HRC 24th Session - Statement Delivered Under Item 2, General Debate
September 9, 2013

We thank the High Commissioner for her statement and welcome her offices' engagement on the situation in Egypt. The past two months have seen unprecedented human rights abuses in Egypt, with the largest single incident of mass killing by security services on August 14. Human Rights Watch documented how the police used excessive force in breaking up the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Rabaa, failing to limit their use of force to what was necessary to target the few guns on the side of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and instead shooting dead hundreds of people who were not carrying guns. In apparent response to the break-up of the sit-ins, mobs chanting Islamist slogans attacked and ransacked at least 42 churches, which security services failed to prevent, and police stations were also attacked.

If there is to be any hope of a return to respect for the rule of law, the Egyptian government must hold its security services to account and stop denying any wrongdoing on their part and limiting investigations to the use of force by protesters. As a first step, the government should set up an official fact-finding committee as it did in February 2011 and commit to making public its recommendations and findings. The Egyptian government should also accept requests by the Special Rapporteurs and OHCHR observers to visit Egypt, as Mubarak’s government committed to doing during Egypt’s last UPR.

Human Rights Watch shares the serious concerns raised by the High Commissioner on Bahrain. The human rights climate in Bahrain is deteriorating, with continuing allegations of torture in the wake of the government’s cancellation of the Special Rapporteur’s visit. In the last month the authorities have passed a series of repressive laws that among other things require political groups to obtain written permission to meet with foreign diplomats in Bahrain or international organizations outside Bahrain, and effectively suspend the right to protest peacefully in the capital Manama. It is regrettable that this Council is still shying away from adopting a resolution calling upon Bahrain to end the crackdown, ensure accountability and cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms.

We welcome the High Commissioner's update on her visit to Sri Lanka. The sad reality is that there has still been no accountability for wartime violations in the country. Senior commanders allegedly responsible for targeting civilians and hospitals have been promoted instead of investigated. Cases of extrajudicial executions, disappearances and torture have gone un-investigated and unpunished. Key recommendations of the LLRC and the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts have not been implemented. The human rights situation since the end of the conflict with the LTTE has been characterized by fear and repression.

An example is what happened to some members of civil society who met with the High Commissioner. Human Rights Watch welcomes the opportunity the High Commissioner had to meet with human rights defenders, community leaders, opposition members and government figures during her visit, but as the High Commissioner pointed out in her statement at the end of the visit, some of the people she visited in the northern and eastern parts of the country soon received visits from members of the security forces. Although critics of the government in Sri Lanka are regularly threatened and intimidated, it is particularly alarming that this should happen hours after the visit of the UN’s most senior human rights officer. It is time for the Sri Lankan government to change course. It should hold accountable those responsible for unlawful killings in the last months of the armed conflict that left up to 40,000 civilians dead. It should end its denial of evidence that establishes government responsibility for serious violations. It should re-establish itself as a state that respects the right of critics to speak freely without fear and turn back the trend towards authoritarian rule.

Let us take this opportunity to pay tribute to one of Sri Lanka’s most courageous human rights defenders, Sunila Abeysekera, a friend and mentor. Sunila spoke out many times in this Council to advocate for dignity, justice and accountability in Sri Lanka. We will continue to give life to her call.