Briefing by the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Tomorrow morning (8 April), High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will brief Security Council members on the situations in the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Mali, South Sudan and Syria. Pillay last briefed the Council during a 12 February open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict and her last briefing on a country-specific issue was on 18 January 2013 when she briefed on Syria. (Her office, however, has briefed on South Sudan and Ukraine in 2014.) It seems that France had originally asked for a briefing on Syria, in the context of an International Criminal Court (ICC) referral. In response, Russia requested that Pillay also brief on the other situations, which appears to have been accepted by all members, although as a result, Syria, the original topic, is likely to be given a lot less attention.
On Syria, Council members are expecting Pillay to highlight the findings from the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry and reiterate her calls for the Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC. Pillay has said that the Commission of Inquiry has produced “massive evidence” that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed and indicated responsibility at the highest level, including the head of state President Bashar al-Assad.
The most recent Commission of Inquiry report (A/HRC/25/65), of 12 February, said that absolute impunity pervades the Syrian conflict. Government forces and pro-government militia continued to conduct widespread attacks on civilians, systematically committing murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances and besieging civilian areas starving them into submission, all amounting to crimes against humanity. Non-state armed groups committed war crimes, including murder, torture, hostage-taking, violations of international humanitarian law, rape, and recruitment and use of children. Commission head Paulo Sergio Pinheiro presented this report on 18 March to the Human Rights Council and stressed that there was concrete information about crimes and perpetrators.
Separately, France circulated the “Caesar Report” as a Security Council document on 2 April. This report was released on 20 January by former prosecutors of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Special Court for Sierra Leone and detailed credible evidence that the Syrian government systematically tortured and executed some 11,000 detainees. Given that the Commission of Inquiry has also reported on the government’s role in enforced disappearances and a system of incommunicado detention, this may spur questions for Pillay on human rights abuses in detention. In this context, many Council members are likely to raise the issue of accountability. In addition, it is possible that France may initiate a discussion on an ICC referral during tomorrow’s consultations. (On 14 January, Switzerland submitted a letter to the Council, co-signed by 56 other member states, requesting that it refer the situation as of March 2011 to the ICC [S/2013/19]).
Council members may also want more information from Pillay on her office’s 19 February study, “Living under Siege”, where she reiterated her call for humanitarian access to all besieged areas. It is possible the P3 (France, the UK and the US) plus the humanitarian leads, Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg, may want to use the opportunity of Pillay’s briefing to initiate discussion of a meaningful follow-up to resolution 2139 on humanitarian access.
Another issue of particular interest for Council members, given that members are currently negotiating a draft resolution to set up a peacekeeping mission in the CAR, will be hearing about Pillay’s recent two-day visit to the CAR capital, Bangui, where she met with transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza, interim Prime Minister André Nzapayéké, Minister of Justice Isabelle Gaudeuille, head of the African-led International Support Mission to the CAR (MISCA) Gen. Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, as well as civil society and humanitarian organisations. Following her visit, in a 20 March press statement, Pillay characterised the situation in the country as dire, with inter-communal hatred “at a terrifying level”. She noted that roughly 15,000 Muslims are reportedly trapped in Bangui and in other areas, protected by international forces, but nevertheless in an extremely dangerous situation. She also noted that, while large-scale massacres seem to have halted, people are still killed on a daily basis, especially by the anti-Balaka groups.
Council members will also be interested in obtaining detailed information on a 29 March incident in which Chadian soldiers killed some 30 civilians and seriously wounded more than 300 in an indiscriminate attack on a crowded market in a suburb of Bangui. On 3 April, Chad, facing heavy criticism for the incident, announced that it would withdraw its troops from MISCA. Rupert Colville, spokesperson for Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on 4 April that the office had received more information on the incident following an initial investigation by a human rights team on the ground. Council members may want a better idea of what this investigation revealed. (Chad is currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council.)
Pillay will also brief Council members on the latest developments in South Sudan, where the human rights situation has been dire since the current crisis broke out on 15 December 2013. There have been reports of targeted inter-ethnic killings, torture, rape, arbitrary detentions, recruitment of child soldiers, looting and destruction of property during the conflict. Many of these violations have been described in the Secretary-General’s 6 March report (S/2014/158) on the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and in UNMISS’s interim report on the human rights situation in South Sudan, which was released on 21 February. A more comprehensive report on the human rights situation in South Sudan is expected to be produced by the mission by the end of April. While there may be some follow-up interest from some Council members, given that they were last briefed on South Sudan on 18 March, and are expecting another briefing on 10 April, it is likely that this portion of Pillay’s briefing may not generate much discussion.
On Mali, Pillay is expected to welcome the establishment, on 20 March, of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission by the National Assembly and recall the Secretary General’s call to ensure the neutrality, impartiality and independence of that body.
With the mandate of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) expiring on 30 June, some Council members may be looking for a better understanding of developments that might be relevant to the future strength of the mission, including judicial investigations that have been opened to address the disappearances of “red beret” soldiers loyal to deposed President Amadou Toumani Touré after the coup, as well as the deadly 30 September 2013 mutiny in Kati by soldiers involved in the coup. Pillay is also expected to urge the government to similarly investigate all reported violations of human rights and international humanitarian law since the 22 March 2012 military coup that precipitated the crisis. Given the volatile security situation in northern Mali, Pillay is also expected to raise the issue of MINUSMA’s limited capacity to conduct investigations.
On human right issues in Libya, Pillay is expected to welcome the February adoption of a law to protect victims of sexual violence as well as the December 2013 promulgation of the law on transitional justice. She is also expected to raise concerns over the impact of the current political situation on the implementation of these laws and the strengthening of the currently weak human rights protection system in Libya. She may also highlight the importance of holding fair trials for members of the former regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. On this front, Council members may be interested in an update on the more than 6,000 people still detained in connection with the 2011 conflict and awaiting judicial processes, as well as on the documented cases of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in detention facilities, most of which are not under the authority of the state.