UN Must Do More to End Impunity for Atrocities in the MENA Region

In International Advocacy Program, Uncategorized, United Nations Human Rights Council by CIHRS

37th Session of the Human Rights Council

At the 37th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (the Council), held between 26 of February and 23 March 2018, the Cairo Institute Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)and its partners from throughout the Middle East and North African (MENA)region called on UN member states to take stronger action to ensure accountability for grave and widespread violations of human rights, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, taking place in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Palestine, and Egypt.


Syria

 The Council held an “Urgent Debate” on the deteriorating situation in Eastern Ghouta, resulting in a resolution urging the Commission of Inquiry on Syria to investigate the grave and widespread human rights violations taking place there. Speaking before the Council, CIHRS welcomed this development but reiterated the need for the Council to move beyond condemnation and take concrete steps to strengthen legal accountability for those committing international crimes in Syria, including by establishing a detailed study on how states can expand and bolster the use of national and universal jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute alleged crimes committed in Syria.   In follow-up to a call by CIHRS and its partners for victims to be given a voice within the Council proceedings, a second High-Level Panel featuring testimony by Syrians  on crimes committed in the country was held on the 13th March, this time focusing on the  “Human Rights of Children” in Syria.  The first such panel, held a year earlier, focused on violations against those in detention. 


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Egypt

Ahead of a “sham” election marred by  violence, repression, intimidation, and persecution directed against potential candidates, voters, and the media, CIHRS took the floor at the HRC to highlight the harm caused by the international community’s silence on the ongoing human rights crises in Egypt, and  highlighted that the  “profound” lack of leadership at the Council on this issue has “perpetuated impunity and provided reassurance to Egypt’s security forces that there will be no consequences for committing human rights violations.”

CIHRS also organized an event at the UN entitled “Egypt: ‘Facilitating Radicalization’ – The Implications of Unfair Elections and Human Rights Violations on Security and Stability.”The event brought Egyptian activists and experts together to discuss  the negative impact rights violations and repressive policies are having on the security situation within the country, which will , as repeatedly warned by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,  “only exacerbate radicalism and instability.”

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During the session a growing diversity of states condemned ongoing human rights violations within Egypt. For the first time the Foreign Minister of Iceland, during the opening ceremony of the Council, expressed deep concern about the situation in Egypt. Australia, also for the first time, condemned the grave human rights violations occurring in the country.

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Libya

Grave and widespread human rights violations in Libya, including credible evidence of the establishment of slave markets, animated efforts by CIHRS and its Libyan partners to establish a Commission of Inquiry or similar accountability mechanism on Libya at the Council. The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, during his annual update to the Council, described the situation in Libya as one of complete lawlessness in which impunity fuels serious crimes.
CIHRS, speaking before the Council, condemned the lack of serious efforts by States and the unwillingness of the Libyan government and African Group to ensure the creation of an appropriate mechanism to address the human rights situation in Libya and deter ongoing violations. Such inaction only encourages violators of human rights to continue to do so, from “extrajudicial killings and attacks on civilians to widespread torture and open slave markets. “It has also “emboldened armed extremist groups linked to Al-Qaeda, the Salafists and ISIS.”

Unfortunately, the resolution on Libya adopted by the Council failed to establish a strong accountability mechanism or ensure an increase in the resources required to ensure stronger engagement on Libya by the Council and its special procedures.  Critically, efforts by CIHRS, its partners and others did ensure future reporting on Libya to the Council by the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights with a focus on individual criminal responsibility for crimes committed in the country.

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As part of its efforts to increase visibility on the situation in Libya, CIHRS organized an event at the UN entitled “Libya under the Gun: The Urgent Need for Strong Action by the Human Rights Council.” The event was carried out in cooperation with 15 Libyan organizations as part of the “Libyan Platform” as well as Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.  During the event, and for the first time at the UN, a documentary film was screened on the persecution and internal displacement of the Tawergha people in Libya.  The film was created by a local Libyan activist and produced with the assistance of CIHRS as part of larger efforts to empower local activists through multi-media training.

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Palestine

During HRC 37, CIHRS continued to play a central role in efforts to ensure the creation and implementation of a Database on Businesses engaging in illegal cooperation with Israeli settlements (the database) within the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).  A report by the OHCHR concerning ongoing efforts to produce the database was issued in January 2018.  However, largely as a result of strong political pressure by the US, the EU and others to marginalize and weaken this mechanism, there was no mention of this report or of concrete follow-up on the database in the resolutions dealing with Palestine during the session. Moreover, European States and the United States (US) continued a long-standing position of non-engagement in Council debates concerning the human rights situation in the OPT. The US and Israel also increased their efforts both before and during the session to do away with the Council’s permanent agenda item dealing with this situation. This is a highly worrying development that, if successful, could greatly weaken the Council’s ability to appropriate address the worsening crises caused by the prolonged occupation of Palestine and the grave human rights violations committed by Israeli military forces.

CIHRS and its partners spoke before the Council to urge members States to use the report on the UN Database as a useful first step for ensuring that companies in their jurisdiction are conducting business in a manner that conforms to international legal standards within the OPT. While the US and many European states failed to acknowledge the important work of the OHCHR in the development of the UN Database, other states such as Ecuador, Namibia, and Tunisia strongly welcomed the Database.
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CIHRS also organized an event on Palestine that brought together local and international rights organizations, as well as legal experts, to discuss the importance of the database for international efforts to ensure responsible business activity. The event, entitled "The UN Database on Businesses Active in Israeli Settlements: A Tool for Ensuring Responsible Business Conduct in Conflict Situations" examined the mandate, function and potential utility of the Database as an innovative tool for transparency and compliance control with the existing obligations and responsibilities of states and businesses under international law.
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Yemen

CIHRS, in cooperation with a leading Yemen human rights organization Mwatana for Human Rights, also intervened on Yemen during the session. Speaking before the Council, CIHRS and Mwatana welcomed the establishment of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen and urged them to closely monitor and report on the situation in Yemen with a view towards individual criminal responsibility for all parties to the conflict, and to examine third party culpability of ongoing violations of international law. One of the most prominent of these violations is the ongoing sale of military equipment and weapons, especially by the US, UK and France, to governments of the Saudi-led coalition forces despite strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed in Yemen by members of this coalition.

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War on Drugs

CIHRS also joined a group of international and regional organisations in an Oral intervention, commenting on a draft resolution by the Council regarding the strategies adopted by countries in the War on Drugs.

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