Zeid lets Sri Lanka off the hook in his address to the 33rd session of the UNHRC

Theme of speech was access to UN rights investigators.

Published: 14th September 2016 06:31 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th September 2016 06:31 PM   |  A+A-

Prince Zeid 1

Colombo, September 14: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid, did not mention Sri Lanka in his opening address at the 33 rd. session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on Tuesday.  

This was because the theme of his speech was the problem of countries not giving access to UN rights investigative teams and the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in Sri Lanka, which came to power in January 2015, has been giving access to UN rights teams. The new government has also been making some progress in implementing the October 2015 UNHRC resolution on war time rights violations.  

Among the countries which have not given the UN rights investigators are: the US, Indian, Pakistan, Nepal, China, Israel Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Turkey, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Gambia, and Crimea.

India denied access to a UN team meant to investigate the violence in Kashmir saying that it has mechanisms to deal with the crisis democratically and that much of the trouble in Kashmir is due to terrorism exported by Pakistan to India.  Pakistan said that it can allow a UN team to visit its portion of Kashmir if India also gives similar access.      

About the United States not giving access, Zeid said: “I have repeatedly expressed my dismay at the failure of the Government to accept the Special Rapporteur on Torture's request to enter the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and conduct confidential interviews, as is the agreed practice for all the Council’s experts. Guantanamo has long been a space of reported serious violations. The evasive tactics of the US authorities with respect to requests by international human rights mandates are deeply regrettable.”

No Invasion Of Sovereignty

Denying that UN’s missions can compromise national sovereignties, Zeid said: I am told repeatedly by members of Government and Permanent Missions that human rights are being misused as a pretext for interference in the affairs of sovereign nations. It is suggested the struggle against discrimination violates cultural values. Officials have protested that human rights officers observing a public street demonstration are "interfering" in the State's internal affairs.”

“Statements by my Office regarding credible allegations of violations – including excessively broad and violent security sweeps; prosecutions that appear politically motivated; and the massive use of capital punishment for crimes not consistent with the norms laid out by the ICCPR – are deemed "biased", "irresponsible", "misleading" or based on "false" premises.”

“ Monitoring activities, and advocacy intended to help better protect the people of your countries, are refuted as somehow violating the principle of State sovereignty – or even the UN Charter.”

It may be useful to recall the many attempts made by the apartheid régime of South Africa to claim that the General Assembly’s resolutions opposing apartheid constituted a prohibited "intervention" in its domestic jurisdiction. These efforts to shield serious human rights violations from outside scrutiny were conclusively and repeatedly rejected by the General Assembly.”

“Under international law, wrongful intervention – as prohibited in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter – is by nature coercive. And it should be obvious that my Office has no coercive power. No activity that we undertake can possibly be considered constitutive of a prohibited "intervention".

“We seek to strengthen national protection systems, not violate them. We do not threaten invasion, nor do we finance or organize sedition; we request access, in order to establish a neutral clarity about the facts on the ground. And access only becomes possible when the State extends an invitation to us; it cannot be forced open by OHCHR.”

“We request access so we can better work to help bring your laws and practices in line with international agreements which you, the States drafted and ratified – and to assist you to comply with recommendations which you have publicly, and often fulsomely, accepted.

Human Rights A Transnational Issue

Human rights are not exclusively a national issue, Zeid said.

“Governments have the responsibility to uphold their human rights obligations and to respect the standards. But the human rights of all people, in all countries, also require – unquestionably ­– our collective attention. The Vienna Declaration, adopted unanimously 23 years ago, confirmed this: "the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community."

“This language was also echoed by GA Resolution 48/141, which calls on the High Commissioner to "play an active role in removing current obstacles... to the full realization of all human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world,” the Human Rights High Commissioner said.

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