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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL OPENS THIRTY-SIXTH REGULAR SESSION

Hears an Oral Update by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
11 September 2017

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its thirty-sixth regular session, hearing an oral update by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the situation of human rights worldwide and on the activities of his office.

Joaquín Alexander Maza Martelli, President of the Human Rights Council, noted that three weeks of intense work were ahead of participants. There would be four panel discussions, numerous interactive dialogues with mandate holders of the Special Procedures, and with the Commissions of Inquiry and the fact-finding mission, and several other interactive dialogues and general debates. Towards the end of the session, they would proceed with the election of Advisory Committee members, and the appointment of seven mandate holders of the Special Procedures. Mr. Maza Martelli then declared the programme of work for the session adopted.

High Commissioner Zeid recalled he had entered the final year of his current mandate and delivered some reflections drawn from the past three years. He first paid tribute to all those who were murdered in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001.

He outlined States’ lack of consistency concerning human rights commitments. At home, they often openly denied the rights for their own people, while defending them outside. He voiced concerns about intimidation and bullying acts committed by governments against human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations.

The High Commissioner discussed key concerns in Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Venezuela, the United States, Turkey, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Mali. He applauded the activism of thousands of people who, in July, protested four reforms of the judiciary, which aimed to dismantle the basics of an independent judiciary. He also welcomed the continuing cooperation between his Office and the Government of the Republic of Congo.

Turning to the subject of migration, High Commissioner Zeid said a month ago, several non-governmental organizations were compelled to limit their life-saving activities in the Mediterranean after the Libyan coastguard reportedly banned search and rescue operations. He was further appalled at the horrific abuses migrants faced after being intercepted and returned to Libya. Recent reports suggested that armed groups were now stopping migrants trying to leave the country, possibly with the encouragement of some Member States of the European Union.

The general debate on the High Commissioner’s oral update will start at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 September.

The Council will next hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Working Group on enforced disappearances and the Special Rapporteur on truth, justice and reparation.

Statement by the President

JOAQUÍN ALEXANDER MAZA MARTELLI, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the thirty-sixth session of the Human Rights Council, noting that three weeks of intense work were ahead of participants. There would be four panel discussions, numerous interactive dialogues with mandate holders of the Special Procedures, and with the Commissions of Inquiry and the fact-finding mission, and several other interactive dialogues and general debates. Towards the end of the session, they would proceed with the election of Advisory Committee members, and the appointment of seven mandate holders of the Special Procedures. In addition, due to the inability of the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on arbitrary detention to travel to Geneva today, there would be some changes in the schedule of the first week of the session. Mr. Maza Martelli then declared the programme of work for the session adopted. The Council rejected intimidation and reprisals against civil society representatives because it was in everyone’s common interest that they participate fully in the work of the Council. The due dignity of the Council was essential for its credibility and work. Any act of intimidation and reprisal would be followed up on. As for requests for holding minutes of silence, the Presidency informed that the President did not have the authority to declare minutes of silence. The requests made by Pakistan and Myanmar would be reviewed by the Council.

Oral Update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, recalled he had entered the final year of his current mandate and delivered some reflections drawn from the past three years. He first paid tribute to all those who were murdered in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001. He outlined States’ lack of consistency concerning human rights commitments. At home, they often openly denied the rights for their own people, while defending them outside. He voiced concerns about intimidation and bullying acts committed by governments against human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations. He called on Member States to develop a stronger and more unified voice in world affairs, on behalf of human rights. He was concerned that many senior officials and diplomats indulged in attacks against some of the human rights mechanisms.

The High Commissioner discussed key concerns in several countries. In Myanmar, another brutal security operation was underway in Rakhine State. According to UNHCR, in less than three weeks, over 270,000 people had fled to Bangladesh, three times more than the 87,000 who fled the previous operation. The operation, which was in reaction to attacks by militants on 25 August against 30 police people posts, was clearly disproportionate and without regard for basic principles of international law. Security forces and local militias had burnt Rohingya villages. Reports outlined that Myanmar authorities had now begun to lay landmines along the border with Bangladesh. Refugees who had fled the violence would only be allowed back if they could provide “proof of nationality”. The Myanmar Government should stop pretending that the Rohingyas were setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages. In Bangladesh, High Commissioner Zeid encouraged the Government to maintain open borders for the Rohingya refugees. In India, he deplored current measures taken to deport Rohingyas at a time of such violence against them in their country. Some 40,000 Rohingyas had settled in India and 16,000 of them had received refugee documentation.

High Commissioner Zeid regretted the recent broader rise of intolerance towards religious and other minorities in India. In Pakistan, the authorities often encouraged intolerance for minorities. Many journalists and human rights defenders faced daily threats of violence. The High Commissioner regretted the reluctance of both India and Pakistan to engage with the Office on human rights concerns. This included their failure to grant access to Kashmir.
In Cambodia, the recent arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, without respect for due process guarantees of his parliamentary immunity, was particularly worrisome. In Yemen, High Commissioner Zeid urged the establishment of an independent and international investigative body to carry out investigations of violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. As of August 2017, the Office had verified at least 5,144 civilians killed since the start of the conflict. In Syria, the Office had documented hundreds of airstrikes and ground based strikes in 2017, which had killed thousands of civilians across the country. In Iraq, the defeat of ISIL forces in Mosul and Talafar had released hundreds of civilians from the brutal rule of this armed group. In Egypt, the state of emergency declared in April 2017 had been used to justify the systematic silencing of civil society and closure of civic space, under the guise of countering terrorism. There had been reports of oppressive measures including increasing waves of arrests, arbitrary detention, travel bans and intimidation against human rights defenders. Allegations of torture in detention had also been reported to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In Bahrain, the High Commissioner said that since June 2016, severe restrictions on civil society had been imposed through arrests and intimidation. In Venezuela, he recalled that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had issued a report last month highlighting excessive use of force by security officers, and multiple other human rights violations, in the context of anti-government protests. Venezuela, as a member of the Council, had a particular duty to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” in the words of Resolution 60/251. In the United States, High Commissioner Zeid voiced concern about the Government’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme in six months’ time, despite evidence of its positive impact on young migrants. He was disturbed by the increase in detentions and deportations of immigrants. In Turkey, the High Commissioner outlined that the situation regarding human rights was deteriorating. Rights to freedom of expression and information were under relentless pressure. Individuals suspected of connections with non-State-approved religious movements that were left-wing or focused on Kurdish issues had been targeted. In Poland, High Commissioner Zeid applauded the activism of the thousands of people who, in July, protested four reforms of the judiciary which aimed to dismantle the basics of an independent judiciary. Following the protests, President Duda vetoed two bills and returned them to Parliament. Two others had entered into force.

Turning to the subject of migration, High Commissioner Zeid expressed his hope that the Global Compact on Migration would result in migration governance. A month ago, several non-governmental organizations were compelled to limit their life-saving activities in the Mediterranean after the Libyan coastguard reportedly banned search and rescue operations. He was further appalled at the horrific abuses migrants faced after being intercepted and returned to Libya. Recent reports suggested that armed groups were now stopping migrants trying to leave the country, possibly with the encouragement of some Member States of the European Union. In the Central African Republic, there was a sharp deterioration in security conditions in large parts of the country, especially in the southeast. Anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka forces were responsible for the escalating cycles of reprisal attacks. South Sudan was being simply destroyed by the devastating violence underway across the country. The Deputy High Commissioner would report to the Council in depth on the situation in that country and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where inter-communal violence was escalating. In Burundi, the Commission of Inquiry reported continuing disappearances and killings, arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of perceived opponents. Most opposition parties and media had been banned. In Mali, delays in implementing the peace agreement and weak State institutions were factors that contributed to the increasing activity by terrorist groups across much of the Sahel region.

High Commissioner Zeid finally welcomed the continuing cooperation between his Office and the Government of the Republic of Congo, including the Government’s commitment to create a commission to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings that had taken place from 2015 to the current violent crisis in the Pool region.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/17/118E