Global update: High Commissioner outlines worrisome issues in more than 40 countries


Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


52nd session of the Human Rights Council

Item 2: Annual report and oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the activities of his Office and recent developments in the field of human rights

Mr. President,


Distinguished delegates,

The session of this Council focuses on a number of issues of particular concern. We will be making statements in relation to the situations of each country throughout this period of sessions [1] . This very morning and throughout the year I have had the opportunity to reflect with you on extensive issues in the field of human rights, which do not pretend to offer a detailed report on each one, and which require special attention, with a view to trying to find solutions.

Rights-based solutions that are universal while adapting to the specific circumstances of each country. Solutions that bring our long experience in difficult contexts, as well as our work in building bridges between civil society, human rights defenders and State institutions.

Full cooperation with my Office and our presences on the ground, as well as with the various human rights mechanisms, consists precisely in this point: solutions. It's about getting results. It is not about receiving criticism. And it's not about just getting involved. It's about getting concrete results for people's lives. This type of cooperation is the signal that indicates that a State is truly willing to comply with its commitments in terms of human rights. During the course of this year I will be offering an update on cooperation, and non-cooperation, with the different human rights mechanisms.

I am aware that for some of you, discussions of complex human rights issues can be complicated or sensitive. Some and some of you may think that it is better to deal with these issues behind closed doors. Even so, we must restore the space where we can debate these issues with a constructive and open spirit, free from the struggles that characterize the geopolitical game and always knowing that nobody is perfect. The first reaction you may have is that you may not like what you hear, but over time, you may come to appreciate what we were required to convey here. My only reflection, and indeed my obligation, is to remain faithful to my mandate, the normative framework of human rights and the imperative to improve people's lives.

Mr. President,

Contempt for human beings reaches unfathomable levels when a war breaks out, and when violence becomes part of everyday life.

A quarter of humanity currently lives in places affected by conflict, and it is civilians who suffer the most from the consequences.

Peace is a precious asset as well as fragile, we must take care of it and cultivate it.

Firstly, by respecting the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which includes international human rights law.

The war in Ukraine has caused civilian casualties and destruction of a devastating magnitude. The rights of Ukrainian men and women will be violated for generations to come, and the impact of the war on fuel and food prices, as well as geopolitical tensions, are having negative repercussions for people in all regions of the world. That such damage could be done again around the world as a result of a war in Europe is a betrayal of the promises of transformative change that were made at the date of our founding more than 75 years ago. At the end of March I will talk in detail about the situation in Ukraine.

Twelve long years of appalling bloodshed: Syria is a microcosm of the damage inflicted by utter disregard for human rights. The earthquakes that occurred last month add to this tragedy. The only way to salvage this situation is through respect for human rights, and holding accountable all who have committed heinous crimes, both measures ignored in Syria for a long time. I fully support the calls to create a new institution that will focus on determining the fate and whereabouts of missing persons, and offer help to victims, and I call on the Government, as well as other Member States, to cooperate with the same, if it were to be created in the last instance.

The security situation in Maliit is especially alarming in the central part of the country and in the border area between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. In this area, numerous armed groups are taking advantage of the hostilities between communities, as well as the absence of state authorities to extend their influence and carry out attacks against civilians. Non-state armed groups have perpetrated all kinds of violations and abuses. The Malian Armed Forces have also committed serious violations, on some occasions being accompanied by foreign military and security forces. I am also extremely concerned about ethnically motivated hate speech, as well as threats, intimidation and attacks against civil society and the media by state and non-state actors, This has led to a growing fear of expressing opinions. This fact is particularly disturbing given that the country is embarking on an electoral process where debates free of ideas should flourish.

I am concerned by the prospect of increased instability in Burkina Faso. During the last six months of 2022, my Office documented at least 1,076 victims of rape and abuse. That figure nearly doubled in the months between October and December, compared to the previous three months. Armed groups are responsible for most of these incidents, although military operations are also increasingly affecting civilians. I have urged the authorities to listen to the demands of their people regarding impunity, and to investigate these accusations. It is vital that we turn the tide of violence on the rise, and that we allow civil society and political parties to develop their activities.

in ethiopia, it is necessary to fully apply the agreement to cease hostilities, and that it includes transitional justice. I am pleased to announce that the National Consultations on Transitional Justice Policy Options opened yesterday, with the support of my Office; which will be followed by consultations throughout the country with people who have been affected by the conflict. Despite these developments, we have received reports of the continued presence in Tigray of the Amhara Regional Forces and Fano militias, as well as the Eritrean Defense Forces, all of whom have allegedly carried out very serious violations. The need to continue the monitoring and reporting work is more than evident. It is also necessary that there is tangible progress in terms of accountability in relation to violations and abuses committed in the conflict, and that it includes the implementation of the recommendations of the report of my Office and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. The human rights situation in other regions of Ethiopia is also very worrying, especially in the Oromia region.

In addition to the continued Eritrean military presence in Tigray, we have received reports that Eritrea is further increasing its use of protracted conscription, a practice that is similar to slavery and which is the main reason for refugee exoduses. This situation needs to change urgently so that the country can be placed on the path of sustainable development.

In Yemen, the parties have heeded the calls of a population exhausted after eight years of brutal fighting, and taken decisive steps to launch a United Nations-led peace process. For any peace agreement to last over time, transitional justice and accountability are vital, as well as women being able to fully participate in these talks. Two United Nations employees, one from UNESCO and one from my own Office, have been detained for 16 months and must be released immediately.

In Libya , widespread violence by armed actors, longstanding political stalemate, and shrinking civic space continue to destroy lives and seriously violate rights. The Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya will submit its final report at the end of this session. It is essential that the authorities implement its recommendations without delay.

In Western Sahara, my Office continues its remote monitoring of the human rights situation. With the most recent visit by the Office taking place almost eight years ago, it is critical that my Office be able to carry out major missions to the region again.

In recent months, I have had occasion to discuss the worrying human rights situation in Kashmir with both India and Pakistan . Advances in the area of human rights, and that justice is done for acts of the past, will be key to continuing to take steps towards security and development. I will continue to analyze what help my Office can provide, even with relevant access to the region.

The people of HaitiHe has to endure gruesome situations of violence. Heavily armed gangs control services and access in large parts of the capital and the country, often carrying out assassinations, kidnappings, indiscriminate sniper attacks as well as a horrendous level of sexual violence. The situation calls for a combination of several responses: empowering the political process to ensure free and transparent elections; a full implementation of the arms embargo; effective sanctions against those who finance and organize armed gangs; as well as international support to build the capacity of Haiti's police and judicial systems to fight widespread impunity and corruption; in addition to the deployment of a specialized support force for a limited time, with human rights safeguards. We must keep Haiti in our focus, including supporting my Office's work on the ground.

Mr. President,

Discrimination and racism are virulent threats, both to human dignity and to the relationships we enter into with other human beings. They turn hate into a weapon. They humiliate and violate human rights, fueling grievances and despair, as well as hindering development.

I am horrified by the contempt against women and women's equality, which is spread on the Internet by some so-called "influencers", which generate social attitudes that ignore, or even tolerate, gender violence, as well as the dominant objectification Women's.

More generally, the scope and magnitude of discrimination against women and girls make it one of the most pressing human rights violations on the planet, so one of the main objectives of our work will be to try to eliminate it. .

The repression of women in Afghanistan is without precedent, and contravenes any established belief system. The rights of women and girls to choose over their lives and to participate in public life have been, or are being, taken away at this time. This repression and persecution of women is a brake on the economy and the future of Afghanistan. A tyranny of this level should not go unpunished. We will not give up; We will continue to fight for the rights and freedoms of all Afghan women and girls to be respected.

In Iran,It is urgent that the authorities respond to the demands of the protesters, especially women and girls, who continue to suffer profound discrimination. I am deeply concerned about the fate of 17 protesters who have been sentenced to death; 4 of them have already been executed, and more than 100 are currently facing charges that carry the death penalty. The recently announced pardons are a hopeful first step. I continue to request the immediate and unconditional release of all persons arbitrarily detained in the context of the protests and in general, including foreign citizens and dual nationals. All Iranians, including all women and girls, must be free to make their own decisions,

I welcome the new law passed in Sierra Leone in November which prohibits gender discrimination; it requires that there be at least 30 percent of women in Parliament, the diplomatic corps, local corporations and in the public administration, and establishes equal pay for women, among other measures. Many States with many more resources could learn from this example.

I also applaud Spain 's approval of legislation last month to defend basic sexual and reproductive rights, including removing restrictions on access to safe abortion. The new measures also address access by all women to assisted reproduction, as well as violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity; In addition, so-called "conversion therapies" are also prohibited, as well as genital mutilation of babies born as intersex.

The vile hate speech is not only directed against women and girls, but also against Afro-descendants; Jews and Jews; Muslims; LGBTIQ+ people; refugees and refugee women; migrants, and many other people belonging to minority groups. Deliberate provocations, such as the recent incidents where copies of the Koran were burned, are aimed at dividing communities. And this is a dangerous fact.

The violence so disproportionately directed against people of African descent by law enforcement officers is an example of the deep structural damage that is rooted in racial discrimination.

My Office and United Nations human rights mechanisms have repeatedly highlighted excessive use of force, racial profiling and discriminatory practices by police, most recently in Australia , France , Ireland and the UK . In Brazil, the total number of deaths in encounters with the police fell in 2021 for the first time in 9 years, with a 31% drop in the number of "white" deaths, according to one source, while there was an increase of almost 6% in the number of deaths of Afro-descendants.

In the United States, people of African descent are almost three times more likely to be killed by police than "white" people. The brutal death of Tire Nichols in Memphis two months ago was particularly notorious not only because of the severity of the violence carried out and that was recorded on video, but because it was followed by immediate responses to prosecute the officers involved, when usually only a fraction Most of these cases end with those responsible being brought to justice.

In the US and all other countries, swift and determined action to hold perpetrators accountable in all cases must become the norm, not the exception. Structural safeguards must be put in place, including independent monitoring, effective complaints procedures, as well as robust law reform. But even the toughest measures within law enforcement itself will not fully work unless additional concrete steps are taken to address racism and the structures that perpetuate it in societies.

Police forces are to serve and protect all people in a society. In the Philippines , where killings continue to occur during police counterdrug operations, my Office is working with security actors to strengthen accountability and uphold human rights in the fight against drug trafficking. The Government has announced measures to investigate police officers for corruption, and I am confident that there will be rapid progress in prosecuting human rights offenders. As I welcome the recent acquittals of human rights defenders, other politically motivated accusations must be brought to an end, as well as a safer environment for civil society to thrive.

Mr. President,

Structural injustices, extreme poverty and the skyrocketing inequalities constitute enormous deficiencies in terms of human rights. I would like to mention a few examples.

Lebanon is mired in one of the worst economic crises in its modern history, with more than half the population currently living below the poverty line, and another two million people suffering from food insecurity. Many public sector services have been disrupted; access to education and healthcare are becoming luxuries; and electricity is scarce. I call for greater efforts to fight corruption, consolidate financial regulation in the rule of law, as well as firmly embed accountability and transparency in all economic measures. A serious investigation into the August 2020 explosion is urgently needed, without political interference or further delay.

In Sri Lanka, the increase in debt, added to the economic crisis, have drastically restricted the population's access to fundamental economic and social rights. Recovery policies will need to rectify inequalities, and invest in social protections and other drivers of economic resilience. They will also have to address underlying issues of corruption, transparency and accountability in governance, as well as entrenched impunity. The reliance on draconian security laws, as well as the harassment and surveillance of civil society and victims, must come to an end. My Office remains committed to supporting an authentic and comprehensive approach to transitional justice.

Many countries in southern Africa have been severely affected by successive economic setbacks, including the one brought on by COVID-19; the increase in the prices of food, fuel and fertilizers due to the war in Ukraine; as well as a triggered repayment of the debt.

In a region that is already the most unequal on the planet, all these negative factors are driving millions of people into poverty. Rising inflation in Mauritius , for example, has led to unprecedented public protests. The energy shortage has caused severe power cuts in several countries, with negative repercussions on businesses, health and water supply. South Africa declared its energy crisis a state of national catastrophe last month. At the same time, South African courts are helping to define the way forward on the legal basis of economic, social and cultural rights.

While many countries in the Global North also suffer from poverty, the UK population is currently experiencing a cost of living crisis that may mark the biggest drop in living standards ever recorded. Racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected. I welcome the steps taken by the government to somehow alleviate the rising cost of fuel and to raise the minimum wage, but I encourage more dialogue with striking workers and people living in poverty as well as and to introduce reforms that promote economic, social and cultural rights.

To meet these challenges of structural injustice and inequality, we need to create economies that build trust in government and promote the rights and well-being of people.

A human rights economy is one whose objective of promoting human rights informs all national economic, fiscal, monetary, investment and business decisions.

These national measures will bring great benefits to millions of people. But they cannot claim to solve the global debt emergency that has swept developing countries. The impact on its population is crushing hopes and lives.

A radical increase in funding and reforms of the international financial institutions are urgently needed to respond to these challenges, and my Office will strongly advocate for change based on human rights. The Barbados Bridgetown Initiative stands out for its clear vision of economic justice and the new methods of international financial organizations.

Mr. President,

The severe restriction of civic space is the weak point—and blunder—of governance. If I had to convey a message to all heads of state or government, it would be the following: listen to the people and, in particular, the victims and human rights defenders. They are people who have the deepest experiences on these issues, and they have something to tell you that you need to hear.

I am alarmed by the number and variety of countries in which I have to report actions that undermine justice institutions, media freedoms and the space for fundamental civic liberties.

Let me start with a positive observation.

In Tanzania, progress has been made in opening up civic and democratic space in the last two years. Bans on the media and political rallies have been lifted, and restrictive legislation is promised to be reformed. Tanzania still faces many challenges, and I welcome the President's willingness to dialogue. More needs to be done to address accountability and other human rights issues, including the situations in Ngorongoro and Loliondo.

Zambia has also taken positive steps to achieve greater respect for human rights and the rule of law. These include numerous amendments and enactments of laws, such as the abolition of the death penalty and the removal of provisions criminalizing "defamation of the president." I look forward to working with the national reporting and monitoring mechanism, and encouraging measures to foster peaceful dialogue between political parties. I also urge both political leaders and the media to avoid increasing polarization and ethnic division. The international financial institutions must recognize that Zambia – like other countries – urgently needs debt relief to consolidate its progress.

In Kenya, some progress has been made in accountability for serious human rights violations. I encourage more concrete progress to deliver justice in line with the government's commitments.

However, in the Russian FederationI am extremely concerned about several trends. The closure of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper and the Moscow Helsinki Group are another unequivocal sign of the disappearance of the Russian civic space. Constant pro-war messages in the state media feed stereotypes and incite hatred and violence. More than 180 criminal cases have been opened for alleged defamation of the Armed Forces; Among those convicted so far are a journalist and a municipal councilor. Since December, any person or entity considered "under foreign influence"—a term that is too broad and imprecise—can be designated a "foreign agent" and subject to numerous restrictions. In a troubling development, in December legislation banning "non-traditional relationship propaganda" was expanded.

I am also concerned about the growing incitement against the rights of LGBTIQ+ people in many countries, most recently in East Africa, including political and political rhetoric that incites hate and repression against LGBTIQ+ organizations. A very disturbing anti-homosexuality bill was introduced last week in the Ugandan Parliament , while 24 people were arrested in Burundi , many of whom are involved in AIDS education. It is inconceivable that in the 21st century we are faced with so much intolerance, prejudice and discrimination that slow down the development of all members of society.

In Tajikistan , journalists and independent bloggers have been sentenced to between 7 and 21 years in prison on charges related to terrorism and extremism amid a growing crackdown on freedom of expression. The trials were held behind closed doors, but no conclusive evidence of any wrongdoing appears to have been produced.

In Bangladesh , I deplore the increase in political violence, along with the arbitrary arrests of political activists, and the continued harassment of human rights defenders and media personnel in the run-up to this year's elections. After lengthy consultations with my Office on the Digital Security Act, I am urging that it be amended as criminal sentences continue to be handed down against individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression and belief.

In Cambodia , the government continues to crack down on the political opposition, human rights defenders and independent media. Examples of this have been the closure of the Voice of Democracy media outlet and the extraordinarily harsh sentence handed down last week to opposition leader Kem Sokha on questionable charges. These actions seriously undermine civic and political space, including the environment for free and fair elections in July.

in tunisia, I am concerned about the recent harsh repressive measures in which judges, the media, civil society agents, members of the opposition and trade union leaders have been prosecuted - including before military courts - for charges that include crimes against security national and terrorism. This trajectory of reduction of civic space, and of the space of the unions to defend the rights of workers and workers, must be reversed. More recently, there has been a wave of arrests and attacks across the country, accompanied by dehumanizing and racist rhetoric, targeting migrants, mostly from south of the Sahara. I recognize that the authorities have announced some support measures for migrants two days ago. Besides,

In Egypt , ongoing restrictions on civic space include crackdowns on dissent, arbitrary arrests, and actions to censor and block web pages. Two days ago several human rights activists were sentenced to long sentences on questionable terrorism-related charges, also raising concerns about the fairness of the trial. Building on Egypt's National Human Rights Strategy, I urge the authorities to release all those arbitrarily detained and to remove restrictions on civic space.

In Peru , at least 60 people have been killed and more than a thousand injured in clashes with security forces and roadblocks during recent protests. Underlying grievances, such as discrimination and exclusion, particularly affect indigenous peoples, rural peasants and poor people in urban areas. Recent government initiatives, such as the creation of a commission to provide financial aid to the families of those killed and injured, must be expanded to ensure accountability, truth-seeking, and full reparation for all victims. My Office stands ready to support meaningful dialogue on the underlying issues.

Regarding China, we have opened communication channels with various actors to follow up on various human rights issues, including the protection of minorities, such as Tibetan, Uyghur and other groups. In the Xinjiang region, my Office has documented serious issues—especially large-scale arbitrary detentions and continued family separations—and has made important recommendations that require concrete follow-up. We are also concerned about the severe restrictions on civic space in general, including the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and lawyers, and the repercussions of the National Security Law in Hong Kong.

Mr. President,

The fight against climate change and the defense of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment are the battles that define our generation. Again, I would like to give some examples.

Somalia is currently suffering from a historic drought, with an agonizing impact on the lives and rights of millions of people. Last year, nearly 1.2 million Somalis fled their homes for lack of rain. Competition between herders for scarce natural resources is a source of conflict: since 2020, at least 237 people have been killed in acts of inter-clan violence over land, pasture or water. The situation is aggravated by the armed group Al-Shabaab, which attacks water sources and infrastructure to punish communities supposedly close to the government. In total, an estimated 8.3 million people across Somalia will be in dire need of food or other assistance between April and June this year.

In the Sahel region , a recent report from my Office looks at the major impacts of climate change-related land degradation and declining food production on income, health, resource competition, conflict and displacements, a vicious circle that worsens with each planting season. The temperature in the Sahel is rising much faster than the world average; even if the increase in land temperature remains at an unlikely 1.5 degrees, the impact on the population of the Sahel will be permanent and devastating.

Iraq is also suffering deep damage from climate change, with sharply rising temperatures, less precipitation, and more dust storms. The flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has decreased by 29 and 73% respectively, and dam projects in the region are an additional factor. According to technical experts who met at the Second Water Conference in Baghdad last year, 7 million Iraqis are at risk of not being able to meet their water needs in the near future. I am also concerned about the shrinking space for freedom of expression in the country.

Pacific Island States and other small island developing countries have led the global advocacy for climate action, including a regional framework to prevent and respond to displacement, and supported by my Office. I note in particular Vanuatu 's initiative to request an advisory opinion before the International Court of Justice on the obligations of States to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse effects of climate change.

Transparent governance is essential to repair damage and increase resilience. Funds for climate finance must reach the most affected and vulnerable people, and must incorporate strong human rights safeguards.

And we must denounce false climate solutions. I regret the attempts by the fossil fuel industry to blacken its reputation and hinder our goal of decarbonization in the global climate negotiations and other spaces for dialogue. This must be avoided at the upcoming COP28 in Dubai, which is why we need inclusive, safe and meaningful participation of civil society.

I highly recommend the following points in all countries. Public access to information on environmental risks and government policies. Full participation and consultation on environmental laws and measures, especially for indigenous peoples and other groups that are the first to suffer the damage of climate change. And the protection of those people who express concern about environmental crimes or policies that cause damage.

Attacking climate protests, crafting laws that unfairly restrict activities that bring climate damage to public attention, and allowing impunity for attacks on activists are tactics that harm all states and all human beings . . And they need to be urgently addressed.

Mr. President,

Conflicts, discrimination, poverty, restrictions on civic space and the triple planetary crisis.

We are facing the combined effects of all these crises, at the same time as we face a wave of new human rights challenges, especially in the digital realm and in relation to artificial intelligence and surveillance. Fresh ideas, political leadership, renewed commitments and a dramatic increase in funding are urgently needed to respond to these challenges, with human rights at the center.

Let us take advantage of this year of human rights anniversaries to make an extra effort.


Source: UN Human Rights Council