Report on the 30th Session of the Human Rights Council

by the URG team International human rights institutions, mechanisms and processes, URG Human Rights Council Reports

Quick summary

  • The 30th regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC30) was held from 14th September to 2nd October 2015.
  • At the opening of the session the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, gave his regular update on the global human rights situation, the text of which can be found here.
  • 6 panel discussions were held during the session.
  • 71 reports under the various items on the Council’s agenda were considered.
  • The outcomes of the UPR working groups of the following 14 countries were adopted: Andorra, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Honduras, Jamaica, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Panama, United States of America.
  • More than 200 side events were held by states and/or NGOs during the session.
  • 3 new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed to the following mandates: Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, member from Latin American and Caribbean States; and Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, member from Eastern European States.
  • 32 texts were considered by the Council: 29 resolutions, 2 President’s statements and one decision. Of these, 21 were adopted by consensus (66%), and 11 by a recorded vote (34%).
  • 19 of the texts adopted by the Council (59%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and 15 required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. The total costs of the newly mandated activities amounted to $2,435,200.
  • With the conclusion of the 30th session, the number of texts adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2015 totalled 95 – 37 in March, 26 in June and 32 in September. This represents a 15% decrease over the number of texts adopted in 2014 (112).

Panel discussions

Six panel discussions were held during the 30th session:

Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms – with a focus on gender parity (15th September 2015)

 

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The Human Rights Council (HRC) held its annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective in the work of the Council. The theme was Integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the HRC and that of its mechanisms – with a focus on gender parity. The panel discussion took place pursuant to resolution 6/30 entitled Integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system, in which the Council decided to incorporate an annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout its work and that of its mechanisms. Queen Mathilde of the Belgians and Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, participated in the event as guest speakers. Mr Michael Møller, Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, Mr Subhas Gujadhur, Director of the Universal Rights Group, Ms Virginia Dandan, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity and member of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, and Ms Tracy Robinson, Rapporteur on Women’s Rights, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, were invited as panelists to the discussions moderated by Ms Patricia Schulz, Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Speakers agreed that much remained to be done in achieving gender equality and parity and stressed the prime responsibility of states in combatting discrimination against women in practice and in law. Evidence showed that gender equality was both the right thing and a smart thing to do. Training in gender should be mandatory for all UN staff, including leaders (full press release).

Biennial panel discussion on unilateral coercive measures and human rights (17th September 2015)

Speakers warned that countries and regional organisations that introduced unilateral coercive measures, particularly under the pretext of human rights, should remember that those actions had serious negative impacts on human rights, particularly the rights of the poor and vulnerable. The absence of a comprehensive mechanism monitoring the negative impacts of sanctions was a serious concern, and speakers urged the Council to play a proactive role in the establishment of such a mechanism. Delegates stressed that restrictive measures must be in accordance with international law, must respect human rights and must be proportionate (full press release).

Panel discussion on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including the issue of international abductions, enforced disappearances and related matters (21st September 2015)

Speakers were disturbed by the catalogue and gravity of human rights violations involved, ranging from rape, forced abortion and infanticide in political prison camps, to the violation of freedom of religion or belief. They called for an immediate solution to the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), adding that the UN Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. Some speakers, however, opposed any action that might lead to a regime change in the DPRK, noting that dialogue-based mechanisms such as UPR are the best means of addressing the issue. They condemned the use of human rights as a pretext for interference in domestic affairs. Such interference served the political agenda of some countries, which would in fact be better served to look at their own human rights record (full press release).

Annual half-day discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples (22nd September 2015)

Speakers said that the systemic violation of the rights of indigenous peoples in some parts of the world continued, violence against indigenous women was pervasive in many countries, while the increasing arrival of foreign investments into many countries further exacerbated the loss of land and resources of indigenous peoples and led to significant environmental destruction within their territories. They welcomed concerted global efforts to make the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples a reality, and supported the recommendation to the UN Secretary-General to develop a system-wide action plan to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the ends of the Declaration (full press release).

Panel discussion on a human rights-based approach to good governance in the public service (24th September 2015)

Speakers highlighted the links between good governance and human rights, and underlined the importance of good governance being strengthened at all levels, including within international organisations. States presented some of their domestic efforts in favour of good governance, including to combat corruption, ensure transparency and strengthen the participation of citizens in decision-making processes (full press release).

Panel discussion on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights (28th September 2015)

Speakers noted the negative impact of drugs and drug trafficking on public health, safety and security, but underlined the necessity to combat drugs through a comprehensive and human rights-based approach that protects victims and drug users’ rights to health, non-discrimination and access to justice. Some speakers firmly condemned the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses, and expressed support for alternative sentences to detention, while others defended the necessity of tough repression policies to address the drug problem (full press release).

When the 30th session’s 6 panel discussions are added to the 4 from the 29th session and the 8 from the 28th session, this represents a decrease of almost 22% compared with the previous year:

panels

Special Procedures

Interactive Dialogues

16 mandate holders (12 thematic, 4 country-specific) presented annual reports to the Council (all of which are available here). During the 11 Interactive Dialogues (6 ‘clustered’ and 5 individual), 117 states delivered statements (either individually or jointly), of which 25% were from the African Group, 27% from APG, 13% from EEG, 15% from GRULAC and 20% from WEOG.

IDs

 

Appointment of new mandate-holders

The Consultative Group, made up of representatives from Saudi Arabia (Chair), Greece (Vice-Chair), Algeria, Chile and Lithuania, scrutinised 56 individual applications and interviewed 21 persons for the three Special Procedures vacancies. The Group sent its recommendations to the President of the Council on 17th September 2015.

After reviewing the recommendations and consulting with the regional groups, the President submitted his proposals to the Council via letter on the 28th September.

The President followed the recommendations of the Consultative Group. In order to improve gender balance in the two Working Groups (in which there are four male mandate-holders and only one female), the President strongly encouraged female candidates to apply for future vacancies in these Working Groups.

The three new Special Procedures mandate-holders appointed this session are:

  • Ms Karima BENNOUNE as the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
  • Mr Ahmed REID as the member from the Latin American and Caribbean States for the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
  • Mr Henrikas MICKEVICIUS as the Member from the Eastern European States for the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Election of members of the Advisory Committee

The Council decided to elect, without a ballot, new members of the Advisory Committee (their CVs are available here):

  • Mr Imeru Tamrat Yigezu (Ethiopia), for the vacant seat for the African States
  • Mr Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al Sheddi (Saudi Arabia), for the vacant seat for the Asia-Pacific States
  • Mr Mario Luis Coriolano (Argentina), for the vacant seat for the Latin American and Caribbean States
  • Ms Katharina Pabel (Austria), for the vacant seat for the Western European and Other States

Adoption of UPR Working Groups reports

The Council adopted the reports of Andorra, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Honduras, Jamaica, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Panama and the United States of America, each of which had been reviewed by the UPR Working Group between 4th – 15th May 2015. A total of 2,601 recommendations were made to these 14 countries, out of which 2,051 were accepted in whole or in part, and 550 were noted or rejected.

UPR

UPR respnses

General debate under item 6

Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the EU, underlined the mobilising effect the UPR has not only for governments, but also for civil society. It further commended the degree of transparency that mid-term reports, submitted on a voluntary basis, confers on the process. At the same time, follow-up to the effective implementation of recommendations is a crucial aspect of the UPR. Luxembourg made a call for states to share more of their experiences – not only their successes, but also difficulties – as this would not only help strengthen the process, but would also help build momentum towards the next cycle.

Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, recalled that states should engage in the UPR process in a transparent and non-political manner, in line with the principle of objectivity and constructive dialogue. Underlining the importance of technical assistance for the implementation of accepted recommendations, the African Group considered that the efficacy and credibility of the mechanism depends on managing the number of recommendations.

Along the same lines, Morocco highlighted the importance of offering recommendations that are realistic and operational. One solution would be to limit the number of recommendations to be offered to the state under review to 2. Morocco is also one of the 52 states that have voluntarily submitted a mid-term report, a practice which they find very useful when seeking to pursue implementation and internal reform.

Grenada also highlighted the importance of mid-term reporting as a tool to monitor and measure progress in the implementation of recommendations. In this respect, Grenada made a voluntary commitment to prepare a mid-term report which will provide updates on progress achieved in the implementation of the recommendations.

On its side, the Solomon Islands informed the Council that it has established a UPR National Working Committee. The Committee has participated in a capacity-building programme (held in October 2014) with support from the Pacific Islands Forum secretariat, the secretariat of the Pacific Community Regional Rights Resource Team and the Regional Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It will be submitting its UPR second cycle report next month.

Resolutions, Decisions and President’s Statements

The 30th session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 32 texts: 29 resolutions, 2 President’s statements and one decision. This represents a decrease of 11% from the number of texts adopted at the 27th session in September 2014. Moreover, when combined with the 26 texts adopted at the 29th session and 37 texts adopted at the 28th session, the total number of texts for 2015 is 95, a 15% decrease from the number adopted in 2014 (112).

21 (72%) of the resolutions adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, while only 8 (28%) dealt with country-specific situations. Around 38% of the resolutions were adopted by a recorded vote.

19 of the adopted texts (59%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring total appropriations of $2,435,200 not already covered by the UN regular budget.

RESOLUTIONS

Agenda Item

Resolution

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

2

Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, UK, USA

 

$337,800

Consensus

3

Human rights and unilateral coercive measures

Iran (NAM)

Vote (33-14-0)

3

Regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights

Armenia, Belgium, Mexico, Senegal, Thailand

$233,800

Consensus

3

Human rights and indigenous peoples

Guatemala, Mexico

$48,000

Consensus

3

The question of the death penalty

Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Mongolia, Moldova, Switzerland

Vote (26-13-8)

3

The right to development

Iran (NAM)

$136,800

Vote (33-10-4)

3

Promotion of a democratic and equitable international order

Cuba

Vote (31-14-2)

3

The use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination

Cuba

Vote (32-14-1)

3

Human rights in the administration of justice, including juvenile justice

Austria

Consensus

3

Contribution of the Human Rights Council to the High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS in 2016

Brazil, Colombia, Portugal, Thailand

$125,200

Consensus

3

Human rights and preventing and countering violent extremism

Albania, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, France, Iraq, Mali, Morocco, Peru, Turkey, Tunisia, USA

$155,400

Vote (37-3-7)

3

Equal participation in public affairs

Botswana, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Netherlands, Peru

$195,900

Consensus

4

The grave and deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic

France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UK, USA

Vote (29-6-12)

5

Review of the mandate of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Guatemala, Mexico

$170,200

Consensus

5

Promotion of the right to peace

Cuba

Vote (33-12-2)

5

Promotion and protection of the human rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, South Africa

$172,400

Vote (31-1-15)

5

Contribution of parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council and its universal periodic review

Ecuador, Italy, Maldives, Morocco, Philippines, Romania, Spain

$76,000

Consensus

9

From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance

Algeria (African Group)

$38,200

Vote (32-12-3)

9

Forum on people of African descent in the diaspora

Algeria (African Group)

Vote (32-12-3)

10

Technical assistance and capacity-building for Yemen in the field of human rights

Saudi Arabia (Group of Arab States), Yemen

$528,100

Consensus

10

Technical assistance and capacity building in the field of human rights in the Central African Republic

Algeria (African Group)

0

Consensus

10

Assistance to Somalia in the field of human rights

Australia, Italy, Somalia, Turkey, UK, USA

0

Consensus

10

Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights

Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey

$63,400

Consensus

10

Advisory services and technical assistance for Cambodia

Japan

0

Consensus

10

National policies and human rights

Algeria, Ecuador, Italy, Peru, Romania, Thailand

$79,200

Consensus

10

Promoting international cooperation to support national human rights follow-up systems and processes

 

Brazil, Paraguay

 ✓  

$74,800

 Consensus

10

Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in the Sudan

 

Algeria (African Group)

 ✓  0 Consensus 

10

Technical cooperation and capacity building for Burundi in the field of human rights

Algeria (African Group)

 

 ✗  – Consensus 

10

Technical assistance and capacity-building for human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Algeria (African Group)   ✗  –  Consensus

Decisions and President’s Statements

Agenda Item

Decision/President’s Statement

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

1

Follow-up to PRST/29/1

HRC President

 ✗

Consensus

 1 Promoting the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health through enhancing capacity-building in public health against pandemics  HRC President   ✗ –   Consensus
1 Reports of the Advisory Committee HRC President  ✗  –  Consensus

Sept

Percentage Sept

Texts

Analysis and conclusions

The High Commissioner for Human Rights in his opening remarks highlighted his frustrations after one year in Office. He stated that the UN human rights system is barely able to cope in the face of growing human misery, given the limited resources available to it. He also expressed anger at the inability of the international community to act in the face of mounting human rights violations around the world. He noted that a growing number of countries are taking ‘extremely serious steps to restrict or persecute the voices of civil society’ and such a situation is a ‘grim indictment’ of the record of the UN and its member states ‘in protecting that foundation of good governance, the state’s service to its people, and it bodes ill for the future of your societies.’

However, it seems that these appeals by the High Commissioner were not heeded by member states. The 30th session was one of the most polarised sessions in the Council’s history. One measure of that is that the session saw the highest number of voted resolutions (34%) of any September session since the Council’s creation. The Council was also shaken by negative press stories about the role of Saudi Arabia in the Council’s Consultative Group (even though some inaccuracies in the story were later clarified by the Council’s secretariat through a press communiqué).

On a positive note, the adoption of a resolution on Sri Lanka by consensus and with the co-sponsorship of the concerned country, can be seen as an important achievement, especially as Sri Lanka vehemently opposed the resolution only one year ago.

Another positive outcome was the adoption of a resolution on Burundi. This resolution, built on close cooperation between the EU and the African Group, ensures that Burundi will be on the Council’s agenda throughout 2016. There will be reporting by the High Commissioner during the March and June sessions, and an interactive dialogue in September.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, the Council has tried to place an international spotlight on the human rights situation in the country. This has included, inter alia, establishing an independent Commission of Inquiry (COI) to document human rights violations in the country (with a view to future legal proceedings). The 30th session again saw the Council adopt a resolution on the deteriorating situation in Syria. The resolution once again addressed important issues such as humanitarian access, accountability and the fight against impunity.

An important innovation during HRC30 was the convening of a first-ever panel discussion on a country situation: namely the human rights situation in the North Korea (under item 4). Other positive outcomes, at a country-specific level, were the adoption of resolutions (by consensus) on the DRC, Somalia, the Central Africa Republic, and Cambodia.

At a political level, the 30th session saw Saudi Arabia emerge as a central player in certain debates, and in defining perceptions and certain key outcomes of the session. One example of this was the media interest, during the session, in Saudi Arabia’s position on the Council’s Consultative Group. Another was its move, on behalf of the Arab Group, to pass a resolution on Yemen (under item 10 – technical assistance and capacity-building). This forced the Netherlands to withdraw its own resolution on the subject. Many observers, including civil society actors, expressed regret at seeing the situation in Yemen addressed under item 10 rather than item 4 (situations that require the Council’s attention), and at the absence, in the text, of references to the serious violations being committed by all sides in the conflict.

Similarly, a lack of transparency during negotiations on the resolution on Sudan (under item 10), and the ‘failure to set up the much-needed reporting mechanism on the forgotten conflicts in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur’ was heavily criticised by civil society.[1]

In view of the serious violations taking place in Yemen and Sudan, the adoption of these two resolutions under item 10 (technical assistance and capacity building) raises serious concerns about the political message the Council is sending out, especially to the victims of human rights violations in these countries.

On the thematic side, many resolutions dealing with Council mechanisms, such as on the contribution of parliaments to the work of the Council and its UPR, national policies and human rights, and international cooperation to support national human rights follow-up systems and processes, were adopted by consensus. In the latter (new) resolution, the Council encouraged states to establish and/or strengthen national human rights follow-up systems and processes and to seek, as needed, technical assistance and capacity-building support. The resolution also requested the High Commissioner to organise an inter-sessional half-day panel discussion during the 26th session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, to share experiences and good practices in the establishment and strengthening of national human rights follow-up systems. This new resolution, led by Paraguay and Brazil, is timely in view of the forthcoming tenth anniversary of the Council, during which implementation and compliance are expected to be key issues for reflection.

One of the most contentious thematic resolutions adopted at HRC30 was the resolution on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE). The text was only adopted after a number of amendments were voted down, and following a vote on the text as a whole. Opponents of the resolution pointed to the lack of a clearly defined legal concept of ‘violent extremism’ and a lack of clarity over the difference between violent extremism and terrorism. These and other concerns, such as over the perceived lack of safeguards to ensure that the right of self-determination cannot be misinterpreted as violent extremism, and a conviction that domestic law cannot take precedence over international law (referring to the US’ reservation to article 20 of ICCPR), led South Africa to vote against the resolution. It is clearly disappointing that two of the world’s most important democracies, the US and South Africa, both with strong human rights traditions, were unable to agree on a matter of such global importance, and that negotiations and the adoption of the text were marked by polarising language. The difficult adoption of the CVE resolution, together with continued divisions over important issues such as racism and peoples of African descent, point to a need for a realignment of alliances in Room XX, with countries that share common values of democracy and respect for human rights working together to strengthen the work of the Council and build on the legacy of H.E. Mr D. S. Kumalo, South Africa’s former Permanent Representative in New York, and other founding fathers of the UN’s apex human rights body.


Notes:

[1] Joint NGO End-of-Session Statement.

Images:

Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights with Queen Mathilde of the Belgian and Michael Møller, Director General United Nations Office at Geneva during of the 30th regular Session at the Human Rights Council. 15 September 2015. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

S. Gujadhur during of the 30th regular Session at the Human Rights Council. 15 September 2015. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

V. Dandan during of the 30th regular Session at the Human Rights Council. 15 September 2015. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

T. Robinson during of the 30th regular Session at the Human Rights Council. 15 September 2015. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

P. Schulz, Moderator during of the 30th regular Session at the Human Rights Council. 15 September 2015. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

 

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