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‘Vital’ human rights cooperation must be above fray of politics: Türk

Volker Türk (right), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses the opening of the Human Rights Council 53rd Session.
© UN Human Rights/Petre Oprea
Volker Türk (right), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses the opening of the Human Rights Council 53rd Session.

‘Vital’ human rights cooperation must be above fray of politics: Türk

Human Rights

A lack of strong cooperation with the international human rights system leaves States “adrift”, UN human rights chief Volker Türk said on Monday, as he addressed rights emergencies in dozens of countries including Iran, Mali and Russia.

In his annual review presented to the Human Rights Council, which opened its 53rd regular session on Monday, Mr. Türk insisted that such cooperation was “vital” in a world plagued by conflict, climate disasters and development setbacks.

Rights monitoring ‘in the interest of all Malians’

Human rights “must always be above the fray of politics”, Mr. Türk said, following a request from Mali on Friday to the Security Council for the UN to immediately withdraw its peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA, from the country.

“When serious human rights violations or abuses occur, irrespective of the perpetrator, we need to monitor, document and report on them, in the interest of all Malians, in addition to working on prevention and delivering support to national institutions,” he said, while reiterating his Office’s commitment to continuing its work in Mali.

Call on Russia to cooperate with Ukraine inquiry

Mr. Türk called on Russia to cooperate with the Council-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. He stressed the need for human rights monitors to have access to both Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia, and to Russia itself, “not least, to visit civilian detainees, prisoners of war and Ukrainian children and people with disabilities who have been taken to these areas”.

Iran: surge in executions

Turning to Iran, Mr. Türk expressed concern over the “massive” recent increase in executions of prisoners – mostly for drug-related offences and a disproportionately high number representing minorities – as well as continuing discrimination against women and girls.

Human rights system a ‘lifeline’

Countries and civil society organizations will have the opportunity to respond to the UN human rights chief’s comments during an interactive dialogue scheduled on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mr. Türk’s statement highlighted the main points of his report to the Human Rights Council, which reviews the cooperation of Member States with the international human rights ecosystem, which includes the 10 Treaty bodies, the Council itself, with its Universal Periodic Review process, investigations and Special Procedures, as well as the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

The High Commissioner called this ecosystem a “lifeline” and warned that selective cooperation weakens its force.

Afghanistan: rights principles dismantled

Regarding Afghanistan, Mr. Türk deplored the dismantling of “the most fundamental principles of human rights”, particularly for women and girls, by the country’s de facto authorities, while noting that some “openings for engagement” have been possible, notably by experts including the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, Richard Bennett.

Women in the country are prohibited from attending school above sixth grade, can only be provided care by women doctors, and are barred from working for the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

‘Gender apartheid’

Mr. Bennett himself took the floor on Monday to present his latest report compiled jointly with the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls. He warned that the “serious” deprivations of women’s and girls’ fundamental human rights at the hands of the Taliban may constitute the crime against humanity of gender persecution.

“Grave, systematic and institutionalised discrimination against women and girls is at the heart of Taliban ideology and rule, which also gives rise to concerns that they may be responsible for gender apartheid, a serious human rights violation, which although not yet an explicit international crime, requires further study in our view,” he said.

Mr. Bennett urged the UN system to take a “unified and principled” approach based on human rights in Afghanistan and to maintain its commitment to the employment of Afghan women without conditions.

Special Rapporteurs and other independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council serve in their individual capacity; they are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work. 

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‘Buried alive’

The Council also heard from women representing civil society organizations from Afghanistan, who bore witness to the dramatic crackdown on their rights.

Shaharzad Akbar, an Afghan human rights activist currently in exile, who leads the NGO Rawadari, said that the Taliban have turned Afghanistan into “a mass graveyard of Afghan women and girls’ ambitions, dreams and potential” while the international community looked on.

Afghan women often talk about being buried alive, breathing but not being able to do much else without facing restrictions and punishments, their lives held still while the lives of the men around them, their male children, their brothers, their husbands, move forward,” she said.

Sudan crisis in focus

During its 53rd session, which will run until 14 July, the Human Rights Council will hold close to 30 interactive dialogues with independent human rights experts focusing on thematic and country-specific situations, as well as investigative mechanisms.

On Monday afternoon, the Council was expected to focus on the crisis in Sudan, just as a high-level pledging conference was being convened in Geneva by the UN together with Egypt, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the African Union and the European Union, with the objective of stepping up support for the humanitarian response in Sudan and the region.