Report on the 26th Session of the Human Rights Council

by the URG team URG Human Rights Council Reports

Human Rights Council President Baudelaire Ndong Ella presents flowers to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the close of the Human Rights Council's 26th Session.

Quick Summary

 

  • The 26th Session of the Human Rights Council was held from 10th – 27th June 2014.
  • During the session the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, made her final address to the Council.
  • 5 panel discussions were held during the session.
  • 56 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: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chile, Comoros, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, New Zealand, Slovakia, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Yemen.
  • More than 170 side events were by held by states and/or NGOs during the session. 
  • 6 new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed, in the posts of: Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Asia-Pacific Group Member); Working Group on People of African Descent (African Group Member); Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.
  • 1 new Special Procedure mandate was created: the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • 34 texts were considered by the Council: 32 resolutions and 2 decisions. Of these, 25 were adopted by consensus (74%), and 9 were adopted by a vote (26%).
  • 19 of the texts adopted by the Council (56%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring total appropriations of $6,416,500 not already covered by the UN regular budget.

 

Final Address of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council.

 

In her final address to the Human Rights Council as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay recalled that when she first addressed the Council in 2008 she pledged to embark on an open-minded, frank, and mutually reinforcing interaction, based on the premise that the credibility of human rights work depends on impartiality and a commitment to the truth. She underscored that the creation of the Council in 2006 had brought strength and flexibility to the international human rights system. The Universal Periodic Review has been admirably universal, impartial and non-selective, and has secured remarkable success in encouraging States to recognise and resolve gaps in human rights protection, with a new emphasis on dialogue with civil society. She welcomed the increase in requests from the Security Council for information and advice on human rights issues, which demonstrate a heightened recognition that human rights are fundamental to peace, security and development. However, Ms. Pillay regretted that the international community remained unable to react strongly, quickly and consistently to crises, including situations of grave human rights violations with a high potential for regional overspill. She concluded by reminding delegates that the OHCHR stands by the side of all UN member states and should be viewed as a friend that is unafraid to speak the truth. OHCHR, she underscored, does not only seek to help states identify gaps in their human rights protection, but also assists them to address those gaps, and to pursue policies that promote equality, dignity, development and the resolution of conflict.

 

Panel Discussions

 

Panel Discussion on the Safety of Journalists (11th June 2014)

Discussion focused on the value and contribution of the media and journalists to democracy, and on the need to ensure accountability by investigating attacks and crimes against journalists and bringing perpetrators to justice. Speakers also underlined the need for political will, as well as a conducive legislative framework for the protection of journalists. (Full press release)

Key quote: Sound, bold and independent journalism is vital in any democratic society… The safety of journalists is quite simply essential to the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all of us, as well as to the right to development. However, to my consternation, more than a thousand journalists have been killed since 1992 as a direct result of their profession.” – Ms. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (Full statement)

 

High Level Panel on the Identification of Good Practices in Combatting Female Genital Mutilation (16th June 2014)

Speakers stressed that gender inequality and power imbalances among genders were factors underlying female genital mutilation and agreed that culture, tradition and religion must not be used to justify it. In addition to instituting a total ban on the practice, states should work with traditional and religious leaders at all levels and should complement legal measures with investment in education and awareness campaign activities targeting the communities. (Full Press Release)

Key quote: FGM is a form of gender-based discrimination and violence. It is a violation of the right to physical and mental integrity. It violates the right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Because it is almost always practised on young children, it is also a violation of the rights of the child. FGM violates the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health. And when it results in the death of the person who is mutilated, it violates the right to life.” – Ms. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (Full Statement)

 

Annual Full-Day Discussion on Women’s Rights (17th June 2014)

The morning session focused on the impact of gender stereotypes, with speakers saying that they should be proud of progress made but that many challenges remain on the path to true equality.  These include stereotypes that are subtle and difficult to detect, acting on the subconscious. 

The afternoon session the focused on women’s rights and the sustainable development agenda. It was emphasized that there could be no sustainable development without gender equality and the full participation of women and girls.  The new development agenda must value women’s potential and their contributions, paid and unpaid, to families, societies and economies. (Full Press Release)

Key quote: “Recognition of the equal dignity and freedom of women and men is vital to the enjoyment of all human rights – and it is also the only way to ensure that every community can count on the talents and skills of every individual, in the pursuit of economic, social and political development.” – Ms. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. (Full Statement)

 

Panel Discussion on Preventing and Eliminating Child, Early and Forced Marriage (23 June 2014)

Speakers reiterated the strong links between child, early and forced marriage and poverty: it undermined the well-being of women and young girls and constituted an obstacle to other human rights.  Delegations expressed concern at the fact that children in early marriages were often subjected to violence and sexual violence.  In order to end this practice, the international community required sustainable programmes, owned and supported by key stakeholders in communities and countries.  Underlying causes had to be addressed, and increased awareness and the participation of civil society would be of great assistance.  (Full Press Release)

Key Quote: Child, early and forced marriage can have extensive and damaging repercussions on the women and girls who are subjected to it, their communities, and future generations. Eliminating these practices is of fundamental importance in moving forward the agendas on the rights of women and girls, and development.” – Ms. Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights (Full Statement)

 

Panel Discussion on Technical Cooperation and Capacity Building in Advancing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (25th June 2014)

Speakers highlighted the importance of public-private cooperation, as well as with non-governmental organizations, as part of measures to increase accessibility, inclusion, and the exercise of human rights.  Delegations also stressed the importance of integrating persons with disabilities in the post-2015 development framework, including through disability-specific programmes as well as mainstreaming the needs for persons with disabilities in development. (Full Press Release)

Key Quote: Promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities remains one of the key areas of OHCHR’s technical cooperation programmes, both at Headquarters and in the countries and regions where OHCHR has a presence.” – Ms. Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights (Full Statement)

 

Special Procedures

 

New Mandate

A new thematic mandate, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilites, was established by consensus on 27th June. This will take over from the current Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development, whose mandate expires in December 2014. The the creation of the new mandate takes the tota number of active Special Procedures to 51.

 

Appointment of New Mandate Holders

The Consultative Group, made up of representatives from Canada (Chairperson), Peru, Morocco, Lithuania and the Republic of Korea, scrutinised 110 applications, interviewed 24 persons, and sent its recommendations to the President of the Council. After reviewing the recommendations and consulting the regional groups, the President submitted his proposals to the Council via letter on 26th June. On this occasion, the President exactly followed the recommendations of the Consultative Group.

On 27th June, the Council moved to appoint the following individuals (click names to download application forms):

Mr. Baskut TUNCAK (Turkey) – Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes

Mr. Seong-Phil HONG (Republic of Korea)Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Member from Asia-Pacific States) 

Mr. Sabelo GUMEDZE (South Africa)Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (Member from African States) 

Mr. David KAYE (United States of America)Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Mr. Dainius PURAS (Lithuania)Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health 

Ms. Maria Grazia GIAMMARINARO (Italy)Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children 

At the time of appointment, several delegations including Brazil (on behalf of GRULAC), India and Ethiopia (on behalf of the African Group) expressed concern at perceived imbalances in the geographic, gender and professional representation of mandate-holders. The President of the Council responded by saying that he understood the concerns, but that mandate-holders serve in their independent capacity, rather than as representatives of states.

 

Geographic Balance of Mandate-Holders (27th June 2014)

(Data Source: OHCHR Website, URG primary research and interviews)

 

Reports Submitted

20 mandate holders (15 thematic, 5 country-specific) presented reports to the Council and took part in interactive dialogues.

 

Statements under Item 5

During the session, a number of important issues facing today’s Special Procedures system were raised by states under Item 5 (on 23rd June).  A cross-regional statement delivered by Honduras on behalf of 38 states urged mandate-holders, states and the international system to do more to strengthen ‘cooperation between states and Special Procedures’ and to improve ‘system-wide follow-up and the implementation of recommendations.’ Another cross regional statement delivered by Pakistan on behalf of the Like-Minded Group of States stressed the importance of impartiality and transparency in the selection of mandate holders. India echoed concerns over the politicisation of the selection and appointment of mandate holders in a separate statement. 

 

Adoption of UPR Working Group Reports

 

The Human Rights Council adopted the reports of Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chile, Comoros, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, New Zealand, Slovakia, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Yemen, each of which was reviewed in January 2014 by the UPR Working Group. A total of 2,292 recommendations were made to these 14 countries, out of which 1,868 were accepted and 319 were noted or rejected:

 

Resolutions, Decisions and President's Statements

 

The 26th session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 34 texts: 32 resolutions and 2 decisions. This represents an increase of 21% on the number of texts adopted at the 23rd session in June 2013. Around 26% of the texts were adopted by a recorded vote.

28 (82%) of the texts considered by the Human Rights Council were thematic in nature while only 6 (18%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of these, 3 addressed human rights violations (under agenda item 4) and 3 sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10). 

19 of the adopted texts (56%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring appropriations of $6,416,500 not already covered by the UN regular budget.

 

RESOLUTIONS

Agenda Item

Resolution

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

3

Human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

Norway, Russian Federation, Ghana, Argentina

$1,380,200

(over 3 years)

Consensus

3

International albinism awareness day

Somalia

Consensus

3

The question of the death penalty

Belgium, France, Mexico, Mongolia, Switzerland, Benin, Costa Rica, Moldova

$95,400

(per biennium)

Vote (29-10-8)

3

Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities

Mexico, New Zealand

$730,400

(per year)

Consensus

3

Extreme poverty and human rights

France, Romania, Albania, Senegal, Peru, Morocco, Belgium, Chile, Philippines

0

Consensus

3

Protection of Roma

Russian Federation

Consensus

3

Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

Colombia, Mexico

Consensus

3

Mandate of the independent expert on human rights and international solidarity

Cuba

£630,000

Vote (33-14-0)

3

Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

Hungary, Thailand, Maldives, Mexico, Botswana, Australia

0

Consensus

3

Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children

Germany, Philippines

0

Consensus

3

Protection of the family

Egypt, Russian Federation, Qatar, Namibia, El Salvador, China, Tunisia, Côte d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone

$71,400

Vote (26-14-6)

3

Elaboration of an international legally-binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights

Ecuador, South Africa

$360,400 (per year)

Vote (20-14-13)

3

Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Sweden

0

Consensus

3

The promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet

Sweden, Nigeria, USA, Turkey, Brazil, Tunisia

Consensus

3

Human rights and arbitrary deprivation of nationality

Russian Federation

Consensus

3

Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women: Violence against women as a barrier to women’s political and economic empowerment

Canada

Consensus

3

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

Ecuador, Peru

Vote (44-0-3)

3

The right to education: Follow-up to Human Rights Council resolution 8/4

Portugal

0

Consensus

3

The right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health: sport and healthy lifestyles as contributing factors

Paraguay, Romania, Brazil, South Africa

$111,600 (over two years)

Consensus

3

Promotion of the right of migrants to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

Mexico

Consensus

3

Human rights of migrants: mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants

Mexico

0

Consensus

3

Human rights and climate change

Philippines, Bangladesh

$175,200

Consensus

4

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

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

Vote (32-5-9)

4

Situation of human rights in Eritrea

Somalia

$2,694,100 (over 2 years)

Consensus

4

Situation of human rights in Belarus

Greece (EU)

0

Vote (24-7-16)

5

Promotion and protection of the human rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, South Africa

$97,600

Vote (29-5-13)

5

The Social Forum

Cuba

Consensus

6

The contribution of parliaments to the work of the Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review

Morocco, Spain, Ecuador, Maldives, Italy, Romania

Consensus

9

Implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent: Draft Programme of Activities

Ethiopia (African Group)

Consensus

10

Cooperation and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights

Ukraine

Vote (23-4-19)

10

Technical and capacity-building assistance for South Sudan in the field of human rights

South Sudan

$70,200

Consensus

10 Technical cooperation and capacity-building for Côte D'Ivoire in the field of human rights Ethiopia (African Group) 0 Consensus

 

Decisions and President’s Statements

Agenda Item

Decision/President’s Statement

Sponsors

PBI?

Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

3

The negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights

Morocco, Austria, Indonesia, Poland

Consensus

5

Promotion and protection of human rights in post-disaster and post-conflict situations

Uruguay

Consensus

 

Standing Ovation for Ms Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights

At the end of the 26th Session of the Human Rights Council, following the adoption of the above texts, a ceremony was held to bid farewell to Ms. Navi Pillay and to express appreciation for her contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights. Representatives of regional groups and civil society delivered statements. A film was also played outlying the achievements of Ms. Pillay during her tenure as High Commissioner for Human Rights. After the ceremony, the African Group also hosted a reception in honour of Ms Pillay.

 

Analysis and Conclusions

 

The 2005 World Summit Outcome (General Assembly resolution 60/1), adopted by UN Heads of State and Governments, resolved to create the Human Rights Council and emphasised that, in addition to promoting universal respect for human rights, the Council ‘should address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations’ (paragraph 159). This balance, with its strong emphasis on addressing violations, was echoed in paragraphs 2 and 3 of General Assembly resolution 60/251 (April 2006) establishing the Council.

As noted above, the 26th session of the Council adopted 32 texts, 82% of which focused on thematic issues, and only 18% on addressing country-specific situations. This imbalance is clearly counter to the letter and spirit of the General Assembly resolutions 60/1 and 60/251 and means members are not fulfilling the mandate given to them by Heads of State and by the General Assembly.

Country-specific resolutions that were adopted during the session focused on Syria (32 voting in favour, 5 against and 9 abstentions), Eritrea (consensus) and Belarus (24 in favour, 7 against and 16 abstentions). Importantly, each of these resolutions was sponsored by countries from the broad geographic region of the country concerned.

The Council also responded to recent human rights developments in Ukraine by adopting a resolution, sponsored by Ukraine itself, on ‘cooperation and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights’. Despite being tabled under agenda item 10 (capacity-building and technical cooperation), which is generally considered less ‘controversial’ than item 4 (situations requiring the Council’s attention), passage of the Ukraine resolution was nonetheless not straightforward due to geopolitical sensitivities around the country’s current situation. In the end, the resolution was adopted with 24 states in favour, 4 against and 19 abstentions. Technical cooperation resolutions were also adopted (by consensus) on South Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire.

Turning to thematic resolutions, the 26th session saw considerable focus on five resolutions in particular: two dealing with ‘human rights and transnational corporations’ (one led by Norway, the Russian Federation, Ghana and Argentina, and the other by Ecuador and South Africa); one dealing with ‘the question of the death penalty’ (led by Belgium, France, Mexico, Mongolia, Switzerland, Benin, Costa Rica and Moldova); one on the ‘protection of the family’ (Egypt, Russian Federation, Qatar, Namibia, El Salvador, China, Tunisia, Côte d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone); and one on the promotion and protection of human rights on the internet (Sweden, Nigeria, USA, Turkey, Brazil and Tunisia).

The pattern of negotiation and adoption of these resolutions (including, in some cases, the tabling of last minute or ‘hostile’ amendments) revealed a continuation of the divided and politicised nature of the Human Rights Council in 2014. In the case of ‘human rights and transnational corporations’, for example, it is extremely unusual (and, in diplomatic terms, even hostile) for countries (in this case Ecuador and South Africa) to table a resolution on the same subject as, and competing with, an existing resolution tabled by the traditional sponsors. Notwithstanding understandable concerns as to the substance of the Ecuador-South Africa resolution, which decides to begin negotiations on a new legally-binding instrument on human rights and transnational corporations without any consensus on the issue among states and without any meaningful consultations with businesses themselves, it is clear that their approach was contrary to paragraph 4 of resolution 60/251, which states that the work of the Council ‘shall be guided by the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation’. This approach stands in contrast, for example, with that adopted by the main sponsors of the resolution on the ‘question of the death penalty’. Despite the difficult and sensitive nature of the subject, the sponsors engaged in an open and inclusive process of consultation ahead of adoption.

The divisions in the Council were also evident in the context of the resolution on ‘Protection of the family’ which was seen, among both protagonists and antagonists, as a reaction and counterweight to the Council’s 2011 resolution on 'Human rights, gender orientation and sexual identity'. A vote was called on the resolution, and it was eventually adopted with 26 states in favour, 14 against and 6 abstentions.

Finally, as on previous occasions, there was opposition among some countries to aspects of the resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights on the Internet. This led to China tabling amendments from the floor. These amendments were defeated, however, and the resolution was eventually adopted by consensus.

At the end of an intense three-week session, it is important for all stakeholders to reflect on whether the Council is fulfilling its mandate as set down in General Assembly resolution 60/251. This includes, inter alia, considering whether members are adequately addressing situations of human rights violations around the world and whether the Council is supporting the strengthening of the human rights mechanisms so that they can effectively follow-up on the implementation of norms, or whether it is becoming a machine for churning out ever more thematic resolutions, decisions and statements. In other words, is the Council essentially a norm-setting and norm-elaborating body, or is it moving to secure compliance with those norms and address violations of international human rights standards? At the same time, all stakeholders might reflect on their approach to the work of the Council, and in particular whether they are fulfilling their responsibility to uphold the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive international dialogue and cooperation, and in-so-doing avoid the idea, as reported in Le Temps newspaper on 16th June, that the Council is becoming a political 'theatre where states fight against each other'. 

 
 

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