Table of Contents

1    INTRODUCTION

1.1   LIST OF AGENDA ITEMS

2    OPENING SESSION

2.1    ELISABETH TICHY-FISSLBERGER

2.2    MICHELLE BACHELET

2.3    MARISE PAYNE

3    ORAL STATEMENTS

AGENDA ITEM 2 – ANNUAL REPORT OF THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND REPORTS OF THE OFFICE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER AND THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

AGENDA ITEM 3 – PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF ALL HUMAN RIGHTS, CIVIL, POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT

AGENDA ITEM 4 – HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATIONS THAT REQUIRE THE COUNCIL'S ATTENTION

AGENDA ITEM 5 – HUMAN RIGHTS BODIES AND MECHANISMS

AGENDA ITEM 7 – HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN PALESTINE AND OTHER OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES

AGENDA ITEM 9 – RACISM, RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, XENOPHOBIA AND RELATED FORMS OF INTOLERANCE, FOLLOW-UP AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DURBAN DECLARATION AND PROGRAMME OF ACTION

AGENDA ITEM 10 – TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND CAPACITY-BUILDING

4    WRITTEN STATEMENTS

Nicaragua: Detained Human Rights Defenders at Risk during COVID-19

The Fight against Discrimination is Far from Over

Trafficking-in-Persons and Climate Change

The Continued Human Rights Violations at Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China Re-education Camps

The Pandemic and the Rise of Authoritarianism

Occupied Palestinian Territory: The Right of the Palestinian People to Self-determination

Violations of the Right to Health of Migrants by Private Detention Centre Operators in the United States of America

5    KEY TAKEAWAYS AND ACHIEVEMENTS

6    LESSONS LEARNED

7    CONCLUSION AND REFLECTIONS

1    INTRODUCTION

In the lead up to the 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, intense preparations were underway. The lessons learned from the 43rd and 44th sessions reaffirmed the need for new and innovative strategies to ensure engagement with the Council, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Safety became an utmost priority and team members were required to wear masks, social distance, and conduct themselves responsibly in all engagements. The 45th session was approached with caution but with equal determination.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (‘GICJ’) in its preparations for the 45th session aimed to ensure that our voice, and the voices of all those that we represent, were heard. We recognise the importance of ensuring that civil society is represented and were determined to ensure that grave human rights violations were brought to light at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council.

On 14 September 2020, the 45th session of the Human Rights Council commenced and proceeded until 7 October 2020. With a team of enthusiastic human rights defenders, GICJ proceeded with its strategy of intense engagement, utilisation of information technology, and despite the COVID-19, executed its mission bravely, responsibly, and safely.

Under the leadership of the Executive Director, the 45th session turned out to be a superbly productive session for GICJ team. A total of 30 joint oral statements were delivered at various discussions of the 45th session. GICJ also submitted 7 joint written statements to the Human Rights Council. These written statements concerned key priority areas including the rise in authoritarianism in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the relationship between climate change and human trafficking, detained human rights defenders in Nicaragua, and the need to continue the fight against racism. A truly productive and fulfilling experience, this 45th session has been.

By this report, GICJ hopes to give a clear outline of the work done during the 45th session, including the specifics of oral statements delivered, brief summaries of the written statements, our consideration of key takeaways derived, as well as achievements, further lessons learned and our reflections on the session as a whole.

1.1    List of Agenda Items

2    OPENING SESSION

2.1    Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger

Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the 45th session in the morning of 14 September 2020.

She recalled that the same health measures that were applied at the 44th session will continue to be applied during the 45th session. She then announced the modalities of the 45th session, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken accordingly, such as the possibility to participate via video statements and the absence of side events, along with other safety measures.

Following this, Ms. Tichy-Fisslberger introduced a matter of urgency. She shared that, on 11 September 2020, she received a letter by the Permanent Mission of Germany, requesting on behalf of Member States of the European Union, that are also members of the Human Rights Council, that an urgent debate be held on the situation of human rights in Belarus. In this regard, a vote was immediately held, to which the outcome was 25 votes in favour, 2 against from Venezuela and the Philippines, and 20 abstentions. Accordingly, the proposal to hold this urgent debate was adopted by the Council.

Lastly, the President of the Council briefly introduced the programme of work of the 45th session, before concluding with a reminder that this Council has no tolerance for any form of harassment.

2.2    Michelle Bachelet

After the President of the Council’s opening speech, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, presented her oral update.

She highlighted having received alarming reports from Belarus on repressions of peaceful protesters, the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, as well as abductions of opposition members. In view of these events, she encouraged the Council to focus actions on this, in order to prevent further escalations.

Moreover, she drew the Council’s attention to the recent fire at the migrant camp in Lesbos, Greece, which has had a drastic impact on the lives of thousands of people, thus underscoring the need for solidarity and shared responsibility among EU Member States. She encouraged the European Commission and the EU Member States to enhance genuine solidarity and strengthen human rights safeguards at EU external borders in the upcoming EU pact on migration and asylum. She recalled on all countries to ensure that migrants’ lives are protected, and human rights upheld.

Ms. Bachelet briefly mentioned other countries and topics of particular concerns, such as the alarming poverty rate in Lebanon, the continuing repression of LGBTI people in Poland, the situation of human rights defenders in Iran and Iraq, the food insecurity in Syria, the continuous arbitrary detentions of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, the increasing repression of democratic space in Tanzania, drug-related killings by police forces in the Philippines, as well as the politically-motivated detentions in Burundi, among other issues.

She highlighted that, worldwide, an alarming number of human rights defenders and journalists being detained, attacked and killed are recorded daily. In this regard, she called on all governments to refrain from discrediting human rights defenders and journalists, putting them at increased risk of attack.

Ms. Bachelet concluded by mentioning the United Nations liquidity crisis and the impact it has had on the work of the OHCHR.

2.3    Marise Payne

Concluding the opening of the 45th session, Ms. Marise Payne, Australia’s Minister for Women & Minister for Foreign Affairs, took the floor.

She highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that human rights are fundamental to national and international governance. She stressed that in light of the pandemic, governments and international institutions need to find ways to balance public health and upholding civil and political rights. She expressed regrets at the fact that some countries are misusing the emergency measures to undermine civil and political rights, while others have even used COVID-19 as a pretext for reducing or removing access to justice.

Ms. Payne reaffirmed that Australia will continue to work towards ensuring that international institutions are fit-for-purpose, effective, transparent, and accountable to Member States.

3    GICJ PARTICIPATION AT THE HRC45th SESSION

3.1    ORAL STATEMENTS

GICJ delivered oral statements at the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council in various general debates and interactive dialogues. These statements addressed country-specific human rights situations and violations and also advanced the dialogue on various thematic human rights issues. Most of the statements were delivered in-person and while others via video uploads with the Secretariat. A total of 30 oral statements were delivered and may be read in full below.

AGENDA ITEM 2 – ANNUAL REPORT OF THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND REPORTS OF THE OFFICE OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER AND THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

a.    General Debate on the Oral Update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Oral Updates of the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in Nicaragua and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Political Prisoners in Nicaragua

Delivered by Diane Gourdain of GICJ on 15 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We welcome the oral update of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights activists in the Republic of Nicaragua. Human rights defenders are continuously being unlawfully detained and tortured, for exercising their right to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly.

Ma’onah Association and Geneva International Centre for Justice highlight that, beyond the incarceration of human rights activists with no legal grounds, political prisoners continue to be discriminated against, in the form of extreme isolation and a lack of access to basic healthcare. More specifically, political prisoners’ requests for medical attention are systematically ignored by judges, which is especially alarming during the pandemic. Former political detainees have also reported being tortured and abused during their incarceration.

Beyond this, we draw the Council’s attention to the so-called “revolving door” mechanism continuously used by the Nicaraguan government, which consists of arresting and releasing the same amount of human rights activists. This allows the government to strategically arrest political opponents in order to inhibit political opposition, while regularly releasing other activists, in an effort to maintain its public image, and deny the existence of political prisoners.

In countless other countries, such as Iraq and Yemen, arbitrary detention and assassinations of human rights activists remain widespread and systemic issues.

Thus, we call upon the Council to pressure all countries to release political prisoners and punish the perpetrators.

Thank you.

Violations against Peaceful Protestors in Iraq

Delivered by Hannah Bludau of GICJ on 15 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We thank the High Commissioner for her update, in which she mentioned the attacks against human rights activists in Iraq.

On October 1, 2019, demonstrations erupted throughout Iraq and have persisted despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, demonstrators demanded an end to corruption and the fulfilment of basic needs. The demonstrations have subsequently evolved into a call for transition to a truly democratic and sustainable political system, free from sectarian influences and discrimination based on ethnic quotas.

From the outset, security forces responded to the peaceful protests with excessive force, live ammunition, and the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of less-lethal weapons.

It has been confirmed that the number of victims since October 2019 has totalled more than 800 protesters killed, more than 700 abducted, and more than 25,000 injured, of whom about 4,000 are permanently disabled.

Unfortunately, the Iraqi authorities have not taken any real action to combat these violations and hold the perpetrators accountable. Instead, governmental officials and many politicians, including members of Parliament, and the militias, are actively promoting the systematic targeting and increased acts of violence against activists and human rights defenders, in an attempt to discredit the victims and justify the attacks.

International-Lawyers and Geneva International Centre for Justice call on the Council to take the required measures to put an end to the grave human rights violations in Iraq.

Human Rights Violations in Venezuela

Delivered by Mathieu Fournier of GICJ on 15 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We would like to thank the High Commissioner’s for her update and we wish to highlight two points which are very worrisome.

First, we deplore the conditions under which healthcare professionals work in Venezuela. Furthermore, recent reprisals against healthcare workers who speak out against these conditions are not only unlawful, but also prevent the dissemination of information crucial to curbing the virus’ spread in the country.

The unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States have been very efficient in destroying the Venezuelan economy. Thus, EAFORD and Geneva International Centre for Justice welcome the recommendation made to Member States to halt or revise their sanctions against Venezuela so that the government can better respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Nevertheless, this pandemic must not be used as an excuse to cover up or to set aside existing human rights violations. They are contrary to international law, even in emergency situations.

We therefore urge all governments to uphold international standards, when it comes to the human rights of its people in every circumstance.

Thank You.

b.    Interactive Dialogue with the Group of Eminent International Experts on the Human Rights Situation in Yemen

Failure of the Justice System in Yemen

Delivered by Diane Gourdain of GICJ on 29 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We thank the Group of Experts on Yemen for their report and share their concern regarding the lack of means and capacity of the Yemeni justice system to conduct prosecutions in accordance with international human rights law.

Ma’onah Association and Geneva International Centre for Justice support the Group’s call for the referral of all international crimes committed in Yemen to the International Criminal Court.

In this regard, we believe that the case should include all crimes perpetrated by the Houthi militia, including the assassination of the president, Mr. Saleh, in 2017, as well as the 2011 terrorist attack on the mosque of the presidential palace, which resulted in the death and injury of countless innocent civilians.

Besides this, we wish to highlight that five terrorists arrested following this attack were later released and protected by the Houthi militia, while their cases were still under investigation. Not only does this amount to a violation of the Security Council Resolution number 2014, but it also constitutes a blatant violation of the principle of judicial independence.

Lastly, the Houthi crimes against civilians, including attacks on media offices, healthcare facilities, as well as schools and educational institutions, must not go unnoticed and all of their perpetrators must be held accountable. Millions of Yemeni people, who have been and continue to be victims of the Houthi militia, deserve justice.

I thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 3 – PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF ALL HUMAN RIGHTS, CIVIL, POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT

a.    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Including its Causes and Consequences

Modern Slavery during COVID-19

Delivered by Mutua Kobia of GICJ on 16 September 2020

Thank you, Mr. President.

We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery that focuses on the “Impact of the coronavirus disease pandemic on contemporary forms of slavery and slavery-like practices”.

We note the detrimental impacts of the COVID-19 crisis especially on enslaved persons before the crisis and those trapped in slavery-like conditions. Furthermore, it is deeply worrying that minority and vulnerable groups are targeted, marginalized and even used as scapegoats and placed in abhorrent conditions where they are owned and abused and denied the most basic of human rights, as is the case concerning Ethiopians who suffer appalling and horrific conditions in the Middle East region.

Mr. President,

EAFORD and Geneva International Centre for Justice continue to emphasise the relevance of addressing root causes as a means to fully understand and end all types of modern-slavery. We also stress the need to identify chief perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

It is also crucial to identify and address new risks, gaps, and abuses in light of the covid-19 situation to strengthen anti-slavery measures that have been negatively impacted by this phenomenon. Objectives and methodologies in this endeavour must, therefore be concrete. Mr.

Special Rapporteur, in light of this what challenges and obstacles stand in your way of collecting the relevant data and how will you address such challenges?

In conclusion,

•  We recommend member states to put in place or enhance strategies to better identify contemporary forms of slavery during the covid-19 pandemic,

•  Finally, we strongly support the obligation to cooperate and urge all member states and relevant stakeholders to strengthen international solidarity towards eradicating contemporary forms of slavery.

Thank you.

b.    Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Widespread & Systematic Disappearances in Iraq

Delivered by Hannah Bludau of GICJ on 21 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We thank the Working Group for its visits to the countries mentioned in the report to help end the legacy of enforced disappearances. We are looking forward to the Working Group´s visit to Iraq.

The Working Group emphasized the issue of standards and public policies for an effective investigation of enforced disappearances; we would like to highlight the absence of such procedures in Iraq.

Since there exists no clear competent authority to deal with cases of enforced disappearances, as the government only acknowledges those before 2003, the visit of the Working Group is urgently needed by the families of victims. We have submitted cases of thousands of enforced disappearances to the Committee and the Working Group, which clearly show that certain ethnic groups, particularly the Sunni Arabs, are targeted. The lack of judicial enquiries and the continuing impunity for cases of enforced disappearances violate the victims’ rights to truth and justice and enables future violations to occur.

Iraq’s repeated failure to respond to the Working Group inquiry, despite receiving a reminder, in addition to its recent failure to appear before the Committee for Enforced Disappearances proves its unwillingness to address these grave violations.

International-Lawyers.Org and Geneva International Centre for Justice, therefore, call on the Working Group to urgently use the open invitation to visit Iraq, pressure the government to fulfil their obligations and develop and implement a comprehensive policy to address the past abuses, including enforced disappearances, which should encompass the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparation.

Thank you.

c.    General Debate on Item 3

Deplorable Human Rights Situation in Yemen

Delivered by Diane Gourdain of GICJ on 24 September 2020

Thank you, President.

The human rights situation in Yemen is constantly deteriorating. The unravelling of government services and a collapsing economy have resulted in shortages of food, water, sanitation and medicine.

Preventable and curable diseases, such as diphtheria, measles and chicken pox, are now prevalent in Yemen. As a result of this, approximately every 10 minutes, a child passes away in Yemen. This is mainly due to the shortage of medicine.

Beyond this, the remaining clinics in Yemen no longer have the resources to buy vaccinations and store them in a cool place. The degrading situation of the Yemeni healthcare system has adversely impacted the right to health of most of the country’s population.
Besides this, the Houthi militia has continuously destroyed healthcare and humanitarian facilities, as well as confiscated most of the foreign humanitarian aid to Yemen.

Ma’onah Association and Geneva International Centre for Justice call on the international community to implement all UN resolutions regarding Yemen, especially those imposing sanctions on the Houthi militia, and to take action to bring the conflict to an end.

We call upon the Council to urge member states and the international community to stop supporting and arming the Houthi militia, and to create a special tribunal to hold them accountable for all war crimes and crimes against humanity they committed against the Yemeni people.

I thank you.

Widespread Issue of Arbitrary Detention

Delivered by Hannah Bludau of GICJ on 24 September 2020

Thank you, President.

International-Lawyers.org and Geneva International Centre for Justice takes this opportunity to highlight that grave and widespread arbitrary detentions hinders the enjoyment of fundamental human rights.

In this regard, we express concern about the detention of asylum seekers and other migrants seeking protection in the United States, especially the conditions of overcrowding and poor hygiene of asylum seekers, who have recognized health vulnerabilities for the sole purpose of ensuring their attendance at immigration hearings. The US needs to adjust its regulations to bring them in line with human rights standards.

Similar conditions are found in Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are subjected to arbitrary detention. The victims are not informed of the charges against them, nor of the authority carrying out the detention. There is an absence of proper procedures for registering detainees and they are denied access to legal representation. Threats and torture are systematically used to unlawfully extract equivocal confessions, subsequently relied upon in justifying the death penalty.

Detainees suffer from torture, degrading and inhuman treatment. Their whereabouts are often concealed, ensuring that they remain isolated and resulting in enforced disappearances.

Enforced disappearances remain a widespread and systematic problem in Iraq since 2003. Thousands have forcibly disappeared at the hands of the U.S. forces, and subsequently at the hands of the militias that targeted and eradicated entire generations of families under the pretext of combatting terrorism. Impunity has enabled these violations to persist. The Council must take all necessary measures to stop this.

Thank you.

Enforced Disappearances in Iraq

Delivered by Augustine Sokimi of GICJ on 24 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We are deeply concerned with the persistence of enforced disappearances in Iraq. This Council, the Working Group and Committee on enforced disappearances, must pursue the truth and facts regarding the situation in Iraq.

We have documented enforced disappearances which deliberately targeted and eradicated entire generations of families. Yet, in a statement before this Council, the Iraqi delegate accused NGOs of misrepresenting information and advocating for terrorists aligned with Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

It is ludicrous to suggest that all men and boys belonging to certain families are terrorists.

The UNAMI and OHCHR joint report of August 2020 records over 1000 cases in al-Anbar province alone between 2015 and 2016. Are we to believe that those are terrorists?

EAFORD and Geneva International Centre for Justice request that this Council dig deeper to uncover the facts and the true number of enforced disappearances in Iraq.

The victims’ families look to this Council to take real progressive steps and actions towards ascertaining the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared. They look to this Council to further their relentless pursuit of accountability and search for answers. They demand the ever elusive truth and justice that this Council promises but has failed to deliver.  

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 4 – HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATIONS THAT REQUIRE THE COUNCIL'S ATTENTION

a.    Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

Widespread and Systematic Violence Amounting to Genocide Against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

Delivered by Razan al-Shammari on 22 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We thank the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar for engaging in this dialogue.

The widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya Muslims amounts to genocide. Myanmar security forces carry out the most brutal violations, including sexual-based violence and the killing of children. Rape is used systematically and deliberately as a weapon of war, amounting to a war crime.

We would like to draw the Special Rapporteur’s attention to the recent admissions of two soldiers from the Myanmar army before the International Criminal Court. They confirmed that the so-called ‘clearance operations’ of Rohingya Muslims at the end of August 2017 proceeded under orders to “shoot all they see and all they hear”. They further confessed to gang-raping Rohingya women and girls, mass murder, and burying bodies in mass graves. Their damning confessions clearly represent the ‘genocidal intent’ with which the grave human rights violations are committed.

Ma’onah and Geneva International Centre for Justice extend its continued support to the Special Rapporteur and urge him to take the necessary steps towards combating impunity. We further call on Myanmar to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur.

Myanmar authorities continuously deny the brutal human rights violations committed against Rohingya Muslims and have failed to hold perpetrators accountable. The climate of impunity in Myanmar enables war crimes, genocide, and other gross human rights violations to persist. This cannot be tolerated and must be dismantled through a global effort.

The Special Rapporteur and the Council must recognize and condemn the systematic human rights violations in Myanmar as genocide and crimes against humanity.

Thank you.

b.    Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria

Enforced Disappearances and Arbitrary Detentions in Syria

Delivered by Diane Gourdain on 22 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We thank the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic for their report. We are deeply concerned about their findings, especially regarding the ongoing enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, a majority of which are caused by the Syrian government.

Since March 2011, about 100,000 disappeared individuals have been recorded in Syria, the whereabouts of whom still remain unknown.

Beyond this, the systematic targeting of civilians and their arbitrary detention, as well as the destruction of schools and medical facilities, amount to crimes against humanity. Under no circumstances should the fight against terrorism be used as a pretext to target civilians.

The external support of the militias, that are killing and abducting civilians on a sectarian basis, is exacerbating the already dire situation in the country.

Ma’onah Association and Geneva International Centre for Justice believe that, after 11 years of continuous human rights violations, a mere political agreement will not suffice to establish lasting peace in Syria. Concrete action needs to be taken by all parties to the conflict.

In this regard, we urge the Council to pressure the Syrian government to ensure the release of arbitrarily detained civilians and abductees, and to locate disappeared persons.

Lastly, we reiterate our call for a nationwide ceasefire, which, after a decade of ongoing conflict, will be crucial for humanitarian aid to flow to the Syrian people.

I thank you.

c.    Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

Grave Human Rights Violations in Burundi by Imbonerakure

Delivered by Leena Abdelmoity on 23 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report and agree that the Imbonerakure is guilty of grave human rights abuses against Burundians. This militia has tortured and arbitrarily detained those who do not support its political party, has killed members of the opposing political party, and currently controls much of Burundi’s population by intimidation.

We are concerned that despite these, and other crimes committed by the Imbonerakure, the Burundian government has granted the group almost total impunity.

Also, we disapprove of the fact that to this day, members of the government use the Imbonerakure to replace state security forces. Because the conduct of the Imbonerakure is accepted by government officials, the State of Burundi is responsible for the militia’s offenses.

Additionally, many Burundian government officials are guilty of committing serious acts of corruption, including misappropriating public funds for personal gain. Largely because of this, 70 percent of Burundi lives in poverty.

International-Lawyers and Geneva International Centre for Justice call for:

●    Immediate measures toward the reduction of Imbonerakure’s influence.

●    The creation of a plan to reduce the systemic corruption present in much of the Burundian government.

Finally, we ask the Commission of Inquiry:

●    How can the UN Human Rights Office best help the people of Burundi even though the UN Human Rights Office in Burundi was closed?

Thank you.

d.    Interactive Dialogue with the Fact-finding Mission on Venezuela

The Effects of Unilateral Coercive Measures in Venezuela

Delivered by Natalia Brusco on 23 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We took note of the report on Venezuela, which focuses on investigations conducted in regards to extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture, and other inhuman treatment.

The report details that since 2014, Venezuela has experienced a gradual collapse of democratic institutions and rule of law, weakening trust between the government and its citizens, resulting in political opposition. International-Lawyers and Geneva International Centre for Justice are deeply concerned about the unilateral coercive measures imposed on Venezuela which continue to have dire implications on the enjoyment of fundamental rights, including the right to food and healthcare.

While the mission mentioned that the country’s hyperinflation and increasing shortage of food and medicine was aggravated by COVID-19, in addition to the above mentioned severe measures, this has had a disastrous impact on the pre-existing crisis of the collapsed healthcare system in Venezuela. In addition, Venezuela is experiencing shortages in basic necessities, making it impossible for the country to import certain goods. In this regard, the recent severe gasoline shortage has crippled the nation. Medical emergencies and food distribution are further aggravated by the fuel shortage, thus intensifying the impacts of the pandemic.

Finally, we hope the fact-finding mission will urge all governments, regardless of their political position, to review the unilateral measures that help human rights violations to persist and affect the whole population in Venezuela. It is the duty of everyone to uphold international law and provide justice.

Thank you, President.

e.    General Debate on Item 4

The Dire Human Rights Situation in Yemen

Delivered by Diane Gourdain of GICJ on 25 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We once again draw the Council’s attention to the dire human rights situation in Yemen, which started when the Houthi militia began attacking civilians, in an attempt to control the country, hereby refusing all peaceful solutions. Since then, they have continuously perpetrated crimes against humanity, by relentlessly abducting, killing and torturing civilians.

We wish to highlight one notable example. In June 2011, they launched a terrorist attack on the mosque of the presidential palace, which resulted in the death and injury of countless innocent civilians, including State leaders, such as the then president, Mr. Saleh, who was injured, as well as the president of the Shura Council, who was killed.

Yet almost a decade later, the perpetrators of these crimes have still not been held accountable, despite the Security Council Resolution number 2014, which recognized this violation as a terrorist attack. As a result of the lack of accountability, the Houthi militia has continued to violate human rights, and has assassinated the former president in 2017.

Ma’onah Association and Geneva International Centre for Justice reiterate their calls on the international community to immediately implement Yemen-related UN resolutions, by ceasing to support and arm the Houthi militia.

Lastly, we deem it highly necessary to create a special tribunal, in order to hold the perpetrators accountable for all the crimes they have committed against innocent Yemeni civilians.

I thank you.

Systematic and Widespread Human Rights Violations in Iraq

Delivered by Hannah Bludau of GICJ on 25 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We are deeply concerned about the systematic and widespread human rights violations in Iraq. We have raised this issue many times before UN relevant bodies and are still of the firm belief that the situation requires special attention by this Council.

It is appalling that international crimes committed by powerful states against other states are too often erased from humanity’s collective memory and replaced with propaganda to cover up the millions of lives destroyed and extinguished through these crimes. We call attention to the 2003 illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq for which not a single person responsible has been brought to justice. The victims of that heinous war are entitled to the protections of international law and cannot be removed from our collective memory.  

Therefore, International-Lawyers and Geneva International Centre for Justice repeat their calls to establish an international, independent Commission of inquiry to investigate all human rights violations in Iraq since 2003 in order to hold all perpetrators accountable.

It is also appalling that the Iraqi government continues to evade calls for accountability for thousands of disappeared persons by branding them as terrorists solely on the basis that they derive from certain ethnic regions in Iraq.

Human rights defenders in Iraq are subjected to abductions and assassinations merely for exercising their fundamental rights.

Impunity enables these violations to persist and we repeat our call upon the Council to take all necessary measures to stop these grave violations.

Thank you.

Widespread Use of Arbitrary Detention in Iraq

Delivered by Mutua Kobia of GICJ on 25 September 2020

Thank you, Mr. President.

EAFORD and Geneva International Centre for Justice would like to bring the attention of the Council to the systematic and widespread human rights violations in Iraq.

Arbitrary detention for thousands of innocents are widely practised. Detainees are kept in detention for years without being brought before a judge and without having access to a lawyer. The army, police, security units and militias each operate their own prisons. The Defence and Interior ministries have played a crucial role in the enforced disappearances of more than 17.000 innocent Iraqis by conducting widespread campaigns of arrest and detention across Iraq.

Furthermore, al-Hashd al-Sha’bi militias are responsible of the mass killings and disappearances of thousands of Sunni Arabs in Iraq merely for sectarian reasons.

Torture, ill-treatment and humiliation, is the daily practice against detainees. It must be stated that UN missions in Iraq and the OHCHR are denied interviews with detainees despite repeated requests.

The Iraqi judicial system is not independent or free and is plagued by corruption and interference of the government and the militias.

Former High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, said, “the criminal justice system in Iraq is not functioning adequately, with numerous convictions based on confessions obtained under torture and ill-treatment, a weak judiciary and trial proceedings that fall short of international standards.”

We call again on this Council to take all necessary actions to put an end to these heinous violations.

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 5 – HUMAN RIGHTS BODIES AND MECHANISMS

a.    Interactive Dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Human Rights Defenders

Delivered by Marcel Loehr of GICJ on 24 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We thank the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People for the update and for engaging in this panel discussion on the protection of indigenous human rights defenders.

The United Nations has played a vital role in facilitating dialogue on the right to self-determination of indigenous people. Their right to self-determination remains threatened by western ideologies of modernity that are enforced upon indigenous communities across the globe.

International Lawyers and Geneva International Centre for Justice are deeply concerned that Indigenous human rights defenders are frequently subject to threats and attacks. They are often exposed to violence without sufficient and necessary guarantees for their protection.

Ideas, values, and opinions of indigenous human rights defenders are often dogmatised as hindering economic development.

We call on the Expert Mechanism to give more focus to those, that advocate for the protection of land, resources, and the environment, since they are particularly prone to attacks and violence. The close relationship between indigenous people and the environment has existed since time immemorial and their environmental concerns must be heeded as essential to save the planet from further degradation and destruction.

It is of grave importance to grant indigenous communities’ autonomy over their land, and to include them and their representatives, in all stages of decision-making processes, whether local, national, regional or international.

We call upon the Council and the Expert Mechanism to facilitate dialogue and to work relentlessly towards guaranteeing the protection of indigenous communities and their advocates.

Thank you.

Keys towards Repatriation of Indigenous Culture

Delivered by Mutua K. Kobia on 24 September 2020

Thank you, President.

We welcome the report by the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on repatriation and specifically regarding intangible cultural heritage. In this regard we remind the Council that states carry the primary responsibility for ensuring that indigenous peoples are able to safely exercise their rights and that accountability is established for violations against indigenous human rights-defenders. These rights and remedies can only be realised if the serious issue of corporate impunity by transnational-corporations, big-businesses, and extractive industries is addressed. To this end, there is an urgent need for a UN Binding Treaty to regulate TNCs and effective remedies for the victims.

Furthermore, access to justice regarding ceremonial objects and human remains can only be realised when indigenous judicial and legal systems are acknowledged and strengthened by governments and international bodies. We also recall that a key issue from previous EMRIP sessions that was echoed by numerous participants was on language, and in particular, the translation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, national and domestic law, and international law to indigenous languages.

In order to increase, promote, and raise awareness of rights of indigenous peoples, the language barriers and other related obstacles and challenges must be overcome in a collaborative manner with indigenous communities. In this regard, we would like to ask the Expert Mechanism what steps are being taken to ensure strengthened partnership especially in these challenging moments?

In conclusion, EAFORD and Geneva International Centre for Justice recommends increased promotion of indigenous languages and the adoption of an international legally binding treaty to regulate TNCs.

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 7 – HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN PALESTINE AND OTHER OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES

a.    General Debate on Item 7

Israel’s Human Rights Violations

Delivered by Mathieu Fournier on 30 September 2020

Thank you, President.

Israel’s illegal occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and its violation of the Palestinian peoples’ human rights, including that of self-determination, has persisted for decades. We ask this Council, when will it end?
Israel has blatantly and persistently violated the United Nations Charter, through its ongoing human rights violations and illegal occupation. Under this Agenda Item 7, the hope has always been that through a concerted and coordinated effort, States will pressure Israel to do what is right by finally putting an end to its illegal occupation and persistent human rights violations.

But what have we seen instead? Certain Member States of this Council have flaunted the misguided notion that this Agenda Item 7 singles out Israel and is biased, as a basis for voting against resolutions concerning the human rights situation in Palestine. They totally obscure and blind themselves to the real and persistent violations that occur in Palestine on a daily basis.

To these Member States, you have failed to protect the Palestinian people from the violation of their human rights. Violations have been documented on a mountain of evidence, even corroborated by the reports of the Special Rapporteur on the situation in Palestine.

EAFORD and Geneva International Centre for Justice call on this Council to recognise the reality of Israel’s illegal occupation and human rights violations, which will persist as long as this Council fails to unite under this Agenda Item 7 in solidarity.

Thank you.

Grave Violations in Palestine

Delivered by Marisa Félix on 30 September 2020

Thank you, President.

It is appalling that despite the abundance of UN resolutions, the Council is still discussing the violations of Israel towards the Palestinian people and their territory.

This is due to the lack of implementation and Israel´s insistence on the systematic attempt to persecute and destroy the Palestinian people.

The construction of settlements in the occupied territories continues and decisions to demolish buildings belonging to Palestinian families accumulate. This seriously violates international law; and the utter lack of respect for human rights forms the basis of this humanitarian crisis.

Ma'onah Association and Geneva International Centre for Justice call upon the international community to increase pressure on Israel to cease this repression and segregation in the occupied territories, as it has severely limited the Palestinian’s access to basic resources, such as health facilities and agricultural lands.

Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, these grave violations by Israel continue to be perpetrated. This puts the Palestinian people in an even more vulnerable and burdensome position.

We appeal to this Council and all states to promote measures that accomplish justice and protection of the Palestinian people and terminate all illegal settlement activities and other violations of international law.

Thank you.

Systematic Human Rights Violations in Palestine

Delivered by Malina Gepp on 30 September 2020

Thank you, President.

While we are meeting here today, the widespread and systematic violations against every aspect of life of Palestinians continues. We have appealed to this Council before that these amount to genocide and must be stopped immediately.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza has left the economy and health system at the brink of collapse. On the 25th of September, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that one of Gaza’s COVID-19 testing devices has run out of operational materials, leaving its central laboratory to operate at half capacity. We therefore call upon the international community to increase pressure on Israel to allow for unhindered access of medical and testing equipment, and to grant exit from Gaza into the West Bank for medical treatment.

We welcome the agreement reached by the major Palestinian political factions to hold elections within the next 6 months. The right to vote and stand for elections is a fundamental human right that should be enjoyed by all Palestinians, regardless of their place of residence. International-Lawyers and Geneva International Centre for Justice call upon this Council to ensure the enjoyment of this right, especially for those living in East Jerusalem.

Moreover, the alleged halting of further annexation plans is deceiving the public, as de facto annexation has already happened and remains illegal under international law. We urge this Council and the international community to denounce all annexation efforts by Israel.

Thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 9 – RACISM, RACIAL DISCRIMINATION, XENOPHOBIA AND RELATED FORMS OF INTOLERANCE, FOLLOW-UP AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DURBAN DECLARATION AND PROGRAMME OF ACTION

a.    Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on African Descent

Rise in Racism and Undermining of the DDPA

Delivered by Mutua Kobia on 30 September 2020

Thank you, Mr. President.

We thank the Working Group for their report; however, we remain deeply concerned that the evils and scourge of racism and racial discrimination not only remains a reality but continues to be on the rise in various forms across the globe. Worse still, the COVID-19 pandemic has put into question racialized priorities and policy decisions regarding a number of human rights issues that directly affect People of African Descent. These avoidable obstacles, however, are not new as systematic and structural racism especially for People of African Descent has its roots in colonialism and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Eliminating institutionalized racism and ending impunity can only be achieved by addressing these root causes. Furthermore, it has been noted that the COVID-19 crisis has adversely affected already-put in place procedures to combat racism in some countries, while in others the scourge of racism has even been deprioritized - as noted in the Working Group’s report.

In light of this, we bring to attention the 20th Anniversary of the DDPA and its Programme of Activities, which, has regrettably been undermined together with the DDPA itself.

Thus, we urge all member states to initiate political will and courage towards full implementation of the DDPA to eliminate the evils of racism in all its forms and bring justice to victims. Finally, we ask the Working Group what specific challenges and obstacles prevent further publication and wide dissemination of the DDPA in wake of its 20th anniversary?

And in conclusion, EAFORD and Geneva International Centre for Justice recommend:

•    All member states and this Human Rights Council to actively and widely distribute publications of the DDPA for its promotion and implementation.

Thank you.

b.    General Debate on Item 9

The Need for Promotion of the DDPA

Delivered by Mutua Kobia on 1 October 2020

Thank you, Madam President.

It is unacceptable that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances continue to plague this world despite numerous commitments, initiatives, and legal documents in place to eradicate the scourge of racism. We believe that the DDPA is the most comprehensive UN document that can help end racism on multiple levels.

Therefore, in order to achieve effective promotion towards full implementation of the DDPA we strongly urge full support of the DDPA outreach program. Namely, through activation of UN information centres, wider dissemination of the DDPA in official and non-official UN languages, and engagement with education institutions at all levels. We also encourage strong collaboration with the youth, utilisation of news and social-media, and efficient international solidarity.

Madam President, as we recall the request by the General Assembly to the UN Human Rights Council to develop a multi-year programme of activities to strengthen outreach and mobilize the global public to support the DDPA and combat racism - EAFORD and Geneva International Centre for Justice calls on this Council and all its members to take the appropriate and immediate initiatives towards the commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the DDPA.

Finally, we recommend this Council and its member states to:

•    urge the OHCHR to publish the programme of activities for the International Decade that is easily accessible and available in official languages of the UN for wide dissemination.

•    And to convene next year a full day high-level intersessional meeting on mobilizing global support of the DDPA.

Thank you.

The Need to Address Root Causes of Racism

Delivered by Malina Gepp on 1 October 2020

Thank you, President.

The voices of protesters and victims of racism still go unheard. Hasn’t it been enough?

People of colour receive unequal services, are subject to unfounded employment and housing practices and are routinely racially profiled. As these barriers continue to hinder their development, it leaves them trapped in a generational cycle of poverty and injustice.

In the US, the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” aims to protect government officials from lawsuits if they acted in good faith and did not clearly violate constitutional rights. However, in recent years this has essentially enabled policy brutality to go unpunished, which disproportionally affects people of colour.

No country is immune from racism. The problem is deeply ingrained in our societies and therefore requires addressing root causes for institutional change. Being aware is not enough, proactive steps need to be taken.

We appeal not only to the governments, but to its people; racism, be it conscious or unconscious must end. International Lawyers and Geneva International Centre for Justice call on all UN Member States to take initiatives to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action to end racial inequalities and unite against human rights violations; as well as to educate people on all forms of racial discrimination, in order to stop this horrendous cycle of injustice.

Thank you.

The Responsibility of Politicians in Fighting Against Racism

Delivered by Diane Gourdain on 1 October 2020

Thank you, President.

The fight against racism and racial discrimination is far from over. In recent years, there has been a rise in hate speech and discrimination around the world. Far-right politicians and groups have capitalized off their racist agendas, convincing the masses to adopt a similar mind-set, such that hate speech and racial discrimination are becoming normalized.

As an example, in countries such as Australia, Hungary, Germany, as well as Italy, racist discourse in politics is feeding into the public’s fear of migrants and the rejection of minorities within their society. Politicians too often foster a xenophobic climate by blaming immigrants for increasing crime rate and identity loss, despite evidence depicting no correlation.

The aforementioned examples merely scratch the surface of discriminatory and racist behaviour that is on the rise. Racism has become a disease our world has failed to eradicate, and until all countries uphold their duty to fight against racial discrimination in all its forms, racism will continue to thrive.

States must be reminded that, as established in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, it is their duty to condemn racism and promote tolerance. Besides this, all involvement in racist organizations must be criminalized.

In this regard, Ma’onah Association and Geneva International Centre for Justice call on the Council to urge Member States to fully implement the DDPA and work towards the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination.

I thank you.

AGENDA ITEM 10 – TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND CAPACITY-BUILDING

a.    Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner Report on the Democratic Republic of Congo and Final Report of Experts on Kasai

Protecting Prisoners in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Delivered by Rachel Kyes on 2 October 2020

Thank you, President.

We thank the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her report on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. International Lawyers and Geneva International Centre for Justice reaffirm the need to prosecute and punish all perpetrators of human rights violations. However, we must emphasize the equal need for protection of the rights of the accused and all detainees.

No one should have impunity for grave human rights violations, as this itself is a denial of the victim’s right to justice. At the same time, though, prisoners have rights that must be respected and upheld. Arrested persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo may face extended detention periods without a trial or progress made toward the investigation and prosecution of their case. Many prisons within the country face issues of significant overcrowding and a deficiency in appropriate services for prisoners, particularly a lack of sufficient medical care.

This issue is acutely serious in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prisons can easily become hotbeds for the transmission of COVID-19, especially when they face issues of overcrowding.

We, therefore, urge the Council to recommend steps that can be taken to ensure that justice is carried out while protecting the prisoner and detainee population within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including but not limited to the reduction of prison populations and the provision of all appropriate medical care.

Thank you.

b.    Interactive Dialogue with the Fact-finding Mission on Libya

Humanitarian Crisis in Libya

Delivered by Marisa Félix on 5 October 2020

Thank you, President.

We would like to thank the Chair of the Fact-finding Mission for his oral update.  

We are deeply concerned about the security situation and humanitarian crisis in Libya. Even with the security and military talks, the efforts towards a lasting ceasefire are still far from success.

Millions of Libyans are in need of humanitarian assistance including the more than 300’000 civilians forcibly displaced, facing arbitrary and abusive detention in facilities controlled by human traffickers.

Since the events of 2011, we witness ongoing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Libya. It is unfortunate that the Mission mandate doesn’t cover the entire period of these abuses.

Ma’onah Association and Geneva International Centre for Justice would like to reiterate the importance of a focus on gender based and sexual violence, as women and young girls are hit hardest by the conflict. We therefore ask the chair: what is being done to address this issue of gender-based and sexual violence, and how is the well-being of women and girls safeguarded during the exercise of the mission’s mandate?

We urge the Libyan authorities and all other parties to the conflict to fully cooperate with the fact-finding mission, and to grant its members unhindered access to all sites. Moreover, we appeal to this Council to address the widespread impunity for human rights abuses committed in Libya and take active measures to prevent further violations.

Thank you.

Accountability of Crimes in Libya

Delivered by Malina Gepp on 5 October 2020

Thank you, President.

We welcome the oral update by the Chair of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya and the Special Representative’s statement.

The conflict in Libya has been raging for years and therefore we highly commend the establishing and progress of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission. We encourage cooperation with the ICC, as well as domestic courts, in order to ensure the protection of victims and accountability for the crimes perpetrated.

We regret that the mandate is only effective for crimes committed from 2016 onwards, as this leaves serious crimes carried out by various national and international actors since 2011 unpunished. We believe that no perpetrators should be excluded from the accountability process. For this reason, we urge the Council to reconsider the mission’s mandate, to include crimes committed since 2011 in order to ensure full accountability and to bring justice to the Libyan people. The notion of the responsibility to protect does not grant a right to commit war crimes. Rather, the R2P, although controversial, encompasses the responsibility to rebuild, and accountability for crimes plays a crucial role in this.

International-Lawyers and Geneva International Centre for Justice call on all parties to the conflict to obey the agreed upon ceasefire and to respect international humanitarian and human rights law, so that further atrocities can be prevented. Additionally, we call upon the international community to respect the arms embargo, as its disrespect seriously undermines the progress made thus far.

I thank you.

c.    Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic

Conflict-related Sexual Violence in the Central African Republic

Delivered by Leena Abdelmoity on 2 October 2020

Thank you, President.

We welcome the Independent Expert, Mr. Yao Agbetse, and thank him for engaging with us. We are deeply concerned with the status of women and girls in the Central African Republic. Conflict-related sexual violence is a major issue in the country. Many armed groups, including the

Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique, are guilty of harming innocent women and girls by perpetuating such human rights violations as rape, attempted rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage.

Unfortunately, perpetrators of these crimes often escape justice because many of their victims do not file a complaint for fear of revenge and stigmatization. We fear that even if women want to seek help after experiencing conflict-related sexual violence, they often cannot receive the aid they need because the judicial, medical, and psychosocial services in the Central African Republic are greatly limited in their capacity to respond to victims.

International-Lawyers and Geneva International Centre for Justice call for:

1.    Immediate measures toward the reduction of armed groups’ influence.

2.    The Central African Republic’s government providing better judicial, medical, and psychosocial services to victims of conflict-related sexual violence.

We ask Mr. Agbetse to put a focus on the issue of conflict-related sexual violence in the Central African Republic as his predecessor did. Only by doing so can we better ensure the safety of women and girls in the Central African Republic.

Thank you.

Targeting of IDPs by Armed Groups

Delivered by Mutua Kobia on 2 October 2020

Thank you, Mr. President.

We welcome the new Independent Expert and thank him for his report on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic.

Amidst the conflict in CAR, we note that in recent years humanitarian workers and IDP sites have been targeted by armed groups including basic facilities and sites where displaced people take refuge. We regret to note that in this critical situation one in four children are either displaced or has refugee status.

Furthermore, the armed conflict has deteriorated the health situation for children, and reports of malaria and other serious ailments have surfaced. As previously mentioned, the attacks on humanitarian and aid workers adversely impacts their efforts toward attending to the needs of children.

1.5 million children need humanitarian assistance where many require therapeutic care; and tens of thousands of children under five years of age in IDP sites and enclaves desperately need access to essential health services and medicines. To make matters worse, safety for health personnel is in jeopardy, as they work under extremely difficult security conditions.

Moreover, the most vulnerable children are recruited by armed forces and forced to work as child soldiers, where they face additional dangers. In light of this dire situation, EAFORD and Geneva International Centre for Justice urgently recommend:

•    Technical assistance to ensure the adequate restoration and security of schools and hospitals, and to

•    Provide the necessary access to basic nutrition and medical needs.

In conclusion, Mr.  President, we would like to ask the independent expert what challenges and barriers lie ahead towards attending to the most vulnerable children in conflict-affected areas of remote parts of the country?

Thank you.

4    WRITTEN STATEMENTS

GICJ submitted several joint written statements at the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council. These statements addressed pertinent and persistent human rights situations, violations and concerns. A total of 7 written statements were published and may be read in summary below, with links to their full versions as uploaded by the Secretariat.

Nicaragua: Detained Human Rights Defenders at Risk during COVID-19

This written statement focuses on the situation of political prisoners in Nicaragua, who have become increasingly vulnerable due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2018, Nicaraguans have been protesting against their government and peaceful protesters have been regularly attacked and detained by national police forces. These arrests had no legal grounds and constitute a violation of international human rights treaties. Released detainees have also reported discrimination against political prisoners in the form of extreme isolation and a lack of access to basic healthcare.

The Nicaraguan government continuously uses a system based on arresting and releasing the same amount of people around a certain time. This allows the government to continue using arrests of political opponents as a strategic tool to inhibit political opposition, while regularly releasing political detainees, in an effort to maintain its public image.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Nicaraguan government has been ignoring health recommendations of the WHO. The lack of response of the government has put at risk the health of Nicaraguan citizens, especially that of political prisoners. In fact, prisons are facilitators of the spread of communicable diseases. This is especially the case in overcrowded prisons, where close contact between inmates is unavoidable. Particularly in Nicaragua, the prison overcrowding level is alarming, the current occupancy level of prisons standing at roughly 178%.

We are concerned about the continuous cases of incarcerations of human rights defenders, especially in times of a pandemic.

We recommend the Nicaraguan government to immediately release political prisoners, end the criminalisation of political opponents, improve the living conditions of political prisoners, and end discrimination against them.

Read the full written statement here.

The Fight against Discrimination is Far from Over

Although the world is constantly progressing the human rights of all individuals, the fight against racism and discrimination is far from over. In recent years, there has been a rise in hate speech and discrimination around the world. Far-right politicians and groups have capitalized off their racist agendas, convincing the masses to adopt a similar mind-set. As a consequence, hate speech and discrimination are slowly becoming normalized, elevating white supremacy and tolerance for anti-migration and anti-white sentiment. With international treaties designed to combat racism, these countries must be reminded of the documents they have signed which prevent this type of discriminatory behaviour.  

Adopted by the General Assembly in 1963, the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination outlines the body’s views on racism and calls on States to take direct efforts to consistently condemn racism and promote tolerance. Then, in 1965, the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) which is a legally binding document that commits its signatories to the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of understanding among all races. GICJ calls on all Member States to sign and uphold both of these international treaties in order to provide justice for discriminatory behaviour. GICJ highlights that in order to respect every human being’s dignity, citizens must not only be held accountable for hate speech and discriminatory actions, but reparations must be given for any victims involved.

Racism has become a disease our world has failed to eradicate and until all countries uphold their duty to fight against racial discrimination in all its forms, racism will continue to thrive. Politicians too often foster a xenophobic climate by blaming immigrants for increasing crime rate and identity loss, despite evidence depicting no correlation. Racist discourse in politics is feeding into the public’s fear of migrants and the rejection of minorities within their society.

GICJ called on the Human Rights Council to urge all Member States to condemn racial discrimination, continue to criminalize groups who preach racial superiority, and hold all citizens accountable for hate speech and discriminatory actions. Further, tangible steps for how States can hold accountable hate speech when committed by politicians and government officials should be provided. Lastly, the Human Rights Council must emphasize the importance for all Member States to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) and promote the commemoration of its 20th anniversary in 2021.

Read the full written statement here.

Trafficking-in-Persons and Climate Change

In the context of trafficking-in-persons, while the efforts of the international community over the past twenty years do show progress, there has been a stark lack of emphasis on how trafficking intersects with other issues, such as climate change. Thus, this statement sheds light on the relationship between trafficking-in-persons and climate change, emphasizing the impacts felt by persons in developing economies.

Poverty, migrant status, insecurity, gender inequality, and forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. are all vulnerabilities to trafficking. In fact, traffickers tend to target people exhibiting these vulnerabilities.

Climate change exacerbates these vulnerabilities. Sudden-onset disasters, such as extreme flooding or prolonged, more frequent wildfires cause large-scale displacement within a particular region, during which cases of trafficking are likely to increase.

The communities that are most vulnerable to trafficking-in-persons are also those most affected by climate change. This is particularly true for developing nations, where many live in extreme poverty and are highly dependent on natural resources for their survival. While it should be widely acknowledged that trafficking does occur in developed economies, victims and survivors are most often members of marginalized communities who are facing greater burdens for survival, as it is those with the least power in a society who are the first to be exploited.

In this regard, GICJ urges UN Member States to adhere to resolution 44/7 on Human Rights and Climate Change, adopted by consensus at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council. We also recommend UN Member States to ensure that mechanisms for safe and legal migration are in place to protect the basic human rights of those fleeing violence, destruction, and death due to climate change.

Read the full written statement here.

The Continued Human Rights Violations at Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China Re-education Camps

This statement focuses on the continued human rights violations at Xinjiang re-education camps in China, where the Chinese government is arbitrarily detaining millions of Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities.

Despite the government’s assertions to the contrary, there are serious human rights violations perpetrated against Uighurs and other Muslim communities in Xinjiang. Those include torture, arbitrary detention, mass surveillance, as well as disappearances in re-education camps.

The “Sinification of All Religions and Beliefs” was a policy officially declared by the Chinese government in 2017, with its ultimate goal being the systemic restrictions on Uighur culture and the practice of Islam.

Families of Uighurs have disappeared, and citizens of Uighur origin living abroad cannot get any news from their relatives. Similarly, hundreds of Uighur academics and professionals have disappeared.

China’s systematic assimilation policy is a severe violation of internationally recognized human rights, including the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, freedom from torture, as well as freedom from arbitrary detention. As a state party, China is in violation of its obligations under the ICERD, which states in Article 2 that “each State Party undertakes to engage in no act or practice of racial discrimination against persons, groups of persons or institutions and to ensure that all public authorities and public institutions, national and local, shall act in conformity with this obligation.”

In this regard, GICJ urges China to immediately close these detention centres and respect the human rights of ethnic and religious minorities. Furthermore, China should grant unfettered access throughout Xinjiang to the UN experts. Lastly, China should ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and make itself available to a periodic examination by the Human Rights Council.

Read the full written statement here.

The Pandemic and the Rise of Authoritarianism

This statement focuses on the increasing shift to authoritarianism during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the long-term threat to democratic institutions and human rights. There is a grave risk of leaders using the pandemic as an excuse to increase domestic power in ways offensive to human rights.

In fact, global leaders have had to take extensive and immediate action to minimize the pandemic. However, some leaders, acting under the guise of public health, have sought to permanently increase their power and crush voices of dissent.

Numerous States have weakened democratic institutions and norms since the beginning of the pandemic. Such action goes well beyond what is necessary to curtail infections, and dismantles fundamental ideals of democracy, such as the free press and governmental accountability.

This statement outlines examples of countries where authoritarian behaviour was reported, namely China, Hungary, Israel, the Russian Federation, Turkey, as well as the United States of America.

The biggest threat to democracy stemming from the pandemic is the attack on freedom of expression. Such conduct is in direct violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 19 of the ICCPR.

In this regard, GICJ recommends the United Nations to act decisively to condemn power grabs that are unrelated to the health crisis at hand. The Human Rights Council should further appoint a Special Rapporteur to monitor and investigate the abuses of governmental emergency powers, and to prohibit such conduct from becoming permanent once the coronavirus has been contained in the country.

Read the full written statement here.

Occupied Palestinian Territory: The Right of the Palestinian People to Self-determination

The right to self-determination is an inalienable and universal right, yet it has eluded Palestinians in the occupied territories for decades. There have been numerous United Nations resolutions affirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, both from the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Despite this, the right remains to be realised for Palestinians as long as Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories persists. In this statement, we emphasize the imminent threat to the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination posed by Israel’s recent unveiled plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

In January 2020, the United States of America released its “peace to prosperity” plan, which irresponsibly endorsed Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the further annexation of parts of the West Bank with Israeli settlements, as well as the Jordan Valley. Following suit, Israel announced plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

Forced unilateral annexation of a territory violates established international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Despite its clear illegality, Israel has proceeded with illegal unilateral forced annexations in the past. Israel intends to annex parts of the West Bank, and will proceed to do so, unless the international community takes urgent steps to condemn the annexation and force Israel to abandon its illegal plans.

It is imperative that the international community mobilise urgently in a unified response to Israel’s plans for illegal annexation. Mere words are insufficient and countermeasures are required to put an end to the threats of annexation and to demand the end to the illegal occupation.

Read the full written statement here.

Violations of the Right to Health of Migrants by Private Detention Centre Operators in the United States of America

This written statement sheds light on the violations of human rights by private detention centre operators carrying out these actions under the responsibility of the U.S. Government. The State responsibility of the U.S. government is incurred by the State’s duty to properly supervise and control these private detention centre operators.

The U.S. government has often outsourced the task of detaining migrants to private companies, which are referred to as non-State actors (NSA). As discussed in the statement, NSAs often have a record of abusing the rights of noncitizens who are under their control.

The U.S. government agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been given the primary responsibility for the detention of noncitizens as civil (pre-trial) detainees, to ensure their attendance at their immigration hearings or for their removal. This agency sometimes delegates this responsibility to NSAs, that make significant profits from running detention centres.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inadequacy of private detention centres’ healthcare and health emergency preparedness, which led to an outbreak in several detention centres. The absence of adequate preparedness protocols coupled with inadequate steps to protect detainees constitutes a violation of the right to health of the detainees.

In this regard, GICJ urges the Council to specifically mandate the relevant special mechanisms of the Council to examine and report on the practices of NSAs that are involved in the detention of noncitizens in the United States of America. While we are aware of the Report of the Special Rapporteur on migrants’ rights on this subject, we believe it deserves follow-up based on extensive onsite visits. The Council is also urged to demand that the U.S. government end the violations of noncitizens’ rights by NSAs and to compensate victims for the violations of their rights that have already occurred.

Read the full written statement here.

5    KEY TAKEAWAYS AND ACHIEVEMENTS

The 45th session of the Human Rights Council has demonstrated the importance of effective team coordination and resource management in ensuring excellence, and efficiency in achieving goals and delivering results. The highly productive session derived from constant preparations in the lead up to the session, including the intense training of interns both remote (online) and in-person in the effective delivery of statements. This training involved guiding interns in the drafting of statements, differentiating between the various forms of engagement with the Human Rights Council, whether an interactive dialogue or a general debate.

Remote interns were also included in the delivery of statements at the Human Rights Council for the very first time, thanks to the recent introduction of video statements. Interns were able to provide recorded statements, which were submitted for delivery to the Human Rights Council after a thorough review of its quality and content to ensure that the message was effective and clear. The Human Rights Council’s use of technology demonstrates the reality that it is possible for civil society and human rights defenders to engage with the Human Rights Council without the costly affair of having to travel to Geneva for the various sessions. It reflects a move towards a more inclusive process for all civil society actors and human rights defenders across the globe, which must be capitalised on in bringing current gross, widespread, and systematic human rights violations to the Council’s attention.

In taking the step to submit video statements for the first time, GICJ endeavoured to provide our remote interns with the complete experience and training as a human rights defender pursuing their causes for justice. We had interns from various parts of the world participate and make representations to the Council. It was an achievement, which we intend to continue to expand and refine in the future sessions of the Council, moving forward.

The importance of unity, solidarity, and “team spirit” were exemplified at the 45th session, with members of the organisation, new and old, demonstrating immense support and commitment towards delivering as one. This session revealed an atmosphere of trust and comradery which propelled the effectiveness of our work and our ability to participate so intensely at all meetings which we engaged in and guaranteed the quality of oral and written statements delivered. A constructive and healthy work environment helps build bonds towards achieving the organisations’ goals, and our purpose is a worthy cause to pursue in solidarity and unity. We fight for human rights, your rights, our rights, and the rights of all.

6    LESSONS LEARNED

A fundamental lesson learned from the 45th session is the importance of adaptation and versatility. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 43rd and 44th sessions of the Human Rights Council were stepping stones towards improving efficiency and effectiveness at the 45th session. After completing the remainder of the 43rd session and the entire 44th session under the new guidelines and Council rules, GICJ was forced to adapt to ensure that it could engage with full capacity and intensity at the 45th session. This required deep reflection, re-strategizing, training of team members, the use of information technology, and most importantly, a willingness to adapt and learn. For GICJ, any reluctance to adapt our nature of work and delivery would be counter-productive to the accomplishment of our goals and the delivery of our services. We learned to adapt and are determined to continue to adapt moving forward, without hindrance or fear of the many uncertainties that lie ahead with the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.

Another important lesson learned is the shrinking civil society space for engagement with the Human Rights Council at the various interactive dialogues. Between 10 and 15 non-governmental organisations were permitted to speak at the various interactive dialogues and GICJ was not afforded an opportunity to deliver its statements at several interactive dialogues. This is a cause for concern and requires a unified civil society effort to address by fervently raising it with the Human Rights Council, who should champion civil society engagement rather than limit it. In the sessions moving forward, we will continue to bring this to the Council’s attention and at the same time, ensure that we register for our priority issues with utmost urgency so that we are able to represent our causes to the Human Rights Council.

7    CONCLUSION AND REFLECTIONS

With the conclusion of the 45th session of the Human Rights Council, preparations are underway for the upcoming sessions of the Universal Periodic Review and the 45th session of the Council. The work of GICJ never ceases and is ongoing as the fight for human rights never rests.

The 45th session is the last session for 2020 and has been the epitome of success in the worst of circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic devastating the world. Often in the human rights discourse the term “resilience” has been touted in the preparation for natural hazards and onset disasters. “Resilience” is what we must conclude 2020 with as it is with resilience that the world will overcome all adversity even in the face of a pandemic. “Resilience” is what guided GICJ through all the difficulties presented in 2020 and is what fuelled out determination to ensure that we adapted to the challenges that we faced.

The COVID-19 has not stopped human rights violations but has instead led to their exacerbation. We cannot be complacent, we cannot give up, and now, even more so, the voice of NGOs is direly needed. GICJ will continue to add its voice to the many NGOs that fight for human rights and a better world. We will continue to train and refine the skills of human rights defenders that come under our wing. The pandemic does not defeat us, it propels us to greater heights of determination and commitment towards combating violations of human rights and reverberating the voices of all its victims’ calls for justice.

As the sun sets on the 45th session, we look to the horizon for better days and in the dawn of the 46th session, we will most certainly be ready. GICJ remains steadfast and will persevere, because we are resilient.

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