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Report on the 35th Session of the Human Rights Council

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

Quick summary 

  • The 35th regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC35) was held from Tuesday 6th June to Friday 23rd June 2017.
  • On 6th June, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, presented an oral update on the global human rights situation.
  • A number of dignitaries delivered statements during the session, including inter alia, H.E. Mr Tabaré Vazquez, President of Uruguay, and H.E. Ms Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
  • Five panel discussions were held during the session.
  • More than 79 reports under the Council’s various agenda items were considered.
  • More than 165 side events were held by States and/or NGOs.
  • Four new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed to the following mandates: Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, and Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
  • HRC35 saw the creation of a new Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members 
  • 37 texts were considered by the Council: 35 resolutions, one decision, and one Presidential Statement. This is a record number of texts for a June session of the Council. Of these, 29 were adopted by consensus (78.4%) and eight by recorded vote (21.6%).
  • 11 written and/or oral amendments (sometimes known as ‘hostile amendments’) were put forward by States during the consideration of texts. One of these amendments were accepted by the core sponsors before voting, and the rest were rejected by the Council.
  • 25 of the texts adopted by the Council (72.9%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and 18 required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. The total costs of the newly mandated activities amounted to a total of $7.019.700 at the time of writing.

Briefing by the High Commissioner for Human Rights 

In his regular update to the Council, H.E. Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, brought attention to the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Palestinian lands and called for an end to the occupation. The bulk of his statement was dedicated to the issue of Member States’ access to, and selective cooperation with, the UN human rights mechanisms. He reiterated his Office’s commitment to ensuring the full implementation of recommendations from all UN human rights mechanisms and addressed the central issue of State cooperation with Special Procedures mandate-holders. In this regard, he condemned recent incidents of intimidation and insults directed against Special Procedure mandate-holders. The High Commissioner reminded all States – with a particular emphasis on Member States – that they have a responsibility to cooperate with the above-mentioned mechanisms and to ‘uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.’ Notwithstanding, he noted that, in many cases, members were not living up to these requirements. To illustrate his point, he made reference to some notable examples of pending requests for visits. Compliance, he said, is equally important when it comes to international Treaty Bodies and the associated reporting obligations. Despite their formal commitment, reporting from 74 States has been overdue for a decade or longer, and only 33 States are fully up-to-date with their Treaty Body reporting (For more information on membership engagement check out YourHRC.org).

Finally, the High Commissioner reported on a number of States where access for OHCHR has recently improved, namely Uzbekistan, Armenia, and Mozambique, which he contrasted to the situation in Turkey, India, Pakistan, and Venezuela. In conclusion, the High Commissioner reiterated the importance of States engaging with Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures, beyond the mere signature at the bottom of a treaty or convention. The present moment, he said, also constitutes a tremendous opportunity to build on the Secretary-General’s commitment to prevention, and on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (link to statement).

High level dignitaries

At the opening of the 35th session of the Council, H.E. Mr Tabaré Vazquez, President of Uruguay, delivered a high level statement. The President highlighted that ‘the historic path of coexistence, dignity and human rights has not been a triumphant or linear path and our country has also known set-backs and bitter times.’ Moreover, he stressed the importance of all UN Member States recognising, supporting, and participating in the work of the Council, as a key step to ensure peaceful coexistence for all. Finally, he announced Uruguay’s candidacy for Council Membership in the period 2019-2021, (watch his full statement here).

One of the most anticipated moments of this Council session was the address of H.E. Ms Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. During her speech to the Council, she offered some praise for the body. She acknowledged that ‘when the Council has acted with clarity and integrity, it has advanced the cause of human rights,’ and also acknowledged that ‘at its best – when it is calling out human rights violators and abuses, and provoking positive action – [the Council] changes lives, it pushes back against the tide of cynicism that is building in our world.’

However, her praise was followed by a sharp critique: 

‘But there is a truth that must be acknowledged by anyone who cares about human rights: when the Council fails to act properly – when it fails to act at all – it undermines its own credibility and the cause of human rights. It leaves the most vulnerable to suffer and die. It fuels the cynical belief that countries cannot put aside self-interest and cooperate on behalf of human dignity. It re-enforces our growing suspicion that the Human Rights Council is not a good investment of our time, money, and national prestige.’ ‘The Human Rights Council,’ she continued, ‘has been given a great responsibility. It has been charged with using the moral power of universal human rights to be the world’s advocate for the most vulnerable among us. Judged by this basic standard, the Human Rights Council has failed… The world’s foremost human rights body has tarnished the cause of human rights. The UN must now act to reclaim the legitimacy of universal human dignity.’ (Read her full statement here).

Panel Discussions

A total of five panel discussions were held during the 35th 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, funded the participation at HRC35 of seven (five female and two male) government officials from Dominica (Commonwealth of), Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Tanzania (United Republic of), The Gambia, and Uganda. For five of them, it was the first time they participated in a HRC session.

During HRC35, the LDCs-SIDS Trust Fund held a high-level side-event, together with the Permanent Missions of The Bahamas and Spain, to discuss the opportunities and challenges for the Trust Fund, five years after its creation. 

Commissions of Inquiry, Fact-Finding Missions and Investigations

Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

During an interactive dialogue at HRC35, Mr Fatsah Ouguergouz, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (established under resolution 33/24), presented an oral briefing on the first four months of operations of the Commission. He started out by saying that, despite various occasions to speak to numerous actors affected by the situation in Burundi, no attempt to make contact with Burundian authorities had so far been successful. Such absence of cooperation is deeply regretful, Mr Ouguergouz said, especially as Burundi is a member of this Council and is therefore bound to collaborate with the mechanisms it has created. Nevertheless, the Commission will continue its efforts to establish a dialogue with the Burundian Government. Mr Ouguergouz noted that, as a consequence, they have not been able to access the country, yet they have been able to visit several countries hosting Burundian refugees, whose number has reached more than 400,000, and managed to collect over 470 testimonies on human rights violations committed in Burundi since April 2015.

Mr Ouguergouz then gave an overview of the country situation. The human rights crisis in Burundi, which has been ongoing for over two years, he said, does not seem to improve. Testimonies of exiled Burundians demonstrate a climate of widespread fear. The few human rights defenders still in the country have serious difficulties in gathering testimonies, for fear of reprisals on themselves and the victims. Severe restrictions of civil liberties have been continuing since 2015 and the main private media are still suspended. The situation, he added, is aggravated by violence and violations committed in a more clandestine way, extrajudicial executions, acts of torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary arrests and detention, and enforced disappearances. In the testimonies of victims, violations are described as particularly cruel and brutal and the vast majority of them appear to have been committed in a climate of total impunity.

Before the next session of the Council, the Commission will continue its investigations and proceed to assess whether certain violations or abuses constitute international crimes and who is responsible for said crimes.

Pursuant to resolution 33/24, the Commission is due to present a final report to the Council at its 36th session.

Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arabic Republic

During an interactive dialogue at HRC35, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arabic Republic presented an oral update on the situation in the country, covering the events from March 2017 to the present. Mr Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry, said that levels of violence in the areas around Adlib and western Aleppo have been reduced as a consequence of the Astana talks, where the Russian Federation, Iran, and Turkey agreed to create ‘de-escalation zones.’ Yet, no improvement can be seen in the zones around Homs, Damascus and southern Dara’a, where violence continues to be directed against civilians through the unrestrained use of airstrikes against residential neighbourhoods, attacks on doctors and hospitals, or the use of suicide bombers. Ultimately, he noted, the only way to end civilian suffering is to end this war. Parties should press to ensure that any de-escalation in hostilities was accompanied by renewed efforts to access communities in need, to strengthen the human rights protections for all people across Syria, and to generate meaningful momentum for peace, said Mr Pinheiro. Sustainable peace requires meaningful accountability for all violations and crimes mentioned. Mr Pinheiro stressed that only a durable political solution will bring an end to the conflict, and the creation of de-escalation zones can help support the conditions necessary for more comprehensive political discussions within the Geneva framework led by Special Envoy De Mistura.

The Syrian Arab Republic, speaking as the country concerned, noted that the resumption of the Geneva talks put the Council in a position where it disrupted the reconciliation process and accused that the Commission of Inquiry of fabricating a false picture of the war. It also expressed concern over the real purpose of the Commission of Inquiry and its support for certain political organisations.

In his concluding remarks, Mr Pinheiro called on all States involved in the conflict to become Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty of 2014. He expressed the support of the Commission to the calls for the same type of vigour to all parties in the conflict and he said that no preferential treatment is granted to any party. The only side the Commission takes is that of the victims. Ms Carla del Ponte, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, explained that the Commission of Inquiry was ready to fully cooperate with the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on international crimes committed in the Syrian Arab Republic and she stated the importance of formalising investigations of war crimes on order to bring justice to the victims.

Special Procedures 

Interactive dialogues

21 mandate holders (16 thematic, 5 country-specific) presented annual reports to the Council (all of which are available here). During the 15 Interactive Dialogues (6 ‘clustered’ and 9 individual), around 80 States delivered statements (either individually or jointly), of which 14% were from the AG, 19% from APG, 16% from EEG, 14% from GRULAC, 35% from WEOG, and 1% from other States (namely the State of Palestine).

Appointment of new mandate-holders

Four new mandate-holders were appointed during the session, to fill positions on four existing mandates. On the final day of the session, the following mandate-holders were appointed:

To inform the appointments, the Consultative Group, made up of representatives of the Czech Republic, Honduras, Malaysia, Mauritius, and Norway, scrutinised around 76 individual applications, for four vacancies. The Consultative Group sent its recommendations to the President of the Council on 12th May 2017.

Due to ‘concerns expressed in relation to the gender balance and equitable geographic representation of the candidates recommended by the Consultative Group,’ the President of the Council – in an unprecedented move – did not follow any of the recommendations put forward by the Consultative Group, when presenting his proposed candidates to the Council, sent via letter on 29th May, 2017.

For the mandates on international solidarity, human rights of migrants and countering terrorism, the President decided to appoint the third candidates proposed by the Consultative Group; while for the mandate on minority issues, he went with the second choice candidate. 

New Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy

During the 35th session, the Council created a new Special Procedures mandate on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. The resolution establishing the mandate, submitted by a core group consisting of Brazil, Ethiopia, Fiji, Japan, Morocco, was adopted by consensus. Presenting the resolution, Japan expressed the intention that the new mandate would help close ‘the history of discrimination against and stigmatisation of leprosy patients, ex-patients and their families, and focus on their social inclusion.’ Moreover, Japan, on behalf of the core group expressed the intention that the new Special Rapporteur should ‘fulfil the mandate within one three-year term ending in 2020, or two terms at the most.’ As such, this would potentially be the first thematic mandate of the Council to end after its first term, as no previously created thematic mandate has ever been discontinued. Germany, on behalf of the European Union, expressed concern over the efficiency of the Council and over potential duplication of work and invited the core group to assess the work done by other UN bodies on the issue in question. 

With the establishment of this new mandate, there are now 56 Special Procedures mandates (43 thematic and 13 country-specific) and 80 mandate-holders (58% male, 42% female). 

Resolutions

The 35th session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 35 resolutions, one decision and one Presidential Statement.. This represents an increase of 8.1% from the number of texts (34) adopted at the 32nd session in June 2016. Moreover, this represents the highest number of resolutions ever recorded during any June session of the Human Rights Council. 

Around 21.6% of the texts at HRC35 were adopted by a recorded vote. 

31 (83.8%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, while six (16.2%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of the latter texts, three addressed human rights violations under agenda item 4, and three sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10).

25 of the texts adopted by the Council (72.9%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring appropriations of $7.019.700, not previously covered by the UN regular budget.  

Resolutions, decisions & Presidential Statements*

*listed in order of L numbers

Agenda Item

Resolution

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

3 Seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action Russian Federation  ✓  $87,200   Consensus
3 The right to education: follow-up to Human Rights Council resolution 8/4  Portugal   ✓   0  Consensus
3 Human rights and international solidarity  Cuba   ✓   0  Adopted by vote: 32-15-0
3 Promotion of the right to peace  Cuba  ✓  $126,200  Adopted by vote: 32-11-4 
 5 The Social Forum  Cuba  –  Consensus 
3  Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children Germany, Philippines   ✓   0 Consensus 
 3 Panel discussion on the human rights of internally displaced persons in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement  Austria, Honduras, Uganda   ✓   $96,600 Consensus 
3  Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities  Mexico, New Zealand  ✓   $211,800  Consensus 
 4  The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States of America   – Adopted by vote: 27-8-12 
10   Cooperation with and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights Ukraine   – Adopted by vote: 22-6-19 
Business and human rights: mandate of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises  Argentina, Ghana, Norway, Russian Federation   $219,900 Consensus 
3  Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) (NAM)   – Adopted by vote: 32-3-12 
 4  Situation of human rights in Eritrea  Djibouti, Somalia  ✓   $58,700 Consensus 
3 Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members  Brazil, Ethiopia, Fiji, Japan, Morocco   ✓  $1,172.400  Consensus 
 Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women: Engaging men and boys in preventing and responding to violence against all women and girls Canada   ✓   $80,500 Consensus 
4 Situation of human rights in Belarus 

 Malta (EU)

 ✓   0  Adopted by vote: 18-8-21
 Consideration of the elaboration of a draft declaration on the promotion and full respect of human rights of people of African descent

Azerbaijan, Brazil, Costa Rica, Haiti, Peru, and Tunisia (African Group) 

–  Consensus 
3

The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 

Brazil, Mozambique, Paraguay, Portugal, Thailand   ✓   $72,100 Consensus 
3 Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of  judges and lawyers   Australia, Botswana, Hungary, the Maldives, Mexico, Thailand   ✓   0  Consensus
3  Independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers  Australia, Botswana, Hungary, the Maldives, Mexico, Thailand   –  Consensus 
3 Protection of the family: role of the family in supporting the protection and promotion of human rights of older persons   Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt (Arab Group), El Salvador, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Uganda  ✓  $119,400  Adopted by vote: 30-12-5 
3  Youth and human rights  Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Tunisia  ✓   $112,000 Consensus 
3 National policies and human rights  Algeria, Ecuador, Italy, Peru, Romania, Thailand   ✓   $112,400 Consensus 
 5  Contribution of parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council and its universal periodic review Ecuador, Italy, the Maldives, Morocco, Philippines, Romania, Spain   ✓  $85,400  Consensus 
 3 Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions   Sweden  ✓   – Consensus 
3 Child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian settings   Argentina, Canada, Ethiopia, Honduras, Italy, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Zambia  ✓ $91,100  Consensus 
3 Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism  Mexico  – Consensus 
3 Protection of the human rights of migrants: the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration   Mexico  ✓ $170,800   Consensus
3 Elimination of discrimination against women and girls  Colombia, Mexico  –   Consensus
3  Human rights in cities and other human settlements Brazil, Ecuador     – Consensus 
3 Extreme poverty and human rights   Albania, Belgium, Chile, France, Morocco, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Senegal  0 Consensus 
3  Human rights and climate change  Bangladesh, Philippines, Viet Nam –  Consensus 
3 The contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights China   – Adopted by vote: 30-13-3 
3  The negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights  Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, Poland, United Kingdom  ✓ $127,400  Consensus 
3 Realizing the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl  United Arab Emirates  –  Consensus 
10 Technical assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo concerning the events in the Kasai  Tunisia (African Group)   ✓  $4,075,800  Consensus 
10 Situation des droits de l’homme en Côte d’Ivoire HRC President   –  Consensus

Analysis and Conclusions

In the run-up to the 34th session in March (HRC34), the big talking point among delegations was: how will the new Trump Administration react to the Council? One consequence of this was that States seemed to adopt a ‘wait and watch’ brief, careful not to antagonise the U.S, or ‘rock the boat.’ The overall result was a session that was relatively constructive, with some positive outcomes, but which nonetheless felt like the ‘calm before the storm.’

The first winds of that expected storm hit during HRC35.

At the beginning of the session, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN in New York, H.E. Ms Nikki Haley, addressed the Council plenary and, as expected, announced that the U.S. was reviewing its membership of the body. In essence, Ambassador Haley put the Council on notice – calling for a number of important reforms to its functioning, especially the dilution / deletion of agenda item 7 on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and improvements in the body’s membership. In the absence of such reforms, Ambassador Haley threatened, the US would disengage (presumably giving up its seat – thus taking the Council into unchartered territory).

Crucially, however, it became clear through Ambassador Haley’s speech and through subsequent comments by American officials, that the U.S. is willing to invest political capital in pushing those reforms itself (with the help of other supportive States). This is important because, while most diplomats and NGOs agree with the U.S. on the need for reform in these two areas, only the U.S. is in a position to lead on securing those reforms.

Indeed, at HRC35 the U.S. and its allies already began to take some initial – tentative – steps. For example, in a show of solidarity with the U.S., at HRC35 no Western State participated in the general debate under item 7. This built on the announcement of the U.K. at the end of HRC34 that they would no longer engage on any aspect of item 7. All this can be seen as part of an effort to ‘dilute’ item 7 and to convince the Palestinians that its interests would be better served in addressing the human rights situation in the OPT under item 4 (as with other situations of violations).

Moreover, on the subject of membership, while the U.S. did not itself take steps to improve the competitiveness and transparency of Council elections (though it may in September), it did support a Dutch-led joint statement at the end of HRC35 (supported by 47 States – including numerous Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States) which recalled that election to the Council should be based on human rights considerations, and that once elected, States are expected to ‘uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’ and ‘fully cooperate’ with the Council and its mechanisms. Sponsors of the statement committed to: ensuring competitive elections (no ‘clean slates’); voting based on human rights criteria; promoting opportunities for all States, including Small States, to stand for and be elected to, the Council; publish pledges in good time; and strengthen cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms and the implementation of recommendations.  

Notwithstanding these initial steps to press for Council reform, there was a definitive move on the part of the US at HRC35 to adopt a more critical stance vis-à-vis many areas of the Council’s normal work, especially areas where the Trump Administration has signalled a change in approach compared to the Obama Administration (e.g. climate change, sexual and reproductive rights). This more critical, aggressive approach was particularly notable in the number of explanations of vote by the U.S. delegation that called for a vote or that dissociated the U.S. from consensus.

The U.S. made explanations of vote and called for a vote on the draft resolutions on: ‘contribution of development to human rights;’ ‘international cooperation and human rights;’ and ‘promotion of the right to peace.’

The U.S. made explanation of vote and disassociated itself from consensus on draft resolutions – or on particular paragraphs of those resolutions – on: ‘the Social Forum;’ ‘the right to health;’ ‘discrimination against women’ (paragraphs on reproductive health); ‘violence against women; ’and ‘the human rights of migrants.’

The U.S. also made explanations of vote explaining its position on the draft resolutions on: ‘human rights in cities;’ ‘the right to education by every girl;’ ‘child, early and forced marriage’ (in which the U.S. said that it ‘does not recognise abortion as a method of family planning, nor do we support abortion in our reproductive health assistance)’; and ‘international cooperation.’

In addition to these specific explanations of votes, the U.S. also delivered an ‘omnibus’ general statement/explanation of vote at the end of consideration of item 3 (thematic) resolutions, reaffirming ‘its longstanding position on the progressive realisation of ESCR rights, on the right to development, and on the fact that human rights are held and exercised by individuals not groups,’ as well as its position on the issue of technology transfer. This explanation of vote covered thirteen resolutions including those dealing with: violence against women; human rights and climate change; corruption and human rights; discrimination against women; and national policies and human rights.

Thematic issues

HRC35 saw the highest number of thematic resolutions (and total resolutions) ever adopted by the Council at a June session. This clear reversal of the positive results of the efficiency drive led by the 2015 President of the Council, H.E. Mr Joachim Ruecker, is deeply worrying in the context of an already packed Council agenda, and an institutional framework that is at risk of collapsing under its own weight.

It suggests that States themselves are not able to agree on the voluntarily common sense steps necessary to make the Council’s working methods more streamlined and effective – in line with GA resolution 60/251 and the institution-building package (IBP). This in turn suggests that any review and development of reform proposals should be ‘outsourced’ to, for example, the UN Secretary-General.

In addition to the increasing number of resolutions, HRC35 also saw the creation of yet another new thematic Special Procedures mandate – on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy. With the establishment of this new mandate, there are now 56 Special Procedures mandates, including 43 thematic and 13 country-specific (80 mandate-holders). Notwithstanding the importance of the issue, in response to expressions of concern by other States about the unsustainable growth of the Special Procedures system and overlap between mandates, Japan (main sponsor) called on the new Special Rapporteur (once appointed) to ‘fulfil his/her mandate within one three-year term ending in 2020, or two terms at the most.’

Looking at the focus of thematic resolutions adopted at HRC35, as usual for a June session, there were a number of texts dealing with women’s rights issues, such as violence against women (introduced by Canada), and discrimination against women (introduced by Mexico). As has become the trend over recent years, these resolutions, and the more progressive social views that they tend to reflect, were the subject of a significant number of amendments and votes by States with more socially conservative backgrounds.  

For example, at the time of adoption of draft resolution L15 on violence against women, the Russian Federation introduced two amendments to remove reference to the term ‘women human rights defenders’ and to the term ‘comprehensive sexuality education.’ Both were rejected by comfortable margins. The resolution, unamended, was then adopted by consensus, with a number of States (e.g. China, Egypt, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the U.S,) disassociating from certain paragraphs.

For example, Saudi Arabia, on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members of the Council, disassociated itself from a number of paragraphs that it claimed went against the societal and cultural values of the GCC and Sharia law.

Similarly, when Mexico presented draft resolution L29 on discrimination against women in law and in practice, the Russian Federation put forward the same two amendments as it did to draft L15, and Egypt proposed an oral amendment to replace ‘gender’ by ‘sex.’ All three were rejected by the Council. The resolution was then adopted without a vote. 

In an interesting development at the Council, efforts to amend resolutions that touched on societal concerns were not only tabled by OIC States or the Russian Federation ‘against’ Western or Latin American-led resolutions. Rather, Western States (namely EU member States and Switzerland) also put forward amendments to try to alter a resolution tabled by OIC States (led by Egypt) on ‘protection of the family.’ The EU and Swiss amendments were designed to reflect, in the text, the existence of ‘various forms of families.’ The Council rejected both amendments, though in relatively close votes. A second Swiss amendment highlighting the greater risks faced by older women was accepted by the main sponsors of the resolution and thus incorporated into the text as adopted by vote, with 30 in favour, 12 against and 5 abstaining (including EU member State Hungary).

Other interesting or controversial resolutions adopted at HRC35 included:

  • A new text, put forward by China (the first time China has ever tabled a resolution, under its own initiative, at the Council) on ‘the contribution of development to the enjoyment of human rights.’ This was called to a vote (by the U.S.) and adopted with 30 in favour, 13 against and three abstentions. Explaining its votes against the text, Germany, on behalf of the EU, stressed that while development and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing, the resolution incorrectly seeks to place development above human rights – when different levels of development should never be invoked as an excuse to infringe basic human rights.
  • A resolution on ‘national policies and human rights,’ put forward by Ecuador and a core group, which focused on integrating human rights obligations and recommendations into domestic policy as a contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This was adopted by consensus.
  • A recurring resolution on ‘protecting human rights while countering terrorism,’ put forward by Mexico. The resolution attracted amendments put forward by Russia, Egypt and Venezuela, to re-introduce wording from earlier iterations of the resolution, and to delete reference to ‘violent extremism’ (which, they argued, was a imprecise term). These amendments, together with an amendment by South Africa, were put to votes and were rejected. The resolution, unamended, was then adopted by consensus.

Country specific

At HRC35, country-specific item 4 resolutions were adopted on Belarus, Eritrea, and the Syrian Arab Republic.

Moreover, a Presidential statement (PRST) and two resolutions extending technical assistance and capacity-building support under item 10 were also adopted, covering, respectively, the human rights situation in Côte d’Ivoire, technical assistance to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and cooperation with and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights. 
 
The adoption of the resolution on DRC under item 10 is reflective of deep and persistent problems at the Council in terms of the correct calibration of the UN’s approach to dealing with country-specific situations. In the case of the DRC text, the country concerned, with the support of the African Group, argued that the Council should engage with the DRC constructively, through cooperation and dialogue, to deliver capacity-building support (i.e. under item 10). On the other hand, the EU argued that international support for human rights reform in DRC as a whole should be balanced with international efforts to address serious violations in certain parts of the country (i.e. by requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to dispatch a team of international experts). The EU argued that because such a response would involve elements of both an item 4 and an item 10 approach, the Council’s resolution should be adopted under item 2 (as were earlier resolutions on Sri Lanka).
 

This disagreement led to two draft resolutions on DRC being tabled – one by the EU under item 2 and one by the African Group under item 10. After negotiations between the two sides, the EU eventually agreed to merge its draft into the African draft. The end result was a resolution, adopted by consensus, which outwardly looks like an item 10 text, but which includes a decision to create a typical ‘item 4’ accountability mechanism (the team of international experts).

In reality, this muddled approach does little for the promotion and protection of human rights in DRC, nor for the credibility of the Council in terms of the fulfilment of its mandates to address serious violations and to support States through technical assistance. It raises, again, the need for the Council to reconsider its overall approach to dealing with evolving human rights situations/emergencies, especially through primary prevention and early response.

Further evidence of the need for such reconsideration and reform came during the item 4 general debate at HRC35, when, for the first time in the Council’s history, no statement was delivered by the EU (due to opposition from Greece).


Photo credits

Feature photo: H.E. Mr Joaquin Alexander Maza Martelli (right) President of the Human Rights Council with Ms Nikki Haley (left) Permanent Representative of the United Sates of America to the United Nations in New York at a 35th Session of the Human Rights Council. 6 June 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 

H.E. Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights at a 35th Session of the Human Rights Council. 6 June 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 

H.E. Mr Joaquin Alexander Maza Martelli, President of the Human Rights Council (fifth from right), Mr Eric Tistounet (right) Chief of the Human Rights Council Branch, and Ms Fatou Camara Houel (third from left) Coordinator LDCs/SIDS at a group photo with Representatives of Tanzania, Dominica, Uganda, Sao Tome and Principe at a 35th Session of the Human Rights Council. 19 June 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 

Ms Sheila Keetharuth, Special Rapporteur present his report on the situation of human rights in Eritrea at 35th Session of the Human Rights Council. 14 June 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 

Mr Mutuma Ruteere, Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia, addressing racism in the context of counter-terrorism measures after his missions to Argentina, Australia and Fiji and on combatting the glorification of Nazism and neo-Nazism at 35th Session of the Human Rights Council. 19 June 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 

Mr Miklos Haraszti, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus at 35th Session of the Human Rights Council. 14 June 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. 

Ms Kombou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education present her report on Chile at a 35th Session of the Human Rights Council. 7 June 2017. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.