Third Committee Experts Warn against Flouting International Norms, as Delegates Consider Human Rights in Iran, Somalia, Palestinian Territories
23 OCTOBER 2019
GENERAL ASSEMBLY THIRD COMMITTEE
SEVENTY-FOURTH SESSION, 31ST & 32ND MEETINGS (AM & PM)
Burundi’s Representative Calls Commission Report Biased, Politically Motivated
Special Rapporteurs presenting country‑specific reports warned of Governments wilfully flouting international norms on such issues as the detention of children and the holding of credible elections, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its interactive dialogues on human rights today.
One of five mandate holders to present their findings, Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, focused on the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. “This would properly be labelled a tragedy if I was reporting to you about a natural catastrophe and the ensuing scale of human suffering,” he said. However, this is a human‑made disaster. Israel’s now 12‑year blockade of Gaza is expressly prohibited under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The will of the international community does not seem strong enough to compel Israel into compliance, he said. “No country is as dependent on the support of the international community as Israel, yet Israel allows itself to defy the world as few dare.” To ensure accountability, he advocated a complete ban on exports from illegal Israeli settlements, coupled with flight bans, refusing arms transfers and using universal jurisdiction to bring violators of international law to justice.
During the interactive dialogue, the observer for the State of Palestine said Israel is fully aware of the suffering it inflicts on Palestinians, but is unwilling to change. Several delegates called for respecting the two‑State solution, with an observer for the European Union cautioning that multilateral cooperation is the only way to find a sustainable solution. Norway’s representative was among those pressing Israel to grant access to the Special Rapporteur, so he can fulfil his mandate, while Ireland’s representative cited Israel’s administrative detention of children.
Similarly, Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, highlighted abuses of children’s rights, raising the alarm over the execution of child offenders, which contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2019, two 17‑year‑olds have been executed by Iran thus far. Use of the death penalty in general should be condemned, he said, noting that the number of executions in Iran are among the highest in the world, despite dropping from 507 in 2017 to 253 in 2018. In addition, ethnic and religious minorities are disproportionately executed on national security‑related charges.
Responding, Iran’s representative dismissed the report as having nothing to do with human rights in his country. Rather, it reflected the policy of the United States in the region. Massive fortunes are being funnelled to manufacture non‑existent ethnic conflicts inside Iran. The tragedy lies in the complacency of United Nations mechanisms taking part in such a scheme and their potential submission to coercion.
Doudou Diene, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, painted a grim picture of human rights violations, noting their almost certain deleterious effect on upcoming election preparations. He warned that activities of opposition parties have been curtailed, while national and foreign non‑governmental groups are subject to extreme scrutiny. Not only that, independent media sources have had their licenses revoked or suspended for “unbalanced” reporting.
In response, Burundi’s delegate rejected the report, calling it ill‑intentioned and biased, and scolding its authors for using a “cut‑and‑paste” version of the 2015 report. The findings are politically motivated, she said, citing the Commission’s failure to collect information from refugees, and rejecting arguments about a lack of access as “untrue”.
In the afternoon, Bahame Tom M. Nyanduga, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, raised concerns that preparations for the conduct of elections in 2020 and 2021 are being hindered by delays in the adoption of necessary legal frameworks. In addition, the draft constitution does not guarantee that women and other marginalized groups would have proper representation.
Also today, the Committee continued its general debate on human rights questions, with delegates broadly outlining the ways their countries ensure that fundamental freedoms are upheld. Morocco’s representative highlighted that her country has received 11 representatives under the special procedures mandate, while Kuwait’s delegate said her country’s Constitution and legislation keep pace with international instruments. Ukraine’s delegate pointed out that his Government, along with others, initiated a resolution in the Human Rights Council requesting the High Commissioner for Human Rights to study the contributions of the Special Procedures to deterring rights abuses.
Also briefing the Committee today was Christine Schraner Burgener, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Myanmar.
Also speaking in the general debate were representatives of El Salvador, Angola, Thailand, Venezuela, Jamaica, Haiti and Serbia.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on 24 October to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of human rights.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights today (for background, see Press Release GA/SHC/4266).
Interactive Dialogues — Palestinian Territories
MICHAEL LYNK, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said Israel has continued its unwavering stance of non‑cooperation with his mandate, refusing to grant entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel. Recalling that cooperation is a fundamental obligation of United Nations membership, he said nothing can substitute for the ability to visit, meet with people and organizations, collect evidence and see the state of human rights. His report focuses on the severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza. “This would properly be labelled a tragedy if I was reporting to you about a natural catastrophe and the ensuing scale of human suffering. But I am not. I am instead speaking to you about a human‑made catastrophe — the 12‑year‑old Israeli air, sea and land blockade of Gaza,” he said, calling it a form of collective punishment, which is expressly prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. “The economic situation in Gaza continues to move from dire to acute to unimaginable,” following three wars over the past decade and serious cuts in humanitarian aid. Today, over half of Gaza’s population is food insecure. The unemployment rate is more than 50 per cent, with 70 per cent of Gazans under 30 years old without work. “The health care system is collapsing, the available water is largely undrinkable and access to electrical power is intermitted and unreliable.”
Drawing attention to the ongoing deaths and maiming of Palestinian demonstrators by live Israeli fire at the Gaza frontier, he said that since March 2018, more than 200 Palestinians — largely unarmed — have been killed by sniper fire, and more than 33,000 wounded. The Independent Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory found that virtually all the demonstrators killed by Israeli soldiers were shot in violation of their right to life, and in breach of the principle of distinction under international humanitarian law. Yet, Israel has demonstrated no accountability to address these actions, despite calls by the international community, by the 2019 Commission of Inquiry and by civil society. Describing the 53‑year‑old occupation as the longest belligerent occupation in the modern world, he said the international community has demonstrated “great unwillingness” to impose any meaningful accountability on Israel for its permanent occupation and its serious violations of international law.
He said Israel has rightly assessed that the international community — particularly Western industrial nations — lacks the political will to compel an end to its impunity. “No country is as dependent on the support of the international community as Israel, yet Israel allows itself to defy the world as few dare.” Recalling that Security Council resolution 446 (1979) demanded an end to Israel’s settlement enterprise, he said that, at that time, there were 80,000 Israeli settlers. Today, 40 years later, there are 650,000 settlers — an increase of more than 800 per cent over four decades. Reciting international law on accountability, and pointing to reports commissioned by the Human Rights Council over the last decade, he underscored the need to ensure Israel’s accountability through targeted countermeasures until compliance is achieved. There are two steps that the international community can apply in earnest, which have the potential to bring hope: a complete ban on the export of all products made in illegal Israeli settlements to the world market; and issuance of a clarion call to the United Nations to complete the database on businesses engaged in activities related to the illegal Israeli settlements.
In the ensuing debate, the observer for the State of Palestine called on Member States to bring an end to the occupation of Palestine. The report shows violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law — marked by home demolitions in the occupied West Bank and ongoing use of detention, including of children — and calls for ending Israel’s illegal occupation. No such intrusion has been conducted by an occupier so well informed about the scale of suffering and yet so unwilling to act upon overwhelming evidence of the need to end this injustice. There is an acute lack of accountability for five decades of Israel’s occupation. The Special Rapporteur made a direct recommendation to the international community, in line with article 1 of the Geneva Convention, to take all necessary measures to end the occupation. Condemning Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, she asked him to elaborate on sanctions that can be taken against Israel.
Numerous representatives decried that Israel’s occupation has persisted for decades, drastically eroding living conditions for Palestinians and squandering the chances for peace. The representative of Venezuela, on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that since 1967, Palestinians have suffered tremendously and their human rights have been violated. He urged the international community to put an end to Israel’s military occupation and worsening humanitarian crisis in the area.
Many called for respecting the two‑State solution, with the observer for the European Union stressing that Israel’s policy threatens the two‑State formula and that sustainable solutions can only be found through multilateral cooperation. The representative of Maldives likewise called for upholding the two‑State solution, with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian State, and urged Israel to grant access to the Special Rapporteur.
The representative of Malaysia asked about Member States’ assistance in ensuring accountability and reparations for violations committed by Israel. The representative of Iran stressed that “Palestine is a place in which a nation is left behind.” The representative of Ireland expressed concern over the demolition of the Palestinian communities, serious international humanitarian law violations, and use of administrative detention, including for children, calling on Israel to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. The representative of the Russian Federation opposed Israel’s unilateral settlement activities and blockade which obstructs peace in the Middle East and has caused an outbreak of terrorism.
The representative of Norway said worsening conditions in the West Bank, violence by security forces, use of administrative detention and denial of access to natural resources cannot be allowed to occur with impunity; Israel must respect international humanitarian law. Pointing to abuses in Hamas‑controlled Gaza, she urged Israel to grant access to the Special Rapporteur. The representative of Syria said the main cause of the Israeli‑Palestine conflict is Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. The representative of Saudi Arabia pressed Israel to abide by international law and respect the rights of Palestinians. He urged the international community to address the causes of the prolonged conflict.
Mr. LYNK replied that the essential message from his report and dialogue with civil society is that the occupation will only end with decisive action by the international community. The report draws from a number of practices, including commentary by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions. Regarding the possibility of adopting lawful countermeasures against Israel, he mentioned flight bans, refusing arms transfers, referring the matter to the International Criminal Court and using universal jurisdiction to bring violators of international law — if they happen to be on the soil of the concerned country — to justice. In order to assess whether the 52‑year occupation crosses a red line into illegality, he referred to the International Court of Justice ruling on Namibia in 1971. The General Assembly also should commission a study on whether the occupation has crossed a red line into illegality. According to international law, occupation cannot be permanent: No annexation can occur; the occupying Power must conduct its occupation in good faith and respect international law. Concerning his priorities for the coming year, he pointed to collective punishment, violation of Article 33 of the Geneva Conventions as well as the issuance of a report on accountability that will address practical measures for the international community.
Also participating in the debate were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Senegal, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China and Indonesia.
JAVAID REHMAN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, presenting his report (document A/74/188), said that he had held useful meetings with representatives from the Permanent Mission of Iran during visits to Geneva. However, he expressed regret that his requests to visit Iran have not been accepted. Over the past year, a number of distressing factors have negatively affected the overall human rights situation. Declining economic conditions have been made worse by the impact of sanctions, with serious consequences for enjoying economic and social rights. He expressed concern at the use of the death penalty, noting that while the number of executions in 2018 was significantly lower than in previous years, the rate remains among the highest in the world, with at least 253 people having been executed in 2018, compared with 507 in 2017. The reduction has been linked to an amendment to the anti‑narcotics law.
He voiced particular concern about the execution of child offenders, noting that two 17‑year‑olds have been executed in 2019 thus far. More broadly, he described an ongoing curtailment of the rights to free assembly and association. For example, protesting workers at Haft Tappeh sugar mill were arrested and detained on national security‑related charges. Journalists reporting on labour rights issues, including at Haft Tappeh, have also been arrested and detained. Protests against compulsory veiling laws have led to the arrest of 32 people since January 2018, while families of human rights defenders are coming under pressure from authorities, and, in some cases, are themselves being arrested. There have also been recent reports of the arrest and detention of dual and foreign nationals. He welcomed the release of Nikar Zakka, who was imprisoned in 2015, as well as one Australian national and one British‑Australian national in 2019.
Noting that ethnic and religious minorities represent a disproportionate number of those being executed on national security‑related charges, he said activists from ethnic minority communities — including the Arab Ahwazi population, Azerbaijani Turks and the Kurds — have been arrested. Religious minorities face significant challenges, despite that Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians are recognized as religious minorities in the Constitution. It is essential to ensure freedom of religion by amending article 13 of the Constitution to allow all religious minorities — as well as those who do not hold any religious beliefs — to fully enjoy their rights. Laws or policies that authorize discriminatory practices affecting ethnic minorities, meanwhile, must be revised or eliminated, in accordance with international humanitarian law.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Iran said the report and mandate have nothing to do with the cause of human rights in his country. If Iran changed gear in relation to the United States and its position on Israel’s occupation, then these charades would dissipate. The self‑appointed guardians of human rights are becoming more like dictators, he said, citing their contempt for free media. He asked why Iran should take advice from racists and dictators. Iran has the temerity to select leaders unpalatable to the United States who the United States cannot depose at its convenience.
What brings Iranians together is their common history, joys and grievances, he said. This is difficult to comprehend for those who have lived their whole lives in communities with discrimination. Massive fortunes are being funnelled to manufacture non‑existent ethnic conflicts inside Iran. The tragedy lies in the complacency of United Nations mechanisms taking part in such a scheme and the Organization’s potential submission to coercion. The report is imbued with personal biases: the Special Rapporteur’s activities over the last year reflect his disrespect for the Charter of the United Nations, notably the sovereignty of Member States. Iranians are the only true stakeholders. They discuss shortcomings openly, then go to the ballot box to seek change. What they need least is human rights advice from opportunistic people.
The representative of Iceland objected to use of the death penalty and called on all States to end this gruesome practice. It is particularly objectionable that children receive death sentences and he asked the Special Rapporteur what steps could be taken to end this practice in Iran. The representative of Canada noted numerous cases of arbitrary arrest and detention as well as violations of the right to freedom of expression, opinion and assembly. He asked how the international community can engage on the issue of arbitrary arrest and detention of dual and foreign nationals in Iran.
Some countries took issue with country‑specific mandates, with the representative of Venezuela, speaking for the Non‑Aligned Movement, objecting to the use of selective reports against countries for political purposes, stressing that the universal periodic review is the main mechanism for Governments to address human rights issues. The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea likewise objected to all country‑specific mandates, as they cause confrontation when considering human rights issues.
The representative of Ireland opposed the continued use of the death penalty in Iran, including on minors, as well as increasing restrictions on free expression, the right to life and the right to a fair trial. She asked the Special Rapporteur for an update on human rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh, and whether he expects to receive permission to enter the country. An observer for the European Union asked about the situation of women and girls, particularly female human rights defenders, as well as about child, early and forced marriage.
The representative of Syria asked about the 2 November 2018 International Court of Justice provisional order on unilateral sanctions, as well as about efforts to alleviate the impact of unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States on civilians in Iran. The representative of Norway asked the Special Rapporteur to assess the possibility of establishing a constructive dialogue with Iran’s authorities. The representative of Japan, citing progress on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, asked for the Special Representative’s views on building a cooperative relationship with Iran.
Mr. REHMAN, responding, welcomed Iran’s statement and response to his report. However, he repeated his request to visit Iran so that he could complete his mandate. He works on the basis of the resolution that authorizes his mandate, in accordance with the code of conduct, and he would be grateful if Iran engaged with him more fully on issues of religious discrimination. He expressed concern over the huge numbers of executions, including of child offenders, and offences that potentially carry the death sentence, urging Member States to review the recommendations he made to the Human Rights Council earlier this year. On the question of foreign and dual nationals, he urged Iran to release all foreign and dual nationals, as there is evidence of arbitrary detention, a failure of due process, false confessions and torture.
Regarding the Human Rights Council universal periodic review, he said he is in discussions with several States about how to follow up on the review’s recommendations and how to incorporate his own into that mechanism. Regarding the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh, he said she is still in prison and her situation continues to be monitored. He expressed hope of making progress in that regard when he visits Iran. On discrimination against women and girls, he said that criminal responsibility law allows girls as young as nine to be executed. For boys, the age of criminal responsibility is 15. He urged Iran to prohibit the execution of any children, urging it also to change the law in relation to child marriage. It is legally possible for girls as young as nine to get married and Iran should change the law in this regard.
Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Switzerland, United States, Germany, Cuba, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, China, Belarus, Eritrea, Burundi, Russian Federation and Pakistan.
MAJDA MOUTCHOU (Morocco) underscored her country’s respect for human rights and cultural diversity, noting that Morocco has received 11 representatives under the special procedures mandate and stressing the importance of recognition, protection and promotion of human rights. Referring to the national council for human rights, she pointed to progress in education and curricula in Morocco, as well as her country’s respect for international human rights declarations. In Morocco, women have had a high level of authority since 2016. The Government also has focused on the rights of young people, children, persons with disabilities and asylum seekers.
EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ (El Salvador), highlighted the need for migration to be safe and orderly so that all migrants and their families are protected. Calling for proper use of existing mechanisms in a more inclusive and constructive environment, she rejected the criminalization of migrants. Migrants should not be detained. The world can benefit from migration and take steps to protect people on the move. Stressing the need to address the structural causes of migration and protect the human rights of Salvadoreans, she called for actions that create regular flows of migration. No State can alone solve the migration problem, she said, noting that all State and non‑State actors must cooperate to secure safe and orderly migration.
SARAH S. F. A. O. ALZOUMAN (Kuwait) said her country attaches great importance to the protection of human rights, noting that the Constitution and legislation keep pace with international instruments. She appreciated the important role of foreigners and expatriates in Kuwait and said her Government spares no effort to take all legal procedures to ensure their protection. There are a number of acts that protect those who live in Kuwait. The country is open to attract expatriates from around the world, she said, noting that their presence also contributes to raising the living standards in their countries of origin.
Ms. MARILIA MANUEL (Angola), associating with the African Group, reiterated the relevance of multilateralism for achieving human rights. When respectful of the legitimacy of each State, multilateralism can be a valid basis for ensuring equality. Human rights have always been a priority for the Government, she said, noting that Angola respects its international obligations and has recently ratified five important international instruments. It is also committed to the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.
SUPACHAI TEERAMUNGCALANON (Thailand), noting that the promotion and protection of human rights is a fundamental part of national institutions, said the Government is committed to upholding human rights, with the Constitution embracing the values of equal rights and non-discrimination. Relevant laws and regulations such as the Gender Equality Act, the Justice Fund Act, the Equitable Education Fund Act and the Community Forest Act have been revised and upgraded. The fourth draft of the Human Rights Plan (2019-2023) will expand target groups to include human-rights defenders and members of the media. Human rights-related national committees, such as those on gender equality, children and persons with disabilities, will continue to perform their functions.
Mr. HERASYMENKO (Ukraine) said the Human Rights Council Special Procedures have a vital role in preventing conflict, adding that his country, along with several others, initiated a resolution on the topic in the Council, requesting the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to prepare a study on the contributions of Special Procedures to preventing human rights violations and abuses. On the issue of missing or disappeared persons, he pointed to a draft law involving persons unlawfully detained by illegal armed groups or law enforcement agencies of a foreign State “on the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and beyond”. However, he said, a mechanism to clarify the whereabouts of missing persons in these areas has been blocked by the Russian Federation for years, while international humanitarian organizations are deprived of full and unhindered access to the temporarily occupied areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, observing that the Secretary‑General’s report on Crimea noted that authorities have not brought to justice any individuals involved in cases of enforced disappearances. Despite this ongoing concern, Ukraine is engaged in comprehensive reform, aimed at preventing corruption and strengthening judicial independence.
ROBERT ALEXANDER POVEDA BRITO (Venezuela), recalling that his country was recently elected to the Human Rights Council, welcomed the presence of OHCHR in Venezuela, which is evidence of its wish to have a relationship with the Office. He rejected any attempt to use the Office for political purposes or unilateral measures, noting that the High Commissioner visited Venezuela without conditions in June. Following the visit, a biased report was produced that did not reflect the dialogue that was had. The document contained major gaps in its methodology, used sources that were subjective and excluded almost all information offered by the State. Eighty per cent of those interviewed were outside of Venezuela.
ROSHELLE YANIQUE HENRY (Jamaica), associating herself with Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that her country has ratified seven of the nine core human rights treaties, including the Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; on the Rights of the Child; and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Reporting is a crucial aspect when reviewing and assessing compliance with human rights treaties. To strengthen the reporting process, Jamaica has established an Inter‑Ministerial Human Rights Committee to better coordinate information‑sharing across ministries, departments and agencies. She expressed concern over how international human rights and international humanitarian law is applied and called on States to hold true to the principles espoused in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
CELINE PIERRE FABRE (Haiti), associating herself with CARICOM, said that human rights — civil, political, economic, social and cultural — are guaranteed under the Constitution and Haitians are aware of the need to promote and strengthen these freedoms. Haiti has made clear gains, as seen in the rights to vote, be elected, express and assemble. Her Government is working to preserve and strengthen these rights and will support the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) in the holding of free, fair and transparent elections. Indeed, democratic change of Government must take place through inclusive elections, she said.
Mr. ARBA (Serbia) underscored the importance of the rights of minorities, especially the right to use minority languages, which is a precondition for enjoying the right to education and employment. The report on the Effective promotion of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among others, noted that measures to enhance the representation of national minority groups in State bodies in Serbia have been strengthened in recent years, as has the access of national minority groups to education in their mother tongues. For two decades, Serbia has pointed to the problems encountered by the non‑Albanian population in its southern province of Kosovo and Metohija. Unfortunately, 20 years after the arrival of an international presence, the respect and protection of human rights, especially of minority communities, are far from satisfactory. Conditions have not been created for the sustainable return of more than 200,000 internally displaced persons.
CHRISTINE SCHRANER BURGENER, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General for Myanmar, outlined highlights of the Secretary‑General’s report (document A/74/311) on the situation in the country ahead of the 2020 general elections. Though the Government has committed to implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission headed by the late Kofi Annan and has a national strategy on the closure of camps for internally displaced persons, the civilian and military authorities must take “a resounding unified stance” against incitement and hatred. She visited Myanmar after the publication of the report, and will visit for the ninth time in November, during which she will engage with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders, and interact with violence‑affected communities in Rakhine and refugees in Bangladesh. Access to Burmese curricula in refugee camps and improving educational opportunities in Rakhine State are also priorities, “in guarding against a generation lost”, she said.
Access of the United Nations and its partners to violence‑affected areas remains a problem, she observed. Yet, there is some positive momentum, such as the memorandum of understanding Myanmar signed in June 2018 with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for the voluntary and safe return of refugees, as well as the memorandum for quick impact projects to facilitate recovery and resilience‑based development in Rakhine. Regional support, through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is also crucial. She underscored the importance of addressing underlying issues, including discrimination, persecution, the lack of legal status and a credible process for citizenship. While acknowledging Myanmar’s positive move to expedite citizenship verification, she pointed out that it is still predicated on a 1982 citizenship law in need of reform, as it fails to meet international legal standards related to non-discrimination and prevention of statelessness.
Authorities must create conditions conducive to the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees, for which it must engage with them in sustained dialogue, she said, adding that her field visits to Rakhine evoked a “strong sense of communal tension on the ground”, which suggests the need for greater interfaith and intercommunal dialogue. She expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation in Rakhine, due to clashes between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw. People have been killed, houses have been burned, “sparking haunting recent memory”. Fighting has also resumed in Kachin and Northern Shan, she said, noting, with regret, that in September the Unilateral Ceasefire Declaration in many affected areas could not be extended, due to mistrust between the military and ethnic armed organizations.
Turning to accountability, she noted that Myanmar has demonstrated its willingness to engage constructively with the United Nations, including by signing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. However, credible investigations and prosecutions are crucial, from the point of view of victims, she stressed, adding that the transparent, effective outcome of Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry is vital towards this end.
The representative of Myanmar said his Government’s most urgent priority in Rakhine State is addressing the humanitarian situation and repatriating displaced people as soon as possible. The Government is working closely with the High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to implement bilateral agreements between Myanmar and Bangladesh on the repatriation and resettlement of returnees. The issue of displaced persons in Cox’s Bazar must be resolved bilaterally with Bangladesh. Preconditions set by some countries — among them, attempts to bring the case of Myanmar to international judicial bodies for accountability, to set up a “safe zone” inside Myanmar and outright citizenship demands — are unwarranted and unworkable, he said. Myanmar, Bangladesh and China have agreed to form an informal tripartite working group at the ambassadorial level in Dhaka to implement the repatriation process. International support for bilateral efforts will also help accelerate the repatriation process.
He said citizenship will be granted in accordance with the 1982 Citizenship Law and verified returnees will receive a National Verification Card upon their arrival at the reception centre after biometric data is taken. These cards are temporary identification cards used before gaining citizenship status. Possession is proof of residency in Myanmar and the cards are used throughout the country. Members of the Independent Commission of Enquiry visited Bangladesh in August and are waiting for Bangladesh to give the Commission’s Evidence Collection and Verification Team approval to visit Cox’s Bazar to interview alleged victims. The Judge Advocate General is also beginning a military investigation into the Rakhine allegations. It serves the best interests of everyone, including the affected persons, if the international community supports domestic efforts to address accountability. Myanmar has made great strides in implementing most recommendations issued by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. Some are short‑term recommendations for immediate implementation, while others require longer periods of time to carry out. “Some results are visible and countable. But some may not immediately bring about tangible results,” he said.
Since 1992, Myanmar has faced intense human rights scrutiny through the Human Rights Council’s appointment of five Special Rapporteurs, he said. From 1995 to 2006, three Special Envoys were appointed by the Secretary‑General to help Myanmar shift to democracy. “We have never failed to cooperate with the UN mandates in good faith through these long years,” he said. “Today, Myanmar is in the critical juncture of its transition to democracy. The transition is yet incomplete.” The United Nations and international community have ample opportunity to help the people of Myanmar fulfil their aspirations through constructive engagement, good will and sincerity.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the European Union expressed concern about the new documented violations, which suggest the root cause of the crisis has not been addressed. He asked the Special Envoy to elaborate on how the recommendations of the “Rosenthal report” — formally titled, “A Brief and Independent Inquiry into the Involvement of the United Nations in Myanmar from 2010 to 2018” — are being implemented, and whether refugees are being meaningfully included in making decisions about their future.
The representative of Switzerland asked what specific actions Myanmar should undertake to improve trust on both sides, in order to allow the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees. On similar lines, the representative of Canada asked about measures the Government is taking to implement the report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, headed by former United Nations Secretary‑General Kofi Annan, to enable the safe and dignified return of refugees.
The representative of Liechtenstein asked the Special Envoy about developments regarding the closure of camps for internally displaced persons, as well as about how lack of action on corruption impacts progress towards peace and the rule of law. The representative of Indonesia underscored the commitment of ASEAN to facilitating dialogue between the Government and refugees, and said that a durable solution to the crisis requires a gradual process, and the support of all stakeholders.
The representative of Germany, associating with the European Union, expressed concern over reported curbs on freedom of expression and assembly, as well as the lack of humanitarian access to parts of the country, including Northern Rakhine. He asked about how accountability is factored into the dialogue, and about the Special Envoy’s views on Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law and the National Verification Card. The representative of the United States, echoing concerns about shrinking civil space and hostility towards journalists, asked what the international community could do to facilitate more civilian control of the military in economic and other domains.
Offering a view from the frontlines, the representative of Bangladesh underlined the importance of accountability to enable the safe return of Rohingya refugees, as well as a unified strategy among all United Nations agencies — about which “serious concerns” had been raised in the “Rosenthal report”. He asked the Special Envoy to elaborate on her experience in trying to facilitate intercultural dialogue when countering hate speech and intolerance.
The representatives of Thailand, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom also spoke.
Ms. SCHRANER BURGENER responded to queries on the “Rosenthal report”, that close cooperation between all entities is important, including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UNDP. The Secretary‑General will follow up on the report. On the repatriation of Rohingya refugees, she said Myanmar must engage with them in dialogue and learn what they want, in order to ensure their dignified and voluntary return. She welcomed the Government’s visit to Cox’s Bazar in July to distribute a factsheet; such engagement must continue.
Responding to questions about the education of refugees, she said UNICEF is helping to implement the Myanmar curriculum, “which both sides agreed to”, and is searching for school books and teachers. Finding teachers remains a challenge in Rakhine and Kachin states, where armed conflict continues. However, this must be implemented so that there is no gap in their education if they return, she said.
Turning to measures Myanmar must take to foster conducive conditions for refugees’ return in Rakhine State, she said it must speed up the implementation of the 88 recommendations set out by Mr. Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. The Government must also implement its strategy to close the camps for internally displaced persons, and assure freedom of movement, access to livelihood, health and education. Communities are still divided, and there is a continuing lack of trust. Security must be assured, so people can safely return to their place of origin and choice, she said. In addition, she said corruption must be combated, as it is “much involved” in the process of acquiring a citizenship card. She urged an acceleration of the citizenship verification process, and equitable treatment and access to all services. “It is clear that we want to see the 1982 [Citizenship] Law amended,” she added.
To the representative of Germany’s question on accountability, she said that Myanmar’s ownership of the process is crucial to ensure a sustainable solution, so that “nothing terrible happens like it did in August 2017”. Calling the Internal Commission of Enquiry is “a good first step”, she said it has interviewed people and expected to present their report in January, adding that “we will then judge if they worked credibly and independently.” She reiterated the need for a Constitutional amendment, adding that while a committee for this has been formed in Parliament, it is not easy to make change happen when there are demonstrations in the streets.
DOUDOU DIENE, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said the persistence of human rights violations in Burundi is the result of actions taken by authorities. Rather than ending the crimes, prosecuting the perpetrators and granting reparations to victims, they refuse to acknowledge reality, preferring to denounce any mention of these abuses, and repeating unfounded claims of political manipulation and international conspiracy against Burundi. During its investigations over the last three years, the Commission collected more than 1,200 statements from victims and witnesses, including perpetrators of human rights violations. Since May 2018, extrajudicial executions, disappearances — including enforced disappearances — arbitrary arrests and detention, and torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and sexual violence have been perpetrated.
He said these violations, which retain a political dimension and target political opponents, were mainly committed in rural and remote areas, especially during night attacks on households in which several family members were subjected to violence, notably gang rapes. Journalists and human rights defenders also continue to be arbitrarily arrested, detained and intimidated. Most of these documented violations committed by the Imbonerakure, who are omnipresent at zone and “colline levels”, and act in isolation or in cooperation with local administrative officials, agents of the police and the National Intelligence Service. Police and intelligence agents are the main identified perpetrators of violations among State agents, he said, and there are reasonable grounds to believe that some of these abuses constitute crimes against humanity.
Restrictions on civil liberties persist, events made all the more worrisome as Burundi prepares for elections, he said. Independent media have been warned or had their licenses revoked or suspended for broadcasting information deemed “unbalanced”. The activities of national and foreign non‑governmental groups are tightly monitored and those of opposition parties are hindered, violating the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Authorities seek to suppress any criticism. Noting that Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries, he said violations of economic and social rights continue to be documented, especially those of the right to food, clothing, shelter, work and education. While malaria has afflicted half of the population since December, the Government refuses to declare an epidemic. The crisis which began in 2015 persists, characterized by economic instability, the presence of 325,000 Burundian refugees in neighbouring countries, overall impunity and weak prospects for a political solution. Underscoring that it is within the Government’s power to change the trajectory, he said the most urgent measure would be to agree to an inclusive inter‑Burundian dialogue, based on respect for human rights.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Burundi said her delegation examined the report and would like to publicly reject it, as it aims at destabilizing her country. Calling it ill‑intentioned and biased, she said it is shameful that its authors violate the ethics and rules of the United Nations, using “the copy and paste version” of the 2015 report. She objected to the allegations made, stressing that the report was compiled in bad faith. In terms of method, she condemned the report for being biased “from its first to its last letter,” demonstrating a lack of scientific rigor. She called the report politically motivated, citing the Commission’s failure to collect information from refugees and labelling as “untrue” its arguments about a lack of access.
Several delegates focused attention on the exploitation of human rights for political purposes — and on the Human Rights Council itself, with the representative of Venezuela expressing deep concern over practices that exploit human rights. The representative of Gabon, on behalf of the Central African countries, called the Council politicized and instrumentalized, while the observer for the European Union, urging Burundi to grant access to the Commission, asked how the Council can best use its risk analysis in the context of the approaching elections. The representative of Djibouti likewise highlighted politicization and subjectivity around human rights questions, stressing that Burundi is making every effort and its political will must be supported by the international community. The representative of Eritrea stressed that human rights issues in all countries should be addressed in a fair, equal, and non‑politized manner, rather than a counter‑productive one.
Others focused on the actions of Burundi, with the representative of the United Kingdom expressing disappointment over the response by Burundi’s representative. Condemning human rights violations committed by the authorities, he urged the Government to hold perpetrators to account and pave the way towards peaceful elections. The representative of the United States expressed regret that Burundi rejects the Commission’s mandate, stressing that crimes against humanity continue to be committed, including torture and sexual violence. He urged the Government to provide access to the Commission. The representative of Norway expressed concern over Burundi’s lack of cooperation and shrinking democratic space, calling for democratization that would ensure a safe environment for journalists and human rights defenders. The representative of Germany called on Burundi to start cooperating, expressing deep concern over forced disappearances and summary killings, and the small space afforded to civil society and human rights defenders, while asking what the international community can do to support constructive dialogue in Burundi.
Offering another viewpoint on those issues, the representative of the Russian Federation said it is unacceptable to interfere with the domestic affairs of countries under the pretext of human rights, questioning in whose interest the Commission functions. He further underscored that African problems require African solutions.
FRANÇOISE HAMPSON, Commissioner, Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, replied that in the Commission’s first report, the main victims were those who took part in protests. However, a shift occurred in 2018‑2019: Victims are now people who have not given support to the political party in power, failing which they became victims of rights violations. In terms of methodology, she said the evidence collected is not indirect. Interviews were conducted in person or over the phone, she said, pointing to genuine difficulties around the denial of access to Burundi. If the Commission had access to the country, it would have been easier for it to obtain the required information. This year has been marked by a further narrowing of space for civil society and an independent press. Many speakers suggested that the universal periodic review would be a useful tool. However, when there is a need for in‑depth investigation, other tools must be used. She pointed to Burundi’s track record of not cooperating, recalling that in the spring of 2018, the Government denied visas to three independent experts. At present, the Commission sees no signs of cooperation and she urged the Government to open itself to cooperation.
The representative of Burundi took the floor again, expressing disappointment that the Chair of the Commission had left the room. She objected to the politicization of human rights and double standards, spotlighting a practice of harassment by some States against Burundi.
Also speaking in the dialogue were representatives of Morocco, Nicaragua, India, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Czech Republic, Cameroon, Cuba, China, Kenya and Iran.
BAHAME TOM M. NYANDUGA, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, said his report (document A/74/166 identifies political, security, social and economic developments as they relate to human rights. Describing his visit to Somalia in July, he said he learned of challenges that could jeopardize preparations for the conduct of elections in 2020 and 2021, such as the absence or delay in the adoption of legal frameworks needed to ensure the holding of credible elections. The insecurity caused by frequent terror attacks, inter‑clan fighting, and clashes in regions east of Somaliland all impact human rights, as does the absence of an effective police and judicial system. Noting that the judicial infrastructure has been destroyed in many parts of the country and that the threat posed by Al-Shabaab persists, he more broadly said he had been informed that the technical review of 15 contentious chapters of the draft Constitution — relating to such matters as power allocation, resource sharing, fiscal federalism and the status of Mogadishu — has been finalized. However, the draft does not guarantee representation of women and other marginalized sections of the population. The 30 per cent quota for women is expected to be included in the draft electoral law.
Access to water remains a critical issue, which the Government considers to be essential in the resolution of inter‑clan conflicts, he said. Climate change has impacted Somalia through frequent droughts, sparse rainfall and even flooding. Somalia’s pastoralist tradition sometimes leads to inter‑clan clashes, due to competition for access to pasture and water. The provision of adequate boreholes and water conservation measures, as well as building reservoirs, could improve water access and alleviate such conflicts. The enjoyment of human rights, the growth of the economy and consolidation of governance in Somalia depends on the establishment of a sustainable national security architecture. Capacity‑building of the National Forces is ongoing, with international support, he said, noting that the unification of all regional forces into one national army is critical in the fight against Al-Shabaab. He called on the Security Council to ensure that the implementation of resolutions on the drawdown of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the transfer of security responsibilities to the National Forces is undertaken in a manner that will not leave a vacuum that could be filled by extremist forces. At the national level, he urged the people and Government of Somalia to consider the possibility of engaging their adversaries in constructive talks towards a peaceful end to the conflict.
In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Djibouti asked what the impact would be of a premature withdrawal of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces on the conduct of elections in 2020, and whether there could be a streamlining of efforts by African Union and United Nations bodies towards improving the human rights situation in Somalia.
Several delegates highlighted the role of women, with the representative of the United States asking how to ensure the representation of women and minority groups in Government. On similar lines, the representative of the United Kingdom asked about how equal participation of displaced people and women can be ensured at all stages of the election cycle, while the representative of Norway requested suggestions for creating broad partnerships with women in efforts to build peace and development. The observer for the European Union asked how the international community can support Somalia’s efforts to address gender‑based violence, including female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage.
Mr. NYANDUGA, responding to the representative of Djibouti, noted that he has expressed some caution about the drawdown of troops. On previous occasions, when provinces were liberated, and they did not have sufficient forces, Al-Shabaab launched attacks. Where adequate protection is not provided, civilians suffer, he said, adding that this happens in Jubaland. Regarding the impact on 2020 elections, he said that Al-Shabaab had targeted delegates and even elected members during the 2016 electoral process. Despite this, elections were successful as people came out to vote. But if security is not guaranteed, he said “Al-Shabaab will have a field day in attacking election infrastructure.”
On the streamlining of human rights bodies, he said duplication of efforts must not be confused with complementary efforts. Both bodies hold regular meetings, and the United Nations Human Rights Protection Group is embedded within AMISOM, providing technical advice to the Mission. On ensuring inclusivity of women and marginalized groups in Government, he said the number of women in the Cabinet increased substantially in 2016‑2017 and they had been allocated important portfolios. Stressing the need to advocate for the Somali Women’s Charter, he said it is unfortunate that Parliament did not entrench the international minimum of 30 per cent representation for women in its draft Constitution. Regarding gender‑based violence, he said there has been pushback from religious groups, who cite religious grounds for marrying off girls when they reach puberty. There is a need for more grassroots advocacy, involving traditional elders, he said.
The representative of China also spoke.
For information media. Not an official record.