16/09/2020 HRC45: Concern over UN silence on Western Sahara

HRC45: Concern over UN silence on Western Sahara

Human Rights, Peace, Democracy and Law, 16/09/2020

On September 14th, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presented her oral update on the current state of human rights around the world. On this occasion, the Right Livelihood Foundation delivered two statements denouncing the silence of the UN over the grave human rights violations in Western Sahara and the absence of a human rights monitoring mechanism in the territory.

At the opening of the 45th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet presented her oral update outlining the human rights situation across the world. She first highlighted that the COVID-19 crisis has collided with many other political, social and economic crises around the world and expressed concern at a number of human rights violations in countries such as Belarus, Iran, China, Ethiopia, Syria, Burundi, and the United States, among others. 

On Western Sahara, Bachelet stated that she is remotely monitoring the situation, and that her Office is seeking to organise a new technical mission to the territory, in cooperation with all parties. The last one was conducted five years ago. She highlighted that such missions are vital to identify critical human rights issues and contribute to preventing the escalation of grievances. 

Camilla Argentieri delivering the oral statement on Western Sahara at HRC45

In solidarity with 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar, the Right Livelihood Foundation delivered two oral statements, one jointly with the NGOs Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara, denouncing the silence and absence of the United Nations in the territory. MINURSO is the only UN peacekeeping mission without a monitoring and reporting mandate, and the premature resignation of the UNSG Special Envoy has put on hold the negotiation process for over a year. We therefore urged the High Commissioner to resume the technical mission without delay, and to implement a programme of technical cooperation and capacity building with the legitimate representative of the people of Western Sahara. We also called on the Human Rights Council to consider the appointment of a Special Rapporteur of the human rights situation in Western Sahara.

Read the oral statements here.

Bachelet also highlighted the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and in particular the Gaza Strip, where COVID-19 exacerbated the already severe humanitarian crisis and the health sector is facing total collapse. Bachelet urged Israel to lift the blockade which contravenes international law. Back in May, we spoke to 2013 Right Livelihood Laureate Raji Sourani, currently residing in Gaza, to better understand how the crisis affected the already vulnerable Gaza population. Read more here.

In Brazil, Bachelet condemned attacks on human rights defenders and journalists, as well as rural violence and evictions of landless communities. In August, 1991 Right Livelihood Laureate MST denounced the violent evictions happening at Quilombo Campo Grande (Mina Gerais state), which is home to 450 landless families who have been living, producing and working there for over two decades.

According to Bachelet, Afghanistan remains a country of concern, where the human cost of conflict is unacceptable, with some 3,500 civilian casualties this year, and continuing attacks on healthcare facilities and personnel are appalling. 2012 Right Livelihood Laureate and Afghanistan’s Minister for Human Rights Sima Samar spoke recently to the Foundation about the impact of COVID19, and explained how the pandemic could change Afghanistan’s social structure forever. Read more here. 

The High Commissioner also urged the release, without delay, of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, who have been arbitrarily detained for over two years for calling for reforms related to the repressive male guardianship system. In May 2020, on the occasion of the second anniversary of their arrest, the Foundation published an Op-Ed by 2016 Right Livelihood Laureate Mozn Hassan, who praised their courageous activism and called for their immediate release. Read more here.