Human Rights Council concludes interactive dialogue on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, hears presentations on Nicaragua, Venezuela, and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol in Ukraine

The Human Rights Council this morning heard presentations by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights of an oral update on Nicaragua, and of two reports on Venezuela and on the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol in Ukraine, after concluding an interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner and on her oral update on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting an oral update on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, said persistent impunity had eroded trust in the Nicaraguan authorities, and together with the lack of legal and institutional reforms, this increased the risk of new human rights violations. She reiterated her recommendation to release all those deprived of their liberty in the context of the protests during the last two years. The health crisis caused by COVID-19 had resulted in greater restrictions on the civic and democratic space.

On Venezuela, Ms. Bachelet expressed appreciation for the increased access her Office had in Venezuela, and their cooperation since the signing of the Letter of Understanding in September 2019. People in Venezuela continued to suffer grave violations of their economic and social rights due to low salaries, high food prices, persisting deficiencies in public services such as electricity, water and fuel shortages, and precarious access to healthcare. The crisis had been exacerbated by the increase in sectoral sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, the High Commissioner noted that human rights violations involving torture and other ill-treatment perpetrated by law enforcement agencies continued in Crimea. The Russian Federation had failed to uphold its obligations as the occupying power in Crimea and the Government of Ukraine was reminded of its obligation to use all available means to ensure respect for the enjoyment of human rights in Crimea as well as of Crimean residents outside of Crimea.

Nicaragua, speaking as a concerned country via video message, said that it was easy to talk about human rights. The difficult thing was to make their application a reality, especially economic, social and cultural rights. Nicaragua had worked to make those rights a reality since 2007, when the Sandinista Front again assumed responsibility for governing the country.

Venezuela, speaking as a concerned country via video message, noted that the mandate was based on a spirit of dialogue and the principle of non-interference. However, there would be no talk of Venezuela today if the principle of non-selectivity was applied, and instead the Council would talk of the grave human rights violations in the United States.

At the end of the meeting, the Council started an interactive dialogue with Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

In presenting her report, Ms. Giammarinaro stated that the rampant exploitation of vulnerable workers – among them many women and children – had become even more severe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the pandemic confirmed that the trend was still – and even more today – towards increasing severe exploitation, including in the context of trafficking. She spoke about her trip to Montenegro.

Montenegro spoke as a concerned country.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers noted that 20 years after the adoption of the Palermo Protocol, trafficking in persons remained a great concern. Many speakers expressed agreement with the Special Rapporteur’s focus on early support for victims, social inclusion and access to remedies in her report. Speakers also expressed their appreciation for Ms. Giammarinaro’s six years of tenure, which was coming to an end.

Speaking during the interactive dialogue were Sweden on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, the State of Palestine on behalf of the Arab Group, Liechtenstein, the United Children’s Fund, Togo, Germany, Cuba, Paraguay, Belgium, Thailand and Tunisia.

At the outset of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s annual report and her oral update on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Speakers said the Council had the responsibility to uphold the principles of universality, objectivity, and non-selectivity. Through the 2030 Agenda, the world had the opportunity to enable economic transformations that would foster equality and liberty. Full and unhindered access should be granted to human rights mechanisms, some speakers stressed. In these times where COVID-19 had caused human rights violations, it was paramount that the Human Rights Council continue to discharge its mandate with impartiality.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her concluding remarks, reiterated that the Office of the High Commissioner would continue working on, and monitoring, human rights in the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking during the interactive debate were Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kenya, Slovakia (video message), Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Rwanda, South Sudan, Niger, Algeria, Albania, Cabo Verde, Chad, Zimbabwe, Kuwait (video message), United Kingdom, Brazil and Mali.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Human Rights Commission of Australia (video message), International Service for Human Rights, Conectas Direitos Humanos (video message), Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (video message), International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Project and Human Rights Watch.

Speaking in a right of reply following the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner were Morocco, India, Venezuela (video message), Cambodia, Malaysia (video message), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China, Syria, Russian Federation, Myanmar, Armenia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Brazil, Namibia, Pakistan, Japan, Thailand, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Rwanda.

The Council will next meet in public at 3 p.m. to start the interactive dialoguewith the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children. It will conclude the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, on Friday, 3 July.

Interactive Dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Annual Report and on her Oral Update on the Human Rights Implications of the COVID-19

The dialogue with the High Commissioner started in previous meetings and a summary can be found hereherehere and here.

Discussion

In the interactive debate, speakers said the Council had the responsibility to uphold the principles of universality, objectivity, and non-selectivity in the context of human rights. They warned against double standards and meddling in countries’ internal affairs; the Council should uphold the principle of territorial integrity. Through the 2030 Agenda, the world had the opportunity to enable economic transformations that would foster equality and liberty. Full and unhindered access should be granted to human rights mechanisms, some speakers stressed. In these times where COVID-19 had caused human rights violations, it was paramount that the Human Rights Council continue to discharge its mandate with impartiality. Speakers encouraged those present to remember that the virus, not people, represented a threat. The Council should conduct its business in a manner that avoided the polarization of discussions. Several speakers said the “one country, two systems” principle should be upheld in the administrative and security management of Hong Kong. While supporting the right of countries to develop policies that were adequate for their own situations, it was not acceptable to invoke cultural differences as a cover for human rights violations.

The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action had never been fully endorsed by the Office of the High Commissioner, speakers stated. The Office should give it more prominence and work towards the elaboration of a related outreach programme. The pandemic had given rise to a new wave of hate speech and discrimination, which notably targeted Jewish people. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should monitor the closing of civic space closely, as it foreshadowed human rights violations. Such closing was indeed an early warning sign. Several speakers drew the High Commissioner’s attention to governments that, under the pretence of responding to the pandemic, committed human rights violations by excessively restricting fundamental liberties. Speakers expressed concerns about human rights violations in Brazil, Russian Federation, occupied Palestinian territories, Nicaragua, Algeria, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, China and Tanzania, amongst others.

Concluding Remarks by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her concluding remarks thanked all the delegates and members of civil society for their active participation in the dialogue. She reiterated that the Office of the High Commissioner would continue working on, and monitoring, human rights in the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The inclusive participation of civil society was key in the current context and she welcomed the provision of flexible channels, remote participation, cost-effective and accessible online platforms etc. Post-COVID recovery must target and prioritise the most vulnerable as well as those who were hit hardest by the pandemic. The virus did not discriminate but its impacts were different on the different people, laying bare a variety of intersections around gender, age, geographic location, indigeneity, ethnic affiliation, ableness, class and more. States often did not have the disaggregated data needed to respond to these intersections properly, even though Ms. Bachelet noted that many States did want to respond to the pandemic by prioritising the most vulnerable.

Responding to questions regarding the interplay between COVID-19 with climate change and displacement, the High Commissioner noted that sustainable ecosystems and biodiversity supported the enjoyment of all human rights, and their deterioration directly affected this enjoyment, as well as causing diseases such as COVID-19. It was important to protect human rights defenders and environmental activists, in this regard. In order to ensure accountability, the Office reported on how national COVID responses were impacting human rights and State obligations, and compiled best practices, making them public. Ms Bachelet emphasised that the world still did not know much about the virus, and that despite calls to global action, international solidarity was lacking; there were no short-term solutions. States must work together on researching, producing and distributing a vaccine, rather than compete over it, building back better in the process.

Presentation by the High Commissioner for Human Rights of an Oral Update on Nicaragua and of Reports on Venezuela and Ukraine under Agenda Item 2 on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner and Reports of her Office and the Secretary-General

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Outcomes of the investigation into allegations of possible human right violations of the human rights to life, liberty and physical and moral integrity in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (A/HRC/44/20).

The Council has before it the Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine (A/HRC/44/21).

Oral Update by the High Commissioner on the Human Rights Situation in Nicaragua

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said persistent impunity had eroded trust in the Nicaraguan authorities, and together with the lack of legal and institutional reforms, increased the risk of new human rights violations. She welcomed the recent release of 4,515 inmates under special measures so they could be with their families, releases that had also reduced overcrowding in prisons. However, she noted that none of the 86 “political prisoners” registered by civil society as of 4 May 2020 had benefited from these measures. She reiterated her recommendation for Nicaragua to release all those deprived of their liberty in the context of the protests during the last two years. The health crisis caused by COVID-19 had resulted in greater restrictions on the civic and democratic space. Official discourse stigmatized people who criticized the State response or disseminated information contradicting official sources. The pandemic had also increased violence against women, femicides in particular. On 25 June, through a legislative decree approved in an expedited process, the National Assembly had cancelled the legal registration of the Asociación de Hermanamientos Municipales (ASODHERMU), a non-profit organization that had been developing social activities in the municipality of Camoapa. Reiterating her Office’s willingness to provide technical cooperation to all actors, she urged the Council to continue monitoring the situation.

Presentation by the High Commissioner of the Report on the Human Rights Situation in Venezuela

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed appreciation for the increased access her Office had in Venezuela, and their cooperation since the signing of the Letter of Understanding in September 2019. People in Venezuela continued to suffer grave violations of their economic and social rights due to low salaries, high food prices, persisting deficiencies in public services such as electricity, water and fuel shortages, and precarious access to healthcare. The crisis had been exacerbated by the increase in sectoral sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic. She welcomed the agreement reached between the Government and part of the opposition to join forces with the Pan American Health Organization to deal with the pandemic. Her Office continued to document restrictions in the civic and democratic space, with violations of freedom of expression and the right to information, and the detention of political leaders, journalists, trade unionists, health professionals, and people protesting about public services. Attacks and the obstruction of the work of parliamentarians of the National Assembly continued. She regretted that political actors had failed to reach a negotiated solution to resolve the profound political crisis. Recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice had reduced the possibility of creating conditions for credible and democratic electoral processes. Ms. Bachelet reiterated her call for an inclusive political negotiation, based on human rights and the restitution of political rights. Her Office remained available to contribute to these efforts.

Presentation by the High Commissioner of the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, Ukraine

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that human rights violations involving torture and other ill-treatment perpetrated by law enforcement agencies continued in Crimea, expressing particular concern over credible reports from victims stating that perpetrators were not held accountable. Further concerns remained about inadequate conditions of detention in Crimea, which could amount to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The ongoing criminalization of freedom of expression on social media was also worrisome, with journalists and media workers continuing to face interference, as the Office received reports of pressure and threats by law enforcement on landlords of facilities where Crimean Tatar civic groups planned to meet. The Russian Federation had failed to uphold its obligations as the occupying power in Crimea, specifically with regard to transfers of detainees from the occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power, the continual application of criminal legislation in Crimea, and in carrying out its tenth military conscription campaign in Crimea, in violation of international humanitarian law. The report also reminded the Government of Ukraine of its obligation to use all available means to ensure respect for the enjoyment of human rights in Crimea as well as of Crimean residents outside of Crimea.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Nicaragua, speaking as a concerned country via video message, said that it was easy to talk about human rights. The difficult thing was to make their application a reality, especially economic, social and cultural rights. Starting in 2007, when the Sandinista Front again assumed responsibility for governing Nicaragua, it had worked to make those rights a reality. Nicaragua, in addition to fighting the pandemic, must also combat the disinformation and hate campaigns emanating from sectors adverse to the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity. Unfortunately, the country reports presented in these forums did not recognize, or take into consideration, the responses and reports provided by Nicaragua in the context of the consultations carried out by the Office through its regional office. In the oral update presented, this Council had been deprived of the opportunity to learn about the actions that the Government of Reconciliation and National Unity of the Republic of Nicaragua had implemented in upholding the human, economic, social and cultural rights of the Nicaraguan people.

Venezuela, speaking as a concerned country via video message, noted that the mandate was based on a spirit of dialogue and the principle of non-interference. However, there would be no talk of Venezuela today if the principle of non-selectivity was applied, and instead the Council would talk of the grave human rights violations in the United States. The Government of President Trump continued its economic sanctions on Venezuela, denying the country the resources it needed to protect and provide for its citizens. Despite this continuing campaign, 60,000 Venezuelans who had left the country due to the impact of these legal measures had since returned to Venezuela. The main problems in the country were related to the imposition of these criminal unilateral measures. Despite these actions, more than 6 million families received food distributions and the Government had built 3.1 million decent houses and carried out 1.9 million COVID-19 tests. Venezuela regretted that the report included information coming from unreliable sources, having a negative impact on the credibility and objectivity of the report, and the Office of the High Commissioner at large. Venezuela reiterated that it provided open access to the country for the High Commissioner, and was moving towards social justice through peace, hoping to further enhance cooperation with her Office.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children on Trafficking in persons, especially women and children (A/HRC/44/45).

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children on the Visit to Montenegro (A/HRC/44/45/Add.1).

Presentation by the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children

MARIA GRAZIA GIAMMARINARO, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, speaking via video message, said this year was the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Palermo Protocol, the main international instrument against trafficking. Now was the time to reflect on the implementation of the Protocol and related national legislation, their main gaps, as well as on the way forward. The adoption of the Protocol in 2000 had mobilized enormous energies worldwide. However, inconsistencies in relation to human rights standards had been highlighted by experts, academia and civil society organizations, and the implementation of national legislation, not always fully complying with the Protocol, had often produced further violations of the rights of persons concerned, such as their detention in so-called closed shelters. The increasing trend towards the criminalization of irregular migration was a driving factor of trafficking. Restrictive migration policies and xenophobic or racist approaches to migration exacerbated or even created vulnerabilities to trafficking and exploitation, as undocumented migrants, including trafficked persons, fearing deportation, were often induced to accept exploitative conditions.

The rampant exploitation of vulnerable workers – among them many women and children – had become even more severe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of the pandemic confirmed that the trend was still – and even more today – towards increasing severe exploitation, including in the context of trafficking. The rights of trafficked persons could be protected only if the rights of migrants and workers were protected. Dedicated procedures for protective purposes were needed to identify vulnerabilities to trafficking and exploitation, especially in the context of mixed migration flows. States should establish reporting obligations for businesses, including in relation to their supply chains. She stressed that trafficked and exploited persons were entitled to remedies, including compensation, which States should ensure through penal, civil and labour law judicial procedures.

Turning to the country visit she conducted to Montenegro from 1 to 8 November 2019, she expressed concerns about the low number of victims identified and supported, and the low number of criminal proceedings.

Statement by Concerned Country

Montenegro, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the report, thanked the Special Rapporteur for her visit and reiterated Montenegro’s strong support for her mandate. Recommendations in the report had been carefully considered by the Government, requiring a comprehensive set of reforms that were already being initiated. As part of the prevention of specific forms of trafficking, especially trafficking of children, training and awareness raising campaigns were being conducted among officials at all levels of the State. The new Strategy 2019-2024 on this issue had been instituted; 50 persons had been arrested, charges had been brought against two persons, and investigative activities had been taken in seven cases since the establishment of new institutional structures that aimed at preventing trafficking. The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare had received 40,000 euros in 2020 to house victims of trafficking, a programme used so far by 40 victims. Montenegro had been developing regulations and policies that could offer the opportunity to lead on this issue in the region, and the Government was looking forward to further cooperation. Montenegro commended Ms. Giammarinaro for her tenure.

Interactive Dialogue

In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed their appreciation for Ms. Giammarinaro’s six years of tenure and welcomed her report. Twenty years after the adoption of the Palermo Protocol and Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, trafficking in persons remained a great concern. Many speakers expressed agreement with the Special Rapporteur’s focus on early support for victims, social inclusion and access to remedies in her report. It was also important to devote part of existing resources to provide assistance to encourage the long-term empowerment of victims. Speakers were also in agreement with Ms. Giammarinaro’s shift of focus away from a criminalisation approach that tended to focus on perpetrators and ignore victims, towards one that centered victims first, especially women and children. Some speakers noted that regional cooperation with a view to improve national implementation, such as relevant regional conventions, was the foundation for some States in implementing their response to trafficking in persons, while also acknowledging the importance of placing human rights first. The United Nations and its partners should ally with, and provide tools to, the financial sector and other non-state actors in the quest to prevent and address trafficking in persons. Speakers agreed that the gender dimension was of utmost importance, emphasising that COVID-19 made the situation even more difficult to address due to greater effects suffered by the most vulnerable, including victims of trafficking.

 

 

Source: UN Human Rights Council