HRC52 – Item 4: General Debate on Human Rights Situations that require the Council’s attention

HRC52 – Item 4: General Debate on Human Rights Situations that require the Council’s attention


52nd Session

(27 February to 4 April 2023)

Item 4

Statement by


Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Sweden

on behalf of the European Union

Geneva, 22 March 2023


HRC52 Item 4 General Debate on Human Rights Situations that require the Council’s attention

EU Statement

Mister President,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The candidate countries North Macedonia and Montenegro[*] the EFTA country Liechtenstein, member of the European Economic Area align themselves with this statement.

The European Union welcomes this opportunity to discuss human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.

With regard to the situations in DPRK, Venezuela and Syria, we would like to refer to our statements during the respective interactive dialogues.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. By its unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine, Russia is grossly violating international law, including the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and seriously undermining global peace and security. We once again urge Russia to immediately, completely and unconditionally stop its ongoing aggression and withdraw all its forces and military equipment from the entire territory of Ukraine and fully respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. We urge Russia to uphold international human rights and humanitarian law. We deplore the loss of life and human suffering. We have witnessed appalling scenes of deliberate attacks by the Russian Armed Forces on civilians and critical infrastructure that may constitute war crimes. The EU expresses outrage at the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and sexual and gender-based violenceUkrainians, including children, who have been forcibly displaced to territories temporarily under Russian military control and who have been deported to the Russian Federation, must be immediately allowed to return safely. We deplore the security checks (so-called “filtration camps“) that take place outside any legal framework and that result, according to credible reports, in numerous human rights violations. We urge Russia to grant without delay full and unhindered access to humanitarian actors. Safe humanitarian passages for civilians wishing to leave must be ensured. The EU fully supports the work of the International Commission of Inquiry. Victims deserve justice and reparation. All commanders, perpetrators and accomplices of war crimes and the other most serious crimes committed and those who violate international law, including international human rights law and international humanitarian law, will be held accountable. We welcome the opening of an investigation by the ICC prosecutor into the situation in Ukraine after the referrals by ICC State Parties, including all EU Member States. The European Union condemns the so-called “sentence”, issued  in the illegally annexed Crimea by illegitimate Russian authorities, against Ukrainian journalists, including Iryna Danylovych, Vladyslav Yesypenko and Asan Akhtemov and calls for the immediate release all illegally detained.

We are seriously concerned about the further deterioration of human rights situation in Russia. Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine has amplified internal repression in Russia, drastically limiting the freedom of opinion and expression and media freedom and introducing war censorship. This is a significant enabling factor of Russia’s aggression abroad. The EU continues to strongly condemn the severe expansion of restrictive legislation and systematic repression against civil society and human rights defenders, as well as unabated crackdown on independent media, individual journalists, political opposition members and other critical voices. The EU calls on the Russian Federation to fully cooperate with all special procedures related to the human rights situation in the Russian Federation. We reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, such as Alexei Navalny, Ilya Yashin, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Alexey Gorinov and Yuri Dmitriev. We also call on Russia to fully implement all rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. We will continue to call upon Russian authorities to uphold their domestic and international obligations to uphold human rights and ensure equality before the law. We continue to call on Russia to respect and protect the rights of persons belonging to minorities, including religious minorities and persons in vulnerable situations and to thoroughly investigate the persistent reports of grave human rights violations and unlawful actions towards human rights defenders and their family members as well as persecutions, including torture, of LGBTI persons, including in Chechnya.

The EU is deeply concerned about deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus. We strongly condemn the ongoing repression and intimidation campaign against all segments of civil society, including human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists and persons belonging to the Polish and Lithuanian minority. The EU calls on Belarusian authorities to stop enabling the Russia’s war of aggression by permitting Russian armed forces to use Belarusian territory and by providing support and training to the Russian military. Many Belarusians are opposed to the country’s participation in the war against Ukraine, but any attempt to voice this opposition is brutally silenced and prosecuted. The EU also strongly condemns recent changes in the penal code that extend the death penalty to “attempted acts of terrorism” as well as treason by an official or a military officer. The EU urges Belarus to immediately halt the repressions, start a genuine, inclusive national dialogue and end the complicity in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The EU continues to support international initiatives to hold all perpetrators to account, including through the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Accountability Platform for Belarus. We reiterate our call on the Belarusian authorities to fully cooperate with all UN human rights mechanisms, including by granting access to the country. The EU strongly condemns violations of the right to a fair trial, the use of torture and other ill-treatment of persons detained, and numerous acts of intimidation. The EU condemns politically motivated sentences in absentia against the leaders of the democratic opposition, including Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, Pavel Latushka and Volha Kavalkova as well as human rights defenders, including Zmitser Salauyou. The EU reiterates its demand for immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and their full legal redress, including the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2022 Ales Bialiatski, sentenced recently to 10 years in prison, Andrzej Poczobut, recently sentenced to 8 years in prisonblogger Ihar Losik and his wife Daria Losik, along with Valiantsin Stefanovic, and Uladzimir Labkovich. Furthermore, the EU urges Belarus to abolish the death penalty and, as a first step, to introduce a moratorium.

The EU expresses its unwavering commitment to the people of Afghanistan and to stability, prosperity and sustainable peace in Afghanistan and the region. The EU is deeply concerned about the continued and systemic violations of human rights by the Taliban, especially of the rights of women and girls. The EU strongly condemns the violations and abuses of rights of persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities and groups, LGBTI persons, human rights defenders, journalists and other media workers, and former members of the Islamic Republic administration and the ANDSF who suffer killings, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, physical abuse and torture. The EU urges the Taliban to uphold the rights of children, including girls’ right to education. As confirmed by the recent visit of the EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan, the situation is worsening on the ground. The EU denounces the continuous dismantling of the rule of law and independence of the justice system in Afghanistan. The EU reminds the Taliban that Afghanistan is bound by international human rights law and international humanitarian law, calls for accountability for violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law and recalls that Afghanistan is a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC. An inclusive political process, with full, equal and meaningful participation of all Afghans, notably women and girls, as well as of all ethnic and religious groups and minorities, is required to ensure sustainable peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan. We strongly condemn the recent bans on women attending universities and working for national and international NGOs, which follow numerous other harmful violations and restrictions for women, and call on the Taliban to lift these decisions immediately. Furthermore, we call on the Taliban to continue cooperation with the UN, including the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan and other Special Procedures mandate holders appointed by the Human Rights Council.

The EU remains deeply concerned by the increasing violence and extremism in in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, which are leading to appalling numbers of Israeli and Palestinian victims, including children. 2022 saw the most Palestinian casualties in the West Bank in years. 2023 has already witnessed heavy Palestinian and Israeli casualties and a deteriorating situation on the ground. The situation in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is a great cause for concern. The EU is concerned about the increasingly high number of civilian casualties, including women and children. While recognising Israel’s right to defend itself and to protect its civilian population, the EU recalls that the use of force must be proportionate and in line with international human rights law and international humanitarian law and only as a last resort when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. The EU reiterates its fundamental commitment to Israel’s security, strongly condemns all forms of terrorism, including recent terror attacks in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem, as well as indiscriminate launching of rockets by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups into Israel. We draw particular attention to restrictions on human rights in the oPt and call on the Palestinian Authority to uphold human rights, in the areas where it is able to exercise control, and to thoroughly investigate alleged violations. We also recall the responsibilities of the de facto authorities in Gaza in this regard. The EU condemns the execution of five prisoners carried out in Gaza in September 2022 and recalls its firm opposition to the use of capital punishment. The worsening humanitarian and human rights situation in the Gaza Strip remains of grave concern. We call for an end to the closure of Gaza, full opening of the crossing points, and unimpeded access for humanitarian actors while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns. The EU is deeply concerned by a worrying reduction of space for civil society in the occupied Palestinian territory. A free and strong civil society is indispensable for promoting democratic values and for the two-state solution. The EU calls on Israel to refrain from any action that would prevent these organisations from continuing their critical human rights, humanitarian and development work in the occupied Palestinian territory. The EU reiterates its call for a thorough investigation that clarifies all the circumstances that led to Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, and that those responsible are brought to justice. The EU remains concerned about the extensive recourse by Israel to administrative detention without formal charge. It calls on Israel to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of Palestinians minors, faced with arrest and detention, in line with international obligations and standards regarding the detention of children. The EU reiterates its strong opposition to Israel’s settlement policy and activities, including in and around East Jerusalem. Settlements are illegal under international law. The EU calls on Israel to halt continued settlement expansion, regularization under Israeli law of illegal outposts, evictions, demolitions and forced transfers. The EU firmly condemns settler violence, including the recent outbreak, and calls for prevention and accountability. The EU calls on the parties to take concrete steps towards restoring a political horizon towards a two-State solution and relaunching the peace process as soon as possible, and remains ready to give its support to this end.

The human rights situation in China, as corroborated by numerous reports of UN Special Rapporteurs and  the most recent evidence based assessment report of human rights concerns in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, remains very serious. Of particular concern are the existence of a large network of political re-education camps, mass arbitrary detentions, widespread surveillance, tracking and control measures, systemic and severe restrictions on the exercise of fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief, as well as the use of forced labour, torture, forced abortion and sterilisation, birth control and family separation policies, and sexual and gender-based violence, especially in Xinjiang Obligatory boarding schooling and DNA sampling, as reported recently by civil society organisations, can further indicate the dire human rights situation in Tibet. Uyghurs, Tibetans and persons belonging to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities continue to be subjected to human rights violations. Human rights defenders, human rights lawyers, journalists, independent reporters, other media workers and intellectuals continue to be exposed to harassment, intimidation and surveillance, including the practice of the Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location (RSDL), and subjected to torture and ill-treatment, unlawful detention, sentencing and often enforced disappearance. The EU expresses its concern regarding the forced disappearance, the arrests and the prosecutions of participants, to the so-called White-Paper movement of November 2022. The EU urges China to abide by its obligations under national law, including China’s own Constitution, and international law, notably international human rights law. This includes fully respecting the rule of law. China must respect the principle of non-refoulement, and refrain from any extraterritorial activity that is not in line with international law. The EU encourages China to effectively cooperate with the OHCHR, including towards the implementation of the recommendations of the assessment report and with all international human rights mechanisms. The OHCHR assessment report concludes that the human rights situation in XUAR also requires urgent attention by the Government, the United Nations intergovernmental bodies and human rights system, as well as the international community more broadly.  The EU continues to closely monitor the situation and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of, among others, Pastor Cao Sanqiang, Cao Zhixin, Chang Weiping, Chen Jianfang, Chen Yunfei, Cheng Yuan, Ding Jiaxi, Fang Bin, Gao Zhisheng, Go Sherab Gyatso,  Guo Quan, Hou Jinyi, Huang Qi, Huang Xueqin, Sakharov Prize winner Ilham Tohti, Kamile Wayt, Li Qiaochu, Li Siqi, Li Yuanjing, Li Yuhan, Peng Lifa, Qin Yongming, Qin Yongpei, Rinchen Tsultrim, Tashi Dorje, Tashpolat Tiyip, Wang Bingzhang, Wang Jianbing, Pastor Wang Yi,  Wang Zang, Wu Gan, Xin Shang, Xu Na, Xu Qin, Xu Zhiyong, Yang Maodong, Zhai Dengrui, Pastor Zhang Chunlei and Zhang Zhan, as well as EU citizen Gui Minhai whose right to consular access must be respected.

The human rights situation in Hong Kong remains of equal concern with the repressive National Security Law (NSL), the renewed use of the Sedition Law, and the sweeping changes in the electoral system that constitute a violation of democratic principles and political pluralism. The legitimate exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression including media freedom supposed to remain protected until 2047, has been substantially eroded. The EU is following with great concern the trial of the 47 politicians and pro-democracy activists who were charged under the National Security Law for holding pro-democracy primary elections in July 2020. Penalising legitimate political activity shows that the law is used to stifle political pluralism and the exercising of human rights and fundamental freedoms protected under Hong Kong laws and international laws. The EU reiterates its call to immediately repeal the National Security Law and the Sedition Law, and stop their implementation, as recommended at the fourth periodic review of Hong Kong under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in July 2022. The EU expresses its concern regarding the prospect of the adoption of a new National Security law, under article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. In this context, the EU calls on Hong Kong authorities to drop the charges against individuals prosecuted solely for legitimate activism, such as Chow Hang-tung. The EU urges the Chinese central government and the Hong Kong authorities to restore full respect for the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and democratic principles, as key to preserve Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy under the ‘One country, two systems’ principle, in compliance with Hong Kong’s Basic Law and China’s domestic and international obligations.

The EU condemns in the strongest possible terms the 1 February 2021 military coup in Myanmar/Burma and continuing grave human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence, the persecution of civil society, human rights defenders and journalists, attacks on the civilian population, targeting also children and persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities across the country, and recent deadly air strikes on civilian targets, including schools and hospitals, by the Myanmar armed forces. The reports of atrocities, including murder, torture and mutilation carried out by the Myanmar armed forces against civilians, including children, on 2 March in Sagaing are emblematic of the country’s descent into the worst forms of violence. The EU notes the assessment that some of these acts may amount to crimes against humanity or constitute war crimes.  Those responsible for the coup, as well as the perpetrators of violence and gross human rights violations, must be held accountable. The EU also urges the military authorities to ensure rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all displaced persons and people in need, in all parts of the country. The politically motivated trials and subsequent unjust sentences against democratically elected President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as other dissidents and pro-democracy activists, show the military regime’s wish to eradicate all democratic opposition to its rule and its utter disregard for the will of the people of Myanmar as expressed in the general elections of 8 November 2020. The EU strongly condemns the shocking execution of four pro-democracy activists in 2022 and calls for an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The EU reiterates its firm demand for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and persons arbitrarily detained. The EU supports ASEAN’s and the UN’s efforts to help find a peaceful solution to the crisis and welcomes the UN Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 2669, which calls for the immediate cessation of violence and the upholding of universal human rights, the provision of full and unhindered humanitarian access and the protection of civilians. Myanmar should swiftly and faithfully implement ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus, as reiterated at the ASEAN Summit in November 2022.

The EU remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation across Iran, which has further deteriorated over the past months. We call upon Iran to eliminate, in law and in practice, all forms of systemic discrimination against women and girls in public and private life and to take gender-responsive measures to prevent and ensure protection for women and girls against sexual and gender-based violence in all its forms. The EU condemns in the strongest possible terms the widespread, brutal and disproportionate use of force by the Iranian authorities against peaceful protesters, including women and children, leading to the loss of hundreds of lives, after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police-custody. The freedom of opinion and expression and other civic freedoms have been increasingly curtailed. We reiterate our call to Iran to ensure full respect for the human rights of all in Iran and we urge Iran to cooperate with Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran and the Independent Fact-Finding Mission created by the Human Rights Council and to implement the relevant international treaties and agreements to which it is a party. We call on the Iranian authorities to cease their widespread resort to torture and inhumane treatment, arbitrary detentions, including of foreign citizens and dual national, and release all those unjustly detained, including all those who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and association and freedom of opinion and expression. We are appalled by the use of harsh sentences, including capital punishment, sexual and gender-based violence, torture and other inhumane treatment as well as enforced disappearances. The EU has a strong, unequivocal and longstanding opposition to the death penalty in all times and in all circumstances and advocates for its universal abolition. The EU calls on Iran to refrain from any future executions, guarantee human rights, such as freedom from torture and other inhumane treatment, and provide due process to all detainees and pursue a consistent policy towards the abolition of capital punishment. The EU also expects all perpetrators of human rights violations to be held accountable and urges the Iranian authorities to strictly abide by the principles enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. The EU recalls that under international law the prohibition of torture is absolute: there are no circumstances or exceptions whatsoever that could be invoked as a justification for its use. We call on Iran to respect the right to consular access in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular relations.

On Mali, the EU is deeply concerned by the worsening security crisis, the sharp deterioration of the human rights situation and the significant increase, in both the numbers and gravity of the violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law against civilians, including reported increase in gender-based violence committed by armed groups, the Malian security forces and the Wagner Group. In Moura, almost one year ago, over 300 civilians were killed with complete impunity. The decision by the Malian authorities to declare the Director of the Human Rights Division of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Mali as persona non grata and the difficulties faced by the Independent Expert during his recent visit are worrying developments. The EU reiterates the call on the Malian authorities to fully uphold the rule of law and human rights. The EU remains concerned by the precarious political situation, with growing pressure on the freedom of opinion and expression and of the press, continued shrinking of civic space, attacks on human rights defenders and civil society by state and non-state actors and limited space for political movements. The EU recalls its support to the mediation led by ECOWAS, which obtained an electoral calendar leading to the organization of the presidential elections in February 2024. We urge the Malian authorities to fight against impunity, especially against human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by terrorists and other armed groups, the Wagner Group, and the Malian Defence and Security Forces (MDSF). Perpetrators must be held accountable for violations and abuses of international law, including international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The EU expresses its profound condolences for the loss of life incurred by the devastating earthquakes which hit Türkiye on 6 February 2023 and in the following days and its sympathies and solidarity with all people impacted by the severe consequences of these earthquakes, including those whose precarious living situations have been exacerbated. Amid this context, human rights and the rule of law are all the more important. The EU continues to deeply regret the backsliding in the areas of democracy, rule of law, and fundamental rights in Türkiye. The EU is concerned about targeting of political parties, civil society representatives, journalists, academics, human rights defenders and others with detentions, including the recent sentencing of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu. These developments, , increase concerns about the continued deterioration of respect for the rule of law and human rights, including fundamental freedoms and the independence of the judiciary. Türkiye’s decision to withdraw from the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence risks compromising the protection and fundamental rights of women and girls. As an EU candidate country and long-standing member of the Council of Europe, Türkiye is expected to apply the highest democratic standards and practices. In this context, Türkiye’s continued refusal to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights increases the EU’s concerns regarding the Turkish judiciary’s adherence to international and European standards.  The EU reiterates the call on Türkiye to comply with its obligations under international law, including human rights law, and to protect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, including property rights of persons belonging to minorities and minorities’ legal entities, as well as universal access to cultural life in accordance with Turkiye’s international commitments. Human rights will continue to be an integral part of EU-Türkiye relations.

The EU condemns in the strongest terms Nicaragua’s deepening repression against any form of political dissent, through measures that flagrantly violate both its own Constitution and its international obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The recent release of 222 political prisoners was a long-awaited step. However, their subsequent deportation and the measures adopted to strip them (and another 94 human rights defenders, civil society actors, artists, peasants, journalists, political opposition members and other critical voices mostly already in exile) of their Nicaraguan citizenship and of their civil and political rights, and the confiscation of their properties, as well as plundering of their houses, constitute a blatant violation of their fundamental rights as enshrined in the Nicaragua’s Constitution and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While remaining open to dialogue, the EU calls for the authorities to be held accountable for their systematic violations of human rights and to re-engage with the international community. The EU reiterates its calls on the Nicaraguan authorities to annul all legislation violating human rights and to cease persecution and reprisals against dissidents, human rights defenders, clergy, independent media, peasants, indigenous peoples, and civil society, guaranteeing full respect of human rights, including freedom of assembly, association, opinion, expression and religion or belief. The restoration of democracy, including genuine, democratic elections, is the only constitutional way to resolve the political, economic and social crisis in Nicaragua. International human rights bodies must be authorised to return to Nicaragua.

The EU remains deeply concerned about Haiti’s deepening political and humanitarian crisis, the strength and violence of the armed gangs and the difficulties faced by the State in restoring the rule of law, as reflected also in the increase of targeted attacks against political leaders, journalists and members of the police. Widespread sexual and gender-based violence is another worrying sign of the degradation of human rights and the rule of law in the country. The situation is aggravated by widespread corruption and the enduring weaknesses of the country’s institutions. Until these issues are addressed, there can be no lasting solution to the country’s continued political, economic and humanitarian crisis. The EU calls therefore on all active forces in the society– without exclusion – to step up efforts to address the dire security situation and reach as broad and inclusive a consensus as possible, in order to deliver a solution that is both viable and sustainable, leading to effective elections and the restoration of functioning democratic institutions and rule of law. The EU also highlights the impact of the Haiti crisis on the stability of the region, including on the increase in the outflow of migrants as well as in arms and drugs trafficking.

Thank you.

[*] North Macedonia and Montenegro continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

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