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High Commissioner Says Accountability Remains Crucial to Any Solution to the Crisis in Myanmar and Special Rapporteur Urges the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to Stop Crimes against Humanity like the Political Prison Camps

21 March 2022
Morning

The Human Rights Council this morning discussed the situation of human rights in Myanmar and in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  It heard the High Commissioner say that the human rights of the people of Myanmar were in profound crisis and that accountability remained crucial to any solution to the crisis in Myanmar.  The Council also heard the Special Rapporteur speak about the most serious human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the need to pursue accountability, urging a stop of crimes against humanity like the political prison camps in the country.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the human rights of the people of Myanmar were in profound crisis.  Myanmar was increasingly at risk of State collapse, with shattered economic, education, health, and social protection systems.  The High Commissioner remained acutely concerned for the safety and rights of human rights defenders and other civil society actors.  Military authorities systematically used arrests and detentions as a tool to target and intimidate people who opposed them.  The plight of the Rohingya people – a population persecuted for decades - remained dire, with no solution in sight.  In conclusion, the High Commissioner stated that accountability remained crucial to any solution to this crisis.  

In the ensuing debate on Myanmar, some speakers welcomed the efforts of the High Commissioner’s Office to assess the gravity of human rights violations in Myanmar.  Calls were made for an immediate end to violence against the civilian population and for the release of all political prisoners.  Speakers condemned any discrimination against minorities, as well as the systematic use of violence and arbitrary detentions, torture and enforced disappearances.  Speakers condemned the military coup.  Some speakers regretted that Myanmar, as a country concerned, was unable to participate in the dialogue and supported all parties to find a political solution through dialogue to restore social stability and to restart the democratic process in the country.  Multilateral institutions such as the Human Rights Council should help Myanmar to solve the current situation rather than supporting external intervention. 

Speaking during the discussion on Myanmar were the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Conference, Canada, Germany, Malaysia, Luxembourg, Viet Nam, China, Spain, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Cambodia, Indonesia, Australia, Mauritania, Bangladesh, Romania, United Kingdom, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Bulgaria, India, Switzerland, Gambia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and France.

Also speaking were Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Edmund Rice International Limited, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Centre for Civil and Political Rights, Baptist World Alliance, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Article 19 International Centre Against Censorship, International Bar Association, CIVICUS, Organization for Poverty Alleviation and Development, and International Commission of Jurists.

The Council then held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Tomás Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said that he had been consistent on the need to implement a two-track approach: highlighting the most serious human rights violations in the country and the need to pursue accountability, alongside offering constructive engagement with the Government to seek improvement of the human rights situation on the ground.  It was imperative for the Government to cease ongoing crimes against humanity, including through the system of kwanliso (political prison camps), and to undertake a process of accountability.  Cooperation actually allowed in recent years had led to some advancements in addressing economic, social and cultural rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers shared the great concerns expressed in the Special Rapporteur’s report and called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to fully engage with the mandate.  Regrettably the report only confirmed what was already known, which was that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea violated its citizens’ human rights and basic freedom.  They deplored the attitude of a regime which cut off all links with the outside world, including access to humanitarian aid.  Some speakers commended the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for the promotion and protection of the human rights of its population and denounced a report based on disinformation.  They were opposed to specific mandates against countries, particularly when the country concerned did not consent to them. 

Speaking in the interactive dialogue on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were European Union, Norway on behalf of Nordic-Baltic countries, Liechtenstein, Cuba, Syria, Venezuela, France, China, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Australia, Ireland, Republic of Korea, Belarus, United States, United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, Czech Republic, Albania, Nicaragua, Viet Nam, South Sudan, Burundi, Eritrea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic New Zealand, Iran and Japan.

Also speaking were Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch, UN Watch, Ingenieurs du Monde, and People for Successful Korean Reunification.

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 will reconvene at 3 p.m. this afternoon to hold separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and with the High Commissioner on her oral update 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.  It will then hold a general debate on agenda item four on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

Documentation

The Council has before it (A/HRC/49/72) report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Myanmar since 1 February 2021

Presentation of Report

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that 13 months after the military coup of 1 February 2021, the human rights of the people of Myanmar were in profound crisis.  Harsh repression of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and information – including Internet access – had not quelled the country's rejection of the coup.  Most protests had been expressed peacefully, regardless, the military had met all dissent - both acts of civil disobedience and acts of violence - in the same manner: with the use of lethal force, mass arbitrary arrests, and the use of torture.  Since February 2021, over half a million people had been forced to flee their homes, with at least 15,000 recorded as fleeing the country.  They added to the nearly 340,000 people internally displaced before February 2021 and over one million refugees, most of them Rohingya.

Ms. Bachelet said that Myanmar was increasingly at risk of State collapse, with shattered economic, education, health, and social protection systems.  The collapse of the health system had had devastating consequences for Myanmar’s COVID-19 response.  The country's precious development gains had been destroyed by conflict and the military’s abuse of power.  The High Commissioner remained acutely concerned for the safety and rights of human rights defenders and other civil society actors.  Military authorities systematically used arrests and detentions as a tool to target and intimidate people who opposed them.  The plight of the Rohingya people – a population persecuted for decades - remained dire, with no solution in sight.

In conclusion, the High Commissioner said that accountability remained crucial to any solution to this crisis.  Human rights violations and crimes being committed today by Myanmar's military forces were built upon the impunity with which they perpetrated the slaughter of the Rohingya four years ago – and other, similar, operations against ethnic minorities over many previous decades.  Clearly, there would need to be a political pathway to restore democracy and civilian rule.  But such dialogue could not and would not displace the urgent need to hold to account those responsible for severe human rights violations.  The people of Myanmar deserved, and overwhelmingly demanded, justice.  Ms. Bachelet urged stronger efforts to advance tangible results from the five-point consensus achieved by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in April 2021 as so far, there had been little progress. 

Discussion

In the ensuing debate, speakers thanked the High Commissioner for her report and welcomed the efforts of her Office to assess the gravity of human rights violations in Myanmar.  Cases of discrimination were on the rise.  The persecution of minorities was increasing the risk to the security of the entire region.  Speakers called for an immediate end to violence against civilian populations and for the release of all political prisoners.  They condemned any discrimination against minorities, as well as the systematic use of violence and arbitrary detentions, torture and enforced disappearances.  Such blatant violations were condemned and concerns over violence against civilians and human rights defenders were expressed.  Speakers condemned the military coup.  They expressed concerns over the level of violence and called on the military leadership to end all forms of violence, to ensure accountability and to end impunity for all human rights violations. 

Some speakers urged the de facto authority to respect the Human Rights Council and all other United Nations mechanisms, fully cooperate with them, and cease reprisal against those mechanisms.  The scale of human rights violations exacerbated the tragedy faced by the Rohingya population.  Humanitarian access should be free and unhindered.  Concerns over the supply of weapons to Myanmar were expressed.  The international community should cease all transfers of weapons to Myanmar.  Member States were urged to prevent the sale of weapons and military assistance to Myanmar.  The army was continuing its brutal oppression instead of respecting international humanitarian law. 

Some speakers regretted that Myanmar, as a country concerned, was unable to participate in the dialogue and supported all parties to find a political solution through dialogue to restore social stability and to restart the democratic process in the country.  The current problem in Myanmar was for the people of Myanmar to solve and external pressure would only be counterproductive.  Multilateral institutions such as the Human Rights Council should help Myanmar to solve the current situation rather than support external intervention.  Speakers supported the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and reiterated the importance of a prosperous and peaceful Myanmar.  They were supportive of the constructive role of the Association to work with Myanmar to advance the implementation of the consensus.

Concluding Remarks on Myanmar

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, responding to the question on what more could be done to prevent a further spiral of human rights violations in Myanmar, including against women and children, said she was concerned about this, and the impact it could have across the country, and the Office had observed increasingly brutal tactics and use of heavy power.  Villages were being razed to the ground.  Women in detention were experiencing violation and degrading treatment, including torture, and both men and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons had been sexually assaulted at police stations.  Children had been detained in various areas; some were being prosecuted and two had been given the death penalty.  Steps had been identified to end the spiral: to stop the military oppression, to release detainees, and to restore democracy, among others.  It was important for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to support this.  The report set out clear additional actionable recommendations that could assist the people of Myanmar and which highlighted the actions that the international community could take, including sanctions on military-linked economic interests.  It was important for all stakeholders in the democratic movement and ethnic groups to be consulted in any efforts to solve the situation.

There had been a complete breakdown of the national system to ensure economic and social rights: millions had lost their jobs, the price of basic commodities had soared, and public health care systems were collapsing.  Women teachers had gone without pay.  There was an urgent need for humanitarian assistance in all parts of Myanmar.  It was important to ensure the maximum involvement of civil society and humanitarian organizations in delivering aid, as they enjoyed the recognition of the people.  Accountability should be ensured for serious human rights violations, as well as international crimes, which should be addressed as a solution for any sustainable political situation in the country.  There should be a comprehensive transitional justice policy, ensuring the rights of victims and allowing victims to make their voices heard.  The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar was aiding this in the context of international standards.  The different processes involved should collaborate to avoid overlap, and to ensure accountability in full.  The High Commissioner said she fully supported the call for the creation of a conducive, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingya to their own lands.  There would be no sustainable solution unless these key issues could be addressed.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Documentation

The Council has before it (A/HRC/49/74) report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Tomás Ojea Quintana.

Presentation of Report

TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said that over the past six years, he had raised concerns about the coercive system of governance that deprived the fundamental freedoms of the people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  He had been consistent on the need to implement a two-track approach: highlighting the most serious human rights violations in the country and the need to pursue accountability, alongside offering constructive engagement with the Government to seek the improvement of the human rights situation on the ground.  It was imperative for the Government to cease ongoing crimes against humanity, including through the system of kwanliso (political prison camps), and to undertake a process of accountability.  Until that happened, efforts should be pursued to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or to create an ad hoc tribunal or comparable mechanism to determine individual criminal responsibility.  Alternatives based on principles of universal or extraterritorial jurisdiction should also be tried, while preserving information that may be used in future processes needed to continue.  Accountability also involved developing a historical record, memorialisation, reparation, and truth-telling exercises, which were necessary to guarantee the rights of victims.

Cooperation actually allowed in recent years had led to some advancements in addressing economic, social and cultural rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the rights of persons with disabilities, the plight of Korean separated families, and the Japanese abductions issue, among others, the Special Rapporteur said.  The participation of the Government over the past six years in some United Nations mechanisms and training activities should be acknowledged and built upon to maximise space for cooperation in areas such as conditions in detention and the treatment of detainees, food, health, water and sanitation, adequate housing and labour standards.  Mr. Ojea Quintana believed that the ongoing deterioration of the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was linked to the country’s ever-increasing isolation from the international community.  At this point in time, the crucial challenge was to not recreate a new cycle of escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which could rapidly and dangerously destabilise the region.  In his view, a diplomatic approach towards peace and the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, which would build upon previous negotiations and was combined with proactive engagement on the human rights situation, was the only way forward.  

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, speakers shared the great concerns expressed in the Special Rapporteur’s report and called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to fully engage with the mandate.  They condemned the country’s lack of respect for the fundamental human rights of its population.  Regrettably, the report only confirmed what was already known, which was that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea violated its citizens’ human rights and basic freedoms.  Every simple act or gesture was controlled in order to prevent acts of dissent.  Speakers were frustrated at the lack of progress when it came to improving the human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which was witnessing serious and systematic violations, and exaggerated isolation.  They deplored the attitude of a regime which had cut off all links with the outside world, including access of humanitarian aid. 

Speakers called on the authorities to put a stop to all human rights violations and resume cooperation with the United Nations.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea showed little signs of decreasing the exaggerated isolation of its population which started at the beginning of the pandemic and this was concerning.  The complete closure of the borders had exacerbated the challenges faced by the country.  The situation continued to be dire every day.  Speakers urged the Government to allow full access to humanitarian aid.  The necessity to open the borders to allow the evacuation of people for medical reasons was highlighted.  There was no rule of law, no free elections, no free media and no free civil society.  The Government should work more closely with the human rights system.

Some speakers denounced discriminatory mechanisms such as country specific mandates and highlighted that the Universal Periodic Review should be the path forward to tackle human rights violations.  They were against selective and politically motivated resolutions and mandates such as the one on Myanmar.  Mechanisms imposed against the will of States concerned only contributed to manipulating human rights.  Country specific initiatives were known to fail.  Speakers regretted the report’s lack of impartiality and called on the Special Rapporteur to stop this unconstructive approach.  Calls for the lifting of the unilateral coercive measures that harmed the economic development of Myanmar and violated its people human rights were made.  Myanmar’s sovereignty needed to be respected. 

Interim Remarks

TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, regretted that there was no representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea at the meeting, and a complete lack of cooperation in any way.  This needed to change, as it was connected to the dialogue between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, as well as with international bodies.  The level of isolation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was concerning, as it ensured that there was no space for dialogue.  The Government had taken a range of measures that had had a considerable impact on not only economic, social and cultural rights but also civil and political rights.  The international community should ensure full engagement, including to ensure full vaccination of the people against COVID-19. 

It was up to the Government to accept the aid of the international community, and this would hopefully ensure the opening of the borders and the return of the humanitarian agencies and the United Nations country team, which presently could not carry out operations on the ground.  The Special Rapporteur said his last report to the Council included a road map and hoped that the Office of the High Commissioner would take account of that.  He hoped the report would serve as a catalyst for all thematic mandates in interacting with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  He encouraged thematic Rapporteurs, such as the one on water and sanitation, to develop and continue a relationship with the Government. Ultimately, the responsibility lay with the Government to promote and protect the human rights of its people.  The Council would not allow crimes against humanity to continue: for that, it did not only require statements, or even resolutions, but concrete acts and measures on accountability; this was crucial to deter and prevent ongoing crimes against humanity within the country.

Discussion

Some speakers welcomed the report and endorsed its recommendations.  They were gravely concerned about the further deterioration of the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. as well as the prolonged border closure.  They called for full access to medical staff involved in the COVID-19 response.  Concerns were expressed about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea laws on reactionary thought and culture, which included the death penalty for access to foreign content.  There was no freedom of thoughts and Christians were particularly at risk.  Defectors who returned faced violence and execution.  The speakers said the Special Rapporteur had a critical role to play and must hold the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to account.  

Some speakers commended the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for the promotion and protection of the human rights of its population and denounced a report based on disinformation.  The Human Rights Council should not be used to impose pressure on the international affairs of States.  The speakers were opposed to specific mandates against countries, particularly when the country concerned did not consent to them.  Country specific mandates did not produce the intended outcome in terms of improvement of promotion and protection of human rights.  Speakers did not recognise the dubious methods of preparing a report based on fake information and fake evidence.  Calls were made on the Council to refrain from making politically motivated decisions.  The Council should stop using double standards because it would only undermine the effective protection of human rights.  The Universal Periodic Review was the only effective tool to protect human rights.  Speakers urged countries to cease all unilateral coercive measures against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

Concluding Remarks

TOMÁS OJEA QUINTANA, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, said his report, which was his last one to the Council, acknowledged that the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had taken the initiative to establish cooperation with the Human Rights Council.  There was interaction with the Council in the context of the Universal Periodic Review, and there had been progress in reporting to treaty bodies, and there was also contact with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a capacity-building session held in Geneva.  This reflected the impartial nature of his report, which was drawn up using the principle of independence.  He had stood ready to listen to the points of view of the authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  It was important for all Special Rapporteurs and his mandate in particular - that the report reflected the point of view of the country concerned.  His reports had always been completely impartial and based on his findings as an independent expert, and he had always shunned bias, selectivity, politicisation and double standards.

Regarding the engagement of the authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, these were relevant to other mandates as well.  For this mandate, it would be important to establish a relationship with the countries surrounding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as well.  Trust must be built so that crucial issues could be addressed.  He urged the neighbours of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other countries in the region to develop contacts with the mandate.  Regarding expectations of aid, for example food, the international community needed to know from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea what were their expectations, and transparent information was required.  On the rights of women in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, this issue was addressed in the reports: there were in fact reports of wide-spread violations of women’s rights in the country, and this must be addressed in the dialogue with the authorities.  The majority of escapees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had a tumultuous journey during which they were exposed to all sorts of human rights violations.  Those working on human rights in the country were concerned about heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula.  Tensions and isolation made it impossible to open up channels to discuss human rights, but diplomatic means must be used to open these up for the future.  The Secretary-General must be empowered to play a more relevant role in diplomacy on the peninsula.  It was frustrating to not be able to make more progress in the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Human Rights Council must be able to overcome this frustration by using all the mechanisms at its disposal in the United Nations system.

 

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2022/03/conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-plus-de-144-millions-de-personnes

 

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