GICJ submitted several joint written statements at the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council. These statements highlight human rights violations that need more attention by the UN, Member States, and the international community. A total of 5 written statements were published, the summaries of which can be found below.
- Access to Water and Sanitation in Iraq
- Iraq: The Situation of Enforced Disappearances
- The Human Rights Situation of Palestinian Prisoners amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
- The Status of Jerusalem
- The COVID-19 Crisis in Latin American Prisons
In Iraq, people have been experiencing a water crisis for many years. Civilians face challenges in accessing potable water due to pollution, water scarcity, and high levels of salinity. The water in Iraq is, therefore, not safe or clean enough for daily use.
The population in Iraq exceeds 40 million people, and according to numbers presented by governmental and semi-governmental reports from 2017-2020, 83.4% of the population has access to clean drinking water. However, these reports cannot be relied on, as the reality reflects that a higher number of people do not have access to clean and safe water and sanitation services. Additionally, many people lack state-issued civil documents, making it difficult to include them in such statistics.
Due to the Iraqi government’s failure to facilitate access to adequate and safe water, Iraqi people are forced to purchase supplies. The mass purchases of plastic bottled water is a major contributor to the plastic pollution in water sources, which causes harm to fish, plants, and other animals, besides, much of it ends up littering thoroughfares.
Moreover, many people filter raw water for everyday use, such as handwashing, showering, or cooking, due to the high salinity level in the water. This makes people who do not have the ability to achieve such solutions particularly vulnerable to diseases, which is concerning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Accessibility to potable water and sanitation services is, therefore, of great importance, as identified by the World Health Organization (WHO); water, sanitation, and hygiene are the primary factors to protect people from further spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The authors of this statement recommend the following:
- The international community must hold the Iraqi government accountable for its violation of the right to water and sanitation and pressure them to:
- Fulfil the obligation to provide and ensure safe and affordable access to water and sanitation services.
- Provide the Iraqi people with the appropriate information regarding water pollution;
- Develop a plan, in consultation with international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and civil society, to provide accessible and affordable water and sanitation services;
- Establish an independent water and environmental task force to monitor the situation, coordinate with the various authorities, and consult with the affected population;
- Devise and implement effective long-term plans and strategies to prevent a water crisis which must be made public to ensure transparency and accountability;
- Take immediate and appropriate measures to ensure the Iraqi people's accessibility to water and sanitation services;
- Cease the violent crimes committed against the protesters, who are exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression and demanding their basic right to access potable water.
- The international community must pressure Iraq’s neighboring States, Turkey and Iran, to stop cutting or blocking the flows of water to Iraq, as water scarcity has an immense negative impact on agriculture in Iraq and affects the Iraqi people’s livelihoods.
Click here to read the full statement
The purpose of this statement is to reiterate that the Iraqi government must be held accountable for the widespread and systematic enforced disappearances that have occurred in Iraq since 2003. The international community must not be misled by the government’s attempts to divert international attention and scrutiny into these enforced disappearances through their ingenuine responses to the issue and their masterful attempts at constructing an alternative reality. A clear diversion is the government’s establishment of a defunct “Missing Persons Section” in the Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Justice, which has not done anything material to ascertain the whereabouts of disappeared persons. Another clear example is the government’s denial of the existence of secret detention centres, which is a blatant lie.
The statement refutes all efforts by the Iraqi government to absolve itself of responsibility for these enforced disappearances by attributing blame on unknown groups, as there is overwhelming evidence that the government, and its Security Forces, are all directly responsible for the enforced disappearances and are indirectly responsible for enforced disappearances conducted by militias through their close affiliations with these groups. The political landscape in Iraq is deeply influenced by these militia groups, with political parties beholden to militias. This includes all branches including the executive government, legislature and judiciary.
The endorsing organisations of this joint statement recommend the following:
- The Human Rights Council, particularly the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances:
- Take a firm stance and condemn the situation of enforced disappearances in Iraq;
- Pressure the Iraqi government to account for the whereabouts and circumstances of the thousands of enforced disappearances since 2003;
- Take all measures within their power to ensure the realisation of the Iraqi people’s inalienable right to the truth, particularly disappeared persons and their family.
- The Human Rights Council must establish an accountability mechanism to look into the enforced disappearances in Iraq since 2003, providing much needed answers to the families of the disappeared.
- The United Nations should establish an international tribunal to investigate and prosecute all human rights violations in Iraq since 2003, including enforced disappearances
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The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have particularly affected those most vulnerable groups, exacerbating their already dire living conditions, as in the case of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), which are already characterised with a weak health system and inadequate health care. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention, including prisoners in vulnerable groups such as children, women, older persons and those with chronic conditions are extremely exposed to infection with the virus. This is because prison facilities remain extremely inadequate and inappropriate to ensure health and safety to prisoners, especially due to Israel’s reckless disregard of preventive measures.
Despite repeated warnings against a COVID-19 outbreak among Palestinian prisoners, many of them suffering from medical conditions, Israel has neglected to take appropriate protections, safeguards, and precautionary measures to combat the spread of the pandemic, as cautioned by the Mr. Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, in his recent report (A/HRC/44/60). Instead, Israel have demonstrated to clearly discriminate Palestinian Prisoners, providing preferential treatments to Israeli prisoners by arbitrarily denying Palestinians equal access to medical services, consultations with their legal representatives or family visits, and releasing hundreds of Israeli prisoners due to COVID-19, who were considered low-risk offenders or medically vulnerable.
As the global pandemic rages, Israel continues arbitrary and unlawful searches of Palestinian prisoners, assaults, and ongoing mistreatment, thereby violating human rights and humanitarian law with complete impunity. While other countries around the globe are adopting constructive measures in their prison systems, Israel has failed to take appropriate measures where Palestinian prisoners in the occupied territories are concerned. Consequently, the statement highlights Israel’s need for adherence to WHO and UN guidelines for the treatment of prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic, which are grounded in international law. There is an urgent need for international cooperation and action towards ensuring the protection of Palestinian prisoners in the occupied territories.
The statement called on the international community to condemn and hold Israel to account for its failure to implement appropriate measures to protect Palestinian prisoners from COVID-19, and for its violation of human rights and humanitarian law. Further, pressure on Israel to comply with international law obligations, WHO guidelines and the minimum standards of the Nelson Mandela rules on the treatment of prisoners should be exerted. Lastly, the Human Rights Council must monitor the situation of Palestinian prisoners in the OPT and demand that Israel allow the Special Rapporteur unrestricted access to the occupied territories, including its prison systems.
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This written statement focuses on Israel’s ongoing human rights violations in East Jerusalem, which must be recognised as systematic efforts to alter the status, character, demographic and geological structure of Jerusalem. In fact, despite Israel unilaterally declared Jerusalem as its capital, this does not change the fact that the status of Jerusalem has yet to be determined under international law.
Since Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem following the 1967 war and its subsequent annexation in 1980 coupled with Israel’s declaration that Jerusalem is its capital, the UN remains opposed to alter the status of Jerusalem, as remarked throughout years by numerous UNGA and UNSC resolutions, providing that the issue should be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant UN resolutions as Israel’s actions have no legal effects (UNGA resolution ES-10/19 of 21 December 2017). With regard to the annexation of East Jerusalem under Jerusalem Law 1980, the UNSC does not recognize any changes to the previous 3 June 1967 lines (UNSC resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016).
However, following Israel’s establishment in 1948 and Jerusalem illegal occupation in 1967, there has been a systematic strategy to transfer Israeli populations into Jerusalem and displace Palestinians, by constructing and expanding Isreaeli settlements, large-scale infrastructures as the “apartheid wall”, declared illegal and contrary to international law by the International Criminal Court in its advisory opinion. Further, Israel’s expansion threaten many Palestinians who have been squeezed in overcrowded neighbourhoods and who are facing the risk to have their house demolished or evicted. The ongoing large-scale house demolitions operated by Israeli military, as a means to forcibly uproot Palestinians from their territories, violate international law and human rights law.
The statement called on the international community to pressure Israel to comply with international human rights law in the occupied territories, to end its illegal occupation and to allow access to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. Further, Israel must rescind all measures taken to alter the status of Jerusalem and resume constructive dialogue towards a just resolution. Lastly, the Human Rights Council must defend the legitimacy and necessity of agenda Item 7 and condemn Israel’s illegal actions.
Click here to read the full statement
Prisons in Latin America have been historically affected by overcrowding, substandard sanitation and poor healthcare, and were thus especially vulnerable to the decimating effects of COVID-19. Emergency measures adopted across the region to tackle the spread of the virus were limited in scope and deficient in implementation, while their results, too meager to remedy their long-standing structural deficiencies that Latin American prisons have been dragging for decades, did little to avert the soaring rates of morbidity and mortality that rampaged through detention facilities.
Most countries organized their policies on three axes: the reduction of overpopulation; the improvement of sanitary and medical conditions; and the restriction of visitations. Though adequate in principle, their execution was often ineffective and presented numerous shortcomings.
First, promises to intensify cleaning and disinfection in detention premises were sparsely implemented. For instance, lack of hygiene products and clean water, inadequate healthcare and vermin infestations prompted riots in several prisons in Colombia, one of which resulted in 23 dead inmates.
Moreover, even though some countries achieved a substantial reduction of their prison population through either amnesties, pardons or court ordered house arrests or early releases, occupancy levels remained above maximum capacity.
Suspension of visits, on the other hand, frequently led to violent protests and caused a severe shortage of food and medicines, which were regularly supplied by visitors. In Venezuela, 47 prisoners died during the suppression of a riot in the Los Llanos penitentiary, where a ban on visitations had put inmates at the brink of starvation. In Argentina, the lack of food caused by the suspension of visits in the prisons of Coronda and Las Flores prompted a revolt, during which five inmates were killed. Prisoners in a detention facility in Colima, Mexico, also organized a mutiny to protest the month-long suspension of visits.
The UN Human Rights Council should urge States to:
- Conduct regular testing on inmates and penitentiary personnel.
- Distribute face masks and other hygiene products among inmates.
- Perform periodic and comprehensive disinfection works in detention premises.
- Provide prisoners with COVID-19 who develop serious symptoms appropriate medical care, including transfer to civil hospitals, without expense.
- Balance the sanitary benefits of suspension of visits against the emotional harm that it causes to both inmates and their loved ones, and hence enforce it only when other less restrictive measures would be ineffective.
- Reduce overpopulation in prisons.
- Use force in accordance with the principles of necessity and proportionality.
[Photo credit: La Nación]