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Group of Experts on Yemen to the Human Rights Council: Impunity Continues Largely Unabated for those who Perpetrate Serious Violations in Yemen

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Morning, 14 September 2021

Council Starts General Debate on the High Commissioner’s Oral Updates

Kamel Jendoubi, the Chair of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, this morning told the Human Rights Council that the Group was concerned that impunity continued largely unabated for those who perpetrated serious violations in Yemen and that it had seen little progress in terms of investigations conducted by the parties.

If the parties wished to stop these violations they could, Mr. Jendoubi said. If the parties were truly committed to respecting and protecting the human rights and dignity of persons in Yemen, they would. Similarly, if third States were truly committed to bringing an end to the conflict and the violations being experienced in Yemen, they would stop transferring arms and providing other military support to the parties to the conflict. That the parties were continuing to commit such violations pointed fundamentally to a lack of political will to change.

For a third year in a row, the Group of Experts had not been granted permission to visit Yemen or coalition countries, Mr. Jendoubi said, noting that two-thirds of the population in Yemen were in need of humanitarian assistance for their very survival.

Yemen, speaking as a country concerned, said that it did not accept the Group of Experts as it had shown bias and unprofessionalism. The Group did not recognise that what happened in September 2014 was a full-fledged coup led by the Houthi group by military force. Yemen regretted the politicising of human rights issues through the Human Rights Council. The Independent Yemeni National Commission of Inquiry was conducting its work professionally and impartially and had completed its reports in accordance with international standards. Yemen concluded by saying that there was no need for a draft resolution to extend the mandate of the Group of Experts, stating its preference for direct efforts to support the Independent National Commission of Inquiry and the Yemeni judiciary.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Egypt, European Union, Ireland, Bahrain, Iceland, Liechtenstein, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, France, Egypt, Venezuela, Iraq, United States, Saudi Arabia, China, Libya, Mauritania, Bahrain, United Kingdom, Sudan, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, Uganda, Tunisia, Cameroon and Iran.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Khiam Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture, Baha'i International Community, Iraqi Development Organization, Institut International pour les Droits et le Développement, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Defence for Children International, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Zero Pauvre Afrique, Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés, Partners For Transparency, Next Century Foundation, International Commission of Jurists, Association Ma'onah for Human Rights and Immigration, and International Human Rights Council.

The Council then started its general debate on the High Commissioner’s oral updates. The High Commissioner presented her global human rights update as well as updates on Venezuela, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka on Monday, 13 September, and a summary can be found here .

Venezuela, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka spoke as countries concerned.

In the discussion, speakers expressed their concerns about the growing incidents of xenophobia, Islamophobia and religious intolerance and called for the pursuit of effective and efficient monitoring of issues related to racism in order to curb the excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement agencies against people of African descent. On the COVID-19 pandemic, speakers regretted its long-term effects on social development and its repercussions on health that threatened to undermine decades of progress, adding that responses to the pandemic should not cast a shadow and/or in any way marginalise the focus on those human rights regularly covered through the United Nations monitoring system.

Speaking during the general debate were Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Italy, Gambia, Pakistan, Ecuador, United Kingdom, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, China, Timor-Leste, Austria, Egypt, Germany, France, Indonesia, Armenia, Mexico, Japan, Senegal and Republic of Korea.

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

The Council will resume its work at 3 p.m. this afternoon to continue the general debate on the High Commissioner’s updates.

Presentation of Report by the Chair of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen KAMEL JENDOUBI, Chair of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, said before he started his substantive briefing, he regretted the need to raise the issue of resourcing, as, notwithstanding the Council’s decision last year to extend the mandate of the Group of Experts for a further year, they had been left without the requisite human and material resources to function for over half of the mandate period. In the remaining period, the Group had operated with a scaled back secretariat, which had directly and significantly impacted on the scope and scale of investigations carried out. “Failure to adequately resource such investigations sends the wrong message to people suffering in Yemen at a time when they need all the support the international community can muster”, Mr. Jendoubi said.

The report this year was entitled “A nation abandoned: A call to humanity to end Yemen’s suffering”. The Group of Experts continued to witness all parties to the conflict continuing to commit serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, many of which may amount to international crimes. That the parties were continuing to commit such violations pointed fundamentally to a lack of political will to change. If the parties wished to stop these violations, they could. If they desired to hold persons to account and take steps to prevent a repetition of the violations, they could. Similarly, if third States were truly committed to bringing an end to the conflict and the violations being experienced in Yemen, they would stop transferring arms and providing other military support to the parties to the conflict.

Mr. Jendoubi said that the Group of Experts continued to carry out its mandate diligently and professionally notwithstanding the fact that for a third year in a row, it was not granted permission to visit Yemen or coalition countries. They had conducted more than 152 interviews with witnesses, victims and other sources remotely, using secure channels of communication and additional precautions. He was grateful to all the victims and witnesses who had entrusted the Group despite the climate of fear and intimidation prevalent in Yemen. The nature of the findings underlined the way in which violations had sadly become ‘accepted practice’ in so many parts of Yemen, such as 23,000 airstrikes launched by the coalition killing or injuring over 18,000 civilians. Additionally, the Chair mentioned that the Group remained concerned that parties to the conflict, particularly the Houthis, were failing to take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population and objects and may be shelling areas in an indiscriminate fashion. “Two-thirds of the population in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance for their very survival”, he stated, while actions of parties to the conflict were creating and/or exacerbating this crisis, including the way in which blockades, or more prosaically overly restrictive bureaucratic measures, were impeding food supplies, humanitarian access and timely aid delivery

Mr. Jendoubi explained that individuals continued to be subject to arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture, and other forms of ill-treatment, denial of fair trial rights and murder, more specifically those perceived as dissenting from or opposing the party in control of the territory, including human rights defenders and journalists, or those seen as providing assistance to the opposing side. He stated that gender-based violence, including sexual violence, continued to feature prominently amongst ongoing violations and that the justice system had been abused to reinforce traditional gender norms. Children continued to be recruited into armed forces and used in hostilities, while their access to education was compromised due to the military use of schools, rendering these facilities liable to attack, he continued.

Mr. Jendoubi concluded by saying that the Group of Experts was concerned that impunity continued largely unabated for those who perpetrated serious violations in Yemen and that it had seen little progress in terms of investigations conducted by the parties. He repeated the Group’s call for the international community to take action and to refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court; to expand the list of individuals responsible for violations under its sanction regime; and to create an international criminal justice investigation mechanism for Yemen, similar to the body established for Syria.

Statement by Yemen as the Country Concerned

Yemen, speaking as the country concerned, said that the Government had already clarified its position on the Group of Experts, a position that came not because it refused to investigate any allegations of human rights violations in Yemen but because it did not accept a Group of Experts that showed ‘bias and unprofessionalism”. The Group of Experts continued to use the same methodology based on misleading information and it did not recognise that what happened in September 2014 was a full-fledged coup led by the Houthi group by military force.

The work of the Group of Experts was based on allegations, mostly derived from the reports of some biased non-governmental organizations. Yemen regretted the politicising of human rights issues through the Human Rights Council, stating that the Independent Yemeni National Commission of inquiry was conducting its work professionally and impartially and had completed its reports in accordance with international standards. The Commission was more familiar with the complexities of the situation in Yemen and the causes of the conflict better than any other third party.

Yemen said that the Government was keen to provide accountability and achieve justice by providing the Independent National Commission of Inquiry with all the help to facilitate its mission, as well as work with the Arab Group to prepare a draft resolution under section 10 to provide technical assistance and build capacity to the Commission. There was therefore no need for a draft resolution to extend the mandate of the Group of Experts, Yemen preferred direct efforts to support the Independent National Commission of Inquiry and the Yemeni judiciary.

General Debate

Some speakers mentioned the need for Yemen to receive more assistance and support in light of its difficult circumstances while reaffirming that the Yemeni Government was the legitimate representative of the Yemeni people. They believed that any settlement in Yemen must be primarily of an intra-Yemeni nature and that the Independent Yemeni National Commission was the body that deserved to be supported in order to continue its investigation of human rights violations in Yemen.

Regretting the unilateral approach of the Group of Experts, some speakers went further and opposed the work of the Group of Experts, rejecting the continuation of the Council’s mechanism as it did not receive the approval of the concerned State. They called upon the Council to reconsider its approach to the crisis in Yemen and to end the politicisation of human rights.

Other speakers expressed their deep concerns about the findings of the Group of Eminent Experts, underlining their strong support to the Group and its mandate. The Group was conducting vital work in this regard, and with the expansion of its mandate last year, had the ability to substantially contribute to truth and accountability processes. Speakers recalled that the Group was the only international, independent mechanism working to further accountability for the Yemeni people. They further regretted that the Group remained barred from Yemen and other coalition countries and called on the Yemeni Government to allow the mechanism access to the country. They pointed to the devastating humanitarian situation in Yemen, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as continued violations of international law committed by all parties to the conflict. They called on all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including their obligation to respect the principles of distinction, which prohibited the targeting of civilians and civilian objects and infrastructure, as well as the principles of proportionality and precautions in attack.

Concluding Remarks

ARDI IMSEIS, Member of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, said that there could be no peace without justice and that the international community must act decisively and with purpose in order to end the war as soon as possible and take actions immediately. As the situation continued to deteriorate, the Group underlined its recommendations: the United Nations Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court; the United Nations Security Council should expand its list of persons subject to sanctions; there was a need for an independent investigation mechanisms such as the one for Syria, which would carry its duty alongside the Group; and finally third States must investigate war crimes when they had jurisdiction. Adding that the provision of arms to a party in a conflict could amount to assisting in the commitment of wrongful acts, he concluded by saying that “the collective failure to address atrocities in Yemen can be stopped’.

MELISSA PARKE, Member of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, said for four years, the Group of Experts had sought to portray the impact of the conflict from the perspective of ordinary people in Yemen, who felt that they had been abandoned by the world. She read out messages from some Yemenis. One was from a father of six children who said two airstrikes had struck his house as well as that of his brother next door in the middle of the night while they were sleeping. The airstrikes killed everyone in their families, except for two of his daughters who were five and 12 years old. He did not know why their homes were targeted as they were not part of any political or military group and there were no nearby military facilities. He had nothing left and nowhere to go. Another message was from a 14-year-old boy who had been recruited into the armed forces. A solution to the conflict in Yemen and the pandemic of impunity was within reach, it just required political will from the parties to the conflict and from the international community.

General Debate on the High Commissioner’s Oral Updates

The High Commissioner presented her global human rights update as well as updates on Venezuela, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka on Monday, 13 September, and a summary can be found here.

Statements by Countries Concerned*

Afghanistan, speaking as a country concerned, said that recent events in Afghanistan had shown the importance of an inclusive political settlement, adding that the announcement of a so-called transitional cabinet threatened Afghanistan’s national unity, leading to heightened tensions and showing that the Taliban were flouting international principles. Afghanistan advocated for the rights of women and girls, regretting that new restrictions had been imposed on the media and on demonstrations by women's groups, sometimes attacked with live ammunition. Afghanistan also reported on atrocities committed, summary executions, and targeted assassinations in the Panjshir Valley.

Nicaragua, speaking as a country concerned, said it would reiterate the same position it had expressed before the Council on 22 June this year. The Government of Reconciliation and National Unity represented the noble, brave and hardworking Nicaraguan people who deserved to live in peace. “We have the right to respect. We have the right to a peace that we have been building with so much effort along centuries of aggression, interference, intervention, by the United States and the complicit European powers”, Nicaragua said. Nicaragua was facing the indecent greed of the United States and Europe that had used all the vices of their own decadence to try to dismantle Nicaragua’s national honour and the spirit of Sandinism. “We come to this Council to say enough already with organizations that should serve the defence of human rights but that are serving the imperial and interventionist discourse of those who intend to dictate our laws, our ways of life, annulling our sovereignty, in that arrogant and inappropriate desire to dominate a country and a people”.

Sri Lanka, speaking as a country concerned, reiterated its strong and continued cooperation with the Council and the United Nations mandated human rights system. After eradicating terrorism on its soil and restoring peace, security and stability, the success of post conflict demining, reconstruction and resettlement programmes had contributed immensely to national reconciliation. Sri Lanka had made progress. The Office on Missing Persons was finalising the list of missing persons in collaboration with other agencies. The Office for Reparations had processed 3,775 claims this year. The National Human Rights Commission had carried on its mandate and a Commission of Inquiry headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court had been established to address issues on accountability and missing persons. Sri Lanka was continuing to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the appalling terrorist attack on Easter Sunday in 2019, complying with due process of law in all respects. It rejected the proposal for any external initiatives purportedly established by resolution 46/1, while domestic processes were vigorously addressing the relevant matters.

Venezuela, speaking as a country concerned, regretted that since the last report, the Government of the United States continued to plunder foreign banks by depriving the State and the Venezuelan people, among others, of vital funds for the people. He called for the lifting of the unilateral sanctions and coercive measures, while recalling that Venezuela had free food programmes. In one year, the number of representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner in Venezuela had doubled and the staff of the Office had continued their activities to strengthen the justice system and had carried out some 24 field visits. Unverified information had been transmitted to the Council authorities from unreliable sources. Meetings of the Venezuelan Unity Platform had been held in Mexico.

General Debate

On Sri Lanka, some speakers highlighted the fact that the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should not over-step the mandates set out in United Nations General Assembly resolutions 60/251 and 48/141, which established these bodies. Some warned that the General Assembly had not conferred authority on the Human Rights Council to assign to any party, or the Office of the High Commissioner, to carry out tasks such as the collection of criminal evidence for use in judicial proceedings. On Afghanistan, speakers were alarmed by the reports of human rights violations, specifically the reports of sexual and gender-based violence and restrictions on the rights to education, work and freedom of movement, stating that impunity was not an option and that women must be part of the solution. Some speakers said they were deeply committed to rights to sexual and reproductive health for all, to prevent and eliminate sexual and gender-based violence, and to full enjoyment of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer persons.

Speakers urged Nicaragua to ensure freedom of expression and opinion, including for civil society and political opponents. They condemned the continued systemic repression and arbitrary detention of all those who opposed the regime and called for their immediate release, the repeal of restrictive laws, and the holding of free and fair elections in November. Some speakers commended the efforts of the Government of Nicaragua to reconcile the various components of the country and called for an end to unilateral coercive measures. Speakers were alarmed by the continuing deterioration of the human rights situation in Venezuela, where the regime was launching new attacks against civic and democratic space by tightening restrictions, persecution and arbitrary detentions. In addition, they highlighted the serious lack of adequate medical care that the country continued to suffer from in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speakers expressed their concerns about the growing incidents of xenophobia, Islamophobia and religious intolerance, mentioning that the frequent recurrence of such acts meant that the Council and its mechanisms must continue to play their role in combatting hate speech both offline and online. They called for the pursuit of effective and efficient monitoring of issues related to racism as a whole in order to curb the excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement agencies against people of African descent. On the COVID-19 pandemic, speakers regretted that it continued to wreak havoc with far-reaching consequences and adverse effects on the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. Its long-term effects on social development and its repercussions on health threatened to undermine decades of progress, they added. Other speakers expressed their satisfaction that the agenda adopted and the proposed debates within the Human Rights Council in the past period largely corresponded to the consequences produced by the current pandemic in the field of human rights. They said that this manifested the proactive role of the Council as a body that had a significant role in responding to challenges, but also in preventing possible human rights violations. At the same time, speakers mentioned that responses to the pandemic should not cast a shadow and/or in any way marginalise the focus on those human rights regularly covered through the United Nations monitoring system.