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From 9 to 27 September 2019 the UN Human Rights Council (HRC42) took place in Geneva. "Today the number of people living in good human rights conditions is higher than ever in the history of humankind. However, in still too many parts of the world people are still victim of human rights abuses and in still too many areas of the world conflicts and violence seem to prevail. Where democracy keeps to be undermined, where attacks on minorities and human right defenders are still the order of the day and where space for civil society actors continues to be curtailed, we are constantly reminded that the protection of human rights requires our urgent attention," says Ambassador Walter Stevens, Head of the EU Delegation to the UN in Geneva. "We cannot afford, as Europeans, to stop engaging. We will continue to advocate for the respect of human rights for all around the world."
At this session, the EU led a resolution on the human rights situation in Burundi, renewing the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) for another year. For the third consecutive year, the Commission documented serious human rights violations and abuses, some of which may constitute crimes against humanity.
The CoI is the only independent mechanism to investigate, document and inform the international community about the human rights situation in Burundi, a mandate that is of particular importance in view of the elections in 2020. "We are of the opinion that it is essential for the Human Rights Council to remain seized by this situation. The extension of the CoI was therefore a high priority for the EU at this Council session," explains Ambassador Stevens.
The EU remains strongly committed to working in close partnerships with states from all regions in the Human Rights Council. The resolution at this Human Rights Council session on the situation in Myanmar continues the historic cross-regional cooperation from last year, when we presented a first ever joint OIC-EU resolution. "This Council can achieve great results when we work together across different regional groups on situations where we share a common concern. We hope that we can build on this cooperation in the future, also in other areas," said EU Ambassador Stevens.
The resolution presented jointly on behalf of the EU and the OIC welcomes the first report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar that was established last year and continues to call for accountability for those responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses in Myanmar. As authoritatively noted by the Fact Finding Mission at the end of its mandate, unless full accountability is ensured, similar outbreaks of violence and atrocities may continue, with further devastating domestic and regional impact. The work of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar is an important step in this regard. "We urge the Government of Myanmar to allow access to the Mechanism, which would facilitate the search for the truth about alleged crimes" says Ambassador Stevens, underlining the need to ensure that all victims of human rights violations are given a voice.
The political crisis and economic collapse in Venezuela is taking a heavy toll on the population and over four million people have already fled the country. This has a tremendous impact on the region and remains a major source of instability. The report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in the country has confirmed the existence of serious human rights violations and abuses, including torture in detention centres, and mentions the strong possibility of extrajudicial killings by Venezuelan security forces.
This multidimensional crisis requires an urgent political solution through a peaceful, negotiated, democratic and Venezuelan-owned process, leading to free and fair presidential elections. But to be credible, negotiations have to be representative and present a real perspective of a return to democracy and rule of law in Venezuela. "At this Council session, the EU has therefore supported the efforts of the High Commissioner Bachelet and her Office to promote the protection of human rights in Venezuela and engaged strongly in negotiations addressing the situation, in close cooperation with the Lima Group, with a view to ensuring follow-up of the recommendations of High Commissioner Bachelet and the establishment of a Fact Finding Mission," says Ambassador Stevens.
On Syria, the EU has welcomed the announcement made by the UN Secretary General on an agreement to form a Syrian-owned and Syrian-led Constitutional Committee. The EU praised the UN Special Envoy for facilitating the agreement in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254 and the Geneva process and offered full support to translate this agreement into a genuine political process that was long overdue. Notwithstanding these positive news, the Commission of Inquiry presented the Human Rights Council a report on persistent human rights and IHL violations in Syria, committed by all parties. The EU has engaged with the Commission, expressed its full support to their work and committed to keep the human rights situation in Syria under the scrutiny of the Council.
The EU also strongly engaged in discussions on the human rights situation in Sudan and EU Ambassadors met with Nasraldeen Abdulbari, Minister of Justice of Sudan in the margins of the Council. The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding for an OHCHR office in the country, as well as the extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert for one year are very positive steps towards broader efforts at reconciliation and respect for human rights. The EU stands ready to support the Transitional Government on this path.
This Council session also looked at the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Somalia and Ukraine. The EU was active in all these debates in a view to ensure that human rights issues on the ground are comprehensively addressed and monitored. The EU expressed profound concern with the situation in Yemen. The Human Rights Council was offered ample and compelling evidence by the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts (GEE) on violations of international humanitarian law and of violations and abuses of human rights law in Yemen by all parties to the conflict. The EU believes it is important that the GEE continues its work to investigate such violations. The EU firmly supported the resolution that renewed the mandate of the Group of Experts.
In line with our long-standing and principled opposition to capital punishment, at this session the EU supported a resolution focusing on the protection and promotion of human rights in the context of the death penalty, which was adopted by the HRC. This resolution reaffirms that abolition of the death penalty is legally irrevocable and condemns its resumption. While abolition should be the ultimate goal, this resolution emphasises that, when the death penalty is still applied, which is regrettable, it must be strictly limited to the most serious crimes.
The EU also strongly supports the resolution entitled "Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights", condemning all forms of intimidation, harassment or reprisals against person cooperating with the UN system.
We also fully supported a new initiative at this session, which requests the Council to mark next year's 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, still today the most comprehensive global commitment to achieving gender equality and women's empowerment. Also, in the HRC’s annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms, the EU delivered a statement emphasizing EU's approach to gender equality, namely: political and policy dialogues with partner countries, mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and actions, and implementing ad-hoc measures to eliminate, prevent or remedy gender inequalities. We also underscored that, while we will celebrate in 2020 the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women, the 20th anniversary of the women, peace and security and the 5th anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals, we are reminded that gender mainstreaming is a shared responsibility.
The EU Delegation co-sponsored several side events, among them an event with the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We also co-organised a side event entitled "Abolition strategies in sub-Saharan Africa & private sector and the death penalty". Furthermore the EU co-sponsored several side events on Syria and Myanmar.