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Human Rights Council Holds Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Hears Presentation on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Starts General Debate on Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

21 March 2022
Afternoon

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, heard the presentation of an oral update on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and began a general debate on its agenda item four on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Thomas Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,  said he regretted to inform the Human Rights Council that since his last report, the human right situation in Myanmar had not only failed to improve, it had deteriorated significantly.  In fact, the Myanmar junta’s war against the people of Myanmar had intensified.  The generals responsible for these escalating horrors were guilty of crimes against humanity, including the crimes of murder, enslavement, displacement and forcible transfer, enforced disappearance, torture, rape, and sexual violence.  The international community and all Member States of the United Nations must stand with and for the people of Myanmar with not only words, but even more importantly, with action.

In the discussion on Myanmar, speakers said the findings of the report were shocking and revealed the magnitude of the human rights crisis in Myanmar.  The brutal and inhumane attacks must cease immediately, and all those arrested must be released.  The attacks on civilians must cease immediately.  The humanitarian crisis in the country had been deliberately exacerbated by attacks on humanitarian personnel and the blocking of humanitarian aid.  These were blatant violations of international law.  Those guilty of human rights violations must be held accountable.  Some speakers said that the report contained biases and major imbalances with information from unsubstantiated sources.  The Special Rapporteur had abused his status and stepped beyond his mandate by manipulating facts in an attempt to influence the work of United Nations bodies and serve the political agenda of certain countries, voiding his code of conduct and damaging further the situation on the ground. 

Ilze Brands Kehris, United Nations Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights, presented the oral update of the High Commissioner on the implementation of the recommendations made by the group of independent experts on accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  She said that the Office continued to lay foundations for future accountability with respect to violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including by gathering, analysing and preserving information on human rights violations in the country, some of which may rise to the level of international crimes.  The Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should commit to systemic reforms needed to end all human rights violations and to hold those responsible to account.

The Council then held a general debate on agenda item four on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.  Some speakers said that the principles of universality, objectivity and impartiality should guide the Council’s work under this agenda item, and that all civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, should be treated equally.  States had a primary responsibility to ensure the safety of internally displaced persons in situations of armed conflict, including their return and full restoration of their human rights.  The Council should remain aware of the devastating impact of terrorism, hold accountable the countries that supported terrorist groups, and work to limit the impact of terrorists on human rights.  The Council had a duty to take meaningful actions to combat the rise of racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia and hate speech, particularly online. 

Speaking on Myanmar were European Union, Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Sweden (on behalf of a group of countries), Liechtenstein, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Maldives, Japan, France, Venezuela, Luxembourg, China, Indonesia, Australia, Ireland, Republic of Korea, Bangladesh, United States, Serbia, Belgium, Turkey, Czech Republic, Albania, Malawi, New Zealand, Canada, Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone and Gambia. 

Also speaking were Access Now, Human Rights Now, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Centre pour les Droits Civiques et Politiques, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, the International Federation For Human Rights League (FIDH), the European Center for Law and Justice and the Meezaan Center for Human Rights, 

Speaking in the general debate on agenda item four were: France (on behalf of the European Union), Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Poland (on behalf of a group of countries), China (on behalf of a group of countries),  Azerbaijan (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Morocco (on behalf of the group of Arab States), Venezuela (on behalf of a group of countries), Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, China, France, Venezuela, Cuba, Japan, India, Netherlands, Armenia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Lithuania, Russian Federation, Republic of Korea, United States, United Kingdom, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Sudan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Philippines, Israel, Estonia, Spain, Switzerland and Austria. 

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-ninth regular session can be found here.

The Council is scheduled to reconvene at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 22 March, to continue the general debate under agenda item four, followed by a panel discussion on public policies on COVID-19 at 10 a.m.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

Documentation

The Council has before it (A/HRC/49/76) report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Presentation of the Report

THOMAS ANDREWS, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said he regretted to inform the Human Rights Council that since his last report, the human right situation in Myanmar had not only failed to improve, it had deteriorated significantly.  In fact, the Myanmar junta’s war against the people of Myanmar had intensified.  More than 1,600 civilians had now been killed by the junta; nearly 10,000 were now arbitrarily detained; more than half a million had been displaced since the coup began, bringing the number of internally displaced persons to well over 800,000; in the last two and a half months alone – since the beginning of this year - more than 4,500 homes and other civilian structures had been destroyed; basic human rights such as freedom of expression, assembly and association had been criminalised; many regions of the country that had not seen sustained fighting since World War II were now in a state of non-international armed conflict; and the 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Rakhine State after the military-led genocidal attacks in 2016-2017 were under constant threat, nearly a quarter of them confined in de facto internment camps while nearly all continued to be denied the right to citizenship, movement, and other fundamental rights.

The generals responsible for these escalating horrors were guilty of crimes against humanity, including the crimes of murder, enslavement, displacement and forcible transfer, enforced disappearance, torture, rape, and sexual violence.  Junta forces had also committed war crimes, including wilful killing, destruction of property, torture and inhumane treatment, pillaging, rape, and displacement of civilians, among other crimes.  Of course, only a competent court could render such judgments with legal authority and international justice was sorely needed to hold those who were responsible for these horrible, ongoing crimes fully accountable.

The consequences of the junta’s coup were being felt by tens of millions of people - nearly the entire population of Myanmar.  The military junta had driven Myanmar into a humanitarian catastrophe marked by a crumbling health infrastructure, half the nation falling into poverty, rampant inflation, and the cruel and outrageous blocking of the delivery of aid to those in desperate need.  It was critical to focus on the fact that the nightmare that continued to unfold in Myanmar, day in and day out, was happening to real people, real families whose lives were being crushed by a murderous junta.  The military junta of Myanmar, and their accomplices, must be held accountable!  The international community and all Member States of the United Nations must stand with and for the people of Myanmar with not only words, but even more importantly, with action.  For the growing numbers of men, women and children in Myanmar, it was a matter of life and death.

Discussion

In the ensuing interactive debate, speakers said the findings were shocking, and revealed the magnitude of the human rights crisis in Myanmar.  The brutal and inhumane attacks must cease immediately, and all those arrested must be released.  The attacks on civilians must cease immediately.  The humanitarian crisis in the country had been deliberately exacerbated by attacks on humanitarian personnel and the blocking of humanitarian aid.  These were blatant violations of international law.  Those guilty of human rights violations must be held accountable. The acute suffering in the country could only end if Myanmar was brought back to the path of democracy, as highlighted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in its Five Point Consensus.  The attacks against the Rohingya Muslims were deplored, and concerns were expressed that no progress had been made to ensure their safe and voluntary return to their lands. 

Myanmar must cooperate with the United Nations and all relevant human rights mechanisms and implement all recommendations, including providing citizenship for the Rohingya and the return of all forcibly displaced persons.  It was now more than a year since the brutal military coup, and in recent months the violence had escalated, with air strikes, torture, and attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, all committed by the military forces.  The continued repression of the right to freedom of speech, including the harassment of journalists and civil society, was also of great concern.  The humanitarian crisis was only growing, and safe humanitarian access to international actors must be ensured.

Some speakers said that country-specific mandates established without the agreement of the country concerned were against the spirit of consensus that should reign in the Council.  The report contained biases and major imbalances with information from unsubstantiated sources.  These politicised mandates impeded dialogue on the promotion and protection of human rights.  It was important to bolster spaces for cooperation, as otherwise the efforts to consolidate democracy and strengthen human rights came to nothing.  The Council should cease to hold these hostile mandates against countries of the South.  They were an interference into the sovereignty of these countries.  The Universal Periodic Review mechanism was the best place for dealing with country-specific issues.  The absence of Myanmar at the meeting was saddening.  The Special Rapporteur had abused his status and stepped beyond his mandate by manipulating facts in an attempt to influence the work of United Nations bodies and serve the political agenda of certain countries, voiding his code of conduct and damaging further the situation on the ground.  He should stay within his mandate and within the principles of objectivity and impartiality, and work to stabilise the situation in Myanmar.

Concluding Remarks

THOMAS ANDREWS, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said that he appreciated the thoughtful comments and questions.  On the role of the international community to reduce the violent attacks against freedom of expression in Myanmar, the Special Rapporteur said that in the absence of a Security Council resolution issuing an arms embargo, Member States should hold arms deliveries and reduce revenue transfer with more economic sanctions.  It took considerable revenue to supply and equip the military structure.  Mr. Andrews said it was necessary to create a multinational task force to identify, hunt down and freeze the assets of Myanmar, as Myanmar’s assets belonged to the people of Myanmar, and they were being used to attack the rightful owner of these assets, the people of Myanmar.  The national liberty government should be recognised as the representative of the people of Myanmar.  Member States should support the efforts to hold perpetrators of atrocities to account.  States that had universal jurisdiction should make preparations to file charges against Myanmar’s security officials.  They should support filing under the International Criminal Court and ensure the full funding of the United Nations humanitarian response. 

The Special Rapporteur continued to believe that a comprehensive resolution, including sanctions under the International Criminal Court, should be put in front of the Security Council, or at least one prohibiting the transfer of weapons to Myanmar as well as sanctions against entities which imported and exported weapons to Myanmar.  Arms facilitators should be sanctioned.  International investors should examine the extent to which their investments supported the atrocities and how they could prevent and mitigate their human rights impacts, including terminating those investments if needed.  On the criticism addressed to the Council and his mandate, he stated, "with all due respect", that he stood by the facts in his report and specified that he would address any criticism.  The report was within his mandate and his responsibility.  The arms deal that he had documented had resulted in horrible violations of human rights and it was his responsibility to document them as well as address progress on the recommendations of the Fact-Finding Mission.  His report was not based on speculation, it was based on facts and facts spoke for themselves. 

Concerning the situation of the Rohingya, Mr. Andrews said that 600,000 of them in Rakhine state continued to have their human rights violated, facing restrictions that could have life or death consequences, given the current conditions.  He considered the situation in Rakhine state to be unconducive for the return of refugees in Bangladesh.  He hoped to travel to countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the coming months to hear their vision of the situation.  He fully supported the Five Point Consensus.  The Special Rapporteur further welcomed the collaboration with the European Union envoy and reiterated that Member States should consider him as a source of information and recommendations.  Concluding by addressing the impact of the military coup on children, the Special Rapporteur specified that the crisis in public health would have a long-term impact on the development of children and that the violation of their human rights may account to war crimes or crimes against humanity.  Some 188 children were detained as political prisoners because they had participated in peaceful protests.  Some had been tortured and denied medical care.  He was further extremely concerned over the recruitment of child soldiers and the use of children as human shields.  The collapse of health care services would have a devastating impact on children, such as the lack of routine immunisation, which could result in 33,000 deaths this year. 

Presentation of the Oral Update of the High Commissioner on the Implementation of the Recommendations made by the Group of Independent Experts on Accountability for Human Rights Violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 

ILZE BRANDS KEHRIS, United Nations Assistant Secretary‑General for Human Rights, presenting the oral update of the High Commissioner on the implementation of the recommendations made by the group of independent experts on accountability for human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said the Office continued to lay foundations for future accountability with respect to violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including by gathering, analysing and preserving information on human rights violations in the country, some of which may rise to the level of international crimes.  It had taken forward processes of gathering information on specific violations, in particular by interviewing escapees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Over the last year, there had been a significant reduction in the number of escapees leaving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, principally as a result of COVID-19 related restrictions.  Member States with escapees on their territory should ensure full and unhindered access for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to them, in particular recent arrivals.  Persons repatriated to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea faced a significant likelihood of torture and other serious human rights violations.  Member States should provide them with full protection against the risk of refoulement and safe pathways in accordance with international human rights and refugee law obligations.

Information received by the Office of the High Commissioner continued to suggest that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and may be ongoing. The Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should commit to systemic reforms, end all human rights violations, and hold those responsible to account.  An acknowledgment of the existence of serious human rights violations was a first step to this end.  In the absence of any such commitment, however, it was incumbent on the international community to pursue accountability avenues, whether through referral to the International Criminal Court, or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal or another comparable mechanism.  Member States should also consider supporting complementary approaches at national levels, including criminal proceedings in accordance with international standards under accepted principles of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction, and relevant civil litigation.  Long-term peace and stability on the Korean peninsula could only be achieved if victims’ rights to truth, justice and accountability for violations suffered in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were addressed adequately and in a timely manner.

General Debate on Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

In the general debate, speakers said that the principles of universality, objectivity and impartiality should guide the Council’s work under this agenda item, and all civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, should be treated equally.  Local situations and challenges should be considered in this regard.  The Council should aim to ensure dialogue and cooperation.  Selective applications of the agenda item were of concern: each situation should be dealt with on its own merit, and not from a politicised approach.  The promotion and protection of human rights and the commitment to fulfil obligations to ensure the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all should be ensured from a non-selective perspective.

The Council needed to function in a non-politicised, cooperative and objective manner.  Country-selective mandates ran counter to the Charter of the Council and ran counter to human rights issues.  The Universal Periodic Review was one of the founding mechanisms of the Human Rights Council to address human rights issues, putting all countries on an equal footing in a spirit of cooperation and harmonious discussion, and this was the tool for discussion of such issues.  A country’s human rights record must be judged by the inhabitants of the country, and not by the standards of others.  Human rights had become a bargaining chip, and this should be reversed.

States had a primary responsibility to ensure the safety of internally displaced persons in situations of armed conflict, including their return and full restoration of their human rights.  Post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts were vital for continued peace.  The impact of terrorism and conflict on the right to life of persons globally was of concern, as it posed a serious threat to democracy and the rule of law.  The Council should remain aware of the devastating impact of terrorism, hold accountable the countries that supported terrorist groups, and work to limit the impact on human rights.

The Council should promote and protect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of Muslim persons and communities against the rise of Islamophobia worldwide.  The Council had a duty to take meaningful action to combat the rise of racism, xenophobia and hate speech, particularly online.  Human rights should be promoted and protected without discrimination or ambiguity. 

The Council should also actively monitor and report on the conditions of foreign occupations and disputes in those countries involved.  Everyone had the right to respect of the law by all and without discrimination.  Contempt for international humanitarian law and international human rights law was inexcusable, and attacks on civilian infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, constituted war crimes.  All countries should ensure that they fully respected international humanitarian law and international human rights law.  World-wide civic space was rapidly being restricted, and this should be combatted effectively to ensure that civil society had sufficient space to operate freely.  This restriction was being seen in too many countries around the world.  Democracy must be supported, and all States should repeal laws restricting civil space and ensure a space, both offline and online, where civil society could pursue their activities free from violence and threats of violence.

The situation of indigenous rights in some countries was also of concern, as in the past they had seen violations of their human rights and fundamental freedoms, with their land taken, and their culture forcibly eliminated.  Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families and interned in schools, where they died unnatural deaths.  Indigenous peoples in many countries were subject to systemic discrimination and inequality, marginalised at the bottom of society.  Their situation had further deteriorated due to the impact of the pandemic.  Countries involved should act immediately, investigate thoroughly, hold the guilty accountable, provide reparations, and ensure that such situations could not be repeated by taking all necessary measures to eliminate discrimination.

The situation of women and girls in many countries was of great concern, where they faced sexual assault, trafficking, and other serious human rights violations.  In the context of the global fight against the pandemic, health workers should be recognised as human rights workers, and they should be defended as such.

 

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2022/03/le-conseil-se-voit-informe-que-les-generaux-responsables-des

 

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