Third Committee Highlights Human Rights Violations in Several Nations, Underscoring School Attacks, Arbitrary Arrests, Detentions
Special Rapporteur Spotlights Continuing Human Rights, Humanitarian Crises in Afghanistan
Special Rapporteurs presenting reports on the human rights situations in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Iran, Syria, Belarus and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea warned of Governments repressing their own people, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its interactive dialogues on human rights today.
One of six mandate holders to present their findings, Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the situation in Afghanistan, said that, despite the de facto authorities’ claims about “progress made”, the country continues to face a human rights and humanitarian crisis and the people of Afghanistan continue to suffer. Pointing to directives issued by the Taliban that have erased women from public life and removed their fundamental freedoms, including the right of girls to secondary school education, he stressed that “Afghanistan remains the worst country in the world to be a woman or a girl”.
Moreover, the situation of ethnic and religious minorities remains deeply troubling, he cautioned, drawing attention to the recent attack against the Kaaj Educational Centre on 30 September that claimed the lives of 54 individuals, including 51 Hazara women. Civilians considered by the Taliban to be associated with the National Resistance Front are subject to arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings and torture, he said, also voicing concern about the revenge killings of former Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, contrary to the amnesty declared in 2021.
Echoing the Special Rapporteur’s concerns about the multifaceted political and humanitarian crises that his country is facing due to the Taliban’s failure to meet its obligations, Afghanistan’s delegate called for the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate what is considered by many to be a genocide.
Other delegates warned about the shrinking space for civil society and restrictions on human rights, with Pakistan’s representative underscoring the need to prevent an economic collapse that would only exacerbate the existing humanitarian crisis.
Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation attributed responsibility for the disastrous situation to Washington, D.C., criticizing its appropriation of Afghanistan’s financial resources. Along similar lines, China’s delegate urged the United States to return without delay frozen assets to the Afghan people and alleviate their humanitarian suffering.
In Myanmar, the military’s ongoing atrocities reflect the worst of humanity, said Thomas Andrews, Special Rapporteur on the situation in Myanmar. A lack of aid by Member States is exacerbating the situation on the ground, he stressed, adding that the people of Myanmar have waited 18 months for the United Nations to act, while it took four days to organize support for Ukraine. Moreover, while some countries continue to provide weapons to the military junta, neighbouring countries, such as Malaysia, have deported more than 100 Myanmar nationals back to their country, where they will likely be tortured and killed.
Expressing support for the Special Rapporteur, Myanmar’s delegate called for coordination to stop the junta’s reign of terror. Raising concern that political prisoners have been executed and their families abducted as hostages, while other civilians suffer from torture, sexual assault and brutal air and ground assaults, he called for emergency medical aid.
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that, 12 years into the conflict, an unprecedented 90 per cent of the population live in poverty, with 14.6 million Syrians depending on aid to survive. Voicing concern over the cholera outbreak in the country, he stressed that access to humanitarian aid remains inadequate and politicized. Moreover, 58,000 people, including 37,000 children, remain unlawfully deprived of their liberty in Al-Hawl and Rawj camps, he said, calling for faster repatriations.
Rejecting accusations raised against his Government, Syria’s delegate criticized the Commission for ignoring challenges posed by terrorism, foreign occupation and unilateral coercive measures imposed on his country by the United States.
In Iran, the death of Jina Mahsa Amini following her collapse in a detention centre three days after her arrest by the morality police for inappropriately wearing a hijab sparked a protest movement with women and youth at the centre, said Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation in Iran. The authorities responded with brutal oppression, he continued, noting that, five weeks after the start of protests, at least 215 people have died and thousands of people have been arrested, including human rights defenders, students, lawyers and journalists.
In response, Iran’s delegate rejected the report, noting that the Special Rapporteur’s overreliance on false information from biased media and terrorist groups has breached the code of conduct for his mandate. Further, his report failed to consider the detrimental impact of unilateral coercive measures imposed on Iran by the United States.
Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation in Belarus, said thousands of Belarusian nationals have been forced into exile due to the human rights situation in the country. The last contested presidential election in 2020 triggered a wave of peaceful protests, which were met with brutal repression, forcing Belarusians to leave their country en masse, she asserted, pointing to 1,300 people detained on politically motivated charges.
Also briefing the Committee today was Elizabeth Salmón, Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 27 October, to continue its consideration of human rights questions.
Statement by Non-Aligned Movement
LEYLA NOVRUZ (Azerbaijan), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, stressed that human rights issues must be addressed globally through a constructive, non-confrontational, non-politicized and non-selective dialogue-based approach. She also emphasized the role of the Human Rights Council, which is meant to consider human rights situations in all countries and cooperatively use the Universal Periodic Review. She also expressed deep concern over the ongoing practice of selective adoption of country–specific resolutions in the Third Committee and the Human Rights Council. The Council is a tool that exploits human rights for political purposes and breaches the principles of universality and impartiality.
The Non-Aligned Movement reaffirms the need to promote greater coherence and complementarity between the work of the Third Committee and Human Rights Council and avoid unnecessary duplication and overlapping of activities, she said. She stressed that the Universal Periodic Review is the main intergovernmental cooperative mechanism to review human rights issues at the national level in all countries, without distinction. The country concerned should be fully involved, with consideration for its capacity-building needs. She rejected the Security Council’s ongoing practice of dealing with human rights issues to pursue certain States’ political objectives. She reiterated the importance of ensuring implementation of the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council as an action-oriented, cooperative mechanism based on objective and reliable information.
Interactive Dialogues: Human Rights in Myanmar
THOMAS ANDREWS, Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, hailed civil society leaders and networks risking their lives to document human rights violations, providing aid and organizing non-violent resistance there. Underscoring their bravery against the junta, he stressed that lawyers who risk their lives representing political prisoners, doctors who launch mobile clinics and teachers who implement education solutions are the heroes of Myanmar, deserving the support of Member states. Atrocities persist, he said, recalling his most recent update to the Human Rights Council about a military helicopter opening fire on a Sagaing Region school, which killed 13 people, including children. He urged delegates to intervene in a greater capacity, or such terrible news will persist. Indeed, a few days ago, 50 concertgoers were killed in a junta air strike in Kachin State, he noted. “The junta’s ongoing atrocities reflect the worst of humanity,” he said.
The people of Myanmar are disturbed by Member States’ failure to respond to their situation in a humane, responsible way, he said. They understand the world is focused on Ukraine, a cause they support, as they too are being attacked with weapons supplied by the Russian Federation, but the people of Myanmar have waited 18 months for the United Nations to act, while it took four days to organize support for Ukraine, he said. A lack of aid and action by Member States is exacerbating the situation on the ground. Further, while some countries continue to provide weapons to the junta, others indicate their support for the junta’s sham election planned for next year, he lamented. Even neighboring countries such as Malaysia have deported more than 100 Myanmar nationals – including military deserters – back to their country, who will likely be tortured and killed.
The Rapporteur recalled his recommendations that a support coalition launch initiatives to deprive the junta of weapons and finances to sustain its attacks and increase humanitarian support, as the current uncoordinated approach is inadequate and costing innumerable lives. Nothing has changed, however, resulting in continued degradation and the incomprehension of the people of Myanmar. He asked the Committee: “How many of you recognize the international community’s response to this crisis is grossly inadequate and support an immediate course correction?” He further questioned: “Are any Member States willing to help organize a coalition of nations to coordinate their actions into a strategic and powerful whole?”
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Myanmar endorsed the Special Rapporteur’s presentation and called for coordination to stop the junta’s reign of terror. He said that over 2,319 people have been killed, over 16,000 arbitrarily arrested and over one million displaced. Political prisoners have been executed and their families abducted as hostages, while other civilians suffer from torture, sexual assault, and brutal air and ground assaults. Recalling the attacked school in the Sagaing Region and the assault on concertgoers in Kachin two days ago, he stressed that the death toll will rise without emergency medical aid. The junta thinks they can operate with impunity and crush the people, he said, but they are even more determined, resulting in the junta administration’s collapse throughout the country. Emphasizing the need for accountability, he said he will continue to operate with the International Criminal Court and Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. As the junta continues to operate with impunity, he asked what the next steps are for the international community, the United Nations Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)to stop its atrocities.
The representative of Bangladesh recalled the Special Rapporteur’s visit to the country’s Rohingya refugee camps and expressed concern that he is refused access to Myanmar. As lack of access is a main obstacle to the United Nations’ work, he asked what steps could be taken to obtain it.
The representative of the Russian Federation rejected one-sided research into human rights in countries, describing it as ineffective. He suggested that the Special Rapporteur be less emotional, adding that information in the report cannot be corroborated by fact, as Mr. Thomas has not been on the ground to verify the situation. He expressed concern that armed groups have killed more than 3,500 civilians in the country and that schools are particularly targeted. He asked that the Special Rapporteur provide an objective overview of information on the country.
Responding to his colleague, the representative from the United Kingdom asked how to be unemotional when talking about human rights violations. He called on Member States to join the financial and arms embargo of which the country is a part and asked how the international community can pressure arms suppliers to stop their transfers.
Also responding to the Russian Federation, the representative of Canada said, as his colleague wants an objective report from the Special Rapporteur, he should fully support unhindered access for the Special Envoys to the country as well as the International Criminal Court and the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar.
The representative of Malaysia expressed deep concern about the situation in Myanmar as well as its support for the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus. Despite not adhering to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the country has already offered asylum to 200,000 refugees of the conflict and simply cannot take any more, he said. Malaysia will investigate the Special Rapporteur’s findings, he added.
Meanwhile the representative of Saudi Arabia said the best way to deal with refugees is to solve the crisis in Myanmar. Recalling the country’s humanitarian assistance to the tune of $25 million through both the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Islamic Development Bank, she underscored the need to help the Rohingya, adding that a solution must maintain their rights.
The representatives of Thailand and Indonesia expressed support for ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus as a road map to peace, with the latter expressing concern about its lack of progress as well as the junta’s executions of political prisoners, which showed a lack of commitment to the peace process. As the upcoming chair of ASEAN, Indonesia called on the international community to support the peace process as well as to continue providing humanitarian aid.
Responding to the delegates, Mr. Thomas invited the Committee to review a report on weapons sources released as a conference room paper last February as well as a report on the conflict’s impact on children. He said he would continue dialogues with civil society actors to communicate their truth to the world, as well as with the National Unity Government and Consultative Council and ethnic resistance organizations.
Turning to concrete actions the international community can take, he said the Security Council must exercise its Article Seven powers on arms embargos and economic sanctions, adding that after the inevitable veto, the motion should move to the General Assembly for a vote. He stressed that all countries should stop weapons and aircraft fuel transfers to the military. Further, no country should legitimize the junta-held elections next year, he said, noting that free and fair elections are impossible when political opponents are locked up. Encouraging donors to increase financial support, he stressed that under no circumstances should refugees be forced to return to Myanmar, adding that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees must be granted access to the country. He called for more support from neighboring countries, citing Bangladesh’s response to Rohingya refugees as a good example, and for the international community to support these countries.
If the Security Council will not bring a case on the junta to the International Criminal Court, the international community can follow Gambia’s example in the International Court of Justice, he said. Spotlighting the grave situation of the Rohingya, he said they deserve particular attention, as their situation has not improved since their internal displacement a decade ago, and the architects of their displacement head the junta. If the international community does not address impunity, the cycle of violence will continue, he said.
Also speaking were representatives of Australia, United States, Republic of Korea, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Czechia, Norway, Luxembourg, Belarus, Japan, Finland and China. The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, also spoke.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
ELIZABETH SALMÓN, Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, cited her August meetings in the Republic of Korea with Government authorities, civil society organizations, victims of human rights violations and escapees who fled that country. She stressed that human rights victims must be provided with visibility, mobilizing all relevant actors to respond to their concerns and promoting truth-seeking as well as accountability. Indicating three objectives for the future, she said these include seeking the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s cooperation to transform its practices violating human rights, strengthening accountability and raising awareness of the grave situation there. Noting Pyongyang’s limited cooperation with previous mandate holders and difficulties in accurately assessing human rights and identifying necessary reforms, she emphasized that it is part of that country’s obligation, as a United Nations Member State, to cooperate with the Organization’s human rights mechanisms and provide credible information.
Detailing her mandate’s objectives, she said new ways of engaging the State in advancing implementation of recommendations by United Nation’s human rights bodies must be explored. On collaborating with stakeholders focusing on specific situations and groups, she said she will consolidate the work of United Nations agencies, human rights mechanisms, civil society organizations and academia on the rights of women and girls. In this regard, she will acknowledge achievements reported by the Government and emphasize gender gaps, including during the COVID‑19 pandemic. Further, she said she will engage with stakeholders, such as Governments, exploring all available avenues, like universal jurisdiction and domestic courts. She also will continue to advocate that the Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court and that the General Assembly establish an ad hoc tribunal or other comparable mechanisms. Without access to the country and no reliable information, it is currently impossible to verify the number of deaths caused by or related to COVID‑19. Expressing concern for people’s limited or insufficient access to food and health care, she stressed the need to develop a road map for the return of United Nations staff, including humanitarian actors.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of the United States called on Pyongyang to recognise that human rights violations are occurring within its borders, take immediate steps to address them and grant international humanitarian associations and human rights monitors unhindered access. He asked Ms. Salmón how States can assist mandate holders in obtaining access to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, expressed concern for past and ongoing widespread and systematic human rights violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, some of which may constitute crimes against humanity. He asked Ms. Salmón how Member States, not the least countries in the region, can best support her to achieve a meaningful dialogue and cooperation with that State’s authorities.
The representative of Japan, spotlighting the issue of abductions, called for the immediate return of all abductees from the Democratic Republic of Korea to his State. He invited Pyongyang to address allegations of enforced disappearances, including adductions of foreign nationals, and provide accurate information to families on the whereabouts of missing persons. Turning to Pyongyang’s continued nuclear missile development, he invited the international community to continue to call on that State to abide by Security Council resolutions and focus on the welfare on its people.
The representative of the Republic of Korea stressed that the issue of prisoners of war remains a deep concern and the fate of detainees in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shall not be forgotten. Asking Pyongyang to end human rights abuses in that country, she called on global leaders to step up their efforts to achieve its denuclearization.
Several delegates rejected country-specific mandates, adding that such instruments violate the principles of objectivity, impartiality, non-selectivity and non-politicization. They may be used as a tool for interfering in other States’ sovereign decisions to the detriment of dialogue and cooperation and human rights advancement, speakers said.
The representative of Venezuela asked that this type of intervention be set aside and the Periodic National Review be prioritized, with the consent of the affected State. The representatives of Cuba, Nicaragua and Eritrea, among others, echoed similar calls.
The representative of Belarus, opposing country-specific approaches and the instrumentalization of human rights issues, said such reports represent “a cliché replicated from year to year”, whose conclusions are a list of requirements known in advance. Noting that the impact of unilateral coercive measures and sanctions on human rights is only mentioned in passing in the report, without analyses, he said that promoting cooperation on human rights requires no costly Special Rapporteurs, only the will of States to engage in equitable and mutually respective dialogue.
The representative of Iran said that mandates contribute to the stigmatization of certain countries, reaffirming the need for the United Nations to pursue professionalism and non-discrimination. She called for the lifting of unilateral coercive measures against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Responding, Ms. Salmón stressed that, 18 years after establishment of the mandate, the time has come to change its approach and focus on specific issues, like she will do regarding the situation of women and girls in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Highlighting that there is a strong legal basis, with Pyongyang having signed five human rights treaties, submitted reports to human rights bodies and accepted 132 recommendations made through other human rights instruments, she said she will follow that up with collaboration from the State. She expressed hope that this will open up the possibility of bringing new actors to the table, in trying to alleviate the terrible situation of women. They are limited in advancing in economic activity and markets, and facing trafficking and gender-based violence, she said, adding that her mandate will focus on victims. She also encouraged the Security Council to reopen a public debate on the matter, taking into account human rights. “The security agenda will not move forward if we do not include a human rights approach that can offer a comprehensive response to problems,” she added.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Peru, Equatorial Guinea, Switzerland, Norway, Czechia, Vietnam, the Russian Federation, Lao, the United Kingdom, the Syrian Arab Republic, China, Germany, Nigeria and Australia.
RICHARD BENNETT, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, assessing human rights based on first-hand information from affected individuals living in Afghanistan, said the de facto authorities continue to desire engagement, as they listed their views on “progress made”, inviting him to witness the situation “with his own eyes”. During his visits, he met with members of civil society, especially women, the de facto authorities and the international community in Afghanistan. He listened to the voices of human rights defenders, journalists, judicial officers and importantly, the victims of human rights violations and their families. He appreciated access to different parts of the country, including sensitive locations such as prisons.
Drawing attention to the brave Afghan women and men who continue to strive peacefully for human rights in their country, sometimes at great risk to their own lives, he stressed that the human rights situation has not altered markedly since his first visit in May. The country continues to face a human rights and humanitarian crisis and the people of Afghanistan continue to suffer. While there are a few signs of positive change, they are outweighed by regression in other areas. Women have been erased from public life and their civil, political, economic and cultural rights disregarded. Numerous directives issued by the Taliban have step by step removed their fundamental rights and freedoms, he said, adding that their physical and mental well-being has been deeply impacted. “Some of us could have left the country but we did not, we decided to stay and fight for women’s place in Afghan society,” one Afghan woman said.
Noting that in no other country are girls denied the right to secondary school education, he described the reopening of such institutions as the first test for the de facto authorities’ compliance with its international human rights obligations. Moreover, the situation of ethnic and religious minorities remains deeply troubling, he stressed, voicing concern about violent attacks against the Hazara, Shia, Sikh and Sufi religious minorities. He also met representatives of Uzbek and Turkmen communities, who expressed concern about their marginalization. Most attacks targeting educational institutions, places of worship or public transportation have claimed civilian lives, he cautioned, pointing to the recent attack against the Kaaj Educational Centre on 30 September that claimed the lives of 54 individuals, including 51 young Hazara women, and injured another 114. This attack received scant coverage in the international media, he noted.
Warning that since August 2021, the lives of members of Hazara communities have become highly restricted, he called on the Taliban to protect these communities and bring the perpetrators to justice. Spotlighting numerous credible reports of multiple extrajudicial killings of captured fighters, indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, he stressed that communities in those areas — especially Panjshir — are being heavily suppressed. Civilians considered by the Taliban to be associated with the National Resistance Front are subject to house-to-house searches, arbitrary arrests and detentions, extrajudicial killings, torture and displacement, combined with an information blackout. This appears to amount to collective punishment, he said, urging for a reversal of policies and an independent investigation. He also voiced concern over the revenge killings of former Afghan National Defence and Security Forces by the Taliban, contrary to the amnesty declared in 2021. The killings and disappearances only fuel tensions and animosity within communities and will not assist any reconciliation efforts in the future, he asserted.
Calling for a comprehensive transitional justice process, he observed that press freedom has declined, there is no space for dissent and criticism of officials and investigative reporting of conflict-affected areas are strictly off limits. Civic space overall has shrunk, women have disappeared from public spaces, reprisals targeting opponents and critics are on the rise and the humanitarian crisis is worsening, with a harsh winter ahead for Afghans. Meanwhile, the isolation of the Central Bank of Afghanistan from the international banking system has seriously impacted the Afghan economy and affected the provision of basic social services, including healthcare, he underlined, noting that half the population are food insecure, including 6.6 million at ‘emergency’ levels. “Afghanistan almost certainly remains the worst country in the world to be a woman or a girl,” he concluded.
The representative of Afghanistan voiced concern over the multifaceted political and humanitarian crises that his country is facing due to the Taliban’s failure to meet its obligations. Calling the Special Rapporteur’s mandate “indispensable” to the promotion of human rights in Afghanistan, he voiced concern over staggering regression in women’s economic, social and political rights and the current gender apartheid imposed by the Taliban. He also pointed to the inhumane treatment and detention of former security forces. Conflict-related egregious human rights violations include arbitrary arrests of civilians, extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced displacement, collective punishments and summary killings of war prisoners, he stressed, condemning restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as well as targeted attacks on minorities and educational centres. Various forms of organized crime continue to undermine human rights and the rule of law in Afghanistan, he warned, adding that terrorism continues to be the major cause of concern. He asked the Special Rapporteur whether, during his visit, he was able to meet with the Taliban Supreme Leader to talk about human rights issues; whether he witnessed any commitment on the Taliban’s part to reopen the secondary schools for girls; and whether he was able to meet independent witnesses of massacres committed by the Taliban. He stressed the need for a commission of inquiry, an independent investigative mechanism or fact-finding mission to investigate what is considered by many to be a genocide.
The representative of Pakistan stressed that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan must be addressed urgently to ensure the protection of economic and human rights of all Afghans. He underscored the need to prevent an economic collapse that would only exacerbate the existing humanitarian crisis.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, voicing concern over the shrinking space for civil society and restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms, asked the Special Rapporteur about main obstacles to his work on the ground.
The representative of Australia, condemning systematic targeted attacks on schools and places of worship, stressed the need for accountability, echoing the call for all Afghan girls to have the right to access education. Along similar lines, the representative of Finland emphasized that the de facto Afghani authorities must be reminded that Afghanistan is bound by a series of international commitments.
The representative of Ireland asked the Special Rapporteur about ways to support the monitoring of the LGBTQI+ persons in Afghanistan. The representative of Mexico asked the Special Rapporteur whether human rights defenders in his Office met with faced reprisals.
The representative of the United States called for an immediate end to all human rights abuses in Afghanistan, raising particular concern over women, girls and members of minority groups. He reaffirmed the right to education for all Afghans and called on the Taliban to adhere to their agreements.
Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation highlighted that the Special Rapporteur’s report fails to mention crimes committed by armed forces of the United States, United Kingdom and Australia against the Afghani people during their presence. The United States bears responsibility for the disastrous situation, he stressed, criticizing Washington’s appropriation of financial resources that could have been used to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground.
Along similar lines, the representative of China stressed that the past decades have proven that military interventions do not work and the destiny of Afghanistan can only be determined by its people. She urged the United States to return without delay the frozen Afghan assets to the Afghan people and alleviate their humanitarian suffering. Responding to questions and comments, Mr. Bennett underscored the need to restore the rights of woman, girls and minorities in Afghanistan. Press freedom has declined further, civic space continues to shrink, access to justice is limited and the humanitarian crisis is worsening with a harsh winter ahead, he warned, adding that women and girls continue to be most affected. Attention should also be paid to other marginalized groups, especially children, people with disabilities and members of sexual and gender minorities, he said. On the issue of accountability, he said that his mandate is specific in setting out the responsibility to investigate, document and preserve information. To this end, the United Nations has provided additional resources, he said.
Also speaking were representatives of Switzerland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Indonesia, Canada, Austria (associating with the European Union), Chile, Qatar, Netherlands (associating with the European Union), Malaysia, Iran, Lichtenstein, Norway, Poland, United Kingdom and France.
ANAÏS MARIN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, presenting her report (document A/77/195), quoted sources suggesting that hundreds of thousands of Belarusian nationals have been forced into exile due to the human rights situation in the country, although numbers are difficult to verify. She said she met with dozens of victims of human rights violations in several countries, who recounted the continuous erosion of rights to political participation and freedom of assembly, association, opinion and expression. The last contested presidential election, in 2020, triggered a wave of peaceful protests, which were met with brutal repression, forcing Belarusians to leave their country en masse. Their decisions to leave varied, yet many said they feared arbitrary arrest and detention for legitimately exercising their human rights. Choosing a country of relocation was influenced by many factors, including financial means, personal networks, visa requirements and options to regularize their statuses. Ukraine was a primary destination for many Belarusians after 2020, but most have relocated again since the Russian Federation’s armed attack against Ukraine on 24 February. “Since then, I received reports of a new wave of emigration from Belarus due to the stifling of anti-war expressions, or for fear of being called to fight in this war,” she said.
Documenting the continuing crackdown on civil society, the media and political opposition for the third consecutive year, Ms. Marin said the number of people detained on politically motivated charges is now more than 1,300. At least 600 organizations have been forced to dissolve or discontinue their activities, including virtually all human rights groups in the country. The independent trade union movement was also recently dismantled. The intimidation of people who participated in peaceful marches and protests in 2020 has intensified, as criminal charges have been brought against people for allegedly organizing or financing what the authorities label as “mass disorders”. People calling for the Government to respect freedom of peaceful assembly face prison terms on the ground of “extremism”. The reporting period was marked by a tightening of the legislation against extremism and terrorism, which is used to stifle and punish all forms of dissidence in the country. Even after relocating abroad, many people report living in insecurity and fear. She said she is particularly concerned about the deliberate use of domestic legislation, policies and institutions to force Belarusian nationals into exile. “Those who courageously decided to stay in Belarus and fight for their rights are now behind bars,” she said. Ales Bialiatski, a colaureate of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, is one of many human rights defenders targeted by repression. Belarusians in exile may soon face trial in absentia with criminal legislation amended in July, she added. The absence of an independent judiciary and law-enforcement institutions imply that safe return is not possible for many Belarusians.
Despite intensive efforts to engage the Government in a constructive dialogue, the authorities maintained a policy of non-recognition and non-cooperation with her mandate, Ms. Marin said. “All my requests for access to the country remained unanswered, as were the allegation letters that I sent this year, together with other special-procedures mandate holders, on specific cases,” she said. “I note with regret that an empty chair policy in interactive dialogues is becoming the new norm.” The Government seems intent on closing a crucial avenue for upholding the right to international consideration and possible redress for human rights violations, namely, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. She urged the authorities to reconsider signing into law the draft bill on denouncing this Protocol, also calling on it to stop repressing its own people, release all persons detained on politically motivated grounds and allow those forced into exile to return.
When the floor opened for comments, several delegates noted the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus as people are increasingly being arbitrarily detained during peaceful protests, while others are forced into exile to save their lives.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, urged Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained persons, including political prisoners, and stop the brutal repression of civil society. He said the Lukashenko regime now also persecutes Belarusians standing up against the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine. He asked how the international community can better support civil society despite the risks involved.
The representative of the United States condemned the repression of civil society members and laws that allow the use of the death penalty for serious crimes, including acts of terrorism. The United States delegate called for the immediate release of more than 1,300 political prisoners, asking what more the international community can do to hold Belarus accountable.
The representative of Australia also noted Belarus’ use of the death penalty for serious crimes and acts of terrorism and repeated her delegation’s call for Belarus to abolish the death penalty. She called for the release of all arbitrarily detained people and condemned Belarus’ aid to the Russian Federation in its aggression against Ukraine. She asked the Rapporteur what can be done to hold Belarus accountable for its human rights violations.
The representative of Austria, aligning herself with the European Union, said the report lays out how Belarusian nationals are compelled by Government policies and practices to leave their country. “All they have left is to bow to the repression and censor themselves, or else voice criticism and expose themselves and their families to repression, or leave,” she said. She asked the Rapporteur how civil society organizations, media workers, academia and others dealing with the situation from abroad can be supported to continue their work in an organized manner.
The representative of Croatia, aligning with the European Union, said her delegation was alarmed by the report’s finding of systematic repression and persecution of civil society, human rights defenders and independent media. She asked how the international community can enable conditions for Belarusians in exile to keep actively participating in the country’s public life.
Coming from a neigbouring country, Poland’s delegate expressed concern about conditions that prevent the safe return of exiles. He urged Belarus to stop labelling peaceful protestors as extremists and asked how the international community can improve the status of Belarusians living in exile.
Ms. Marin responded that there has not been much progress or many positive trends, adding that the situation has been deteriorating since 2020. Numbers may indicate there are fewer people detained on political grounds this week than last week, but that may be because they have reached the end of their prison terms. Many people will be liberated after two years in prison and seek exile to access medical and psychological support. She expected the trend to continue with decisions of arbitrary sentencing and detention on fabricated criminal accusations. “Of course, this is not progress,” she said.
Regarding questions on how to hold the Belarus Government accountable, she said there are no effective remedies inside Belarus. It is important to support external mechanisms that work towards accountability. A second direction is to work at the level of national courts that have recognized the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes such as torture. Governments can offer support by giving national courts the material means, and prosecutors in their country the time, to prosecute crimes committed in other countries.
Regarding questions on better supporting civil society, she said it is important to show solidarity to people in exile, adding that measures should be designed to meet their needs. Some people living abroad are facing the expiration of their visas and need support in finding renewals or residence permits. These are needed to start new lives with new communities, earn livings and educate their children. The downside is for people who risk losing their citizenship as punishment and the expiration of their Belarusian passports, which are usually issued for five years. People in exile are afraid to visit Belarusian embassies abroad for fear of arrest or divulging their current address. The media are great sources of help for people living abroad, providing outlets like youth hubs. Regarding best practices to support media, she said grants, fellowships and prizes for journalists can help them raise awareness and promote freedom of speech.
Also speaking today were delegates from Switzerland, Lithuania (speaking on behalf of a group of countries), Liechtenstein, Czechia, United Kingdom and Germany.
JAVAID REHMAN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic republic of Iran presented his report (document A/77/525) on the extent of arbitrary deprivation of life in the country as well as other human rights situations. He said that, since his previous report on the application of the death penalty, no changes have been made to the penal code, noting a sharp increase in executions since 2021, particularly as related to drug charges. Between June and January 2022, at least 251 people were executed, double that of the first six months last year. Among the executed are women and two individuals who were under 18 years of age at the time of their alleged crimes, he said.
Arbitrary deprivation of life continues to be the response of authorities to peaceful assembly and also applies to places of detention through denial of access to medical care and torture of detainees. He lamented the lack of movement on an accountability framework in law or policy, noting that available information suggests intentional withholding of evidence and cover-ups. An emblematic case of obstruction is the 2022 conviction of a group of lawyers and human rights defenders for planning a lawsuit against the authorities for mismanagement during the COVID‑19 pandemic. Highlighting an ever-shrinking civic space, he pointed to a dissolved non-governmental organization and detention of teachers, labour rights defenders and academics following protests as well as Internet disruptions preventing access to information and information-sharing. Finally, he expressed concern over the persecution of religious minorities, in particular members of the Baha’i.
The death of Jina Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman from the Kurdish minority, who died in a hospital following her collapse in a detention centre three days after her arrest by the morality police for inappropriately wearing a hijab, sparked a protest movement with women and youth at the centre chanting “women, life, freedom”. The authorities responded to the calls for freedom of women and speech with predictably brutal oppression, he said. Though difficult to verify, five weeks after the start of protests, at least 215 people have died, he said, adding that at least 66 persons, including children, were reportedly killed in Sistan and Baluchestan provinces on 30 September in a single incident, and 39 protestors were killed in Kurdistan, where Ms. Amini is from. Some 628 Kurdish protestors have also reportedly been detained, he said, adding that 27 children, some as young as 11 years of age, were killed by gunfire and others were beaten to death. As reported recently by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, many families were pressured into absolving security forces by declaring that their children committed suicide.
Detailing the breadth of the crackdown, he said that thousands of people had been arrested in the past five weeks, including human rights defenders, students, lawyers, activists and journalists, including the reporter who published the initial report on Ms. Amini’s death. Schools have also been raided and children sent to “psychological centres” following their alleged participation in protests.
The Tehran commander of the police forces conducted an investigation into Ms. Amini’s death with “special teams” and found no foul play, he said. Further, a parliamentary fact-finding committee agreed with the report, indicating that those who spread fake information will be prosecuted if they “do not correct their positions”. He stressed that so-called investigations into the death of Ms. Amini have failed to honour the minimum requirements of impartiality and independence. Domestic channels of accountability are absent in the country, he noted. It falls on the international community to address impunity for human rights violations in Iran and to call for an independent investigative mechanism in all human rights violations leading up to and since the death of Ms. Amini, he said.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, the representative of Iran expressed condolences over the terrorist attack in Shiraz today, expressing regret that the Third Committee platform is instrumentalized to Member States. She ejected Mr. Rehman’s report, noting efforts for dialogue that her country has made but were ignored. He has denigrated the customs, laws and regulations of Iran, and his overreliance on false information from biased media and terrorist groups has breached the code of conduct for his mandate, she said. Further, the report focuses on the arbitrary deprivation of lives but ignores the deprivation of lives of many sick children who do not have access to pharmaceutical or medical care because of unilateral coercive measures imposed against the country by the United States, she added. Recalling that the Special Rapporteur has never attached his name to motions condemning unilateral coercive measures, she said he must have overlooked terrorist attacks claiming the lives of 17,000 people over the past decade, while the European Union harbours their perpetrators. Decrying that the Special Rapporteur has used his platform to spread false information, she said that Iran is committed to human rights and the Universal Periodic Review.
The representative of Canada refuted personal attacks on the Special Rapporteur, calling him a fine man with no political agenda, and assured the representative of Iran that his country has no agenda either. The international community wants the truth, he said, and to deal with the tragedy afflicting Iran.
The representative of Pakistan said that Iran is open to dialogue but not coercion. Human rights goals are better served by two-way communication and mutual consent, rather than adopting resolutions against developing countries, he added. Pointing out that the international community has yet to adopt a specific mandate on any developed country or a country where the economic interests of those states lie, he said that the discrimination and politicization of human rights must end.
The representatives of Cuba and Venezuela echoed Pakistan, with the latter adding that they reject any targeted report as a matter of principle, as it does not involve third party information.
The representative of Australia called for an independent investigation into the events in Iran, stating that the country’s seat on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is unacceptable.
The representative of Norway, on behalf of 33 countries of the Freedom Online Coalition, expressed deep concern that the Iranian government has all but shut down the Internet for most of its 84 million citizens, which prevents journalists from reporting as well as safe communication.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, called on Iran to grant access to the Special Rapporteur and condemned its violent oppression of the protests.
The representative of Sri Lanka said his country takes note of Iran’s efforts to collaborate with the Special Rapporteur, as incremental as they may be. He encouraged Iran to pursue a path of peace in accordance with teachings of the holy prophet, which respect simple humanity. “It is our prayer that Iran will find peace,” he said, calling on States to adhere to principles of non-intervention.
In her second response, the representative of Iran said the European Union and United Kingdom think that countries are still their colonies, but she could spotlight systemic discrimination that racial and religious minorities face in their countries. They interfere with the sovereignty of nations, she said, recalling the murder of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israel and repeating her condolences for lives lost in the terrorist attack in Shiraz today.
In response, Mr. Rehman first addressed the representative of Iran’s criticism of his report as being politicized and based on information from terrorist groups, adding that the assessment is wholly inaccurate. Her response is an example of the way the Iranian government engages with criticism or anything it does not agree with. He called on the country to read his report and its recommendations, underlining that meaningful dialogue would involve a country visit and requesting access to the republic in accordance with his mandate. Regarding sanctions, he said that his report does indeed recognize their impact, specifically on the medical sector. Sanctions cannot be used to justify brutalization, torture or killing, he said, adding that Iran continues to practice arbitrary deprivation of life as well as violate women’s rights. He called on Iran to abolish the death penalty and ratify the second protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political rights.
Further urging the country to stop arbitrary detentions altogether, he said it must offer imprisoned lawyers, laborers and activists access to medical care. Further, he called on the country to stop the state-determined Internet and media blackouts. Ms. Amini was an unfortunate victim of oppression, who released a wave of grief nationwide, he said, noting that she is not the first woman to suffer the morality police’s ill treatment. Women have suffered in Iran from the violent application of the hijab law for years, he said, adding that it is an insult to all Muslim women around the world who believe that their faith allows them moral choice in their autonomy. He recommended Iran end the hijab law and adopt the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Underscoring that a lack of action now will result in the complete subjugation of the Iranian people, he called for an international investigative mechanism to ensure accountability.
Also speaking were representatives of Nicaragua, Israel, Liechtenstein, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, United States, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, Iceland, United Kingdom, Syria, Russian Federation, Belarus, Germany, Switzerland, China, Eritrea and France.
PAULO SÉRGIO PINHEIRO, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, said that twelve years into the conflict in that country, an unprecedented 90 per cent of the population lives in poverty. Unbearable living conditions in displacement camps have forced many internally displaced persons to move back to frontline villages in Idlib Governorate, where aerial and ground attacks by pro-Government forces have intensified, he noted. Adding that an estimated 14.6 million Syrians are now dependant on aid to survive, while access to humanitarian aid remains inadequate and politicized, he highlighted the cholera outbreak affecting all 14 governorates. This is “likely the result of nearly half of the population in Syria relying on unsafe water sources”, Mr. Pinheiro commented. In addition, attacks by pro-Government forces in Idlib and western Aleppo are claiming civilian lives, and damaging key infrastructure, he said. In northern and eastern Aleppo, at least 144 civilians have been killed or injured and markets, mosques and schools damaged in attacks the Commission investigated until August. He added that recent clashes between the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and members of the so-called Syrian National Army led to the former entering Afrin, amid reports of civilian casualties and more than 6,000 people fleeing from the city. Stressing that elsewhere in Syria insecurity prevails, he said that targeted killings continued with impunity in Dar’a and noted clashes in the north-east between Turkish forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces.
As neighbouring countries that have hosted millions of Syrians for over a decade announce that they will begin sending refugees back, Mr. Pinheiro stressed that any return should take place voluntarily, safely and with dignity. Noting that the number of refugees voluntarily returning to Syria is miniscule and outweighs the number fleeing, he recalled the tragedy of the over 70 Syrian refugees drowned off the Syrian coast last month. Confiscation of the properties of internally displaced persons and refugees continues to prevent dignified returns, he underlined, spotlighting added difficulties faced by women attempting to secure tenure to homes. Further, children risk stateliness, exploitation, trafficking and abuse, he said, noting that child marriages are on the rise. The Government, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Syrian National Army and the Syrian Democratic Forces continue restricting freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, he continued. In government-controlled areas, torture and ill-treatment in detention and enforced disappearances remain systematic, which is also perpetrated by armed groups, and can lead to detainees’ deaths, he said. In northern Aleppo, members of the Syrian National Army scaled up arrests of individuals with alleged ties to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units or with the self-administration authorities. Pointing to the attack on Al-Sina’a prison in Al‑Hasakah city in north-east Syria on 20 January, Mr. Pinheiro stressed the threat that Da’esh still poses in the area. Noting that such prisons hold some 10,000 suspected Da’esh fighters and other men allegedly affiliated with the group, he said the attacks highlighted the insufferable conditions hundreds of boys have been held in for almost four years. Over 58,000 people, including 37,000 children remain unlawfully deprived of their liberty in Al-Hawl and Rawj camps, he added, describing a precarious humanitarian and security situation exacerbated by murders and deadly clashes. “It is a disaster”, he said, urging faster repatriations. The unknown fate of the tens of thousands of missing or forcibly disappeared is one of the Syrian war’s greatest tragedies,” Mr. Pinheiro underscored, stressing the need for an international body to clarify their whereabouts.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Syria said his country’s participation in the dialogue should not be considered a willingness to engage with the Commission of Inquiry, which was established without his State’s consent. He rejected accusations that his Government has committed instances of war crimes, torture, ill treatment detention and attacks against civilians. He added that the Commission does not apply the same certainty in reference to other incidents, such as air strikes committed by Israel, war crimes perpetrated by Da’esh, as well as torture and other cruel treatment by opposition groups supported by Türkiye. He also rejected accusations that his country has targeted children and committed acts leading to arbitrary arrests, disappearances and harassment. Adding that the Syrian Government is making every effort to grant a safe, sustainable and dignified return for all refugees, he said the Commission has ignored challenges posed by terrorism, foreign occupation and unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States and other countries. Such measures prevent the return of refugees, he said, adding that the Syria will continue its efforts to combat terrorism and return safety and security to the country.
The representative of the United States called on States to strengthen existing measures and establish a new United Nations mechanism focusing on clarifying the fate of missing persons in Syria. Condemning human rights violations in detainee facilities, including torture, gender-based violence and enforced disappearance, he said these are used to punish, spread fear and address dissent. Calling on the regime to provide information on the whereabouts of missing and disappeared persons, he urged the release of those who are arbitrarily detained.
The representative of Australia, echoing similar concerns, asked how the Commission of Inquiry can cooperate with Member States and the United Nations to implement the proposed mechanism on the missing and disappeared. Further, she asked what could be done to promote accountability.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that the situation in Syria is worsening due to unilateral coercive measures imposed by Western countries on that State. Pointing to the threat of increased hostility in the north, he said that Washington, D.C., is plundering natural and agricultural resources belonging to the Syrian people, causing billion‑dollar losses. Calling on the United States to address such losses and swiftly withdraw its troops from Syria, he added that Washington, D.C., is also undermining Syrian territory.
Similarly, the representative of China said that the United States and other Western countries have contributed to poverty affecting the Syrian people. She called for an end to unilateral coercive measures and the illegal plundering of resources. Supporting a Syrian-led political solution, she said the United States should stop its illegal presence and military operation in that country.
The representative of Nicaragua rejected reports based on selectivity that don’t enjoy objectivity or the consent of affected States. Stressing that the Third Committee and its mechanisms are obliged to guarantee impartiality, she rejected the use of the human rights agenda as a pretext for intervening in the internal affairs of independent States. Similar concerns were raised by the representatives of Venezuela, Cuba, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, who also stressed the impact of unilateral coercive measures.
The representative of the United Kingdom said it is imperative that the Syrian regime provides answers and releases those arbitrarily detained. A purported presidential amnesty in May was a predictable false start, she said, underlining the regime’s disingenuous intentions and asking what can be done to support families of the missing.
In a similar vein, the representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, asked how the regime can be held responsible for ensuring the safety of those who wish to return. Concerned by recent briefings and reports of cholera outbreaks and severe water shortages across the country, she asked what measures can be taken to prevent the further deterioration of the human rights situation for the Syrian population, including their right to health.
Responding, Mr. MEGALLY noted that the 11-year conflict has resulted in 350,000 deaths, tens of thousands of people missing or disappeared, 12 million people who are food insecure and destruction of much of the country, while a cholera outbreak is also threating neighbouring countries. Supporting calls for a ceasefire, he expressed concern that “all parties in this conflict have blood on their hands”, pointing to the conduct of all parties to the conflict, urging them to respect humanitarian law and human rights law. Highlighting the 13 million displaced persons, he said refugees wanting to return to the country, but fear that they will be arrested, tortured, disappear or be conscripted. He added that internally displaced persons lack civil documents allowing them to benefit from State or international aid. Pointing to poor conditions for prisoners and detainees amid the cholera pandemic, he recommended the release of women and children, beginning with the elderly and the sick. On accountability, he pointed to the establishment of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism and a series of investigations the Commission has led or assisted.
Exercising his right of reply, the representative of Syria reaffirmed that his country does not intend to engage with the mandate.
Also speaking today were the representatives of France, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Belarus, Iran, Türkiye and Eritrea. An observer for the Sovereign Order of Malta also spoke.