During the 35th Session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva International Centre for Justice co-submitted twenty written statements, addressing the most concerning cases of human rights violations and abuses occurring in Yemen, Syria,Palestine, Iraq, South Sudan, and Myanmar. Each statement concludes with a series of recommendations that GICJ, and the co-signatories NGOs, wish to address to the UN bodies, and particularly to the Human Rights Council.

Iraq: A Silenced Nation

This statement considers the restriction on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Iraq.  It shows that while on the face of it, Iraq’s constitution does protect freedom of speech and expression, in practice, the government does the opposite. The law and regulations adopted since 2003 have heavily restricted social media and the freedom of the press - and in many cases, have been used to criminalise journalists and human rights defenders. Not only do Iraqi journalists face legal action for criticising the government, but also intimidation, harassment, and violence in the course of their reporting. In 2016, one report named Iraq as the deadliest country in the world for journalists, with more than 300 journalists killed between 1990 and 2015. This ongoing brutality and repression has forced media workers to self-censor, and ensured there are no longer any truly independent media outlets in Iraq. As a result, the statement urges Iraq to ensure that journalists are protected against harassment and violence while performing their profession, and that all allegations of such harassment or violence are promptly and thoroughly investigated, and those responsible are held accountable.

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Iraq: A Judiciary without Justice

This statement evaluates the independence of judges and lawyers in Iraq. It establishes that corruption has become so widespread that trials in Iraq fail to meet even the most basic human rights standards. The Iraqi judiciary, in particular, have had their independence compromised by the government due to threats, fear and bribes. The Iraqi government is also failing to ensure there is transparency in court proceedings, or ensuring there is due process and fairness in trials. Instead, Iraqis are being detained, convicted on inappropriate evidence, and sentenced to death shorty after being arrested. If there is a trial, judges frequently use evidence that is gained from secret informants to pursue criminal prosecutions, or confessions made by the detainee during torture, when they were forced to confess to crimes or terrorist acts. This allows detainees to be charged with crimes, often with terrorism, without any actual evidence. Further to this, this report includes evidence that when Iraqi citizens are executed by the state, the Justice Ministry releases little or no evidence as to their names, their convictions, any information about what they were convicted of, or whether they had a trial at all. As a result, it calls on Iraq to take all measures to amend their flawed justice system by ending arbitrary arrests, detention, unfair trials and the extrajudicial imposition of the death sentence.

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Iraq: State Executions

This statement considers the use of state executions in Iraq, which demonstrate that the right to life is not a right respected by this country. The Iraqi government continues to use the death penalty and extrajudicial executions as tools of political repression, to eliminate political opponents, and to maintain a reign of terror over the Iraqi population at large. Since the adoption of the Anti-Terrorism Law No.13 of 2005, the majority of state executions have been justified by the pretext of “fighting terrorism.” Under this law, a person can be sentenced to death on any one of 48 charges, including extremely vague acts, such as “threats which aim to bring about fear among people.” This pretext of fighting terrorism is also being used to excuse the behaviour of the Iraqi security forces and pro-government militia, who are arbitrarily detaining and executing thousands of Iraqi citizens, who, in most cases, are not terrorists, but abducted on a purely sectarian basis. The report concludes by calling for the international community to do all that is in its power to pressure the Iraqi government to uphold the human rights standards it has pledged to - ending the use of state executions which are so plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.

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Human Rights Violations in Iraq

This statement assesses the key human rights challenges existing in Iraq - including systematic and institutionalised violations. It contends that corruption in Iraq has become endemic, with successive governments using public money for their own benefit - depriving Iraqi people of their basic needs. The state has also allowed the sectarian militia to grow unrestrainedly in power and size, who themselves gravely violate civilian rights. Worse still, successive Iraqi governments have utilised the rise of ISIS to authorise high execution rates, arbitrary arrests and to justify the detention of peaceful demonstrators - all under the guise of “fighting terrorism.” This has given rise to some of the most prolific violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law of this century. The statement further examines the climate of impunity in Iraq, which has allowed these serious abuses to occur. Finally, the statement calls for an independent and impartial inquiry into the gross human rights violations in Iraq - to finally ensure accountability and justice.

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Conditions of women in Iraq, Yemen and the Syrian Arab Republic

This statement describes the inhumane conditions and suffering faced by women and girls in conflict-affected areas, in particular Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. In all three countries, women are overly affected by the violence of the conflict, are internally displaced, are deprived of adequate health care and basic livelihood items, are often marginalized by the humanitarian response and are not adequately included in the reconstruction and peace processes. Furthermore, women continue to be discriminated in law and practice, and obsolete and biased legal provisions often prevent them from enjoying equal rights and from obtaining adequate redress and compensation in case of violence. Therefore, the statement urges the concerned governments to immediately repeal all discriminatory provisions and to ensure that all women, including those living in rural areas, in besieged or hard-to-reach areas, and in refugee camps can access appropriate health care, including reproductive care.

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Internally Displaced Persons in the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq

This statement examines the legal framework concerning the rights of internally displaced persons and explores the conditions of IDPs in Syria and Iraq. The six-years-long Syrian civil conflict has provoked a massive wave of displacement: today, 6.3 million people, including 2.8 million children are displaced inside the country. In Iraq, the advance of the Islamic State as well as the reckless ways in which the government and its affiliated militias are conducting the war on terror have forced 3.2 million people to internal displacement. To date, over 650,000 people remain strained in inadequate shelter where living conditions are below all international standards. Hence, this statement calls on the United Nations to constructively work alongside the Iraqi and Syrian government on political, technical and financial issues related to the protection, dignified return and integration of IDPs, and urges the Iraqi and Syrian government to ensure the safety and security of IDPs.

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Summary executions in the Syrian Arab Republic

This statement denounces the heinous crime of summary executions and explores the grave breaches of international law committed by all parties involved in the Syrian conflict. Despite the national and international legal framework criminalizing summary executions, both government security forces and terrorist groups are responsible of arbitrary executions and unlawful killings. Summary trials often lead to death sentences; detainees are not given the chance to defend themselves nor to speak with a lawyer, and confessions obtained with the use of torture are often the only evidence provided (if any evidence is submitted at all). Therefore, this statement urges the Syrian government to comply with human rights and humanitarian law standards; particularly, put an end to illicit trials, torture and summary executions of persons deprived of their liberty and calls on the government to reinforce and respect the legal framework on civilian protection.

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The Syrian tragedy continues

This statement examines the progress made by the UN-led peace process as well as the violent attacks committed in concomitance of the Geneva-based peace talks. The United Nations and Mr. Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for the Syrian Arab Republic, are promoting an inclusive Syrian-owned, Syrian-led peace process focused on governance, on the drafting of a new constitution, on counter-terrorism strategies and on the holding of elections in line with Security Council resolution 2254. Yet, the effective and constructive development of the peace process continues to be hindered by deadly and horrific attacks on civilian-inhabited areas and on humanitarian convoys, which have a dire impact on the peaceful settlement of hostilities. This statement calls on the United Nations to continue to provide a legal and institutional framework as well as an appropriate ground for the progress of the peace talks, and to promote inclusive, comprehensive, Syrian-led negotiations and ensure that women and minority groups are included in the decision-making and reconstruction process.

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Uncovered at Last: Israel’s Apartheid State

This statement outlines that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law, as it collectively submits Palestinians to an entrenched system of institutionalized racial discrimination. Israeli authorities conduct, inter alia, house demolitions, deportations, indefinite administrative detentions, and closures and curfews of Palestinian towns and villages. Contrary to the Apartheid Convention, Israel obstructs Palestinians’ participation in the life of their community and deliberately creates conditions preventing their full development. The statement calls upon Israel to comply with international criminal law and upon all Member States to make responsible and full use of their national legal systems in the service of the global common good.

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Palestinians: A Displaced People

As this statement reveals, Palestinians have been facing the harsh realities and constant threat of displacement for seven decades. Israeli policies and practices continue to cause extensive displacement among the Palestinian population. The statements outlines how Israeli military operations, its persistent and systematic confiscation and destruction of Palestinian land and property, evictions of Palestinians for the sake of Jewish settlements,  its creation of a coercive environment, and the revocation of residency statuses result in largescale displacement of Palestinians. Their humanitarian and socioeconomic situation is precarious. The statement recommends to the United Nations and its relevant bodies to ensure the voluntary return, restitution, and compensation of Palestinian refugees and IDPs and an end to the prolonged occupation of Palestine and Israel’s discriminatory policies and practices.

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Education as Tool of Israeli Domination over the Palestinian People

The statement shows that contrary to its international obligations, Israel violates Palestinians’ access, quality and equal enjoyment of the right to education through systematic illegal policies and practices. Palestinians face serious challenges with regards to education due to, inter alia, inadequate school infrastructure and a chronic shortage of classrooms, building restrictions, and hampered access to educational facilities owing to Israeli-imposed physical, bureaucratic and other obstacles. These factors result in high drop-out rates and low learning achievements. The denial of the right to be educated with respect to their cultural identity, language and values, severe movement restrictions, and military action are further discussed violations. The statement calls on the UN to guarantee the enjoyment of the right to education by Palestinians and reiterates that this right cannot be fully achieved without Palestinian self-determination.

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Integrated System of Occupation of Palestinian Women

The statement examines how the Israeli occupation and institutionalized discrimination in conjunction with patriarchy exposes Palestinian women to subordination and continuing violence and marginalization. At the hands of the occupying Power, Palestinian women are subjected to physical and verbal abuse as well as to excessive use of force. Under the prohibited use of administrative detention, they face ill-treatment and forms of torture. Women are particularly affected by the closure and permit system, and its policy of land confiscation and house demolitions. The violent reality has increased intra-societal and -family violence against and oppression of women. Perpetrators of crimes against Palestinian women are largely endowed with impunity under the domestic legal systems. The statement recommends to the international community to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of Palestinian women and to assist in bringing perpetrators of violence against them to justice.

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Stifling Palestinian National Expression and Resistance to Israeli Domination

As outlined in the statement, the Israeli State has a long history of violating Palestinian freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly by, inter alia, closing down institutions, violently dispersing peaceful protests, and conducting large-scale arrests, in an effort to stifle Palestinian national expression and resistance to the Israeli system of occupation and apartheid. The statement assesses that this system would not be sustained if Israel did not persecute opponents and erode their fundamental rights. Israel’s persecution of Palestinians is facilitated by its imposition of divergent legal systems and courts, including a repressive military regime, that apply discriminatory standards of evidence and procedure as compared to Jewish Israelis. The signatories to this statement recommend to the UN to ensure that Israel fully respect the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, expression and movement.

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Silencing Dissent: Israel’s Persecution of Political Opponents

This statement reveals that recent years have seen an increase in restrictions, criminalization, and violence targeting anyone opposing the occupation and focusing on associated abuses – including Israeli and international actors. The space for civil society in occupied Palestine and in Israel is therefore further diminishing. The targeting by the government and Israeli right-wing groups of those actors that dare to stand up for human rights and democratic values in an effort to silence them further entrenches the occupation and places in jeopardy the enjoyment of human rights for everyone in the region. In light of this, the statement calls upon the UN to ensure that Israel cease and rescind its oppressive military orders and anti-democratic and restrictive practices and legislation targeting civil society activists and HRDs.

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Hate Speech in the Context of Political Leaders and Parties

Hate speech, generally defined as “speech that attacks, threatens, or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, colour, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability”, has been used worldwide for various purposes including vilification of, or discrimination against certain groups (usually minority groups), hatred and xenophobic tendencies, and propaganda purposes. Intentions stem from intolerance and discrimination and lack of accurate information.

Article 20(2) of the ICCPR states: “any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law”. Hence, States parties are required to prohibit, let alone engage in, hate speech.

GICJ recommended the international community to clearly define “Hate Speech”; that States ratify and apply ICCPR and CERD without reservations; enhance human rights discourse on hate speech and its regulation at the international and national level; and further study causes and effects of hate speech.

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"Words of Fear and Loathing Can, and Do, Have Real Consequences"

There is a reporting crisis. Inaccurate/fake news and propaganda that negatively portrays people categorized under certain groups is on the rise. There is also grave concern on how political leaders use such propaganda to incite violence and genocide especially online1.

Since 1973 the Durban Declaration has continuously called for the international community and national legislation to use media as a means of education on racism, racial discrimination, hatred, xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance and further as a means to dispel false information and the evils of racism. The Durban Declaration offers practical solutions at the international and national level.
GICJ recommended the development of a set of standards for journalists and media on the use of derogatory language backed by a media complaint mechanism; increase availability of resources for more accurate journalism; dispel false information and disseminate accurate and necessary information; and sign, ratify, and exercise the Durban Declaration.

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Yemen: A Decade of Violence

The written statement describes the extent of the Yemeni humanitarian catastrophe, the commission of grave breaches of international humanitarian law and international human rights law and it points out the inefficiency of the international community’s response through the United Nations to halt a decade of violence and ensure accountability. The perpetrators from all parties to armed hostilities commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in a widespread, systematic and organised manner. The Yemeni government is either unable or incapable to ensure cessation of hostilities and accountability. Moreover, the statement emphasises that the measures undertaken by the international community through the United Nations to address the situation in Yemen during the past decade are widely assessed as total failure. The statement details the UN General Assembly resolutions on the situation in Yemen and highlights the actions of the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council during the period of 2007-2017. Additionally, it concludes that the UN-brokered peace talks facilitated by the UN Special Envoy to Yemen has eventually ended fruitless. As the UN actions to date on the situation in Yemen were not efficient to protect civilians and resolve the political crisis in Yemen, it is recommended to immediately endorse an international independent investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity and to refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court.

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Yemen: Denial of the Right to Education

The written statement alarms about the failure of the international community to ensure protection of civilians and resolution of the political crisis as ineffective. Especially, the statement emphasises that the right to education of the Yemeni children is denied.  The number of civilians in need of humanitarian aid and protection grows continuously. Children, as the most vulnerable group disproportionately affected by the armed conflict, pay the highest toll. The written statement underlines that the armed hostilities led to widespread and systematic violations and abuses against children. It includes indiscriminate killings, maiming, recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups, attacks on schools and use of schools for military purposes or as human shields, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence, abduction and denial of humanitarian access. Moreover, the Yemeni children are denied of their right to education and a chance for brighter future. The statement describes killings and recruitment of child soldiers, closed schools and schools unfit for use, indiscriminate attacks on educational facilities, the right to education of children in displacement and the impact of war on education of girls. Finally, the written statement calls all parties to conflict to comply with international humanitarian law, ensure protection of children and cease actions that impede children’s safe access to education, the immediate stop of the ongoing recruitment and use of children by all parties to armed conflict, release of children from their ranks and provision of adequate rehabilitation and re-integration programs and other recommendations.

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