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Dhaka Tribune

UN experts raise alarm about the undermining of international human rights

  • Issued an open letter on January 9
  • ‘We await your immediate and active support’
Update : 17 Jan 2024, 10:34 PM

Independent UN Human Rights experts have raised alarm about the undermining of international human rights and humanitarian law. 

In an open letter issued on January 9, a group of 18 experts called upon all UN member states to immediately cease and desist from articulating political and moral support or providing economic or military assistance for action by state and non-State actors that comprise violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law – some of them amounting to grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

“Events across different parts of the world, and the reactions to them by powerful third-party Member States, threaten to fatally undermine the universal applicability of key international norms for the protection of civilians and their fundamental human rights – and with it, the credibility of our various country-specific mandates,” they said in the letter. 

The troubling gradual and ongoing erosion of these universal standards has been observable in conflicts over the past two decades and particularly since the declaration of the “war on terror”. However, recent and multiple armed conflicts threaten to completely unravel standards and protection systems that have taken decades to put in place. 

“We feel compelled to remind member states of the following basic safeguards, which all are obliged to respect and to ensure that others also respect,” said the letter. 

“Collective punishment, the targeting of and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, medical facilities and personnel, religious and residential buildings, markets, and educational institutions, as well as forced displacement and deportation, the taking of hostages, sexual violence, looting, pillage, arbitrary detention and slavery are all prohibited by international law.”

“In the event of urgent military necessity, or claims that a particular location has forfeited its civilian status, the burden of proof lies with those attacking such locations, and not with those being attacked, i.e., the civilians whom they house or shelter,” said the UN experts in the letter. 

They said that the starvation of a population, deprivation of their access to adequate food, housing, water, fuel, and medicine are prohibited. Parties to conflicts are obliged to allow humanitarian aid and relief to adequate levels to enter areas under their military control; third parties have to ensure that this obligation is met. Third parties remain bound by their own obligations under international law not to facilitate or guarantee actions or agreements in violation of that law.

“We remind UN Member States that mechanisms of remedy and reparation for violation of fundamental human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity exist in national, regional and international fora. These mechanisms can and should be mobilized, vigorously and impartially, not only against perpetrators but against those in authority elsewhere who variously encourage, facilitate, and fail to prevent the commission of such crimes.”

It is imperative that third party member states immediately desist from actions or inaction that undermine international human rights standards, principles, and safeguards, including action taken as allies and supporters. 

“We await your immediate and active support. One particular area where support would be welcome from all member states is to ensure our full and free access, as UN independent human rights experts, to all countries to enable us to fulfill our mandates to assist the international community in its proclaimed intent to promote the protection of universal human rights around the world, with no distinction and no discriminations,” said the letter. 

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