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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS SEPARATE INTERACTIVE DIALOGUES ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAN, IN BURUNDI, AND IN SYRIA

9 March 2020

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.

Javaid Rehman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Iran spoke in the previous meeting, and a summary can be found here.

In the discussion on Iran, speakers voiced concern about Iran’s response to recent demonstrations, noting that the widespread and disproportionate use of force was unacceptable, and called for investigations. Speakers were particularly concerned about the use of the death penalty, especially for minors. The conditions of detention, including the use of torture, solitary confinement, denial of medical treatment, and overcrowding were raised. Some speakers highlighted the negative impact of the unilateral coercive sanctions on Iran’s economic and social life, in particular where access to healthcare was concerned.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Rehman said that sanctions, particularly those related to medicine, had worsened social and economic conditions. The international community must address this. With respect to COVID19, there was a clear link between the right to health, and the limited access to health that arose from sanctions. He urged the Iranian Government to release prisoners, and to adopt a transparent approach to its response to COVID19.

Speaking in the discussion on Iran were the European Union, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, France, Syria, Spain, Canada, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Venezuela, Sweden, Albania, China, Norway, Belgium, United Kingdom, Iceland, North Macedonia, Australia, Czech Republic, Armenia and Belarus.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Baha’i International Community, Rahbord Peimayesh Research & Educational Services Cooperative, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Family Health Association of Iran, Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort, International Federation of Journalists, CIVICUS- World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Article 19 – International Centre Against Censorship, Centre for Inquiry, Amnesty International,

The Council then held an interactive dialogue with the Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Doudou Diène.

Mr. Diène said that in its September 2019 report, the Commission had concluded that the eight risk factors common to criminal atrocities had been present in the context of Burundi. It noted a deterioration of the situation with regard to the first risk factor on political, economic and security instability. The economic situation had further deteriorated, and the humanitarian situation remained worrying, with 336,000 refugees in various neighbouring countries. The second and third risk factors related to the widespread climate of impunity for serious human rights violations, and to the weakness of State structures able to prevent or stop violations, remained relevant. The Commission had observed a more ambiguous development regarding the fourth risk factor, namely the existence of intentions and motives to resort to violence.

Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, said Burundi regretted the politicized nature of the Commission, which it believed had violated the code of conduct of its mandate holders. Since its creation in 2016, the Commission had smeared various arms of the State and the governing party in the country. The delegation stressed that the political space in Burundi was open and peaceful, with 10 candidates already registered for the upcoming presidential elections. Burundi recalled the Charter of the United Nations, which prevented the United Nations from interfering in the domestic affairs of Member States.

Speaking were the European Union, Australia, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Ireland, Myanmar, Russia, Venezuela, China, Belgium, United Kingdom and Tanzania.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Centre pour le Droit Civil et politiques, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Reporters Without Borders International, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, Amnesty International, United Nations Watch, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The Council then began an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic.

Paolo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that since December 2019, nearly one million Syrians had been displaced, stranded in a rapidly shrinking enclave. Some 80 per cent were women and children. Concurrent with those developments, the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham had carried out attacks on civilian inhabited areas under the control of the Government. They had killed dozens of women, men and children, spreading fear among the civilian population and pushing many to flee. The response by pro-Government forces had been disproportionate. Hundreds of Syrians had been killed in near constant bombardments during the period under review. Their aerial attacks and ground offensives had led to displacement on an unparalleled scale and had been characterized by the failure to abide by the legal obligation not to direct attacks against civilian targets.

Syria, speaking as the concerned country, regretted the excessive politicization of the Council in its reporting on Syria. The report ignored American and Turkish assaults, as well as the illegal occupation of Syrian territory by terrorist groups. The Syrian Government was determined to protect its people against terrorism, a right enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Syria rejected calls for the renewal of the mandate, and reiterated that ending the humanitarian suffering was necessary to create the conditions for the safe return of civilians, which could not be achieved by establishing safe zones.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers noted that the military offensive in Idlib by the Syrian regime and its backers represented a serious threat to international peace and security, and expressed outrage at the deliberate targeting of civilians. They called on all parties involved to respect international human rights laws, and to commit to bringing hostilities to an end. Speakers stressed the need to fight impunity, and as such called for the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Speaking were the European Union, Denmark (on behalf of the Nordic countries), UN Women, Germany, Qatar, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Estonia, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

At the end of the meeting, Iran, Myanmar and Bangladesh spoke in right of reply.

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 meet again on Tuesday, 10 March at 9 a.m. to hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. It will then conclude the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and hear separate oral updates by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and in Venezuela. At the end of the morning meeting, the Council will start its general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Javaid Rehman, started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers voiced concern about Iran’s response to recent demonstrations, noting that the widespread and disproportionate use of force was unacceptable. They urged the Iranian authorities to ensure transparent and credible investigations, and to provide due process to all detainees. They asked the Special Rapporteur to share his thoughts about the most urgent and relevant steps to ensure an independent investigation of the November protests and their aftermath. Furthermore, speakers were worried about the continued discrimination and systemic targeting of human rights defenders, women’s and minority rights activists, artists, journalists and persons belonging to recognized and unrecognized ethnic, religious and other minorities, such as the Baha’i and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community. Speakers thus urged the Government to take further measures to ensure women’s and minorities’ full enjoyment of human rights, to prohibit all forms of child, early and forced marriages, to protect freedom of opinion and expression, and to end the intimidation, harassment and arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders. Speakers called particular attention to the use of the death penalty, including the execution of child offenders, and called on Iran to abolish the death penalty. They asked the Special Rapporteur about the best way to engage with the Iranian authorities.

Speakers welcomed the improved engagement of the Government of Iran with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and called on Iran to fully cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. Certain speakers highlighted the negative impact of the unilateral coercive sanctions on Iran’s economic and social life, and called for an end to all coercive measures against Iran. The existence of the mandate on Iran was the proof of double standards and the politicization of the human rights agenda, which had become more frequent, they observed. The accusations against Iran were an example of the so-called “maximum pressure” policy and of a westernized approach to human rights promoted by certain countries for geopolitical reasons. The United Nations human rights mechanisms should not be abused for such purposes, and the Human Rights Council should treat all countries equally and without politicization. Any debate based on prejudice and aimed at political objectives was not conducive to genuine promotion and protection of human rights. It was essential to establish a fruitful dialogue and cooperation with the concerned country, and the Universal Periodic Review was the best mechanism to do so, speakers emphasized.

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran

JAVAID REHMAN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in interim remarks, reiterated that a complete prohibition of the death penalty for child offenders could be immediately implemented, and urged the international community to focus its work on achieving this. More broadly, the death penalty should be prohibited for crimes that were not considered the most heinous within international law. As regarded the violence that surrounded the November 2019 protests, he had urged the Iranian Government to investigate these, compensate those affected, and release all persons arbitrarily imprisoned for peaceful protest. COVID19 continued to cause concern, and the international community should work with the Government to ensure it was managed. Addressing the issue of minority rights, he urged Iran to respect all minorities, and in particular the Baha’i. Mr. Rehman said he had held meetings with Iranian authorities in New York and in Geneva, and had had a detailed meeting with the Iranian Ambassador this morning, however, he continued to be denied access to Iran, and he urged the international community to address this.

Discussion

Speakers expressed serious concern about the conditions of detention in Iran both in law and in practice, which were contrary to international standards. The use of torture, solitary confinement, denial of medical treatment, and overcrowding were worrying. In addition, speakers voiced concern about the introduction of new rules for obtaining new national identity cards that would exclude many Iranians from obtaining such cards, including members of the Baha’i faith. They asked the Special Rapporteur about the steps that could be made in order to ensure that religious minorities did not face discrimination as a result of the new identification card process. They also asked about measures to change the cultural context in which child marriages took place. Speakers urged the Iranian Government to fulfil its obligations under international human rights law and encouraged it to swiftly implement the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review. They called on Iran to ensure fair trials and due process, and proper accountability of security forces, including during times of protests. Finally, speakers called for the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, given that many issues were of longstanding concern. Certain speakers said they understood Iran’s challenges as a developing country, noting its investments in healthcare and education. Those speakers emphasized that imposing mandates and sanctions was not the way to promote and protect human rights in Iran. The only way to promote human rights objectively and non-selectively was through the Universal Periodic Review. The unilateral sanctions had had a great negative impact on Iran and had prevented the United Nations from providing the needed humanitarian assistance, speakers noted. For example, university students studying in Iran could not access scientific journal articles and references, and patients with rare diseases could not obtain much needed medicine because of the sanctions.

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

JAVAID REHMAN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in concluding remarks, raised the issue of sanctions, particularly related to medicines, which had worsened social and economic conditions. He reiterated the need for the international community to address this. With respect to COVID19, there was a clear link between the right to health, and the limited access to health that arose from sanctions. He urged the Iranian Government to release prisoners, and to adopt a transparent approach to its response to COVID19. He urged the Iranian State to conduct an independent investigation of the MH19 flight, and to cease its harassment of the family members involved. On the subject of child marriages and violence against children and women, he reiterated that these breached international law, and must be addressed. In relation to the November 2019 protests, the Special Rapporteur sought independent investigations, and prosecution of those responsible for the crackdown. He condemned the harassment of journalists, as well as the Internet shutdown of autumn 2019.

Interactive Dialogue with the Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

Presentation by the Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

DOUDOU DIÈNE, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that in its September 2019 report, the Commission had concluded that the eight risk factors common to criminal atrocities had been present in the context of Burundi. It noted a deterioration of the situation with regard to the first risk factor on political, economic and security instability. Despite the official statements from Burundian authorities claiming that there was peace and security in the country, several serious incidents that had occurred recently were evidence of the volatility of the situation. Several armed men had been killed after their capture and not during combat by the security forces assisted by Imbonerakure, which constituted extrajudicial executions and serious violations of the right to life. The Commission firmly condemned those attacks, which had resulted in several casualties and serious injuries, including among the Burundian armed forces, and it called on the Government to share all the information regarding those incidents.

The economic situation had further deteriorated, said Mr. Diène. The decisions of the Government to monopolize the trade of gold and foreign currencies, the prohibition of foreign money transfers by the main mobile telecommunication operators, and the management takeover of the coffee sector by the Government were all last resort measures to rectify the acute lack of foreign currencies, which prevented imports and created shortages of basic products and medicine. At the same time, the Imbonerakure and local authorities continued to force the population to regularly give contributions in support of the ruling party. The humanitarian situation remained worrying, with 336,000 refugees in various neighbouring countries. The second and third risk factors related to the widespread climate of impunity for serious human rights violations, and to the weakness of State structures able to prevent or stop violations, remained relevant. Imbonerakure continued to enjoy complete impunity, Mr. Diène said. He added that the Commission had observed a more ambiguous development regarding the fourth risk factor, namely the existence of intentions and motives to resort to violence.

Over the past few months, the priority of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been the exhumation of remains buried in various mass graves. However, critical voices had pointed out that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission seemed to be only interested in the 1972 victims (mainly from the Hutu ethnic group). Mr. Diène also observed that the Government’s media censorship had increased by imposing without prior consultation a code of conduct for media and journalists during the 2020 electoral period. In addition, the control of non-governmental organizations and their activities had continued. The Government used the judicial system to silence civil society and the media. Mr. Diène pointed out to the indifference and reluctance of some United Nations Member States to act despite the fact that Burundi had clearly failed to take up its responsibility to protect its population against the risks of atrocity crimes. He also noted a lack of support by some neighbouring countries to protect the Burundian population seeking refuge. The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi was also concerned about the increase of hate speech with political or ethnic dimension that circulated unrestricted on social media. Finally, there were concerns about the upcoming electoral process, namely ballots, and about the spectacular benefits and privileges that would be granted to President Nkurunziza at the end of his term in office.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, said Burundi regretted the politicized nature of the Commission, which it believed had violated the code of conduct of its mandate holders. Since its creation in 2016, the Commission had smeared various arms of the State and the governing party in the country. The delegation stressed that the political space in Burundi was open and peaceful, with 10 candidates already registered for the upcoming presidential elections. Burundi recalled the Charter of the United Nations, which prevented the United Nations from interfering in the domestic affairs of Member States. Burundi asked the Human Rights Council to accept a positive view of the state of human rights in Burundi, rather than the negative picture painted by the Commission.

Discussion

Speakers said that the situation in Burundi continued to be worrying, with members of the Imbonerakure acting in total impunity. They remained concerned about reports of arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial abductions, torture, and killings. They urged the Government to end those violations and abuses, hold those responsible to account, and to ensure that the Government security forces and the Imbonerakure complied with international human rights law. In that respect, speakers asked the Commission about the priority actions that the Burundian authorities should take to deal with those issues. Although they appreciated President Nkurunziza’s decision not to participate in the general elections in May 2020, speakers remained concerned that fear and intimidation would continue to be used to repress political opponents. They urged the authorities to guarantee civil and political rights in the pre-election period in cooperation with international and regional human rights mechanisms, notably with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. Since the Commission’s report warned of the likely violence during the pre-election period, speakers asked the Commission members about the recommendations to the Burundian authorities and those of neighbouring countries in the case of large refugee movements, as well as about how the international community could support peaceful and inclusive elections in the country. Speakers also asked the Commission of Inquiry about its plans to deploy an observation mission before, during and after the upcoming general elections.

Speakers called on the Burundian authorities to guarantee freedom of press, expression, assembly and association, and to take measures to ensure that foreign and domestic civil society organizations could operate freely. Some speakers recognized the efforts and measures taken by the Burundian authorities to foster peace, reconciliation and security, to promote socio-economic development, and to protect human rights. They called on the international community to provide technical assistance and capacity-building to Burundi. The responsibility for ensuring human rights fell on the authorities in Burundi, they stressed. Therefore, it was inappropriate to politicize human rights and meddle into that country’s internal affairs. The evidence of stabilization in the country was to be found in the return of refugees. The Commission of Inquiry should reject biased and unreliable information. Certain speakers objected to the Commission’s statement about the doubtful voluntary return of Burundian refugees from some neighbouring countries. They called on the United Nations to provide the necessary resources for the return of all Burundian refugees.

Concluding Remarks

FRANCOISE HAMPTON, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, in concluding remarks, noted that in order to ensure that the 2020 elections were fair, transparent and credible, the Commission had made recommendations to the Burundian Government in its 2019 report, which remained valid. As for refugees, the Government needed to ensure the protection of those within its borders.

DOUDOU DIENE, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, in concluding remarks, reiterated that Burundi was entering a delicate period in the run up to the elections, a period that had often seen a deterioration in the human rights situation. The international community must therefore remain vigilant to ensure these refugees were protected as much as possible.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (A/HRC/43/57).

Presentation of Report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

PAULO SÉRGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, remarked that his update marked the twenty-seventh time that he was addressing the Human Rights Council. He stressed that since December 2019, nearly one million Syrians had been displaced, stranded in a rapidly shrinking enclave. Some 80 per cent were women and children. Concurrent with those developments, the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham had carried out attacks on civilian inhabited areas under the control of the Government. They had killed dozens of women, men and children, spreading fear among the civilian population and pushing many to flee. The response by pro-Government forces had been disproportionate. Hundreds of Syrians had been killed in near constant bombardments during the period under review. Their aerial attacks and ground offensives had led to displacement on an unparalleled scale and had been characterized by the failure to abide by the legal obligation not to direct attacks against civilian targets. Those attacks appeared intended to terrorize civilians in an apparent effort to depopulate parts of Idlib and accelerate its capture. More than three million people remained trapped in northern Idlib, Mr. Pinheiro emphasized. The situation of Al-Hol camp remained desperate, where women and children with family links to terrorist fighters continued to be interned. They remained in a legal limbo.

The launch of Operation “Peace Spring” in northeastern Syria had caused another wave of displacement, Mr. Pinheiro noted. More than 100,000 civilians had fled within 24 hours, between 10 and 11 October 2019. In Afrin and adjacent areas, armed groups operating under the umbrella of the Syrian National Army regularly arrested, detained, tortured and extorted residents of Kurdish origin, in addition to looting and confiscating their properties in a widespread manner. The ceasefire announced by Presidents Putin and Erdogan in the northwest of Syria should bring reprieve to the civilian population and provide space for desperately needed humanitarian aid. It was an opportunity that should not be missed, Mr. Pinheiro stressed. Many States still provided support to further their competing agendas, but none of their priorities included the needs of the Syrian survivors, Mr. Pinheiro warned. To heal the divides that had torn the Syrian society apart, there must be meaningful accountability, justice and remedies for the myriad violations and crimes committed by all parties to the conflict, he concluded.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Syria, speaking as the concerned country, regretted the excessive politicization of the Council in its reporting on Syria. The report ignored American and Turkish assaults, as well as the illegal occupation of Syrian territory by terrorist groups. The Syrian Government was determined to protect its people against terrorism, a right enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Recent operations had freed millions of citizens of Aleppo, and had helped end years of suffering. Airports were now operational again. The opening of humanitarian corridors by the Government had helped bring normal life back to these areas ; however, renewed attacks by terrorist groups had forced some to the Turkish border to seek shelter. Syria rejected calls for the renewal of the mandate, and reiterated that ending the humanitarian suffering was necessary to create the conditions for the safe return of civilians, which could not be achieved by establishing safe zones.

Discussion

Speakers noted that the military offensive in Idlib by the Syrian regime and its backers represented a serious threat to international peace and security. They expressed particular outrage about the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria, including systematic targeting of medical facilities by pro-Government forces in the northwest. Speakers urged the Syrian regime to return to the negotiating table, reiterating that any sustainable solution to the conflict required a genuine political transition. They urged all parties to the conflict to immediately cease hostilities and to respect international law, and condemned in the strongest terms the continued use of arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, and sexual violence against women, girls and boys. Impunity for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity constituted one of the greatest challenges to the protection of civilians. Ensuring accountability for such crimes was essential for preventing future violations. In that regard, speakers called for the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Some speakers deplored that some countries, while speaking out for the rights of the child in the Syrian conflict, refused to host Syrian children on their territory. The brutalities faced by children in the Syrian conflict was deeply distressing, which was why all parties to the conflict should implement the conclusions of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict from 2019. It was unacceptable to use schools as military targets or to recruit children into armed forces, speakers emphasized. Children should be treated primarily as victims. How could the situation of children in the northwest of Syria be addressed, speakers asked the Commission.


For use of the information media; not an official record


HRC20.026E