36th Human Rights Council – General debate on Cambodia, Yemen and Georgia

News Releases - The International Center for Peace and Human Rights (CIPADH) attended the General Debate on ITEM 10 concerning technical assistance and capacity-building in Cambodia, Yemen and Georgia, at the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 36th Session. The debate was held on the 28th of September and covered three reports of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner, submitted under item 10. This article aims to give an overview of the OHCHR’s concerns with the conflicts taking place in Cambodia, Yemen and Georgia, and examines the positions taken by different countries on these human rights questions.   



The debate on human rights concerns in Cambodia, Yemen and Georgia took place on the 28th of September at the 36th HRC. The theme was introduced by Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, who discussed the three reports submitted under ITEM 10. She began by discussing the situation in Cambodia, which has, since the implementation of an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in July 2016, undergone many developments. Indeed, the office was successful in achieving technical cooperation (a recurring term throughout this general debate, which describes an OHCHR comprehensive program “providing practical assistance for the building of national and regional human rights infrastructures”) and in battling for the economic, social and cultural rights of Cambodians. However, although the report indicates the country has been thriving economically, it was noted that civic space is becoming increasingly narrow, while political tensions are growing. For instance, the two leaders of the opposition party (CNRP) have recently been accused of defamation and incitement, and the Cambodian Daily press was forced to close following a $6.3m tax bill, according to The Guardian. Ms. Gilmore thus expressed the OHCHR’s concerns for the Cambodian people’s rights, especially in the context of the upcoming 2018 election.

Next, the speaker examined the issues brought forth by the report on Georgia, of which the most notable and urgent concern relates to judicial breaches (for example, accounts of torture have surfaced) and discrimination. Nonetheless, OHCHR has not yet been granted access to Abkahzia and South Ossetia (the problematic regions at the heart of the Russo-Georgian conflict), thus compromising their capacity to present a precise account of the human rights situation. The information available to us does however indicate there have been many disappearances, cases of torture, restrictions on freedom of movement, and a lack of proper health and education services. The report accordingly urges both the Georgian government and the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions to work towards peace and battle discrimination, and offers the OHCHR’s assistance.

Finally, the situation in Yemen was explored, and defined by Ms. Gilmore as the world’s largest ongoing humanitarian crisis. Since September 2014, there have been more and more accounts of attacks against civilians and protected objects, recruitment of children, illegal detentions, impediments to humanitarian access and restrictions to freedom of expression. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Yemen has documented 14’000 civilian casualties since March 2015 alone, and it has been reported that 18.8 million people (out of a total population of 27.4 million) are in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. Cholera, famine and forced displacement are impacting the population in devastating ways, and the state’s public and private facilities are unable to handle the crisis. The speaker highlighted the ‘man-made’ aspect of the catastrophe, a result of the imposition of sieges, blockades and restrictions on movement. The international community was hence called on to act and battle for peace as well as accountability, through the report’s urge to mandate the establishment of an authoritative, international and independent investigative body.


The debate then led to declarations of support for the three reports from countries like France, the United Kingdom, Japan, the United States of America, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. Cambodia affirmed they were hopeful the situation would soon improve, stating that although the country had suffered from political manipulations, it is today experiencing important economic growth and is one of the best performing economies in the world. Moreover, the Cambodian delegate argued that the country’s most recent communal election benefited from an excellent voter turnout (90.37%), which according to them contributes to upholding democracy. However, many actors of the international community have in the past claimed the election was rigged, because of some irregularities in the polling. This opinion is inconsistent with the Cambodian delegate’s declaration, and seems to be an indication of the complexity and opacity of the diplomatic situation. Although no delegation challenged Cambodia’s statement, Japan did urge the OHCHR to impose human rights regulations on all countries equally.

Georgia was then given the floor, and the delegation used that time to remind the council of the danger in restrictions of freedom of movement, that lead to the impediment of human rights. Furthermore, the theme of discriminatory patterns linked to language in Georgia were brought forth. Indeed, it was said that Georgian speakers are pushed out for the benefit of russophones, which the Georgian delegation defined as a form of ethnic cleansing. Next, Ukraine discussed the case of Crimea and linked it to the Russo-Georgian diplomatic crisis, pointing out that the situation had significantly deteriorated since the beginning of Russian occupation, and that many UN guidelines had been violated. Examples given to the council range from the replacement of Ukrainian laws for Russian ones, to the killing of Ukrainian officials or the misuse of psychiatric wards (to confine or torture). Through this contribution, it appears the Ukrainian delegation was hoping to give concrete examples of what the conflict in Georgia could result in, but also to draw the attention of the council to the deterioration of Russo-Ukrainian relations.

Lastly, the crisis in Yemen was reviewed in depth. Many delegations spoke on behalf of groups of countries, demonstrating somewhat of a homogeneity in international stances concerning the critical situation. Estonia represented the European group and reaffirmed their support for the technical assistance the OHCHR has been providing, and asked for a close follow up in the upcoming Human Rights Council. The African Group, with Tunisia as their representative, condemned and raised concerns about the attacks against humanitarian aid, declaring that they should be further investigated. Finally, UNICEF highlighted the vulnerability of children, who are at the center of the Yemeni conflict, being both the victims of air strikes that have in the past few weeks killed and injured civilian youth, and through the previously mentioned recruitment of child soldiers by Huthi forces, as Amnesty International documented in a recent press release.  


The main takeaway from this general debate at the 36th Human Rights Council is the urgency of the establishment of efficient judicial, political and health systems in Cambodia, Georgia and Yemen. Indeed, the OHCHR’s main mission now seems to be encouraging local governments to strive for peace all the while organizing humanitarian assistance when necessary. 


Manon Fabre - Research Assistant at CIPADH