FORUM-ASIA at the 42nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC42)
2 October 2019 4:56 pm
The 42nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council took place from 09 to 27 September 2019. FORUM-ASIA’s advocacy focused on Cambodia, Kashmir, and Myanmar. It also engaged in discussions on the topic of reprisals. FORUM-ASIA called for Council attention on the escalating violence and undue restrictions on peaceful protest on Papua and West Papua. It also supported side events on the Philippines and South Korea, and a statement on strengthening cooperation with Special Procedures.
In her oral update to the Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern “about continued pressure on members and supporters of the former main opposition party, which was dissolved at the end of 2017.” She called on Cambodia “to take steps to ensure genuine dialogue and respect for fundamental freedoms.” During the general debate that followed, FORUM-ASIA called on the Council to support a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia presented her report to the Council. During the interactive dialogue that followed, FORUM-ASIA agreed with her observation that there has been very little progress with respect to civil and political rights in Cambodia since last year’s general elections. Wide-ranging legislative, judicial and regulatory measures have shut-down civic and democratic space in the country, while the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has consolidated Cambodia effectively as a one-party state. FORUM-ASIA called on Cambodia to end all attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders, civil society and independent media, and lift all restrictions on civic and democratic space. It also called on Cambodia to provide a concrete timeline in consultation with civil society, the Special Rapporteur and OHCHR to amend all restrictive legislation and regulations in line with international standards.
The UN Secretary-General’s report on the role and achievements of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia. During the general debate that followed, FORUM-ASIA called on the Council to mandate additional monitoring and reporting by the OHCHR on civic and democratic space in the country, and recommend concrete steps the Government of Cambodia must take in order to ensure the restoration of fundamental freedoms and the end of the political crisis.
The Council adopted a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia by consensus. While welcoming the renewal of this mandate at the end of the session, FORUM-ASIA together with other civil society organisations expressed regret that calls to strengthen the mandate of the OHCHR had been ignored. The resolution also failed to accurately depict the continuing crackdowns on civil society and the severity and scale of recent attacks on the political opposition.
The High Commissioner noted that her office continues to receive reports on both sides of the line of control in Kashmir. She stressed that “It is important that the people of Kashmir are consulted and engaged in any decision-making processes that have an impact on their future.”
During the general debate that followed, FORUM-ASIA called on India to lift current restrictions in Kashmir, including on communication, freedom of movement, peaceful assembly, and access to basic services. It echoed the High Commissioner’s earlier call on the Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Kashmir, and reiterated its calls to India and Pakistan to allow unfettered access to the OHCHR and international observers to independently monitor and report on the situation on both sides of the line of control.
During the general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, FORUM-ASIA expressed deep concern over numerous reports of torture by security forces, night raids and mass detentions, sexual violence, loss of religious freedoms and obstruction or delaying of habeas corpus petitions of hundreds of people detained since the imposition of restrictions on 04 August 2019. FORUM-ASIA also expressed concern over reprisals against human rights defender Khurram Parvez for his work on Jammu and Kashmir, as stated in the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals.
In their end of session statement, civil society organisations expressed regret over the lack of Council action on Kashmir and urged the Council, as well as India and Pakistan, to act on the recommendations from the High Commissioner’s report.
The High Commissioner urged Myanmar to “to cooperate with the international mechanisms that have been established both to ensure justice and consolidate Myanmar’s democratic transition.” The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which was mandated by the Council in September 2018, presented its first report to the Council. FORUM-ASIA called on the international community to ensure adequate resources for the mechanism to effectively continue its important work in the long term, and to follow up on the work of the mechanism by pursuing criminal accountability, including by referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar presented an update to the Council. At the interactive dialogue that followed, FORUM-ASIA highlighted that the root of the grave crimes against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities is the prioritization of the Bamar-Buddhist identity and the systematic and institutionalized preservation of its status quo that has emboldened the military to continue to act with total impunity. FORUM-ASIA called on the Council to ensure regular monitoring and more frequent reporting of human rights violations and abuses to prevent the further deterioration of the situation.
This additional reporting is crucial as the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar presented its final report to the Council, while the persecution of the Rohingya, and the systematic oppression and domination of ethnic minorities in Rakhine, Chin, Shan, Kachin, Karenni, and Karen states are continuing. FORUM-ASIA called on the international community to hold the Myanmar military accountable for grave international crimes, including genocide, by exercising universal jurisdiction to pursue criminal accountability and imposing targeted individual sanctions against members of the military.
The Council adopted a resolution requesting the High Commissioner to report on the implementation of the Fact-Finding Mission at the Council’s 45th session in September 2020. While welcoming the adoption of this resolution, civil society called on the international community to take stronger action by referring Myanmar to the ICC and imposing a global arms embargo, and acting on the Fact-Finding Mission’s reports on economic interests of the military and on sexual and gender-based violence in Myanmar.
The UN Secretary-General’s annual report on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights was presented at this session of the Council. FORUM-ASIA welcomed this report and called on the Council to meaningfully hold states that persistently attack human rights defenders accountable. It drew the Council’s attention to reprisals in several Asian states, including members of the Council who are known repeat offenders, namely Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines. FORUM-ASIA had earlier called on the Philippines to prevent and address all forms of reprisals, including against those cooperating with the OHCHR on the report on the Philippines mandated by the Council at its previous session. FORUM-ASIA supported a side event on ending reprisals with the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and a human rights defender from Myanmar.
The Council adopted a resolution on reprisals, which aimed to address key trends and specific risks to individuals; reaffirmed the roles of the Assistant Secretary-General and Human Rights Council President in responding to reprisals; and urged states to prevent reprisals and combat impunity. Civil society welcomed the adoption of this resolution, as the Council’s way of reaffirming that reprisals can never be justified.