Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and the obligation to ensure accountability and justice. The Council then held an enhanced interactive dialogue on human rights in Eritrea and began an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.

In the enhanced interactive dialogue on human rights in Eritrea, Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the human rights situation in Eritrea remained dire and showed no sign of improvement. It continued to be characterised by serious human rights violations, with credible reports of torture; arbitrary detention; inhumane conditions of detention; enforced disappearances; and restrictions of the rights to freedoms of expression, of association, and of peaceful assembly. It was alarming that all these human rights violations were committed in the context of complete impunity. Eritrea had not taken any demonstrable steps to ensure accountability for past and ongoing human rights violations. The Eritrean Government needed to engage on critical human rights issues, through dialogue with the Office and extending full cooperation to international human rights mechanisms.

Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said they had no evidence which indicated any progress in the human rights situation in the country, although the mandate on Eritrea had passed more than a decade since 2012. He was gravely concerned about the situation of many Eritreans who had been arbitrarily detained, and some disappeared, in secret prisons, for more than two decades, and urged Eritrea to reveal the whereabouts of victims of enforced disappearance to their relatives and to develop a transparent and efficient system for the registration of detainees. Mr. Babiker regretted that the Government of Eritrea continued to oppose his mandate, and that visit requests remained unanswered.

Adem Osman Idris, Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said Eritrea was committed to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all its citizens, through its commitment to social justice, despite unremitting external hostilities which continued to harass the country. The mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights in Eritrea as well as others were part of this harassment, with the aim of advancing political motives and agenda, a weaponisation of human rights in its crudest form against a developing country. Eritrea continued to make substantial improvements in human rights for its citizens, including in healthcare and education, implementing serious programmes for soil improvement and to mitigate climate change. Eritrea would persist on its development agenda, despite the unwarranted harassment by certain powers.

Vanessa Tsehaye, a civil society activist from Eritrea, said her uncle was imprisoned in Eritrea because he was part of a group of journalists and politicians trying to stop the dictatorship. The situation in Eritrea was extremely dire; there were no elections, no parliament, no universities, no independent media and no opposing political parties. All capable Eritreans were forced to serve the government professionally. There were countless people imprisoned for opposing the government and no people were allowed to visit them. Many people were imprisoned indefinitely and faced inhumane conditions. This was an illegal war which had damaged too many Eritreans and caused immeasurable damage.

In the discussion on Eritrea, some speakers said they were seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, which required continuous international scrutiny and monitoring. Some speakers called on the Council to extend the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. A number of speakers called on Eritrea to immediately end the collective punishment of relatives of those who absconded military service, and to reform its indefinite military service system. The Eritrean Government was called on to address all human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, inhumane prison conditions, and wide-spread sexual and gender-based violence as reported by the Special Rapporteur.

Some speakers said they rejected mandates which alleged to promote human rights without the consent of the country concerned. This contradicted the spirit of the United Nations Charter and the Council and politicised the agendas of some countries under so-called enhanced interactive dialogue. The genuine willingness and preparedness of the Government of Eritrea for the promotion and protection of human rights should be taken into account and further encouraged. Speakers noted that Eritrea had cooperated actively with the Council, providing timely information on its efforts to protect human rights.

Speaking in the discussion on Eritrea were European Union, Luxembourg on behalf of the Benelux countries, France, United States, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Venezuela, Djibouti, United Kingdom, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Belarus, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, and Cuba.

Also speaking were Christian Solidarity Worldwide, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Conscience and Peace Tax International, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and International Bar Association.

The Council then started an interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.

Richard Bennett, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, said after his initial report last September, the situation of human rights continued to deteriorate. In December, there were further serious setbacks, in particular for women and girls. Mr. Bennett welcomed the Council’s strengthening of his mandate in resolution 51/20 and the assignment of additional reporting responsibilities, and hoped the recommendations would assist. The cumulative effect of the restrictions on women and girls had a devasting long-term impact on the whole population and was tantamount to gender apartheid. The poverty rate had doubled with 28 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 6 million Afghans living on the brink of famine-like conditions. The Taliban were urged to immediately cease actions that disrupted equitable and speedy access to humanitarian aid to those most in need and for the de facto authorities to immediately lift the ban on women working for non-governmental organizations.

Afghanistan, speaking as the country concerned, said since the Special Rapporteur’s last report, the human rights situation in the country had worsened. Over 18 months, Afghanistan under the Taliban rule had turned into the ground zero of human rights and the graveyard of international norms. Since August 2021, the Taliban had consistently failed to meet the basic demands of the people of Afghanistan and the expectations of the international community. The report was the tip of the iceberg. Many violations were still going undocumented; many casualties still overlooked. The full nature and extent of violations and abuses demanded an immediate and effective response by the human rights system. An independent investigative mechanism could fill the gap – collecting, analysing and preserving evidence of human rights violations of the people of Afghanistan, especially those of women, children, and vulnerable groups.

Some speakers in the discussion on Afghanistan commended the Special Rapporteur for his efforts in documenting human rights abuses and engaging the de facto authorities. The discriminatory denial of women and girls’ rights contravened Afghanistan’s human rights obligations, and could amount to persecution on gender grounds, a crime against humanity. The Taliban’s edict banning women from working in non-governmental organizations had created devastating roadblocks for the delivery of critical humanitarian aid to vulnerable communities. The ban on women and girls’ secondary and tertiary education deprived them of their human rights, which should be ensured by all. A number of speakers said the international community should continue stepping up engagement with the interim government, providing the country with necessary humanitarian assistance, and guiding it towards a government that was stable. They described the mandate as “meddling”, and said it would make no change in the human rights situation, as it was in line with the interests of its sponsors without genuinely ensuring the wellbeing of the human rights population.

Speaking in the discussion on Afghanistan were European Union, Iceland on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, Pakistan on behalf of Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Uzbekistan on behalf of the Central Asian countries, European Union on behalf of a group of countries, Liechtenstein, United Nations Women, France, United States, Ecuador, Qatar, Switzerland, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Belgium, Republic of Korea, Israel, Japan, Sierra Leone, Cyprus, Luxembourg, India, Costa Rica, China, Indonesia, North Macedonia, Venezuela, Canada, Poland, Netherlands, and Albania

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and the obligation to ensure accountability and justice. The High Commissioner presented his report on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and the obligation to ensure accountability and justice on Friday, 3 March and a summary can be found here.

In the discussion, some speakers said there was concern about the destruction of civilian infrastructure, arbitrary detention, and difficulty with administration of justice, among others. A fair and long-term settlement of the conflict was only possible on the basis of fair international law. Steps taken so far by Israel and the State of Palestine to investigate possible violations of international humanitarian law had been insufficient. There was concern for the increase of settler violence, and Israel should investigate these incidents fully and ensure accountability. Israeli security forces continued to violate international law and international humanitarian law, with a culture of impunity – the Human Rights Council should support mechanisms that brought justice and ensured accountability. There should be a broad, fair, lasting solution to the situation, based on the two-State solution, so that Palestinians could have a sovereign State based on the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In concluding remarks, Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that mudslinging would not help anyone, and instead promoted further hatred and violence. There needed to be a stop to any hateful rhetoric. He appealed for Member States to assist all parties to find the exit ramp. Everyone needed to come back to how people were affected at the human level. The report outlined that people were dying and suffering, and this needed to be taken into account when it came to finding solutions. It was most important to abide by the Akaba Declaration and use this as a foundation to build on. Mr. Türk hoped the discussions in the Council could help move towards solutions.

Speaking in the discussion were: Russia, Belgium, Cuba, Brazil, Australia, and South Africa.

Also speaking were the following representatives from civil society: the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Institute for NGO Research, BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, Touro Law Centre – the Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, United Nations Watch, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Defence for Children International, Meezaan Centre for Human Rights, and Association Ma’onah for Human Rights and immigration.

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 fifty-second regular session can be found here.

The next meeting of the Human Rights Council will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will conclude its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan. It will then hold an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Myanmar, followed by an interactive dialogue on the report of the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua.

Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the Obligation to Ensure Accountability and Justice The High Commissioner presented his report on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and the obligation to ensure accountability and justice on Friday, 3 March and a summary can be found here.

Discussion Some speakers said there was concern about the destruction of civilian infrastructure, arbitrary detention, and difficulty with the administration of justice, among others. A fair and long-term settlement of the conflict was only possible on the basis of fair international law. Steps taken so far by Israel and the State of Palestine to investigate possible violations of international humanitarian law had been insufficient. There was concern about the increase of settler violence, and Israel should investigate such incidents fully and ensure accountability.

The legacy of the 1967 “nakba” endured in the lives of the Palestinian people today, who continued to be deprived of the rights and freedoms that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrined, together with the right to self-determination, enshrined in the United Nations Charter. It was this legacy of occupation that was at the heart of the downward spiral in the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, which the High Commissioner identified in the report. Indeed, this legacy was now deep-rooted, precisely because of the impunity afforded to Israel in its routine disregard for its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.

The main recommendations of previous reports and investigations had not been implemented, and the root causes of the conflict were continuing, with systematic human rights violations resulting in the occupied Palestinian territories. Israeli security forces continued to violate international law and international humanitarian law, with a culture of impunity – the Human Rights Council should support mechanisms that brought justice and ensured accountability.

The Commission of Inquiry approved by the Council was an important tool to hold accountable the violators and abusers of international humanitarian law, as the lack of accountability was one of the root causes of the conflict. The expansion of Israeli settlements was a continuous cause of violence, and a continuing violation of international humanitarian law. Israel should cease all settlement activity. The international community should ensure accountability for the building of all illegal settlements.

The only way in which to stop the downward spiral was for the international community to demand Israeli accountability and to squarely address this legacy once and for all with the same necessary urgency and consistency accorded to more contemporary conflicts. Peace and security would only come when the sources of hatred and terrorism were faced.

There should be a broad, fair and lasting solution to the situation, based on the two-State solution, so that Palestinians could have a sovereign State based on the pre-1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Concluding Remarks VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said gender-based violence continued to be an issue in the public and private spheres. The Office of the High Commissioner was prioritising work in the area of monitoring and to prevent, protect and respond, including working with civil society and first responders. Gender-based violence was a phenomenon seen in many parts of the world, which needed to be stopped. The work of the Council was about finding solutions and making a difference in the daily lives of people. Mudslinging would not help anyone, and instead promoted further hatred and violence. There needed to be a stop to any hateful rhetoric.

Mr. Türk appealed for Member States to assist all parties to find the exit ramp. Everyone needed to come back to how people were affected at the human level. The report outlined that people were dying and suffering, and this needed to be taken into account when it came to finding solutions. It was most important to abide by the Akaba Declaration and use this as a foundation to build on. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was mandated to observe rights in the occupied Palestinian territory and could create opportunities for dialogue. The non-processing of visas over the past couple of years had complicated the work of the Office, and this was being seriously looked into. Mr. Türk hoped the discussions in the Council could help move towards solutions.

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on Human Rights in Eritrea Opening Statements NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking on the human rights situation in Eritrea since the last oral update by the former High Commissioner in March 2022, said the human rights situation in Eritrea remained dire and showed no sign of improvement. It continued to be characterised by serious human rights violations, with credible reports of torture; arbitrary detention; inhumane conditions of detention; enforced disappearances; and restrictions of the rights to freedoms of expression, of association, and of peaceful assembly. Thousands of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience had, reportedly, been behind bars for decades. Furthermore, the harassment and arbitrary detention of people because of their faith continued unabated with an estimated hundreds of religious leaders and followers affected. Eritreans continued to be subjected to indefinite military/national service, which had intensified following the Tigray conflict.

It was alarming that all these human rights violations were committed in the context of complete impunity. Eritrea had not taken any demonstrable steps to ensure accountability for past and ongoing human rights violations. No person had been held accountable for the human rights violations documented by the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea in 2016 and 2017, which found that Eritrea had committed crimes against humanity, including enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, and other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder. In addition, Eritrea had not taken any steps to establish accountability mechanisms for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by Eritrean Defence Forces in the context of the Tigray conflict, from where the withdrawal remained very slow and largely incomplete.

The Eritrean Government needed to engage on critical human rights issues, through dialogue with the Office and extending full cooperation to international human rights mechanisms. The Office called for the Government to engage in a full and frank dialogue, and remained ready to build on its missions to Eritrea in 2022 to begin to address some of most serious human rights concerns, including through the provision of technical support. The Office also called on Member States to encourage and facilitate the engagement by Eritrea with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.

MOHAMED ABDELSALAM BABIKER, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said they had no evidence which indicated any progress in the human rights situation in the country, despite the fact that the mandate on Eritrea had passed more than a decade since 2012. He was gravely concerned about the situation of many Eritreans who had been arbitrarily detained, and some disappeared, in secret prisons, for more than two decades, and urged Eritrea to reveal the whereabouts of victims of enforced disappearance to their relatives and to develop a transparent and efficient system for the registration of detainees. Sixteen journalists, including Swedish-Eritrean journalist and writer Dawit Isaak, had now been disappeared for over 20 years, making them the longest detained journalists in the world. There was also no information regarding the 11 former members of the Government known as the “G-15”, detained since 2001. Ciham Ali Abdu, an American-Eritrean child, had been held incommunicado since December 2012 at the age of 15. Widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constituted a crime against humanity as defined in international law. The Council was urged to exert maximum pressure on Eritrea, as a member of the Human Rights Council, to address the systematic and widespread disappearance of many Eritreans, spanning decades.

Mr. Babiker said Eritrea had made no progress towards the development of a minimum institutional infrastructure and continued to lack the rule of law, a constitution, a national assembly, an independent judiciary, and a democratic society. “Giffa”, or round-ups for military conscription, had intensified across the country, with new locations emerging in Asmara. In September 2022, Eritrea called up thousands of reservists aged 40-66 to fight in Tigray. Since November 2022, information indicated that round ups of young people had intensified, to ensure they underwent military training and participated in the national service. The daily lives of many Eritreans were gravely impacted by this practice. Mr. Babiker regretted that the Government of Eritrea continued to oppose his mandate, and that visit requests remained unanswered. It was hoped the Government would reconsider its position and initiate a constructive dialogue to address the significant human rights challenges facing Eritrea. The Special Rapporteur expressed his availability and willingness to work with the Government of Eritrea to address the persistent human rights violations taking place in the country.

ADEM OSMAN IDRISS, Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said it was committed to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all its citizens, through its commitment to social justice, despite unremitting external hostilities which continued to harass the country. The mandates of the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea as well as others were part of this harassment, with the aim of advancing political motives and an agenda, a weaponisation of human rights in its crudest form against a developing country. The principal focus of the Special Rapporteur over the last two years had veered from its mandate to maliciously accusing Eritrea, in order to serve a political agenda. Eritrea believed that economic development should not be used as a tool for harassment by hostile powers, aiming to hamper its progress. Eritrea continued to make substantial improvements in human rights for its citizens, including in healthcare and education, implementing serious programmes for soil improvement and to mitigate climate change. Eritrea would persist on its development agenda, despite the unwarranted harassment by certain powers.

VANESSA TSEHAYE, Civil Society Activist from Eritrea, said her uncle was imprisoned in Eritrea because he was part of a group of journalists and politicians trying to stop the dictatorship. The situation in Eritrea was extremely dire; there were no elections, no parliament, no universities, no independent media, and no opposing political parties. Eritreans were not allowed to leave the country unless the Government permitted them, which rarely occurred. All capable Eritreans were forced to serve the Government professionally. There were countless people imprisoned for opposing the Government and no people were allowed to visit them. Many people were imprisoned indefinitely and faced inhumane conditions. This was an illegal war which had damaged too many Eritreans and caused immeasurable damage.

The socio-economic situation of the country was damaged; people were dependent on families abroad to survive. Life was unbearable in Eritrea so people fled, but they still continued to suffer. The ones who made it to the West alive continued to suffer. Ms. Tsehaye said she was tired of Eritrean women being killed by men and tired of Eritrea men committing suicide. She was tired of being haunted by her grandmother’s heartbreak for her missing son and grieving her country. Too much had been sacrificed and too much was at stake. Ms. Tsehaye called on the courage and selflessness of her uncle to inspire the international community.

Discussion Speakers, among other things, thanked the Special Rapporteur for his oral update, saying they were seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, which required continuous international scrutiny and monitoring. Some speakers called on the Council to extend the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. The policy of indefinite national service and the forced conscription campaign violated the human rights of Eritrean people. It affected the lives of thousands of Eritreans and was the primary reason so many of Eritrea’s young people sought to leave the country. Roundups of draft evaders and reprisals against their families were allegedly continuing. Speakers called on Eritrea to immediately end the collective punishment of relatives of those who absconded military service, and to reform its indefinite military service system.

Ongoing independent reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions of children, journalists, political opponents, government officials, and clergymen in overcrowded places of detention with inadequate food, water and medical care, were disturbing. This constituted a clear violation of international human rights law and Eritrea needed to put an immediate end to this. The Eritrean Government was called on to address all human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, inhumane prison conditions, and wide-spread sexual and gender-based violence as reported by the Special Rapporteur. Some speakers called for all those arbitrarily detained in Eritrea to be released, including those detained solely based on their religion or belief. The Government of Eritrea was urged to uphold the right to freedom of religion and to guarantee the exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

The Government of Eritrea was called on to complete the full withdrawal of its troops from Ethiopian territory and to investigate all allegations of serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by Eritrean forces in northern Ethiopia. Eritrean Defence Forces had been implicated in serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture of civilians. The grave conclusions by the Joint Investigation of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which said that Eritrean troops had committed human rights abuses and violations, needed to be taken into account. The Government should cooperate with any inquiry, including any accountability or transitional justice processes arising from the Pretoria Peace Agreement.

A number of speakers called on Eritrea to cooperate with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, and to grant him full and unhindered access. Eritrea remained one of the very few countries which had never received a visit from a Special Procedure mandate holder. As a member of the Human Rights Council, Eritrea was required to “observe the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”. The State was called on to meaningfully engage with international human rights mechanisms, including investigations into reports of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by Eritrean troops, and to institute domestic accountability mechanisms.

Some speakers said they rejected mandates which alleged to promote human rights without the consent of the country concerned. This contradicted the spirit of the United Nations Charter and the Council and politicised the agendas of some countries under so-called enhanced interactive dialogue. Some speakers rejected the mandates created against the countries of the South, and called on the Council to eliminate the mandate for Eritrea. It was reiterated that the Council should fulfil its mandate to promote and protect human rights, based on genuine dialogue and cooperation, which were fundamental pillars of its work.

A number of speakers said they appreciated the progress made by Eritrea in supporting human rights, particularly in guaranteeing the rights to food and health, including strengthening medical services. Several programmes had been implemented to increase access to health care and control HIV/AIDS. Speakers firmly supported Eritrea’s efforts in safeguarding its sovereignty and dignity. The genuine willingness and preparedness of the Government of Eritrea to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights should be taken into account and further encouraged. Speakers noted that Eritrea had cooperated actively with the Council, providing timely information on its efforts to protect human rights. Some speakers said they supported Eritrea in implementing the recommendations accepted at its successful third Universal Periodic Review cycle.

Speakers asked the panellists what steps the Council could be taking to encourage Eritrea to abide by its human rights obligations? How had the remaining presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia pre- and post-ceasefire impacted the Eritrean practice of military service of indeterminate duration for conscripts? What impact did continued military conscription have on the rights of women and children? Were there any updates on the fate of the remaining G-15 political prisoners detained in 2001?

Concluding Remarks VANESSA TSEHAYE, Civil Society Activist from Eritrea, said she saw the point that some speakers made about double standards, there were many countries and human rights situations ignored by the Council, but this was not a reason to ignore the places where there was evidence of these: this should just encourage the Council to expand its work to more countries. This argument was just an excuse used by some countries to continue to abuse their own people. She hated the fact that she was privileged due to being born outside the country. She would continue to come to any platform or opportunity to advocate for her people, as long as the Eritrean Government continued to violate the rights of Eritrean people.

ADEM OSMAN IDRISS, Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the country had been criticised for mobilising its population in self-defence. Some of the speakers who took the floor had already done so regarding the deployment in Tigray. Despite many letters from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, including reporting some violations of conduct by the Special Rapporteur, the Ministry had never received any response from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. These letters also invited other thematic Special Rapporteurs, but the Ministry had never received a response. Eritrea would continue to respond to the serious allegations that undermined the country, and the political allegations made from the floor.

MOHAMED ABDELSALAM BABIKER, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said he had made many requests to visit the country and hoped that Eritrea would engage constructively with his mandate. Since he had begun in 2020, he had tried hard to engage with Eritrea, without any response. Each time he submitted a report, before it was submitted, he asked Eritrea for comments in order to give them the right of reply, but Eritrea never responded to his requests. Responding to questions, Mr. Babiker said the military service had a significant impact on the daily lives of all Eritreans. Since 2022, there had been a rounding up in many towns, causing people to be homeless and to go into hiding. This was one of the key concerns. There was an obligation for the Council to facilitate the mandate, but it seemed the Council was very divided and extremely politicised. Mr. Babiker emphasised that for the integrity of the Council, he hoped that Member States tried to facilitate the dialogue. He stood ready to engage with the Eritrean Government.

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, said she was concerned about the situation of human rights in Eritrea and the Government’s lack of engagement, as the Office aimed to make this a situation of mutual respect. The Office did not seem to have received the multiple communications sent by Eritrea, but was ready to set up a meeting to review those and other concerns mentioned. Most human rights violations were linked to the policy of mandatory and indefinite national service, and there was no alternative to national legal reforms, particularly in this area, to make sure that national service complied with international human rights obligations. Communications remained limited. A number of international human rights treaties awaited ratification, and the Office was standing by to help Eritrea accede to these. The Office deeply regretted the abject lack of progress, with a number of false starts which continued to foreclose engagement on various important issues, such as towards the improvement of social justice and the improvement of the fundamental rights of all citizens. She reached out again to Eritrea, calling it to tangibly address the various human rights challenges as it had pledged to do in 2021 when it came before the Council.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan Report The Council has before it the report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan (A/HRC/52/84).

Presentation of Report RICHARD BENNETT, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, said after his initial report last September, the situation of human rights in Afghanistan continued to deteriorate. In December, there were further serious setbacks, in particular for women and girls. It was the responsibility of this Council to continue to grapple earnestly with the tremendous human rights challenges facing the people of Afghanistan and there must be consequences for those responsible for serious human rights violations. Longstanding impunity needed to be challenged for past as well as present crimes. Mr. Bennett welcomed the Council’s strengthening of his mandate in resolution 51/20 and the assignment of additional reporting responsibilities, and hoped the recommendations would assist. There was an increased responsibility on the international human rights system to stand with Afghan women and support them.

The cumulative effect of the restrictions on women and girls had a devasting long-term impact on the whole population and was tantamount to gender apartheid. The economic, social and cultural rights situation in Afghanistan had been poor before the Taliban regained power; its subsequent deterioration was exacerbated by the ban imposed on female non-governmental organization workers. The poverty rate had doubled with 28 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 6 million Afghans living on the brink of famine-like conditions. The Taliban were urged to immediately cease actions that disrupted equitable and speedy access to humanitarian aid to those most in need and for the de facto authorities to immediately lift the ban on women working for non-governmental organizations.

The collapse of the rule of law and judicial independence remained a cause for serious concern. Female judges, prosecutors and lawyers had effectively been banned from participating in the legal system, leading to an all-male regime implementing the Taliban’s version of Sharia law. Since 18 November, the de facto authorities had carried out “Hudood” and “Qisas” punishments. Hundreds of women, children and men had been flogged in public in the presence of officials for alleged crimes. On 7 December 2022, the Taliban carried out its first judicially sanctioned execution of a man in public. Civil society activists, journalists and peaceful protestors continued to be subject to arbitrary arrest, detention and ill-treatment. Mr. Bennett called for their immediate, unconditional release. Since August 2021, over 250 cases of violations against media freedom had been registered, including over 130 cases of detention, physical violence, ill-treatment, and torture.

Mr. Bennett was extremely concerned about increasing reports received of targeted and revenge killings of former Afghan National Defence and Security Forces under the Taliban’s authority, as well as reports of multiple extrajudicial killings of captured fighters by the Taliban. Tajik communities in areas affected by clashes, especially Panjshir, were being heavily suppressed, and the Special Rapporteur feared an uptick in violence come spring. He stressed that to improve the human rights and humanitarian situation, Afghanistan deserved more engagement from the international community.

Statement by the Country Concerned Afghanistan, speaking as the country concerned, said since the Special Rapporteur’s last report, the human rights situation in the country had worsened. Over the past 18 months, Afghanistan under the Taliban rule had turned into the ground zero of human rights and the graveyard of international norms. Since August 2021, the Taliban had consistently failed to meet the basic demands of the people of Afghanistan and the expectations of the international community. Continuous edicts and caprices of their leadership had further deepened the humanitarian and human rights crises. Women, minorities, human rights defenders, civil society activists and former members of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces continued to suffer on a daily basis. Severe abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law persisted with impunity. Banning women and girls from all education beyond the primary level, access to parks, gyms and public baths and working for non-governmental organizations, as the report alluded to was “among the most draconian in the world”. Arbitrary arrests and forceful detentions of peaceful women human rights defenders, university professors and activists, together with discriminatory measures, should be investigated as gender persecution: a crime against humanity. This report was the tip of the iceberg. Many violations were still going undocumented; many casualties still overlooked. The full nature and extent of violations and abuses demanded an immediate and effective response by the human rights system. Given the limitations in the scope and focus of the International Criminal Court, combined with the principle of complementarity, the dismantling of the rule of law and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the revocation of the constitution, the lack of full, prompt, and transparent investigations, and the absence of any indication of future national justice efforts, there was a need for investigation in real time, as atrocities were unfolding. An independent investigative mechanism could fill the gap – collecting, analysing and preserving evidence of human rights violations of the people of Afghanistan, especially those of women, children, and vulnerable groups. Afghanistan called on the international community to actively support the establishment of an inclusive and representative government that could legitimately deliver essential services, and called on the members of this Council to ensure that any engagement with the Taliban was contingent on and centred around respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Afghanistan.

Discussion Some speakers thanked the Special Rapporteur for his work and report. He was commended for his efforts in documenting human rights abuses and engaging the de facto authorities. Those speaking also recognised human rights defenders for their tireless work in dangerous conditions, in the interest of the Afghan people. Speakers were alarmed by findings that the humanitarian crisis had further worsened, and welcomed that the Special Rapporteur would continue to address the situation at the Council’s fifty-third session.

The discriminatory denial of women and girls’ rights contravened Afghanistan’s human rights obligations, and could amount to persecution on gender grounds, a crime against humanity. Speakers were appalled by the banning of women and girls from schools and universities, from access to facilities like parks, gyms and public baths, as well as from working for non-governmental organizations. The sharp increase in reported rapes and femicides was of great concern and unfortunately was just the tip of an iceberg as many cases were not reported.

While the world would celebrate International Women’s Day in two days, and the achievements made for gender equality globally, for Afghan women and girls, this would mark one year of girls banned from high school; three months of women banned from working in non-governmental organizations; and more than one year of decrees and misogynist behaviour erasing women and girls from society.

The Taliban’s edict banning women from working in non-governmental organizations had created devastating roadblocks for the delivery of critical humanitarian aid to vulnerable communities. Women made up a significant portion of the Afghan non-governmental organization workforce and their exclusion had left millions of Afghans without access to lifesaving assistance. The Taliban’s ban on Afghan women working in non-governmental organizations had forced 94 per cent of women-led non-governmental organizations to cease their operations fully or partially. This had effectively placed the 13.8 million women and girls in need of humanitarian assistance this year in situations of increased vulnerability. Speakers strongly condemned the ban of women from working for national and international non-governmental organizations, and called on the Taliban to lift their decision immediately. Women had a particularly important role in the delivery of assistance, especially to other women. Restricting women’s participation in this critical work would prevent the delivery of such assistance to a large part of the population, including widows, women-led households and children.

The full realisation of the right to education for all was essential for achieving sustainable development. The ban on women and girls’ secondary and tertiary education deprived them of their human rights, which should be ensured by all. It undermined Afghanistan’s ability to move towards economic peace and development. Speakers strongly condemned the draconian restrictions on women and girls, excluding them from education, politics, and public life. This discriminatory denial of women and girls’ human rights could amount to gender persecution which was considered a crime against humanity. Equal access to quality education at all levels for women and girls would help ensure democracy and the development of Afghan society.

Speakers were also concerned by the human rights situation of persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities and groups, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex persons, human rights defenders, former personnel of Afghanistan, journalists and other media workers, who suffered violations and abuses including killings, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment, and torture. Speakers also condemned the re-introduction of public corporal punishments, which constituted a cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, calling for accountability for the violations of international humanitarian law, and for human rights violations and abuses.

Some speakers said the international community should continue stepping up engagement with the interim Government, providing the country with necessary humanitarian assistance, and guiding it towards a government that was stable. Some described the mandate as “meddling”, and said it would make no change in the human rights situation, as it was in line with the interests of its sponsors without genuinely ensuring the wellbeing of the human rights population of Afghanistan.

Speakers called for the elimination of discrimination and oppression of women and girls in Afghanistan, and urged the de facto authorities to comply with their international obligations and respect all their rights, including to education, health, work, political participation, and freedom of expression and association. It was welcome that the de-facto authorities were willing to engage with the Special Rapporteur. The Taliban were urged to uphold human rights, including the rights of women and girls, the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association as well as the right to a fair trial, and to implement the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur in his report.

Some speakers welcomed the decision adopted on 31 October 2022 by the second Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court authorising the Prosecutor to resume the investigation of international crimes in Afghanistan. States expressed their readiness to support the establishment of an investigate mechanism by the Council into the situation in Afghanistan. They stood with the women and girls of Afghanistan, who continued to show immense resilience. Without them, Afghanistan would never achieve peace, prosperity and stability.

Source: UN Human Rights Council

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