High Commissioner for Human Rights tells Human Rights Council that Human Rights situation in Belarus continues to worsen

OHCHR

Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Venezuela tells Council that it has reasonable rrounds to believe that the justice system has played a significant role in the State’s repression of opponents of the Government

Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

The Human Right Council this morning held an interactive dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Belarus.  It started an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.  The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the human rights situation in Belarus has continued to worsen in 2021 and expressed concerns about the severe restrictions on civic space and fundamental freedoms.  The scale and pattern of behaviour by the Belarusian authorities to date strongly suggested that limitations to freedoms of expression and assembly were primarily aimed at suppressing criticism of and dissent from Governmental policies, rather than any aim regarded as legitimate under human rights law, such as the protection of public order.  The High Commissioner was also alarmed by persistent allegations of widespread and systematic torture and ill-treatment in the context of arbitrary arrests and detention of protesters, adding that gender-based violence in detention continued to be of serious concern. 

Belarus, speaking as a country concerned, expressed its disagreement and reiterated its non-recognition of resolution 46/20 as nothing gave the Council the right to create separate structures with regard to Belarus.  The position of the Government had been ignored and the main goal of this process was a revolutionary change of power.  Accusations of political use of migration were rejected.  Concerning the protests, order had been restored in Belarus, and people were working and leading their normal lives.  The process of public discussion and analysis of the situation launched by the President continued in the country. 

In the discussion on Belarus, some speakers expressed strong support for the mandate.  Concerns were expressed about repression against civil society, human rights defenders, journalists, and media actors.  Specific concerns were expressed about the growing number of politically motivated trials resulting in severe sentences.   Some speakers rejected human rights mechanisms on specific countries, regretting their clear geopolitical motivations.  They reiterated their refusal of foreign interference and attempts to violate the sovereignty and self-determination of countries. 

Speaking in the discussion were: Lithuania on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Germany, Liechtenstein, Greece, Slovenia, France, Australia, Finland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Egypt, Austria, Albania, Venezuela, Netherlands, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United States, Russian Federation, Ireland, Belgium, China, Czech Republic, Croatia, Syria, Estonia, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Slovakia, United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Romania, Nicaragua, Iran, Sri Lanka, Iceland, Lebanon, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Eritrea.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Human Rights House Foundation, International Bar Association, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Article 19 – International Centre Against Censorship, World Organisation Against Torture, International Commission of Jurists, Ingenieurs du Monde, and Advocates for Human Rights.

The Council also started an interactive dialogue on the report of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Marta Valiñas, Chair of the Fact-finding Mission, said that the Mission had investigated and analysed the role of the Venezuelan justice system in the investigation and prosecution of opponents or perceived opponents.  The Mission had reasonable grounds to believe that the justice system in Venezuela had played a significant role in the State’s repression of opponents of the Government rather than providing them with protection when they were victims of human rights violations.  The Chair recommended that the Venezuelan authorities implemented the necessary measures to ensure that all actors in the justice system acted independently and in strict compliance with the law, so as to put an end to the documented human rights violations, ensure accountability and guarantee justice for the victims. 

Venezuela, speaking as a country concerned, rejected the new report that was politicised, partial, selective.  The information it was based on was questionable as the sources were anonymous and therefore could not be verified.  This was an instrumentalization of human rights.  The Mission had made serious and dangerous accusations against Venezuela.  This report undermined the credibility of the United Nations. 

In the discussion, speakers remained deeply concerned about the human rights situation and the recent violations of the rule of law documented in the report on Venezuela.  Human rights violations and the erosion of the rule of law were strongly condemned.  Specific concerns were expressed about the lack of independence of the judiciary.  Some speakers categorically rejected the presentation of reports that did not have the approval of the States concerned.  Speakers were compelled to point out that those considerations were one-sided, politicised and did not contribute to improving the human rights situation in the country. 

Speaking in the discussion on Venezuela were: European Union, Germany, Liechtenstein, Sovereign Order of Malta, France, Switzerland, Spain, Ecuador, Luxembourg, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Uruguay, Paraguay, United States, Russian Federation, Brazil, China, Czech Republic, Portugal, Georgia, Chile, and United Kingdom.

At the beginning of the meeting the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

In the discussion, speakers reiterated their support for the work of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and called for the renewal of its mandate.  Concerns were expressed about the lack of improvement in the human rights situation.  Speakers regretted that while space to speak out remained severely limited inside Burundi, the Government had also sought to repress the work of human rights defenders and journalists in exile.  Some speakers were concerned about the complacency and lack of independence of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights of Burundi.

The following non-governmental organizations spoke: Amnesty International, International Service for Human Rights, CIVICUS, Meezaan Center for Human Rights, and Advocates for Human Rights.

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-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 3 p.m. this afternoon, to conclude the interactive dialogue on Venezuela, followed by the oral update of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the extent of civilian casualties in Syria and the general debate on item 4 on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

The interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi started on Thursday, 23 September, and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers reiterated their support for the work of the Commission of Inquiry and called for the renewal of its mandate.  They regretted that the human rights situation in Burundi remained very worrying more than a year after the election of President Evariste Ndayishimiye and the establishment of his Government.  Concerns were expressed about the lack of improvement in the human rights situation.  Speakers expressed further concerns about the continuing grave violations that the report had documented and stated that more durable reforms were required to meaningfully improve the human rights situation in Burundi.  They regretted that while space to speak out remained severely limited inside Burundi, the Government had also sought to repress the work of human rights defenders and journalists in exile.  Some speakers were concerned about the complacency and lack of independence of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights of Burundi.

Concluding Remarks:

FRANÇOISE HAMPSON, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, noted the efforts of the Council to address certain cases of human rights violations.  The way to help Burundi was to support the structural reforms necessary for good governance of the rule of law and the judiciary system, as well as the respect of human rights.  The Government had to recognise that civil society did not exist to support them.  She further explained that the report identified clear recommendations and that the international community had to demonstrate its support to the authorities of Burundi while maintaining a high level of vigilance.  It was necessary to have an international mechanism to monitor the evolving situation in Burundi.  The people of Burundi must not be abandoned.

DOUDOU DIENE, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, thanked the Council for the interaction that showed that the situation in Burundi was worthy of attention and that the Commission had been credible.  The report was on the table and should be used for all to continue to support the people of Burundi.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus

Presentation of Oral Update

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she had appointed three international experts on 14 May 2021 – Karinna Moskalenko from the Russian Federation; Susan Bazilli from Canada; and Marko Milanović from Serbia – to support this examination.  She regretted that the request for a meeting with the Belarus Ambassador to discuss cooperation and access to Belarus had been rejected, which would prevent a working visit to the country.  The Office of the High Commissioner was currently completing the recruitment of the full secretariat of the Office examination of the situation in Belarus.  The human rights situation in Belarus had continued to worsen in 2021, said the High Commissioner, expressing concern about the severe restrictions on civic space and fundamental freedoms.  Over 650 individuals in Belarus were now believed to be imprisoned because of their opinions – among them, members of the opposition, human rights defenders, journalists, protesters and activists, including the chair of the well-known human rights group Viasna.  The scale and pattern of behaviour by the Belarusian authorities to date strongly suggested that limitations to freedoms of expression and assembly were primarily aimed at suppressing criticism of and dissent from Governmental policies, rather than any aim regarded as legitimate under human rights law, such as the protection of public order.

The High Commissioner was also alarmed by persistent allegations of widespread and systematic torture and ill-treatment in the context of arbitrary arrests and detention of protesters, adding that gender-based violence in detention continued to be of serious concern.  It had been reported that approximately 30 per cent of those arbitrarily detained were women and girls.  Thousands of people had fled Belarus since the 2020 presidential election, many to the Czech Republic, Germany, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, among other States.  The High Commissioner reminded all Governments that under international law, no one should ever be prevented from seeking asylum or other forms of international protection.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Belarus, speaking as a country concerned, expressed its disagreement and reiterated its non-recognition of resolution 46/20 as nothing gave the Council the right to create separate structures with regard to Belarus.  The position of the Government had been ignored and the main goal of this process was a revolutionary change of power.  Accusations of political use of migration were rejected.  Concerning the protests, order had been restored in Belarus, and people were working and leading their normal lives.  The process of public discussion and analysis of the situation launched by the President continued in the country.  The actions of the authorities of Belarus had been and would continue to be aimed at preserving the constitutional order, public order, and the promotion and protection of the rights and lawful interests of all citizens, without prejudice to social stability and national security interests.

Discussion

In the discussion, speakers expressed strong support for the High Commissioner’s mandate on Belarus and stated that no issue touched in the report should be left without proper attention as the human rights situation in Belarus continued to deteriorate.  Concerns were expressed about repression against civil society, human rights defenders, journalists, and media actors.  Systematic violations of human rights in Belarus were regretted.  Speakers regretted the suppression of independent political opinion in Belarus, and the Lukashenka regime’s escalation of violent tactics to crush the Belarusian people’s democratic aspirations, as well as the regime’s efforts to instrumentalise irregular third-country migrants.  Specific concerns were expressed about the growing number of politically motivated trials resulting in severe sentences.  Speakers called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately adhere to the country’s international commitments and obligations to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Speakers supported the people of Belarus in their legitimate demand for free and fair elections, which must be held as soon as possible in line with international standards and monitored by independent international observers.  One speaker urged Belarus to abolish the death penalty and, as a first step, to introduce a moratorium.  Speakers urged the Council to ensure that the examination of the human rights situation in Belarus was properly resourced with an adequate budget and personnel and supported by Member States in the region, including through country visits to neighbouring States.

Some speakers appreciated the information shared by Belarus and supported that country’s initiative to promote interaction on human rights issues in a format of equal dialogue.  They rejected human rights mechanisms on specific countries, regretting their clear geopolitical motivations.  The politicisation of the Human Rights Treaties and the implementation of mandates that did not have the support of the country concerned were rejected.  Speakers reiterated their refusal of foreign interference and attempts to violate the sovereignty and self-determination of countries.  Foreign interference in the internal affairs of other States always resulted in political and social instability, they said, and called on Member States to multiply their efforts to generate conditions of respect for the sovereign and democratic decision of all peoples.  Some speakers categorically rejected the unilateral coercive measures and external pressure imposed against the Belarusian Government and people and opposed the resolution that prompted this debate, which set dangerous precedents of unacceptable interference in the electoral processes of sovereign States. 

Concluding Remarks

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that human rights violations had occurred and continued to take place in Belarus and that a range of accountability measures could be considered.  On the resources available for this mandate, she stated that only 50 per cent of the resources had been approved and hoped the staff would be able to rely on increased resources for 2022.  She further explained that direct access was important, as for instance being physically able to access detention facilities, but also stated that much could be achieved even without physical access, such as for instance with flexible and creative tools.  The Office had been interviewing victims and survivors in exile abroad and material had been collected without being present in Belarus.  She specified that a constructive dialogue was always better achieved on the ground and hoped for a country visit.  The High Commissioner concluded by saying that support from within and outside Belarus had been central to document violations of human rights and acknowledged the courage and risks taken by those who collaborated with the Council. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Presentation of Report

MARTA VALIÑAS, Chair of the Independent International Fact-finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, presenting the report and annex of the Fact-Finding Mission on the results of its investigations over the past year, said that the Mission had now concluded the first year of its second mandate and that they had investigated and analysed the role of the Venezuelan justice system in the investigation and prosecution of opponents or perceived opponents of the Government.  Based on its investigations, the Mission had reasonable grounds to believe that the justice system in Venezuela had played a significant role in the State’s repression of opponents of the Government rather than providing them with protection when they were victims of human rights violations.  The Mission had reasonable grounds to believe that, in the cases analysed, judges and prosecutors had failed in their obligation to protect opponents against arbitrary detentions and arrests and, on occasion, had contributed to such arbitrary detentions.  Of concern was the fact that, in some of the cases analysed, the Mission had reasonable grounds to believe that the prosecution used information obtained under torture or coercion.  The Mission also had reasonable grounds to believe that, in certain cases, actors in the justice system had deprived detainees of their right to legal representation. 

The Mission had also documented how the independence of the Venezuelan justice system had been weakened, compromising the ability of judges and prosecutors to carry out their functions without interference.  The Mission recommended that the Venezuelan authorities implemented the necessary measures to ensure that all actors in the justice system acted independently and in strict compliance with the law, so as to put an end to the documented human rights violations, ensure accountability, and guarantee justice for the victims.  The Mission regretted that the Venezuelan authorities continued to refuse to respond to its requests for information and attempts at communication and cooperation.  Ms. Valiñas concluded by saying that despite the difficulties that the Mission had faced, it was pleased to have been able to conduct thorough investigations.  She recalled the duty of the Venezuelan authorities to guarantee the safety and protection of any person who had collaborated with the Mission and would continue to monitor any reprisals against them.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Venezuela, speaking as a country concerned, explained that it rejected the new report as it was full of far-fetched elements and could not be taken seriously.  This report was politicised, partial and selective.  The information it was based on was questionable as the sources were anonymous and therefore could not be verified.  This was an instrumentalization of human rights and the Mission had made serious and dangerous accusations against Venezuela.  This report undermined the credibility of the United Nations. 

Discussion

Speakers thanked the Fact-Finding Mission and remained deeply concerned about the human rights situation and the recent violations of the rule of law documented in the report, especially the repression of journalists, civil society representatives and human rights defenders, including intimidation and incrimination, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances.  Human rights violations and the erosion of the rule of law were strongly rejected.  Speakers stated that there was reasonable ground to believe that most of the political cases had not been investigated and/or prosecuted in accordance with national and international human rights law.  Specific concerns were expressed about the lack of independence of the judiciary, whose governmental control adversely affected the entire society and the effectiveness and credibility of institutions.  Some speakers called on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to fulfil its obligations under human rights law and to immediately adopt the necessary measures to restore the independence of the judicial system.  They further called for the full release of all those arbitrarily detained and for the intimidation of human rights defenders and civil society members to cease.

Some speakers categorically rejected the presentation of reports that did not have the approval of the States concerned.  Concerns were expressed about the multiple and persistent dysfunctions and omissions that the document pointed out regarding interference in the independence of the judicial and prosecutorial system, forms of pressure on judges and prosecutors, the participation of external actors in criminal proceedings, acts and omissions of judges and prosecutors, and the absence of responses from the justice system to allegations of human rights violations.  Speakers were compelled to point out that those considerations were one-sided, politicised and did not contribute to improving the human rights situation in the country.  They regretted that Caracas’ willingness to cooperate with the United Nations human rights mechanisms on the basis of objectivity and impartiality continued to be ignored.  Attention was drawn to the fact that unilateral coercive measures had had an extremely negative impact on the realisation of the rights of Venezuelans.  Speakers were convinced that the problems facing Venezuela had to be resolved within the framework of the national Constitution and existing regulations, without destructive foreign influence and without the participation of international monitoring mechanisms not supported by Caracas.  Speakers also regretted that the application of coercive, arbitrary, unilateral and illegal measures, which constituted true aggressions to the welfare of the Venezuelan people, continued to be used to harm a nation immensely rich in moral values.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/le-conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-sur-penche-sur-les-situations-au

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