- The 43rd regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC43) was held in two segments, as the session had to be suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first segment took place from Monday 24 February until Friday 13 March. The 43rd session resumed on Monday 15 June and ended on Tuesday 23 June 2020.
- As it is the main annual session of the Council, HRC43 began with a High-Level Segment (HLS). The 2020 HLS included speeches by 100 State and other dignitaries, including: H.E. Milo Djukanović, President of Montenegro; H.E. Faiez Mustafa Serraj, President of the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord of Libya; H.E. Simon Coveney, Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland; H.E. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria), President of the GA; and H.E. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations. In total, four heads of State, 64 ministers, 25 deputy ministers, and eight other officials addressed HRC43. An analysis of the content and focus of the high-level speeches can be read here.
- On 27 February, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Michelle Bachelet, gave an oral update on the global human rights situation.
- Four panel discussions were held during the session, including two high-level panels.
- More than 88 reports under the various items of the Council’s agenda were considered.
- Only 56 side events organised by States and/or NGOs were able to take place during the session, as side events were suspended from Tuesday 3rd March forward due to special measures taken in order to prevent the spread of SARS-COV-2.
- In the wake of global protests after the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, the Council held an urgent debate on Wednesday 17 June focused on ‘current racially inspired human rights violations, systematic racism, police brutality against people of African descent and violence against peaceful protests.’
- The UPR Working Group outcomes of the following 14 countries were adopted: Italy, El Salvador, The Gambia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- 19 new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed before the Council suspended its 43rd session.
- 43 texts (39 resolutions, three decisions, and one President’s Statements) were considered by the Council. This represents a 48% increase in the number of adopted texts compared to one-year previously. Of the adopted resolutions, 29 were adopted by consensus (67,5%), and 14 by a recorded vote (32,5%).
- Seven written amendments were submitted to these resolutions. All of these were subsequently withdrawn before voting.
- 29 of the texts adopted by the Council (67,5%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and 19 required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. The total costs of the newly mandated activities amounted to a total of $10’090’200.
High Level Segment
Ms Elisabeth Tichy-Fisselberger, President of the Human Rights Council opened its 43rd session by recalling that the March session is in many ways the main session of the Human Rights Council, which in turn is the most important body of the UN’s human rights pillar. She highlighted that the Council and its work is followed by more people than is sometimes believed, including by those whose lives and hopes depend on it. She stressed the importance of the Council’s work being driven by the impact it has on the ground and underlined that it is in the interest of all that it live up to its mandate of promoting and protecting human rights in the most effective manner possible. Ms Tichy-Fisselberger welcomed the record 100 dignitaries set to address the Council during its high-level segment, as well as the 10 delegates from LDCs and SIDS benefiting from the voluntary trust fund. She further informed the Council of the nomination of focal points to lead on initiatives to rationalise the Council’s work, address challenges to small delegations, strengthen the UPR and continue the Council’s efficiency process. Finally, she highlighted the UN’s campaign to favour gender equality and address sexual misconduct and assured of her staunch commitment to address all allegations of reprisals resulting from engagement with the Council. (link to the statement)
Mr Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the UN General Assembly, then took the floor and asserted that: ‘There is nothing more urgent excellencies than ensuring that all human beings, no matter their belief, gender, economic condition, or other status, are able to live in dignity.’ He stressed that the survival of many people around the world depends on how well the United Nations system is able to coordinate and align the three main pillars of peace and security, human rights and development. Mr Muhammad-Bande then addressed three priority areas, which he called member States to pay due attention to, namely the rights of the child, gender equality and the rights of refugees. Regarding the rights of the child, he noted that 30 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the child, many gaps in creating conducive environments that guarantee the rights of the child persist. In particular, he pointed to the unacceptably high number of 258 million youth that are out of school worldwide and stressed the equalising and empowering potential of education. He further stressed that in this Decade of Action and Delivery to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, it is fundamental to take a rights-based approach to the implementation and mainstreaming of gender equality and to end forms of gender-based violence and the culture of silence around attacks on women. Finally, he stressed the critical importance of human rights protection for individuals in conflict zones and especially for those in situations of protracted displacement. (link to the statement)
In his much-anticipated address to the Council, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres announced a new Call for Action in the field of human rights to mark the 75th anniversary of the UN and ‘the centrality of human rights in all the UN does’. Human rights, he argued, ‘expand the horizons of hope, enlarge the boundaries of the possible, and unleash the best of ourselves and our world’. They are the ultimate tool to help societies grow in freedom, ensure equality, advance sustainable development, prevent conflict, ensure justice and reduce human suffering, he continued. Turning to his own experience of struggling for human rights under the Salazar dictatorship, he highlighted the massive human rights gains ushered in over the decades. However, he stressed, human rights today face growing challenges, including as result of conflict, inequality, crackdowns on civil society, increased hate and discrimination, erosion of the rule of law, the climate crisis and the march of technology, amongst others.
His 7-point plan to address these challenges and reinvigorate the UN’s human rights system consisted of the following: 1) Placing human rights principles and mechanisms front and centre in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals – including by creating wide avenues for civil society participation. 2) While recognising the essential role of human rights as a crisis prevention mechanism, recommitting to the protection of rights in times of crisis by building on initiatives such as Human Rights Up Front and expanding the presence of Human Rights Advisers in UN Country Teams. 3) Promoting gender equality and equal rights for women, notably by repealing discriminatory laws, ending violence against women and girls, ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights, and striving for women’s equal representation and participation in all spheres. 4) Safeguarding civic space. 5) Addressing the risks to the rights of future generations as a result of climate change, notably by advocating for the right to a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment. 6) Striving for a more inclusive multilateralism, which integrates human rights. 7) Facing the new and emerging challenges to human rights created by digital technologies. (link to the statement)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet then made a brief statement thanking the Secretary General for launching a Call to Action recommitting all to a shared protection and prevention agenda. Her central message was the need to safeguard the rights of future generations and ensure that inventive and resourceful young people are seen as part of the solution to the crises the world faces. To do so she called for the use of policy tools with a proven track record of success, including measures that advance access to education, health-care, universal social protection, and a life of dignity and that serve as levers for wider social, economic and individual development. She assured of her Office’s work to increase technical cooperation to help Governments provide greater and more equitable access to fundamental services, as well as their engagement with business and development financing institutions to ensure greater accountability to the communities where they work. Finally, in a symbolic reference to the fires raging in Australia, she urged to ‘not deliver to our young people, and to their children, an uncontrollable firestorm of intersecting and escalating human rights crises.’ (link to the statement)
In his address to the High-Level Segment of HRC43, Mr Palacios, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, stressed the importance of improving the resources and visibility of the Council and noted that the efficiency and effectiveness of the Council should be measured by the real impact of its resolutions on the ground. This effort to better protect human rights domestically, he highlighted, was made possible by national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up, which he assured his country was continuously working to strengthen. Finally, he stressed that there could be no sustainable development without human rights and called for better strategic allegiances to protect the environment and share prosperity. (link to the statement)
The statement of Ms Marsudi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia, pointed to a series of concerning global trends, including, trade wars and an erosion of multilateralism, high levels of poverty, continued gender inequality, as well as growing xenophobia, racism and hate speech that are dividing societies. Against this background, she expressed concerns at challenges faced by the Council at a time when it is greatly needed. For this reason, she proposed three avenues to guide the Council and its work. Firstly, she called on the Council to strengthen its prevention mandate by focusing on how to best build national resilience through the promotion of human rights. Secondly, she exhorted the Council to ensure inclusivity and involve all stakeholders. Finally, she expressed the need to develop greater synergy and collaboration within the work of the Council and the UN, notably through better collaboration between New York and Geneva.(link to the statement)
In his statement to the Council, Mr Radman, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, conveyed how having served as a member of the Council for the past three years had provided a clearer picture of the centrality of the human rights pillar within the UN, as well as the strong link between human rights, peace and security and sustainable development. He called for human rights to continue to be ‘embedded in all major policies guiding the Agenda 2030 implementation.’ His statement then turned to the issue of the emerging issues of new technologies and climate change. Regarding the former he called for human rights standards to be integrated in policies surrounding digital technologies and social media and pointed to the need to answer the challenge of enforcing these standards. Regarding the latter, he called for greater attention to the right to a healthy environment. Finally, he called to continue strengthening the Council given the reality that ‘prevention of human rights violations globally is still a challenge.’ (link to the statement)
A URG analysis of the content of all 100 speeches during the HLS found that certain issues and situations featured particularly prominently. These are summarised in the ‘word cloud’ below. (Read URG’s full analysis of the high-level segment here).
Moreover, two high-level panel discussions were convened during the high-level segment on: human rights mainstreaming, with a focus on thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities; and on commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women.
Briefing by the High Commissioner for Human Rights
On Thursday 27 of February 2020, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet, presented her oral update to the Council. She began with an inspiring story of the search for positive solutions by civil society organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the face of tremendous adversity and testifying, in her view, ‘to the fundamental generosity and solidarity of human beings.’ Ms Bachelet then proceeded to address a series of country-specific situations of concern from all geographical regions, noting at the outset that she would not discuss those situations that were the object of separate reports or statements from her Office.
Ms Bachelet thanked the Government of Sudan for their cooperation in establishing an OHCHR office in the country and commended it for steps taken toward ensuring transitional justice and reconciliation, notably through the establishment of a special criminal court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. These steps to ensure accountability for human rights violations stand in contrast to the situation in South Sudan, whose Government she exhorted to cease delaying the establishment of the agreed upon Hybrid Court and support independent investigations and prosecutions. In Cameroon, Ms Bachelet noted with appreciation positive steps taken by the Government and conveyed their agreement to cooperate on implementing her Office’s recommendation, which she welcomed in light of persisting human rights violations on the part of security forces and armed separatists. In the Sahel, Ms Bachelet expressed alarm at the significant increase in attacks by violent extremist groups, leading to grave humanitarian consequences. She called for an approach that extends beyond military responses to address the root causes of extremism and informed the Council of her Office’s plans to strengthen its presence in Burkina Faso and to open a new Country Office in Niger. Finally, Ms Bachelet urged authorities in Guinea and Burundi to ensure transparent and inclusive elections, to deescalate tensions and to cease all forms of suppression of civil and political rights.
In the MENA region, Ms Bachelet condemned the use of live ammunition against protesters in Iraq and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and pointed to the unresolved political and economic grievances underlying protests, including increased settler violence and restrictions of civic space in the OPT. She also called on Egypt and Saudi Arabia to demonstrate their commitment to human rights progress, notably in the areas of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Highlighting that inequalities were at the basis of the protests being witnessed across many countries, Ms Bachelet cautioned that violent responses by security forces served only to undermine public confidence. In this regard, she urged Chile and Ecuador to tackle the root causes of grievances and to ensure accountability for human rights violations in the context of protests, while expressing concern at the crackdown on opposition leaders in Bolivia. Ms Bachelet lamented rollbacks on environmental protections in the United States and Brazil, as well as restrictive migration policies in the former and attacks on human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, people of African Descent and civil society in the latter.
Turning to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir she lamented disruptions to daily lives and livelihoods resulting from heavy military presence, as well as the lack of measures taken to address allegations of excessive use of force and other violations. She further called on the Indian government to cease its excessive restrictions on the use of social media. In India more broadly, she noted with concern reports that increased discriminatory attacks on Muslims were being met by police inaction, while protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act were being met with excessive force. Ms Bachelet also noted continued discrimination of minorities in Pakistan and lamented that the country had still not repealed blasphemy law provisions and their accompanying mandatory sentencing to death. She commended Mongolia for its initiative to develop a comprehensive human rights defenders law and for establishing an independent National Preventive Mechanism under the National Human Rights Commission, as well as Thailand for being the first country in Asia to develop a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. She further expressed concern at reports of acts of intimidation against civil society in Cambodia and Bangladesh. Finally, Ms Bachelet welcomed the invitation by the Chinese Government for her to visit China over the course of the year to analyse the human rights situation, including of members of the Uyghur minority. She further noted that the coronavirus has led to a disturbing wave of discrimination against people of Chinese and East Asian ethnicity and called on member States to combat this phenomenon.
Ms Bachelet praised the European Union for adopting a Green Deal that ‘couples ambitious action within the EU with a strong dimension of external action, engaging both climate diplomacy and green cooperation aid’, implementation of which, she said, would greatly advance the enjoyment of the right to a healthy environment. She commended Kazakhstan for its plans to increase civil and political freedoms, as well as Turkmenistan for pledging to strengthen its engagement with her Office. Ms Bachelet expressed her concern at crackdowns on civil society, human rights defenders and government critics in Turkey and the Russian Federation, as well as recent legislation adopted in Poland curtailing the independence of judges and lawyers. Finally, she called for Europe’s frontline States to redouble efforts to prevent suffering of migrants by removing legal and procedural barriers that prevent identification of their protection needs and by honouring the international law obligation of non-refoulement.
In conclusion, High Commissioner, Ms Michelle Bachelet reiterated her calls that foreign individuals with suspected ties to ISIL be repatriated to their countries of origin. She further expressed support to all medical teams tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and stressed the threat it poses to the rights of people everywhere. She called for response measures to be transparent, non-discriminatory and elaborated on the basis of public participation. Finally, she called for quarantines restricting the right to freedom of movement, to be proportionate to the risk, time-bound, and respectful of the rights of those under quarantine.
A total of four panel discussions were held during the 43rd session. The panels were on the following topics:
- Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming – Thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities (summary – video);
- High-level panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (summary – video);
- Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities – Article 8 of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on awareness-raising (summary – video);
- Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade of People of African Descent (summary – video).
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 (set up in 2012) funded the participation of 10 (six female and four male) government officials at HRC43. The delegates came from Angola, Bangladesh, Barbados, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Guyana, Haiti, the Maldives, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Solomon Islands. For all of them, it was the first time they had participated in a Council session.
Commissions of Inquiry, Fact-Finding Missions and Investigations
Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
Mr Doudou Diene, as chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, presented the state of the Commission’s ongoing investigations into violations and abuses recently committed in Burundi. He thanked the governments of Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania for having provided them access to their territories, which allowed them to collect an additional 130 witness accounts to be added to their collection of over 1200 interviews. Mr Diene’s presentation methodically provided an update on the 8 risk factors of atrocity crimes being committed, as identified in their September 2019 report. He assessed their evolution on the eve of elections, to be held between May and August 2020, and concluded that the situation remains a cause for concern.
The Commission’s analysis was as follows: 1) There has been a deterioration in the risk of political, economic and security instability. In this regard, Mr Diene pointed to various incidents of armed clashes between security forces and armed opposition groups and called on the Government to share all information in their possession regarding these incidents. He further highlighted the concerning humanitarian situation, as well as the deteriorating economic situation leading to shortages in basic products, which has a negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights by all Burundians. 2&3) There has been limited progress in putting an end to the pervasive climate of impunity for human rights violations. 4) Regarding the risk of the development of intentions and motives to resort to violence, Mr Diene cautioned against reviving desires for revenge through the ongoing memorialisation process, urging the adoption of an impartial and inclusive approach. 5) In terms of the risk of diverse actors resorting to violence, Mr Diene warned against resorting to mixed security committees in the place of law enforcement and judicial systems and called for them to be more diverse and representative to inspire trust in the population. 6) There has been a loss of motivating factors such as a vibrant civil society and free and independent media, as a result of the continued instrumentalisation of the judicial system and a crackdown on civic space. Mr Diene stressed that this has been exacerbated by the refusal by some Security Council member States to include Burundi on the agenda, as well as a lack of support from neighbouring countries 7) Mr Diene noted with concern the increased manipulation of identity for political ends, resulting in increased instances of hate speech. 8) The upcoming elections combined with the prevalence of political intolerance are a potential trigger factor of concern.
Burundi as the country concerned, lamented the arbitrary changes in the nature and scope of the Commission of Inquiry’s work and lambasted its lack of independence and impartiality, claiming it flagrantly violates the Code of Conduct for Special Procedure Mandate Holders. Ultimately, they rejected the Commission’s report as politicised, denigrating and slandering.
Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
Ms Yasmin Sooka, as Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, presented the Commission’s fourth report to the Council, which documented what she called ‘systemic and ongoing’ violations, including killings, torture, rape, intentional starvation of civilians, intimidation, displacement, enforced disappearances and corruption. She cautioned the international community not to be lulled into believing the conflict is over. While the revitalised peace agreement may have established a fragile peace at national level, conflicts are becoming localised and civilian casualties are increasing, she warned.
Ms Sooka painted a bleak picture of widespread grand-corruption, with officials from the oil-dependent country amassing great wealth at the expense of the general population through economic crimes including, tax evasion, money laundering, bribery, using one’s position to influence decisions in the allocation of State resources, and using public funds for personal gain and advantage. The report further identified cattle raiding and intentional starvation of the population as weapons of war used to exploit local rivalries for political gain. Ms Sooka lamented the continued widespread prevalence of instances of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as the ongoing forcible recruitment of children into the armed forces by all parties. Finally, the report expressed concern at the country’s shrinking civic space, with the recent failure to secure accountability for the killing of several journalists leading to increased self-censorship.
The Commission noted the opportunity for transitional justice created by the formation of a new unity government and called on it to establish a clear timeline to establish the three transitional justice mechanisms set out in the Revitalised Peace Agreement: the Hybrid Court, the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, and the Compensation and Reparation Authority. Given the country’s pervasive culture of impunity for human rights violations, notably sexual and gender-based violence, the Commission informed the Council that it had added 23 names of individuals that it believed should be investigated, to its previous list of 43. She assured that the commission was actively compiling dossiers on these persons for potential future prosecutions.
Sound Sudan as the country concerned acknowledged the challenges outlined by the Commission in their statement and highlighted efforts made in the areas of combating gender-based violence and child recruitment.
Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
Mr Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, as Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic delivered his 27th update to the Council on the human rights situation in the country. His statement focused on the humanitarian crisis in Idlib province, where more than 3 million people remain trapped, with near absence of humanitarian aid despite severe shortages of food and basic necessities. Hundreds of civilians have been killed by terrorist attacks and a disproportionate bombing campaign by pro-government forces, he explained, leading to more than a million people being displaced. He further highlighted the particular risks faced by vulnerable groups, including women and children.
He further stressed that aside from warfare, violations by all parties to the conflict continue to be committed throughout the country. He pointed to a lack of basic resources amid widespread lawlessness, mistreatment of Kurds, arbitrary detention, as well as looting and confiscation of property as evidence. He called for the ceasefire between Russia and Turkey in the northwest of the country to lead to a permanent cessation of hostilities, humanitarian assistance and human rights protection for all but struck a pessimistic note by highlighting that ‘many States still provide support in furtherance of competing agendas, but none of their priorities include the needs of the Syrian survivors’.
The Syrian Arab Republic as the country concerned claimed that the fact that the situation in the country remains the only one to be addressed at all sessions of the Council, demonstrates its politicised nature. The Commission, they said, is a political offensive serving to tarnish the image of the Syrian government. They stressed that the Government’s military operations, notably in Idlib, were in line with their international obligations and reaffirmed their commitment to combat American and Turkish terrorism on their territory.
Universal Periodic Review
Adoption of the UPR Working Group outcome reports
The Council adopted the UPR outcome reports of Italy, El Salvador, Gambia, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Fiji, San Marino, Islamic Republic of Iran, Angola, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt, Bosnia and Herzegovina. A total of 3463 recommendations were made to these 14 States, out of which 2887 were accepted in whole or in part, and 576 were noted or rejected.
General debate under item 6
During the general debate under item 6, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group was one amongst several States to highlight the importance of technical assistance and capacity building in the field of human rights, in view of supporting States to achieve the goals set out in the UPR.
In a similar vein, many States stressed that without proper follow-up mechanisms to monitor implementation of recommendations, the UPR lost its significant potential. In their statement on behalf of the European Union, Croatia highlighted that beyond the fundamental role played by NMIRFs, National Human Rights Institutions, NGOs, national parliaments and other segments of society have a key role to play in contributing to the work of implementing, reporting and monitoring of UPR recommendations.
Various speakers also pointed to the risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as climate change and called on States to adapt their recommendations accordingly.
20 mandate holders (14 thematic, six country-specific) presented annual reports or oral updates to HRC43 (the written reports are available here). During 20 interactive dialogues (all individual), 122 States delivered statements (either individually or jointly), of which 22% were from the African Group, 28% from APG, 14% from EEG, 16% from GRULAC, 18% from WEOG, and 2% from other countries (namely the State of Palestine and the Holy See).
Appointment of new mandate-holders
19 new mandate-holders were appointed during the session to fill positions on existing mandates. Before the 43rd session was suspended on 13th March, the Council tentatively extended all mandates and mandated activities that would otherwise expire until the resumption of the 43rd session by adopting HRC decision 43/115 on ‘Extension of mandates and mandated activities’ by consensus. Subsequently, the Council appointed the following mandate-holders:
- Bonny IBHAWOH (Nigeria) was appointed as member from African States for the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development
- Mihir KANADE (India) was appointed as member from Asia-Pacific States for the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development
- Klentiana MAHMUTAJ (Albania) was appointed as member from Eastern European States for the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development
- Armando Antonio DE NEGRI FILHO (Brazil) was appointed as member from Latin American and Caribbean States for the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development
- Koen DE FEYTER (Belgium) was appointed as member from Western European and other States for the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development
- Laila Susanne VARS (Norway) was appointed as member from the Arctic for the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP)
- Binota Moy DHAMAI (Bangladesh) was appointed as member from Asia for the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP)
- Yuefen LI (China) was appointed as Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights
- Claudia MAHLER (Austria) was appointed as Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons
- Isha DYFAN (Sierra Leone) was appointed as Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia
- Balakrishnan RAJAGOPAL (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of loving, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context
- Tomoya OBOKATA (Japan) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences
- Olivier DE SCHUTTER (Belgium) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
- Alena DOUHAN (Belarus) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights
- Michael KAKHRI (Lebanon) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the right to food
- José Francisco CALI TZAY (Guatemala) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples
- Mama Fatima SINGHATEH (The Gambia) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material
- Mary LAWLOR (Ireland) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
- Thomas H. ANDREWS (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
To inform the appointments, the Consultative Group, made up of representatives of Djibouti, Ecuador, Iraq, Italy, and the Republic of Moldova, scrutinised around 194 individual applications for 19 vacancies. The Consultative Group sent its recommendations to the President of the Council on 23 January 2020 for 13 vacancies. On 31 January 2020 it sent the Addendum of its report to the Council President regarding the six additional vacancies. Following ‘broad and thorough consultations with States, the regional coordinators and other relevant stakeholders’ ‘to ensure the endorsement of [her] proposed candidates,’ the President didn’t follow the recommendations of the Consultative Group in three out of 19 cases. Her proposals were sent to the Council via letter on 21 February. For the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences, the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the President decided to put forward a different candidate to the one ranked number one by the Consultative Group.
As of today, there are 56 Special Procedures mandates (44 thematic, 12 country-specific), and 80 mandate-holders (57% male, 43% female).
General debates under item 5 and item 10
During the general debate under item 5, Portugal delivered a statement on behalf of the 28 members of the Group of Friends on national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up (NMIRFs), in which they highlighted the increasing recognition of the importance of these mechanisms for the prevention of human rights violations, as well as for supporting the implementation of human rights recommendations and for integrating them into the Sustainable Development Goals. They welcomed the technical assistance and capacity building provided by OHCHR to establish or strengthen NMIRFs, as well as the adoption of Human Rights Council resolution 42/30 calling for 5 regional consultations on NMIRFs. Croatia on behalf of the EU delivered a similar statement, in which they fully supported the role of NMIRFs for better implementation of human rights obligations, commitments and recommendations, which, they stressed, ultimately contribute to the Human Rights Council’s mandate of preventing human rights violations by building national resilience.
Switzerland on behalf of a group of States including Norway, Sierra Leone, Switzerland and Uruguay underlined the central role that the Human Rights Council can and should play in the UN’s prevention agenda. They argued that to be effective, prevention ‘requires a long-term approach, based on the identification of root causes of crisis, which, if not tackled, may lead to human rights emergencies or conflicts.’ Noting that Human Rights Council resolution 38/18 had not been adopted by consensus, they assured of the core group’s willingness to reach a common understanding to contribute to an efficient prevention mandate of the Council. In this regard, they presented their view that an appropriate follow-up resolution would need to address the following four areas in a manner that respect the current institutional framework: : 1) the capacity-building needs of states; 2) the early warning and early action capacities of the OHCHR to timely inform HRC action; 3) how to enhance dialogue and cooperation; 4) system-wide coherence by cooperation between HRC and the two other pillars of the UN to contribute to sustaining peace, preventing human rights violations, and the successful implementation of the SDGs.
The Netherlands recalled that respect for human rights is a precondition for peace and security and that, as a series of commitments firmly anchored in human rights, the Sustainable Development Goals represent the ultimate prevention agenda. Stressing their commitment to strengthening the Council’s prevention capacity through a longer-term, upstream approach to prevention, they pointed to the Council’s ideal position to contribute to both primary prevention (i.e. working with States to follow-up on implementation of human rights mechanism recommendations to build national resilience) and secondary prevention (the Council reaching out and working with the State concerned on the basis of credible early warning signs of violations to prevent a widening of the crisis). Finally, Sierra Leone called for the mainstreaming of prevention strategies throughout the work of the Human Rights Council, notably through the introduction of context-oriented prevention components in the mandates of the Special Procedures.
During the general debate under item 10, the State of Palestine on behalf of the Arab Group drew attention to the manner in which the provision of technical assistance and capacity building in the field of human rights is a crucial component to achieving progress in the SDGs. They noted the activities of the Voluntary Contribution Fund for Technical Assistance and welcomed the integration of human rights in all UN programmes, including in the area of sustainable development. They further noted the potential role that human rights mechanisms such as the UPR and special procedures can serve in providing technical assistance to States and called for greater efforts in this regard. These points were largely echoed by Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, as well as Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, with the latter furthermore calling for increased cooperation between OHCHR and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Norway in a joint statement with Singapore, pointed to the manner in which capacity constraints too often hold developing countries back from implementing the accepted recommendations received from the UN’s human rights mechanisms, including the UPR. For this reason, they stressed the urgent need for the Council and the wider UN to strengthen its mobilisation and delivery of capacity building support on the ground. It is against this backdrop that they presented an initiative organised on 4 February, with the support of URG, to test a pilot ‘capacity-building support forum’ as a voluntary platform for States to ‘present information on their human rights achievements and challenges, and highlight areas where they would benefit from international support’, in order to match these requests with capacity-building support from other States. They explained that 25 State participated in the initiative, with 7 States making requests for assistance and 5 others extending offers of support. They referred to a report of the meeting, which they hoped would be made widely available, and shared their intention to follow-up on the meeting in a year’s time to take stock of progress achieved in the pairings. Ultimately, they stressed that as a pilot effort, the initiative served as an opportunity to learn how to build a more inclusive and effective system for providing demand-driven technical assistance and capacity building to States.
On Wednesday 17 June, in light of recent protests against racism and police brutality around the world and in the context of the resumed 43rd session of the Human Rights Council, an urgent debate was convened upon the request of Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, in order to address the issue of ‘current racially inspired human rights violations, systematic racism, police brutality against people of African descent and violence against peaceful protests.’
After introductory remarks by the President of the Human Rights Council, Elisabeth Tichy Fisslberger, and a minute of silence observed at her behest to commemorate all victims of racial violence, a series of keynote addresses were delivered by Ms Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ms Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Quartey Thomas Kwesi, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Ms E. Tendanyi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism and Mr Philonise Floyd, brother of Mr George Floyd. In their introductory statements, these high-level speakers all eloquently called for decisive action to put an end to the scourge of racism and to profoundly reform law enforcement and put an end to cycles of impunity that have brought thousands of protesters into the streets. While Ms Bachelet, Ms Mohammed and Mr Kwesi called for the international community to intensify individual, collective, and national efforts to ensure that all forms of discrimination are eradicated the world-over, Ms Achiume and Mr Floyd shone the spotlight on the particular case of systemic racism in US society and law enforcement, calling for an independent international investigation into instances of police brutality.
During the debate that ensued, 30 member States, 59 Observer States, four international organisations and 26 civil society organisations took the floor to condemn racism and discrimination in all its forms. While some States addressed the particular situation of the United States, the majority of speakers acknowledged that racism was a global problem plaguing, at times, even their own societies. They called for widespread institutional reform to combat systemic racist structures, as well as critical appraisals of their root causes, notably slavery and colonialism. They pointed to relevant human rights standards, such as the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, while pointing to the opportunity for engagement created by the International Decade for People of African Descent and related activities that seek to promote the full and equal participation of Afro-descendants. Many States called on the Council to step up and fulfil its role of protector of the most vulnerable in societies, with a few States calling for the establishment of a commission of inquiry and others calling for greater involvement of the Special Procedure mandate holders. Ultimately, there was broad consensus that the international community had to do more to combat racism and discrimination, calling for greater global solidarity and people-centred approaches to law enforcement reform.
During the 44th meeting of HRC43 member States adopted draft resolution L.50 on ‘The promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers’ by consensus. The resolution requests, inter alia, that the High Commissioner and relevant Special Procedure Mandate Holders prepare ‘a report on systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent, to contribute to accountability and redress for victims’ and present it to the Council during its 47th session.
The full report on the urgent debate can be found here.
The Council during the COVID-19 pandemic
On 13 March 2020, following the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review outcomes of Italy, El Salvador, Gambia and Bolivia, the Human Rights Council decided to suspend its forty-third session until further notice, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, President of the Human Rights Council, conveyed the Bureau’s deliberations of the night before, which concluded that in light of current circumstances, an orderly suspension following the adoption of the UPR outcomes and appointment of the 19 mandate holders awaiting confirmation, was the best course to ensure proper working conditions and the safety of all.
On 22 May 2020, the United Nations Office in Geneva circulated a note verbal informing delegations of envisaged measures for the resumption of HRC43 and the holding of HRC44 and informing them that the Human Rights Council would in all likelihood meet in-person from 15 June 2020. Following the announcement made by the Swiss authorities on 27 May concerning the easing of some COVID-19 related measures, including the authorisation to hold meetings of up to 300 persons, the President and the Bureau of the Human Rights Council decided to safely resume its meetings in-person. The Human Rights Council therefore resumed its 43rd session on 15 June 2020 with exceptional measures to ensure respect for social distancing precautions, as well as the enabling of statements by pre-recorded video-message, participation of mandate holders and experts in interactive dialogues via video link and the virtual exercise of the right to reply.
During the period of suspension of the Council’s in-person activities, several informal virtual meetings were held, including a discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implication of the COVID-19 crisis on human rights around the world and another on April 30 with representatives of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures on the actions carried out by Special Procedure mandate holders in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 29 May 2020, adopted draft decision 43/116 and the draft President’s statement PRST 43/1 by silence procedure. They requested, inter alia, that the High Commissioner prepare a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the enjoyment of human rights around the world and present it at its 46th session, along with oral updates at HRC44 and HRC45.
The 43rd session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 43 texts (39 resolutions, three decisions, and one Presidential Statements). This is 14 texts more than the number of texts (29) adopted at the 40th session in March 2019 or an increase of 48%. This significant increase is in part due to the adoption of several texts specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic, its impact on the work of the Council and its impact on human rights at large, as well as the renewal of a large amount of Special Procedure mandates.
Around 32,5% of tabled resolutions at HRC43 were adopted by a recorded vote. This is an decrease of around 13% compared with the previous March session.
27 (63%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, three (7%) were related to institutional matters, while 13 (30%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of the latter texts, three addressed human rights violations under agenda item 2, five under item 4, four under item 7, and three sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10).
29 of the texts adopted by the Council (67,5%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring appropriations of $10’090’200 not previously covered by the UN regular budget.
Decisions and President’s statements
|Decision/President’s Statement||Sponsors||PBIs||Extra-Budgetary Appropriations||Adoption
(Y – N – A)
|Extension of mandates and mandated activities||President of the Human Rights Council||✗||–||
Adopted without a vote
|Methods of work of the Consultative Group of the Human Rights Council||Iraq, Russian Federation||✗||–||
Adopted by vote
|Draft decision||President of the Human Rights Council||✗||–||
Adopted without a vote
|Human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic||President of the Human Rights Council||✗||–||
Adopted without a vote
Feature photo: Urgent Debate on Police Brutality, Racism, People of African Descent, 43rd session of the Human Rights Council. 17 June 2020. UN Photo / Violaine Martin. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal addresses High Level Segment of the 43rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council.. 25 February 2020. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Adriana Mejia, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia addresses High Level Segment of the 43rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council. 25 February 2020. UN Photo / Violaine Martin. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation addresses High Level Segment of the 43rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council. 25 February 2020. UN Photo / Violaine Martin. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth addresses High Level Segment of the 43rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council.. 26 February 2020. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Ms. Michelle BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, High-level segment of the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, February 25th, 2020. – UN Photo/Antoine Tardy. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Annual high-level discussion on human rights mainstreaming. 43rd session of the Human Rights Council , Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, February 24, 2020. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The 10 LDCs/SIDS Beneficiary delegates of the LDCs/SIDS at HRC43 have safely arrived in Geneva. First day of the 3-day induction course organized by the LDCs/SIDS Trust Fund, Wednesday 19 February 2020., Credit for the picture: Ms. Danielle Kirby, OHCHR. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Paulo Pinheiro ( right ) Chair, Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic with Hanny Megally, Member of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic present the report by the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic on the human rights situation in the country covering the period between mid-July 2019 to end-January 2020, as well as the latest developments in the country on the human rights front. 2 March 2020. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, President of the Human Rights Council listen to the video message of Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, Urgent Debate on Police Brutality, Racism, People of African Descent, 43rd session of the Human Rights Council. 17 June 2020. UN Photo / Violaine Martin. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Delegates are requested to apply additional precautionary measures to protect themselves and others against COVID-19 during the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council. 15 June 2020. UN Photo / Violaine Martin. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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