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AFTERNOON - All Those Detained for Peacefully Exercising their Rights in Belarus Should Be Released, High Commissioner for Human Rights Tells Human Rights Council

Meeting Summaries

 

Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen Tells Council that “Very Heavy Toll” of Conflict in Yemen on Civilians Remains a Grave Concern

 

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held separate interactive dialogues with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her report on the situation of human rights in Belarus in the context of the 2020 presidential elections, and with the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen on their oral update on the situation of human rights in Yemen.

Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the events that had unfolded before and immediately after the presidential election in Belarus had led to a human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension in the country. All those who had been detained for peacefully exercising their rights should be released. It was essential for the future of the country that respect for human rights, and the broadest possible civic space, be established.

Belarus, speaking as a concerned country, said the report reflected a very subjective and simplified view of events in Belarus. Everything in this report had already been discussed at the Council and properly addressed by the Belarusian delegation. Belarus was still ready to engage in international cooperation on human rights on the principle of equality and non-interference in domestic affairs.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers condemned the systematic and massive human rights violations and abuses reported in Belarus, in particular the treatment of detainees, calling on the authorities to release all political prisoners. Arbitrary detentions, the use of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, and harassment and intimidation of the opposition, journalists and human rights defenders had to stop. Other speakers stated that the Belarus situation was an internal affair, noted that the report used unreliable evidence, and urged the Council to abide by the principle of non-selectivity. Going forward, only Belorussian-led and Belorussian-owned processes through national dialogues and institutions should be respected.

Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, reiterated that accountability for human rights violations was critical. The immediate and unconditional release of all unlawfully detained persons would be a good start for a holistic, integrated reaction to the situation.

Speaking on Belarus were Denmark on behalf of a group of countries, Latvia, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Ukraine, Canada, European Union, Liechtenstein, Germany, Russian Federation, Finland, Slovenia, France, Estonia, Switzerland, Venezuela, Japan, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Belgium, Marshall Islands, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran, Malta, Norway, United States, Egypt, Romania, Spain, China, Albania, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Austria, Syria, Poland, Philippines, Luxembourg, Turkey, New Zealand, Cambodia, Iceland, Ireland, Lebanon, UN Women, Greece, Sri Lanka, Italy, Nicaragua, Cuba, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Eritrea.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Lawyers for Lawyers, Human Rights House Foundation, Reporters Without Borders International, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, World Organisation Against Torture, Article 19 - International Centre Against Censorship, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, and CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

The Council then held an interactive dialogue with the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen on their oral update on the situation of human rights in Yemen.

Kamel Jendoubi, Chairperson of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, said the Group remained gravely concerned about the “very heavy toll” of the conflict on civilians. As the newly formed government was landing at Aden International Airport on 30 December 2020, multiple missiles had struck the airport, killing at least 25 people and injuring 110. This attack signified the continuing disregard of international humanitarian and human rights law that characterized the ongoing war.

Yemen, speaking as a concerned country, said the Government did not recognize everything that was issued by the Group of Experts nor its objectivity because of its reliance on misleading information provided by unknown parties and unreliable organizations. The reports of the Group of Experts were not transparent. The Group had gone beyond its mandate by omitting to document and monitor most of the violations committed by the Houthi militia against civilians.

In the ensuing discussion on Yemen, speakers expressed profound concern over the appalling human rights situation in Yemen as all parties to the conflict continued to commit grave violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in some cases amounting to war crimes. The ever-deepening humanitarian crisis in Yemen was alarming, especially the report’s claim that over 16 million people were impacted by food insecurity in Yemen, with over 5 million Yemeni men, women and children “just one step away from famine”. It was clear that beyond the terrible humanitarian crisis, the war in Yemen had become a source of instability in the whole region, and political dialogue was the only path out of this crisis.

Melissa Parke, member of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, in concluding remarks, said there were now so many public reports of violations of international law in Yemen that no country could say they did know what was happening in Yemen.

Ardi Imsei, member of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, in concluding remarks, said the international community had to step in, and the recent decisions by some States to cease providing arms to the parties in the conflict represented another positive development.

Kamel Jendoubi, Chairperson of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, reiterated the Group’s willingness to cooperate whole heartedly with all stakeholders.

Speaking on Yemen were the European Union, Denmark on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic group, Ireland on behalf of a group of countries, Bahrain on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Bahrain on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Russian Federation, Germany, Australia, France, Switzerland, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iran, United States, China, Austria, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Mauritania, Kuwait, Cameroon, Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan and Maldives.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Baha'i International Community, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Save the Children International, Reporters Sans Frontiers International - Reporters Without Borders International, Amnesty International, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, Human Rights Information and Training Centre, United Villages, and Arab European Forum for Dialogue and Human Rights.

Saudi Arabia spoke in point of order.

Saudi Arabia and Iran spoke in right of reply.

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-sixth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 10 a.m. on Friday, 26 February, to hold a panel discussion on the role of poverty alleviation in promoting and protecting human rights. It will then hear the oral update of the High Commissioner and the presentation of her reports on the activities of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras. The Council will also hear the presentation of reports or oral updates on Venezuela, Cyprus and Eritrea, as well as the report on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus in the Context of the 2020 Presidential Election

Report

The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights A/HRC/46/4 on the situation of human rights in Belarus in the context of the 2020 presidential election .

Presentation of the Report

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights , said the report covered serious violations of human rights in Belarus between 1 May and 20 December last year. These violations were aimed at curtailing the right to participation in political affairs, and the rights to freedoms of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association. The events that had unfolded before and immediately after the election had led to a human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension in Belarus. They had also brought greater visibility to a longstanding and chronic pattern of systemic violations and impunity, which had been previously noted by the Council's Special Rapporteurs on Belarus, as well as by the treaty bodies and other mechanisms. Numerous and widespread violations committed in the context of the election; the systematic denial of fundamental freedoms; mass arbitrary arrests and detentions of people who had organized or participated in largely peaceful protests, or voiced criticism or dissent; hundreds of allegations of torture and ill-treatment; and acts of harassment and intimidation targeting opposition members, journalists, human rights defenders and citizens in general – all these violations, committed with impunity, had created an atmosphere of fear.

As of 9 February, some 246 people had been sentenced to prison terms on allegedly politically motivated charges. It was essential for the future of Belarus that respect for human rights, and the broadest possible civic space, be established. All those who had been detained for peacefully exercising their rights should be released. Thorough, effective, credible and transparent investigations should be conducted into all allegations of serious human rights violations, with perpetrators brought to justice. There should be an immediate end to the policy of harassment and intimidation of civil society and media workers. Ms. Bachelet recommended comprehensive reform of the national legal framework. The report included specific recommendations, which addressed key systemic issues, including with respect to fair trials, due process and the independence of the judiciary. It was an impartial and non-political account of the human rights concerns that Belarus should urgently address. She expressed hope that the interactive dialogue would be a step in that direction.

Statement by Concerned Country

Belarus, speaking as a concerned country, said that like many countries, Belarus believed that considering country issues in the Human Rights Council without the agreement of the legitimate governments was a grave violation of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs as enshrined in the United Nations Charter, and was in violation of the mandates of the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report reflected a very subjective and simplified view of events in Belarus. Everything in this report had already been discussed at the Council and properly addressed by the Belarusian delegation. What was the value of the recommendation to Belarus to issue a standing invitation to all Special Procedures of the Council when the Czech Republic, a member of the Council, had not accepted any such “inspectors” for 21 years; Lithuania, which was standing for membership of the Council, had received only one visit; and Luxembourg not even one, ever?

The report did not contain important information on different issues that had influenced and continued to influence Government policies and acts. Actions that been left out of the report included the unconstitutional and illegal nature of street protests, the arbitrary establishment by self-appointed activists of various institutions for a shift in power, and many witness accounts of deliberate acts of violence by protesters against law enforcement officers, among others. The report also did not mention the true scale of the protests. Belarus was still ready to engage in international cooperation on human rights on the principle of equality and non-interference in domestic affairs.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, speakers condemned the systematic and massive human rights violations and abuses reported in Belarus, in particular the treatment of detainees, calling on authorities to release all political prisoners. Arbitrary detentions, the use of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, and the harassment and intimidation of the opposition, journalists and human rights defenders had to stop. Speakers asked for more details on cases of disproportionate charges and harsh sentences against journalists who had been covering public gatherings. Reaffirming the right of protesters to peaceful civic mobilisation, speakers noted the ongoing use of Internet shutdowns and targeted content blocking as deeply troubling. Some speakers said that the August 2020 elections had been fraudulent, and it was time for the international community to send a strong political signal of support to the Belarusian people. Attacks on protesters were of a systematic and premeditated nature, and reports of enforced disappearances were particularly alarming.

Other speakers stated that the Belarus situation was an internal affair, noted that the report used unreliable evidence, and urged the Council to abide by the principle of non-selectivity. Going forward, only Belorussian-led and Belorussian-owned processes through national dialogues and institutions should be respected. By directing the focus of the Council on Belarus, Western countries were attempting to divert the attention of their populations from their own problems. Speakers called on the Government of Belarus to allow legal representation to every detainee and to ensure that lawyers were able to conduct their work without intimidation. A new mechanism on Belarus was called for by some speakers, who noted that the criminal investigation into the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ work with the United Nations Office in Minsk showed Belarus’ continued contempt for the United Nations. Speakers also condemned the recent coordinated surge in the crackdown against human rights organizations and defenders.

Concluding Remarks

NADA AL-NASHIF, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, reiterated that accountability for human rights violations was critical. It was worrying that there had not been any information on any new criminal cases concerning the thousands of complaints of torture or ill treatment that had been lodged. Moreover, the official Government reaction that the protests themselves had been violent, and the lack of active pursuit of investigations into the violent reaction by State forces, was concerning. The immediate and unconditional release of all unlawfully detained persons would be a good start for a holistic, integrated reaction to the situation.

Interactive Dialogue with the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen

Oral Update by the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen

KAMEL JENDOUBI, Chairperson of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, recalling that the Council had extended and substantively expanded the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, said the Group had not been furnished with the requisite human and material resources to carry it out. The failure to reach a permanent and comprehensive peace agreement had mired Yemenis in a bloody quagmire, the negative impacts of which were exacerbated by the deteriorating economic and political situation. The Group remained gravely concerned about the very heavy toll of the conflict on civilians. Although the exchange of 1,056 prisoners between the Government of Yemen and the de facto authorities in October 2020 represented a positive development, it also demonstrated the magnitude of the campaign waged by the parties to the conflict against civilians, as measured through their policies of detentions and forced disappearances. It was unfortunate that the newly formed government was bereft of any female representation, he added.

As the newly formed government was landing at Aden International Airport on 30 December 2020, multiple missiles had struck the airport, killing at least 25 people and injuring 110. This attack signified the continuing disregard of international humanitarian and human rights law that characterized the ongoing war. The warring parties in Yemen continued to deprive civilians of their right to access affordable medical care, notably through their continued attacks on hospitals and medical units and their targeting of health personnel. As COVID-19 spread throughout the country, Yemen was facing an emergency within an emergency, as the remaining half of the health facilities that were operational in Yemen were underequipped to cope with the disease. While rates of malnutrition and food insecurity spiraled upwards, the humanitarian response remained largely underfunded. Acknowledging that the new United States administration’s suspension of the decision to designate the de facto authorities as a Foreign Terrorist Organization was an important step towards ensuring the continued provision of humanitarian assistance, the Group called on the international community to act urgently to increase financial support that would help to prevent famine in Yemen.

Statement by Concerned Country

Yemen, speaking as a concerned country, said the Government did not recognize everything that was issued by the Group of Experts nor its objectivity because of its reliance on misleading information provided by unknown parties and unreliable organizations. The reports of the Group of Experts were not transparent. For example, their first report described what had happened in Yemen as a revolution, not a coup. This was in contradiction with Security Council resolution 2216. The Group had gone beyond its mandate by omitting to document and monitor most of the violations committed by the Houthi militia against civilians. The team's reports had become repetitive, using the same opaque terminology. The Independent National Commission to Investigate Allegations of Human Rights Violations, which operated from inside Yemen and on the ground, enjoyed the support and patronage of the Office and the Council in accordance with the Council’s decision under agenda item 10 on capacity building and technical cooperation. The Government of Yemen supported this national mechanism, which included Yemeni experts.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed profound concern over the appalling human rights situation in Yemen as all parties to the conflict continued to commit grave violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in some cases amounting to war crimes. The ever-deepening humanitarian crisis in Yemen was alarming, especially the report’s claim that over 16 million people were impacted by food insecurity in Yemen, with over 5 million Yemeni men, women and children “just one step away from famine”. It was clear that beyond the terrible humanitarian crisis, the war in Yemen had become a source of instability in the whole region, and political dialogue was the only path out of this crisis. Some speakers criticised those countries that supplied weapons to parties in the conflict, noting that they were partially responsible. Killings and disappearances of journalists were deeply concerning, as four detained by the Houthi authorities were awaiting the execution of death sentences received last April.

Other speakers stated that the Group of Experts had relied in an exaggerated manner on "reasonable grounds for belief", knowing that this concept was still in dispute in jurisprudence and international law. This was one sign that the Group was not neutral and that it had clearly overstepped its mandate. The legitimate, internationally recognised National Commission of Inquiry deserved support in its investigation of human rights violations in Yemen as the most efficient mechanism. In the context of the recent re-escalation of the conflict, other speakers were increasingly concerned about the fate of civilians in Marib Governorate, including at least 800,000 internally displaced people. In light of this, speakers called on all sides to authorize and facilitate immediate and unhindered access to humanitarian aid. The recruitment of young children into the armed forces and the continued harassment of the Bahá’í religious minority remained particularly concerning. Sexual and gender-based violence was used as a weapon of war by all parties, while women were largely excluded from the peace and political processes.

Concluding Remarks

MELISSA PARKE, Member of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, drawing attention to the situation of the ordinary child who stepped on a landmine, the ordinary person who had had to flee their home, and the 400,000 ordinary children suffering acute malnutrition, stressed that violations of human rights and international humanitarian law had consequences for ordinary people. There were now so many public reports of violations of international law in Yemen that countries could not say they did know what was happening in Yemen. Violations of human rights should be called out for what they were, namely threats to peace, security and development, and a clear driver of conflict.

ARDI IMSEI, Member of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, noted that there were some silver linings - the most impressive of which was the steadfastness of the ordinary people of Yemen who displayed legendary resolve. The international community had to step in, and the recent decisions by some States to cease providing arms to the parties in the conflict represented another positive development. The Group welcomed the decision of the United States to cease support for offensive operations on the ground. The Group would continue to monitor the situation, with a view to shine a light on the fact that any durable peace would have to address accountability at its core.

KAMEL JENDOUBI, Chairperson of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, reiterated the Group’s willingness to cooperate whole heartedly with all stakeholders.

 

HRC21.017E