High Commissioner Tells the Human Rights Council that Human Rights in Afghanistan Are in a State of Collapse, and that He Is Saddened by the Continued and Widespread Deterioration of Human Rights in Nicaragua

MORNING 12 September 2023

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the report of his Office on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, and an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on his report on the human rights situation in Nicaragua.

Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said human rights in Afghanistan were in a state of collapse, acutely affecting the lives of millions of women, men, girls and boys. Violations of human rights in the country were not new: decades of armed conflict meant that Afghanistan had known violence and injustice for much of its recent history. But the dynamic imposed by the Taliban since they took power two years ago particularly targeted women and girls, excluding them from most aspects of public and daily life. The country had also plunged into a grave humanitarian and economic crisis, with two thirds of the population now in need of assistance.

Mr. Türk said Afghanistan had set a devastating precedent as the only country in the world where women and girls were denied access to secondary and higher education. Over the past two years, there had been a systematic erosion of the laws and institutions that once provided protection for human rights. Laws were now made by edicts rather than through consultative processes. The laws that had protected women from violence and created an enabling environment for the media had been suspended. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission was no more. Corporal punishment and public executions had resumed and there were ongoing reports of extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrests. Compounding all of this was a deeply troubling lack of accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations.

Concluding, Mr. Türk said the international community could not turn its back on the people of Afghanistan. This was a human rights crisis of the first order. He encouraged States proactively to help address the challenges facing the Afghan economy. This would involve concrete efforts to restore the financial systems to genuinely benefit the Afghan people, including women and girls, and to ensure that sanctions did not impact on humanitarian needs. He also urged States with influence over the de facto authorities to help them reverse the current trajectory. Mr. Türk exhorted the de facto authorities to fundamentally bring Afghanistan back to the international order with full respect for its international human rights obligations.

Afghanistan, speaking as the country concerned, said the actions of the de facto authorities had undermined human rights at all levels. The Taliban had to be reminded time and again that the State of Afghanistan remained bound by human rights obligations, and that it could not and should not unbind the country from the international system. This particularly applied to the situation of women and girls and their access to education and work. The Taliban had abolished the rule of law and justice, with a twisted misogynistic ideology that refused the rights of all religious and other minorities, and their policies constituted a crime against humanity. Proactive measures were required to reverse the situation and restore the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Afghanistan.

In the discussion, some speakers said they were deeply concerned at the regression of the basic rights of women and girls. Women and girls were still excluded from secondary and higher education and were restricted from participating in almost all forms of public life, including working for the United Nations or non-governmental organizations. The country was ruled by edicts, while judges, prosecutors and lawyers had been removed from the legal system. The Taliban’s draconian measures in education, health and employment had invoked further violations of women’s and girls’ rights. The Taliban authorities were called on to end all human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law in Afghanistan. Some speakers expressed concerns at the cruel unilateral coercive measures imposed on Afghanistan by hegemonic countries, which caused suffering for the population. These speakers called for the lifting of these measures, and underscored the importance of preventing the politicisation of humanitarian aid.

The Council then held an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on his report on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua.

Mr. Türk said he was saddened by the continued and widespread deterioration of human rights in Nicaragua. Since the report to the Council a year ago, individuals perceived as opponents or critics of the Government had continued to be persecuted, and subjected to measures that violated their human rights. These included long prison sentences handed down without trial, in the context of a justice system that lacked any independence; and the deportation, arbitrary deprivation of nationality, and prohibition of Nicaraguans from returning to their own country.

The new report detailed that the Nicaraguan Government continued to impose severe restrictions on the civic and democratic space, and had extended its control over civil society organizations, international non-governmental organizations, universities, and the media. Poverty was high, but appeared to be decreasing. Perceived critics of the authorities and their relatives were routinely harassed, persecuted and jailed. Since August 2022, the legal status of 2,020 civil society organizations had been cancelled. Twelve universities had also been closed over the past year. The Office continued to document violations of freedom of religion and belief, mainly directed against the Roman Catholic Church, including arbitrary detentions.

Mr. Türk regretted the Government’s lack of response to communications, and refusal to cooperate with international agencies or the Office. He appealed for the release of all people arbitrarily detained, as well as for the restoration of the rights of individuals deprived of their nationality. Finally, Mr. Türk urged the international community to maintain its efforts to influence the authorities and to support Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers.

Nicaragua, speaking as a country concerned, said the report was simply an update of the false accusations made against Nicaragua and its Government with the only intention of leading to the manipulation of reality and ignoring Nicaragua’s goodwill in submitting reports, which was not taken into account. Nicaragua completely rejected the systematic use of this mechanism, which overlooked its sovereignty, independence, and right to self-determination. These Machiavellian intentions were based on distorted and biased information from groups which sought to manipulate the reality in the country. Nicaragua rejected any update or report that was far away from the reality in the country, which was working towards economic and development progress to improve the situation. Nicaragua rejected all sanctions, which were contrary to the basic principles of human rights, violating the principles of equality and democracy as set out in the United Nations Charter.

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers urged Nicaragua to re-engage with the international community. They were deeply concerned about the closure of civic space and the repression against political opponents, independent media, students, civil society, academics, members of the clergy, and human rights defenders, and called on the authorities to take measures to prevent abuses against indigenous peoples and persons belonging to Afro-descendant communities. Some speakers said that human rights should be protected through cooperation, and not through instrumentalisation. The submission of the so-called report without the agreement of the country concerned was counter-productive and would not improve the situation.

Speaking in the discussion on Afghanistan were the European Union, Netherlands on behalf of the Benelux countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Liechtenstein, Ukraine, Chile, France, United States, Kuwait, Malta, Ireland, New Zealand, China, Malaysia, Cyprus, Romania, Namibia, Pakistan, United Kingdom, Czechia, Venezuela, Iran, Sierra Leone, Lithuania, Albania, India, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Maldives and Russian Federation.

Also speaking were Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Interfaith International, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Amnesty International, International Bar Association, Afghanistan Democracy and Development Organization, Human Rights Research League, Meezaan Centre for Human Rights, and Association Ma’onah for Human Rights and Immigration.

Speaking in the discussion on Nicaragua were the Netherlands on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Estonia on behalf of a group of countries, Chile on behalf of a group of countries, Sovereign Order of Malta, Switzerland, Ecuador, Chile, Germany, France, United States, Georgia, China, Russian Federation, Argentina, Peru, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Cuba, Venezuela, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Spain, Uruguay, Iran, Ukraine, Belarus, Australia, Syria, Eritrea and Ireland.

Also speaking were Aula Abierta, Pan American Development Foundation, CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation, European Centre for Law and Justice, Centre Europeen pour le droit, les Justice et les droits de l’homme, Peace Brigades International, United Nations Watch, Centre for Justice and International Law, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, and Human Rights Watch.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-fourth regular session can be found here.

The Council will reconvene at 3 p.m. this afternoon to hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on his oral update on Sudan, to be followed by the oral update by the Group of Experts on Nicaragua, followed by a general debate on item 2 of the agenda on the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General.

Interactive Dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Report of his Office on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan (A/HRC/54/21).

Presentation of Report

VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said human rights in Afghanistan were in a state of collapse, acutely affecting the lives of millions of women, men, girls and boys. Violations of human rights in the country were not new: decades of armed conflict meant that Afghanistan had known violence and injustice for much of its recent history. But the dynamic imposed by the Taliban since they took power two years ago particularly targeted women and girls, excluding them from most aspects of public and daily life. The country had also plunged into a grave humanitarian and economic crisis, with two thirds of the population now in need of assistance. The report before the Council showed the stripping back of legal and institutional frameworks and protections of human rights in Afghanistan. Mr. Türk reminded the de facto authorities that they continued to be bound by Afghanistan’s international human rights obligations.

Afghanistan had set a devastating precedent as the only country in the world where women and girls were denied access to secondary and higher education. The list of misogynistic restrictions and edicts also included a requirement to wear the hijab in public places; no parks, gyms, public baths, or beauty salons; no travelling more than 78 kilometres without a “mahram”, or male chaperone; and no working for domestic or international non-governmental organizations, and now, the United Nations. Women and girls deemed non-compliant with these rules faced arbitrary arrest and detention, harassment and physical violence, as did their male relatives. In recent weeks, the de facto authorities had prevented a group of female students from travelling to Dubai for their studies because they were not all accompanied by “mahrams”.

Over the past two years, there had been a systematic erosion of the laws and institutions that once provided protection for human rights. Laws were now made by edicts rather than through consultative processes. The laws that had protected women from violence and created an enabling environment for the media had been suspended. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission was no more. Corporal punishment and public executions had resumed and there were ongoing reports of extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary arrests. While the de facto authorities had established some new bodies with a mandate for visiting prisons, oversight of judicial processes and receiving complaints, it was yet to be seen how they would work. Compounding all of this was a deeply troubling lack of accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations.

The severe curtailment of the media in Afghanistan meant journalists were now forbidden to publish content deemed contrary to their religious interpretation. Women journalists were required to cover their faces while broadcasting and numerous media outlets had been forced to halt operations. Civil society faced similar constraints. The de facto authorities had also employed arbitrary arrests and detentions and at times excessive force as a tool for silencing dissent and free speech. When possible, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan would continue to raise individual cases with the de facto authorities and urge compliance with international law. The Office would continue to monitor and report on human rights developments and keep the Council informed. In the absence of other human rights institutions in the country, this presence was critical.

Mr. Türk paid special tribute to Afghan female staff who were working under these unimaginable constraints. The international community could not turn its back on the people of Afghanistan. This was a human rights crisis of the first order. He encouraged States proactively to help address the challenges facing the Afghan economy. This would involve concrete efforts to restore the financial systems to genuinely benefit the Afghan people, including women and girls, and to ensure that sanctions did not impact on humanitarian needs. He also urged States with influence over the de facto authorities to help them reverse the current trajectory. Mr. Türk exhorted the de facto authorities to fundamentally bring Afghanistan back to the international order with full respect for its international human rights obligations.

Statement By Country Concerned

Afghanistan, speaking as a country concerned, said this comprehensive report was welcomed: it aptly stated that even though Afghanistan had already faced significant human rights challenges before being taken over by the Taliban, although the previous Government had been taking steps, ever since, the actions of the de facto authorities had undermined human rights at all levels. The Taliban had to be reminded time and again that the State of Afghanistan remained bound by human rights obligations, and that it could not and should not unbind the country from the international system. This particularly applied to the situation of women and girls and their access to education and work, which had gravely affected the humanitarian situation, pushing more women and families to poverty, prolonging the existence of polio, and degrading the health situation of the country.

With over 4 million children deprived of education, the gender apartheid policies of the Taliban were also an imminent threat to neighbouring States, and a serious reversal of the Sustainable Development Goals, none of which were likely to be achieved in Afghanistan. The Taliban had abolished the rule of law and justice, with a twisted misogynistic ideology that refused the rights of all religious and other minorities, and their policies constituted a crime against humanity. Proactive measures were required to reverse the situation and restore the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Afghanistan. The bright side of the situation was the civil society of Afghanistan, which was continuing to render services to the people of Afghanistan.

Discussion

In the discussion, a number of speakers thanked the High Commissioner for his alarming report on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, which outlined the dismantling of institutions in the country by the Taliban. They endorsed the report’s recommendations that the Taliban authorities should fundamentally change their approach to human rights and comply fully with Afghanistan’s obligations under international human rights law.

Speakers remained deeply concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Afghanistan, and the regression of the basic rights of women and girls. Women and girls were still excluded from secondary and higher education and were restricted from participating in almost all forms of public life, including working for the United Nations or non-governmental organizations. All safeguards in the legal system had been discarded. The country was ruled by edicts, while judges, prosecutors and lawyers had been removed from the legal system, as had women, who had been erased from all spheres of society.

Effectively restricted to a life at home, women also faced increased levels of sexual and gender-based violence and abuse. The Taliban’s draconian measures affecting education, health and employment had invoked further violations of women’s and girls’ rights, including women being beaten, harassed or ordered to return home if exercising their freedom of movement. Furthermore, the prolonged humanitarian crises accompanied by lack of access to funds had left millions of Afghans at high risk of malnutrition, precarious health conditions, increased female mortality, and reduced access to basic education. Concern was also raised about the reports of over 200 extrajudicial killings and several hundred arbitrary arrests and detentions, mainly of former government officials since August 2021.

The Taliban were called on to end all human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law in Afghanistan. Some speakers also urged the Taliban to reverse actions that had resulted in the systematic socio-economic exclusion of women and girls and in the shrinking of civic space, including media freedom. They called on the Taliban to reverse discriminatory edits against women and girls and to honour their commitments to respect and protect their human rights. The country needed to honour its international commitments and empower women and girls to build a fairer and more representative society. The de facto authorities were urged to prevent further violations and to hold perpetrators accountable.

A number of speakers said this was a time to stand by Afghanistan; the international community and the Council must not remain silent. States were called on to hold the de facto authorities to account. Many speakers said they stood in solidarity with Afghan women and girls who were courageously fighting for their rights. An inclusive political process, with full, equal and meaningful participation of all Afghans, including women and girls and persons belonging to ethnic and religious groups and minorities, was required to ensure sustainable peace, stability and prosperity in the country. Speakers reiterated their support for institutions such the International Criminal Court, as accountability for human rights violations was essential. The role of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the wider United Nations system in safeguarding human rights in Afghanistan was of the utmost importance.

A number of speakers noted that it was important to analyse the current situation in its historical context and offer realistic pathways. They reiterated their commitment to play an active role to provide assistance to Afghanistan, and outlined support which had been provided already by their countries. Some speakers expressed concerns at the cruel unilateral coercive measures imposed on Afghanistan by hegemonic countries, which caused suffering for the population. These speakers called for the lifting of these measures, and underscored the importance of preventing the politicisation of humanitarian aid. They also stressed that crimes had been committed by the United States during its time in Afghanistan.

Among other questions, speakers asked the High Commissioner about the opportunities to strengthen accountability locally in Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls. What were the opportunities and challenges for the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan to positively influence developments in the field of the rule of law? How could the United Nations mechanisms on human rights in Afghanistan be better supported and strengthened? How could the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights facilitate and support dialogue between the de facto authorities and the international community to improve the situation of human rights in Afghanistan? How could the international community ensure the implementation of the High Commissioner’s recommendations, including for the Taliban to promptly rescind discriminatory edicts and decrees which curtailed women’s and girls’ human rights?

A number of speakers expressed condolences to Morocco for the recent devastating earthquake.

Concluding Remarks

VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, said it was absolutely clear that the situation in Afghanistan was an unmitigated tragedy, a human rights crisis of the first order. The only way for the international community to deal with it was to be united, to have a coherent approach, and to be sure that in all actions, whether development, peace and security, or political, they had human rights at their centre, not as an after-thought. The report before the Council focused very much on the rule of law issues and the effective dismantling of the institutions that had been put in place for the promotion and protection of human rights. It was absolutely critical to ensure that there was a robust human rights presence on the ground, especially at a time when so many countries did not have a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, so that the United Nations human rights machinery on the ground monitored documents and reports and found ways and means to discuss the situation with the de facto authorities.

Colleagues on the ground had been able to raise issues with the de facto authorities at various levels. Accountability, in its multi-faceted form, was critical. It was one of the things that had been lacking in Afghanistan for decades, and the Office would continue to advocate for accountability for all human rights violations and abuses that had occurred in the past as well as those ongoing. It was important to explore options for transitional justice that were focused on the victims themselves. The international community must take stock of what it heard today and make sure the existing mechanisms were properly used, resourced and supported.

When it came to systemic gender persecution, whoever had any influence over the de facto authorities must make it clear to them that they had removed themselves from the international order, from the United Nations Charter itself, in the imposition of restrictions on women and girls. This could not be the future of Afghanistan, nor of any country. Creative ways must be found to support those who were working within the country to this effect.

Some 28.3 million Afghans were in need of humanitarian assistance. The country required further assistance, and Mr. Türk appealed to the international community to continue to support the humanitarian work. He appealed to more countries to open their doors to Afghan refugees, open the channels, and ensure that there were regular pathways for refuge and support. On the impact of sanctions, it was critical that their implementation did not impede the provision of essential public services that were accessible to all and necessary for the enjoyment of human rights. On civic space, a lot of media and civil society organizations in the country had suffered from funding shortfalls, and it was critical to find ways and means to continue the support that civil society organizations and media organizations inside and outside of the country needed. It was critical for the international community to have unity of purpose and be guided by the centrality of human rights in the way forward.

Interactive Dialogue with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on his Report on the Human Rights Situation in Nicaragua

Report

The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Nicaragua (A/HRC/54/60).

Presentation of Report

VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said he was saddened by the continued and widespread deterioration of human rights in Nicaragua. Since the report to the Council a year ago, individuals perceived as opponents or critics of the Government had continued to be persecuted, and subjected to measures that violated their human rights. These included long prison sentences handed down without trial, in the context of a justice system that lacked any independence; and the deportation, arbitrary deprivation of nationality, and prohibition of Nicaraguans from returning to their own country.

The new report detailed that the Nicaraguan Government continued to impose severe restrictions on the civic and democratic space, and had extended its control over civil society organizations, international non-governmental organizations, universities, and the media. Poverty was high, but appeared to be decreasing, from 14.2 per cent in 2021 to 13.3 per cent in 2022 according to the Government’s figures. Perceived critics of the authorities, and their relatives, were routinely harassed, persecuted and jailed. In February alone, 316 Nicaraguans perceived to oppose the Government were arbitrarily deprived of their nationality, their assets, and all civil and political rights. Many people now feared to leave the country, even briefly, for fear that they would not be permitted to return.

Since August 2022, the legal status of 2,020 civil society organizations had been cancelled, for a total of 3,394 organizations since 2018, which was almost half the civil society groups in Nicaragua. Twelve universities had also been closed over the past year. One, the Central American University, was termed a “centre of terrorism to organise criminal groups.” The Office also continued to document violations of freedom of religion and belief, mainly directed against the Roman Catholic Church, including arbitrary detentions. To date, 71 people remained arbitrarily detained in Nicaragua, having been tried and sentenced without due process guarantees. One, Bishop Roland Alvarez, was sentenced to 26 years in prison without any trial at all. In July, after the reporting period ended, the Office documented a further seven cases of severe torture of detainees, including the use of electricity and the sexual abuse and rape of men. Many detainees were subjected to ill treatment, including denial of contact with their family members, denial of medication, restrictions on basic hygiene items and limited food distribution.

Mr. Türk called on the authorities to accept the return of independent and impartial international detention monitors; to eradicate torture and ill treatment; and to reinstate due process guarantees and the rule of law. Other issues of deep concern included the rise in murder and violent attacks against indigenous and Afro-descendant territories over the past year. Mr. Türk was also concerned by the high numbers of child marriages and teen pregnancies in Nicaragua, and by the country’s total ban on abortion. The Government’s constant, unpredictable and arbitrary acts of persecution had driven many people to flee. Between September 2022 and July 2023, 45,866 Nicaraguans had applied for asylum in Costa Rica alone.

Mr. Türk said he regretted the Government’s lack of response to communications, and refusal to cooperate with international agencies or the Office. He urged the Government to empower its people to meet, speak out and participate freely and fully in decisions. He also appealed for the release of all people arbitrarily detained, as well as for the restoration of the rights of individuals deprived of their nationality. Finally, Mr. Türk urged the international community to maintain its efforts to influence the authorities and to support Nicaraguan refugees and asylum seekers.

Statement by Country Concerned

Nicaragua, speaking as the country concerned, said the report was simply an update of the false accusations made against Nicaragua and its Government with the only intention of leading to the manipulation of reality and ignoring Nicaragua’s goodwill in submitting reports, which was not taken into account. Nicaragua completely rejected the systematic use of this updating, reporting mechanism on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua, which overlooked its sovereignty, independence, and right to self-determination. These Machiavellian intentions were based on distorted and biased information from groups which sought to manipulate the reality in the country with the only goal of deviating the people.

Nicaragua rejected any update or report that was far away from the reality in the country, which was working towards economic and development progress to improve the situation. Nicaragua rejected all sanctions, which were contrary to the basic principles of human rights, violating the principles of equality and democracy as set out in the United Nations Charter. The achievements in Nicaragua had been at the cost of other countries pillaging it, taking its wealth for themselves, but Nicaragua continued to work towards progress. Nicaragua asked for the mechanism to act with justice and equality, without any type of imperialist policies.

Discussion

In the discussion, many speakers urged Nicaragua to re-engage with the international community. They were deeply concerned about the closure of civic space and the repression against political opponents, independent media, students, civil society, academics, members of the clergy, and human rights defenders, and called on the authorities to take measures to prevent abuses against indigenous peoples and persons belonging to Afro-descendant communities. The rollback of academic freedom was deplored by several speakers as this undermined Nicaraguans’ right to education and the autonomy of universities.

The Nicaraguan authorities were urged to fully respect their international commitments, including those in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and were called on to free all persons arbitrarily detained, and to ensure full respect for due process and adherence to internationally recognised Nelson Mandela Rules for the treatment of prisoners.

Some speakers said the current political crisis could be solved through genuine dialogue between the authorities and the opposition, with due involvement of civil society and cooperation with international human rights mechanisms and the international community. The Government must ensure the full enjoyment of human rights, including civil and political rights, and immediately and unconditionally free all political prisoners. Impunity for human rights violations must end. The massive use of stripping of nationality for punitive reasons was condemned and must cease immediately. The confiscation of citizens’ property must also come to an end.

A number of speakers said many Nicaraguans had abandoned and left the country en masse, seeking asylum. Nicaragua had stepped up its attacks against the Catholic Church, closing down and confiscating property of the Jesuit Order, and closing universities. The authorities were urged to renew dialogue with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American human rights system. Nicaragua was called upon to release all political prisoners, and restore dialogue with the international community in good faith. There must be a lifting of repressive measures affecting certain groups of citizens, in particular ecclesiastics, and humanitarian and medico-social workers. The authorities must guarantee fundamental freedoms and human rights in the country, release all political prisoners, and restore democracy, peace and freedom and the integrity of educational institutions.

Some speakers said, however, that human rights should be protected through cooperation, and not through instrumentalisation. The submission of the so-called report without the agreement of the country concerned was counter-productive and would not improve the situation. The unilateral coercive measures imposed by some countries on Nicaragua had seriously impeded the socioeconomic development of the country and the enjoyment of the human rights of its people, purely as a result of politicisation. They must immediately cease to interfere in the internal affairs of Nicaragua under the pretext of human rights, and repeal all unilateral coercive measures.

A number of speakers said there must be objective, impartial, and de-politicised work in the Council, and it should not be manipulated into bringing pressure to bear on Nicaragua, which only served to weaken that country further. Human rights were being used as a pretext to discredit the authorities, taking no account of the successes achieved by the authorities even whilst suffering under the unfair economic regime imposed from outside. The use of questions of democracy and human rights as a pretext for interference within States was a glaring example of cynicism by the Western countries, which should cease this practice and ensure a mutually respective dialogue.

Among the questions raised were how could the international community support the students who had been robbed of their academic development and denied their right to education, including those now living in exile; what was the state of Nicaragua’s civil society after the forced closure of up to 3,900 organizations and the consequences for Nicaraguans; what concrete steps could the international community take to urge Nicaragua to ensure academic freedom and freedom of expression; how could the international community work to protect the rights of women, when more than 400 women’s organizations had been forced to shut down; and what would be the most pertinent immediate steps the authorities could take to ensure respect for human rights.

Concluding Remarks

VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, said the situation in Nicaragua deeply saddened and troubled him. The only way out was to find ways to cooperate. He invited the Government of Nicaragua to reach out and to respond to his letters, and to the invitation to have a presence in the country. His Office fulfilled the mandate with due respect for the principle of objectivity. When the Office worked, the methodology used was rigorous. It involved regular monitoring, credibility assessment and first-hand recounts from victims. Mr. Türk said he continued to be open to dialogue and cooperation and would work constructively with the authorities. In the last three reviews of the human rights treaty bodies, the State did not attend. There was great value in cooperating with the work of the treaty bodies and in engaging in the work of the independent experts.

Responding to questions, Mr. Türk said immediate steps needed to be taken to release all people who were arbitrarily detained and to ensure the safe return of all Nicaraguans banned from entering the country, and that their nationality was restored. The closure of civic space was an affront to Nicaraguan society. A study estimated that Nicaragua had lost over 41 million dollars due to the closure of over 3,000 organizations. It was important to re-engage, move away from self-isolation and allow civil society to thrive. All Member States were encouraged to attempt to recognise the academic records of Nicaraguan students, which had been erased. The biggest call to action was for Nicaragua to find a way to cooperate with the human rights system.

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