Report on the 33rd Session of the Human Rights Council

by the URG team URG Human Rights Council Reports

Quick summary 

  • The 33rd regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC33) was held from 13 September to 30 September 2016.
  • 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.
  • A number of high-level dignitaries delivered statements during HRC33, including: Mr Evo Morales, President of Bolivia; Mr José Serrano, the Minister of Interior of Ecuador; H.E. Baroness Anelay, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom; and H.E. Ms. Darja Bandaž Kuret, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Slovenia.
  • 4 panel discussions were held during the session.
  • 66 reports under the various items of the Council’s agenda were considered.
  • More than 200 side events were held by States and/or NGOs during the session.
  • The outcomes of the UPR Working Groups of the following 14 countries were adopted: Suriname, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Greece, Sudan, Hungary, Papua New Guinea, Tajikistan, United Republic of Tanzania, Antigua and Barbuda, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, and Ireland.
  • 5 new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed to the following mandates: Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Special Rapporteur on torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; member of the Working Group on arbitrary detention; and the newly established Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • HRC33 saw the creation of a new Special Procedures mandate on the right to development and of a Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in Burundi. 
  • 30 written and/or oral amendments (sometimes known as ‘hostile amendments’) were put forward by States during the consideration of texts and resolutions. 6 were adopted by vote; 14 were rejected by vote; and 10 were withdrawn.
  • 31 texts were considered by the Council: 30 resolutions and 1 President’s statements. Of these, 22 were adopted by consensus (70.9%), and 9 by a recorded vote (29%)
  • 26 of the texts adopted by the Council (83.8%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and 19 required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. The total costs of the newly mandated activities amounted to a total of $7,246,800.

Briefing by the High Commissioner for Human Rights 

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights during of the 33nd ordinirary session of the Human Right Council. 13 September 2016. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, devoted most of his regular address, at the opening of HRC33, to ‘the growing refusal on the part of an increasing number of Member States to grant OHCHR, or the human rights mechanisms, access.’

The High Commissioner expressed concern over some States’ non-engagement with the Council and the international human rights system as a whole. He said that efforts to avoid legitimate scrutiny of human rights violations raise the question: ‘what, precisely, are you hiding from us?’ The High Commissioner encouraged all States to engage with the OHCHR. He said: ‘States may shut my Office out – but they will not shut us up; neither will they blind us. If access is refused, we will assume the worst, and yet do our utmost to nonetheless report as accurately as we can on serious allegations.’ In this regard, the High Commissioner expressed dismay over the continued lack of engagement with the OHCHR, on the part of, Syria, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and the lack of access of representatives of the Office, to the regions of Crimea, Nagorno-Karabakh, and southeast Turkey.

In addition, he expressed concern over States’ non-cooperation with country-specific mandates, including COIs, fact-finding missions, and country-specific Special Procedures, noting specifically the refusal of Belarus, Eritrea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, and Syria to cooperate with these mechanisms. He expressed dismay over the United States’ failure to accept the request of the Special Rapporteur on torture to visit the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. He noted his intention to report at greater length at a future session of the Council on States’ failure to permit appropriate access to Special Procedures mandate-holders. 

Finally, he expressed his confidence in the Council’s continued role as the torchbearer for the consistent and equitable protection of human rights in the coming decade.

Panel Discussions

A total of four panel discussions were held during the 33rd session. The panels were on the following topics (click for OHCHR meeting summaries):

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 and became operational in 2014, helped fund the participation of two female government officials from the Maldives and Palau at HRC33.

Commissions of Inquiry, Fact-Finding Missions and Investigations

During an Interactive Dialogue at HRC33, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic presented its latest report (A/HRC/33/55), based on its investigations conducted from 10 January – 20 July 2016. In its report, the Commission described the dynamic of the Syrian conflict, including the involved actors; the way in which the conflict has unfolded in the different Syrian territories during the latest investigation period; and detailing the concrete ways in which international human rights law and international humanitarian law have been breached. The report noted that ‘the cessation of hostilities agreement brought a welcome respite for civilians that lasted all too briefly’ and ‘offered a glimmer of hope to those seeking a path towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict,’ but further recounted the significant consequences of the recent resurge of violence. The Commission emphasised the particularly grave consequences of the conflict on the children of Syria, noting, ‘Syrian children continue to be victims of violations by all warring parties, continually exposed to unbearable levels of violence, they suffer from ongoing, multiple and frequently untreated trauma.’

During the Interactive Dialogue, Syria, speaking as the country concerned, objected to the standards of fact-finding and verification of allegations used by the COI, and stated that the reports put forward were groundless. Finally, the Commission recommended all parties to, inter alia: restore and revitalise the cessation of hostilities; minimise civilian casualties; end indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population; allow unhindered access to humanitarian aid and respect access to basic necessities; prohibit and prevent the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and allow the Commission to access the country. Moreover, the Commission recommended the Council to support its recommendations, including by transmitting its report to the Secretary-General for the attention of the Security Council, in order for appropriate action to be taken.

The report of the UN Independent Investigation on highlights the increasingly dire human rights situation in Burundi.  “We call on all sides to put an end to human rights violations and abuses,” said U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper, after the presentation of the report to the Human Rights Council September 27 by independent experts: Mr. Pablo de Greiff, Mr. Christof Heyns, Ms. Maya Sahli-Fadel.  “We firmly believe that this crisis can and must be resolved, or Burundi risks descending into further conflict, including the possibility of mass atrocities.” Read the full text of Ambassador Harper’s statement: https://geneva.usmission.gov/2016/09/27/burundi/   U.S. Mission Photo/Eric Bridiers

The United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB), established by the Council, with resolution A/HRC/S-24 during the Special Session on Burundi on 17 December 2015, presented its final report during an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue, on 27 September 2016. During the Enhanced Interactive Dialogue, Professor Christof Heyns, former Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, and member of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi, stated there was ‘ample evidence of large-scale and systematic violations of a range of human rights in Burundi.’ Moreover, Mr Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence, and Member of the UNIIB, while outlining the recommendations put forward by the group of experts, stressed that the Government of Burundi has a significant power to make immediate changes in the human rights situation in the country. Over 160 recommendations were put forward in the UNIIB’s final report. Most prominently the experts recommended that the Council immediately establish a Commission of Inquiry to continue the work of the UNIIB: ‘the Inquiry should be mandated to ensure individual accountability and share the findings with the Security Council for targeted sanctions and with judicial processes, when established.’ This recommendation was implemented with resolution L.31 (see analysis below).

New COI on Burundi

As per the findings and recommendations of the final report of the UNIIB, the Council decided to create – for a period of one year – a Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, to: conduct a thorough investigation into human rights violations and abuses in the country since April 2015 and to identify alleged perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses with a view to ensuring full accountability. Burundi, as the country concerned, rejected the draft resolution, put forward by Slovakia (on behalf of the European Union), and called for a vote on the resolution. Nevertheless, the resolution (L.31) was adopted by a majority of the Council (19 in favour, 7 against and 21 abstentions). The Commission will present an oral briefing to the Council at its thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth sessions, and a final report during an interactive dialogue at its thirty-sixth session. Finally, with the resolution, the Council calls upon Burundi to: ensure equitable political processes; enable free, fair and transparent democratic elections; cooperate fully with the Commission; and provide all the necessary information for the COI to fulfil its mandate. 

Universal Periodic Review

Adoption of UPR Working Groups Outcome reports

The Council adopted the UPR outcome reports of Suriname, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Greece, Sudan, Hungary, Papua New Guinea, Tajikistan, United Republic of Tanzania, Antigua and Barbuda, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, and Ireland. A total of 2,640 recommendations were made to these 14 countries, out of which 1.927 were accepted in whole or in part and 712 were noted or rejected, (for 1 recommendation there was no clear answer). 

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Special Procedures 

Interactive Dialogues

16 mandate-holders (12 thematic and 4 country-specific) presented reports to the Council (all of which are available here). During the 11 Interactive Dialogues (5 clustered and 6 individual) with all mandate-holders, 110 States delivered statements (either individually or jointly), of which 16% were from the African Group (AG), 30% from the Asia Pacific Group (APG), 11% from the Eastern European Group (EEG), 15% from the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC), 26% from the Western European and Others Group (WEOG), and 1% from other States (namely the Holy See).

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Appointment of new mandate-holders

Five new mandate-holders were appointed during the session, to fill four existing mandates, and one new mandate – the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. On the final day of the session, the following mandate-holders were appointed:

  1. Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland) as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  2. Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn (Thailand) as the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (new mandate);
  3. Ms. Asma Jahangir (Pakistan) as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran;
  4. Ms. Cecelia Jiminez-Damary (Philippines) as the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons;
  5. Ms. Elina Steinerte (Latvia) as the Eastern European member of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The new appointments have slightly improved the gender balance of mandate-holders, increasing the proportion of female mandate-holders from 41% to 44%. 

To inform the appointments, the Consultative Group, made up of representatives of Albania, Brazil, Egypt, France, and Thailand, scrutinised 63 individual applications, and interviewed 25 candidates for the five vacancies. H.E. Mr. Amr Ramadan (Egypt) declared that he would not participate in the selection process for the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as indicated in a letter he addressed to the President of the Council on 29 July 2016 (published on the Council Extranet).

The Consultative Group sent its recommendations to the President of the Council on 12th August 2016. Following ‘broad consultations with States and other relevant stakeholders,’ the President followed the recommendations for all but one of the five mandates (namely the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) in his proposal to the Council, sent via letter on the 30th August.

As the Council appointed the new mandate-holders on the last day of the session, Saudi Arabia (on behalf of the OIC, except for Albania) and the Russian Federation reiterated their position, voiced during the 32nd session, that they do not recognise, and will not cooperate with, the new Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

New Special Rapporteur on the right to development

During the 33rd session, the Human Rights Council created a new Special Procedures mandate on the right to development. The resolution establishing the mandate, submitted by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (on behalf of NAM) was adopted by a vote of 34-2, with 11 abstentions. Presenting the resolution, Venezuela (on behalf of NAM) expressed the intention that the new mandate would be ‘complementary not overlapping with the work of the Working Group.’ India expressed support for the new mandate, noting that in the 30 years since the adoption of the Declaration, ‘the right to development remains a distant reality.’ Switzerland expressed concern that there would be duplication with the work of the Working Group. The United Kingdom highlighted the lack of agreement on the scope, content and implications of the right to development, ‘as well as the appropriate mechanisms for its realisation,’ before calling for a vote. 

There are now 57 thematic Special Procedures mandates (43 thematic, 14 country-specific).

Discussion of institutional issues under Item 5 and Item 10

Turkey, on behalf of a group of 72 delegations, delivered a joint statement on the working methods of the Council during the General Debate on Item 5. With a view to making the Council more effective and efficient ‘within the existing institutional framework,’ they called on all States to take a number of ‘voluntary steps,’ urging them to: ‘reconsider the necessity of annualised panel debates; make better use of the other, inter-sessional, work formats such as seminars and round tables; continue to show restraint in resorting to annual resolutions; notify delegations of draft texts before start of the session; shorten the text of resolutions, make them action-oriented, and avoid repetition; minimise unnecessary duplication of initiatives with the General Assembly/Third Committee; take into account the capacity constraints of the Council when launching new or continuing initiatives, and support mobilisation of adequate resources for mandated activities.’

Latvia (on behalf of 64 delegations) used the Item 5 General Debate as an opportunity to underline the importance of the Special Procedures, and to acknowledge their ‘unique role in contributing to the effective promotion and protection of human rights worldwide.’ They underlined the importance of ‘a strong cooperative relationship between a State and a mandate-holder,’ as ‘the key to securing the mechanism’s influence and impact.’ They noted ‘with satisfaction’ that 118 standing invitations have been issued to Special Procedures, but also recognised that ‘issuing a standing invitation is only the beginning of the cooperative process.’ They ‘encourage[d] candidates to the Council to make concrete commitments to invite and cooperate with the special procedures,’ and on ‘current members of the Council that have not yet extended a standing invitation to demonstrate their support to the Council and its mechanisms by doing so.’

The Cooperation Council for the Arab Stares of the Gulf (GCC) underscored the importance of gender and geographic balance among mandate-holders, including ensuring adequate representation from the Islamic world. Cuba and the GCC stressed the importance of Special Procedures engaging in constructive and open dialogue with States, and adhering to the Code of Conduct.

The EU expressed ‘support for […] the independence and integrity of the mandate of the High Commissioner and his office,’ which it promised to ‘strongly defend.’ They said they shared the High Commissioner’s concern (expressed in his opening statement) about ‘the growing refusal on the part of an increasing number of Member States to grant the OHCHR or the human rights mechanisms access – either to countries generally or to specific regions,’ and called on ‘all States to further step up their support for the OHCHR, including granting access, and to issue a standing invitation to Special Procedures.’

Norway, Hungary and the EU used the Item 5 debate to express concern over acts of intimidation and reprisal against individuals and organisations cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the United Nations and its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (including cases mentioned in the report of the Secretary General A/HRC/33/19). The EU noted the need for ‘a consistent approach’ in the face of reprisals, ‘at international and regional levels.’ Hungary noted that the Special Procedures mandate-holders have now ‘appointed a focal point on reprisal cases among the members of the Coordination Committee,’ and encouraged the HRC to ‘find creative and efficient ways to stop [the] distressing trend’ of ‘acts of intimidation and reprisal […] not only continu[ing] but [becoming] more varied and severe over time.’ Norway reminded the Council that ‘the right of anyone, individually and jointly, to unhindered access to and communication with international human rights bodies is clearly articulated in international human rights law.’

Finally, one of the most important developments – institutionally speaking – at HRC33 was the delivery, by the United Kingdom on behalf of a cross-regional group of over 40 States, of a statement A Race to the Top during the general debate under item 10. The statement aimed to ‘recognise that the mandate of the Council, and the cause of human rights, could be helped by better identifying situations where the enjoyment of human rights has been strengthened through positive engagement with the Council and the wider UN human rights system.’ Furthermore, ‘in the face of more Council sessions, panels and side-events’, the group of States, expressed increased difficulty in finding time within the Council to take stock of the positive impact of State’ interaction with the Council on the human rights situation on the ground, stating: ‘in particular, we have lacked a system – or mechanism – for systematically identifying these successes, using them to develop good practice, as well as giving countries the recognition they deserve at the HRC.’

HRC Elections

Two key events held during the session offered a platform for reflection on the upcoming Council elections, which are scheduled to take place in New York at the end of October.

The first event, held during the first day of the session and sponsored by Albania, Amnesty International, Canada, ISHR, and Mongolia, offered candidate States an opportunity to share priorities and ideas on how, if elected, they would engage with the Council and help further its objectives. 9 of the 17 candidate States took part. During the meeting, the Universal Rights Group (URG) presented some key data from the yourHRC.org Guide to the 2016 Human Rights Council Elections, and States and civil society had the chance to ask questions of the candidates.

The second event, hosted by the Permanent Mission of Norway and the URG on 26th September, marked the launch of the yourHRC.org Guide to the 2016 Human Rights Council Elections. The report is available online, and will also be launched in New York on 4th October.

URG Media Engagement Programme

In the context of the URG’s broader media engagement project, during the last week of the 33rd session of the Council, the URG brought 11 independent journalists from different countries across all regions to Geneva to follow developments, especially during voting. During their time in Geneva, the journalists benefitted from briefing sessions with URG analysts, key Ambassadors and diplomats, and representatives of the OHCHR, ICRC and international human rights NGOs, as well as with Geneva press correspondents. This was the third of three media visits/workshops organised by the URG in 2016, with the generous support of the Permanent Mission of Germany and the Canton of Geneva. The first was held in March 2016 (31st session), and the second in June 2016 (32nd session).

Resolutions

The 33rd session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 30 resolutions and one President’s statement. This represents a decrease of 3.2% from the number of texts (32) adopted at the 30th session in September 2015. Nevertheless, when combined with the 40 texts adopted at the 31st session and 34 texts adopted at the 32nd session, the total number of texts adopted in 2016 is 105, a 9.8% increase from the overall number of texts adopted in 2015 (95).

Around 29% of the texts at #HRC33 were adopted by a recorded vote. 

24 (77.4%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, while only 7 (22.6%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of these, 2 addressed human rights violations (under agenda item 4) and 5 sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10).

26 of the texts adopted by the Council (83.8%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring appropriations of $7.246.800, not previously covered by the UN regular budget.  

RESOLUTIONS

Agenda Item

Resolution

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

 3 The human rights of older persons   Argentina, Brazil  ✓    0  Consensus 

3

Human rights and indigenous peoples

Guatemala, Mexico

✓     $87,700   Consensus 
 3   Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights  Burkina Faso, Colombia, New Zealand  ✓   $105,800    Consensus 

3

The right to development

Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (on behalf of the NAM)

 ✓   $657,900 

Vote (34-2-11) 

3

Promotion of a democratic and equitable international order

Cuba

✗   – 

 Vote (30-12-5)

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

 ✓   0   Vote (32-13-2)
 Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences  United Kingdom ✓     $84,400    Consensus 
 3        The safety of journalists  Austria, Brazil, Greece, France, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia  ✓   $74,700    Consensus

3

Equal participation in political and public affairs

Botswana, Czechia, Indonesia, Netherlands, Peru   ✓   $396,000    Consensus 

3

Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

Mexico

✗    –  Vote (38-0-9)

3

Human rights and indigenous peoples: mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people  Guatemala, Mexico  ✓   0  Consensus 
3 Arbitrary detention France    ✓    $84,400  Vote (46-0-1) 
 3  Preventable mortality and morbidity of children under 5 years of age as a human rights concern  Austria, Botswana, Ireland, Mongolia ✓    $130,000   Consensus 
 3 The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation   Germany, Spain ✗   –    Vote (42-1-4)
The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health   Brazil  ✓   0   Consensus
Local government and human rights  Chile, Egypt, Republic of Korea, Romania   ✓   $71,900  Consensus 
3 Unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents and human rights El Salvador  ✓   $86,000    Consensus
3 The role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights Australia, Hungary, Maldives, Morocco, Poland, Ukraine, Uruguay ✓    $253,000    Consensus
 3 Cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage  Cyprus, Ethiopia, Greece, Iraq, Ireland, Mali, Poland, Serbia, Switzerland  ✓   $194,500    Consensus
3 Human rights and transitional justice Argentina, Morocco, Switzerland  ✓   $344,100    Vote (29-1-17)
 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, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland  ✓   $86,900   Vote (26-7-14)
 4 Human rights situation in Burundi Slovakia (on behalf of the European Union)   ✓  $3.258.900   Vote (19-7-21)
 5  Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples  Guatemala, Mexico ✓   $599.500    Consensus
8 National institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights  Australia ✗  Consensus
 10

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

 Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey  ✓     $67,300   Consensus

10

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

Sudan (Group of Arab States)

 ✓   $577,800    Consensus

10

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

South Africa (African Group)

 ✓   0   Consensus

10

Assistance to Somalia in the field of human rights

Australia, Italy, South Africa (on behalf of the Group of African States), Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America

 ✓    0  Consensus 

10

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

 

South Africa (African Group)

 ✓    Consensus

10

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

South Africa (on behalf of the Group of African States)  ✓  $86,000    Consensus 

 

Decisions and President’s Statements

Agenda Item

Decision/President’s Statement

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

1

 Reports of the Advisory  Committee  President of the  Human Rights  Council    ✗   –  Consensus  

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Analysis and conclusions

HRC33 saw a further increase in polarisation at the Council. Instead of working through cooperation and dialogue, States again made frequent use (as in recent sessions) of amendments from the floor (sometimes referred to as ‘hostile amendments’). 

22 out of 31 texts were adopted by consensus, including a strong resolution (L.6) on the safety of journalists, submitted by Austria, Brazil, Greece, France, Morocco, Qatar, and Tunisia. 

A number of resolutions that have traditionally enjoyed consensus, however, such as countering terrorism, arbitrary detention, and the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, were the subject of votes and/or amendments from the floor.  

Country specific initiatives

On the country-specific side, the Council adopted important resolutions on Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen.

The resolution on the human rights situation in Burundi (adopted by a vote of 19 in favour, seven against, and 21 abstentions) decided to create a Commission of Inquiry. The resolution also urged Burundi – a current member of the Human Rights Council – to uphold universal human rights standards and to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms. Slovakia (on behalf of the EU) introduced the draft resolution, noting that the EU had appealed to the African Group to take the lead on the human rights situation in Burundi, in collaboration with the country concerned. When this had proved impossible, the EU had deemed it necessary to put forward the draft resolution. Burundi, as the country concerned, rejected the draft resolution and called on the Council to vote against the text.

A resolution on technical assistance and capacity building for Yemen in the field of human rights, was adopted without a vote. The resolution calls on all parties in Yemen to respect their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law; requests the High Commissioner to provide substantive technical assistance, including in the areas of accountability and legal support, to the National Commission. Yemen, as the country concerned, expressed appreciation to the Arab Group for leading on the draft resolution. Slovenia (on behalf of the EU), expressed support for the orally revised draft resolution as a ‘good and reasonable compromise.’ Earlier in the session, the EU had tabled its own draft resolution, which called on OHCHR to ‘dispatch a mission, with assistance from relevant experts, to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Yemen, on violations and abuses thereof since September 2014.’ However, after talks with the Arab Group and agreement on some amendments to the latter’s text, the EU withdrew its draft resolution.

Thematic issues

Regarding thematic issues, key debates and disagreements at HRC33 centred on the issues of maternal mortality, terrorism, arbitrary detention, and transitional justice. Disagreements resulted in the widespread use of oral and written amendments ‘from the floor,’ and prolonged debates on the relevant draft resolutions.

For example, a draft resolution sponsored by Burkina Faso, Colombia, New Zealand, on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights, saw the tabling of 14 written amendments by the Russian Federation.

At the introduction of the text, the Russian Federation commended the main sponsors for recognising several of their concerns raised in bilateral talks, particularly in ‘recognising maternal mortality as a health and development issue’, removing references to ‘special human rights indicators for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda,’ and introducing ‘appropriate reflection of the International Covenants.’ With that in mind, Russia decided to withdraw nine of its proposed amendments.

The five remaining amendments sought to remove text urging States ‘to respect women’s equal right to decide autonomously in matters regarding their own lives and health, including their bodies’; to remove references to the adoption of general comments by the CESCR and CRPD on the right to sexual and reproductive heath; and sought to change the focus of the panel discussion – to be held at HRC34 – so that it would no longer focus on ‘the linkages between Sustainable Development Goals relating to preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and sexual and reproductive health and rights.’

Belgium noted that the main sponsors and co-sponsors could not support the amendments, as the amendments sought to ‘take away from the scope and integrity of the text’. Mexico urged Member States to adopt the text as tabled, and highlighted the importance of retaining references to the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls, including the right to decide autonomously in matters, regarding their own lives and health, including their bodies.

During votes on the tabled amendments, Council Members adopted amendment L.38, L.42, L.46, L.49, and L.51 by vote, thereby removing references to sexual and reproductive health and the reference to the right of women to decide autonomously in matters related to their bodies, and changing the scope of the panel discussion. 

Finally, the Council took action on the draft resolution, as amended, and adopted the resolution without a vote. The experience of this draft resolution shows, once again, the growing tendency for societal issues to become a lightening rod for disagreement and division at the Council.

amendments-2-0

The draft resolution on human rights and transitional justice, put forward by Switzerland, Argentina and Morocco, was also subjected to voted amendments. These amendments were put forward by Cuba attempting to remove references to the Responsibility to Protect and to the Offices of the Special Advisers to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect. The Council rejected both submitted draft amendments by vote, and rejected an additional oral amendment from the floor to delete preambular paragraph 19 (recognising the role of the International Criminal Court) from the resolution. The resolution was adopted with a vote of 29 in favour, 1 against and 17 abstentions, thereby breaking the pre-existing consensus on the resolution.

Other resolutions – on cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage; on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation; and on equal participation in political and public affairs – were also subjected to oral and written amendments, all of which were rejected by vote. 


Image Credits

Feature photo: Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (left) High Commissioner for Human Rights Choi Kyong-lim (right) President of the Human Rights Council during of the 33rd ordinary session of the Human Right Council. 13 September 2016. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights during of the 33rd ordinary session of the Human Right Council. 13 September 2016. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The report of the UN Independent Investigation on highlights the increasingly dire human rights situation in Burundi. “We call on all sides to put an end to human rights violations and abuses,” said U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper, after the presentation of the report to the Human Rights Council September 27 by independent experts: Mr. Pablo de Greiff, Mr. Christof Heyns, Ms. Maya Sahli-Fadel. “We firmly believe that this crisis can and must be resolved, or Burundi risks descending into further conflict, including the possibility of mass atrocities.” U.S. Mission Photo/Eric Bridiers licensed under. CC BY-ND 2.0.