Disregard for international laws

Image: Xabi Oregi


An open letter from independent United Nations human rights experts who serve in various reporting and advisory roles under the UN Human Rights Council

We urgently call on all UN member states to immediately cease and desist from articulating political and moral support or providing economic or military assistance for actions by state and non-state actors that constitute violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. – some of which represent serious breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Events in different parts of the world, and the reactions to them by powerful third member countries, threaten to fatally undermine the universal applicability of decisive international norms for the protection of civilians and their fundamental human rights – and with it the credibility of several specific guidelines for each country.

The disturbing gradual and steady erosion of these universal criteria has been observed in conflicts over the past two decades and especially since the declaration of the “war on terror”. However, several recent armed conflicts threaten to completely disintegrate protection criteria and systems that have been implemented over decades. We feel compelled to remind member countries of the following basic safeguards, which everyone is obliged to respect and to ensure that others respect as well.

Collective punishment, indiscriminate targeting and attacking civilians, medical facilities and professionals, religious and residential buildings, markets and educational institutions, as well as forced displacement and deportation, hostage taking, sexual violence, looting, pillage, arbitrary detention and slavery are all prohibited by international law.

In the case of urgent military necessity, or allegations that a particular location has infringed on its civil status, the burden of proof falls on those attacking such locations – not those being attacked, that is, the civilians they shelter or protect.

The poverty of a population, the deprivation of access to adequate food, housing, water, fuel and medicine is prohibited. Parties to conflicts are obliged to allow humanitarian aid and relief at adequate levels to enter areas under their military control; Third parties must ensure that this obligation is fulfilled. Third parties remain bound by their own obligations under international law not to facilitate or secure acts or agreements that violate that law.

We remind UN member countries that remediation and reparation mechanisms for violations of fundamental human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity exist in national, regional and international forums. These mechanisms can and should be mobilized, in a vigorous and impartial manner, not only against the perpetrators, but also against authorities elsewhere who variously encourage such crimes, facilitate them or fail to prevent their commission.

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

We hope for your immediate and active support. One particular area where support from all member states would be welcome is ensuring our full and free access, as independent UN human rights experts, to all countries to enable us to meet our objectives of assisting the international community in its proclaimed commitment to promoting the protection of universal human rights throughout the world, without distinction and without discrimination.

*Francesca Albanese is special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory.

*Richard Bennett is special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.

*Mohamed BaBaiker is special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

This letter is signed by 14 other experts who serve in various investigative mandates at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (Switzerland)

Translation: Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves.

Originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul.

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