People's Stories Advocates


We must urgently find our way back to peace
by Volker Turk
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
 
June 2024
 
“We must urgently find our way back to peace", says United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk as he presents his global update to the 56th session of the UN Human Rights Council:
 
It pains me to start my Global Update to this Council, once again, with the cruelty of war. Last March, I spoke of the right to peace. Since then, conflicts have only intensified.
 
Killings and injuries of civilians have become a daily occurrence. Destruction of vital infrastructure a daily occurrence. Devastating and reckless. Children shot at. Hospitals bombed. Heavy artillery launched on entire communities.
 
All along with hateful, divisive, and dehumanising rhetoric. I am dismayed by the extent to which warring parties have pushed beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable - and legal - on many fronts, with utter contempt for the other, trampling human rights at their core.
 
In 2023, data gathered by my Office shows the number of civilian deaths in armed conflict soared by 72 per cent. Horrifyingly, the data indicates that the proportion of women killed in 2023 doubled and that of children tripled, compared to the year prior.
 
I am appalled by the disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law by parties to the conflict in Gaza. There has been unconscionable death and suffering. More than 120,000 people in Gaza, overwhelmingly women and children, have been killed or injured since 7 October, as a result of the intensive Israeli offensives. Since Israel escalated its operations into Rafah in early May, almost one million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced yet again, while aid delivery and humanitarian access deteriorated further.
 
The situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is dramatically deteriorating. As of 15 June, 528 Palestinians, 133 of them children, had been killed by Israeli security forces and/or settlers since October, in many cases raising serious concerns of unlawful killings. In the same period, 23 Israelis have been killed in the West Bank and Israel in clashes with or attacks by Palestinians, including 8 members of Israeli security forces.
 
Israel’s relentless strikes in Gaza are causing immense suffering and widespread destruction. The arbitrary denial and obstruction of humanitarian aid have continued, and Israel continues to detain arbitrarily thousands of Palestinians. This must end.
 
Palestinian armed groups continue to hold many hostages, and, in some cases in densely populated areas, putting them and Palestinian civilians at further risk. These hostages must be released.
 
The patterns we have documented raise serious concerns about the commission of war crimes and other atrocity crimes. I call for the binding decisions of the Security Council and of the International Court of Justice to be respected. The occupation must end, accountability must be served and the internationally agreed two-State solution must become a reality.
 
I am extremely worried about the escalating situation between Lebanon and Israel. Already 401 people have reportedly been killed in Lebanon, including paramedics and journalists. Over 90,000 people have been displaced in Lebanon, and over 60,000 have been displaced in Israel with 25 Israeli fatalities. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed. I reiterate my call for a cessation of hostilities and for actors with influence to take all possible measures to avert a full-scale war.
 
The situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate. The recent ground offensive by Russian armed forces into Ukraine’s Kharkiv region has destroyed entire communities. Residents, many of them older people, hid in basements, without electricity, water, or adequate food, as the area came under intense attacks by explosive weapons with wide area effects.
 
Repeated waves of large-scale attacks on energy infrastructure have destroyed 68 per cent of Ukraine’s electricity production capacity, bringing the system to a dangerous tipping point, especially ahead of winter. I will provide a dedicated update on 9 July.
 
Sudan is being destroyed in front of our eyes by two warring parties and affiliated groups. They have stoked inter-ethnic tensions, denied humanitarian assistance, arrested human rights defenders, and flagrantly cast aside the rights of their own people. I put both Generals on notice for their own responsibility in the commission of possible war crimes and other atrocity crimes, including through sexual violence and ethnically motivated attacks. They are ultimately responsible for the impact of their actions on civilians, including massive displacement, impending famine, and an intensifying humanitarian disaster.
 
It is vital that ongoing mediation efforts, including by the African Union, bring this conflict to an end. Existing civilian initiatives to influence a future transition also need support. These processes must be inclusive, to address the conflict’s causes rooted in exclusion and discrimination.
 
During my mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo in April, I felt the immense suffering of civilians in the east, including those living in camps for internally displaced people with continued attacks by armed groups, including the M23, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), CODECO and others. Violence must end. Efforts of the Government, and regional and international actors, must focus on bringing about peace, security, and trust. Hate speech and messages targeting people based on their ethnicity must stop and the perpetrators brought to justice. Accountability is key. And the private sector, including businesses that extract resources, must also assume their responsibilities.
 
While there is a decrease in the intensity of hostilities in the Syrian Arab Republic compared to past years, there is no apparent end in sight to the conflict. With ongoing killings of civilians, destruction of civilian objects, sexual and gender-based violence, and arbitrary arrests and intimidation of peaceful protesters.
 
Deaths in custody, particularly in areas under the control of pro-Government forces, persist. Syrian returnees continue to face risks, such as arbitrary arrest and detention and extortion, both in areas under the control of pro-Government forces, and in areas controlled by non-State armed groups.
 
In countries that have undergone unconstitutional changes of power, including Burkina Faso which I visited this year, Mali and Niger, we see transitions becoming longer and longer, without meaningful national dialogue processes and with increasing restrictions on civic space to quash dissent. Moving forward can only happen through inclusivity. And in the case of Niger, also by finding a solution that respects the rights of President Bazoum and his family.
 
Civilians bear the brunt in the fight against non-State armed groups. A militarised approach alone will not yield sustainable results. The social contract between the transitional authorities and the people must urgently be restored.
 
South Sudan is a country exhausted by inter-communal violence and revenge killings, widespread attacks on civilians, extrajudicial executions, conflict-related sexual violence, mismanagement of resources, food insecurity, and large-scale displacement, including due to environmental factors. All these challenges are exacerbated in a fragile pre-electoral context.
 
I urge the Government to prioritise accountability, address localised violence, enhance the protection of civilians, investigate all alleged violations, and bring perpetrators to justice.
 
Haiti is the quintessential example of the spiraling interconnection between entrenched inequalities and violence. Decades of exclusion poor governance, corruption, and trafficking in weapons, have contributed to endemic gang violence and the dramatic situation we are facing today. Health centres, schools, State institutions and strategic infrastructure have been targeted by gang members. I call for the urgent deployment of the Multinational Security Support Mission in Haiti, with human rights safeguards, to support the national police and bring security to the Haitian people.
 
We urgently need to find our way back to peace, in line with the UN Charter and international law.
 
As of the end of May 2024, the gap between humanitarian funding requirements and available resources stands at 40.8 billion USD. Appeals are funded at an average of 16.1 per cent only.
 
Contrast this with the almost 2.5 trillion USD in global military expenditure in 2023, a 6.8 per cent increase in real terms from 2022. This was the steepest year-on-year increase since 2009. In addition to inflicting unbearable human suffering, war comes with a hefty price tag.
 
The far-reaching impact of war and conflict on the environment is also undeniable. Burning of land, chemical contamination of air, water and soil, destruction of civilian infrastructure, even the risk of nuclear catastrophe.
 
This comes on top of some of the biggest challenges humanity faces today — climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. And with every passing day, humanity’s window of opportunity closes.
 
La Nina and El Nino have inflicted severe damage on many countries, including in Latin America and the Caribbean. 61 million people in southern Africa are affected by El Nino-induced drought and extreme weather worsened by climate change. Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have declared a state of disaster, with more countries likely to follow. I echo the humanitarian community’s warnings of a looming crisis in the face of imminent harvest failures.
 
Like most crises, the climate emergency disproportionately affects the world’s poor and most marginalised. Countries and communities who have contributed the least to creating it, suffer its effects the most – notably in small island developing States, least developed countries, and landlocked developing countries.
 
Climate disasters often collide with pre-existing challenges, such as food insecurity and structural discrimination, together with limited resources due to unsustainable debt levels, lack of fiscal space for public spending, and barriers to access concessional financing.
 
The adverse effects of climate change are already having massive impacts on the enjoyment of human rights. We must be prepared. By integrating human rights into environmental analysis and modelling, we can anticipate the types of issues that will arise, inform decision-making and minimise the worst impacts.
 
Seeking accountability for environmental harm, including through appropriate use of criminal law, will help make the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment a reality on the ground.
 
We talk about human rights as the best tool for early warning and prevention. But what does this mean? It means we must take the drivers and root causes of tensions, violence, and conflict seriously.
 
Entrenched inequalities. Lack of access to basic rights – food, water, housing, education, decent work, a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. Systemic discrimination. Deficient governance and the quashing of dissenting voices.
 
Globally, inequality has seen the largest increase in three decades, as poorer countries took a bigger economic hit from the COVID-19 pandemic compared to richer countries.
 
According to Oxfam, the wealth of the world’s five richest billionaires has more than doubled since the start of this decade, while 60 per cent of humanity has grown poorer. 4.8 billion people are poorer than they were in 2019. And the wealth gap between men and women globally? 100 trillion USD.
 
We are a far cry from the 2030 Agenda’s promise to reach those furthest behind first. Almost half of humanity – some 3.3 billion people – live in countries where governments spend more on servicing their debts than investing in health and education systems for their people.
 
While Sri Lanka’s macro-economic situation has improved somewhat , the impacts of the economic crisis together with associated austerity measures are affecting the poorest and already marginalized groups the most. Between 2021 and 2023, the poverty rate doubled from 13.1 to 25.9 per cent and is expected to remain at such levels over the next few years.
 
During my recent visit to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, I heard about the drastic impact debt servicing is having on public spending on social services, including on social infrastructure, social protection programmes, health, and education.
 
In Argentina, recent proposed and adopted measures risk undermining human rights protection. These include cuts to public spending particularly affecting the most marginalised, the announced closure of State institutions dedicated to women’s rights and access to justice, and an instruction from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to suspend participation in all events abroad related to the 2030 Agenda. I urge the authorities to place human rights at the centre of their policy making, to build a more cohesive and inclusive society. This also means full respect for the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
 
A human rights economy is a lever for social justice. It promotes equal opportunities, meaningful participation, and investment in essential services. It helps forge trust in public institutions, fostering the social contract.
 
Globally, we need to bring our economic systems – from trade treaties to investment agreements, business regulation to development frameworks – in line with human rights, including the right to development. This also has consequences for the reform of the international financial architecture.
 
Some promising initiatives are underway, such as the Bridgetown Initiative, the proposed new Framework Convention on International Tax Cooperation, the OECD 15 per cent global minimum tax rate on multinational companies, and the global 2 per cent minimum wealth tax on billionaires, proposed by Brazil as the current G20 chair. This last measure alone could generate roughly 300 billion USD per year to combat climate change, inequalities, and poverty. I hope these initiatives are further triggers of the real transformation that is needed, by working together, to put human rights at the centre of all economic decision making.
 
Systemic racism against people of African descent is perpetuated by systems and structures that are rooted in the legacies of colonialism and enslavement. It manifests in many ways. In terms of socio-economic inequalities. And in the way law enforcement and the criminal justice system interact with people of African descent in a discriminatory manner. Clearly, there is much to be done, as illustrated by recent reports.
 
While countries like Brazil, Colombia and the United States of America for example are taking important steps to address racial discrimination, issues remain. Racial profiling, high unemployment, over-representation and differential treatment in detention, greater instances of excessive use of lethal force by law enforcement, disproportionate rates of maternal mortality, health and housing inequalities, and food insecurity, persist in these and many other countries around the world.
 
In countries in the European Union, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights also reported that discrimination, harassment, violence, and racial profiling continue to be routine features of life for Black people.
 
My Office’s “Agenda towards transformative change for racial justice and equality” and the recommendations of UN mechanisms, including the International Independent Expert Mechanism to advance racial justice and equality in law enforcement, offer a comprehensive response to systemic issues. As the Coordinator of the International Decade for People of African Descent, I support calls by several States and others to proclaim a Second International Decade for People of African Descent starting in 2025.
 
This Second International Decade must be informed by the lived experiences, knowledge and expertise of people of African descent - to reverse the culture of denial, dismantle systemic racism in all areas of life, and deliver reparatory justice for the wrongs of the past. I urge States also to draw on the recommendations of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, and other UN anti-racism mechanisms in this process.
 
Tragically, pushbacks on the rights of women and girls continue. Active resistance to gender equality is a key factor in slowing progress – even reversing gains made – in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. By 2030, women are forecasted to represent the majority of the extreme poor among those aged 15 and above – an increasing gender poverty gap.
 
I deplore the ongoing systemic persecution of women and girls in Afghanistan, particularly regardingtheir rights to education, employment, and freedom of movement. More broadly, human rights defenders and media workers continue to be arbitrarily arrested and detained for expressing opinions perceived as critical of the de facto authorities. The use of corporal punishment, including mass floggings, persists, in violation of international law. Attacks by armed groups against civilians, particularly targeting the Hazara community, continue.
 
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, we continue to receive reports of violent crackdowns, including widespread arrests, against women and girls for not wearing the hijab as instructed, as new measures to enforce the hijab law are implemented. The draft bill "supporting the Family by Promoting the Culture of Chastity and Hijab" threatens to impose additional restrictive and punitive measures on women and girls. More generally, ahead of the presidential elections, I urge respect for the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and protection of journalists. I also reiterate my call for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty, given the reported spike in executions since the beginning of the year.
 
While I have mentioned only some more salient examples, and there are more, let me be clear. No country is immune from regression in women’s rights. Everyone must be vigilant and steadfast in countering this pushback.
 
And with the same determination, challenge harmful narratives, embrace inclusivity and respect the rights and dignity of everyone, everywhere.
 
I once again warn of the dangers of antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, as well as divisive rhetoric and disinformation that cast migrants and refugees as the scapegoats for wider challenges in society, including socio-economic issues. This has become particularly fashionable among populists and far right extremists in election campaigns in Europe, North America and elsewhere.
 
And a lot more work needs to be done to stem ongoing discrimination and exclusion on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Any form of hate speech is unacceptable, dangerous for social cohesion and a harbinger of worse to come.
 
Attacks continue against human rights defenders, journalists, and others who seek to shed light on violations and abuses, as do restrictions on civic space. We must do better for their protection.
 
According to data from UNESCO, 72 journalists and media workers were killed in 2023, in large part in conflict situations. Data compiled by my Office shows that at least 42 Indigenous human rights defenders were killed in 2023 in 11 countries, most of them for defending the environment, their lands, territories, and resources. This is almost certainly under-reported.
 
In Guatemala, I welcome the Government´s efforts to establish new mechanisms to strengthen protection of human rights defenders, journalists, Indigenous leaders, and justice officials, as they continue to be under attack for having defended human rights, denounced corruption, and called for accountability.
 
In Yemen, however, I am deeply worried about the well-being of 13 United Nations national staff who, along with dozens of staff from national and international NGOs and civil society, have been arbitrarily detained by the de facto authorities since 6 June. Six of them, including one woman, are my national staff and have not had contact with their families, nor has the UN been able to access them. This is in addition to two UNESCO staff and two other of my staff who have already been arbitrarily detained for a lengthy period. The de facto authorities must immediately and unconditionally release them, and harassment of their families must stop. I call on all States with influence to take urgent action to end this situation.
 
The situation in Belarus continues to be very troubling. My Office continues to receive reports of restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and expression, and persistent impunity. Over 1,300 people remain imprisoned on politically motivated and vague charges.
 
I urge the authorities in Azerbaijan to review, in line with international human rights law, all cases of journalists, activists, and other individuals arbitrarily deprived of their liberty and to ensure their protection against ill-treatment. All individuals arbitrarily detained must be immediately released.
 
A worrying trend in terms of civic space is the consideration or adoption of so-called “transparency” or “foreign influence” laws in over 50 countries, including in the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, India, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Slovakia and Turkiye. These laws risk having serious chilling effects on the work of civil society, freedom of expression and of association.
 
In recent months, in Peru, the Congress has advanced a series of legislative initiatives that could undermine judicial and electoral independence, reverse important gains on transitional justice and on women´s political participation and restrict freedom of association and expression.
 
In Mexico, I call on the authorities to ensure accountability for the violence and killings that occurred during the electoral period, including of politicians.
 
I have continued to engage with China on a range of human rights issues, including the serious concerns my Office identified in the Xinjiang region. My Office recently visited Beijing to discuss, among other things, problematic provisions in China’s counterterrorism and criminal laws, as well as the application of national security laws in Hong Kong SAR. My Office continues to raise individual cases of concern, and I deplore the heavy sentences given last week to a women’s rights activist and to a labour rights activist for exercising their fundamental human rights.
 
I urge the authorities to release all those arbitrarily detained, ensure access to information by family members and embark on legal reform. I acknowledge the dialogue of the authorities with my Office and hope this will contribute to concrete improvements in all human rights.
 
In the Southeast Asia region, there is a pattern emerging of transnational repression whereby human rights defenders seeking refuge in neighbouring countries have been subject to rendition and refoulement or disappeared and even killed. There are indications this trend may be becoming a global one and so I urge all States to have zero tolerance for such actions and to ensure full accountability of their security forces.
 
Last year’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights demonstrated the strength of our commitment to the universality and indivisibility of human rights. Almost 800 pledges were made to advance economic, social, and cultural rights, the right to development, the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, and civil and political rights.
 
We continue to see a significant mobilisation of people around the word demanding change to uphold human rights, equality and justice – nationally, regionally and globally. This includes many young people. It includes people taking extensive personal risk, and who are up against numerous barriers. Human rights provide the solid ground on which such movements can stand.
 
The international and regional human rights systems, despite significant constraints, continue to deliver for people. Human rights treaty bodies have been groundbreaking on many issues, notably on the environment of late.
 
Their work is bolstered by that of regional and international courts and tribunals, such as the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that States have justiciable, positive human rights obligations to protect against the growing risks of climate change.
 
The International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea’s Advisory Opinion on climate change is another example. It found that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions constitute marine pollution, and that States have a binding obligation under international law to limit temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C.
 
A March 2024 ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held a State responsible for violating the right to a healthy environment and not protecting against business-related harms to the environment.
 
Such Courts have also referenced the contributions of United Nations Special Procedures mandate holders, demonstrating the relevance of the system. There are also pending requests for advisory opinions related to climate change before the ICJ and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
 
These efforts give momentum – demonstrating that when the various pieces of the regional and global system reinforce each other, change is possible. The reforms in law and practice that flow from the work of these mechanisms may not always make the headlines, but they are crucial to laying out a clear way forward.
 
In closing, I need to flag one overarching concern. We are seeing increasingly aggressive verbal attacks, threats and reprisals, and virulent social media campaigns against international institutions and mechanisms, including the United Nations generally, my Office, Special Procedures mandate holders, the International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Court.
 
This is unacceptable. These institutions were set up and mandated by States precisely to undertake their crucial work — States must facilitate this work and protect it from undue interference and attack.
 
I would like each of us to think hard about how to ensure that the achievements of the multilateral system are not undermined and that we are able to do our job. States gathered in this very room last December, fully cognizant of the many challenges, and recognised that human rights are a pathway for solutions. A strong and effective human rights system is key to effective multilateral cooperation, and to building a better future for people and planet.
 
http://www.ohchr.org/en/statements-and-speeches/2024/06/we-must-urgently-find-our-way-back-peace-says-high-commissioner


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117 million forced to flee: “An utter failure to protect civilians”
by Jan Egeland
Secretary General, Norwegian Refugee Council
 
June 2024
 
Never before in recorded history have so many people in so many countries been fleeing conflict, violence, and persecution. Every year for more than a decade, we have documented new record numbers of both refugees and those internally displaced due to the brutality of armed men, faltering conflict resolution diplomacy, and global failure to protect civilians. New wars and emergencies are added to all the unresolved crises, resulting in more than 117 million people facing desperate situations.
 
“How long will national, regional, and global leaders fail to take decisive action to protect civilians? From Sudan to Ukraine, and from Burkina Faso to Gaza, civilians are driven from their homes and then often forgotten, their needs neglected for years or even decades.
 
“In much of Europe and North America, political arguments focus on evermore punitive policies to turn away those fleeing in desperation. Many wealthy countries advance policies of keeping refugees – or even sending them – far away, thus evading their responsibilities. Each year millions are trapped in inhumane conditions.
 
“More than two thirds of refugees remain in neighbouring countries. A handful of nations are hosting the majority of displaced people globally. Some nations, like Iran, Lebanon, Türkiye, and Uganda, host millions of refugees despite limited resources, whilst other wealthier nations make every effort to avoid fulfilling their duty.
 
“This year’s figures represent yet another failure of international solidarity and coordination. As the number of those requiring help increases, we see both humanitarian and developmental funding dropping. Vast crises – such as in DR Congo, Sudan, or the Central Sahel region – continue to go unnoticed by both media and donors.
 
“This cannot continue. There must be a renewed effort to provide civilians with the protection they are entitled to, and to ensure that financial support matches the scale of the human suffering represented in today’s figures.
 
“How many more years can these numbers grow whilst much of the world continues to look the other way?”


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