Human Rights Council Discusses Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan and in Tigray Region of Ethiopia

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan and started an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on her oral update on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and on progress made in the context of the joint investigation undertaken by the Office of the High Commissioner and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the report on Afghanistan focused on human rights developments since the Taliban seized power in August 2021. While the decline in hostilities had seen a decrease in civilian casualties, the human rights situation for many Afghans was of profound concern. The Afghan people were facing devastating humanitarian and economic crises that severely impacted their rights, with half the population suffering extreme hunger. Actions taken by the de facto authorities had curtailed women’s rights and freedoms, with women largely excluded from the workforce due to the economic crisis and restrictions. The High Commissioner remained concerned about the human rights defenders killed and detained since August and the dozens of media workers subjected to threats and arrests by the de facto authorities. The High Commissioner urged the de facto authorities to recognise and respect Afghanistan’s State obligations to protect human rights as they implemented governance in the country.

Afghanistan, speaking as the country concerned, said the support of the international community and its tireless efforts in favour of Afghanistan were appreciated, but the situation on the ground was becoming more of a concern every day. The country faced a multitude of crises, but the human rights of the people must remain a priority. The Taliban had resumed the cycle of violence and committed a litany of human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law with full impunity, most of which had gone unreported and undocumented. Whilst all supported engagement in good faith, the Taliban and its conglomerates of affiliates were terrorists, and had come into power through violence against civilians. The international community had provided much-needed humanitarian assistance but should strive to ensure that it was not misused.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers were deeply concerned about the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, particularly reports of arbitrary killings of human rights defenders, political activists associated with the previous government and sexual minorities. The Taliban needed to respect the human rights of everyone, as the deterioration of human rights since August 2021 was worrisome. Extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances were undermining the hard-won progress in human rights. Speakers massively condemned the restrictions imposed by the Afghan de facto authorities on organizations that promoted the rights of women and girls. Other speakers linked the situation in Afghanistan to the direct failure of American policies. The irresponsible withdrawal of American troops had directly led to this crisis. The humanitarian situation was the direct result of the politics set by Western countries, which had blocked the country’s access to funding.

Speaking in the discussion on Afghanistan were the European Union, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Mexico on behalf of a group of Latin American countries, Iceland on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, Australia on behalf of a group of countries, Liechtenstein, Germany, Qatar, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Sierra Leone, Montenegro, UN Women, Luxembourg, India, France, Venezuela, Ecuador, China, Pakistan, Egypt, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Australia, Ireland, United States, Belgium, United Kingdom, Greece, Albania, Malta, Croatia, Turkey, Poland, Italy, New Zealand, Malawi, Iran, Kazakhstan and Japan.

Also speaking were the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Law Council of Australia, Emergency Life Support for Civilian War Victims, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Freedom Now, International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, Save the Children International, World Evangelical Alliance, Organization for Poverty Alleviation and Development, Alliance Defending Freedom, and British Humanist Association.

Ms. Bachelet, presenting her oral update on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, said that during the period from 22 November 2021 to 28 February 2022, Ethiopia’s human rights and security situation had deteriorated significantly, largely due to the extension of the conflict in Tigray to other parts of northern Ethiopia. Reports were received of severe human rights violations in the context of the expanding conflict in Afar and Amhara regions and in Tigray. The High Commissioner urged the Government, Tigrayan forces and all other parties to the conflict to cease such violations and expressed alarm at the growing humanitarian crisis. Hostilities continued to block the delivery of humanitarian supplies into Tigray. The High Commissioner urged all sides to allow unhindered humanitarian access to affected areas.

Speaking as the country concerned, Ethiopia said that it had been the subject of discussion within the Human Rights Council for the last few months, based on rigged narratives that had nothing to do with the reality on the ground. Ethiopia regretted that the efforts of the democratically elected Government were not taken into account. It was unfortunate that at times, human rights were cynically used in a manner to bolster terrorist groups to the detriment of the Government. The Government of Ethiopia was endeavouring to return to complete normalcy in the region, and to continue its engagement with international institutions as well as guaranteeing to the country a solid path to democratisation. Ethiopia called on the international community to support its national mechanisms.

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers said that the gravity and scale of the atrocities were unacceptable. A number of the violations could amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. The warring parties should commit all efforts towards achieving a political solution and guarantee full humanitarian access, the restoration of banking and telecommunication systems, the release of political prisoners, and an end to the state of emergency. It was important to ensure accountability and redress for victims. Ethiopia should strengthen its engagement with the Council.

Speaking on Ethiopia were European Union, Côte d’Ivoire on behalf of the African Group, Iceland on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, Germany, France and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-ninth regular session can be found here.

The Council is scheduled to reconvene at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 March, to conclude the interactive dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner on the situation in Tigray region of Ethiopia. It will then hear the presentation by the High Commissioner for Human Rights of her global oral update on the activities of her Office, followed by the presentation of reports by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Cyprus, as well as an oral update on Eritrea, followed by a general debate.

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

Documentation

The Council has before it a report (A/HRC/49/24) by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.

Presentation of the Report

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Council had received her report on Afghanistan with a focus on human rights developments since the Taliban seized power in August 2021. While the decline in hostilities had seen a decrease in civilian casualties, the human rights situation for many Afghans was of profound concern. At least 1,153 civilian casualties had been documented. A clear pattern of more than 50 extra-judicial killings of individuals was linked to the ISKP (Islamic State Khorasan Province) extremist group, including cases of beheadings. A decree was released in February, ordering security forces not to open fire on individuals at checkpoints and requiring them to have court orders prior to searching private homes.

The Afghan people were facing devastating humanitarian and economic crises that severely impacted their rights, with half the population suffering extreme hunger. Following the Taliban’s takeover, international sanctions that previously applied to the Taliban effectively became sanctions on the country’s governing authorities. The resulting liquidity crisis had contributed to a full-scale economic crash and essential non-humanitarian aid to the country was suspended. The Security Council’s adoption in December of resolution 2615, to exempt humanitarian transactions was a welcome first step to enable work that could save millions of lives. Actions taken by the de facto authorities had curtailed women’s rights and freedoms, with women largely excluded from the workforce due to the economic crisis and restrictions. The de facto authorities had indicated that children of all ages – girls and boys – would return to school in the new solar year. Nation-wide implementation of this commitment at all levels of education was urgent to ensure that all children had equal access to quality education.

Afghan women and girls were calling for their rights to fully participate in all aspects of life and the High Commissioner fully endorsed these demands. The High Commissioner remained concerned about the human rights defenders killed and detained since August and the dozens of media workers subjected to threats and arrets by the de facto authorities. The safety and security of all Afghan judges and lawyers, particularly women legal professionals, was also a concern. Credible reports had been received regarding the extra-judicial killings of more than 100 former members of the Afghan National Security and Government personnel, or their family members, carried out by the de facto authorities since August. The High Commissioner urged the de facto authorities to recognise and respect Afghanistan’s State obligations to protect human rights as they implemented governance in the country. The full participation, education and empowerment of women and girls was fundamental to Afghanistan’s future peace and development. United Nations colleagues would continue to work with the de facto authorities to promote and protect human rights for all Afghan people.

Statement by Country Concerned

Afghanistan, speaking as the country concerned, said the High Commissioner was to be thanked for her report and her tireless efforts. The support of the international community and its tireless efforts in favour of Afghanistan were appreciated, but the situation on the ground was becoming of more concern every day. The country faced a multitude of crises, but the human rights of the people must remain a priority. In the past, Afghanistan had maintained a high level of cooperation with the international community, the United Nations, and the human rights mechanisms, achieving great success. However, the abandonment of the country and the takeover by the Taliban had put the country into a downward spiral.

The Taliban had resumed the cycle of violence and committed a litany of human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law with full impunity, most of which had gone unreported and undocumented. This was a picture where the future of women, education for girls, and the ability to address violations had been taken away. The work of brave human rights defenders and journalists was responded to by torture and arrest and threats. Enforced disappearances, targeted killings and televised executions were common. Food insecurity existed. All previous democratic leaders were forced to live in hiding. Whilst all supported engagement in good faith, the Taliban and its conglomerates of affiliates were terrorists, and had come into power through violence against civilians. Recognising their brutal rule was similar to a carte blanche, allowing all similar groups to see this as a dangerous precedent. The international community had provided much-needed humanitarian assistance but should strive to ensure that it was not misused. All resources should go behind a representative Government that was committed to ensuring the rights of all the people of the country, including women. The Special Rapporteur was congratulated for robustly pursuing his mandate. The international community should ensure that no more human rights violations took place without being recorded and should hold the perpetrators responsible.

Discussion

In the discussion, speakers were deeply concerned about the report and the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, particularly reports of arbitrary killings of human rights defenders, political activists associated with the previous government, and sexual minorities. Severe restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and participation in public affairs were witnessed; journalists and civil society actors remained at high risk; and rapidly shrinking access to health and education of women was reported. Speakers were dismayed about the state of forced disappearances and requested those cases to be adequately investigated and prosecuted, calling for the full cooperation of the Taliban with the Special Rapporteur to promote accountability. By appointing a Special Rapporteur, a clear message was sent to the Taliban that no political solution could eclipse the respect of human rights, which also included the respect of international humanitarian law. The Taliban were denying the lack of representability of their government and had done nothing to eradicate terrorist groups. They needed to respect the human rights of everyone as the deterioration of human rights since August 2021 was worrisome. Extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances were undermining the hard-won progress in human rights. Speakers reiterated the importance of investigating human rights violations and called for reparations for victims.

Speakers were also gravely worried about the erosion of the rights of women and girls, in particular in terms of access to education. Indeed, speakers massively condemned the restrictions imposed by the Afghan de facto authorities on organizations that promoted the rights of women and girls. Human rights were systematically suppressed, and Afghan women lacked access to basic fundamental rights, living a life that was particularly hostile to them. The Taliban were urged to respect human rights standards. Women should be actively involved in the humanitarian processes as well as in the political and economic life of the country. More than 3 million women and girls were living in regions without full agreement for humanitarian workers to operate. Speakers also expressed concerns about the state of the humanitarian crisis and called on the humanitarian community to increase the humanitarian aid and to the de facto authorities to work with humanitarian organizations. Speakers also worried about the consequences of the economic crisis in Afghanistan as increases in prices were direly impacting the population. They warned against the deterioration of the economic situation.

Other speakers were concerned about the deficit shown by the report which did not provide the full context of the human rights situation as for instance the dire humanitarian situation had contributed to the serious violation of human rights in the country. They praised the relative peace in which civilians were living after decades of conflict and wars and linked the situation in Afghanistan to the direct failure of American policies. The irresponsible withdrawal of American troops had directly led to this crisis. The humanitarian situation was the direct result of the politics set by Western countries who blocked the country’s access to funding. Calls were made urging the United States to abandon its unilateral sanctions.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on her Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia

Presentation of Oral Update

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting her oral update, said that during the period from 22 November 2021 to 28 February 2022, Ethiopia’s human rights and security situation had deteriorated significantly, largely due to the extension of the conflict in Tigray to other parts of northern Ethiopia. Reports were received of severe human rights violations in the context of the expanding conflict in the Afar and Amhara regions and in Tigray. Multiple air strikes, carried out by the Ethiopian Air Force in Tigray, had resulted in civilian deaths and casualties and the destruction of civilian property – 304 killings had been reported from aerial bombardments during this time. Around 120 civilians were reportedly killed when a market and hotel in Alamata town were hit by air attacks, while two air raids in Tigray had hit the Mai-Aini refugee camp and the Dedebit site for internally displaced people, killing 60 people.

In Afar, Tigray forces had reportedly attacked civilian areas during an offensive in January that deployed heavy weaponry. There were severe civilian casualties and hospital records indicated that some 844 people had received treatment for wounds, from explosives and heavy weapons. The Office had received reports of 306 rape incidents by Tigrayan forces in the Amhara region, with most survivors receiving no support. Severe damage to schools and health facilities in Amhara and Afar regions had been observed, with almost 2 million pupils affected by the destruction of schools. Over 2,100 health facilities in Amhara and Afar also suffered destruction and looting. The High Commissioner urged the Government, Tigrayan forces and all other parties to the conflict to cease such violations and expressed alarm at the growing humanitarian crisis.

Hostilities continued to block the delivery of humanitarian supplies into Tigray. The High Commissioner urged all sides to allow unhindered humanitarian access to affected areas. The internal displacement of a large number of people was concerning; in Afar around 300,000 people were reportedly displaced between 23 and 26 January 2022 due to attacks by Tigrayan forces. Some 15,000 arbitrary arrests and detentions were reported in connection with the state of emergency decreed by the Government; however, the Minister for Justice had informed that most detainees arrested under the state of emergency powers had been released.

Following publication of the joint report by the Office of the High Commissioner and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, the Government had established an inter-ministerial Taskforce to oversee the implementation of its recommendations, in the context of the conflict in Tigray. The High Commissioner was pleased that priority had been given to the Taskforce’s committee on investigations and prosecutions. The Government has deployed investigation teams to 10 regions, including areas previously occupied by Tigrayan forces, and reiterated its commitment to bring all those responsible for human rights violations and abuses to justice. A National Dialogue Commission was also set up, to prepare for constructive dialogue towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would continue to monitor the situation across the country, with the High Commissioner urging the Government to cooperate with the Council’s International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, and to advance its implementation of the recommendations of the joint report.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Ethiopia, speaking as the country concerned, said that Ethiopia had been the subject of discussion within the Human Rights Council for the last few months, based on rigged narratives that had nothing to do with the reality on the ground. Ethiopia regretted that the efforts of the democratically elected Government were not taken into account. It was unfortunate that at times human rights were cynically used in a manner to bolster terrorist groups to the detriment of the Government of Ethiopia. Ethiopia abided by its human rights obligations and had taken the initiative to invite the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct its investigation as well as accepted the recommendations of the joint investigation report. The Taskforce was organized in four working groups, each committee led by the relevant portfolio minister, in order to ensure full accountability. Ethiopia, however, remained concerned about the mass killings committed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front rebel group that was mercilessly attacking civilians and neighbouring communities, further aggravating the precarious humanitarian situation, making it impossible to deliver humanitarian help to the people of the region. The Government of Ethiopia endeavoured to return to complete normalcy in the region, and to continue its engagement with international institutions as well as guaranteeing to the country a solid path to democratisation. Ethiopia called on the international community to support its national mechanics.

Discussion

In the subsequent discussion, speakers said that the gravity and scale of the atrocities was unacceptable. A number of the violations could amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. The warring parties should commit all efforts towards achieving a political solution and guarantee full humanitarian access, the restoration of banking and telecommunication systems, the release of political prisoners, and an end to the state of emergency. It was important to ensure accountability and redress for victims. The measures taken by the Government to facilitate the joint investigation and the implementation of the recommendations contained therein were welcomed. There was a need to undertake an investigation into the allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law. It was important for the International Commission of Human Rights for Ethiopia to build upon the report of the joint investigation, and examine allegations not covered thereby. Some speakers said that the concerns of the country concerned should be taken into account by the Office of the High Commissioner. The human rights abuses and violations in the northern parts of Ethiopia must stop, and accountability must be ensured for all parties involved. The human rights, security and safety of civilians and humanitarian workers must be ensured. Ethiopia should strengthen its engagement with the Council.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2022/03/conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-la-situation-des-droits-de-lhomme

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