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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL BEGINS GENERAL DEBATE ON THE ANNUAL REPORT OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Hears Presentation of Reports on Burundi, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Cyprus and Iran
21 March 2018

The Human Rights Council this afternoon started a general debate on the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General after hearing the presentation of reports on Burundi, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Cyprus and Iran.

Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented seven briefings, updates and reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights concerning Burundi, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Cyprus and Iran.  The reports contained overviews of improvements carried out by State authorities in the reporting period, as well as the remaining human rights challenges.  Concern was expressed over several deteriorating human rights situations and escalating violence.

Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, noted that the most recent attacks against members of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka highlighted the urgency of implementing a comprehensive transitional justice policy.  The appointment of the Commissioners for the Office of Missing Persons was a sign of hope, but it was only the beginning. 

Burundi, speaking as a concerned country, said that the contents of the report countered the will of relevant United Nations resolutions and smashed the Council principles, making it a concocted injustice against Burundi.  This and other reports completely ignored progress in Burundi, jeopardizing any will to cooperate with United Nations mechanisms. 

Colombia, speaking as a concerned country, said that the Peace Agreement had not brought peace in itself, which was why huge efforts had been carried out to strengthen the institutions and allow people to enjoy their rights.  The protection of human rights defenders was essential and Colombia shared concerns raised by the report.

Cyprus, speaking as a concerned country, said that despite the report’s structural flaws and occasional reliance on questionable sources, it highlighted important areas.  The unlawful and inhumane decision of the occupation regime to impose taxes and fees on humanitarian goods was a blatant breach of the Third Vienna Agreement of 1975. 

Guatemala, speaking as a concerned country, said that the visit of the High Commissioner to Guatemala was one of the many steps that the country had undertaken on the path toward peace and human rights.  Guatemala was part of a Central American Peace Initiative underway, which included Nicaragua and Honduras.  The lasting Peace Agreement for Guatemala had been launched in 1996. 

Honduras, speaking as a concerned country, noted that it placed great importance on the equality of all rights.  The country had endured longstanding structural and institutional problems and high levels poverty, and the Government recognized the link between violence and high levels of poverty and exclusion.  That was why exclusion and poverty reduction were at the height of the efforts and priorities of the Government. 

Iran, speaking as a concerned country, regretted that the United Nations continued to take an approach that undermined the principles of objectivity and non-politicization.  Iran regretted that the Secretary-General’s report deliberately ignored explanations and information provided by Iran on the real situation of human rights. 

Sri Lanka, speaking as a concerned country, reminded that the action by the Sri Lankan security forces during the conflict had been against a group designated as a terrorist group by many countries, and not against any community in the country.  The Government was pained by the recent incidents in a few areas of Sri Lanka targeting members of the Muslim community, who represented an integral part of the pluralistic society of Sri Lanka. 

During the general debate, speakers expressed concern about the situation in a number of the above mentioned countries.

Speaking in the general debate were the United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries, Bulgaria on behalf of the European Union, New Zealand on behalf of a group of countries, Germany, Switzerland and Spain. 

Speaking in a right of reply were Turkey, Cyprus and Cambodia.


The Council will resume its work on Thursday, 22 March, at 9 a.m. when it will continue and conclude its general debate on the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General.  The Council will then hear oral updates on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti and Yemen, as well as a presentation of a report of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, and then hold a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building.  In the afternoon, the Council is scheduled to start taking action on decisions and conclusions. 


Documentation

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of his office in Guatemala (A/HRC/37/3/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Honduras (A/HRC/37/3/Add.2).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia (A/HRC/37/3/Add.3).

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the question of human rights in Cyprus (A/HRC/37/22).

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka (A/HRC/37/23).

The Council has before it the Report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Iran (A/HRC/37/24).

Presentation of Reports under the Agenda Item on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner  

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there were seven briefings, updates and reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner, submitted under item 2 concerning Burundi, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Cyprus and Iran.  Concerning Burundi, in September 2017 the Council had adopted resolution 36/2 requesting the deployment of three experts to collect information concerning human rights violations in cooperation with the Burundian authorities and relevant stakeholders.  The Office was finalizing the recruitment of the three experts and would update the Council on progress in the June session.  Nonetheless, the situation in Burundi was of grave concern.  Security forces had been employed in comprehensive human rights violations.  The Government’s plan to revise the Constitution had generated a host of human rights concerns.  Since December 2017 and the start of the campaign for a referendum to amend the Constitution, a crackdown had been seen on civil society and political opposition in 15 out of 18 provinces.  Government officials had issued statements warning citizens not to oppose the referendum.  A climate of fear and violence had been exacerbated and during the voter registration period, reports of intimidation had been reported.  The Government of Burundi had suspended its cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner since October 2016.

Presenting the report on Guatemala, Ms. Gilmore said that the efforts of the Office of the Attorney-General, which had been working with the support of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, were commended, as well as the efforts of the Human Rights Ombudsman.  A selection process for a new Attorney-General was ongoing.  Human rights defenders, journalists and members of the judiciary were performing their duties admirably but they had also been targeted by smear campaigns.  Guatemala was at a crossroads and the Government was encouraged to keep pursuing the quest for equality, truth and justice. 

Ms. Gilmore thanked the Government of Honduras for their cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner.  Following last year’s disputed outcome of presidential elections and peaceful protests, the security forces had used excessive force, resulting in people being killed and injured.  Continued attacks had been registered against journalists and human rights defenders.  Steps that had been taken to strengthen the investigative capacity of the office of the Special Prosecutor on femicide were welcomed.  With more than half of the people living in poverty, non-discrimination needed to be at the core of envisaged reforms in Honduras. 

Introducing the report on Colombia, Ms. Gilmore said that the Peace Agreement between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army had entrusted the Office of the High Commissioner in Colombia to monitor and assist in the implementation of several aspects of the Agreement and to report to the Council.  In January, there had been a return of hostilities between the Government and the National Liberation Army.  Armed groups and criminal organizations had entered areas formerly under the influence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army, seeking to control illicit economies.  A major concern was the increase in killings of human rights defenders, as 84 human rights defenders had been killed in 2017.  Accelerating the reintegration of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army was essential, as 36 former members had been killed in 2017.  Presidential elections would take place in May so the Council was encouraged to follow closely the situation.

Ms. Gilmore said the report on Cyprus provided an overview for the period between 1 December 2016 and 30 November 2017.  The persistent division of the island continued to hinder the full enjoyment of human rights.  Positive developments were acknowledged related to bi-communal initiatives and confidence-building measures, and the search for missing persons continued to progress, albeit slowly.  The inter-religious dialogue was sustained.

Concerning Iran, the Secretary-General had expressed alarm at the continuing high number of executions.  The December 2017 protests had led to at least 22 deaths and thousands had been arrested.  The persistent pattern of intimidation, arrest and prosecution of human rights defenders was of deep concern.  There had been encouraging developments relating to the employment of women and girls but the prevalence of child marriage had remained.  The Secretary-General welcomed the improved cooperation between the Government and the treaty bodies.

Moving to the written update on progress in promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka between March 2017 and January 2018, Ms. Gilmore said the Government’s constructive engagement with the Office of the High Commissioner and the human rights mechanisms was welcomed.  Accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture was noted.  However, slow progress was noted in establishing transitional justice mechanisms and it was doubtful that the transitional justice agenda would be implemented before the Council’s next report in March 2019.  The commissioners of the Office of Missing Persons were appointed 20 months after the adoption of the legislation and there was insufficient progress in returning land occupied by the military and no demonstrated willingness to address impunity.  Multiple incidents of inter-communal violence and attacks against minorities had been observed last year. 

Ms. Gilomore concluded by noting that over several years now, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, had engaged closely with Sri Lanka.  As he would soon conclude his mandate, the Council would now benefit from his insights.

Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence

PABLO DE GREIFF, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence, said that since early 2015 he had had a continuous and thorough engagement with Sri Lanka in the form of four advisory visits, which had culminated at the end of 2017 with a fifth and fully-fledged country visit.  He stressed the urgency of the matter in light of the most recent attacks against members of the Muslim community.  In 2015, he had highlighted the following issues as needing immediate attention: clarifying the fate of the disappeared and missing persons; addressing land issues; refraining from arbitrary detentions, particularly on the basis of outdated anti-terrorist legislation followed by protracted trials lasting years; and putting an end to continuing forms of harassment, violence and unjustified surveillance of civil society and victims.  In 2015, Mr. de Grieff said he had also argued and advocated for the planning and adoption of a comprehensive transitional justice policy, including its four main pillars, namely truth, criminal justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence.  The appointment of the Commissioners for the Office of Missing Persons was a sign of hope.  Mr. de Grieff called on all actors to invest in the Office of Missing Persons, and allow it to work in an effective and independent manner, with sufficient financial and human resources, the participation of victims and civil society, and with effective protection systems and support services for victims and witnesses. 

However, the Office of Missing Persons was only the beginning.  Sri Lanka was a country in which all communities had victims, generated by cycles of violence that recurred approximately every 10 years, confirming that violations that had not been redressed significantly increased the likelihood of repeated violence.  In a country in which transitional justice had become politicized, it was important to recall that there were many examples of intra-communal violence, such as the insurrection of 1971, the 1987-89 violence, and LTTE violence against members of the Tamil community.  All those victims had a right to truth, justice and reparations, and the whole society had a right to non-recurrence, for which an effective end to impunity was necessary.  Sri Lanka needed decisive and courageous action.  It needed a constitution which made everyone feel that their equal rights were acknowledged, and that found a way to express their fundamental values and interests.  History did not need to be fate; the cycles of violence could indeed be broken. 

Statements by Concerned Countries

Burundi, speaking as a country concerned, said it had not received the report in advance.  The contents of the report countered the will of relevant United Nations resolutions launched by the African Group.  Burundi asked how the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights could justify smashing Human Rights Council principles by putting forward the report.  The report was a concocted injustice against Burundi.  This and other reports completely ignored progress in Burundi, jeopardizing any will to cooperate with United Nations mechanisms.  No country could claim to be a blueprint for respect of human rights.  Burundi had spared no effort to have the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights restore its work in the country.  However, the High Commissioner could not justify his statement that Burundi was a “slaughter house”.  Burundi’s cooperation with various United Nations agencies was healthy except in cases where such cooperation threatened the country’s sovereignty.  

Colombia, speaking as a concerned country, was pleased to see the report and said that the Peace Agreement had been a great achievement, but had not brought peace in itself.  That was why huge efforts were being carried out to strengthen the institutions and allow people to enjoy their rights.  Important steps were being taken in a legal framework but new challenges were also being noted.  The protection of human rights defenders was essential and the State shared concerns raised by the report so the elite core of the national police had been established to provide protection.  The State was working towards combatting impunity.  Integrated rural reform was encompassing all areas of the country and a development programme was underway.  During the period of transition, the support of the international community was essential.  Colombia was pleased to see that its input was included in the report and further comments would be conveyed later.
 
Cyprus, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the continued interest of the High Commissioner and his Office.  Despite the report’s structural flaws and occasional reliance on sources of questionable standing, the delegation was convinced of the value of a regular review.  Concerning the fate of missing persons, Turkey had to cease offloading its responsibilities under international humanitarian law on the Committee for Missing Persons and face up to its obligations as an occupying power.  The unlawful and inhumane decision of the occupation regime to impose taxes and fees on humanitarian goods was a blatant breach of the Third Vienna Agreement of 1975.  Every year, Cyprus hoped that circumstances justifying the continued existence of the report would cease to exist and that the Turkish occupation would come to an end, but the latest round of talks had been driven to a deadlock at Crans-Montana last July.

Jorge Luis Borrayo, Head of the Presidential Commission for Coordinating the Executive Policy in the Field of Human Rights of Guatemala, speaking as a concerned country, did not agree with some of the comments made by the Deputy High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Guatemala.  The visit of the High Commissioner to Guatemala was one of the many steps that the country had undertaken on the path towards peace and human rights.  Guatemala was part of a Central American Peace Initiative underway, which included Nicaragua and Honduras.  The lasting Peace Agreement for Guatemala had been launched in 1996.  Guatemala was a founding member of the United Nations.  Since 1945, it had particularly respected human rights.  This had become clear in the 1990s when it called on the Security Council to establish a Special Mission to monitor the Peace Agreement in Guatemala.  Later on, Guatemala had asked for the establishment of a Special International Commission to prosecute underground security outfits.  This body was now called the International Commission to Fight Impunity in Guatemala.  Guatemala expressed thanks for the important work carried out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which had been opened in Guatemala in 2005.  He urged the Representative of this Office to continue his support for Government activities underway in the promotion and protection of human rights, including the programme on the protection of human rights defenders.  The Special Rapporteur on this issue had visited the country in February.

Honduras, speaking as a concerned country, said the country office had been set up with the help of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with the aim of monitoring capacity building for the State and civil society.  Honduras placed great importance on the equality of all rights.  Honduras had endured longstanding structural and institutional problems and high levels poverty, and the Government recognized the link between violence and high levels of poverty and exclusion.  This was why exclusion and poverty reduction were at the height of the efforts and priorities of the Government.  Honduras was holding itself up to scrutiny with the activities of the United Nations.  It had submitted a midterm report on the implementation of recommendations made in the Universal Periodic Review.  Referring to some of these issues, he said Honduras had made significant progress on the control of land issues.  With regard to protecting labour rights, there was a new legal framework and budgetary sources for the labour inspectorate.  The implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights was also under way.  A significant improvement in the security situation had been seen in the past few years.  The murder rate had been brought down by over 40 per cent, and the police force was being professionalized.  Children were a main focus, and a programme had reached out to 200,000 people in 18 departments for training children not to enter gangs.  

Iran, speaking as a concerned country, regretted that the United Nations continued to take an approach that undermined the principles of equality, objectivity, non-politicization and non-selectivity through a course of action orchestrated by certain corners with narrow political objectives.  That approach neither promoted and protected human rights, nor contributed to the realization of the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.  Iran had taken genuine measures to safeguard all human rights of its people by constructively engaging in human rights processes at various national, regional and international levels.   Iran regretted that the Secretary-General’s report deliberately ignored explanations and information provided by Iran on the real situation of human rights.  Iran noted that the Universal Periodic Review should be the only mechanism for the consideration of human rights situations based on equal treatment and universal coverage.  Adopting the resolution on Iran was a purely political move.  Iran was decisive in its efforts toward the promotion and protection of human rights, stemming from its Islamic and cultural values.

TILAK MARAPANA, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, noted that his Government was committed to the advancement of reconciliation, the rule of law, good governance, human rights, justice, equality and dignity for all citizens, based on the 100 Day Programme of President Maithripala Sirisena who had been elected in January 2015.  Mr. Marapana reminded that the actions by the Sri Lankan security forces during the conflict had been against a group designated as a terrorist group by many countries, and not against any community in the country.  The Government was pained by the recent incidents in a few areas of Sri Lanka targeting members of the Muslim community, who represented an integral part of the pluralistic society of Sri Lanka.  Such acts went against the shared vision of a Sri Lanka where equal rights and rule of law were guaranteed for all.  They had no place in a democratic and pluralistic society.  The Government had taken swift action against the perpetrators of those incidents.  Stringent measures would be initiated to ensure non-recurrence, and a victim compensation programme had already commenced.  The Government had a reason to believe that certain interested parties had been behind those incidents to tarnish the image of the country while the Council was in session.

General Debate on the Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General

United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and the United States, said Sri Lanka was now freer and safer than it was in 2015.  While progress was encouraging, it was also slow.  The devolution of political authority through constitutional reform was integral to lasting reconciliation and non-recurrence.  Through determined leadership, the Government could deliver on the reform and justice agenda and take action to support long-term reconciliation.

Bulgaria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, stressed that Sri Lanka must take immediate and sustained action to build confidence by completing the return of occupied land and advancing transitional justice mechanisms.  The European Union remained deeply concerned about violence and loss of human life in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel.  The European Union called for an end to the restriction of movement imposed on Palestinians.

New Zealand, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, expressed concern over declining civil and political rights in Cambodia.  There had been a significant clampdown on the press and civil society.  Cambodia was urged to ensure that upcoming elections were free, fair and credible.  The group of countries stood ready to support the implementation of assistance that would strengthen Cambodia’s democratic system.

Germany said that since 2015 it had supported reconciliation efforts in Sri Lanka.  However, there were concerns over delays related to the implementation of relevant Human Rights Council resolutions.  The Government must protect populations targeted by discrimination and violence.  Turning to Honduras, Germany called for investigations into post-electoral violence.  Germany took note of politically motivated violence in Guatemala.

Switzerland congratulated the Government of Colombia on the peace process, particularly the inclusion of indigenous persons, however remained worried about violations faced by human rights defenders.  Acts of violence committed recently in Sri Lanka were condemned.  Only determined action by the Government against impunity, including the process of dealing with the past, would break the cycle of violence.

Spain was closely monitoring the implementation of the Peace Agreement in Colombia and shared concern about abuses of human rights defenders.  Political and social polarization in Honduras was noted and the mediation work of the United Nations was commended.  In Guatemala the situation of human rights defenders was a matter of priority for Spain.  In the area of criminal justice, detention conditions were highlighted.

Right of Reply

Turkey, speaking in a right of reply, said the comments made in reference to Turkey were unfounded.  The situation was the result of the Greek Cypriot rejection of Turkish Cypriots as equal partners.  This had left no room for security guarantees.  The complete denial of the human rights of Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus by Greek Cypriots was hardly understandable.  The Cyprus question had been created in 1963 as an attempt by Greece to undertake the island, followed by the 1974 Annexation.  Turkey had intervened in the island in 1974 and its forces in Cyprus were in accordance with the peacekeeping operation.  The United Nations-sponsored negotiations aimed at a solution of the issue had started in 1963 but had failed to give any fruit.  The overwhelming rejection of Turkish Cypriots could not be justified.  The exploitation of natural resources around the island and the arrogant attitude made it clear that Greek Cypriots were not ready to accept the Turkish Cypriots.

Cyprus, speaking in a right of reply, said Turkey tried to use smoke to cover the Turkish blatant violations of human rights in Cyprus.  The forceful division of the island brought about by Turkey grossly violated the human rights of Greek and Turkish Cypriots alike.  Turkey had turned into a serial invader, as was seen by the acts in Afrin, Syria.  It urged Turkey to restore the numerous and flagrant human right violations in the country, and to grant immediate and unfettered access to the south eastern part of the country.

Cambodia, speaking in a right of reply, said never before had the politicization in the Council been like it was today.  Some States used it as a tool to infringe on the sovereignty of Cambodia and other States.  The impropriety of the so-called joint statement made by New Zealand against Cambodia was not acceptable.  The report on Cambodia had been scheduled under item 10 which was due tomorrow, however it had been heard today.  This was unacceptable and not fair for Cambodia.  In addition, Cambodia vehemently opposed any illegitimate attempt to have an inter-sessional briefing on Cambodia ahead of the June session.  Cambodia categorically dismissed this politically motivated statement, which bore ill intent to militate against the Government’s efforts in maintaining law and order, and in fostering peace, stability and development for its people.

Turkey, speaking in a second right of reply, rejected allegations against it and reminded the Human Rights Council that Turkish Cypriots were calling for equal rights and a say on how to manage the island’s natural resources.  Greek Cypriots must show willingness to work positively with Turkish Cypriots.  Turkey maintained that only a negotiated settlement based on constructive dialogue could address issues on the island.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC18.062E