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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HEARS PRESENTATION OF HIGH COMMISSIONER ZEID’S ANNUAL REPORT AND ORAL UPDATE

7 March 2018

The Human Rights Council this morning heard the presentation of the annual report and oral update of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

The High Commissioner highlighted numerous human rights situations across the world.  He reminded that the conflict in Syria had entered into a new phase of horror.  In addition to the staggering bloodshed in Eastern Ghouta, escalating violence in the province of Idlib was placing some two million people in danger.  In Afrin, the offensive by Turkey also threatened large numbers of civilians.  People in Government-controlled Damascus were also suffering a new escalation of ground-based strikes.  Recent attempts to justify indiscriminate, brutal attacks on hundreds of thousands of civilians by the need to combat a few hundred fighters, as in Eastern Ghouta, were legally and morally unsustainable. 

The conflict in Yemen continued to escalate, creating a humanitarian disaster of new magnitudes.  The High Commissioner was particularly concerned about the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the city of Taiz. 

As for the situation of the Rohingya community in Myanmar, the High Commissioner noted that they continued to flee to Bangladesh because of systematic persecution and violence in their towns and villages.  The High Commissioner again recommended that the Council ask the General Assembly to establish a new independent and impartial mechanism to prepare and expedite criminal proceedings in courts against those responsible for violations. 

The High Commissioner also spoke about the situation of human rights in Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, The Gambia, Somalia, Portugal, Iran, the occupied Palestinian territories, Cambodia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China, Philippines, Kashmir, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Turkey.

On migration policy, the High Commissioner expressed deep concern about the current overriding focus of European Union countries on preventing migrants from reaching Europe, and rushing to deport many who did.  The European Union and its members needed to review the approach they were taking in the Mediterranean, to ensure that they were not indirectly supporting the return of migrants to Libya, where they faced a real risk of torture, sexual violence and other serious violations. 

The High Commissioner also referred to the situation of human rights in Austria, Poland, Russian Federation, Venezuela, Honduras, United States, Uruguay and El Salvador.

The High Commissioner said he would read an abbreviated version of his statement, while the full and authoritative version would be uploaded to the Office website, http://www.ohchr.org.

At 10 a.m. on Thursday, 8 March, countries will hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on his annual report and oral update.


The Council will next conclude its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, and its clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, and the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.


Documentation for Wednesday, 7 March as per Order of the Day

The Council has before it the Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/37/3).

High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Annual Report and Oral Update

ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, referring to the centenary year of Nelson Mandela’s birth, said that it was right to contrast his greatness with all the narrow politicians who continued to proliferate across the world.  Authoritarian in nature, many of them were wily political in-fighters, but most were of thin mind and faint humanity, prone to fan division and intolerance and just for the sake of securing their political ambition.  The High Commissioner stressed that their reputation would become a mouse-like global reputation, never the fine example of the leaders they thought they were, and never even close to a Mandela.  The present-day hatred, and its corresponding rising uncertainties, seemed to come from humans who viewed the relationship between the core and the bolted – on characteristics in reverse.  In their view the differences decided everything.  But that approach would be an open invitation to human self-annihilation. 

The High Commissioner reminded of his missions to Libya, Peru, Uruguay, El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.  In Ecuador, he commended the Government for conducting a very broad dialogue, including with media and human rights defenders, as a first step towards overcoming the country’s polarization.  In Saudi Arabia, he noted the royal directive stipulating that all Government services had to from now on be provided to women without prior approval from male guardians.  High Commissioner Zeid commended The Gambia for its announcement of a moratorium on the death penalty, and in Somalia he welcomed the establishment of a national human rights commission with a diverse composition.  Portugal had made noteworthy strides towards ending discrimination against Roma, sharply increasing the number of Roma aged 16 to 24 engaged in work, training and education. 

The High Commissioner reminded that the conflict in Syria had entered into a new phase of horror.  In addition to the staggering bloodshed in Eastern Ghouta, escalating violence in the province of Idlib was placing some two million people in danger.  In Afrin, the offensive by Turkey also threatened large numbers of civilians.  People in Government-controlled Damascus were also suffering a new escalation of ground-based strikes.  The High Commissioner recalled that the massive violations committed by the Government of Syria and its local allies, beginning in 2011, had created the initial space in which extremist armed groups had later flourished.  Recent attempts to justify indiscriminate, brutal attacks on hundreds of thousands of civilians by the need to combat a few hundred fighters, as in Eastern Ghouta, were legally and morally unsustainable.  Claims by the Government of Syria that it was taking every measure to protect its civilian population were ridiculous. 

The conflict in Yemen continued to escalate, creating a humanitarian disaster of new magnitudes.  Civilians suffered indiscriminate shelling and sniper attacks by Houthi and affiliated forces, as well as airstrikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition forces.  Those remained the leading cause of civilian casualties, including child casualties, in the conflict.  The High Commissioner was particularly concerned about the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in the city of Taiz. 

Turning to Iran, the High Commissioner deplored the odious practice of executing people for crimes committed when they were children.  Repressive measures, such as arrests and prosecution of human rights defenders, journalists, international environmental activists and women protesting against compulsory hijab, could only deepen the people’s resentment. 

He reminded that six reports would be presented to the Council regarding the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  As for the Council’s request to produce a database of business enterprises engaged in specific activities related to Israeli settlements, a total of 206 companies had been screened, out of 321 companies reviewed. 

As for the situation of the Rohingya community in Myanmar, the High Commissioner noted that they continued to flee to Bangladesh because of systematic persecution and violence in their towns and villages.  There appeared to be a deliberate attempt by the authorities to destroy evidence of potential international crimes.  While awaiting the final report of the Fact-Finding Mission, the High Commissioner again recommended that the Council ask the General Assembly to establish a new independent and impartial mechanism to prepare and expedite criminal proceedings in courts against those responsible for violations. 

In Cambodia, the High Commissioner expressed serious concern about increasing moves to repress dissent and close political and civil society space.  Given the scale and gravity of reported violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he remained convinced that the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court.  Turning to China, he said that its global ambitions on human rights were seemingly not mirrored by its record at home, given arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and discrimination of human rights defenders, lawyers, legislators, and members of the Tibetan and Uyghur communities.  In the Philippines, he deplored the President’s recent statement to elite police units that they should not cooperate when it came to human rights, and the continued vilification of the Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial killings.  With respect to Kashmir, unconditional access continued to be refused to the High Commissioner’s Office on both sides of the line of control. 

In the Maldives, the Government had declared a state of emergency the previous month, suspending key rights and the entire Criminal Procedure Code, thus opening the door to completely arbitrary decisions.  In Sri Lanka, the High Commissioner was alarmed by recurring and continuing episodes of mob violence targeting ethnic and religious minorities, particularly Muslims.  In Sudan he was concerned that civilians in Darfur continued to suffer attacks by militias and State security forces, and in Cameroon he expressed concern about what appeared to be long-standing structural discrimination in the Anglophone region.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he deplored the continued repression of fundamental rights, and assaults on churches and religious sites by members of the youth wing of the ruling party.  He drew the Council’s attention to the deteriorating situation of human rights in Tanzania and heavy-handed restrictions on media freedoms and civil society.  In Ethiopia he welcomed the release of more than 7,000 detainees in January and February 2018, but was concerned about the declaration of a second state of emergency.  He encouraged the newly formed Government of Zimbabwe to enact economic reforms and address inequalities, while in Turkey he pointed out to arbitrary mass dismissals, arbitrary closure of civil society organizations, arbitrary detention of persons, and collective punishment of family members of persons suspected of offences. 

On migration policy, the High Commissioner expressed deep concern about the current overriding focus of European Union countries on preventing migrants from reaching Europe, and rushing to deport many who did.  The European Union and its members needed to review the approach they were taking in the Mediterranean, to ensure that they were not indirectly supporting the return of migrants to Libya, where they faced a real risk of torture, sexual violence and other serious violations. 

The High Commissioner also highlighted the rise to power of an openly anti-migrant party in Austria, and the deterioration of democratic space in Poland, as well as rising hate speech against minority communities and migrants.  In the Russian Federation, he was deeply concerned by threats against a leading human rights group, the Memorial Human Rights Centre in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.  The human rights situation in Venezuela was alarming, with malnutrition increasing dramatically, affecting particularly children and the elderly.  Given the reports of hundreds of extra-judicial killings, he encouraged the Council to consider mandating a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in Venezuela. 

In Honduras, the Human Commissioner was alarmed by the surge in threats and intimidation against human rights defenders, journalists, media workers, and political and social activists, while in the United States he was shocked by reports that many migrants had been intercepted at southern borders, including children, and detained in abusive conditions.  He was also concerned about the decision of the United States to revoke the planned closure of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.  He commended Uruguay’s efforts to integrate human rights into public policies.  In El Salvador, the High Commissioner was alarmed by consistent reports of extra-judicial killings by security forces.  He was shaken by the draconian impact of El Salvador’s absolute prohibition of abortion, and imprisonment of women for “aggravated homicide.”  All of them were poor women.  In countries across every region, women were suffering from increasingly regressive legislation, threats against activists, and a renewed obsession with controlling their decisions.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC18/028E