Special Rapporteur Says Palestinians Living under ‘One State Reality of Unequal Rights’ as Settlements Expand
Special Rapporteurs presenting reports on the human rights situations in Belarus, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, and the occupied Palestinian territories invited Governments to show political determination, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its interactive dialogues on human rights today.
One of six mandate holders to present their findings, Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation in Belarus, focused on the rights of women. “Belarus has no legislation preventing domestic violence and rape, nor has it explicitly criminalized marital rape,” she explained. She voiced concern over the backlash women have faced since the start of the crisis in 2020 for criticizing the Government. “Many of the approximately 33,000 people arbitrarily detained since May 2020 were women and girls,” she noted.
Along with being subjected to torture, detained women were also reportedly victims of gender‑based violence committed by law enforcement agents. Some were forcibly disappeared, while thousands of others were forced into exile for fear of retaliation. Expressing admiration for the women and girls who have peacefully stood up for their fundamental rights, she said “their courage and grass‑root empowerment are awe‑inspiring for all women and girls who seek respect for their right to a better life, free of violence and discrimination.”
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates discussed the plight of women in Belarus, with the representative of the United States underscoring that the regime’s crushing of dissent “seems to know no bounds”. Its targeting of women activists includes threats to remove children from their custody, she said, calling Belarusian women the “backbone of Belarus’s pro‑democracy movement”. On that point, the representative of Japan decried the case of the Olympic athlete from Belarus who was forcibly returned to Belarus by the authorities.
Meanwhile, Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation in Iran, warned that authorities are carrying out the death penalty at an “alarming rate”, with more than 250 individuals — including four child offenders — executed in 2020. In 2021, an estimated 230 executions — including nine women and one child offender — have taken place in secret. He called for a halt to the death penalty to prevent “arbitrary deprivation of life”, as well as for a moratorium on the practice against individuals under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged crime.
Iran’s representative rejected the practice of scapegoating a targeted country and sidelining meaningful dialogue on human rights. She denounced the Special Rapporteur’s appointment as a politically motivated scheme by the West, especially Canada, stressing that underneath Iranian soil lie the bodies of those who died defending their nation during the “Saddam Hussein war against Iran” for which financial resources and chemical weapons were supplied by the same countries present today. Underneath Canadian soil lie the bodies of thousands of children who were sexually abused, killed and dumped in mass graves, she asserted, citing different human rights standards.
In Syria, meanwhile, an upsurge in fighting across the north‑west and the return of siege‑like tactics the south‑west have compounded the risks for civilians, said Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. “This is not a time for anyone to be thinking that Syria is safe for its refugees to return home,” he stressed. Al‑Hol and other displacement‑turned‑detention camps across the north‑west have unlawfully deprived 40,000 children of their liberty for years, most of them under the age of 12. “Syria will go down in history as the failure of multilateralism,” he warned.
Syria’s representative, who categorically rejected the Commission as a politicized mechanism lacking the minimum standards of professionalism, objectivity and credibility, said it relies on misleading sources of information, spread by Western intelligence services or fabricated by terrorist groups. It is therefore not qualified to provide any assessment of Syria’s Presidential election.
Later in the day, Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, raised an alarm that the two‑State solution has been replaced by a “one‑State reality of unequal rights”. Palestinian weakness and the absence of international law have only accelerated patterns of violations. He called on Israel to end its occupation, stressing that “the end goal must be the realization of Palestinian self‑determination.”
In response, an observer for the State of Palestine said Israel has no intention to respect international law. It threatens the lives of Palestinian children, displaces communities, demolishes homes, seizes land and imposes an illegal blockade under a discriminatory regime that can only be described as “apartheid”.
Also briefing the Committee today were Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, and Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 26 October, to continue its consideration of human rights questions.
Interactive Dialogues — Human Rights in Belarus
ANAÏS MARIN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, said her report (document A/76/145) focuses on the rights of women, as well as on the rights of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, intersex persons and girls. Explaining that the Government has a policy of non‑recognition and non‑cooperation with her Office, which is regrettable given the ongoing aggravation of the human rights crisis and the self‑isolation of the country, she said that women in Belarus deal with the whole spectrum of violations of fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by international human rights law. “Belarus has no legislation preventing domestic violence and rape, nor has it explicitly criminalized marital rape,” she said, further noting concerns related to women’s sexual and reproductive health, and their access to sexuality education and protection mechanisms, including shelters. Female professionals meanwhile remain underrepresented in most decision‑making positions.
She expressed particular concern over the backlash women have faced, since the start of the crisis in 2020, for expressing criticism of the Government. “Many of the approximately 33,000 people arbitrarily detained since May 2020 were women and girls,” she noted. Along with being subjected to torture and other forms of physical and psychological pressure, some women in detention were also reportedly victims or witnesses of gender‑based violence committed by law enforcement agents, and suffered further humiliation by being denied access to hygiene products and medical services. Some women were victims of enforced disappearances, while thousands of others were pushed into a forced exile for fear of repression and retaliation. It is admirable that women and girls have peacefully stood up for their fundamental rights. “Their courage and grass‑root empowerment are awe‑inspiring for all women and girls who seek respect for their right to a better life, free of violence and discrimination,” she asserted.
Stressing that the human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated since the publication of the report in June, she said that since last July, civil society has been purged from “undesirable” non‑Governmental organizations and independent media. As of 15 October 2021, there were reportedly 800 people who human rights organizations and experts consider to be imprisoned on political grounds in Belarus. By that date, more than 270 civil society groups and independent media have been or are in the process of being “liquidated” and hundreds of activists have been forced to flee Belarus to escape persecution. She encouraged the Government to demonstrate the will to implement the report’s recommendations, as well as those in other international and regional human rights mechanisms. She concluded by noting that Belarus has seen unprecedented public and peaceful activism since 2020, especially from women and girls, which should be viewed by the Government as an opportunity for improving human rights protections for all.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, several delegations noted the plight of women in Belarus, particularly those in civil society and journalists. An observer for the European Union, associating with the statement made by Lithuania, asked how the international community can better support the women of Belarus who are leading the fight for democracy yet facing gender‑based violence as a result. The representative of the United States said the regime’s tactics of crushing dissent “seems to know no bounds”, as its targeting of women activists includes threats to remove children from their custody. Calling Belarusian women the “backbone of Belarus’s pro‑democracy movement”, and recalling the bravery of these “women in white”, she said hundreds of women remain unjustly detained. She asked how the international community can continue to highlight the threats faced by women activists. On that point, the representative of Japan decried the case of the Olympic athlete from Belarus who was forcibly returned to Belarus by the authorities, due to the expression of her views.
Several delegates whose countries border Belarus registered concern, with the representative of Lithuania, speaking on behalf of 46 countries, warning that the Belarus regime has flouted international law. He condemned the grounding of a flight in Minsk for the purpose of arresting a Belarusian journalist and called on the regime of Alexander Lukashenko to end its repressive practices. The holding of an international dialogue, leading to free and fair elections, is the only way forward. He asked the Special Rapporteur how States can support the people of Belarus and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. The representative of Poland, associating with the statements by Lithuania and the European Union, blamed Belarus for artificially creating a migration crisis for political purposes, while the representative of Ukraine said he is troubled by reports of excessive use of force and the persecution of journalists and human rights defenders. He highlighted the case of a Ukrainian citizen who was sentenced to three years in prison, noting that this verdict is illegal and demanding this person’s release. He wondered how to prevent the human rights situation in Belarus from worsening. The representative of Latvia, speaking on behalf of eight Nordic Baltic countries, noted that Belarus now has more than 800 political prisoners and called for the release of all those arbitrarily detained.
Also speaking were representatives of Luxembourg, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland and Germany.
Ms. MARIN responded that the situation for human rights defenders is extremely concerning, stressing that civil society is being “liquidated” and “purged” and that media workers are being banned from their professional activities. Many of these families have been forced to leave the country in fear for their lives and continue to fight for human rights in Belarus while abroad. Women are doubly attacked as they are also subjected to sexist stereotypes. Explaining that women human rights defenders often have children and elderly parents for whom they care, she said that during the pandemic, more broadly, these duties disproportionately have fallen on women. She called on all host countries to provide support in the form of employment, education and medical resources, adding that these exiles fear for their relatives who remain in Belarus, as well as for the fate of Belarus itself. She encouraged host countries to call on Belarus authorities to stop dismantling civic space.
To prevent further violations, she recommended that the Member States engage with her mandate and other United Nations human rights mechanisms. They should apply pressure and offer support for the Government of Belarus once it takes steps to honour its commitment to its international human rights obligations. They can support her mandate, which is underfunded and understaffed, she said, noting that its workload has risen exponentially with no additional support. She also urged Member States to ensure that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and special procedures of the Human Rights Council receive contributions in a timely manner.
JAVAID REHMAN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, presenting his report (document A/76/268), said the death penalty is being implemented at an “alarming rate”, with more than 250 individuals — including four child offenders — executed in the country in 2020. So far in 2021, an estimated 230 executions — including nine women and one child offender — have taken place in secret. The lack of official statistics and transparency means that this practice escapes scrutiny, resulting in serious abuses preventing accountability.
He highlighted concerns over the way in which the death penalty is applied through extensive legal grounds, including for vague national security charges and following deeply flawed judicial processes, where even the most basic safeguards are absent. “These procedural flaws exist at the level of law, the level of institutions and at the level of practice,” he stressed. He called for reforms and a halt to the death penalty to prevent “arbitrary deprivation of life”, as well as for a moratorium on the practice against individuals under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged crime.
He went on to describe the overall human rights situation as “grim”, drawing attention to the lack of political pluralism and free and fair elections, as well as to reprisals by security and intelligence agencies against those who call for accountability. He invited the international community to use international forums and bilateral discussions to seek accountability. “The use of lethal force against peaceful protesters continues to be characteristic of the authorities’ approach to the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly,” he observed, citing demonstrations in the province of Khuzestan in July. He also brought attention to arbitrary detentions which target human rights defenders and minority groups. In addressing the COVID‑19 pandemic, he deplored the import ban of several internationally recognized vaccines, against the advice of the country’s own health experts, calling for sanctions relief and expressing regret that his access to Iran continues to be denied by the authorities.
When opening the floor for questions and comments, Iran’s delegate rejected the Special Rapporteur’s accusations and questioned Canada’s intentions in supporting his appointment. She considered the report hypocritical, as the Special Rapporteur did not listen to arguments brought by her Government. Several delegations supported Iran’s view, with the representative of the Russian Federation recognizing Tehran’s efforts to engage in dialogue with the Special Rapporteur. The United Nations should not promote such targeted reports, he stressed. Similarly, representatives of Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other delegations claimed that the report goes beyond the purview of the Third Committee by politicizing human rights.
On the other hand, several delegations agreed on the report’s conclusions, calling for a halt of the death penalty against minors, with the United States’ delegate expressing regret that the execution of children persists, and the representatives of Canada and France expressing concerns about violations against women and girls.
At the same time, representatives of Switzerland and Japan, as well as the European Union, in its capacity as observer, praised Iran’s efforts to welcome Afghan refugees on its territory, while several others asked the Special Rapporteur to identify better means to engage with Iran’s Government.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Pakistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Israel, Germany, Czech Republic, Norway, Zimbabwe, China, Australia, Belarus and Eritrea.
Mr. REHMAN, in response, expressed regret that Iran continues to refuse his access to the country, noting that his mandate is aligned with the principles of the Human Rights Council, of which Iran is a member. Turning to the impact of sanctions, he underlined the need to enable medical assistance during the COVID‑19 pandemic, expressing his view that sanctions cannot be used as an excuse to avoid human rights obligations.
He reiterated his call to halt the use of the death penalty and remedy the flaws of the justice system, in particular for minors. He indicated that accountability would be a focus of his mandate, urging the Government to release human rights defenders and stressing that the limited space for political pluralism makes it difficult to promote democratic governance. He went on to request the release of foreign nationals, the end of discrimination and arbitrary detention of minority groups and Iran’s ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
PAULO SÉRGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, presenting his report (document A/76/149), drew attention to the several hundred thousand people who have been killed, the tens of thousands detained and the even larger number of people missing or disappeared. There are also 12.4 million Syrians who are food insecure and 12 million displaced. Recalling that the Government controls over 70 per cent of the country and President Bashar al‑Assad has been re‑elected, he said the war against the Syrian people continues. Many of those displaced have seen their properties destroyed or seized by the Government, armed groups or terrorist groups — they have little left to return to and few prospects for their livelihoods. Only 2.1 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID‑19 and the Security Council is permitting but one single border crossing to deliver humanitarian aid.
“This is not a time for anyone to be thinking that Syria is safe for its refugees to return home,” he stressed. Highlighting an upsurge in fighting in the north‑west, he said the United Nations‑designated terrorist organization Hay’at Tahrir al‑Sham continues to violate human rights with impunity, including by arbitrarily detaining media activists and journalists, including women. Parts of the south‑west have recently experienced the return of siege‑like tactics not seen since before 2018, he said, pointing to Dar’a al‑Balad, where pro‑Government forces imposed a siege and undertook heavy artillery shelling, leaving tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside until September. In the northern Afrin and Ra’s al‑Ayn regions of Aleppo, civilians live in fear of vehicle‑borne improvised explosive devices, as indiscriminate shelling increased this summer.
The opposition‑linked Syrian National Army meanwhile continues to unlawfully deprive civilians of their liberty, he said, at times torturing them in detention. The north‑east has seen increased attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), targeted killings of tribal leaders and mounting discontent, during which several protesters were shot dead by elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Meanwhile, in al‑Hol and other displacement‑turned‑detention camps across north‑east Syria, 40,000 children have been unlawfully deprived of their liberty for years now. Most are under 12 years old. “Syria will go down in history as the failure of multilateralism,” he stressed, calling on Member States to remove aid constraints, including those caused by obstacles to cross‑border or cross‑line delivery, or by sanctions.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Syria categorically rejected the recognition and establishment of the so‑called Commission of Inquiry, its mandate, reports, conclusions and recommendations. As a politicized mechanism that lacks the minimum standards of professionalism, objectivity and credibility, its main objective is to submit reports that can be used by hostile countries to misrepresent Syria and tarnish its image. Pointing to deep division over the extension of the Commission’s mandate, she stressed that it relies on misleading sources of information, spread by Western intelligence services or fabricated by terrorist groups. Describing the Commission as biased, as it ignores the practices of the United States, Turkey’s occupation forces and the terrorist entities affiliated with them, she said its report contains enormous lies. She rejected its attempt to normalize the imposition of unilateral coercive measures and its questioning of Syria’s legal procedures, on grounds that such practices interfere with a State’s internal affairs. Further, the Commission is not qualified to provide any assessment on Syria’s Presidential election, she said, noting more broadly that its assistance in addressing claims of chemical weapons use goes beyond its mandate.
Echoing her concerns, the representative of the Russian Federation criticized the use of human rights discourse by States interested in overturning Syria’s Government. Noting that the Commission makes “absurd speculations” about various issues yet says nothing about the foreign occupation of Syria, he added that terrorists are categorized by the Commission as the “lesser evil”. The Commission ignores efforts by the authorities to overcome the crisis and thereby reduces the prospects for peace, he stressed.
The representative of Cuba, underscoring the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, called for an end to all interventions and destabilizing actions, and instead encouraged States to cooperate with Syria’s authorities. He rejected the use of selectivity, double standards and politicization against developing nations. Similarly, the representative of Venezuela rejected the use of politicization and selectivity as a strategy, stressing that the creation of mechanisms and politically motivated resolutions violates the principles of impartiality, non‑selectivity, non‑politicization, equality and mutual respect.
Meanwhile, an observer for the European Union said the Commission’s report demonstrates that violations of human rights have been committed by all parties — particularly by Syria’s regime and its allies. She voiced support for the Commission’s determination to report on violations committed in northern Syria and called on all parties to depoliticize the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Also speaking were representatives of Croatia, Nicaragua, Belarus, Malta, United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Netherlands, Cyprus, China, Iran, Eritrea, Turkey and Algeria.
Mr. PINHEIRO reiterated that instead of “marching towards peace”, Syria’s economy is plummeting and the pandemic is worsening. While many Syrians would like to return, the situation in their country is unsafe. The number of missing and disappeared persons is in the tens of thousands — and yet very little has been done to unravel the immense problems Syria is facing, he said, underscoring the need to find resolutions. “We all failed to protect the Syrian people,” he acknowledged.
MICHAEL LYNK, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, expressed “deep dismay” over the 22 October decision by the Minister of Defense to designate six Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations. “This is a significant body blow to the Palestinian human rights movement, and to human rights everywhere,” he said. The groups — Addameer, Al‑Haq, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International — Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees — are widely known for the work in documenting violations associated with Israel’s occupation.
He urged the international community to reverse this decision through diplomatic efforts, stressing that “counter‑terrorism and security legislation must never be used to silence the legitimate work of human rights defenders”. Presenting his report (document A/76/433), he recalled the permanent responsibility of the United Nations for supervising the question of Palestine until a durable solution is reached. He described Member States’ actions as a political failure thus far. With 700,000 Israeli settlers, the expansion of roads and utilities connecting settlements and persistence of settler attacks against Palestinians, the two‑State solution has been replaced by what the European Union calls a “one‑State reality of unequal rights” and regional rights groups refer to as apartheid. Palestinian weakness and the absence of international law have only accelerated patterns of human rights violations.
The international community must adopt principles for achieving peace, security and justice, he said, calling for a rights‑based approach to end the occupation, anchored in international law. Active intervention is indispensable for addressing the asymmetry in power. “The end goal must be the realization of Palestinian self‑determination,” he said, requesting that Israel end its occupation with all deliberate speed. He concluded by inviting the international community to show political determination in the application of United Nations resolutions.
In the ensuing dialogue, an observer for the State of Palestine said that under Israel’s occupation, Palestinians struggle to live in freedom and dignity in their own homeland, with Israel threatening the lives of Palestinian children, displacing communities, demolishing homes, seizing land and imposing an illegal blockade under a discriminatory regime that can only be described as “apartheid”. Israel has no intention to respect international law or international human rights law, she clarified, nor end its crimes against the Palestinian people. Voicing concern over the labelling of Palestinian human rights organizations as “terrorist”, she stressed that Israel’s attacks against human rights movements must be rejected. Israel failed — and has proven unwilling — to provide protection for the occupied Palestinian people, in line with its legal obligations. She asked the Special Rapporteur to expand on the crimes of apartheid and persecution committed by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and about what Member States can do to bring about an end to these offences.
Several delegates similarly denounced Israel’s occupation. The representative of the Russian Federation said the deterioration of human rights in the occupied territories and Israel’s unilateral actions have led to the forced displacement of Palestinians. He called for a just and lasting settlement achieved on the basis of a two‑State solution. The representative of Cuba agreed that the rights of Palestinians must be defended as long as Israel’s occupation persists. He called for a two‑State solution, an end to the occupation and for lasting peace in the region. The representative of Venezuela pointed to war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Israel, abuses that have caused pain and destruction for decades. Those responsible must be held accountable, he stressed.
The representative of Syria expressed support for Palestinians’ struggle to regain their occupied territory and rights, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees and the rights to establish an independent State on their land, with East Jerusalem as its capital. War crimes and crimes against humanity — including annexation, settlement, blockade, home demolition, enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and racial discrimination — committed by Israel against Palestinian citizens must end, with the countries supporting Israel bearing the repercussions for these ongoing crimes.
Also speaking were representatives of Qatar, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, Egypt, Malaysia, Azerbaijan (on behalf on the Non‑Aligned Movement), Iran, Ireland, Norway, Saudi Arabia, China and Indonesia, as well as observers for the European Union and the Sovereign Order of Malta.
Mr. LYNK, addressing those queries, first recalled reactions to the recent announcement of the Israeli defence minister’s designation of several civil society organizations as terrorist groups, which would subject individuals to arrest and shutter their critical activities. Among them, he said, were an editorial in the Haaretz newspaper stating that Israel is undermining the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate activities and a message from international groups calling on Israel to oppose the decision. Calling on the international community to protect human rights defenders, he advocated the use of all available diplomatic tools to undo this action, which will cripple the ability of Palestinians to effectively monitor conditions in the occupied territories.
Responding to several questions, he said access to medical care is critical in Gaza, a sealed off area with a population of 2 million, where decisions are made far too slowly to ensure prompt services. Calling on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to work to make the system function more effectively, he also called on them to ensure that Gaza hospitals are adequately supplied. Turning to concerns raised about settler violence, he said a recent increase in this trend posed a major problem during the harvest season, with reports of settlers stealing olives and attacking farmers. Upholding accountability is essential, he said, noting that such international tools as the Geneva Conventions and Security Council resolutions must be applied in order to foster an end to the occupation and bring Israel back into compliance with international law.
ISHA DYFAN, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, presenting her report (documents A/76/155 and A/HRC/48/80), said that advancing electoral and security arrangements are key priorities for the Somali authorities and the international community. She expressed concern over slow implementation of electoral processes and noted the need for a free, fair, inclusive and secure such process as a precursor to the holding of “one person, one vote” elections in 2024‑2025. These goals cannot be achieved without fully embracing the principles of equality and non‑discrimination, she acknowledged, urging authorities to establish a mechanism for ensuring the 30 per cent quota for women’s representation in elections at all levels, as agreed in various commitments.
She said economic and social disparities in Somalia have deepened, leading to an increase in housing evictions, as well as a lack of progress in women’s and children’s health and reduced service delivery in terms of water and sanitation. Somalia continues to be plagued with a high number of civilian casualties, due to the armed conflict and frequent attacks by al‑Shabaab and other parties. Among other concerns, she highlighted the high number of grave violations against children and a rise in sexual and gender‑based violence against women and girls during the COVID‑19 pandemic, trends that are compounded by the attempts of several stakeholders to weaken protections afforded to women and children.
The human rights challenges in Somalia are complex, but not insurmountable, she observed, noting that the plan outlined in her report provides guidance for investments and calculated steps for improved human and institutional capacities. It draws from the revised security transition plan, the ninth national development plan (2020‑2024) and the commitment expressed in the 2021 Mutual Accountability Framework, to maximize the efforts of the Federal Government, national stakeholders and international partners in targeting human and financial resources to implement these strategies concurrently.
Responding to the Independent Expert, the representative of Somalia said that while COVID‑19 has disrupted the State‑building gains made in his country, the Government has achieved many benchmarks in the field of human rights, including in relation to periodic monitoring. The Government is committed to the protection of children affected by armed conflict and works hard to promote the legal framework for safeguarding child rights. The Special Rapporteur’s report contains sections that are based on information from a third party, without adequate verification. He recommended a more methodological approach be taken in the future to better reflect the situation on the ground. He asked for the Independent Expert’s views on how plans to enable the rights of women and children can be supported during the pandemic, both technically and financially.
Several delegates drew attention to improvements in Somalia’s human rights conditions, while stressing that challenges persisted. The representative of Denmark noted that children have been recruited and used in armed conflict in overwhelming numbers, particularly by al‑Shabaab. He also expressed alarm over the increase of sexual and gender‑based violence against women and children during the pandemic. The representative of the United Kingdom meanwhile noted that increased sexual and gender‑based violence, and violence against children, has undermined Somalia’s stability. She asked the Special Rapporteur how the international community can best support initiatives to attain accountability.
Drawing attention to armed conflict settings, the representative of the United States urged Somalia to end the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. As Somalia carries out its elections, she asked how the international community can help mitigate against potential violence and abuse. An observer for the European Union commended Somalia’s efforts to address the impact of COVID‑19 within the difficult context of armed conflict. He expressed concern over the practices of child, early and forced marriages, female genital mutilation and the continued use of the death penalty. He asked how the international community can best support Somalia in the implementation of the benchmarks and indicators contained in the report to improve human rights.
The representative of China also spoke.
Ms. DYFAN, responding, said Somalia is at a critical juncture. The path towards sustainable peace will not be reached without a meaningful recommitment at the federal and state levels to protect human rights and place human dignity at the centre of all efforts. Proper oversight mechanisms are needed, especially for security institutions. Civil society, human rights defenders and journalists have a crucial role to play in monitoring the situation on the ground, she said, encouraging the international community to support their efforts.
She also called for greater support for local authorities, as they bear the brunt of the situation. Civil society and grass‑roots organizations are all members of this security arrangement that should be engaged in work to ensure peace and security. “All hands should be on deck,” she said, reiterating that the challenges ahead are not insurmountable.
MOHAMED ABDELSALAM BABIKER, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said that since he presented his report (document A/76/221) to the Human Rights Council in June, there has been no evidence of progress in the human rights situation in the country. He recalled that September marked 20 years since Eritrea’s 2001 crackdown on dissent, freedom of expression and the media, and stressed that Eritrea’s authorities continue to arbitrarily detain those perceived as critical of the Government in inhumane and degrading conditions. Noting that 15 journalists and employees of independent newspapers were arrested in September and detained incommunicado without trial, he urged Eritrea’s Government to end the practices of enforced disappearance and incommunicado detention and called for the urgent release of all persons arbitrarily detained in Eritrea without due process of law.
In addition to restricting free media, authorities continue to limit religious freedoms and persecute people of faith, he said, adding that a Jehovah’s Witness went missing earlier this year after his release, and at least 15 of the Christians released have reportedly been rearrested. Stressing the role of Eritrean troops in perpetrating grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, he reiterated his call on Eritrea to withdraw its troops from Tigray and respect the international humanitarian and human rights standards applicable in situations of armed conflict.
He went on to express concern about Eritrean refugees in Tigray and their displacement to other regions in Ethiopia, as well as the extremely vulnerable conditions of 24,000 refugees who remain in the Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps in Tigray, and the 20,000 refugees in the Berhale camp in the Afar region. He urged all parties to the conflict to respect the civilian and humanitarian nature of refugee camps and ensure respect for the 1951 Convention for the Protection of Refugees. Turning to the “alarming” situation of the 5,000 Eritrean refugees who are currently in Libya, amid a crackdown on migrants and refugees, he urged the international community to do more to protect Eritrean refugees and ensure their human rights. Noting that his requests to visit Eritrea and to meet with the authorities have gone unanswered, he called on the Government to cooperate with his mandate, as well as with the African and international human rights mechanisms.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, Eritrea’s delegate rejected the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, stressing that it fails to recognize the efforts undertaken by her country. She considered the universal periodic review to be the only mechanism able to assess human rights. The representatives of Cuba, Russian Federation and Egypt agreed with this approach, underlining that the report politicizes issues related to human rights and fundamental freedoms.
At the same time, several delegates congratulated Eritrea for joining the Human Rights Council, reaffirming that human rights can only be promoted through a constructive, non‑selective and non‑politicized approach and calling the Special Rapporteur’s perspective “counterproductive”.
On the other hand, representatives of the United Kingdom, Switzerland and an observer for the European Union raised concerns about violations in Eritrea, expressing support for the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. The United Kingdom’s delegate, in particular, stressed that the situation is a priority for her country within the Human Rights Council. He urged Eritrea to withdraw from northern Ethiopia. In the same vein, the representative of the United States underlined that the presence of Eritrea in her country destabilizes the region, drawing attention to alarming reports of rape and violent crimes committed by the Eritrean army. On the contrary, China’s representative considered that elements pertaining to the situation in northern Ethiopia go beyond the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.
Also speaking were representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Pakistan, Syria, United States, Nigeria, Cameroon, Nicaragua, Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana and Iran.