On behalf of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, I am writing to you regarding the Third Committee of the General Assembly at its 77th session.
The Third Committee of the General Assembly plays an essential role in the prevention of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Systematic or widespread human rights violations and abuses often serve as one of the key early warning signs of possible mass atrocity crimes. In turn, effective atrocity prevention strategies must begin with the protection and promotion of fundamental human rights, a central component of the work of the Third Committee.
As a member of the UN General Assembly, we strongly urge you to uphold the commitment to prevent atrocity crimes wherever and whenever they are threatened and effectively address human rights violations as an early warning sign of atrocities. The Global Centre respectfully encourages you to consider the following recommendations as you engage in the general discussions and Interactive Dialogues under the Third Committee’s Agenda item 68(a-d): Promotion and protection of human rights.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has repeatedly expressed concern about how human rights defenders around the world are being targeted, tortured, beaten, arbitrarily arrested, harassed and face restrictions on their freedom of movement, expression, association and assembly. Human rights defenders are particularly vulnerable in countries where mass atrocity crimes are already occurring and subjected to violations and abuses that may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The Global Centre particularly encourages you to raise awareness about the situation of human rights defenders in Afghanistan and Venezuela during the relevant Interactive Dialogue. Human rights defenders in Afghanistan have been regularly subjected to extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, beatings and threats by the Taliban de-facto authorities. In Venezuela, human rights defenders are routinely subjected to intimidation, harassment, attacks and arbitrary detention, while facing serious legal and administrative obstacles aimed at limiting their operations and restricting access to funding.
It is essential that human rights defenders can do their work without fear, reprisals or hindrance. In this context, the Global Centre urges you to call for efforts aimed at reducing the vulnerability of human rights defenders to the risk of persecution and enhancing their capacity to effectively carry out their work.
During the relevant Interactive Dialogues on torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, the Global Centre encourages you to emphasize that these human rights violations are serious indicators of likely future atrocity crimes and can often amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Global Centre also recommends highlighting situations in which torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances have been perpetrated on a widespread and systematic basis, likely amounting to crimes against humanity. In Venezuela, torture and ill-treatment, as well as short-term enforced disappearances, have become a defining feature of state-led repression under the government of President Nicolás Maduro and have been used against alleged political opponents and their relatives. In Burkina Faso and Mali, security forces and state-sponsored militias have allegedly perpetrated unlawful killings, torture and enforced disappearances of civilians and suspected Islamist fighters. Since around 2017 the Chinese government has detained over 1 million people, mainly members of the ethnic Uyghur community, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in so-called “re-education” and “de-extremification” facilities, where torture is widespread. In Syria, after 11 years of armed conflict more than 100,000 people are believed to have been forcibly disappeared or missing, with many of them subjected to torture.
Intolerance against minority groups harms all of society and undermines universal values of equality and human dignity. Persons belonging to minorities, as well as their property and sites of religious significance and cultural heritage, have been targeted by state and non-state actors around the world. In his report from 2 March, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief recalled that violating the rights of religious or belief minorities may constitute atrocity crimes and that one group being targeted based on their religious identity could form an element of a crime.
The Global Centre encourages you to consider country situations in which individuals and minority groups are targeted or face persecution on the basis of their religious or ethnic identity. The Muslim minority Rohingya population have faced institutionalized discrimination and persecution in Myanmar (Burma) for decades, including the passage of laws that stripped them of their citizenship, restricted their religious freedoms, as well as reproductive and marital rights. Amidst systematic discrimination, Myanmar’s military perpetrated so-called “clearance operations” against the Rohingya in 2017, which were characterized by indiscriminate killings, torture, arbitrary detention, sexual violence and forced displacement. The UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has implicated the military in potential crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya.
In recent years, religious freedom in Nigeria has deteriorated, despite the constitution protecting the freedom of religion and belief, with both state and non-state actors perpetrating egregious violations that may amount to atrocities. Non-state armed groups, including Boko Haram and the s0-called Islamic State in West Africa, continue to abduct and execute individuals based on their religious beliefs and attack houses of worship, religious ceremonies and religious leaders in the north-east and other parts of the country. Nigerian citizens have also faced discrimination, arbitrary detentions and blasphemy sentences by state authorities.
Under the guise of combatting religious extremism and terrorism, since 2017 the Chinese government has increased its persecution of Uyghurs, as well as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other majority-Muslim ethnic groups. China’s campaign includes violations which may amount to crime against humanity or acts of genocide, including forced sterilizations and abortions, arbitrary detentions, torture, forced labor and sexual violence. These measures have been imposed in conjunction with increased restrictions on religious practice.
Infringing upon people’s freedom of religion and belief, as well as excluding minorities from fully participating in society, are important risk factors of atrocity crimes. The Global Centre also urges you to call upon member states to ensure the protection of the human rights of all people, including minorities, through constitutional mechanisms and other forms of legal protection.
Truth, justice, reparations and redress all play a crucial role in the aftermath of atrocity crimes, as these processes help societies understand the past, hold those responsible to account, repair the harm caused to victims, and, in doing so, have a potential deterrent effect for the recurrence of crimes. Justice and accountability also help societies emerge from atrocity crises by establishing an accurate historical record of the truth.
The Global Centre encourages you to emphasize during the relevant Interactive Dialogue the important connections between atrocity prevention and truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, as well as the need to improve these processes in Yemen, Afghanistan and South Sudan. In Yemen, no independent and international body dedicated to monitoring international law violations or advancing accountability exists, thereby entrenching impunity for all parties to the conflict. In Afghanistan, impunity for over 20 years of likely war crimes and crimes against humanity has contributed to the dire human rights situation in the country today. In South Sudan, the persistent lack of accountability has contributed to recurrent deadly violence and atrocities.
Violence, discrimination and persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity may amount to atrocity crimes, particularly when widespread or systematic, or serve as a critical warning sign of potential atrocities or identity-based repression and conflict. During the relevant Interactive Dialogue, the Global Centre respectfully urges you to raise the important connection between persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the potential for the commission of atrocities.
The Global Centre also encourages you to reference the following instances of persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In Egypt, arbitrary arrests, torture, violence and intimidation against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity have been perpetrated on a widespread and systematic basis. In Poland and Hungary, the erosion of LGBTQIA+ rights has been accompanied by a proliferation of hate speech, broad use of executive and emergency powers and attacks on the independent judiciary, among other restrictions.
The Global Centre respectfully urges you to highlight the ongoing crisis in Myanmar during the relevant Interactive Dialogue. Since Myanmar’s military launched a coup on 1 February 2021, over 2,300 people have been killed, at least 12,500 people remain detained for resisting the coup and more than 974,000 people have been displaced by the violence. The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar have all determined that Myanmar’s military has perpetrated atrocities since the coup, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Global Centre encourages you to highlight the inaction of the UN Security Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in addressing the crisis and respectfully requests that you push both bodies to make a more substantial response. Lastly, the Global Centre urges you to continue to refrain from actions legitimizing Myanmar’s military.
In 2014 the UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) found that individuals at the highest level of government were responsible for crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, enforced disappearances, imprisonment, sexual violence and persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds. In October 2021 the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK warned that crimes against humanity are likely ongoing in the country and are “epitomized by the continued operation of large political prison camps.” He stressed the need for the international community to take decisive action to bring justice and accountability for serious human rights violations, including crimes against humanity. The Global Centre respectfully urges you to highlight atrocity risks in the context of the human rights crisis in the DPRK during the relevant Interactive Dialogue.
The Global Centre respectfully urges you to highlight the elevated atrocity risks facing populations in Afghanistan during the relevant Interactive Dialogue. Since the Taliban took over on 15 August 2021, the de facto authorities have perpetrated extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, beatings and threats against previous Afghan government officials, political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders. These violations are exacerbated by severe restrictions on fundamental rights, including access to civic and public space, as well as a large-scale and systematic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.
In addition, over 2,35o civilians have been killed or wounded since 15 August 2021. The majority of these casualties have been caused by targeted attacks by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan against ethnic and religious minority communities, particularly Hazara Shias, Shia Muslims, Sufi Muslims and Sikhs. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan found that these attacks bear the “hallmarks of crimes against humanity.” The Global Centre urges you to emphasize the importance of strengthened accountability processes, including a potential independent mechanism, to ensure the collection of evidence of violations and abuses of international law, and recommend that the HRC work towards this outcome.
During the relevant Interactive Dialogue, the Global Centre encourages you to highlight the ongoing widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses occurring in Syria, many of which likely amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The HRC-mandated CoI on the Syrian Arab Republic recently reported ongoing indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects in northwest Syria, as well as systematic arbitrary arrests, disappearances and ill-treatment in central, west and southwest Syria.
Pursuant to General Assembly resolution 76/228, the Secretary-General released a report in August 2022 recommending that the General Assembly establish a mechanism dedicated to clarifying the fate and whereabouts of the more than 130,000 missing persons in Syria, as well as supporting victims, survivors and their families. The Global Centre respectfully urges you to call upon other member states to work towards the establishment of such a critical mechanism.
The Global Centre encourages you to emphasize in the relevant Interactive Dialogue that the root causes of instability in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and Israel must be addressed. The HRC-mandated CoI on the OPT, including East Jerusalem, and Israel reported in June that the continued occupation of Palestinian territory, as well as discrimination against Palestinians, are the key causes of recurrent instability and protraction of conflict in the region.
According to a March 2022 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the OPT, Israel’s political system of entrenched rule in the OPT satisfies the prevailing evidentiary standard for the existence of the crime of apartheid. An institutionalized regime of systematic racial oppression has been established with a two-tiered legal and political system that provides comprehensive rights for Jewish Israeli settlers while imposing military rule and control on Palestinians. The Global Centre respectfully urges you to call for strengthened accountability measures for violations of international law in Israel and the OPT, including illegal settlement activity and apartheid.
During the relevant Interactive Dialogue, the Global Centre encourages you to call attention to the abuses being perpetrated in Somalia amidst the ongoing conflict and attacks by armed extremist groups, particularly Al-Shabaab, and the forces combatting them. In September 2022 the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia noted that she had not observed “any significant progress in establishing policy, institutional or legal frameworks for the protection of human rights.” The Federal Government of Somalia continues to lack the capacity to protect civilians. The Global Centre respectfully encourages you to call for increased monitoring of the situation in Somalia, including urging progress on human rights goals and the pursuit of justice for victims of atrocities.
During the relevant Interactive Dialogue, the Global Centre encourages you to highlight the devastating toll the commission of mass atrocities has had on populations since the conflict in northern Ethiopia began in November 2020. In September 2022 the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) found that parties to the conflict have committed war crimes, including ethnic based attacks on civilians, rape and sexual violence and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. International human rights organizations have also documented acts that amount to ethnic cleansing of the Tigrayan population by regional Amhara forces and Eritrean military forces, with the acquiescence of Ethiopia’s federal government, in Western Tigray. The UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide has issued several warnings regarding the proliferation of hate speech and the risks it poses for the commission of further atrocities.
The Global Centre respectfully requests you to support the work of the ICHREE and call upon the Fifth Committee to ensure the necessary funding for the scale and scope of their mandate. The Global Centre also encourages you to emphasize the ongoing nature of the risks of atrocities and call upon all parties to end the violence and address their grievances through dialogue.
The Global Centre respectfully encourages you to highlight during the relevant Interactive Dialogue ongoing serious human rights violations and abuses in Burundi, which continue in a context of persistent impunity. The HRC-mandated CoI on Burundi, whose mandate was terminated in September 2021, previously warned that authorities in the country had committed possible crimes against humanity since at least April 2015. To date, all structural risk factors of atrocity crimes remain in place, including arbitrary arrests of political opponents or those perceived as such, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and sexual and gender-based violence. The government also continues to refuse engagement with the UN human rights system.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
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