At the 28th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, IFOR partnered with several organizations to offer testimony on the human rights situations in Tibet, Eritrea, and Bolivia.
Tibet: March 13, John Gaudette who works with the IFOR Affiliate, The Tibetan Center for Human Rights spoke under Agenda Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights civil, political, economic, social and cultural including the right to development.
The International Fellowship of Reconciliation is gravely concerned about inequality within countries regarding the right to education and the right to health, in particular child and maternal health. All three areas are prioritized in the Millennium Development Goals, and will be important aspects of the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals.
In large countries, small under represented minorities can be lost in national averages. As a consequence, the risks they face can often be overlooked, forgotten, or hidden. For example, according to official statistics from the People’s Republic of China the people in the Tibet Autonomous Region, who are 90% ethnically Tibetan, face problems with education and health that are much more severe than other parts of the People's Republic of China.
In terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, childhood malnutrition, maternal mortality ratios, illiteracy rates, children under the age of three and under the age of seven receiving systematic healthcare, pregnant women receiving systematic healthcare, the situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region is the worst in the People's Republic of China and well below the national average. The situation is similar in other Tibetan majority areas. The People's Republic of China is able to claim success in reaching the Millennium Development Goals because the number of people in the Tibet Autonomous Region is relatively small.
This situation is the result of policy choices that do not benefit Tibetans. Despite committing 4% of its gross domestic product to education, the People's Republic of China spends only 3.3%. By implementing policies that address geographic, financial, educational, and cultural barriers to providing health, foreign non-governmental organisations working in Tibet have been much more effective than government run programs.
Ethnic minorities, like Tibetans, are the people who should benefit the most from the Millennium Development Goals. The situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region demonstrates that if they are small enough and the government is inattentive, they will fall through the cracks.
Because good data can enable good policies and expose failed ones we call on the People's Republic of China to make more data available on Tibetans and ethnic minorities. We also urge the United Nations and international development non-governmental organisations to work to ensure positive outcomes in the most vulnerable societies, regardless of national statistics. Only by providing good data that includes specific information on the most vulnerable can the success of the People's Republic of China’s policies be evaluated and the spirit of the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals be fulfilled.
Eritrea: March 16, Elizabeth Chyrum offered testimony on IFOR’s behalf under Agenda Item 4: Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea.
The International Fellowship of Reconciliation, together with the non-ECOSOC NGO Human Rights Concern – Eritrea, thanks the Commission of Inquiry (COI) for its update and for its commitment to bringing to the Council's attention the human rights tragedy in Eritrea.
We strongly supported the creation of the COI having reached the sad conclusion that the Eritrean government showed no interest in combatting the gross and systematic human rights violations perpetrated within its borders. We reluctantly argued that sustained international exposure through a COI mechanism was the only means of calling those responsible to account for their abuses, and giving a voice to those suffering, largely in silence. It is noteworthy that the establishment of the COI was a consensus decision of this Council, appropriately reflecting the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for action.
Since the creation of the mechanism last year we have seen no improvement on the ground. Stories of widespread human rights violations continue to emerge. Of particular concern is the forced military training in harsh environments of senior citizens up to the age of 84, including the disabled, that has resulted in the deaths of at least six people, and the demolition of hundreds of homes in several localities that have left families without shelter. In addition up to 7000 people are fleeing the country on a monthly basis.
We therefore urge the Council, together with the Office of the High Commissioner, to ensure the Commission continues to receive the support and access it needs to complete its work.
We reiterate our call to Member States, particularly those in the region, to do all that they can to assist the Commission in conducting its work, including providing access to Eritrean diaspora communities. We also call in advance on the Council to do all it can to honour and implement the recommendations the COI will make when it delivers its final report in June.
In this way we may finally provide some justice to the Eritreans we are all mandated to speak up for and protect.
Bolivia: March 18, IFOR’s main representative in Geneva, Derek Brett offered the following statement concerning Bolivia under Agenda Item 6: Adoption of Report on UPR of Bolivia.
In the Working Group, Bolivia did not receive recommendations regarding its lack of provision for conscientious objectors to military service. The UPR thus missed a good opportunity to follow other bodies in addressing this shortcoming in Bolivia's implementation of its international treaty obligations.
In the year 2004, the Bolivian ombudsman took to the Inter-American Commission the case of a Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector, and in a Friendly Settlement the following year Bolivia agreed unconditionally to exempt the person concerned from all military service obligations, and also from the normal charge for the certification of exemption. It also agreed to include, in accordance with international human rights law, the right to conscientious objection to military service in the amendments to the military law currently under consideration by the Ministry of Defense. The Inter-American Commission notes that while the individual parts of the Friendly Settlement have been implemented, this general recommendation has not, and it continues to monitor this as a settlement which has been implemented in part only.
When the Human Rights Committee examined the Third Periodic Report of Bolivia under the ICCPR, in October 2013 it expressed concern at the lack of an alternative civilian service available to conscientious objectors and recommended legislative action to create this.
It might also be noted that if Bolivia did this , it would be able it to withdraw its reservation to the article of the Ibero-American Convention on the Rights of Young People which explicitly relates to the right of conscientious objection to military service.
Notwithstanding the lack of any recommendation, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation urges the Bolivian Government to give urgent attention before the next UPR cycle to remedying this gap in the protection of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion in conformity its treaty obligations.