Human Rights Council: Persistent non-cooperation from some States

20.06.2014

The lack of cooperation of some States with the Council’s special procedures and other mechanisms was brought to the fore this week as the Council heard updates from the Special Rapporteurs on Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Eritrea, along with the latest update from the Commission of Inquiry into the situation in Syria. 

The lack of cooperation of some States with the Council’s special procedures and other mechanisms was brought to the fore this week as the Council heard updates from the Special Rapporteurs on Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Eritrea, along with the latest update from the Commission of Inquiry into the situation in Syria. In all cases the countries in question have refused access to the mechanism created by the Council to monitor and report on the human rights situation.

These mechanisms have to rely on information gathered from sources outside the country such as migrants, refugees, or in the case of DPRK, ‘defectors’.  Even this however is made difficult in some cases. The Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Ms Sheila Keetharuth, added that not only had Eritrea refused her access to the country, but so had 14 other States in the region, making her work even more challenging.

There was strong support from many States for the work being carried out by these mandates, and condemnation of the lack of cooperation they had enjoyed from the State concerned. These States called for the countries concerned to open up access to the mandates and to cooperate fully with the UN’s human rights mechanisms.

However, there were several States who, while also holding cooperation as an ideal, focused their condemnation for the breakdown of the relationship with the country concerned on the Council and the mandate holders. Russia for example, speaking during the debate on Belarus, stated that ‘no progress can be achieved in the promotion and protection of human rights without mutually respectful dialogue, cooperation and support of member States’ efforts in fulfilling their human rights obligations’. However, rather than this being a criticism of Belarus, it was a criticism of the Council for having created a ‘biased and politically motivated’ mandate.

China, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, and Cuba all made similar comments during the various debates. China’s view, expressed during the debate on Eritrea, is that the country is indeed cooperating with the human rights system, having for example submitted its reports to the UPR. China further noted that as a developing country Eritrea faces many challenges and the international community should bear this in mind if it is to provide a fair, objective and comprehensive view of the human rights situation in the country.

These States expressed strong support for the UPR as a ‘constructive, objective, impartial, and non-selective’ forum. China pointed out that Eritrea for example had participated in its UPR, while Russia said the same about Belarus. Even in the case of the DPRK, which during its first UPR cycle accepted none of the recommendations put to it, and has just participated in its second UPR with a report that utterly denies any human rights violations, the UPR was held to be the only appropriate forum for assessing the human rights situation in the country.

In response the Special Rapporteur on the situation in the DPRK stated that those States that preferred the UPR mechanism should demonstrate good faith by seizing the opportunity of the DPRK’s recent review to push for results that make a difference on the ground.

Unfortunately in all these countries UPR recommendations that would improve the situation on the ground are either not accepted or remain unimplemented. The Special Rapporteur on Eritrea for example noted Eritrea’s ‘poor performance’ and ‘lack of goodwill and commitment’ with regard to implementation of UPR recommendations.

Given as well that the UPR only takes place every 4 and a half years, there is certainly room for sustained monitoring and reporting on the situations in these countries. Reflecting this, there was strong support from most States and civil society for the mandates on Belarus and Eritrea, under consideration at this session, to be renewed.

Even though these mandates cannot access the countries concerned, and have a role primarily limited to producing reports and making recommendations, the reporting creates a valuable body of evidence that in the future could be useful to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.

In the case of Syria for example the reports of the Commission of Inquiry will be extremely useful if and when the situation is brought before the relevant international justice mechanism. As the Commission of Inquiry said, ‘in over 3000 interviews we have collected detailed narratives indicating a massive number of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Patterns of violations have been established. The culpability of hundreds of alleged perpetrators is being determined. The result is a solid foundation of evidence that contains a resolute commitment to accountability’.

In the case of the DPRK, on the basis of the work done by the Commission of Inquiry that preceded the Special Rapporteur, the Council has requested OHCHR to created a field-based structure in the Republic of Korea. Work is currently underway to make this operational. Furthermore many Security Council members have expressed support for formal consideration of the Commission of Inquiry’s report and its referral to the International Criminal Court.

There were calls from some civil society organisations for a Commission of Inquiry to be created on Eritrea as an appropriate response to the evidence gathered by the Special Rapporteur. These calls were not however unanimous and the general emphasis from both States and civil society was for the Special Rapporteur to continue to gather information, with a view to establishing patterns of violations, and determining whether crimes against humanity are being committed.

However the Council has failed to do all it could in all cases. In the case of Syria, despite the overwhelming evidence, it has still failed to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court contrary to the repeated calls from the High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, to do so.  The Commission of Inquiry emphasised that this failure had created the space ‘for the worse of humanity to express itself’.

Heather Collister is a Programme Manager at ISHR

 

Category:

Mechanism
  • UN Human Rights Council
Country
  • Belarus
  • Eritrea
  • North Korea
  • Syria