Report on the 29th Session of the Human Rights Council

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

Quick summary

  • The Human Rights Council held its first enhanced dialogue on the issue of human rights situation of migrants.
  • 4 panel discussions were held during the session.
  • 59 reports under the various items on the Council’s agenda were considered.
  • The outcomes of the UPR working group reports of the following 14 countries were adopted: Armenia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Spain, Sweden, Turkey.
  • More than 190 side events were held by states and/or NGOs.
  • 6 new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed to the following mandates: Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy; Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Working Group on arbitrary detention, member from Western European and other States; and Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, member from Asia-Pacific States.
  • The Council took action on 26 texts: 25 resolutions and 1 President’s statement. Of these, 19 were adopted by consensus (73%), and 7 were adopted by a vote (27%).
  • 15 of the texts adopted by the Council (58%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring total appropriations of more than $1,575,100 not already covered by the UN regular budget.

Enhanced interactive dialogue on human rights of migrants

At the request of the European Union (EU), on 15th June (the first day of the 29th session) the Human Rights Council held an enhanced interactive dialogue (EID) on the human rights of migrants. This is a new work format for the Council, designed to allow the body to respond in a timely and substantive manner to important global human rights concerns.

On 5th-6th May 2015, at the second Glion Human Rights Dialogue, participants discussed the possibility of organising informal Council briefings to provide the High Commissioner for Human Rights with an opportunity to update states and other stakeholders on pressing human rights issues and on his recent activities. Subsequently, on 26th May, the President of the Council convened the first informal Council briefing in the history of the body. Addressing delegates, the High Commissioner welcomed the new platform, which, he said, “adds a new element to the Council’s growing relevance to human rights around the world.” The High Commissioner used this new work format to informally brief the Council on his recent visits to Burundi and Tunisia, and to express his concern at the situation in South Sudan. Importantly, he also raised the issue of the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and in South-East Asia. In his conclusion, the High Commissioner underlined the importance of basing international responses to these crises on international human rights norms, and urged the Council to “consider [holding] a Special Session on migrants at sea, or a focused high-level interactive dialogue during the June session.”

To its credit, the EU delegation to the Council took up this suggestion and, in cooperation with the Council President and Bureau, requested that an EID on the rights of migrants be including in the Council’s programme of work for its 29th session.

The EID saw the participation of, amongst others, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Gilbert Houngbo, the Deputy Director General for Field Operations of the International Labour Organisation, Ms Laura Thompson, Deputy Director General of the International Organisation for Migration, Ms Carol Batchelor, Director for Division of International Protection at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Mr François Crépeau, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

After UNHCR presented information on the scale of the contemporary migrant crisis, and the High Commissioner had outlined its human rights implications, states, UN experts and NGOs took the floor to discuss international responses. The Head of the EU Delegation, Ambassador Peter Sørensen called for the adoption of a “comprehensive approach to migration” that ensures that policies are “consistent with international human rights.” “Part of the solution must be to address the root causes of why migrants leave their homes in the first place, through promoting good governance and development aid, addressing human rights abuses and violations and tackling conflict and instability.”

Opening Statement by the High Commissioner

In his regular address to the Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed support for the establishment of an external review to examine the criticism of the UN’s handling of allegations of child abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. He also mentioned that the conflict in Syria had killed at least 220,000 people and had forced the largest movement of people since World War II, with more than 7 million people displaced within the country and 4 million displaced across international borders. He also expressed concern about the human rights situations in Libya, Yemen, Burundi, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, Egypt, Bahrain, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Burundi, South Sudan, Eastern Ukraine, Venezuela, countries affected by Boko Haram, Myanmar and Eritrea. The High Commissioner furthermore expressed concern about the UK’s plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, which, he argued, would have negative consequences for the UK and for countries abroad “where the UK is working to promote and protect human rights.” On a more positive note, the High Commissioner welcomed some positive recent developments in Indonesia, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Panel discussions

Four panel discussions were held during the 29th session:

Panel discussion on realising the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl (16th June 2015)

The debate focused on a broad spectrum of situations and obstacles that girls face when trying to access education – including gender stereotyping and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation and early and child marriage – and the actions and responses of states (full press release).

Eliminating and preventing domestic violence against women and girls (19th June 2015)

Speakers expressed deep concern that violence against women continues to be one of the most pervasive human rights violations, while domestic violence remains the most frequent form of violence suffered by women around the world (full press release).

Women’s human rights and participation in power and decision-making (19th June 2015)

Speakers noted that the progress made since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration was inconsistent. States should step up efforts to enforce the principle of parity in the participation of women and men in politics and business. Speakers also called for the full participation of women in legislative reform and in programmes designed to change societal attitudes and norms (full press release).

Panel discussion on the effects of terrorism on the enjoyment by all persons of human rights and fundamental freedoms (30th June 2015)

Speakers condemned all forms of terrorism and expressed deep alarm over its dangerous mutations and the threat posed to all states and regions. There is only one rational response to terrorism: reinforcing respect for human rights, and fighting hate speech, discrimination, suppression, injustice and marginalisation. An effective approach to counter-terrorism requires action on multiple fronts, including tackling root causes, preventing violent extremism and promoting a counter narrative, while at the same time strengthening legal and security measures (full press release).

Special Procedures

 21 mandate-holders (17 thematic, 4 country-specific) took part in Interactive Dialogues, 20 of whom presented annual thematic reports (click to download):

During the 13 Interactive Dialogues (8 “clustered” and 5 individual), 122 states delivered statements (either individually or jointly), of which 26% were from the African Group, 24% from APG, 15% from EEG, 13% from GRULAC and 22% from WEOG.

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Appointment of new mandate-holders

The Consultative Group, made up of representatives from Saudi Arabia (Chair), Greece (Vice-Chair), Algeria, Poland and Chile, scrutinised 117 individual applications and interviewed 32 persons for the six Special Procedures vacancies. The Group sent its recommendations to the President of the Council on 12th June 2015.

After reviewing the recommendations and consulting with the regional groups, the President submitted his proposals to the Council via letter on the 1st July.

The President followed the recommendations of the Consultative Group on all candidates except for the mandate on the right to privacy. The President noted that due to “the concerns of what seems to be a cross-regional majority of Council members,” he took the decision to propose Mr Joseph Cannataci (Malta) – the Consultative Group’s second choice – as Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, rather than their first choice, Ms Katrin Nyman Metcalf (Estonia). He noted that “in order to avoid any perceived conflict of interest,” he “discussed this proposal with the Bureau,” who “concurred” on the matter.

At the time of the appointment, the Estonian Ambassador “took issue with the process,” voicing his objection to the President’s decision to replace the Consultative Group’s first choice – a woman from the least represented regional group – with the second – a man from the most represented regional group. Given that, in his view, the first choice of the Consultative Group was by definition the most competent candidate, he accused the President of “bias,” given that he is a “man from the Western Group,” saying “I can only think that you liked number two better because of his views, gender and origin.” Expressing objection to “any mob justice-like procedures – including voting-like procedures,” the Estonian Ambassador proposed that the appointment of mandate holders be postponed, to enable those supporting the original first-choice candidate time to lobby on her behalf. When it became clear that a vote would be required to postpone the appointment of mandate holders, the Estonian Ambassador withdrew the request.

While some other members voiced similar concerns over the need to ensure gender and geographic balance (e.g. US), almost all subsequent speakers – including Pakistan, Paraguay (Bureau member), Portugal, El Salvador, France and Algeria – were keen to stress the transparent, balanced and inclusive nature of the President’s consultations with stakeholders from all regional groups and with civil society, expressing support for his decision.

Paraguay noted the complexity of the appointment process, and the importance of “achieving general consensus” on appointed candidates to ensure their mandate is not influenced. Pakistan said that “comments that in some [way] cast doubt over the ability and impartiality of the President [are] uncalled for” and noted that a candidate whose appointment has become so controversial “is by definition someone who cannot fulfil their functions.”

After over twenty minutes of discussion (which can be viewed online), the Council endorsed the President’s selected candidates, thereby appointing the following six candidates (click to download application forms):

  • Ms Ikponwosa ERO (Nigeria) – Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism 
(Human Rights Council resolution 28/6)
  • Mr Joseph CANNATACI 
(Malta) – Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy
 (Human Rights Council resolution 28/16
  • Ms Mónica PINTO
 (Argentina) – Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers 
(Human Rights Council resolution 26/7)
  • Ms Dubravka ŠIMONOVIĆ (Croatia) – Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences 
(Human Rights Council resolution 23/25)
  • Ms Leigh TOOMEY (Australia) – Working Group on arbitrary detention, member from Western European and other States(Human Rights Council resolution 24/7)
  • Mr Tae-Ung BAIK 
(Republic of Korea) – Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, member from Asia-Pacific States 
(Human Rights Council resolution 27/1)

Following the appointments, there are now 55 active Special Procedures mandates (41 thematic, 14 country-specific). Just 40% of mandate holders are female, and while 27% are from the WEOG region, just 14% come from EEG, 17% from GRULAC and 18% from APG:

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The gender and geographic balance enjoyed by the Special Procedures mechanism has deteriorated since the beginning of 2014.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 2.33.04 PM

While the proportion of female mandate-holders was already relatively low in January 2014 (42%), new appointments have seen this drop further to 40%. In terms of geographic representation, WEOG has seen an increase in its representation since January 2014 – from 23% of mandate-holders to 27% today. The proportion of mandate-holders from Africa (AG) and Asia (APG) has meanwhile decreased, from 27% to 24%, and 21% to 18% respectively. The representation of GRULAC remains the same (17%), while the representation of the EEG has increased marginally (from 12% to 13%).

 

Reflections on the work of Special Procedures

This session, like the 28th session, saw some states (Latvia on behalf of the EU and Tunisia) use the item 5 general debate to welcome the work of the Special Procedures mechanism and its Coordination Committee, and to highlight challenges that mandate-holders face in carrying out their work, including reprisals and the lack of state cooperation.

Others, especially countries from the Like Minded Group (LMG), used item 5 to raise concerns about whether certain mandate-holders were staying within the parameters of their mandate and respecting the Code of Conduct.

Referring in particular to the to the reports submitted by the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and on freedom of assembly, LMG states expressed concern over the “worrying tendency” of mandate-holders to “hijack thematic issues” that should normally be dealt with by other mandate-holders.

This followed criticism of the reports submitted by both mandate-holders during their clustered Interactive Dialogue. The former presented a report on “the use of encryption and anonymity in digital communications” and the latter on the “right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of natural resource exploitation.” Russia (on behalf of the LMG) accused the two of “hijacking thematic issues” that some felt would have been more appropriate for consideration by the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy and the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations. Russia asked whether this meant “that the mandate-holders have already exhausted all issues pertaining to their own mandates,” and therefore whether the Council should not “consider their discontinuation or the merger of several mandates into one.”

India and the LMG also called for greater transparency in Special Procedures funding. The LMG statement under item 5 attributed many of the “difficulties” faced by mandate holders to “the absence of adequate funding,” noting that “equitable allocation of human and financial resources among all mandate holders” would help ensure that their work is “balanced and not adversely affected by financial constraints.” Noting that the “need for full transparency in the funding of the special procedures was underscored in GA Resolution 65/281 (para. 34),” India reiterated an earlier request, “that the OHCHR initiate steps to require mandate holders to make full disclosure to the Council of all forms of support, including funding and any conditions attached to them, that they receive from sources other than the Office.”

Adoption of UPR Working Group reports

During its 29th session, the Council adopted the UPR Working Group reports of Armenia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Spain, Sweden and Turkey. It is to be observed that Guinea-Bissau was absent from the adoption of its second-cycle UPR report. The President of the Council presented a statement sent on behalf of the state, in which it highlighted that it had accepted 147 recommendations of the 151 received.

A total of 2,664 recommendations were made to these 14 countries, out of which 2,038 were accepted and 590 were noted or rejected:

upr

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In the general debate under item 6 (UPR), Latvia on behalf of the EU, Algeria on behalf of the African Group, Tunisia on behalf of the Arab Group and eleven other states (including 7 Council members) took the floor.

On particular interest was the statement of the EU, which underscored the fact that that the power of the UPR is embedded in the effective implementation of accepted recommendations. The EU noted that its members states are committed to raising (accepted) UPR recommendations as well as recommendations by Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures with all international partners. The EU said they will pay close attention to the degree of implementation of those recommendations and, where appropriate, will provide capacity-building support.

In the absence of an implementation monitoring mechanism for UPR (such a mechanism was not included in the Council’s institution-building package), it is important for states to follow-up bilaterally on the implementation of accepted recommendations. The EU’s proposed approach can be seen as a good practice in that regard, and other countries should replicate it to encourage North-South and South-South cooperation.

In other examples of good practice, Trinidad and Tobago presented a monitoring report on the implementation of first cycle recommendations, while Montenegro announced that its mid-term report on the implementation of the UPR recommendations accepted during the second cycle will be published in July.

Resolutions, Decisions and President’s Statements

The 29th session concluded with the adoption of 26 texts: 25 resolutions and 1 President’s statement. This represents a decrease of 23.53% on the number of texts adopted at the 26th session in June 2014. 68% of the resolutions considered by the Council were thematic in nature while 32% addressed cases of human rights violations. Around 28% of the resolutions were adopted by a recorded vote.

15 of the adopted texts (58%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring total appropriations of more than $1,575,100 not already covered by the UN regular budget.

RESOLUTIONS

Agenda Item

Resolution

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

2 A mission by OHCHR to improve human rights, accountability, reconciliation and capacity in South Sudan Albania, Paraguay, UK, USA  

Consensus

2

Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar

Pakistan (OIC)

$85,500

Consensus

3

The fiftieth anniversary of the adoption and the fortieth anniversary of the entry into force of the International Covenants on Human Rights

Russian Federation

$44,400

Consensus

3

Protection of the human rights of migrants: migrants in transit

Mexico

$30,600

Consensus

3

Human rights and international solidarity

Cuba

Vote (33-14-0)

3

Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members

Brazil, Estonia, Ethiopia, Japan, Morocco, Portugal, Romania

Consensus

3

Independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers

Australia, Botswana, Hungary, Maldives, Mexico, Thailand

Consensus

3

Elimination of discrimination against women

Colombia, Mexico

Consensus

3

Strengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage

Argentina, Canada, Ethiopia, Honduras, Italy, Maldives, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Uruguay, UK, Zambia

$189,100

Consensus

3

Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism

Mexico

Consensus

3

The negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights

Austria, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, Poland

$71,400

Consensus

3

Unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents and human rights

El Salvador, Nicaragua

Consensus

3

Protection of the family: contribution of the family to the realization of the right to an adequate standard of living for its members, particularly through its role in poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development

Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, El Salvador, Mauritania, Morocco, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia

$71,400

Vote (29-14-4)

3

Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women: eliminating domestic violence

Canada

Consensus

3

Human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms

Ecuador, Peru

$79,800

Vote (41-0-6)

3

The right to education

Portugal

Consensus

3

Human rights and climate change

Bangladesh, Philippines

$196,300

Consensus

4

The grave and deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic

France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UK, USA

Vote (29-6-12)

4

Situation of human rights in Eritrea

Djibouti, Somalia

0

Consensus

4

Situation of human rights in Belarus

Latvia (EU)

0

Vote (21-8-18)

5

The Social Forum

Cuba

$106,900

Consensus

7

Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem

Pakistan (OIC)

$54,000

Vote (41-1-5)

9

The incompatibility between democracy and racism

MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela)

$43,300

Consensus

10

Cooperation and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights

Ukraine

Vote (21-6-20)

10

Capacity building and technical cooperation with Cote d’Ivoire in the field of human rights

Algeria (African Group)

0

Consensus

Decisions and President’s Statements

Agenda Item

Decision/President’s Statement

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

1

Enhancing the efficiency of the Human Rights Council

HRC President

$602,400

Consensus

101

23

Analysis and conclusions

At the beginning of 2015, URG published a policy report on the focus and the output of the Council’s work. The report observed, inter alia, that:

  • the Council’s formal output (i.e. resolutions) was evolving in an unsustainable manner and in a manner contrary to the body’s founding documents;
  • the work and output of the body (again contrary to its founding documents) was largely focused on general thematic issues rather than on responding to human rights violations;
  • only a narrow range of situations of human rights violations had been addressed by the Council since 2006;
  • of all Council members, only EU states and the US were bringing situations of violations to the body’s attention;
  • the Council’s programme of work too often ignores pressing global human rights concerns (i.e. it can appear irrelevant); and the Council relies on an unnecessarily narrow range of work formats, and makes insufficient use of informal and inter-sessional formats.

The report concluded by making a number of recommendations to improve the relevance, efficiency, effectiveness and impact of the Council as it heads towards its tenth anniversary.

Consistent with, and building on, this analysis, 2015 has seen a range of efforts to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and relevance of the Council. The HRC President, H.E. Ambassador Ruecker, identified improving the body’s efficiency and effectiveness as key priorities for 2015 and has already taken a wide-range of impressive steps in that direction, both before and after May’s informal Council retreat in Berlin. Other processes such as the 2015 Glion Human Rights Dialogue in early May (and the 3 policy dialogues organised in preparation for it) have also provided a platform for policymakers to informally consider ways to strengthen the Council’s relevance and impact.

Building on positive signs during the 28th session in March, the 29th session again saw the above (and related) efforts bearing fruit.

There was a significant drop in the number of adopted texts compared with the June session in 2014. This was the first June decrease since the Council’s 5-year review. (For comparison, the June 2014 session had seen a 21% increase in the number of adopted texts compared to June 2013). This trend is in large part due to state decisions to biennialise or triennialise the tabling of (non urgent) thematic resolutions in line with Council resolutions 5/1 and 16/21.

In June 2014, the focus of the Council’s output was overwhelmingly thematic in nature. 82% of the 34 texts adopted focused on thematic issues, while only 18% addressed country-specific situations. In June 2015, 68% of texts were thematic in nature, while the number of country-specific resolutions increased to 32% of the total. What is more, responding to a URG call for the consideration of “hybrid” texts and issues, the 29th session saw the EU request the convening of an enhanced interactive dialogue (EID) on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and in South-East Asia, and Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) table a resolution on the situation of the human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. The EID in-turn stemmed from the creation of a new work format – informal Council briefings, which responded to criticisms that the Council did not properly utilise inter-sessional work periods and too often appeared irrelevant. As well as being the first ‘hybrid’ text since resolution 14/15 addressing attacks against schoolchildren in Afghanistan (23rd June 2010), the item 2 resolution on the rights of minorities in Myanmar responds to the criticism that only EU states and the US table resolutions on country situations (notwithstanding item 7 resolutions).

In a further example of what, at an institutional level at least, was a remarkably innovative session (especially if we include the pre-session informal briefing), on 3rd July H.E. Ambassador Ruecker delivered a Statement by the President (PRST) on “enhancing the efficiency of the Human Rights Council.”

The PRST builds on the cross-regional initiative led by Norway and Turkey to draw attention to challenges associated with the Council’s methods of work and to promote a self-reflective and self-regulatory approach to addressing those challenges in conformity with the Council’s basic documents. Although apparently quite modest in scope, the PRST represents an extremely important contribution to on-going efforts to improve the Council’s efficiency and thus effectiveness (the two being interlinked and inter-dependent). It set down three main actions:

  1. Led by the President and Bureau, the Council will take steps to further improve the voluntary yearly calendar for thematic resolutions by including more information (e.g. on related panels, mechanisms, Third Committee texts) and by better reflecting state decisions on the biennialisation and tiennialisation of initiatives.
  2. The Bureau shall prepare modalities to better space the appointment of Special Procedures mandates over time.
  3. OHCHR shall develop a “more distinguishable, accessible and user-friendly webpage for the Human Rights Council, its mechanisms and procedures, including a user-friendly extranet, with features such as technical alert functions.”

This last action, in particular, has the potential to transform the relevance and impact of the Council’s methods of work and output, by promoting greater transparency, understanding and accountability.

Notwithstanding these institutional achievements, more informal work remains to be done to put in place an informal process to build trust and confidence in order to further improve efficiency.

In addition to its work on the rights of migrants in the Mediterranean basin and in South-East Asia, and on the rights of minorities in Myanmar, the Council took a range of other important steps to address country-specific violations during the 29th session.

By adopting, through consensus, a resolution on the fact-finding mission to improve human rights, accountability and reconciliation for South Sudan, the Council has sent a strong political signal to the South Sudanese authorities. To reconcile differences between Albania, Paraguay, UK and US on the one hand, and the African Group on the other, over whether the situation in South Sudan should be dealt with under item 4 (situations requiring the Council’s attention) or item 10 (technical assistance), the Council (again demonstrative of more flexible and innovative working methods) adopted the resolution under item 2. It thus responded to the High Commissioner’s call for the Council not to lose sight of the disturbing reports of children being raped or recruited into armed forces by both sides – most recently a report of 95 children being killed in recent violence.

The Council also extended the mandates of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Eritrea and of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; and the mandate of the Independent Expert on Capacity Building and Technical Cooperation with Côte D’Ivoire in the field of human rights. In a resolution on the grave and deteriorating human rights situation in Syria (click to download text as adopted), the Council emphasised the need to ensure that all those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law or human rights laws be held accountable. In a resolution on ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (click to download text as adopted), the Council, inter-alia, called upon the parties concerned to cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court and with any subsequent investigation that may be opened.

Research carried out by URG on how Council members engaged on situations of human rights violations under items 4, 7 and 10 during the 29th session, shows that, on average, 60% of members delivered statements under item 4, 34 % under item 7 and 38% under item 10. In terms of regional participation, states from the Western Group and the Eastern European Group delivered more statements under item 4, while African Group members focused on item 10. (In comparison, Asian and Latin American states show little interest in item 10.)

200

201

If one looks at overall engagement, the 29th session saw 60% of Council members participate in item 4 general debates. Less than 40% of members engaged in item 7 or item 10 debates. This suggests that more time should be allocated on the Council’s agenda to consider situations under item 4.

While there appears to be, recently, a greater focus on country situations, the 29th session saw the Council continue to produce important and relevant thematic resolutions (68% of all adopted texts). These included, amongst others, texts on: the independence and impartiality of judges; the elimination of discrimination against women; the prevention and elimination of child, early and forced marriage (click to download resolution as adopted, with oral amendments); protecting human rights while countering terrorism; corruption and human rights; the right to education; and human rights and climate change.

As is often the case at the Human Rights Council, differences between delegations on thematic issues during the 29th session were generally based on differing interpretations of the relationship between religion and human rights, especially (on this occasion) in the context of women’s rights, concepts of ‘the family,’ and freedom of expression/incitement to religious hatred.

For example, during negotiations on the Canadian led resolution on “Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women: eliminating domestic violence” (click to download text), some OIC members tabled ‘hostile’ amendments designed to question and delete internationally-agreed language on marital rape and intimate partner violence.[1] These amendments were rejected by a majority of members of the Council, thereby safeguarding the universality of human rights.

Another resolution that saw a confrontation between states was the resolution on the “Protection of family.” Here, a “no-action motion” prevented an amendment from being tabled by South Africa, Brazil and Uruguay (click to download) that sought to better reflect that fact that various forms of “family” exist in different cultural, political and social systems. The “no action motion” was narrowly accepted, with 22 states voting in favour and 21 states against. The resolution itself was adopted by vote, with 29 countries in favour, 14 against and 4 abstentions.

Some of the delegations that voted against the resolution on the “Protection of the Family” argued that the text did not sufficiently address the issue of discrimination, abuse and violence within families, including marital rape or restrictions on women’s rights to property or inheritance. Interestingly, when introducing the resolution, the main sponsors claimed that the text reaffirms equality between men and women in the family. It is, however, to be noted that some of those main cosponsors maintain reservations to article 16 of CEDAW dealing with equality between men and women in the family.

A final thematic issue that caused considerable difficulty during the 29th session, again related to religion, was on the “Right to freedom of expression, including in the form of art.” Although denied by the main sponsors (US, Latvia, Benin and Uruguay), the proposed text was seen by many as a response to the recent violent attacks against journalists and cartoonists in Paris, Copenhagen and elsewhere. It thus touched on extremely sensitive issues at the Council related to freedom of religion, religious intolerance and incitement to violence, and thereby risked upsetting the fine (and unstable) balance that has developed between the EU-led annual resolution on freedom of religion or belief (FORB), and the OIC-led text on combatting religious intolerance (resolution 16/18). Consequently, OIC states, led by Saudi Arabia, tabled amendments to draft resolution aimed at including language from the OIC’s controversial (earlier) resolutions on “Defamation of religions.”[2] In the end, the main sponsors withdrew the text making it unclear what they had hoped to achieve in the first place. Disagreements between the US and OIC over this resolution will now make it harder for the Council to maintain consensus on FORB and 16/18 at the 31st session in March 2016.

 


Notes:

[1] See proposed amendments L.26 (rejected by a vote of 13 for-24 against-7 abstentions), L.27 (also rejected by a vote of 13 for-24 against-7 abstentions), L.28 (rejected by a vote of 14-21-9) and L.29 (rejected by a vote of 12-24-8).

[2] See proposed amendments L.32 and L.33.

 

Image: Flavia Pansieri(L), United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein(center), United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and Joachim Rücker(R), President of the Human Rights Council, during the 29th opening regular session of the Human Right Council. Room XX. 15 June 2015. Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. UN Photo/Pierre Albouy licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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