Tackling impunity: expectations and challenges facing the Human Rights Council

Press release

Opening the 21st session of the Human Rights Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay urged the 47 member states to show they take their mandate of promotion and protection of human rights seriously, by addressing adequately the most pressing crises and chronic situations. Throughout the three weeks session, FIDH will mobilise, in support of its member organisations, to address issues of impunity and tailor a much needed response of the international community to situations in the Sudans, Mali, the Maldives, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Syria.

While the Council is expected to renew its attention on Sudan, we are concerned that impunity has fuelled further grave human rights violations declared FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen. Civilians pay a heavy toll in the conflicts in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile states or contested provinces like Abyei. The humanitarian situation in Darfur remains a matter of concern. In the North, youth protests are repressed through an excessive use of force, and dissident voices, be them from journalists or human rights defenders are silenced, victims of arbitrary arrests and intimidation. FIDH regrets that the Government of Sudan has denied access for the UN Independent Expert to the conflict areas and call on the Council to react strongly and make explicit reference to the monitoring dimension of its mandate, and condemn ongoing serious violations of human rights perpetrated in several parts of the country. FIDH also calls for the establishement of an independent monitoring mechanism of the situation in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, qualifying violations and identifying their authors.

Meanwhile, the new state of South Sudan is faced with important human rights challenges [1]. Women still suffer violence and discriminations, freedom of expression for human rights defenders and the media are neither safeguarded nor respected, and arbitrary arrests and detentions remain too frequent. « Without a legal and institutional framework to protect human rights, the authorities’ commitment to fundamental freedoms are meaningless. This issue must be urgently addressed if the country wants to achieve successful transition towards a peaceful rule of law and respect for democratic principles  », declared Souhayr Belhassen, calling on the Council to extend its monitoring of the situation and strenghten its technical assistance to the country. 

In the Maldives, the situation of human rights took a radically new turn after the transfer of power. FIDH has documented the deterioration of freedom of assembly and freedom of the media, as well as the development of police brutality and arbitrary arrests. Most importantly, FIDH was able to witness the rise of the influence of radical groups detrimental to women’s rights, among others, as demonstrated on 4th September with the sentencing of a 16-year old girl to flogging. [2] FIDH calls on members of the Human Rights Council to publicly condemn the deterioration of the situation and to call upon independent investigations and prosecution into the human rights violations, and for the release of those arbitrarily detained. « Fundamental pillars of a free society such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and women’s rights are endangered and states should speak out at the Council to address a clear warning to Maldives that it acts under close watch from the international community » Souhayr Belhassen declared.

FIDH will also advocate for a continuing engagement of the Council in Mali. While the ICC Prosecutor has opened a preliminary investigation into the crimes committed in Northern Mali since January 2012 [3] , the Human Rights Council should draw its attention to the consolidation of democracy, of the rule of law and of the economic and social rights of women and men of Mali, to further build an appropriate response to the concerns for the life of the population and the stability of the region. In this respect, the High Commissioner should be requested to present a comprehensive report at the next session in March 2013.

FIDH is also advocating for more attention to be given to the situation in Afghanistan at the Council. « The numerous challenges, regarding women’s rights, women’s participation to public life, transitional justice, vetting of the security sector and reform of the judiciary cannot be met without a strong and sustained support from the community of states » declared Souhayr Belhassen. In this context, FIDH calls for the High Commissioner’s annual report on Afghanistan to be presented at the March session of the Council, and encourages the Government of Afghanistan to take the initiative as an evidence of its determination to collaborate with the international community in a transparent way on these challenges.

Notwithstanding its Universal Periodic Review and declarations made by the Government of Bahrain at the international level, the human rights situation in Bahrain continues to deteriorate, where the repression against dissident voices has taken a tougher stance, with the heavy sentencing of 20 political opponents, and the detention and prosecution of human rights activist Zainab Al Khawaja and FIDH Deputy Secretary-General Nabeed Rajab. While the High Commissioner and several Special procedures have condemned repeatedly the attacks against the opposition and human rights defenders, the Human Rights Council should condemn in broader terms the situation and call for the release of individuals detained for the exercise of their freedom of expression and right to assembly, and set up an independent monitoring of the evolution of the situation.

Finally, on Syria the Council should renew and strengthen the mandate of the international Commission of investigation, for it to pursue the collection of evidence and documentation of criminal responsibilities. The Council should also call upon the Security Council to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes by refering the situation to the International Criminal Court. « The despicable crimes documented on a daily basis in Syria cannot be met with impunity. The Council has a crucial role to play: that of paving the way to future criminal proceedings » Souhayr Belhassen said.

Throughout the session, FIDH will also hold and participate in a series of Side Events, to give a space for defenders to address the diplomatic community and to call on the Council to take action:

  • Tuesday 11 September (12-2pm, Room XXIV): A Side Event on the degradation of the human rights situation in Maldives since the transfer of power in February. Mr. Hilath Rasheed, a prominent Maldivian blogger and journalist, advocating in favour of freedom of religion and combatting extremism, will give a testimony and share his experience and analysis of the evolution of the situation. FIDH will on this occasion launch its report « From Sunrise to Sunset: Maldives backtracking on democracy » [4] , and share the conclusions of its field mission undertaken in August 2012.
  • Friday 14 September (12 – 2pm, Room XXIV) : side event on the situation in Sudan. A panel of Sudanese human rights defenders will give an overview of the evolution of the situation since the partition of the country in July 2011, addressing the situations in contested areas such as South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, but also Darfur and North Sudan. It will also be an occasion for the defenders to speak out and explain what the expect from the Council.
  • Tuesday 18 September (2 – 4pm, Room XXII): FIDH will co-sponsor a side event on the deterioration of the situation in Bahrain. While the UPR report on Bahrain will be under consideration at the Council, Bahraini victims and defenders will take the floor to give an update on the situation, highlight the lack of progress in the implementation of the recommendations from the Bahain International Commission of Inquiry (BICI), and ask for further action at the Council.
  • Wednesday 19 September (11:30, Library - Conference Room): Press Conference following the adoption of the UPR report on Bahrain, with the participation of Maryam Al-Khawaja, Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) ; Mondher Al-khoor, Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) and FIDH. It will be an occasion to draw the attention of the press to the lack of progress and the default of political will to advance human rights, demonstrated by the non-implementation of the BICI recommendations. FIDH and BCHR will share the main findings and analysis contained in their new reports which will be launched on that occasion.
  • Thursday 20 September (4 – 6pm, Room XXIV): FIDH will co-sponsor a side event on the significance of self-immolations in Tibet and the Chinese policy. This event, organized by FIDH member organization Internetional Campaign for Tibet (ICT) will bring to Geneva testimonies of people from Tibet and will be an occasion to discuss the leverages for actions of the international community at the Council.
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