Report on the 32nd 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 32nd regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC32) was held from 13 June 2016 to 8 July 2016.
  • HRC32 marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Council. 
  • At the opening of the session, statements were delivered by Mr Choi Kyonglim, President of the Human Rights Council, Mr Didier Burkhalter, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, H.E. Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, Vice President of Viet Nam, and Mahmud Mammad-Guliyev, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan.
  • HRC32 marked the first time there has been universal participation at the Council: all UN member states took part. This was made possible by the HRC Trust Fund which supported the participation of a number of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). 
  • 6 panel discussions were held during the session.
  • 55 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: Namibia, Niger, Mozambique, Estonia, Paraguay, Belgium, Denmark, Palau, Somalia, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Latvia, Sierra Leone, and Singapore.
  • More than 180 side events were held by States and/or NGOs during the session.
  • 34 texts were considered by the Council: 33 resolutions and one decision. Of these, 25 were adopted by consensus (74%), and 9 by a recorded vote (26%).
  • 25 of the texts adopted by the Council (73.5%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and 17 required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. The total costs of the newly mandated activities amounted to $2.701.900.
     

Briefing by the High Commissioner for Human Rights 

In his regular address to the Council, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern over the treatment of migrants and refugees globally. He noted that the only sustainable solution to the recent movements of people is to improve human rights in countries of origin. He encouraged the Members of the Council to focus its attention on this issue. The High Commissioner expressed concern over challenges to the independence of rule of law institutions in several countries of central and south-eastern Europe, including Hungary, Poland and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He referred to a number of urgent human rights situations including the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the deterioration of human rights in Bahrain, Burundi and Mali. The High Commissioner furthermore expressed concern over shrinking democratic space in the Maldives, concern over heightened tension in Kenya and the high incidence of gun violence and related deaths across the Americas. On a more positive note, the High Commissioner welcomed some positive recent developments in Myanmar, Argentina, and Guatemala. Finally, he underscored his Office’s dedication to the 2030 Agenda and encouraged Member States to push for the delivery on the Agenda’s promises. (link to statement).

Trust fund to support the participation of LDCs and SIDS

The Trust Fund for the participation of LDCs and SIDS in the work of the Council, which was set up in 2012, helped fund the participation at HRC32 of government officials from Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. 

Panel Discussions

A total of 6 panel discussions were held during the 32nd session. The panels were on the following topics (click for OHCHR meeting summaries):

Special Procedures 

Miklos Haraszti, Special Rappoteur on the situation of Human Rights in Belarus presente his report during of the 32nd session of the Human Right Council. 21 June 2016. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

Interactive Dialogues

18 mandate holders (15 thematic, 3 country-specific) presented annual reports to the Council (all of which are available here). During the 11 Interactive Dialogues (7 ‘clustered’ and 4 individual), 76 states delivered statements (either individually or jointly), of which 13% were from the African Group, 24% from APG, 20% from EEG, 13% from GRULAC, 28% from WEOG, and 3% from other states (namely United States of America and the Holy See).

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 9.27.04 AM

 

New “SOGI” mandate created

During the 32nd session, the Human Rights Council created a new Special Procedures mandate on “protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”  (see analysis and conclusions section for more detailed information on the adoption process). Following 3.5 hours of heated discussion,  the resolution establishing the mandate was adopted by a vote of 23-18 with 6 abstentions. Saudi Arabia, Russia, and others who vehemently opposed the initiative said that they would refuse to cooperate with the Independent Expert.

Appointment of new mandate-holders

Five new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed during the session to fill existing mandates (see analysis and conclusions section for more detailed information on the appointment process):

The Consultative Group, made up of representatives from Albania, Brazil, Egypt, France and Thailand, scrutinised 66 individual applications and interviewed 29 people for the five vacancies. The Group sent its recommendations to the President of the Council on 13th June 2016. The President followed those recommendations exactly in his proposal to the Council, sent via letter on the 30th June.

The President explained that Ahmed Shaheed will “remain in his current functions as currently the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran until the appointment and entry into functions of his successor,” in order to “avoid a protection gap and ensure the smooth transition among mandate holders.” As such, it is expected that Heiner Bielefeldt will remain as the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief until autumn 2016. In his letter, the President stressed that this arrangement should be considered an “exceptional” measure, and “should not serve as a precedent and not be reiterated in future circumstances.” 

Item 5 discussion

A few states used the Item 5 general debate to raise issues of concern about the functioning of the Special Procedures mechanism.

India on behalf of 30 LMG states[1] expressed concern over the geographic imbalance among mandate-holders, and also about the over-reliance on voluntary contributions and earmarked funds. They welcomed the recent initiative by which mandate-holders have chosen to disclose the financial support they receive (published in the annual report presented in March), but called for further details with regard to “the utilisation … of these additional funds.”

The EU took the opportunity to highlight the failure of some states to respond to communications sent to them by mandate-holders. It noted that 40 states had failed to respond to communications contained in the latest Special Procedures joint communications report, noting that 12 of those states were Council members. The EU “remind[ed] Council members that they are required under GA Resolution 60/251 to ‘fully cooperate with the Council,’” adding that “a lack of timely and substantive response to Special Procedures undermines the integrity of this forum and, if it happens on a systematic basis, is incompatible with membership.”

Universal Periodic Review

Adoption of UPR Working Groups reports

The Council adopted the UPR reports of Namibia, Niger, Mozambique, Estonia, Paraguay, Belgium, Denmark, Palau, Somalia, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Latvia, Sierra Leone, and Singapore. A total of 2,661 recommendations were made to these 14 countries, out of which 2,121 were accepted in whole or in part and 540 were noted or rejected. 

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 2.36.38 PM

UPR data chart

Resolutions

The 32nd session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 33 resolutions and one decision.  This represents an increase of 31% from the number of texts adopted at the 29th session in June 2015.  

Around 26% of the texts were adopted by a recorded vote.

29 (85%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, while only 5 (15%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of these, 3 addressed human rights violations (under agenda item 4) and 2 sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10).

25 of the texts adopted by the Council (73.5%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring appropriations of $2.701.900 not previously covered by the UN regular budget.  

RESOLUTIONS

Agenda Item

Resolution

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

3 Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women: Preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, including indigenous women and girls Canada  0  Consensus
3

Civil society space

Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone, Tunisia

$12.800  Vote (31-9-7)
3  Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights  Iran (on behalf of NAM) –  Consensus
3

Elimination of discrimination against women 

Colombia, Mexico  0 

Consensus

3

Elimination of female genital mutilation

South Africa (on behalf of the African Group)

Consensus

3

Human rights and arbitrary deprivation of nationality

Russian Federation

Consensus

3

Human rights and climate change

Bangladesh, Philippines, Vietnam

 $199.000

Consensus

3

Human rights and international solidarity

Cuba

$322.600

Vote (33-1-13)

3  Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food Cuba 0 Consensus
3

Business and Human Rights – Improving accountability and access to remedy

Argentina, Ghana, Norway, Russian Federation

$338.700

Consensus

3

Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons

Austria, Uganda

0

 Consensus

3

Protection of the human rights of migrants – Strengthening the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrants including in large movements

Mexico

$173.100 

Consensus

3 Protection of the family: the role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of human rights of persons with disabilities  Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, El Salvador, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Uganda   $143.700  Vote (32-3-12)
3 Promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet

Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, USA

$82.800

Consensus

3

Mental health and human rights

Brazil, Portugal

$82.800

Consensus

3

Realizing the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl

UAE

$82.800

Consensus

3

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

Algeria, Brazil, China, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, South Africa

$98.300

 Consensus

3

Access to medicines in the context of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand

 ✓ $98.300  Consensus
3

The right to a nationality: Women’s Equal Nationality Rights in Law and in Practice

Algeria, Australia, Botswana, Colombia, Mexico, Slovakia, Turkey, USA

 ✓

$107.500 

Consensus 

3

The right to education

Portugal

Consensus

3 The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico, USA 0 Consensus
3

Trafficking in persons, especially women and children: protecting victims of trafficking and people at risk of trafficking, especially women and children in conflict and post-conflict situations

Germany, Philippines

Consensus

3

Youth and human rights

Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Tunisia

$85.900

Consensus

3

Impact of arms transfers on human rights

Ecuador, Peru

 $82.800 Vote (32-10-5)
3  Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay   ✓ $616.800 Vote (23-6-18) 
3 Addressing the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay   ✓  $125,500 Consensus
4 The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UK, USA Vote (27-14-6)
4 Situation of human rights in Belarus Netherlands (on behalf of the EU) 0 Vote (15-23-9)
4 Situation of human rights in Eritrea  Djibouti, Somalia   $48.500 Consensus
5 The Social Forum  Cuba   – Consensus
5 Declaration on the right to peace Cuba  0 Vote (34-4-9)

10

Cooperation and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights

Ukraine 

Vote (22-19-6) 

10

Strengthening capacity-building and technical cooperation with Côte d’Ivoire in the field of human rights

South Africa (on behalf of the African Group)

0 Consensus

            

Decisions and President’s Statements

Agenda Item

Decision/President’s Statement

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

3

“Regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights”

 Armenia, Mexico, Thailand, Belgium, Senegal, Republic of Korea

 ✗

 Consensus

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 9.35.17 PM

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-03 at 5.11.54 PM  

Analysis and conclusions

For many observers, HRC32 will be remembered, principally, as the session that refused to end. What was supposed to be the last day of the session, Friday 1st July, became bogged down with voting on numerous ‘amendments from the floor’ (sometimes known as ‘hostile amendments’) and with points of order, by Russia and others, designed to halt the appointment of new Special Procedures mandate-holders until concerns with one of the nominees (namely the recommended nominee for the mandate on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions) had been addressed.

After numerous points of order, and with no state willing to call a vote on his list of proposed appointments, the President of the Council, Ambassador Choi Kyonglim, asked members if they agreed with his proposed appointments, and proceeded to adopt the decision. However, Russia called for a point of order at the same time as the President adopted the decision, leading to a debate on the validity of the President’s decision. With the meeting in deadlock, the President suspended the session at 11pm.

The session eventually resumed on Friday 8th July, when the President, based on a legal counsel from UN Office of Legal Affairs (OLA), concluded that “there are no rules for the procedural correction” of this issue and that “the decision of the President stands unless action for reconsideration is taken.” OLA advised the President that reconsideration of the President’s decision could only be taken if two thirds of the Council decided to do so, under rule 123. The President concluded that his decision on the appointment of the new mandate-holders stands, unless rule 123 was invoked by Members of the Council. Russia, on behalf of the Like-Minded Group, delivered a statement presenting two alternatives for appointing the new mandate holders on the basis of a “consensual approach”, calling for the President to postpone the appointment of new mandate-holders until he had held further consultations. However, no Member of the Council called for the reconsideration of the President’s decision of appointing the new mandate-holders, and therefore, his decision stood.  

These difficulties and disagreements at the conclusion of HRC32 should not, however, be allowed to overshadow what was a substantively rich and historically significant session.

As has become a trend over recent years, much of the substantive debate and disagreement at HRC32 centred on a number of societal issues – issues which some States believe form an integral part of the universal human rights normative landscape, while others believe represent efforts to impose certain social, cultural, or religious belief systems upon the world at large; and on issues related to civil society space and human rights defenders.    

Regarding the former, HRC32 saw the presentation, by Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and other sponsors, of a draft resolution on ‘protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.’ The draft resolution, which inter alia responded to a report on the same subject by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for the establishment of a new Special Procedures mandate: an Independent Expert. The sponsors argued that because individuals around the world are regularly discriminated against, and even attacked and killed, on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identify, it is important, in view of the universality of human rights, for the Council to address such violations.

Responding to the tabled text, a number of Council members from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) took the floor to criticise what they viewed, in the words of the delegation of Saudi Arabia, as a “deeply divisive proposal that fails to recognise cultural differences.” Nigeria, on behalf of the OIC (except Albania), argued that the resolution was designed to ensure that Western views on sexual orientation and gender identity would take root across the UN membership – irrespective of the views and concerns “of a large number of States.”

Saudi Arabia therefore called a ‘no action motion’ on the text. This was rejected with 15 in favour, 22 against and 9 abstentions.

Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC (except Albania), then introduced a series of ten written amendments to the draft resolution, explaining that while the OIC condemned all forms of violence and discrimination against individuals, on any grounds, it could not support a text that explicitly focused on discrimination based on concepts not accepted by OIC States and that are not reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The OIC amendments, inter alia, sought to replace the creation of the new mandate with a request that the High Commissioner prepare a report on violence and discrimination on grounds recognised in the Universal Declaration. The amendments also highlighted the need to respect cultural, religious and traditional values, and the negative effects of imposing values on others.

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 8.48.22 PM

Various Western and Latin American States spoke to reject the amendments, arguing that the resolution was not an attempt to impose certain cultural values on others (for example, the UK made clear that “the resolution does not request States to recognise same-sex marriages), but rather to uphold the equal rights of all people, and to send a message from the international community that discrimination or violence against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong, and represents a violation of their human rights.

In the ensuing votes, 7 draft amendments tabled by OIC Members were adopted and 4 were rejected (often in very close votes, decided by just one or two swing States). Normally the passing of so many amendments to their text would be considered a serious setback for the main sponsors. However, on this occasion the key proposed changes to the draft were contained in one overarching amendment, presented in document L.81, which sought to delete six key paragraphs (Mexico described this as “an attack on the heart of the resolution,”) stripping away all references to sexual orientation or gender identity and eliminating the decision to establish a new Special Procedures mandate. Draft amendment L.81 was rejected with 17 in favour, 19 against and 8 abstentions.

Many of the amendments that were adopted were those that sought to underscore the need to respect cultural, religious, and traditional values, and to avoid imposing values on others.

The OIC (except Albania) then proposed four further amendments from the floor. These were rejected.

Finally, the Council took action on the draft resolution, as amended, and adopted it with 23 in favour, 18 against and 6 abstentions. After the vote, there was some surprise that South Africa, which had tabled the very first ‘SOGI’ resolution (in 2011), and which has a constitutional provision protecting individuals against discrimination on the basis of, inter alia, ‘sexual orientation,’ had abstained.  

Also during HRC32, the Council considered and took action on a separate draft resolution on ‘Protection of the family: the role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of human rights of persons with disabilities’ (sponsored by, inter alia, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Mauritania, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia, and Uganda.) Introducing the text, Egypt said that the family is something of indisputable social, cultural, moral, and religious value.

While there was widespread acknowledgment that the draft resolution dealt with important human rights issues, some Western States argued that, as part of a reaction to the resolution on ‘protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,’ the draft text sought to affirm the idea that there is only one type of family (father, mother, children). The UK (3), and Norway and Switzerland (1), therefore presented amendments designed to recognise the existence of various forms of family/families. All four amendments were rejected by comfortable margins. The final resolution was adopted with 32 in favour, 12 against and 3 abstentions.  

Also in common with other Council sessions of recent years, a further focus of disagreement and division was the issue of civil society space, human rights defenders, freedom of association, etc. At HRC32, the principal focus of disagreement was draft resolution L.29 on ‘civil society space’ (presented by Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone and Tunisia).

Ahead of Council action on draft L.29, Russia tabled 15 amendments to the text (though it subsequently withdraw 3 based on changes introduced by the sponsors). In the end, all amendments were rejected, some by comfortable margins, others in close votes (e.g. draft amendment L.54 which sought to delete some language from a paragraph on reprisals was rejected with 11 in favour, 13 against and 23 abstentions; while amendment L.59 which sought to delete part of a paragraph dealing with restrictions on NGO funding, was rejected with 19 in favour, 22 against and 15 abstentions).

The final resolution was adopted with 31 in favour, 7 against and 9 abstentions.

A final noteworthy development at HRC32 was the delivery, by Ireland on behalf of a cross-regional group of 17 states, of a concluding statement offering ideas as to how the Council might strengthen its work to prevent serious human rights violations at an early stage and in a non-selective and non-politicised manner. 


Notes:

[1] Nicaragua, Russia,  Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, China, Bolivia, Indonesia, South Africa, UAE, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Uganda, Belarus, Pakistan, Malaysia,  Singapore, Bahrain, Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Oman, Tajikistan, Eritrea, India.

Image credits: Choi Kyong-lim ( seventh from the left) President of the Human Rights Council pose with the eight former présidents of the Human Rights Council during opening day of the 32nd session of the Human Right CouncilUN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; PHOTO FOR “HIGH LEVEL SEGMENT” SECTIONZeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights during High-level panel discussion on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Council: achievements and challenges at the 32nd session of the Human Right Council, UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Miklos Haraszti, Special Rappoteur on the situation of Human Rights in Belarus presente his report during of the 32nd session of the Human Right Council, UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum, Independent Expert on the Central African Republic during of the 32nd session of the Human Right CouncilUN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Preparing for the Interactive Dialogue (with the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh), Maina Kiai, Licensed under CC BY 2.0; Mike Smith, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of Human Rights in Eritrea presents his report during of the 32nd session of the Human Right CouncilUN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Share this Post