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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL STARTS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE ON TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE AND ON THE PREVENTION OF GENOCIDE

2 March 2018

The Human Rights Council in a midday meeting started its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, and the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, focusing on their joint study on the contribution of transitional justice to the prevention of gross violations and abuses of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Mr. de Greiff said the joint study illustrated the preventive nature that transitional justice could have for the prevention of atrocity crimes.  Given the prevalence of crimes against humanity in most conflict situations, it was surprising that there had been no comprehensive international convention on crimes against humanity.  Among the most prominent reasons for its absence were the lack of political commitment, failure to take early and timely action in the face of systematic human rights violations, lack of long-term and persisting investment – financial and political -, and the disaggregation or “siloization” of knowledge and expertise.  Finalizing the draft convention had to be a central pillar of the prevention strategy of the United Nations.

On his part, Mr. Dieng noted that a key example of the failure to implement verbal commitments to preventing atrocities in the field was the situation in Syria.  Furthermore, the political will of certain States ran counter to the protection of populations, as well as weak State structures and interference with the rule of law.  Legacies of past atrocities were in many cases not being properly considered in policymaking.  He called on States to review their vulnerabilities, to strengthen capacity and to weather periods of stress.  In considering guarantees of non-recurrence, States must focus on constitutional reform processes, security sector reforms, and fostering a strong, diverse, and robust civil society, as well as education to promote tolerance. 

In the ensuing discussion, speakers recognized the diversity of transitional justice mechanisms and agreed that a robust civil society and free, diverse and independent media played a critical role in reducing the risk of atrocity crimes.  The prevention of conflict and human rights violations was essential to peacebuilding and the United Nations could play a privileged role in the development of comprehensive atrocity prevention frameworks.  Speakers stressed that individual criminal accountability was key in ensuring that atrocity crimes were prosecuted.

Speaking were European Union, Argentina on behalf of a group of countries, Togo on behalf of the African Group, Netherlands on the behalf of the responsibility to protect group, Israel, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Paraguay, United States, Austria, Togo, Australia, France, China, Greece, Venezuela, Iraq, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Uruguay, Ireland, Armenia, International Committee of the Red Cross, and Côte d’Ivoire.

Also taking the floor were the following national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations: National Human Rights Council of Morocco, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, Mexican Commission of Defense and Promotion of the Human Rights, Asian Legal Resource Centre, and Association of World Citizens.

China spoke in a right of reply.

The Council will next hold an urgent debate on the situation in Eastern Ghouta in Syria. 

Documentation

The Council has before it the Study on the contribution of transitional justice to the prevention of gross violations and abuses of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and their recurrence – Joint report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence and the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide (A/HRC/37/65)

Presentations by the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth and the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

PABLO DE GREIFF, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, presented a joint study to illustrate the preventive nature that transitional justice could have for the prevention of atrocity crimes.  The term referred to crimes amounting to genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, in line with the Council’s resolution 33/19 which had requested the study.  Given the prevalence of crimes against humanity in most conflict situations, it was surprising that there had been no comprehensive International Convention of Crimes against Humanity yet.  Finalizing the draft convention had to be a central pillar of the prevention strategy of the United Nations.  The report outlined why prevention work had failed.  Among the most prominent reasons were the lack of political commitment, failure to take early and timely action in the face of systematic human rights violations, lack of long-term and persisting investment – financial and political -, and the disaggregation or “siloization” of knowledge and expertise.  Prevention work had primarily focused on crisis-prevention and on the role of the State in reforming State institutions, while forgetting the enormous potential of civil society.  Moreover, sustainable atrocity prevention was not merely a matter of clever intuitional engineering, but it rather required an approach that promoted deep societal change and the gradual internalization of cultural and individual dispositions related to tolerance and solidarity.

ADAMA DIENG, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the prevention of genocide, said the core of the joint study was prevention, reflecting the Secretary-General’s priorities.  Yet verbal commitments to preventing atrocities were not being practiced in the field.  A key example of this failure was the situation in Syria.  The protracted nature of the conflict was unacceptable.  Furthermore, the political will of certain States ran counter to the protection of populations.  Turning to transitional justice, he said most atrocity crimes took place during armed conflict.  Still, crimes like genocide could take place during times of peace.  Weak State structures and interference with the rule of law left populations vulnerable.  Legacies of past atrocities were in many cases not being properly considered in policymaking.  He called on States to review their vulnerabilities, to strengthen capacity and to weather periods of stress.  The report, in considering guarantees of non-recurrence, looked beyond elements of transitional justice.  In that context, States must focus on constitutional reform processes, security sector reforms, and fostering a strong, diverse, and robust civil society.  Mr. Dieng said education could promote tolerance.  Changing attitudes of youth could contribute to creating societies more resilient to atrocity crimes.  He called for the human rights pillar of the United Nations to be incorporated into the security pillar.  The office of the Special Adviser should be allowed to bridge the Geneva-New York divide.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth and the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide European Union strongly agreed that a robust civil society and free, diverse and independent media played a critical role in reducing the risk of atrocity crimes.  How did the Special Rapporteur envisage the implementation of joint assessments of vulnerability at the country level?  Argentina, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, shared the view that a comprehensive approach to transitional justice was necessary for the prevention of heinous crimes and should be adapted to specific contexts.  The group also drew attention to the culture of prevention.  Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, recognized the diversity of transitional justice mechanisms and noted several examples of successful transitional justice mechanisms in Africa founded on transitional values.  It emphasized that States had different constitutional frameworks that regulated the protection of human rights.

Netherlands, speaking on the behalf of the responsibility to protect group, appreciated the framework analysis for atrocity prevention.  Turning to the expertise on prevention, the group asked how the United Nations and the Human Rights Council should go about strengthening prevention.  Israel noted that anything that could potentially contribute to the prevention of acts of future genocide should be examined in a favourable manner.  The process of reconciliation was a vital one for establishing constructive dialogue.  Liechtenstein stressed that individual criminal accountability was key in ensuring that atrocity crimes were prosecuted.  As such, Liechtenstein was a steadfast supporter of the International Criminal Court, and it strove for the universality of the Rome Statute.

Croatia supported further strengthening of the role of the International Criminal Court in ensuring accountability for mass atrocities crimes.  The Special Rapporteur was asked which priorities within the broader concept of transitional justice would he recommend for the engagement of civil society?  Russian Federation thought that the late submission of the study could be seen as a sign of lack of respect to the Council.  The report contained many conclusions and ideas which did not reflect the views of the majority of States in the Council.  Sierra Leone said that the establishment of a transitional justice system in Sierra Leona had played a critical role in rebuilding their legal, social and justice framework.  It also ensured that victims had been heard, compensated and had some redress after the 11-year war.

Switzerland said that transitional justice, which had been applied in a holistic manner, had been an instrument for looking at root causes of emergence of atrocities.  What other prevention aspects outlined in the report would warrant more analysis?  Paraguay commended that the report emphasized the vital role played by truth and justice commissions.  In 2003, Paraguay established a truth commission whose task had been to examine the crimes conducted during the dictatorship to preserve collective memory and ensure such crimes would never be repeated.  United States strongly supported credible transnational justice initiatives and for years they had been among the largest donors and supporters of post-conflict truth initiatives.  Calling for accountability in Myanmar for ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya and establishment of the Hybrid Court in South Sudan were considered as priorities.

Austria said that despite available tools the international community had failed to prevent atrocity crimes.  Transitional justice could break cycles of violence and address institutional failures that resulted in crises.  Austria asked what role the Human Rights Council could play in prevention.  Togo said risks of recurrence were high as long as human rights violations were not subjected to judicial mechanisms.  Solutions designed to reduce tension would prevent violence.  Transitional justice must be an inclusive process.  Australia said the prevention of conflict and human rights violations was essential to peacebuilding and the United Nations could play a privileged role in the development of comprehensive atrocity prevention frameworks.  Australia asked how work in Geneva and New York could be complimentary.

France agreed that transitional justice could contribute to the establishment of peace and lasting security.  National reconciliation processes could restore institutional trust.  France asked how the international community could mobilize to assist affected States.  China said States must fully respect history and draw lessons from it.  Governments must not deny people’s right to truth.  Protecting its own citizens from genocide was a vital requirement for every State.  Greece said human rights violations could result in vicious cycles of escalating violations, resulting in growing instability.  Efforts should prioritize demand-driven approaches to transitional justice mechanisms that accounted for individual State context.

Venezuela said for 60 years the United Nations had been working to prevent genocide, however, today this crime, as seen in the case of Palestinians, had gone unpunished.  Legal excuses were used such as the right of self-defence but it was clear that the United Nations system was showing signs of ineffectiveness.  A prompt reform, particularly of the Security Council, was needed.  Iraq said that Daesh terrorist groups had committed unspeakable crimes across Iraq.  The international community had been called to assist in the restoration of justice and reintegration, allowing victims to obtain physical and moral redress.  Bangladesh noted that the report represented a solid framework for preventive action which needed to be undertaken to prevent atrocities.  Because of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, Bangladesh was housing over 1 million displaced Rohingyas.

Azerbaijan said that bringing perpetrators to justice was an essential prerequisite for the rule of law.  Impunity for war crimes and genocide, which sometimes resulted in perpetrators still holding office, was a serious impediment to achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation.  Uruguay informed the Council that a Special Prosecutor’s office for crimes against humanity had been institutionalized in order to examine crimes committed during the dictatorship.  Such a move testified to Uruguay’s commitment in respecting responsibilities under the Special Procedures.

Ireland said that its direct experience of transitional justice and reconciliation came through the peace process founded on the Good Friday Agreement.  It firmly believed that human rights were crucial in preventing conflict and should be at the core of all actions taken by the international community towards peace and development.  Armenia concurred with the authors of the joint study that education and impartial teaching helped guarantee the non-recurrence of genocide.  It also underlined the role of civil society and the media in the prevention of genocide.  International Committee of the Red Cross highlighted the need for an individualized response to the fate and whereabouts of missing relatives.  All feasible measures should be taken during transitional justice processes to best address the needs of families of the missing.  Côte d’Ivoire welcomed the early warning mechanism on atrocities, and stressed the need for a joint commitment of the international community to prevent war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide. 

National Human Rights Council of Morocco said Morocco had taken actions to provide reparations to victims of conflict and to restore cemeteries across the country as a means to safeguard the memory of the deceased. 

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain Inc drew attention to the conflict in Yemen, expressing concern over the destruction of critical infrastructure.  The Saudi-led coalition destroyed critical structures, including hospitals.  Mexican Commission of Defense and Promotion of the Human Rights said in Mexico evidence existed of systematic torture and murder perpetrated by organized criminal networks and law enforcement agencies.  The group urged the Special Rapporteur to visit Mexico to help develop a plan to assist victims.  Asian Legal Resource Centre expressed concern over the lack of progress regarding processes to resolve grievances in the region.  Pointing to Indonesia, the Centre said lack of progress could lead to further challenges.  Association of World Citizens said the right to truth was the cornerstone of transitional justice.  Knowing the truth was essential to bringing about justice.  The association asked what recommendations the Special Rapporteur would make to the Security Council to assist victims.

Right of Reply

China, speaking in a right of reply, categorically rejected statements by certain non-governmental organizations making unwarranted accusations about the religious situation in China.  In the 30 years since China had opened up, freedom of religion had been fully protected and there were more than 5,000 religious associations.  The Government attached great importance to protecting freedom of religion in Tibet and Xinjiang.  In Tiber there were 1,400 monasteries and temples.  Only when it came to national security and public interest would the Government intervene; it did not intervene in religious matters.

For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC18/019E

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