Creation of Expert on Accountability a Step Forward
October 1, 2011
More than three dozen protesters have been killed in Yemen since the Human Rights Council session started, but that still didn’t prompt the Council to take stronger action. States like Yemen that are clearly unwilling to address ongoing abuses shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way of the council doing its job.
Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch

(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council’s weak response to the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Yemen betrays the Yemeni people, Human Rights Watch said today. The Council, whose current session ended on September 30, 2011, adopted a resolution on Yemen that fails to push for either an international investigation into recent abuses or an ongoing human rights monitoring presence in the country.

The tepid resolution reflected efforts to secure Yemen’s support for the measure, and concerns that a “non-consensual” text would not garner a majority vote in the Council, Human Rights Watch said.

“More than three dozen protesters have been killed in Yemen since the Human Rights Council session started, but that still didn’t prompt the Council to take stronger action,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “States like Yemen that are clearly unwilling to address ongoing abuses shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way of the council doing its job.”

Despite proposals that the text call for an international investigation into the situation and the establishment of a UN human rights office in the country, the resolution only “takes note” of Yemen’s announcement that it would conduct domestic investigations, without international oversight, and calls on Yemen and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to “develop a framework for continued dialogue and strengthened cooperation in human rights.”

Yemen should accept without delay the swift deployment of a UN human rights presence in the country, Human Rights Watch said. UN member states should support such an office to respond meaningfully to the deteriorating situation there.

Human Rights Watch has confirmed 225 deaths in attacks by security forces and pro-government gunmen on largely peaceful protests in Yemen that began in February against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule. The situation has rapidly deteriorated in recent weeks, with scores of people having been killed since September 19.

“After a year of steady progress in addressing dire human rights situations around the globe, the Human Rights Council’s action on Yemen is a step backward for the protection of those at risk,” said de Rivero. “The Council needs to step up its engagement on Yemen and other situations in order to live up to its mandate to protect and promote human rights worldwide.”

A positive development from this session was the Council’s creation of a UN expert on the issues of truth, justice, and reparation. This new envoy, who will be appointed at the Council’s next session in March 2012, will examine national truth and reconciliation commissions, justice systems, and other post-conflict mechanisms, in order to promote best practices in societies recovering from dark periods of human rights abuse.

“The establishment of a new expert to look at truth, justice, and reparation is a victory for the victims and their families of grave human rights violations,” said de Rivero. “Likewise, it sends the message that accountability matters, so that perpetrators will think twice.”

The Human Rights Council had mixed results on addressing the human rights situations in Sudan and newly independent South Sudan.

The Council renewed the mandate of the UN expert on Sudan for another year. However, the resolution fell short of issuing a meaningful response to the human rights and humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s border regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Armed conflict between the government and opposition armed groups broke out in Southern Kordofan on June 5 and spread to Blue Nile on September 2, resulting in serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, the widespread destruction of homes and property, and indiscriminate aerial bombings that have resulted in mass displacements of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

In its resolution on South Sudan, which gained independence on July 9, the Council requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present a report on the human rights situation in the country at its June 2012 session.