- The 52nd regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC52) was held from Monday 27th February to Tuesday 4th April 2023.
- As the main session of the Council, HRC52 began with a High-Level Segment (HLS). The 2023 HLS included speeches by more than 130 world leaders, including three heads or deputy heads of State, eight heads or deputy heads of government, and 117 ministers or vice-ministers, as well as representatives from international organisations. An analysis of the content and focus of the high-level speeches can be read here.
- On 7 March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Volker Türk presented an oral update on the human rights situation around the world. In his intervention, the High Commissioner referred to several situations around the world that raise human rights concerns and highlighted several developments. During the session, the High Commissioner also provided oral updates on Nicaragua and on Sudan on March 3, on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on March 21, on the Democratic Republic of the Congo on March 30, and on Ukraine on March 31. These oral updates given by the High Commissioner provided the basis for the general debate under Item 2 on 7th and 8th March.
- Nine panel debates were held during the session.
- More than 80 reports under the Council’s various agenda items were considered.
- Ten new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed to the following mandates: the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation, the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, one member to the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (from Asia-Pacific States), four members to the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development (one member from African States, one from Asia-Pacific States, one from Eastern European States and one from Western European and other States), two members to the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (one from Asia and one from the Arctic), and one member to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (one member from Latin American and Caribbean States).
- The outcome reports of the UPR Working Group of the following 14 States were adopted: Algeria, Bahrain, Brazil, Ecuador, Finland, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Tunisia, United Kingdom.
- 43 texts (all resolutions) were considered by the Council. This represents a 23% increase in the number of adopted texts compared to one-year prior (HRC49). Of the 43 adopted texts, 28 were adopted by consensus (65%) and 15 by a recorded vote (35%).
- After adopting 43 resolutions, the Council extended the mandates of nine thematic mandate-holders (i.e., adequate housing, foreign debt, freedom of opinion and expression, human rights defenders, migrants, minority issues, racism, sale and sexual exploitation of children, and torture), and nine country mandate-holders (i.e., Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mali, Myanmar, Nicaragua, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, and Ukraine).
- 20 written amendments put forward by States were considered by the Council: two of them were adopted by vote; ten were withdrawn by the main sponsor and 8 amendments were rejected by a vote. 17 amendments were not considered, all put forward by the Russian Federation.
- 31 of the texts adopted by the Council (79%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets.
Václav Bálek, President of the Human Rights Council, 52nd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva. UN Photo / Violaine Martin
High Level Segment
The High-Level Segment of the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, held from February 27 to March 3 2023, saw the active participation of more than 130 world leaders, including three heads or deputy heads of State, eight heads or deputy heads of government, and 117 ministers or vice-ministers, as well as representatives from international organisations.
The High-Level Segment began with a minute of silence to honour the victims of recent earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, followed by the opening of the session by H.E. Mr. Václav Balék, President of the Human Rights Council. The President recalled the importance of maintaining a constructive and cooperative atmosphere throughout the session and called upon delegations to commit to open and dignified exchanges. The President also thanked donor countries for their contribution to the Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to support the participation of least developed countries and small island developing States in the work of the Council. In this session, the Trust Fund allowed for the presence at the Council of 14 Government officials (eight female and six male).
H.E. Csaba Kőrösi, President of the seventy-seventh session of the General Assembly, highlighted that both the Council and the General Assembly are ‘at a crossroads’ amid the consequences of interlocking crises, including the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict, and the ‘crisis of this generation’ –climate change. With the world ‘not on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda’, the President called for a transformation in how crises are managed, and for solutions to be rooted in respect for human rights.
In his address to the Council, H.E. António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, noted the 75th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but warned against complacency and underscored that the Declaration’s principles are ‘under attack’, especially in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He further raised his concerns for the rise in extreme poverty and hunger, mass displacement due to conflict and the threat of climate change. The Secretary-General announced the launch, together with the High Commissioner, of a new Agenda for Protection later this year, aimed at reinforcing support across the UN system to protect human rights.
H.E. Volker Türk, High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted the progress made on human rights –’the common language of shared humanity’– over the last 75 years. The treaty-based system, the Council and its mechanisms, and the rise of human rights movements represent many of these achievements; yet, despite this progress, the High Commissioner warned of regression in many areas, calling on States to bring back the spirit that allowed the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and adapt it to the 21st Century.
The statements from the High Level Segment can be found here.
Over the course of the five days of the High-Level Segment, State and international organisation representatives emphasised their commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. They made calls for enhanced multilateralism, diplomatic cooperation and peaceful dialogue to address ongoing crises, including the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine and the impacts of climate change. Accountability and the fight against impunity, and the need to combat gender inequality and racial discrimination also featured prominently in the statements delivered during the High-Level Segment.
During the opening session of the High Level Segment of the 52nd session at the Human Rights Council. 27 February 2023. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré
High Commissioner Briefing
On 7 March 2023, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Volker Türk, delivered an oral update on the activities of his Office and recent human rights developments. Mr. Türk highlighted the need to find solutions that are rooted in universal rights, while accounting for domestic specificities. He described the Office’s work in delivering solutions as bridge-building between civil society, human rights defenders, and States. The High Commissioner encouraged States to fully cooperate with his Office and the human rights mechanisms, to be open to engage and discuss complex human rights issues, with the ultimate imperative of improving people’s lives.
The High Commissioner pointed at the many ongoing situations of conflict and violence worldwide –noting that one quarter of humanity lives in conflict areas– and called for upholding the Charter of the United Nations and international law. He drew attention to the war in Ukraine and the global impacts of the conflict, and described the war in Syria as ‘excruciating bloodshed.’ Mr. Türk further expressed his concerns for the insecurity and instability in Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, and Libya. He called for accountability for conflict-related violations and for the implementation of peace and transitional justice agreements.
The High Commissioner also referred to the Office’s ongoing monitoring of the human rights situation in Western Sahara, India and Pakistan, and conveyed his Office’s invitation for cooperation and assistance. Likewise, he offered the Office’s support on the ground in Haiti, pointing at the need for multifaceted responses to persisting violence, which include free elections, implementation of the arms embargo, sanctions against sponsors of armed gangs, and international support for the judiciary’s accountability capabilities.
Stressing the threat of discrimination and racism to human rights and development, the High Commissioner underlined the repression of women in Afghanistan and Iran. He further pointed at the intentional use of provocations and hate speech directed at racial and religious minorities, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, migrants and refugees. He referred to racial discrimination of people of African descent in law enforcement contexts, notably in the United States, Australia, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Brazil. Mr. Türk also pointed at the need for further accountability for police killings in drug-related police operations in the Philippines.
The High Commissioner raised the issue of ‘pervasive human rights failures’ caused by structural inequalities and poverty. He alluded to extreme levels of poverty and food insecurity in Lebanon, the restrictions on economic and social rights in Sri Lanka, aided by draconian security laws, and the continuous impact of the pandemic, increases in fuel, energy and food prices, inflation, and debt in several African countries, including Mauritius and South Africa. Furthermore, the High Commissioner pointed that poverty and decreases in living standards also affect countries in the Global North, such as the United Kingdom.
In order to tackle the challenges of structural injustices and inequalities, the High Commissioner called for a human rights economy, whereby economic, fiscal, investment and business decisions are all informed by human rights considerations. These measures must be paired with reforms of the international financial institutions, and as the High Commissioner announced, his Office stands ready to advocate for human rights-based reforms to achieve economic justice.
The High Commissioner also addressed restrictions on civic space, calling on all Governments to listen to their peoples, especially human rights defenders and victims. He shared positive examples, including the lifting of bans on media outlets in Tanzania, decriminalisation of defamation in Zambia, and measures to promote accountability in Kenya. Yet, despite these positive notes, he also expressed concerns for media restrictions and hate speech in the Russian Federation, crackdowns on LGBITQ+ communities in Uganda and Burundi, persecution of journalists and political activists in Tajikistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Tunisia, Egypt, Peru and China.
Lastly, the High Commissioner spoke about the fight against climate change and the defence of the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as ‘the defining struggles of our generation.’ Sharing his concern for the dramatic situation caused by climate change in Somalia, the Sahel region, Iraq, and the Pacific Island countries, he emphasised the need for transparency, access to environmental information, promotion of public participation and consultation, and climate financing.
The High Commissioner ended his speech by calling on the international community to embrace innovative thinking, political leadership and scaled-up financing to tackle conflict, discrimination, poverty, civic space restrictions, and the triple planetary crisis.
The official transcript of Ms. Türk’s oral update can be found here.
Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights addresses the 52nd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva. UN Photo / Violaine Martin
A total of nine panel discussions were held during the 52nd session. The panels were focused on the following topics:
- Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming on the theme ‘A reflection on five years of the United Nations Youth Strategy (Youth 2030): mapping a blueprint for the next steps’ (27th February, concept note, video)
- The High Commissioner, as well as the Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth, highlighted the outstanding challenges that young people face in terms of achieving their full personal development and enjoying their human rights, and which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Panellists, including representatives from UNFPA, ILO, UNESCO, and the High-level Steering Committee of the United Nations Youth Strategy, called for the inclusion of youth in decision-making processes.
- Biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty on the theme, ‘Human rights violations relating to the use of the death penalty, in particular with respect to limiting the death penalty to the most serious crimes’ (28th February, concept note, video)
- The High Commissioner recalled the link between the abolition of the death penalty and the protection of all human beings, as enshrined in the UN Charter. He underscored the incompatibility of death penalty and human dignity, and called on States to establish moratoriums to restrict the use of capital punishment.
- Panellists, including representatives from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Ministry of Law and Institutional Reform of Malaysia, the Human Rights Committee, academia, and Pakistani civil society, shared examples of national avenues towards the abolition of the death penalty.
J. M. Santos Pais at the biennial high-level panel on the death penalty. 28 February 2023. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré
- High-level meeting commemorating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development (28th February, two accessible meetings, concept note, video)
- Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, called for the recognition of the right to development as a human right. The High Commissioner emphasised the need to bolster sustainable development as the world approaches the halfway mark towards the completion of the 2030 Agenda.
- Panellists including UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner and Rebeca Grynspan, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, called for new sources of finance to ensure the right to development and overcome asymmetries in the international financial architecture. Other panellists, including Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, and Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development, expressed the importance of cooperation and engagement to overcome persisting challenges such as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zamir Akram, Chair-Rapporteur on the right to development at a High Level meeting commemorating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Declaration the Right to Development. 1 March 2023. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré
- High-level panel discussion on the achievements, good practices and lessons learned by the voluntary funds for the universal periodic review mechanism of the Human Rights Council (1st March, concept note, video)
- Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, described the UPR as a ‘powerful and unique mechanism’ that helped ensure uniformity across Member States’ actions.
- Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted the mechanism’s contributions across its first three cycles and its potential to create resilient societies, reinforce solidarity and national ownership.
- Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child on the theme ‘Rights of the child and the digital environment’ (8th March, two accessible meetings, concept note, video part I, video part II)
- The Council heard directly from three children (from Colombia, India, and Ethiopia) who shared their experiences as human rights defenders and youth advocates, as well as the challenges they face in their countries, including safe access to digital tools and participation in public life.
- Other panellists, including members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, civil society, and public administration, discussed the application of child rights to the digital environment and stressed the importance of upholding children’s rights in policy frameworks.
Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child, UN TV, 8 March
- Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities on the theme ‘Support systems to ensure community inclusion of persons with disabilities, including as a means of building forward better after the COVID-19 pandemic’ (13th March, concept note, video)
- The Council heard from Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner, about the importance of transforming care systems to ensure that persons with disabilities are provided with agency, choice and control over the support they receive.
- Other panellists highlighted the need to include the perspective of persons with disabilities in development models and public policies, integrating as well a gender perspective and human rights approach to support and care. Panellists underscored the importance of reframing care systems while ensuring the independence and autonomy of persons with disabilities, their protection from marginalisation and poverty.
Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, UN TV, 13 March
- Debate in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on the theme ‘The urgency of combating racism and racial discrimination 75 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ (30th of March, concept note, video)
- The High Commissioner recalled that no country can claim to be free of racism, and called on the international community to harness the opportunity provided by the 75th anniversary of the UDHR by reinvigorating its commitments in regards to combatting racism and discrimination.
- Other panellists, including representatives from the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination emphasised pervasive challenges that allow systemic racism to endure, including the lack of acknowledgement by former colonial powers of their racist legacies.
Debate in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, UN TV, 30 March
Commissions of Inquiry, Fact-Finding Missions and Independent Investigations
Enhanced ID on report of Commission of Human Rights in South Sudan (res. 49/2)
On 6 March 2023, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, composed of Yasmin Sooka (Chair), Andrew Clapman, and Barney Afako, delivered an oral update to the Council, followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs on the country’s human rights situation.
Mr. Barney Afako stated that even though the world is facing multiple crises, South Sudan’s human rights and humanitarian situation should not be forgotten, as more people than ever need protection and humanitarian aid.
Mr. Afako stated that since the Commission last addressed the Council in March 2022, it has documented additional gross human rights violations throughout South Sudan, including horrific, widespread attacks against civilians and State-sponsored extrajudicial killings. Further, the use of children by both State forces and non-State armed groups and systematic sexual violence against women and girls continue.
According to Mr. Afako, both State and non-State actors were committing violence against civilians throughout the country, including widespread killings, rape and forced displacement against civilians considered to be loyal to the opposition, and the targeting of civilians by multiple armed groups with competing political agendas.
Mr. Afako highlighted that even though the government has announced special investigative committees to examine attacks against civilians and extrajudicial killings, only one actual investigation was apparently carried out, and no detailed reports have been published, nor have any prosecutions or trials been carried out. Mr. Afako highlighted the government’s move towards military trials, which was welcomed by the Commission, but argued that a wider net must be cast so that senior people feel a sense of responsibility.
Mr. Afako argued that South Sudan can be different, and that the Revitalised Peace Agreement continues to be the proper framework to address the country’s conflict and lead it to a new and more stable future, and lead it beyond the current situation of violations and suffering. In order to achieve stability, South Sudan will need a strong permanent constitution underpinning the rule of law, and subsequent elections with genuine public participation allowing for free expression and debate. On behalf of the Commission, Mr. Afako asked the government to clearly instruct public authorities to cease the harassment of civil society and allow for a healthy public debate.
The Commission commended the government for its move to end its practice of arrests without warrants, and welcomed its cooperation with the Commission. Mr. Afako stated that the Commission is looking forward to working closely with all parties involved in establishing the three mechanisms envisioned by the Agreement: the Hybrid Court, the Compensation and Reparation Authority, and the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing. Mr. Afako concluded by stating that the Commission’s report includes a list of recommendations on how to improve South Sudan’s human rights situation, with a focus on the need for future accountability and prosecutions, as the Commission considered that addressing impunity in the country is critical for its stability and peaceful future.
ID with COI Ukraine (res. 49/1 and S-34/1)
Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry of Inquiry on Ukraine, Statement by Erik Møse, Chair of the Commission, UN TV, 20 March
On 20 March 2023, 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.
Mr. Erik Møse stated that the conflict in Ukraine continues to inflict suffering on civilians, and that casualties, separations, displacement and destruction of infrastructure continue to occur, affecting millions of people. Mr. Møse highlighted the Commission’s findings that the Russian authorities have committed a wide range of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law across Ukraine, and that many violations amount to war crimes. Regarding the Ukrainian armed forces, Mr. Møse stated that the Commission has documented a small number of violations.
According to Mr. Møse, the different figures provided by parties related to forced transfers and deportation of children has not been able to be verified by the Commission, but it has still been able to conclude that situations examined by the Commission were violations of international humanitarian law amounting to war crimes. Mr. Møse highlighted the recommendations made by the Commission regarding accountability measures, and argued that the Commission believes that other areas of accountability, inter alia, truth, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence were crucial, and that a victims’ registry and institutional support for victims should be a priority.
As a country concerned, the Russian Federation did not take the floor. Ukraine, as a country concerned, expressed its gratitude to the Commission of Inquiry for its comprehensive report and highlighted the dire human rights and humanitarian emergency that has been unfolding in Europe over the past year due to the Russian Federation’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine highlighted that the Commission of Inquiry had collected evidence showing that the Russian Federation has committed a variety of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and that many of the Russian Federation’s actions amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
ID with Commission of Inquiry on Syrian Arab Republic
On 21 March 2023, 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. Paulo Pinheiro began by offering his heartfelt condolences to the victims of last month’s earthquake in Türkiye and the Syrian Arab Republic, and he urged the international community to support local and international humanitarian agencies. Mr. Pinhiero highlighted heroic acts and generosity towards and solidarity with victims, that contrasted with parties to the conflict instrumentalising, politicising, and impeding aid to the earthquake’s victims.
Mr. Pinhiero also highlighted that the prior week marked 12 years of continuing crisis and conflict in Syria that has resulted in the death of at least 300,000 civilians, and noted that the Commission is investigating reported new incidents of shelling, obstruction of humanitarian assistance, and the looting of vacated homes in the areas affected by the earthquake.
The Commission called on all parties to the conflict to agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities and to agree to the delivery of impartial humanitarian aid to those in need. In this context, Mr. Pinhiero commended the US, EU and UK for relaxing sanctions and the Syrian government for consenting to additional humanitarian border crossings.
Mr. Pinhiero stated that the Commission’s latest report documents aerial and ground attacks in Syria’s north-west killing hundreds of civilians, including Syrian government targeting of farming communities, use of cluster munitions, and airstrikes by the Russian Aerospace Forces causing further death and injury to civilians. Mr. Pinhiero stated that these and other attacks may amount to war crimes.
According to Mr. Pinhiero, detentions and related violations carried out by Syrian State security forces are some of the Syrian conflict’s underlying causes, as arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances and deaths in detention continue with appaling systematicity 12 years after the start of the conflict. Mr. Pinhiero further highlighted sexual and gender-based violence affecting Syrian women from all walks of life.
Mr. Pinhiero closed by reiterating the Commission’s call for an independent international entity to assist in the search for Syria’s missing and disappeared and to provide support to families.
Syria, speaking as a country concerned, rejected the Commission’s mandate categorically and argued that the report presented to the Council was fabricated. According to the Syrian government, while the Commission was supposed to be impartial, objective and credible in its work, its reports have instead have been politicised and immoral, and the Commission has relied on false witnesses, open sources and fabricated evidence for its information. The Syrian government continued that the Commission has ignored the crimes of terrorist armed groups.
ID with International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (oral briefing, res. 51/27)
Mr. Mohamed Chande Othman, Chair of International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, 21 March
On 21 March 2023, , the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, composed of Mr. Mohamed Chande Othman (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.
Mr. Mohamed Othman started by reiterating the Commission’s mandate, which is to: investigate and report on alleged violations of international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law in Ethiopia since November 2020, in addition to providing advice concerning transitional justice.
Mr. Othman stated that the situation in Ethiopia has evolved significantly since the presentation of the Commission’s first report in September 2022, as the Federal Government and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement on 2 November aiming to end more than two years of conflict in northern Ethiopia affecting millions of people. Since the signing of the agreement, there has been a significant and, so far, sustained reduction of conflict in the region.
Mr. Othman stated that the Commission welcomes the agreement and subsequent implementation, especially commitments to human rights, civilian protection, unimpeded humanitarian access, and accountability. Mr. Othman then highlighted the federal government’s initiatives that constitute a first step towards a locally-owned transitional justice process in Ethiopia. While Mr. Othman stated that it is too early for the Commission to assess the initiatives’ progress, the Commission is hopeful that they can contribute towards accountability, truth-telling, reconciliation and reparations that are inclusive, gender-responsive, and victim and survivor-centred, and that this would lead to the non-recurrence of violations.
While Mr. Othman highlighted the positive developments and relatively improved security, he reminded the Council that it must not forget the gravity and scale of violations committed in the country since November 2020, including the Commission’s prior findings that it had reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict committed war crimes and human rights abuses. The Commission has not stopped investigating these violations, in addition to ongoing violations, and Mr. Othman stressed that independent investigation and accountability for the acts that have occurred is essential, to not only ensure justice for survivors, victims and their families, but also to deter the future commission of violations and abuses.
Mr. Othman stated that the federal government has the primary responsibility to ensure accountability, and noted its initiatives to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators of serious crimes. Mr. Othman urged the Ethiopian government to have greeted transparency around such efforts, as the Commission remains concerned about the lack of pathways for accountability for serious violations committed by Eritrean forces.
Providing an update of the Commission’s work, Mr. Othman stated that since it last briefed the Council, the Commission had continued consultations with a broad group of stakeholders, that it continued addressing offences discussed in its prior report (including attacks on civilians, sexual and gender-based violence, and denial of humanitarian assistance), but also began addressing other violations such as arbitrary detention, children’s rights violations, and hate speech.
Mr. Othman informed the Council that the Ethiopian government has yet to allow the Commission’s investigation team access to the country, and that much of its work was thus being carried out remotely. He strongly urged the government to reconsider this decision and encouraged UN Member States to assist in facilitating such access. Mr. Othman concluded by highlighting the Commission’s transitional justice process work, and arguing for the need to continue investigating alleged violations both before and after the peace agreement in order to create a durable peace with full respect for human rights.
Ethiopia, as the country concerned, stated that it was focused on the full implementation of lasting peace through the signing of the peace agreement, and that the agreement had ended the conflict and all forms of hostilities. It noted the second pillar of implementation which was the significant increase in humanitarian aid and restoration of services, as well as the third pillar – disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration of former combatants. The Ethiopian government also highlighted the transitional measures in the peace agreement, including the adoption of a policy for accountability, truth-telling and redress for victims, healing, and reconciliation. The Ethiopian government reiterated its firm commitment to investigating all cases of human rights violations and ensuring redress for victims.
ID with FFM Venezuela (oral update. res. 51/29)
On 21 March 2023, 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 highlighted the current situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, where authorities continue to detain civil society actors for political reasons, stifle trade union protests, and close media outlets. Ms. Valiñas further warned that newly-proposed legislation could significantly limit non-governmental organisations’ ability to work in the country, if passed.
Ms. Valiñas stated that in the context of widespread impunity regarding serious crimes reported in the Fact-Finding Mission’s prior reports, those who criticise or oppose the government feel threatened and unprotected, and that fear of torture or detention hinders the right to protest and freedom of expression, and that violations of the right to due process persist.
Ms. Valiñas further noted that the FFM had identified an increase of attacks and threats against human rights organisations and defenders, as well as against journalists, humanitarian personnel and other civil society actors in Venezuela. She highlighted State repression against protestors, as well as journalists and the media, as well as deaths in clashes with law enforcement.
Ms. Valiñas then highlighted two recent draft bills that could significantly impact Venezuelan NGOs’ ability to carry out their work in the country, as they would reportedly consolidate State control over the existence, funding and activities of NGOs in the country.
Venezuela, as the country concerned, reiterated its (along with other States) rejection of the resolution renovating the FFM’s mandate, stating that it was part of a strategy of a certain group of States that prefer to attack instead of cooperation with Venezuela, and that they are using human rights as a pretext, with political motives. Venezuela then stated that its desire is to defend and promote human rights, but in an open, transparent, and cooperative manner. It highlighted how it continues reinforcing its relationship with the Office of the High Commissioner, including its two-year renewal of the agreement for assistance from the Office and the visits of two prior High Commissioners of Human Rights to Venezuela. The government of Venezuela concluded by reiterating its commitment to working with the Council and its mechanisms, including through welcoming technical assistance.
ID with FFM Libya (res. 50/23)
Interactive dialogue with the fact-finding mission on Libya, Statement by Ms. Lamia Fathi Abusedra – Libya (Country Concerned), UN TV, 3 April
On 27 March 2023, the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, composed of Mr. Mohamed Auajjar (Chair), Ms. Tracy Robinson, and Mr. Chaloka Beyani, 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.
Mr. Mohamed Auajjar stated that the situation in Libya continued to be dire, as fundamental freedoms and the human situation deteriorated, while violations continued.
In its report, the Mission concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a wide array of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Libya by State security forces and armed militia groups. The FFM’s investigation: revealed an extensive effort by Libyan authorities to repress dissent; documented numerous cases of murder, torture, arbitrary detention, rape, sexual slavery, enslavement, and enforced disappearances, and discovered that the vast majority of survivors had not lodged official complaints due to a lack of confidence in the justice system, as well as fear of reprisals, arrest, and extortion.
The FFM found that migrants, in particular, have been targeted, and that there is overwhelming evidence that migrants have been systematically tortured. Further, Mr. Auajjar stated that the Mission had reasonable grounds to believe that sexual slavery, which is a crime against humanity, was being committed against migrants.
Mr. Auajjar reiterated the urgent need for accountability in Libya to end the pervasive impunity in the country, and called on the Libyan authorities to develop a human rights plan of action, as well as a comprehensive, victim-centred transitional justice roadmap without delay. He further called on the Libyan authorities to hold all responsible for human rights violations accountable, and stated that the government is obligated to investigate allegations of violations of human rights and crimes in the areas under its control. Mr. Auajjar stated that in spite of this obligation, the practices and patterns of gross violations continue, and that there is little evidence that any meaningful steps are being taken to reverse this and provide recourse to victims.
Mr. Auajjar stated that the Mission’s mandate is ending at a time when Libya’s human rights situation is deteriorating, and the reforms necessary to uphold the rule of law and unify the country are not close to being realised. He stated that armed groups implicated in allegations of torture, trafficking, sexual violence, and arbitrary detention are not being held accountable.
Further, Mr. Auajjar highlighted the fact that Libyan authorities are infringing on the rights of assembly, association, and expression, and that attacks are being carried out against human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, journalists, and civil society actors, creating an atmosphere of fear causing self-censorship and self-imposed exile. Further, women have been systematically discriminated against in the country and the situation has deteriorated over the previous three years.
On behalf of the FFM, Mr. Auajjar urged the Council to establish an independent, international investigation mechanism and called on the OHCHR to establish its own distinct and autonomous mechanism provided with an ongoing mandate to monitor and report on gross human rights violations in the country, with the goal of assisting the push for transitional justice and accountability in Libya. Mr. Auajjar also stated that in an effort to strengthen accountability, the Mission will share relevant material and findings it has collected, as well as a list of possible perpetrators of international crimes and human rights violations, with the International Criminal Court.
Libya, as the country concerned, stated that the FFM’s purpose was to assist Libyan authorities in promoting human rights, fighting impunity, and activating the country’s transitional justice process. Libya stated that it rejected the FFM’s recommendations to establish an international commission of inquiry and OHCHR permanent follow-up mechanism, as this was a departure from the FFM’s original mandate. Libya stated that the violations documented by the FFM reflected the country’s exceptional circumstances, including the fact that there were nearly one million undocumented immigrants in the country, and that transnational efforts are necessary to address the issue.
Adoption of the UPR Working Group Outcome Reports
The Council adopted the UPR outcome reports of 14 States (Algeria, Bahrain, Brazil, Ecuador, Finland, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Tunisia, United Kingdom).
A total of 3,826 recommendations were made to these 14 States, out of which 2,711 were accepted in whole, 998 were noted, and 117 partially accepted.
General Debate under Item 6
Speakers highlighted the role of the UPR process in the promotion and strengthening of human rights around the world, as well as development efforts. Overall, speakers conveyed strong support for the UPR, emphasising the opportunities it provides for States to exchange views, discuss progress and shortcomings. Speakers also underscored the possibilities the UPR tool opens for dialogue between States and civil society.
The universality of the UPR mechanism was praised by speakers, who underlined its widespread acceptance among States, which then translates into implementation of recommendations at the domestic level. In that regard, speakers also called for more engagement of NHRIs and civil society, so as to determine the impact of international human rights standards when they are translated to the local level.
25 Special Procedures (16 thematic, 9 country-specific) presented their annual reports or provided oral updates at HRC52 (all of which are available here). During 25 interactive dialogues (all individual), 139 States delivered 1,056 statements, of which 26% were from the African Group, 26% from APG, 13% from EEG, 13% from GRULAC, 22% from WEOG, and 1% from other countries (namely the State of Palestine, the Holy See and the Sovereign Order of Malta). Additionally, 40 statements were delivered by international organisations (including FAO, IDLO, UNDP, UNEP, UNFPA, UN Habitat, UNICEF, UN Women, and WFP).
Appointment of New Mandate-Holders
10 new mandate-holders were appointed during the session to fill positions on nine existing mandates and one new mandate (Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation). On the final day of the session, the following mandate-holders were appointed:
- Mr. Bonny Ibhawoh (Nigeria) was appointed as the new member from African States of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development;
- Mr. Mihir Kanade (India) was appointed as the new member from Asia-Pacific States of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development;
- Ms. Klentiana Mahmutaj (Albania) was appointed as the new member from Eastern European States of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development;
- Ms. Isabelle Durant (Belgium) was appointed as the new member from Western European and other States of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development;
- Mr. Binota Moy Dhamai (Bangladesh) was appointed as the new member from Asia of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
- Ms. Dalee Sambo Dorough (United States of America) was appointed as the new member from the Arctic of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
- Mr. Surya Deva (India) was appointed as the new Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development;
- Ms. Bina D’Costa (Bangladesh) was appointed as the new member from Asia-Pacific States of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent;
- Ms. Ana Lorena Delgadillo Perez (Mexico) was appointed as the new member from Latin American and Caribbean States of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance;
- Ms. Mariana Katzarova (Bulgaria) was appointed as the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation.
General Debate under Items 5 and 10
General Debate under Item 5
On the 23rd of March, the Council held a general debate on agenda item five on human rights bodies and mechanisms. Speakers raised concerns for the underfunding of the UN’s human rights bodies and mechanisms, which impacts the work of the human rights mechanisms, including the Treaty Bodies and the Special Procedures.
Overall, speakers acknowledged the contribution of the Council’s mechanisms to the international protection of human rights. Referring to the work of the Special Procedures, speakers commended their efforts to maintain ongoing communications with States and civil society, and stressed the importance of impartiality, objectivity, accountability, good faith, and facts-based due diligence in the conduct of Special Procedures’ communications and reports.
Speakers drew attention to widespread attacks against human rights defenders around the world and called for the renewal of the commitments made at the time of the adoption, twenty-five years ago, of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Presentation of Reports followed by General debate on Agenda Item 5: Human rights bodies and mechanisms, Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, 23 March
General Debate under Item 10
On the 3rd of April, the Council held the general debate under agenda item ten, on technical assistance and capacity-building. Speakers highlighted the importance of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights for overcoming human rights challenges. States encouraged others to harness the opportunities provided by the fund to seek assistance that is tailored to their needs. In that regard, speakers recalled that technical assistance and cooperation should be adapted to domestic contexts. Such assistance, as highlighted by speakers, is essential for the achievement of the SDGs and for the fulfillment of States’ obligations in the promotion and protection of human rights.
The role of partnerships and exchanges between States and other stakeholders was highlighted as a key component of technical assistance and capacity-building. In that regard, speakers also emphasised the critical importance of providing technical assistance at the request of the concerned State only, so as to avoid the misuse of the tool as a means to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs.
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 14 (eight female and six male) government officials at HRC52, from Belize, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nepal, Sudan, Timor-Leste, Trinidad and Tobago, and United Republic of Tanzania. A small proportion of delegates (29%) come from States that are currently members of the Council.
The 52nd session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 43 resolutions. This is 8 texts more than the number of texts (35) adopted at the 49th session in March 2022, marking a significant increase of 23%.
28 i.e. approximately 65% of the tabled resolutions at HRC52 were adopted without a vote. 34 (79%) of the texts adopted by the Council had Programme Budget Implications (PBI).
26 (60%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, while 17 (40%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of the latter texts, 3 address human rights situations under item 2, 6 address human rights under agenda item 4 ‘Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention,’ and 5 sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10).
In total, all resolutions adopted at HRC52 will result in eighteen mandate extensions (nine thematic and nine country-specific). These include the mandates on adequate housing, foreign debt, freedom of opinion and expression, human rights defenders, migrants, minority issues, racism, sale and sexual exploitation of children, and torture. In terms of country-specific mandates, the 52nd session of the Council concluded with the renewal of the mandates on Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mali, Myanmar, Nicaragua, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, and Ukraine.
Resolutions listed in order of L numbers
Featured image: Volker Türk ( left ) High Commissioner for Human Rights with Václav Bálek, President of the Human Rights Council at the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council. 28 February 2023. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré
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