High Commissioner, you present your first report at a challenging time, a time of global crisis, when gross human rights abuses are glorified by violent extremists, and no country or region is immune from atrocity.
We join with you in affirming that no matter how grave the threat, abandoning a human rights framework is never the answer - whether through the adoption of overbroad and arbitrary counter-terrorism laws, indiscriminate attacks on civilians such as we have seen in Syria, Iraq and Libya, mass surveillance or lack of accountability for the use of torture, such as recently highlighted in the United States. Losing sight of the core values that states are sworn to uphold can only destabilize societies, fuel extremism and contribute to a continuing cycle of instability and abuse.
Serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law demand accountability. The positive commitments towards this goal by the new government in Sri Lanka are encouraging, and we underline the importance of the government continuing to deliver on genuine reform and justice, including repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, ensuring detainees are not subject to torture or ill-treatment and eliminating unofficial detention centers. We encourage you to outline in your upcoming report concrete benchmarks for an effective accountability mechanism, and to consider credible models of a hybrid court with the predominant presence of international judges and prosecutors.
You have highlighted the disastrous human rights situation in Iraq, the extraordinary brutality of the extremist group Islamic State and the long-lasting root causes of violence in the country. Human Rights Watch has also documented widespread abuses by militias allied with Iraqi security forces against civilian populations in Sunni areas, including kidnappings, summary executions, torture, and mass displacements of thousands of families with impunity – which may in turn fuel more sectarian violence. High Commissioner, we urge you to condemn these abuses, and would ask which measures you recommend that the Iraqi government and relevant international actors take to prevent future abuses by pro-government militias and to ensure full accountability for serious international crimes by all parties to the conflict?
We share your concern about systemic crackdowns on civil society and the arbitrary arrest and detention of peaceful protesters and human rights defenders, in countries such as Bahrain, Russia and Egypt. We are particularly concerned by the government of Azerbaijan’s prosecution of dozens of civil society activists through a range of bogus criminal charges, including some of the country’s leading human rights defenders and investigative journalists, such as Intigam Aliyev, Leyla Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, and Khajida Ismailyova. We urge you to call for their unconditional release. More broadly, we would ask: what can be done to systematically bring such cases in diverse regions to the attention of this Council and to secure the release of all those detained for political reasons?
In the face of massive human rights abuses, the Human Rights Council has a responsibility to be part of the solution. It needs to resist the temptation to retreat into political and regional factionalism, to undermine the independence of your Office, High Commissioner, invoke selectivity to deflect attention from situations demanding international attention, or engage in procedural tactics to silence debate.
Instead the Council should recognize that the threats we face are global, and require us to work across our differences. It should affirm that protecting the rights to freedom of expression and religion are consistent with advocating pluralism and challenging intolerance, and focus on implementation. It should vigorously uphold the independence of your Office, strengthen cooperation with the system of Special Procedures, prevent and address reprisals, and recognize that combatting selectivity requires attention to more country situations, not less, and that no state, no matter how large or how powerful, is above scrutiny.
We welcome your first report, High Commissioner, and we count on you to place the needs of victims at the center of your work, to hold governments accountable for human rights violations, and to work with all stakeholders to help this Council fulfill its mandate by putting human rights first.