The use of unjustified lethal force had resulted in 2,078 Palestinians being injured with live ammunition, including 577 children, while 131 Palestinians were killed during the reporting period by the Israeli security forces. Medical staff and journalists covering the protests were also injured. This constituted a great breach of international humanitarian and international human rights law. The use of incendiary devices during demonstrations was also condemned. The Israeli occupation of Jerusalem was seen as another flagrant violation of international law.

Speakers welcomed the long-awaited publication of the report on the database on business enterprises involved in Israeli settlements. The lack of accountability and the persistence of impunity was deplorable. The complete impunity of Israel was considered a dangerous reality and it further proved that agenda item 7 had to stay on the Council’s agenda. Tackling impunity had to be the highest priority as it was precisely the lack of accountability that compromised chances for sustainable peace and security. The “Deal of the Century” was rejected as it was seen as another attempt to violate the Palestinian people’s human rights, including the right to self-determination. Some delegations inquired about what could be done to advance the protection of human rights of Palestinians in the current context.

Delegations further agreed that the report contained important recommendations on how to ensure the rights of Palestinians during the worsening situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. Delegations echoed that prompt investigations were needed for all violations in the occupied Palestinian territory and victims had to have access to justice. All parties were called upon to protect children during the conflict. Israel was called upon to cease the use of live ammunition against Palestinian protesters and to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms and United Nations bodies. Israel was also called upon to end the 12-year long blockade of Gaza, as it was one of the factors that had triggered the Great March of Return demonstrations and was seen as a policy of collective punishment.

Delegations said the Council had an ethical responsibility towards the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination and was thus urged to take actions to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions and relevant resolutions of the Security Council, General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. The international community was called upon to help bring lasting peace to the region, including by implementing recommendations that the High Commissioner made in the report. States affirmed that the only viable solution to the conflict was through a two-State solution and the creation of an independent State of Palestine, based on pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. The international community also had to allow Palestinians to return to their land. The Security Council should facilitate the peace process and any agreement had to take into account the views of both sides.

Concluding Remarks

ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, noted that in upholding human rights, systems needed to be put in place to monitor human rights, and seek redress where they were breached. This included ensuring redress for victims, and full reparations where appropriate. She called on all parties to take these measures step by step. With regard to the situation of healthcare in Gaza, she shared the concerns set out by speakers regarding the access to adequate healthcare both within Gaza, and access to health facilities outside Gaza where needed. She noted that the first year of the Great March for Return saw many deaths from live ammunition, in breach of international rules. She also noted that as of January 2020, 40 per cent of the medicines on the essential list were completely out of stock. Israeli authorities only allowed a 69 per cent approval rate for Palestinians to travel outside the territory to access healthcare. At the same time, the policy by the Palestinian authorities to prevent referrals to Israeli hospitals was also harmful to Palestinians.

Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea

Report

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea (A/HRC/41/53).

Presentation of Oral Update

DANIELA KRAVETZ, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, presented her oral update to the Council, explaining that since her previous update in July 2019, she had continued to monitor the progress made in relation to five benchmarks: progress in the rule of law, reforms of the national service, progress in promoting civil liberties, progress in promoting women’s rights and gender equality, and improvement in the operating environment for international agencies in Eritrea. The Special Rapporteur noted that she had not seen any concrete evidence of progress in any of those areas. Since her previous update, the arrests of Christians who worshiped without the Government’s approval had continued. More than 80 Pentecostal Christians had been arrested, the majority of them in Asmara. The Muslim community had also been targeted recently. Church-based organizations had also experienced restrictions. In September 2019, the authorities had closed and confiscated three secondary schools run by the Catholic Church and five schools run by Protestant and Muslim congregations.

As for the national service, the Eritrean authorities had indicated that they would introduce reforms when the economic conditions allowed for the creation of jobs for conscripts. However, there were immediate measures that the authorities could take that did not depend on economic reforms, such as stopping the ongoing round-ups of youth for forced conscriptions, separating secondary education from military training, and putting in place mechanisms to monitor and prevent abuses against conscripts, particularly female ones. Turning to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, the Special Rapporteur noted that their release would be a positive step towards building trust in the international community regarding Eritrea’s commitment to human rights. Finally, there had been no cooperation by the Eritrean authorities with the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. Since March 2019, her various requests to meet with Eritrean officials had gone unanswered. In addition, the Government had not responded to the offer of technical assistance by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Eritrea, speaking as the concerned country, indicated that after two decades of conflict, benefits were being seen from the signing of the peace agreement in the Horn of Africa region. Eritrea was at peace with Ethiopia and other neighbours. Nonetheless, there was no quick fix to Eritrea’s problems, as a result of the long conflict. To address these, Eritrea was building national capacity, with the aim of increasing macroeconomic growth and building the foundation for all-round development in coming years. To this end, the transitional measures implemented in 2019 were continuing in 2020. Eritrea recently held two rounds of political dialogue with the European Union, including on human rights. Despite this work, the oral update of the Rapporteur did not acknowledge these efforts, and she only recycled the fabrications of previous mandates and underestimated the challenges to strengthen peace in the country. Eritrea did not deserve to be on the agenda of the Human Rights Council.

Discussion

Speakers considered that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was pivotal in efforts to improve the human rights situation in Eritrea. They were concerned about the dire human rights situation and the violations of human rights, and expressed support to the Special Rapporteur. The indefinite national service and allegations of torture, sexual violence and enforced disappearances were alarming. There were severe restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly. Civic space continued to shrink, which also limited access to food and water of Eritrean people. Ongoing reports of forced labour were concerning. Speakers expressed concern about the seizure of the health care and educational centres of the Catholic Church. The decision of Eritrea to unilaterally close its borders with Ethiopia was concerning and Eritrea was called upon to respect the peace agreement.

Delegations also noted some positive developments, such as socio-economic measures and efforts to reduce poverty. The Eritrean Government’s acceptance of 131 Universal Periodic Review recommendations was welcomed. Eritrea’s Partnership Framework with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime was noted. The Government was commended for its report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the measures it had carried out to improve gender equality. Some delegations warned about the politicization of the Council’s view when it came to individual country assessments and suggested that Eritrea would benefit more from technical assistance, instead of external influence being imposed.

As a member of the Council, speakers urged Eritrea to uphold the highest standards for the promotion and protection of human rights. Eritrea was invited to fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur as well as with thematic Special Procedure mandate holders and the United Nations human rights mechanisms by granting them full and unhindered access to the country. Speakers urged the authorities to adopt the proposed benchmarks for progress. The fact that the Council’s resolution 41/2 was adopted under agenda item 2 meant that a hand was being extended to the Eritrean authorities. The Eritrean authorities were further encouraged to continue to strengthen ties with neighbouring States. It was recognized that the Government had a difficult path to overcome. Nonetheless, the Government was urged to guarantee land and property rights and improve its law enforcement and judicial system, as well as to uphold freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Speakers said arbitrarily detained persons, including journalists, should be released. The Government was also encouraged to work with the European Union to reform the National Service.

Concluding Remarks

DANIELA KRAVETZ, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights situation in Eritrea, in concluding remarks, said her report showed that religious freedoms were of concern in Eritrea. The arrest of Christians from non-recognized groups had increased. Christians in prison had been subjected to torture and inhumane conditions. Church-based groups had not been allowed to provide healthcare. Of particular concern was the plight of 53 Jehovah’s Witnesses in detention, including three who had been detained for more than 25 years. The Special Rapporteur said her requests for official meetings on this matter, and to provide support for implementing the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review, had so far been ignored by the Eritrean Government. She agreed with the head of the Eritrean delegation that there was no quick fix. One of the challenges of Eritrea was the lack of data for programming, be it in health, education or basic services for the population, and this should be addressed.