Report on the 51st session of the Human Rights Council

by the URG team Blog, Blog, Reportes del Consejo de Derechos Humanos

Quick summary

  • The 51st regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC51) was held from Monday 12 September to Friday 7 October 2022.
  • With Ms. Michelle Bachelet’s mandate as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights having come to an end on 31 August 2022, and the incoming UN High Commissioner, Mr. Volker Türk, not taking up his official functions until 17 October 2022, following his appointment by the Secretary General and its approval by the General Assembly on 8 September, Ms. Nada Al-Nashif, opened HRC51, as Acting High Commissioner, by presenting a global update on the situation of human rights around the world. In her oral update, which provided the basis for the general debate under Item 2, held on 13 and 14 September, the Acting High Commissioner referred to several situations around the world that raise human rights concerns. During the session, the Acting High Commissioner also provided oral updates on the situation of human rights in Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and in its aftermath, on September 23; on the human rights situation in Myanmar on September 26; on the situation of human rights in Ukraine on October 4; and on technical assistance and capacity building for South Sudan on October 5.  
  • 5 panel debates were held during the session.
  • More than 80 reports under the Council’s various agenda items were considered.
  • Four new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed to the following mandates: the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (India), the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (Colombia), the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers (United States of America), and one member of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (from Eastern European States).
  • 9 expert members were elected to the Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee (from Algeria, Angola, China, Qatar, Slovenia, Spain, Uruguay, Bahamas, Brazil).
  • 42 texts (39 resolutions, one decision, and one statement by the President) were considered by the Council. This represents a 52% increase in the number of adopted texts compared to one-year prior (HRC48). Of the 41 adopted texts, 30 were adopted by consensus (73%), and 11 by a recorded vote (27%).
  • The Council rejected a draft decision to hold a debate on the situation of human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China by vote (17 votes in favour, 19 against, and 11 abstentions).
  • Following the adoption by vote of a draft resolution on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation (17 votes in favour, 6 against, and 24 abstentions), the Council created a new Special Procedure mandate on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation for a period of one year, and requested the mandate holder to make recommendations and to present a comprehensive report to the Council at its 54th session and to the General Assembly at its 78th session, while calling upon the Russian authorities to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur.
  • The Council further extended the mandates of 8 thematic Special Procedures (i.e., the Independent Expert on older persons; the Special Rapporteurs on the right to development, on contemporary forms of slavery, on the rights to water and sanitation, on Indigenous Peoples, and on the right to health, as well as the Working Groups on arbitrary detention, and on mercenaries), and 7 country-specific mechanisms (i.e., the Special Rapporteurs on Afghanistan, and on Burundi; the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia; the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the International Team of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic; and the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia).
  • 25 written amendments were tabled by States ahead of the consideration of texts by the Council but 14 were withdrawn by the main sponsor prior to voting. The remaining 11 amendments were rejected by a vote. Additionally, one oral amendment was brought forward by China during voting proceedings.
  • 31 of the texts adopted by the Council (79%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. 

High Commissioner’s briefing

On 12 September 2022, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Nada Al-Nashif, presented an oral update by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. She began by welcoming the newly appointed High Commissioner, Volker Türk, who was appointed by the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, following approval by the United Nations General Assembly on 8 September. 

 In her oral update, Ms. Al-Nashif focused on the Office’s concerns for the serious human right situations in countries around the world, aside from those that would be the subject of separate discussions during the 51st session (i.e., Afghanistan, Belarus, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and Ukraine).

The Acting High Commissioner’s concerns focused heavily on alleged violations of civil and political rights, notably in the context of protests. She cited cases of crackdown and excessive use of force during protests in Chad, Guinea, Sudan, Eswatini, and Sierra Leone, calling for prompt, impartial and thorough investigations to hold perpetrators accountable, while further lamenting various situations of shrinking civic space, including in Burundi, and in Russia, where she condemned ‘the intimidation, restrictive measures and sanctions against people voicing opposition to the war in Ukraine’.

 The Acting High Commissioner also raised the Office’s concerns for the targeting of human rights defenders and environmental rights defenders around the world, and urged an end to reprisals against journalists, advocates, and legal professionals, highlighting particular concern for the situation of defenders and journalists in Mozambique, Honduras, Bangladesh, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Viet Nam, Singapore (in the context of advocacy against the death penalty for which she urged authorities to impose an immediate moratorium), Tajikistan, and Tunisia, where she expressed further concern at mounting interference with the judiciary.

Ms. Al-Nashif noted with concern various situations of violence and civil unrest, including as a result of unresolved social grievances affecting already marginalised (i.e., indigenous) populations in Ecuador, political deadlock amidst economic challenges exacerbated by the severe impacts of climate change in Iraq, and gang violence in Haiti, calling for national dialogue processes with the participation of all groups, notably women and civil society, as well as increased engagement on the part of the international community.

The Acting High Commissioner also drew attention to situations of alleged human rights violations being committed during military operations or in the conduct of hostilities, including at times with the support of foreign private military contractors. In particular, she highlighted the situations in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Mali, Yemen, Libya, Indonesia and the Occupied Palestinian Territory and called on all parties to these conflicts to take immediate steps to end the violence, to opt for constructive and genuine dialogue, and to comply with international human rights and international humanitarian law. In several cases, including Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Indonesia, Ms. Al-Nashif expressed further concern at the ethnic dimension to violence, lamenting the rise in hate speech, targeting of minorities, including Indigenous Peoples and calling for the impartial investigation of such attacks. The Acting High Commissioner also drew attention to the publication of her Office’s assessment of human rights concerns in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.

 Stressing the global socioeconomic consequences of the war in Ukraine, Ms. Al-Nashif welcomed the ‘landmark agreement involving Russia, Ukraine, the United Nations and Türkiye’, but called on the international community to step up its support to  countries in dire humanitarian need, including Somalia and Yemen. She also urged EU member States to not respond to soaring energy prices by turning to investments in fossil fuel infrastructure and supplies.

The Acting High Commissioner also commended a number of countries for concluding peaceful elections and transfers of power, including Kenya, Angola, and Somalia, while noting OHCHR’s role in deploying a surge team to bolster preventative engagement in the former. She also highlighted positive examples of Government cooperation with OHCHR, such as in Honduras and noted with optimism the Colombian government’s strategy to achieve peace, truth and reconciliation.

 Ms. Al-Nashif further underlined the crucial need to safeguard the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly, ahead of upcoming elections in polarised contexts in Bangladesh and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Finally, in line with their international human rights obligations, the Acting High Commissioner encouraged the international community to ‘seek an ambitious outcome at UNFCCC COP27’, including by addressing loss and damage and meeting and increasing climate finance commitments. Ms. Al-Nashif concluded her update by emphasising the vital role of ‘multilateral and concerted action’ and ‘political commitment that is grounded in international human rights standards’ to move towards ‘more just and equal societies’. She recalled how the Call to Action for Human Rights and Our Common Agenda serve as a framework to galvanise action, and urged the international community to make fuller use of the international human rights mechanisms so States can move ‘forward on human rights protection and promotion.’

The official transcript of Ms. Al-Nashif’s oral update can be found here.

51st session of the Human Rights Council. Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Palais des Nations, room XX, Geneva, Switzerland. September 12, 2022. UN Photo by Pierre Albouy

Panel discussions and other thematic meetings

A total of five panel discussions were held during the 51st session. The panels were focused on the following topics:

  • Biennial panel discussion on the right to development, on the theme ‘35 years on: policy pathways to operationalizing the right to development’ (concept notevideo)
    • The ongoing impact of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine have exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, discrimination, and power asymmetries, and have increased the risk of social unrest. These crises have had a differentiated impact on youth, especially in developing countries.
    • The right to development must encompass more than just economic development measured by GDP. The right to development is in itself a human right – it is a comprehensive social, economic, political, and cultural process guiding the overall improvement of individuals and underpinned by cooperation.
    • OHCHR’s capacity-building and partnerships on the right to development strive to be in line with human rights principles and make the most of synergies with the Sustainable Development Goals. 
    • These synergies must be reinforced at all levels, including Parliaments, as they have essential powers for implementation and oversight of human rights recommendations.
    • Resources are necessary to materialise rights. In order to uphold the right to development, there is a need to strengthen fiscal systems and reform the global financial architecture, so that fiscal and development systems are brought together.
  • Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms, on the theme ‘Overcoming gender-based barriers to freedom of opinion and expression’ (concept notevideo)
    • Women play a crucial role in fighting systemic discrimination, as shown by women human rights defenders and indigenous women who are at the forefront of fights against climate change and illegal exploitation of resources.
    • Women are excluded from public spaces as a means of silencing their voices: they are excluded from participating in political, cultural, religious spheres.
    • Women also suffer attacks, including sexual and gender-based violence, as well as threats and hate speech, both online and offline.
    • Online spaces have become a powerful tool for women to engage and advocate for change; yet, they have also become a tool for repression, censorship, and violence against women. This is compounded by the fact that half of women worldwide lack digital access.
    • Freedom of opinion and expression play a vital role in the realisation, not only of women’s civil rights, but also their economic, social, and environmental rights. Companies and governments must cooperate to make digital spaces accessible and safe for women.
  • Panel discussion on the future of the right to work in connection with climate change actions, responses and impacts in the context of sustainable and inclusive economies (concept notevideo)
    • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the right to work (including job losses and income losses for informal workers), added on to the climate crisis, creating calls for a transformation of work to make it more sustainable and inclusive. 
    • Climate change will lead to further job losses, as physical and meteorological conditions worsen and make work more difficult. At the same time, environmental and climate measures and action can lead to job creation. Governments must also put in place measures to protect workers during transitions towards green economies.
    • The green transition, per se, does not lead to equitable and inclusive outcomes. Special attention must be paid to women, who work mostly in informal economies such as the care sector. The green transition can be an opportunity to invest in this sector and provide these women with safe and fair working conditions. People with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples and migrant workers must also be considered in policies to make a just transition.
    • Pandemic recovery efforts must be geared towards building back better and taking the opportunity to invest in climate change action and worker protection measures that are anchored in human rights and international cooperation.
    • At COP27, governments must go beyond pledges towards actual implementation of climate change action, adaptation, and social protection measures.
  • Annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, on the theme ‘impact of social and economic recovery plans in the COVID-19 context on Indigenous Peoples, with a special focus on food security’ (concept notevideo)
    • COVID-19 has shown that the prevailing economic, social, and political model cannot guarantee the rights of certain groups, especially Indigenous Peoples. The distinctive impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples, with the deepening of structural inequalities, calls for a human rights-based response to building forward better. 
    • Consultation with Indigenous Peoples, including indigenous women, in the formulation and implementation of recovery plans is essential to protect their rights and resources.
    • In many cases, COVID-19 response plans have been used to expand extractive industries without the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples, displacing indigenous communities and repressing and criminalising indigenous human rights defenders.
    • The UN Biodiversity Conference that will be held in December 2022 in Montreal will set the world’s environmental agenda for the next decade, which must include protection of indigenous land and resources, their conservation efforts, and climate change actions.
    • Indigenous Peoples hold the key to their recovery on the basis of collective knowledge, collective conscience and world-views, solidarity, equality, and self-management. States, companies, and the UN must cooperate with Indigenous Peoples in good faith to build healthy, sustainable and equitable food production systems that ensure Indigenous collective rights.
  • Panel discussion on the negative impact of the legacies of colonialism on the enjoyment of human rights (concept notevideo)
    • Systemic racism persists in large part due to misconceptions that the end of colonialism, the abolition of slavery, and other measures taken by States have eliminated racially discriminatory structures.
    • No State has comprehensively accounted for the past and ongoing impact of systemic racism rooted in colonial legacies. The right to development emerged as a normative response to the negative impacts of the legacies of colonialism. Today, many former colonial powers are reluctant to operationalise this right, thereby continuing the legacies of colonialism.
    • The current impact of colonialism can be seen in environmental degradation; structural racism manifested in unequal access to health, education, social justice; and racial profiling.
    • Addressing current global crises –climate change, COVID-19, and financial crises– requires making a link to the legacies of colonialism.
    • For Indigenous Peoples, the right to self-determination is a central element to achieving collective redress for the historical and systematic violations of their human rights. States and international organisations can assist in that self-determination by creating means of redress and eliminating violence against Indigenous communities.

Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, José Francisco Calí Tzay, speaks during the Panel Discussion on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UN web TV.

Trust Fund for SIDS/LDCs

The Trust Fund for the participation of LDCs and SIDS in the work of the Council (set up in 2012) funded the participation of 15 (seven female and eight male) government officials at HRC51, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Chad, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Suriname, and United Republic of Tanzania. A small proportion of delegates (20%) come from States that are currently members of the Council. For twelve of these delegates, it was the first time they had participated in a Council session.

Commissions of Inquiry, Fact-Finding Missions and Independent investigations

The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

On 12 September 2022, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, composed of Mr. Nicholas Koumjian (Head) and Kaoru Okuizumi, delivered an oral update to the Council, followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs on the country’s human rights situation.

Mr. Nicholas Koumjian stated that crimes in Myanmar had intensified and its people continue to suffer due to the lack of accountability for those believing they do not have to answer to any law. Mr. Koumjian further informed the Council that there is increasing evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer, and persecution. 

According to Mr. Koumjian, women and children are at particular risk in conflicts yet crimes against these groups were under-reported and under-prosecuted, so the Mechanism has prioritised gathering evidence of sexual and gender-based violence against children. He highlighted that children have been arbitrarily detained and tortured, sometimes as a means of targeting their parents. 

Mr. Koumjian stated that five years have passed since the 2017 military clearance in Rakhine state that caused most of Myanmar’s Rohingya population to flee the country, and almost all who fled remain in neighbouring countries waiting for the opportunity for a safe and dignified return to their homes. 

The Mechanism is additionally facing a large number of challenges in gathering evidence, as it is being denied access to witnesses and crime scenes in Myanmar. It had, however, obtained millions of items from Facebook accounts controlled by Myanmar’s military that had been taken down by Facebook. Some posts attempted to incite fear and hatred of the Rohingya.

Following the discussion and in closing, Mr. Koumjian stated that the lack of due process could amount to an international crime, and that the Mechanism is interested in gathering evidence regarding the fairness of legal proceedings in Myanmar. The Mechanism is yet to receive a response from the Myanmar authorities, however. Mr Koumjian further stated that the Mechanism needs assistance from and the cooperation of the States in the region in order to obtain more evidence and to provide victims and witnesses with psychosocial and medical support. Finally, Mr. Koumjian highlighted that the Mechanism is committed to providing the best evidence available to judges on cases dealing with genocide, and that the Mechanism is redoubling its efforts to collect evidence within the required timeframe to share it with courts. 

Presentation of report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar (IIMM), by IIMM Head Nicholas Koumjian. UN Photo by Pierre Albouy.

International Commission of Human Experts on Ethiopia

On 22 September 2022, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, composed of Ms. Kaari Betty Murungi (Chair), Mr. Steven Ratner and Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, delivered an oral update to the Council, followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs on the situation of human rights in the country.

Ms. Kaari Betty Murungi informed the Council that as detailed in its report, the Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that, since November 2020, parties to the conflict in the country had committed serious violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law, and that many of these acts amounted to war crimes.

The report detailed how the Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in the Tigray region by the Ethiopian government and its allies, and that some of these crimes were ongoing. Further, there is a dire humanitarian situation in Tigray, as approximately six million people have been denied access to basic services by the federal government for over a year. The Commission found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the government was using starvation as a method of warfare. Additionally, there were reasonable grounds to believe that serious human rights abuses, some of which amounted to war crimes, have been committed by the Tigrayan forces. 

While hostilities had previously ceased for five months, in the past month fighting resumed and appeared to be intensifying. Ms. Murungi argued that there was a need for an external, independent and impartial mechanism to address the ongoing violations and accountability in Ethiopia. 

Ethiopia, speaking as the country concerned, argued that it had been under the Council’s unfair and biassed scrutiny for over a year, and that its misguided campaign should end, as the Ethiopian government was abiding by international human rights and humanitarian law, in addition to implementing recommendations it received from the OHCHR Joint Investigation Team and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. The Ethiopian delegation argued that the Council should reject the report, as it was of substandard quality and contained unsubstantiated allegations. Further, the Commission’s mandate should not be extended. 

Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy stated that the Commission would consider how to work with Ethiopian institutions in a closer manner, while continuing to maintain impartiality. She further urged the Council to work to end the hostilities in Ethiopia and ensure that those responsible for abuses are held accountable. 

Mr. Steven Rather concluded that the violations in Ethiopia examined by the Commission were of a particular gravity, and that the Commission worked to publish impartial reports that were not biassed towards any side in the conflict. 

The Commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

On 22 September 2022, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI), composed of Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro (Chair), Mr. Hanny Megally, and Ms. Lynn Welchman, delivered an oral update to the Council, followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs on the country’s human rights situation. 

Mr. Pinheiro, providing an overview of the situation in the country, stated that Syrians are facing increasing and intolerable hardships, that they continue to live in the ruins of the long-running conflict, and that there are millions living in displacement camps, with resources dwindling and donor fatigue rising. He stated that while there has been a general reduction in fighting, the war is still not over, and hostilities are increasing on several fronts. Further, civilian infrastructure continues to be destroyed, including food and water resources in the midst of a drought. Mr. Pinheiro argued that Syria cannot afford a return to large-scale fighting. 

The Chair highlighted that the conflict is only one aspect of the hardships that Syrians are facing, stating that unilateral sanctions often resulted in unintended and harmful consequences for the population, and appear to have contributed to a further deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the country.

According to Mr. Pinheiro, torture and ill-treatment, detention, enforced disappearances remain systematic in government controlled areas, and families of detainees were forced to pay substantial bribes to secure their release or even to obtain news about the detained individual. Torture also continues in detention facilities of non-State armed groups, and detainees have died as a result. 

The Chair stated that fundamental freedoms, including freedom of movement, expression, association, and peaceful assembly remain heavily restricted throughout Syria, as activists, journalists and others expressing opposing views are subjected to intimidation, threats or arrest. Restrictions on press are occurring in various parts of the country under different authorities, and journalists have been kidnapped. 

Finally, Mr. Pinheiro stated that one of the greatest tragedies of the war is the unknown fate of the tens of thousands missing or forcibly disappeared, and the suffering endured by their families. He stated that the Commission welcomes the recommendation from the Secretary-General’s report to establish an international body focused on victims and survivors. Such a body must focus on clarifying the fate of missing persons and provide adequate support to victims, survivors and families, and address the gender impact of disappearances. 

The Syrian Arab Republic, speaking as the country concerned, rejected the Commission of Inquiry, the extensions of its mandate, and its reports, which the country called politicised and biassed. The Syrian delegation stated that the report ignored the nature of the terrorist war that was targeting the country, and that the COI had distorted State-level efforts to protect the Syrian people and provide for their basic needs, in addition to achieving national reconciliation and facilitating the return of internally displaced persons and refugees. Finally, it called for the immediate and unconditional lifting of the economic blockade and unilateral coercive measures against Syria, which it argued would be the path to ending the suffering of the Syrian people and ensuring the enjoyment of human rights. 

Ms. Lynn Welchman highlighted the role of women in leading the search for disappeared family members and how they are disproportionately affected by the disappearances occurring in Syria. In closing, Mr. Hanny Megally further discussed the issue of enforced disappearances in the country, and highlighted the need for international action on enforced disappearances, building on existing work being done. 

Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine

On 23 September 2022, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, composed of Erik Møse (chair), Jasminka Džumhur, and Pablo de Greiff, delivered an oral update to the Council, followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs on the situation of human rights in the country.

During the oral update to the Council, Mr. Erik Møse explained that the Commission focused on events in view of their gravity, significance in demonstrating patterns of alleged violations, and the possibility of gaining access to victims, witnesses, and supporting documentation. The Chair also made clear that the security of victims is at the centre of the Commission’s work, ensuring respect of the ‘do no harm’ and confidentiality principles. 

Following the Council’s request in resolution S-34/1 (i.e., to address events that took place in late February and March 2022 in the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy), the Commission visited 27 towns and settlements; interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses; inspected sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture, as well as weapon remnants; consulted a large number of documents and reports; and met with government authorities, international organisations, civil society, and other relevant stakeholders. On the last point, the Commission expressed appreciation for the access and cooperation extended by the Government of Ukraine, and remarked that, even if their attempts to engage in a constructive dialogue with Russian Federation authorities have so far not been successful, they will persist in their efforts.

Based on the evidence gathered, the Commission has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. Mr. Møse then shared the COI’s findings and observations. First, regarding the conduct of hostilities, the Commission noted the damage that explosive weapons have caused to residential buildings and infrastructure, which is one of the factors explaining that a third of the Ukrainian population has been forced to flee. For example, explosive weapons devastated entire areas of Kharkiv city. Second, the Commission identified indiscriminate attacks not distinguishing between civilians and combatants, and violations of personal integrity, particularly, executions. Third, in the cases that the Commission investigated on sexual and gender-based violence, the age of victims ranged from four to 82. 

Regarding the next steps, Mr. Møse first shared that the Commission will continue its inquiry related to the four regions mentioned in the resolution of May 2022 (i.e., Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy) and will gradually devote more of its resources to its general mandate in the first resolution, which is both geographically and thematically broader. The issues of interest that were mentioned included filtration camps, alleged forced transfer of people, and the conditions under which expedited adoption of children are allegedly taking place. Then, while acknowledging that in its update, the Commission has concentrated mainly on violations against personal integrity, the Chair announced that depending on the availability of evidence, the Commission will seek to investigate other types of violations, including the destruction of civilian infrastructure; the appropriation or destruction of economic resources; violations of the right to food; and the legality of changes in local administration. Finally, the Chair announced that in addition to making recommendations regarding criminal accountability, the Commission will also make recommendations about other dimensions of accountability. 

While the Russian Federation was not present to take the floor as a country concerned, the Ukrainian delegation, also speaking as a country concerned, remarked that the Commission’s report would be an important milestone regarding accountability for Russia’s crimes in Ukraine, and that since the beginning of the conflict, the government of Ukraine had launched a ‘comprehensive effort’ to ensure accountability for the Russian Federation’s act of aggression. Ukraine further requested that a special tribunal specifically concerning the crime of aggression against Ukraine be established, in order to investigate and prosecute the Russian Federation’s senior political and military leaders. 

Mr. Erik Møse, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, speaks during the Interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression. Credits : UN web TV.
Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

On 26 September 2022, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, composed of Ms. Marta Valiñas (chair), Mr. Francisco Cox Vial, and Ms. Patricia Tappatá Valdez, presented its third report during an oral update to the Council, which was followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs on the country’s human rights situation.

Ms. Marta Valiñas informed the Council that the FFM had conducted 246 in-person and remote interviews, including three missions to areas near the Venezuelan border, as the mission was not permitted to conduct investigations within the country. The Mission focused on the role of the structure of State intelligence agencies and of the individuals that operate within it as part of a plan to repress those in opposition to the government, as well as the situation in mining regions in the state of Bolívar, in southern Venezuela. 

The most recent report contained a detailed investigation into two Venezuelan State intelligence agencies, DGCIM (military) and SEBIN (civilian), which had been identified for their role in the repression of perceived government opponents. The Mission was also investigating the roles played by specific individuals within these two agencies. Persons detained by these two agencies reported being subjected to torture, sexual violence, or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. 

Concerning the Mission’s investigations in the mining region of Bolívar state, Ms. Valiñas noted that progressive militarisation and an increase in control by armed criminal groups has been occurring. Ms. Valiñas described crimes and human rights violations committed by State and non-State actors, including murder, enforced disappearance, extortion, and sexual and gender-based violence; authorities have not taken sufficient measures to prevent and investigate such abuse. The Mission further documented State attacks against Indigenous Peoples in Bolívar, such as arbitrary deprivation of life, and torture and ill-treatment. 

Venezuela, speaking as the country concerned, rejected the Mission’s report in form and substance, stating that the Mission was politicised and had created a fiction about the country in an attempt to please the international media circus, which did not aim to reflect what was really happening within the country. The Venezuelan delegation argued that everything was invented – phantom migrants, so-called terrorist camps, and even a parallel president – but that regime change, desired by the United States, had not been achieved. Venezuela finished by stating that it would take the relevant diplomatic measures if the Mission’s interventionist mandate continued. 

Ms. Patricia Tappatá Valdez stated that a large number of persons remain arbitrarily detained, and that threats and intimidation against dissidents and opponents continue. To obtain accountability in Venezuela, Ms. Tappatá Valdez argued that ensuring the independence of the justice system is the first step that should be taken; threats against and interfering in the work of civil society and human rights defenders must also cease. The international community must continue its scrutiny and oversight of the situation.

In conclusion, Mr. Francisco Cox Vial stated that the Mission will continue monitoring repression of civil society, and that renewal of the FFM will allow the international community to have oversight of the situation. The Mission will continue to investigate the repression of social leaders, including indigenous leaders.

Item 5 & item 10 General Debate

Item 5

During the general debate under item 5, held from 29-30 September, the Czech Republic delivered a statement on behalf of the European Union, calling for more concerted action to address global challenges, reiterating commitment to the multilateral UN human rights bodies, and expressing concerns about their lack of funding, while noting that support also goes beyond funding to include cooperation and participation in mechanisms like the UPR.

Portugal, on behalf of the Group of Friends on national mechanisms for implementation, reporting, and follow-up (NMIRFs), highlighted that the recommendations emanating from human rights mechanisms will not have an impact on peoples’ lives if they’re not implemented and assessed at the national level, with NMIRFs playing a crucial role in making that happen. Portugal encouraged all States to create or enhance their own NMIRF. The upcoming fourth cycle of the UPR presents an opportunity to enhance on-the-ground implementation and collaboration of all stakeholders.

Speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Special Procedures, Uruguay called on the new High Commissioner to strengthen the OHCHR’s support to mandate-holders, noting its concern regarding the limited resources allocated to support them. Uruguay further invited all States to cooperate with and support Special Procedures, in addition to respect their independence, ensure the UN human rights system’s effective functioning. 

Latvia, on behalf of a group of States, invited Member States that haven’t done so to extend standing invitations to Special Procedures and to cooperate genuinely and non-selectively with mandate holders. States should respect the independence, expertise, and working methods of the Special Procedures, and take the appropriate steps for continued cooperation with them. 

India highlighted the importance of technical assistance and capacity-building in the global protection and promotion of human rights, and expressed its appreciation for the role played by the OHCHR in the provision of such assistance. It further thanked the Advisory Committee for its expert advice and noted its growing importance. India finally highlighted the importance of Special Procedures mandate holders for the strengthening of Member State capacity. 

Several delegations made statements concerning the objectivity and impartiality of mandate-holders, calling on Special Procedures to respect the principles of State sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs, as well as to take into account national contexts when drafting their reports.

Throughout the debate, delegations made calls for adequate and equally distributed funding and allocation of resources to the human rights mechanisms so that they can undertake their mandates in an objective, non-selective manner.

Portugal speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends on NMIRFs during the general debate on item 5. Credits : UN web TV.

Item 10

During the general debate under item 10 on technical assistance and capacity-building, held on 6 October, Cambodia, Georgia and Yemen spoke as countries concerned by the Secretary-General and High Commissioner reports.

Cambodia, although highlighting the positive engagement between the country and OHCHR reflected in the report, drew attention to its ‘factual errors despite the comments provided,’ contested the reports’ references to repression and harassment of political opponents and activists during elections, and regretted the report was not credible or objective due to its one-sided approach.

Georgia stressed the ongoing severe impact of Russia’s ‘illegal occupation of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions’ on the human rights of people living in those regions. Georgia reiterated that ‘Russia is responsible for gross violations committed against the Georgian population,’ as evidenced by decisions from the ICC. The Georgian delegate also emphasised Russia’s hindering of the OHCHR and international human rights monitoring mechanisms from entering the two regions.

Yemen highlighted the report’s positive assessment of the National Commission of Inquiry as an independent mechanism for truth and justice, and stated that the Commission ‘must continue its mandate.’ Yemen announced that the new Presidential Council will launch a broad reform process for internal peace and security and foreign relations, ‘notably human rights, which will be reexamined and improved.’ It called upon the HRC to provide technical assistance to Yemen so the Government could fulfil its human rights obligations and realise accountability.

The Czech Republic, on behalf of the European Union, highlighted that technical cooperation is a critical component of the OHCHR mandate and commended the Office’s ‘unwavering commitment to assist States in their efforts to respect, protect and fulfil human rights for all, make progress towards the SDGs, and help building national resilience for long-term or ‘upstream’ prevention.’ It further commended the OHCHR’s active engagement and dialogue with States, regional organisations and other stakeholders in carrying out its technical cooperation mandate, calling on all States to fully cooperate with and support the OHCHR by providing it with adequate financial resources but also ensuring that all conditions are met for its staff to independently exercise their functions. The Czech delegation reminded the Council, however, that cooperation with the OHCHR and UN human rights mechanisms, ‘does not replace duty-bearers’ obligation to abide by international human rights standards.’ 

Samoa extended its appreciation of the LDCs/SIDS Trust Fund, which enabled it to participate at the Council before the establishment of its Permanent Mission in May 2022. It highlighted the challenges regarding data collection that impact its reporting obligations, and stated that it was working to overcome such challenges with support from the OHCHR and other stakeholders. Samoa further requested that the Council and OHCHR provide technical assistance when requested by States so the enjoyment of human rights can be fully realised. 

Other delegations intervening in the debate stressed the importance of the technical cooperation mandate of OHCHR, calling on Member States to fully cooperate and allocate adequate resources to OHCHR so its staff could work independently and fulfil that mandate. Other speakers recalled that technical assistance should be provided ‘in consultation with and with the consent of the concerned State,’ cautioning that otherwise the provision of technical assistance leads to an ‘undermining of the basic principles and purposes of the UN Charter.’

UPR – General debate under item 6

On 30 September, the Human Rights Council held a general debate on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) under item 6.

 The UPR was highlighted by a high number of representatives as a platform allowing for meaningful dialogue, constructive feedback to better address human rights challenges, sharing of best practices, strengthened cooperation and engagement between States and other stakeholders, mainstreaming of the larger human rights agenda across national policies, and the provision of technical assistance and capacity-building. Speakers described the peer-to-peer review mechanism as ‘the crown jewel of the Council’ (South Africa), ‘the most successful mechanism of the Council’ (India on behalf of the Like-Minded Group of countries), and ‘the fundamental pillar of this Council’s work’ (South Sudan).

Speakers agreed that the UPR process requires a whole-of-society approach, one that gathers the meaningful and unhindered participation of all stakeholders, including governments, parliaments, National Human Rights Institutions, and civil society.

With 2022 marking the fifteenth anniversary of the two UPR Voluntary Trust Funds, the technical assistance provided by the OHCHR was noted with appreciation, and calls were made to States to augment their contribution with a view to enhancing LDCs and SIDS’ effectiveness in the implementation of UPR recommendations.

With the fourth cycle of the UPR expected to commence in November 2022, States reiterated their full support and strong commitment to the process. In particular, Armenia shared their view that in the coming cycle, consolidated approaches to implementation and follow up of accepted recommendations will be at the centre of States’ discussions.

Cuba and South Africa expressed that they were not willing to negotiate the basic principles nor the format of the mechanism, conveying their concerns that this may lead to the weakening of its universal appeal.

 Azerbaijan, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, specifically warned that this mechanism should not be used as a tool to interfere with the internal affairs of States or to question their political, economic, and social systems; sovereign rights; cultures; or religious particularities. The State also recalled the importance of ensuring that the UPR is carried out with the full participation of the country under review and considering its capacity-building needs.

Some States pointed to the need to conduct the review process in an objective, non-politicised, and transparent manner based on reliable information, and expressed that the UPR must continue to be an intergovernmental process, driven by UN members on equal footing, and action-oriented.

Special Procedures

Interactive Dialogues

Statement by Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, at the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council. UN Photo by Pierre Albouy.

 

Appointment of new mandate-holders

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

  1. Ms. Ashwini K.P. (India) was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance;
  2. Ms. Paula Gaviria (Colombia) was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons;
  3. Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite (United States of America) was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; and
  4. Ms. Ganna Yudkivska (Ukraine) was appointed as a member from the Eastern European States to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

To inform the appointments, the Consultative Group, made up of representatives of Qatar, Morocco, El Salvador, and Belgium, scrutinised approximately 69 individual applications for four vacancies. The Consultative Group sent its recommendations to the President of the Council on for the three initially foreseen vacancies on 22 August 2022 (i.e., the vacancy of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was not initially foreseen and arose due to the resignation of the mandate holder), and relating to the unforeseen vacancy in an addendum on 23 September 2022. The President followed the recommendations of the Consultative Group in the three foreseen vacancies cases. His proposals were sent to the Council via letter on 9 September. For the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, the President decided to put forward, on 4 October 2022, a different candidate to the one ranked number one by the Consultative Group. As of October 2021, there were 58 mandates, including 45 thematic and 13 country mandates, and 82 mandate-holders (55% female, 45% male).

Resolutions

Resolutions listed in order of L numbers

Agenda item Title Sponsors PBI EBA Means of adoption 
1 Reports of the Advisory Committee President of the Human Rights Council Adopted without a vote
1 Appropriate support for the Human Rights Council President of the Human Rights Council 1,321,300 Adopted without a vote
2 Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, North Macedonia, United States of America 6,092,300 Adopted by vote (20-7-20)
2 Situation of human rights in Afghanistan Czechia (on behalf of the European Union) 1,452,300 Adopted by vote (29-3-15)
3 Mandate of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination Cuba 2,109,000  Adopted by vote (28-15-4)
3 The right to development Azerbaijan (on behalf of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries) 146,700 Adopted by vote (29-13-5)
3 Promotion of a democratic and equitable international order Cuba Adopted by vote (29-14-4)
3 World Programme for Human Rights Education Slovenia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Italy, Morocco, Philippines, Senegal, Thailand Adopted without a vote
3 Νeurotechnology and human rights Greece, Chile, Singapore 6,400 Adopted without a vote
3 The human rights of older persons Argentina, Brazil, Slovenia 2,037,600  Adopted without a vote
3 The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health Brazil Adopted without a vote
3 The role of good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights Poland, Australia, Chile, Republic of Korea, South Africa 168,700 Adopted without a vote
3 Conscientious objection to military service Costa Rica, Croatia, Poland 134,200 Adopted without a vote
3 Arbitrary detention France 3,870,000 Adopted without a vote
3 The safety of journalists Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia 169,300 Adopted without a vote
3 Countering cyberbullying Israel, Argentina, Germany, Greece 154,000 Adopted without a vote
3 Local government and human rights Chile, Egypt, Republic of Korea and Romania 217,600 Adopted without a vote
3 Human rights implications of new and emerging technologies in the military domain Panama, Austria Adopted without a vote
3 The role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights: rule of law and accountability Ukraine, Australia, Hungary, Maldives, Morocco, Poland, Uruguay 73,800 Adopted without a vote
3 Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Australia 893,700 Adopted without a vote
3 Human rights and Indigenous Peoples: mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples Mexico, Guatemala 1,442,100 Adopted without a vote
3 Youth and human rights Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Tunisia, Uzbekistan 266,100 Adopted without a vote
3 Human rights and transitional justice Switzerland, Argentina, Morocco 1,560,200 Adopted without a vote
3 Human rights and Indigenous Peoples Mexico, Guatemala 38,700 Adopted without a vote
3 The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation Spain, Germany 914,700 Adopted without a vote
3 Terrorism and human rights Mexico, Egypt Adopted without a vote
4 Situation of human rights in the Russian Federation Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden 423,200 Adopted by vote (17-6-24)
4 Situation of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela Canada, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay 1,326,100 Adopted by vote (19-5-23)
4 Situation of human rights in Ethiopia Czechia (on behalf of the European Union) 3,278,300 Adopted by vote (21-19-7)
4 Situation of human rights in Burundi Czechia (on behalf of the European Union) 500,500 Adopted by vote (22-12-13)
4 Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait , Netherlands, Qatar, Türkiye, United States of America Adopted by vote (25-6-16)
6 Strengthening the voluntary funds for the universal periodic review mechanism of the Human Rights Council Argentina, Armenia, Fiji, Norway, Pakistan, South Africa 107,100 Adopted without a vote
8 National human rights institutions Australia Adopted without a vote
9 From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance Côte d’Ivoire (on behalf of the Group of African States) 772,300 Adopted by vote (32-9-6)
10 Promoting international cooperation to support national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up Paraguay, Brazil 586,000 Adopted without a vote
10 Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights Thailand, Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Türkiye 114,900 Adopted without a vote
10 Technical assistance and capacity-building to address the human rights implications of the nuclear legacy in the Marshall Islands Marshall Islands, Fiji, Nauru, Samoa, and Vanuatu 577,800 Adopted without a vote
10 Assistance technique et renforcement des capacités dans le domaine des droits de l’homme en République démocratique du Congo Côte d’Ivoire (on behalf of the Group of African States) 4,424,200 Adopted without a vote
10 Assistance technique et renforcement des capacités dans le domaine des droits de l’homme en République centrafricaine Côte d’Ivoire (on behalf of the Group of African States) 483,400 Adopted without a vote
10 Assistance to Somalia in the field of human rights United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 297,900 Adopted without a vote
10 Technical assistance and capacity-building for Yemen in the field of human rights State of Palestine (on behalf of the Group of Arab States) 301,100 Adopted without a vote

Analysis and Conclusion

The big story at the 51st session of the Human Rights Council (HRC51) was undoubtedly the twin moves by Western States to bring forward resolutions on the human rights situations in Russia and the Xinjiang province of China.

Although the Council has previously addressed alleged violations perpetrated by Russia, this had been limited to abuses committed in the context of the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The EU’s decision to bring forward a draft resolution (under agenda item 4) on the human rights situation in Russia itself was therefore momentous – the first time an attempt had been made to bring Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, onto the Council’s regular agenda. With the draft, the Council would express grave concern ‘at the significant deterioration of the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation,’ including growing repression aimed at stifling domestic criticism of the war in Ukraine, and establish a new Special Procedures mandate (a Special Rapporteur) on the human rights situation in Russia.

The draft decision (under item 2) on the ‘situation of human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China,’ led by the UK and a wider core group of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the US, was if anything even more ambitious – and even more necessary. In her very last act as High Commissioner at the end of August, Michelle Bachelet had published a damning report on human rights violations committed by the Chinese State against the country’s Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. That report concluded that those violations were so widespread and serious that they may amount to crimes against humanity. Given the seriousness of that finding, it was imperative that the Human Rights Council, the UN’s apex human rights protection body, consider (i.e., hold a debate on) the situation in Xinjiang.

In truth, the US and its allies should probably have sent a letter to the Council President at the start of the session requesting an urgent debate on the situation in Xinjiang. It is not immediately clear why this option (which may well have stood a greater chance of success given that China would have had less time to mobilise against it) was not taken. In-any-case, it was not – leaving the UK, supported by the core group, to take the courageous step of trying to secure enough votes to adopt a Council decision to hold a debate on the situation in Xinjiang at the Council’s next session (March 2023). Notwithstanding the limited ‘ask’ of such a decision (simply to hold a debate on the situation), it was clear from the start that this would be a tall order considering China’s growing influence at the Council (mirroring its growing geopolitical power). Indeed, China mobilised huge resources against the UK-led draft, both in Geneva and in capitals.

In the end, despite a degree of Western optimism on the eve of the vote, when members of the Council took action on draft decision L.6 on Thursday 6 October, the text was rejected by a vote of 17 in favour, 19 against, and 11 abstentions – leading to distasteful ‘celebrations’ on the part of Chinese diplomats. This is only the second time in its history that the Council has rejected a draft resolution/decision (after the Council failed to adopt a resolution on the situation in Yemen exactly a year ago). Shamefully, even though the draft decision aimed to hold a debate on allegations of gross and systematic violations of the rights of Uyghur Muslims, nearly all Council members belonging to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) voted against the draft. Those voting in favour included all Western members, together with Japan, Republic of Korea, Marshall Islands, Honduras, Paraguay, and Somalia.

Notwithstanding claims by some after the vote that these events represented a moral victory – demonstrating a willingness on the part of 17 Council members to hold all States, no matter how powerful, accountable for serious human rights violations – in reality it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the result represented a blow to the credibility of the Council. It also represented a cruel blow for the victims of abuses in Xinjiang and their search for justice.

The following day did, however, see Council members take a step towards reasserting the principle that no State is above the international rule of law, when they adopted resolution L.13 on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation with 17 in favour, 6 against, and 24 abstentions. On this occasion nearly all OIC and African States abstained – effectively allowing the resolution to pass.

Would the China draft have been adopted if there had not been a resolution focused on another powerful permanent member of the Security Council at the same session? It is impossible to say, although many developing country diplomats did speak of their deep unease at being asked to take positions critical of both China and Russia at the same session.

In addition to the text on the situation in Russia, HRC51 also saw resolutions adopted on the situations in Sri Lanka (20 in favour, 7 against, and 20 abstentions), Ethiopia (21 in favour, 19 against, 7 abstentions), and Afghanistan (29 in favour, 3 against, 15 abstentions). With the latter resolution, the Council extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan and significantly strengthened that mandate – providing it, in effect, with some of the characteristics of a commission on inquiry. Further country-specific resolutions were passed on the situations in the Syrian Arab Republic, Venezuela, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Yemen.

Thematic resolutions

The thematic text that received the most attention during HRC51 was a draft resolution on ‘Technical assistance and capacity building to address the human rights implications of the nuclear legacy in the Marshall Islands,’ presented by Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, and Vanuatu. This was the first Council text to refer to the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment since the UN recently recognised this right.

The draft resolution, presented by a representative of the Marshall Islands in a personal and deeply moving statement, asked OHCHR to prepare a report on addressing the challenges and barriers to the full realisation and enjoyment of the human rights of the people of the Marshall Islands, stemming from the State’s nuclear legacy.

Sadly, rather than engaging with the serious (and ongoing) human rights impacts of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands (including impacts on the right to a healthy environment, the right to health, and the right to life), the world’s nuclear powers joined together to criticise the initiative on technical/procedural grounds. For example, India argued that OHCHR does not have the expertise to address cross-cutting nuclear, environmental, and health matters; Pakistan argued that that the Council is not the appropriate forum to discuss such cross-cutting issues; and the UK said there is not yet international consensus on the legal basis of the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. The US, in addition to reiterating some of the above arguments, made clear that it has no legal responsibility for the possible human rights consequences of nuclear testing, and challenged the factual, causal, and legal bases of the resolution.

The resolution was nonetheless adopted by consensus (though the UK and US disassociated from key paragraphs).

 HRC51 also saw three new resolutions focused on technology and human rights: one by Austria and Panama on new and emerging technologies in the military domain (eventually adopted by consensus); one by Greece on neurotechnology and human rights (consensus); and one by Israel, Argentina, Germany, and Greece on cyberbullying (consensus). While each of these resolutions addresses important issues, the growing number of Council initiatives on new technologies (and the growing number of resolutions more generally – HRC51 saw the joint highest number of texts ever considered – 42 – at a single Council session (42 were also considered at HRC37)), suggests that delegations should consider a more holistic approach to new technologies and human rights – an approach based on an understanding that irrespective of the type of technology in question, the relevant human rights principles remain the same.

The fight against racism should be something that unites Council members and observers, yet HRC51 again saw divisions between African and Western States over the UN’s approach to addressing racial discrimination and related intolerance. After heated discussions in the open informal consultations on a draft African Group resolution on ‘From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance,’ the text was eventually called to a vote by the US and adopted with 32 in favour, 9 against, and 6 abstentions. It will be important in the coming months, if delegations truly wish to reverse the growing polarisation at the Council, for African Group and Western Group members to meet and find common ground on this crucial issue.

Institutional questions

As noted above, a very large number of resolutions were tabled and adopted at HRC51. In the past, such proliferation has often led to a decline in the quality of adopted texts, and a reduction in the Council’s overall effectiveness and impact. This may also hold true today, and Council delegations should give renewed thought to how to rationalise the Council’s work and improve its efficiency. Notwithstanding, there were important positive signs at HRC51 that delegations are taking steps to strengthen the implementation, by States, of their international human rights obligations and commitments, and improve the level of capacity-building support provided to States to assist them in that regard.

For example, HRC51 saw the adoption of a resolution, presented by Paraguay and Brazil, that will see the convening of two inter-sessional seminars to allow States to share good practices in the establishment and strengthening of national mechanisms for implementation, reporting, and follow-up (NMIRFs). Where they exist around the world (principally in small developing countries), NMIRFs have been seen to have a significant positive impact on levels of implementation of UN human rights recommendations, and on regularity of periodic reporting.

HRC51 also saw the adoption of an ambitious resolution presented by Thailand and a wider core group that initiates consultations on how to strengthen the delivery, by the Council and wider UN system, of technical assistance and capacity-building support under item 10 of the Council’s agenda. The aim of any reform of the Council’s work under item 10 should be to improve access to such support for all States, and to focus on helping them implement relevant Special Procedures, Treaty Body, and UPR recommendations.


Featured picture: 51st session of the Human Rights Council. Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ambassador Federico Villegas (Argentina), President of the Human Rights Council (16th cycle). Palais des Nations, room XX, Geneva, Switzerland. September 12, 2022. UN Photo by Pierre Albouy

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