Appointment of New U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

On August 8 U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced his nomination of  Michelle Bachelet to be the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. On August 10 the nomination was approved by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly. [1]

Ms. Bachelet was most recently President of Chile between 2014 and 2018, having served previously from 2006 to 2010, the year in which she was appointed the first Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women).  Ms. Bachelet also held ministerial portfolios in the Government of Chile, serving as Minister for Defence (2002‑2004) and Minister for Health (2000‑2002). She was imprisoned and  tortured under the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Initial Reactions to the Appointment

The current High Commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, whose term ends August 31, said, “I am truly delighted by the appointment of Michelle Bachelet as the next UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She has all the attributes – courage, perseverance, passion, and a deep commitment to human rights – to make her a successful High Commissioner. The UN Human Rights Office looks forward to welcoming her and working under her leadership for the promotion and protection of all human rights, for everyone, everywhere.”[2]

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, immediately commented on this selection. She said it was incumbent on Ms. Bachelet “to speak out against” what the U.S. regarded as the U.N. Human Rights Council’s failures “to adequately address major human rights crises in Iran, North Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and elsewhere, or stop its chronic, disproportionate obsession with Israel.” The Ambassador also noted what she called “the Council’s  consistent failure to address extreme human rights abuses in the Western Hemisphere, in Venezuela and Cuba in particular.”[3]

The Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), which is based in Madrid, Spain, called this appointment a”grave error.” This was based on its opinion that she had shown a “weak commitment to fundamental rights” during her two terms as President of  Chile.[4]

At the General Assembly, however, Cuba congratulated Bachelet on her appointment and said  Cuba “trusts in her proven experience and knowledge to perform an excellent performance in her position, away from double standards, politicization and selectivity.” Cuba also regretted the U.S. lukewarm acceptance of the appointment coupled with criticism of Cuba and then the Cuba representative launched Cuba’s litany of complaints about the U..S. A similar statement was issued by Venezuela.[5]

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[1] U.N., Secretary-General Nominates Michelle Bachelet of Chile as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (Aug. 8, 2018); U.N., Former Chilean President Bachelet put forward by UN chief as next High Commissioner for Human Rights (Aug. 8, 2018); Reuters, U.N. General Assembly Approves Chile’s Bachelet as Rights Chief, N.Y. Times (Aug. 10, 2018).

[2] U.N. Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid warmly welcomes appointment of new UN Human Rights Chief (Aug. 10, 2018).

[3] U.S. Mission to U.N., Statement by Ambassador Haley on the Nomination of Michelle Bachelet to be UN Commissioner for Human Rights (Aug. 8, 2018).

[4] The OCDH considers the designation of Bachelet as head of human rights at the UN a “grave error,” Diario de Cuba (Aug. 9, 2018).

[5] Cuba and Venezuela congratulate Bachelet for her appointment to the UN, Cubadebate (Aug. 10, 2018).

 

Global Update on Human Rights Concerns by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

On June 18, 2018, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights,  Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, delivered his final Global Update on Human Rights Concerns to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.[1]

He opened with what he called “some final reflections.”

First, there are indeed universal human rights; they are not alien, Western values.

Second, these rights are now under attack—” not only from the violent extremists, like the Takfiris, but also from authoritarian leaders, populists, demagogues, cultural relativists, some Western academics, and even some UN officials.”  This is due to “the most destructive force to imperil the world, chauvinistic nationalism – when raised to feral extremes by self-serving, callous leaders, and amplified by mass ideologies which themselves repress freedom. The UN was conceived in order to prevent its rebirth. Chauvinistic nationalism is the polar opposite of the UN, it’s very antonym and enemy.”

Third, the U.N. itself is not doing enough to combat this chauvinistic nationalism. This is due to “too many governments represented at the UN will often pull in the opposing direction: feigning a commitment to the common effort, yet fighting for nothing more than their thinly-thought interests, taking out as much as they can from the UN, politically, while not investing in making it a true success. The more pronounced their sense of self-importance – the more they glory in nationalism – the more unvarnished is the assault by these governments on the overall common good: on universal rights, on universal law and universal institutions, such as [the Human Rights Council].”

Fourth, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights clearly has recognized that “only fearlessness is adequate to our task at this point in time. Not ducking for cover, or using excuses or resorting to euphemisms, but a fearlessness approaching that shown by human rights defenders around the world – for only by speaking out can we begin to combat the growing menace of chauvinistic nationalism that stalks our future..”

The High Commissioner then reviewed human rights concerns in many countries around the world. One was Cameroon, about which he said the following:

  • “In Cameroon, I trust that recent promising discussions with the authorities will swiftly lead to approval for a mission by the Office [of the High Commissioner] to all parts of the country. To date this access has been refused, despite the growing crisis in the Anglophone regions, with fighting between up to a dozen armed groups and the security forces. We have received reports of abuses and violations by all sides, including burning of schools and private property; mass arrests and arbitrary detentions; and the use of torture and excessive force by security personnel, leading to the displacement of 150,000 people within the country and over 20,000 to neighboring Nigeria.”

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[1] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Opening statement and global update of human rights concerns by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Hussein at 38th session of the Human Rights Council (June 18, 2018)

Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The Pre-Hearing Papers               

This year Cameroon’s human rights record is a subject of its third  Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. A prior post reviewed the nature of the UPR process. Now we look at the pre-hearing papers for this UPR while future posts will cover the May 16 UPR hearing and then the results of the UPR.

Cameroon’s Third UPR Pre-Hearing Papers

 Prior to the May 16, 2018, hearing on Cameroon’s UPR, the following materials have been translated from their original language into five other languages and made available on the Council’s website: (a) Cameroon’s National Report to the Council; (b) the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Compilation of U.N. Information on Cameroon; and (c) the Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review’s Summary of Stakeholders’ submissions on Cameroon.

Cameroon’s National Report[1]

In the section “Implementation of recommendations from previous cycles,” it discussed ratification of various international human rights instruments, including the following: (a) persons charged with the crime of genocide under the Code of Military Justice “shall be tried by the military courts;” (b) the instruments for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the [Torture convention] are being deposited; (c) the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance has been signed and is in process of ratification.

Paragraph 66 states, “the 2016/17 school year has been subject to some disruptions in the North-West and South-West regions occasioned by the actions taken by a number of trade unions, including teachers’ unions.” (Emphasis added.)

Paragraph 98 states, “Efforts to ensure access to justice have included the continuation of mobile court hearings in areas where there are no established courts to speak of.” (Emphasis added.)

Paragraph 112, it stated, “The realization of human rights in Cameroon is a work in progress, as security and economic constraints still limit their enforcement in certain areas. . . . In October 2017, there were around 236,000 internally displaced persons and 332,000 refugees scattered throughout the East, Adamaoua and Far North Regions of Cameroon. (Emphasis added.)

Paragraph 113 stated, “The social crisis in the North-West and South-West Regions, which was triggered in late 2016 by the mobilization of a number of teachers’ and lawyers’ unions, has also interfered with the enforcement of certain human rights.” (Emphasis added.)

Paragraph 115 states, “Dialogue, the obligation to preserve the integrity of the national territory, its people and their property, as well as to promote conciliation, have shaped the response to the aforementioned social crisis. If the crisis is to be resolved, all persons must show good will in working to live together more harmoniously. To this end, in addition to the steps taken to address the demands made by these unions, the institutional framework has been enhanced by the establishment of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism (annex 16).” (Emphasis added.)

Paragraph 116 states, “increased support in the fight against terrorism and a more equal sharing of the burden of caring for refugees and managing internally displaced populations are being requested, as is increased support for national efforts to consolidate social harmony.” (Emphases added.)

U.N. Information about Cameroon[2]

This report summarized comments about Cameroon from various U.N. agencies, including the following comments relating to the Francophone-Anglophone disputes:

  • In November 2017, several special procedure mandate holders warned the Government of Cameroon to engage with representatives of the anglophone population in a meaningful political dialogue and halt renewed violence in the south-west and north-west, where the country’s anglophone minority was reportedly suffering worsening human rights violations. They urged the Government to adopt all necessary measures consistent with Cameroon’s human rights obligations to end the cycle of violence. Up to 17 people had reportedly been killed and dozens wounded and arrested in demonstrations in the country’s anglophone regions since 1 October 2017. The special procedure mandate holders were disturbed by reports of a series of measures taken by the national authorities, including curfews, a ban on public meetings, and other restrictions aimed at preventing peaceful protests. Excessive use of force by the security services, injuries, mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, torture and other ill-treatment had been reported.” (Para. 22; emphasis added.)
  • The special procedure mandate holders asked the Government to take effective measures to prosecute and sanction all those responsible for such violations. The appeal for . . . action came nearly a year after other United Nations human rights experts publicly urged the Government to halt violence against the anglophone minority, following reports that anglophone protesters in Buea and Bamenda had suffered undue force. The special procedure mandate holders also denounced any use of violence against members of the security forces, after reports that several had been killed. Since December 2016, the special procedure mandate holders have repeatedly raised concerns directly with the Government of Cameroon, and continue to monitor and seek clarification of the alleged human rights violations in the north-west and south-west of the country.” (Para. 23; emphases added.)
  • “The Human Rights Committee raised its concern at the alleged existence of secret detention facilities that were not subject to oversight of any kind.” (Para. 26.)
  • “The Committee against Torture recommended that Cameroon put an end to the practice of incommunicado detention and ensure that no one is detained in secret or unauthorized places, including unlisted military detention centers. Cameroon should investigate the existence of such places and detainees should be released or transferred to official places of detention.” (Para. 27.)
  • “The Committee against Torture stressed that the State should ensure that all allegations of excessive use of force, extrajudicial executions, ill-treatment and arbitrary arrest by State officials during or after the demonstrations in the anglophone region are the subject of an impartial investigation, that those responsible are prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished, and that victims obtain redress.” (Para. 28; emphasis added.)
  • “The Committee against Torture requested Cameroon to put in place, as soon as possible, a programme to protect witnesses and victims of torture. (Para. 29; emphasis added.)
  • “The Human Rights Committee urged Cameroon to lift any unnecessary restrictions on the freedom of assembly and the freedom to demonstrate, in particular for members of the country’s English-speaking minority.” (Para. 33; emphasis added.)
  • “UNESCO noted that Cameroon had suspended Internet services in the country’s Northwest and Southwest regions after a series of protests that had resulted in violence and the arrest of community leaders.” (Para. 37; emphasis added.)

Stakeholders’ Submissions[3]

Sharp criticisms of Cameroon from various groups were registered in 54 paragraphs. The following focused on human rights violations against Cameroonian Anglophones.

“Southern Cameroons Public Affairs Committee indicated that the Anglophone minority suffered a policy of ongoing discrimination, including the prohibition of the use of their language in daily public life. It further noted that discrimination has been used in various sectors including education, employment and access to justice. It recommended ending discrimination and the harassment of Anglophones and adopting an antidiscrimination legislation and policy.” (Para. 10; emphasis added.)

“Plateforme EPU noted the adverse consequences that the crisis in the Englishspeaking parts of the country has had on the economy, in particular because of the shutdown of Internet access for several months.” Para. 15; emphasis added.)

“JS2 noted that the anti-terrorism legislation allowed for Cameroonian to be charged in military courts and to face death penalty if their sponsored terrorism, which contravenes the right to a fair trial. JS2 was concerned by the lack of impartiality and independence of the military courts as well as the vague definition of terrorism. It recommended revising the anti-terrorism bill in accordance with international human rights obligations.  Amnesty International raised similar concerns and urged Cameroon to provide a definition of terrorism in line with international human rights standards and to limit the use of the military courts.” (Para. 18; emphasis added.)

“JS4 expressed concern about the increase in the number of death sentences being handed down by Cameroonian courts, especially in the northern part of the country.JS4 criticized the vague, general laws on terrorism, which are used as grounds for arresting defenders of the rights of the English-speaking minority.JS4 noted that persons on death row in Cameroon are denied their rights and are subjected to inhuman treatment and torture. JS4 recommended that Cameroon should take all necessary steps to amend the counter-terrorism law of 2014 and the Penal Code of 2016 to eliminate the death penalty. JS4 also recommended that the authorities should ensure that the rights of persons sentenced to death are respected, in particular by ensuring that proceedings are conducted transparently and that defendants are assisted by counsel.” (Para. 19; emphasis added.)

“The Southern Cameroons Public Affairs Committee reported that security forces have been using excessive force toward citizens, including torture and harass, and arbitrary arrested and detained incommunicado for prolonged periods without trial. It recommended ending all use of arbitrary arrest and detention of citizens, and use of torture or other cruel treatment.  It further urged that Cameroon investigate into allegations, and prosecute those responsible for the violence against Anglophones.” (Para. 20; emphases added.)

“JS2 noted that many persons were arbitrary arrested and held in horrific conditions following the riots in the English-speaking regions of country. JS2 urged Cameroon to work with the judicial system to ensure detention periods are not excessive, subject the conduct of arrests to strict conditions and to ensure that national criminal legislation on arrest is compatible with international human rights standards.” (Para. 23; emphasis added.)

“Plateforme EPU pointed out that some individuals are still being held illegally in prisons in the wake of the crisis in the English-speaking parts of the country.” (Para. 24; emphasis added.)

“SCAPAC indicated that English language was excluded in courts and that Anglophones have been deprived of access to justice and an effective justice remedy. SCAPAC further noted that many Anglophone detainees are not informed of the charged for which they were accused. (Para. 26; emphases added.)

“JS7 noted that in 2017, the government ordered the suspension of internet services in the Northwest and Southwest Anglophone regions of Cameroon, following the protest against the dominance of French language in Cameroon. It recommended that Cameroon refrain from shutting down internet communication, take actions to adopt a law on access to information and further implement legal safeguards to prevent unlawful surveillance.” (Para. 28; emphasis added.)

“JS2 and JS5 noted that Cameroon continues to show high levels of intolerance towards human rights defenders who are critical of the government, especially in the context of the Anglophone crisis.” (Para. 31; emphasis added.)

“Amnesty International noted that Cameroon have continued to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, in particular during the protests in the Anglophone regions.” (Para. 32; emphasis added.)

“The Committee to protect journalist (CPJ) regretted that criminal defamation legislation against journalist continues to exist in Cameroon. CPJ noted that Cameroon is using the anti-terror law to prosecute journalist in military court, in particular since the unrest in English-speaking regions. It was concerned by the overly broad provisions of the law and the potential abuse of political opponents and the right to freedom of expression.” (Para. 33; emphasis added.)

“SCAPAC noted that Cameroon has taken measures to exclude Anglophones from participation in government and employment in the public services and to shut down the internet in the South in violation to the right to free speech and access to information. It recommended to release journalists and to ensure a favorable climate for the activities of human rights defender. The Law Society of England and Wales found it regrettable that the anti-terrorism law is used to bring proceeding against human rights defenders. It recommended that Cameroon should respect the rights to freedom of association and assembly and provide human rights defenders the protection required to carry out their functions. Plateforme EPU made the same observations on the counter-terrorism law and expressed concern about the law’s adverse effects on freedom of expression.” (Para. 35; emphasis added.)

“CPJ also noted that Cameroon led an internet shutdown in the English-speaking regions and suspended broadcast permission for several Medias. It recommended Cameroon to ensure an environment conducive to press freedom by revising the antiterrorism law and decriminalizing defamation. It further recommended that Cameroon ensure that arrests and detention comply with international human rights law and to maintain internet access across the entire country.” (Para. 36; emphasis added.)

In the context of the government’s response to the Anglophone crisis, Front Line Defenders reported the deteriorating environment for the activities of human rights defenders in Cameroon. It also noted that human rights defenders were victims of threats, intimidation, smear campaigns and physical attacks.87It regretted the adoption of the antiterrorism law, which further increase the chance for human rights activist to be charged in military courts and to face the death penalty. It also noted the continued violation of freedom of assembly. Front Line Defenders urged Cameroon to review and amend the 2014 anti-terrorism law to ensure that its provisions are not used to restrict freedom of expression or association and to take actions to put an end to the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders. It further recommended that Cameroon guarantee the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and a safe environment for human rights defenders by ending the harassment against human rights defenders and bringing perpetrators to justice. Plateforme EPU made the same observations concerning infringements of freedom of expression and of the rights of human rights defenders.” (Para. 37; emphases added.)

“The Southern Cameroons Public Affairs Committee further indicated that Anglophones have been marginalized and assimilated in the sphere of education. It recommended to protect linguistic heritage of the Anglophones and ensure that education is adapted to their cultural heritage.” (Para. 44; emphasis added.)

Advance Questions for Cameroon[4]

 The following advance questions were submitted by other Council members:

Member Questions
Belgium 1.Does Cameroon plan to sign and ratify the UN human rights conventions to which it is not yet party?

2.Does the Cameroonian Government plan to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the APIC or align its national legislation with the Rome Statute?

3.In the previous UPR, Belgium recommended that Cameroon investigate cases of police violence against persons because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. What measures has the Cameroon authorities taken in this regard?

4. How does the Cameroonian government guarantee freedom of expression on the Internet in all parts of the country?

5. Does the Cameroonian government intend to continue the de facto moratorium on the execution of the death penalty, including the application of the anti-terrorism law?

6. What measures is the Government of Cameroon taking to put an end to the escalation of violence, arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of State agents in the English-speaking areas of the country, and to ensure that after an independent investigation and impartial, those responsible are prosecuted and victims get redress? (Emphasis added.)

Brazil 1.The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has expressed concern about the persistence of gender-based violence. What efforts is Cameroon planning to make to address this situation and improve the socio-cultural status of women?

2.What measures is Cameroon taking to protect children from sexual exploitation, violence, and early or forced marriages?

Germany 1.In the past, repeated allegations for violating human rights have been made against the security forces of Cameroon. How does the government ensure that human rights standards are met by the police and the military? (Emphasis added.)

2.What position does the Cameroonian government have towards international criminal law? Will there be any steps to ratify the Rome Statute in the near future?

3.The humanitarian situation in Cameroonian prisons has worsened in recent years due to progressive overcrowding. What measures is the Cameroonian government planning to improve in the short and medium term?

Liechtenstein 1.What steps has Cameroon taken to ratify the Rome Statute in its 2010 version?

2.What steps has Cameroon taken to join the Code of Conduct regarding Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes, as elaborated by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT)?

Portugal 1.Does Cameroon plan to sign and ratify the UN human rights conventions to which it is not yet party?

2.Has the State under review established a “national mechanism for implementation, reporting and follow-up” covering UPR recommendations, but also recommendations / observations made by the Treaty Organs? Human Rights, Special Procedures and relevant regional mechanisms? If so, could the State under review briefly share its experience in establishing such a mechanism, including difficulties encountered and lessons learned, as well as plans or needs for strengthening the mechanism in the future?

Slovenia 1.With regard to our recommendation from the 2nd cycle of the UPR on the elimination of female genital mutilation, we would like to request information on the efforts taken by the government in this regard.

2.When will the government establish the minimum age for marriage as 18 for both girls and boys?

United Kingdom

of G.B. & N. I

1.What steps has the government of Cameroon taken to complete an investigation into security forces’ handling of peaceful student protest at the University of Buea on 29 November 2016, to hold to account those responsible and to support victims?  (Emphasis added.)

2.What steps will the government of Cameroon take to address human trafficking, particularly of young women, for forced labor and sexual exploitation?

3.What steps is the government of Cameroon taking to ensure fair trials for Anglophone detainees and separatist leaders extradited from Nigeria who have been held incommunicado since January this year?  (Emphasis added.)

4.What steps is the government taking to promote freedom of expression, including improving access to information and ensuring a free media.

Conclusion

This blogger’s Cameroonian friends have emphasized that their Francophone brothers and sisters constitute roughly two-thirds of the population and control the central government; that Francophone teachers who do not know the English language are being sent into schools in the Anglophone areas of the country and forcing students to take examinations in the French language which they do not know; that Francophone judges who do not know the English language and the laws of the Anglophone areas are also being sent into these areas and deciding cases under French-language laws; and that the central government’s military forces are being sent into Anglophone areas and destroying villages and crops, thereby forcing those individuals to flee into nearby cities.

As a result, this post has emphasized the allegations of human rights violations being suffered by the Anglophones.

Future posts will examine the hearing and the final report.

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[1] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, National report: Cameroon (Mar. 5, 2018) https://documents-dds-

[2] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Compilation on Cameroon: Report of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (Mar. 12, 2018).

[3] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Summary of Stakeholders’ submissions on Cameroon (Feb. 28, 2018).

[4] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Advance Questions to Cameroon (First Batch); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Advance Questions to Cameroon (Second Batch).

 

Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by U.N. Human Rights Council: Background

This year Cameroon’s human rights record is the subject of its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. This post reviews basic information about the Council and its UPR process. Future posts will look at the pre-hearing papers for Cameroon’s current UPR and then its UPR hearing and then finally the results of the UPR.

The  Human Rights Council[1]

The Council since 2006 has been an important arm of the United Nations in recognizing and helping to enforce international human rights norms in the world.

The Council is made up of 47 U.N. Member States, which are elected by the majority of members of the U.N. General Assembly through direct and secret ballot. The General Assembly takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.

The Council’s Members serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. The seats are allocated on the following geographical basis:

  • African States: 13 seats
  • Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
  • Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
  • Western European and other States: 7 seats
  • Eastern European States: 6 seats

The current African members are Angola, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Tunisia.

The UPR Process[2]

One of the ways the Council seeks to encourage universal compliance with international human rights standards  is its UPR of individual U.N. member states. The UPR is universal in that all 193 U.N. members and all human rights norms are reviewed and it is periodic because it done every four years. Such reviews are to be “based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States.” This is to be done with “a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue, with the full involvement of the country concerned.”

The UPR process involves (a) the state’s submission of a report to the Council; (b) submission of written questions and recommendations to the state from other states and stakeholders (human rights NGO’s, etc.); (c) the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights’ summary of U.N. information about the country; (d) questions submitted to the country in advance by the Working Group; (e) the hearing by the Council, (f) the preparation of a draft report on the state by a Council working group, (g) the state’s comments on that report, (h) another hearing before the Council and (i) the Council’s adoption of the final report on the outcome of the UPR.

Council’s UPR Working Group for Cameroon’s UPR[3]

The UPRs are conducted by the Council’s 47 members acting as an UPR Working Group. In addition, any other U.N. Member State can take part in the review.

Each State’s review is assisted by a groups of three States, known as a “troika,” who serve as rapporteurs. The selection of the troikas for each State is done through a drawing of lots following elections for the Council membership in the General Assembly. For Cameroon’s third UPR the Troika members are United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Iraq and South Africa.

The UPR Hearing

The May 16 hearing lasted three and a half hours, during which the state under review was given 70 minutes to present its report, as well as answer questions made by other states and present concluding remarks. The remaining 140 minutes were allocated to states participating in the review to ask questions, make comments and recommendations to the state under review.

The second stage of the process will take place during the Council’s 39th period of sessions in September 2018, at which time the final report will be presented by the Troika.

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[1] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Membership of Council; U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Current Membership.

[2] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Basic Facts about the UPR

[3]  U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Cameroon’s human rights record to be reviewed by Universal Periodic Review (May 11, 2018).

 

 

 

Advance Questions for Cuba in Its Universal Periodic Review by the U.N. Human Rights Council

As summarized in a previous post, Cuba’s human rights record is now undergoing its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. That post also discussed Cuba’s national report, submissions by stakeholders (NGO’s and others), a summary of U.N. information about Cuba and information about a pre-session hearing. Now we look at the questions submitted to Cuba in advance of the Council’s hearing on May 16 and an unusual criticism of Cuba by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights along with additional background information about the Council and the UPR.

Advance Questions for Cuba[1]

 The following advance questions were submitted by other Council members:

Member Questions
Belgium 1. When does the Cuban government plan to ratify human rights conventions to which it is not yet party?

2. Does Cuba plan to extend an open invitation to the special procedures of the Human Rights Council?

3. Will Cuba respond favorably to requests for visits by the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders and Freedom of Expression, which have been pending since 2015 and 2016?

4. Does Cuba now guarantee access to independent lawyers to all persons deprived of their liberty?

5. What concrete actions has Cuba taken to release persons deprived of their liberty for political reasons.?

Brazil 1.How does Cuba guarantee the rights of the LGBTI?

2.How does Cuba ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary?

Germany 1.Does Cuba plan to ratify the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?

2.What will Cuba do to enable independent journalism?

3.Identify blogs and websites currently blocked and the reasons for same.

4.Will Cuba abolish travel restrictions for persons on parole or for those in certain professions, including the medical sector?

5.Will Cuba establish an independent national human rights institution?

Liechtenstein 1.Will Cuba ratify the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court in its 2010 version?

2.Will Cuba join the Code of Conduct for U.N. Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes?

Malta 1.What steps has Cuba taken to increase the effectiveness of control by the people of the activities of States bodies, elected representatives and civil servants.?
Portugal 1.How does Cuba coordinate the implementation of UPR recommendations that it accepts?

2.How does Cuba coordinate the implementation of recommendations/observations by U.N. human-rights Treaty bodies and Special Procedures and by regional mechanisms?

Slovenia 1.Provide more information on how non-governmental organizations operate in Cuba and details on any consultation process with them.
Spain 1. Is Cuba reforming its Law on Associations and the Electoral Law to promote a higher level of inclusion and social participation?

2. Which multilateral instruments on Human Rights does Cuba plan to sign and/or ratify?

Sweden 1.Provide more information on Cuba’s prevention of trafficking in persons.

2.Provide more information on Cuba’s effort to improve internet access.

3.Has Cuba denied exit visas for human rights defenders and ndependent civil society members?

4.How will Cuba secure free and unrestricted travel for all of its citizens?

Switzerland 1.What did Cuba do to guarantee free and open participation of all citizens in its last election?

2.How many Cuban citizens were candidates in the election “without being a member of an officially recognized Cuban institution [e.g. Communist Party]?

3.Is Cuba broadening the list of legal private businesses (cuentapropistas)? Is Cuba reviewing the definition of cuentapropistas to include self-declared human rights organizations, independent journalists and bloggers and community-based organizations?

4.Will Cuba amend its constitution to eliminate the subordination of the Supreme court to the National Assembly and to the Council of Ministers?

5.How is the Cuban Criminal Code’s concept of “pre-criminal social dangerousness” interpreted?

6.How do families have transparent and open information about a family member who is a temporarily detained as an alleged criminal?

United Kingdom 1.Will Cuba allow the development of independent political parties, including their legal registration and participation in future elections?

2.How does Cuba ensure that all Cubans are able to participate fully in political and electoral processes?

3.Will Cuba end laws and policies that apparently give primacy to the principle of national unity?

4.Will Cuba move towards international independent verification of the condition of its prisons and detention facilities?

5.Will Cuba bring its laws into compliance with international human rights standards on freedom of expression, association and assembly?

U.S.A. 1. Will Cuba ensure that members of the political opposition, including independent candidates, can participate freely and without threats?

2. When will Cuba allow members of Ladies in White and all other citizens to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, religion and association?

3. How does Cuba ensure that those responsible for violations and abuses of human rights and labor rights (including members of the police, military and security services) are investigated and held responsible?

4. Will Cuba respect the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of assembly, expression and association of members of the Independent Union Association of Cuba and all other workers and representatives?

5. How is Cuba promoting access to information and access to an Internet that is open, interoperable, reliable,  secure and affordable to its citizens?

 

U.N. High Commissioner’s Criticism of Cuba[2]

At a May 11 press briefing, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released statements of concerns about human rights in Cuba and four other countries. Here is what was said about Cuba:

“There are deeply worrying reports that officials in Cuba have prevented a number of human rights defenders and civil society representatives from boarding flights to travel to meetings abroad on the pretext of requiring more detailed identity checks. These measures have resulted in passengers missing their flights and therefore the meetings, which in some cases were organised by a UN entity.”

“So far this year, the UN Human Rights Office has received direct information relating to 14 cases of Cubans being told by officials that the computer system required extra screening. We are also aware of reports that dozens of other people may have been stopped in this way from travelling, allegedly with no explanation by the Cuban authorities as to why they were held up nor on whose orders”

“These cases suggest that these additional checks are being used deliberately as a form of intimidation, pressure and harassment against certain individuals. Civil society organizations have also told us that they were informed verbally by the authorities that their representatives would not be allowed to leave the island before June.”

“We have previously expressed our concern at the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders in Cuba, including the arbitrary arrest and short-term detention of individuals, particularly before, during and just after demonstrations. “

“We call on the Cuban authorities to respect everyone’s right to freedom of expression and to freedom of movement, and to ensure that human rights defenders and civil society representatives are not unjustifiably prevented from travelling, including those planning to attend UN meetings, in particular the Universal Periodic Review of Cuba on 16 May in Geneva.”

“Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, ‘everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”’Article 19 of the Universal Declaration states that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’”

“The UN Secretary-General presents an annual report to the Human Rights Council on intimidation and reprisals, and in October 2016 the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, was designated to lead the monitoring and response to reprisals for cooperation or intimidation, including that which aims to discourage or prevent future co-operation with the UN system. Cuba was among the countries named in the last two reports.”

“The UN Human Rights Office will continue to monitor such cases to ascertain whether they merit inclusion in the next report.”

U.N. Human Rights Council Membership[3]

The Council is made of 47 U.N. Member States, which are elected by the majority of members of the U.N. General Assembly through direct and secret ballot. The General Assembly takes into account the candidate States’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.

The Council’s Members serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. The seats are allocated on the following geographical basis:

  • African States: 13 seats
  • Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
  • Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
  • Western European and other States: 7 seats
  • Eastern European States: 6 seats

The current members include Cuba and the United States, both of whose terms expire on December 31, 2019, while Venezuela is also a member with its term expiring on December 31, 2018.

Council’s UPR Working Group for Cuba’s UPR[4]

The UPRs are conducted by the Council’s 47 members acting as an UPR Working Group. In addition, any other U.N. Member State can take part in the review.

Each State’s review is assisted by a groups of three States, known as a “troika,” who serve as rapporteurs. The selection of the troikas for each State is done through a drawing of lots following elections for the Council membership in the General Assembly

For Cuba’s third UPR the Troika members are Egypt, Nepal and Peru.

The May 16 hearing will last three and a half hours, during which the state under review is given 70 minutes to present its report, as well as answer questions made by other states and present concluding remarks. The remaining 140 minutes are allocated to states participating in the review to ask questions, make comments and recommendations to the state under review.

The second stage of the process will be take place during the Council’s 39th period of sessions in September 2018, at which time the final report will be presented by the Troika.

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[1] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Advance Questions for Cuba (First Batch); U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Advance Questions for Cuba (Second Batch); Hum. Rts. Council, Advance Questions for Cuba (Third Batch).

[2] U.N. High Comm. Hum. Rts., Press briefing note on Yemen, Cambodia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Montenegro (May 11, 2018); The UN denounces the blockade of the Cuban regime on the departure of human rights defenders, Diario de Cuba (May 11, 2018).

[3] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Background on Council Membership; U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Current Council Members.

[4] U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, Basic facts about the UPR; U.N. Hum. Rts. Council, List of Troikas (20th Session).

 

 

 

 

 

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Speaks About the Jesuits Murder Case     

On November 16, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, visited El Salvador’s Central American University (UCA), where the Jesuit priests lived and worked and were murdered, and he laid a wreath at their tomb.[i]

In a speech at UCA’s chapel, he said, “I encourage you to continue your search for answers, truth and accountability. Now it’s been 26 years since the Peace Accords were signed, but another 26 years should not pass before we see justice in this country. Reconciliation can only take place if the promise of justice is fulfilled.”

José María Tojeira, the director of UCA’s Human Rights Institute, added, We believe that after the Amnesty Law was invalidated, it is important that the case be reopened here. We do not want revenge or long sentences, but we believe that those who are intellectual authors of crimes and who now are  in freedom should be judged.”

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[i] Rauda, High commissioner of the UN: “Reconciliation can only be carried out if the promise of justice is fulfilled,” El Faro (Nov. 16, 2017). A summary of the High Commissioner’s overall evaluation of El Salvador’s human rights was contained in a re-posting of a post by El Salvador Perspectives.

El Salvador Perspectives: A strong rebuke for El Salvador on human rights*   

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein,  had tough words for El Salvador in his concluding statement this week, highlighting many areas where the country falls short of international human rights standards.  Here is a selection of his comments.

On extra-judicial killings:

There are also alarming reports of extrajudicial killings and the return of death squads. No matter how serious the human rights violations committed by violent gangs, all perpetrators of violence need to be held fully accountable for their actions through judicial mechanisms. Victims on all sides deserve justice.

On prison conditions:

The Extraordinary Security Measures… have placed thousands of people in prolonged and isolated detention under truly inhumane conditions, and with prolonged suspension of family visits. The vulnerability of these inmates is highlighted by an outbreak of tuberculosis, affecting more than a thousand inmates, with several hundred also said to be suffering from malnutrition. I called on the President to end the extraordinary measures and grant international independent organisations, including my Office, access to these detention centres.

On internal displacement:

I heard how the high levels of violence have seriously affected people’s lives, and I noted how such violence is increasing forced displacement within El Salvador and migration. To fully address this growing problem, the Government needs to recognise that it is happening.

On violence against women:

El Salvador has the awful distinction of having the highest rate of gender-based killings of women and girls in Central America – a region where femicide is already regrettably high, as is impunity for these crimes.

On the country’s extreme abortion law:

I am appalled that as a result of El Salvador’s absolute prohibition on abortion, women are being punished for apparent miscarriages and other obstetric emergencies, accused and convicted of having induced termination of pregnancy.

On Thursday morning, I visited the Ilopango detention centre for women on the outskirts of San Salvador and had the privilege to speak to women who were convicted of “aggravated homicide” in connection with obstetric emergencies and as a result are serving 30 years in prison. I have rarely been as moved as I was by their stories and the cruelty they have endured. It only seems to be women from poor and humble backgrounds who are jailed, a telling feature of the injustice suffered.

I call upon El Salvador to launch a moratorium on the application of article 133 of the Penal Code, and review all cases where women have been detained for abortion-related offences, with the aim of ensuring compliance with due process and fair trial standards. Should it be found their cases were not compliant, I appeal for the immediate release of these women. To establish compliance, my Office has proposed that such a review could be established by presidential decree and be carried out by an expert executive committee composed of national and international members. I asked the Government to act on this proposal and indicated the readiness of my Office to assist. This is in line with the recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

On impunity for human rights abuses during the civil war:

But despite the valiant efforts of civil society and victims’ groups, only three out of more than 100 criminal complaints brought over the years have so far been reopened. Left uninvestigated and unpunished, the crimes of the past fuel patterns of violence that poison the present and can undermine the future of a society. The past and the present are a continuum, I was told in my meeting with NGOs. The victims of the past are suffering still.

On attacks on human rights advocates and journalists:

I was struck by the dedication and courage of human rights defenders and journalists in El Salvador, who face threats, intimidation and smear campaigns. I urge the authorities to investigate these attacks and to establish effective means of ensuring their protection.

On LGBTI violence:

Similar action is needed to tackle the high rate of impunity for hate crimes against LGBTI persons, especially transgender women. As one civil society representative said: “There is no public policy for us, just institutional violence.”

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*This is a re-posting with consent of El Salvador Perspectives’ November 18, 2017 post of the same name (http://www.elsalvadorperspectives.com/2017/11/a-strong-rebuke-for-el-salvador-on.html). As noted in a previous post to dwkcommentaries, we learned on November 15, 2017, that Spain’s criminal case over the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador will be proceeding against at least one of the former Salvadoran military officers who soon will be extradited from the U.S. to Spain, and the Jose Simeon Canas Central American University, where the murdered priests lived and worked and were murdered, will be asking for Salvadoran prosecutors to do the same for the 15 other former officers who have been charged with that crime and who are living in El Salvador.