Report on the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council

by the URG team URG Human Rights Council Reports

The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, makes his inaugural address at the opening of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council.

Quick Summary

  • The 27th regular session of the Human Rights Council was held from 8th – 26th September 2014.
  • At the opening of the session the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid bin Ra’ad, gave his inaugural address, the text of which can be found here.
  • 10 panel discussions were held during the session.
  • 72 reports under the various items on the Council’s agenda were considered.
  • The outcomes of the UPR working groups of the following 14 countries were adopted: Albania, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Norway, Portugal, Qatar.
  • More than 185 side events were held by states and/or NGOs during the session.
  • 1 new Special Procedure mandate was created: Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.
  • 36 texts were considered by the Council: 32 resolutions and 4 President’s statements. Of these, 28 were adopted by consensus (78%), and 8 by a recorded vote (22%).
  • 19 of the texts adopted by the Council (53%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and 15 required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. The total costs of the newly mandated activities amounted to $3,965,900.
  • With the conclusion of the 27th session, the number of texts adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2014 totalled 112 – 42 in March, 34 in June and 36 in September. This represents a 5% increase over the number of texts adopted in 2013 (107), and is the largest number adopted in a single year in the Council’s history.

 

Panel Discussions

A total of 10 panel discussions were held during the 27th session, an unprecedented number for a September session of the Council – for comparison, the 24th session in September 2013 had only 3.

The panels were on the following topics (click for OHCHR meeting summaries):

When the 27th session’s 10 panel discussions are added to the 5 from the 26th session and the 8 from the 25th session, the total is the highest number for a single year in the Council’s history, by a considerable margin:

With the exception of perennial events, such as the annual full-day discussion on the integration of a gender perspective, convening a panel discussion at the Council almost always requires additional resources not already included in the UN’s biannual Programme Budget. The total cost of the 27th session’s 9 non-recurrent panel discussions was $545,800.

Despite the considerable expense incurred in the organisation of the session’s 10 panel discussions, participation by Council member states was mixed. No member state delivered a statement (on its own behalf) at all 10 of the panel discussions, and only 8 member states (17%) made statements at more than half of them. 8 member states made no statement at any of the panels (although statements were made on behalf of groups of which they were a part).

It is also notable that 9 of the 10 panels were on general thematic issues, and 8 of them under a single agenda item – namely, item 3.

Panel discussions have proven to be the most popular of the new working methods introduced by the Council’s Institution Building Package (resolution 5/1). However, the growth in their use has placed an increasingly heavy strain on the Council, both in terms of their cost and in terms of the time demands they place on the Council’s agenda and programme of work. Given the disproportionate emphasis of recent panels on thematic issues under agenda item 3, combined with the seemingly limited interest/capacity of member states in actively participating in all of them, it may be time for states to reflect on the value added of these discussions, and whether the issues in question could be better pursued through other avenues.

 

Special Procedures

Interactive Dialogues

15 mandate holders (11 thematic, 4 country-specific) presented annual reports to the Council (all of which are available here). Due to the increasingly large number of thematic mandates, most thematic Special Procedures presented their reports in ‘clusters’ of two.

After presenting their report (during this session each mandate-holder took on average 14 minutes to present what is in effect the result of a year‘s work), Special Procedures participate in so-called ‘interactive dialogues’ on the report’s content. During the interactive dialogue, each Council member is afforded 3 minutes to speak (in the case of clustered dialogues they have to share this time between the two mandates), and observer states and NGOs 2 minutes. Mandate-holders will then respond to questions and comments (at this session they spent, on average, only 5 minutes doing so) and, at the end, offer concluding remarks (on average 9 minutes each). In other words, in common with other sessions of the Council, interactive dialogues during the 27th session were ‘neither interactive nor really a dialogue’ (see URG-Brookings Institution, Special Procedures: Determinants of Influence, p.31).

The 11 interactive dialogues of the 27th session saw 116 states delivering statements (in their individual capacity), of which 28% were from the African Group, 23% from Asia Pacific Group, 20% from WEOG, 15% from EEG and 14% from GRULAC. Only one member state of the Council – Morocco – engaged (on an individual basis) in all 11 of the interactive dialogues, though the EU also engaged (as a group) during each discussion. On the other hand, 39 members of the Council participated in less than half of the interactive dialogues, and 5 did not participate in any (although again these figures should be tempered by the knowledge that, for example, African members will often speak through the African Group and European members through the EU).

There was also significant variation between interactive dialogues. For example, while 54 delegations made statements during the clustered dialogue with the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by older persons and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, only 18 delegations spoke during the clustered dialogue with the Working Group on the use of mercenaries and the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. There were similar differences for country-specific mandates. For example, 35 delegations spoke during the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Sudan, while only 16 spoke during the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia.

Appointment of New Mandate Holders

On 26th September, the President announced that the appointment of new mandate holders would be postponed until October, until which time the outgoing mandate holders are expected to continue in their roles. This was, he said, a result of the fact that his ‘efforts to achieve consensus’ on the list of mandate holders ‘unfortunately did not bear the expected fruits.’

This is the second time this year that the Council has been unable to move to appoint new mandate-holders – in March (during the 25th session), the appointment of 17 mandate-holders was similarly postponed, eventually occurring in May. On this occasion (i.e. at the 27th session), the postponement was due to state disagreements over the suitability of the candidate recommended by the Consultative Group for the mandate on the situation of human rights in Sudan. The appointment of all 7 new mandate-holders is now expected to take place in October.

Statements under Item 5

In a statement delivered under Item 5, India repeated concerns over the lack of geographic and cultural diversity among Special Procedures mandate holders, and expressed concern over the ‘increasing politicisation and controversies surrounding the selection and appointment’ of experts. India stressed that ‘lobbying by states,’ on Special Procedures appointments ‘should be avoided.’ This echoed concerns raised during the 25th and 26th sessions (see URG Insights article Health of the Special Procedure system moves to the centre of the Council’s agenda).

New Mandate

On 26th September, a new Special Procedures mandate was established on ‘the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights’. NAM-sponsored resolutions on ‘unilateral coercive measures’ have been passed annually at the Council since its inception in 2006 (see URG Resolutions Portal). In recent years, they have requested OHCHR to submit a thematic report and to hold two workshops (in 2012 and 2013). The decision this session to establish a new mandate was opposed vehemently by the EU and the US, the latter suggesting the new mandate would ‘divert attention and limited resources’ away from the Council’s ‘important work.’ In response, Cuba (one of the sponsors) identified a ‘desperate attempt’ on the part of the opponents of the new mandate ‘to avoid having their behaviour called into question.’ The draft resolution was adopted by a vote (31 for, 14 against, 2 abstentions).

 

Adoption of UPR Working Group Reports

The Human Rights Council (‘the Council’) adopted the reports of Albania, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Norway, Portugal, Qatar, each of which was reviewed between 28th April – 9th May 2014 by the UPR Working Group. A total of 2,688 recommendations were made to these 14 countries, out of which 2,075 were accepted in whole or in part and 613 were noted or rejected.

Resolutions, Decisions and President’s Statements

The 27th session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 36 texts: 32 resolutions and 4 President’s statements. This represents an decrease of 10% from the number of texts adopted at the 24th session in September 2013. However, when combined with the 34 texts adoped at the 26th session and 42 texts adopted at the 25th session, the total number of texts for 2014 is 112, a 5% increase from the number adopted in 2013 and the largest number for a single year in the Council’s history.

Around 22% of the texts were adopted by a recorded vote.

31 (86%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, while only 5 (14%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of these, 1 addressed human rights violations (under agenda item 4) and 4 sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10).

6 of the texts adopted by the Council (3 resolutions and 3 President’s statements) were wholly new, in that the Council had never adopted a resolution under the same title in a previous session. These were the resolutions on realising the right to education of every girl, the right of the child to engage in play and recreational activities, and equal participation in political and public affairs, and the President’s statements on the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the rights of migrants at sea, and the ebola epidemic.

19 of the adopted texts (53%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring appropriations of $3,965,900 not previously covered by the UN regular budget.

 

RESOLUTIONS

Agenda Item

Resolution

Submitted by

PBI?

(New) Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

3

Enforced or involuntary disappearances

France, Morocco, Argentina, Japan

$183,200

Consensus

3

Human rights and unilateral coercive measures

Iran (NAM)

$809,300 (2015)

$1,618,600 (2016-17)

Vote (31-14-2)

3

The right to development

Iran (NAM)

$52,400

Vote (42-1-4)

3

Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence

Argentina, Morocco, Switzerland, Austria, Côte D’Ivoire, France, Peru, Maldives, Uruguay, Colombia

0

Consensus

3

Local government and human rights

Chile, Egypt, Romania, Republic of Korea

Consensus

3

The safety of journalists

Austria, Qatar, Tunisia, Morocco, Greece, Brazil, France

Consensus

3

Panel discussion on realising the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl

UAE

$72,700

Consensus

3

The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation

Germany, Spain

Consensus

3

Intensifying efforts and sharing good practices to effectively eliminate female genital mutilations

Ethiopia (African Group)

$58,500

Consensus

3

Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes

 

Ethiopia (African Group)

$45,200 (2015)

$43,600 (2016-17)

Consensus

3

Promoting human rights through sport and the Olympic ideal

Russia, Greece, Brazil, Morocco, Cyprus, Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Congo, Japan

Consensus

3

Mandate of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order

Cuba

0

Vote (29-14-4)

3

The use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right to self-determination

Cuba

Vote (32-14-1)

3

Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights

New Zealand, Colombia, Burkina Faso

Consensus

3

World Programme for Human Rights Education: adoption of the plan of action for the third phase

Costa Rica, Morocco, Slovenia, Philippines, Switzerland, Italy, Senegal

$50,700

Consensus

3

Human rights and indigenous peoples

Guatemala, Mexico

$36,100

Consensus

3

Preventable mortality and morbidity of children under five years of age as a human rights concern

Ireland, Austria, Botswana, Uruguay, Mongolia

$35,100 (2016)

Consensus

3

Civil society space

Ireland, Tunisia, Japan, Chile, Sierra Leone

$31,200 (2015)

$50,700 (2016)

Consensus

3

Effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights: the activities of vulture funds

Argentina, Algeria, Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Uruguay, Venezuela

Vote (33-5-9)

3

The right of the child to engage in play and recreational activities

Romania, Brazil, Norway

Consensus

3

Equal participation in political and public affairs

Czech Republic, Botswana, Indonesia, Netherlands, Peru

$108,300

Consensus

4

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

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

Vote (32-5-10)

5

Promotion of the right to peace

Cuba (CELAC)

Vote (33-9-5)

8

National institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights

Australia

Consensus

8

Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity

Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay

Vote (25-14-7)

9

Mandate of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

Ethiopia (African Group)

0

Consensus

10

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

Netherlands, Yemen

Consensus

10

Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights

Thailand, Turkey, Norway, Singapore, Indonesia, Honduras, Brazil, Morocco, Mauritius, Qatar

$71,700

Consensus

10

National policies and human rights

Romania, Italy, Algeria, Ecuador, Peru, Thailand

$102,700

Consensus

10

Technical assistance and capacity-building to further improve human rights in the Sudan

Ethiopia (African Group)

0

Consensus

10

Technical assistance and capacity-building to the Central African Republic in the field of human rights

Ethiopia (African Group)

$505,900

Consensus

10

Technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Ethiopia (Africa Group)

$90,000

Consensus

 

Decisions and President’s Statements

Agenda Item

Decision/President’s Statement

Submitted by

PBI?

(New) Extra-Budgetary Appropriations

Adoption

1

25th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

 

Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and Thailand

Consensus

1

Reports of the Advisory Committee

HRC President

Consensus

3

Protection of the human rights of migrants at sea

HRC President

Consensus

3

Ebola epidemic

HRC President

Consensus

 

Operationalisation of the Trust Fund for Participation of SIDS/LDCs in the Work of the Human Rights Council

This Session saw the participation of a number of countries that do not have a representation in Geneva, such as Suriname and Tuvalu, for the first time ever in the work of the Human Rights Council. This was made possible through the operation of the SIDS/LDCs trust fund created by the consensual resolution 19/26 on 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 adopted in 2012. The fund also allowed the participation of capital delegates from Barbados, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Maldives and Madagascar in the 27th Session of the Council. Such an initiative contributes in enhancing the inclusiveness of the work of the Council and increasing the capacity of these countries to engage in the work of the Council. The Universal Rights Group is pleased to work with the Office of the High Commissioner in the operationalization of this program.

 

Analysis and Conclusions

It was gratifying to see that the statement of the new High Commissioner for Human Rights focused on gross violations of human rights in several parts of the world and the need of address the plight of the victims of human rights, including the situation of illegal migrants. The outcome of the Council has seen the adoption of important country-specific resolutions, such as Yemen and Sudan, as well as thematic resolutions on civil society space and on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The adoption process of the latter two thematic resolutions saw, once again, a polarization of the Council. The rejection of the concept of sexual orientation by many OIC countries presents serious challenges for its eventual acceptance in the UN multilateral process. Despite the mere procedural content of the resolution (which basically requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to update the existing report A/HRC/19/41, with a view to sharing good practices on ways to combat violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation), a large number of OIC countries voted against the resolution. African States voted against or abstained, with the exception of South Africa, which voted in favour of the resolution. It is hoped that when this issue is revisited by the Council, the leadership of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who comes from an OIC country, will help to defuse the tension and emotion prevailing on this issue so that cases of violations of human rights based on sexual orientation are addressed by the Council.

The resolution on civil society space, an issue which normally should have a consensual approach, was also subject to much polarization, through the introduction of ten amendments by a group of countries. Of note was the attempt to delete references to previously agreed Council resolutions 24/24 on cooperation with the United Nations its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights and 25/38 of 28 March 2014 on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests. These amendments were subject to a vote, and eventually rejected by the majority members of the Council. The resolution as a whole was accepted by consensus. This approach, of bringing so many amendments on an important issue such as civil society space without taking the time to explain to the rest of the UN membership the merit of these amendments, both from a legal and human rights perspective, has proved detrimental to the proponents in terms of their negotiation strategy and their influence in the Council.

On the downside, with regard to the outcome of the 27th Session of the Council, has been the proliferation of thematic panel discussions and thematic resolutions, which might be best addressed in other fora. This situation is becoming more of a challenge to the workload of the Council. As demonstrated by the figures above, member States of the Council should reflect on this issue in view of the cost and level of participation in panels. It is also noted that, during this Session, the level of participation in the only country-specific panel – human rights situation on South Sudan – was low. Only 21 UN Member States, and Ethiopia on behalf of the African Group, delivered a statement. Among the 21 States, only 11 were Members of the  Council. It is worrying to note that only 23% of the Council’s members participated in a panel where actual gross and systematic violations in a country are occurring.

In light of the rising number of thematic Special Procedures reports being considered at each session, it has been suggested that the working methods of the Council need to be revisited to enable these reports to be properly discussed. During this Session, as highlighted above, due to time constraints, mandate holders took, on average, 14 minutes to introduce their report, 5 minutes to respond to questions and comments and 9 minutes to offer concluding remarks . This raises questions whether these dialogues are really interactive and whether due attention is being given to the important issues raised by the Mandate holders in their report.

The attempt by some states to streamline the right to development in many of the resolutions dealing with economic rights met some resistance from the proponents of these resolutions. Further, though the right to development is a universally agreed human right, Members of the Council could not agree on a consensus resolution on this issue.

As stated in an article by the Centre of Economic and Social Rights on the proposed new Sustainable Development Goals, ‘many wealthy countries have resisted more stringent and measurable commitments under the SDGs for the negative impacts of their laws and policies abroad, for example those regarding agricultural subsidies, access to essential medicines, illicit financial flows, debt restructuring, and financial regulation, which too often erode the ability of other countries to achieve sustainable development. Efforts by G77 states to invoke the right to development – as a holistic framework for addressing the extraterritorial responsibilities of rich countries – have met with resistance. The proposed SDGs do little to hold powerful economies and companies to account for their role in contributing to the structural inequities in the global economic and financial system that have continued to fuel poverty, inequality and environmental degradation since the MDGs were adopted. 

In turn, many developing country governments have used this double standard to object to the inclusion of governance and gender-related human rights commitments. They fear a repeat of the skewed accountability of the MDGs, where compliance with human rights (particularly civil and political freedoms) became a tool of aid conditionality in the hands of donor governments and international financial institutions.
The selective stance of donor countries on human rights has served as a diplomatic escape-hatch for some authoritarian governments to question altogether the relevance of human rights and democratic freedoms to the core agenda of socio-economic development. Human rights have thus become a lightning rod in the geo-political wrangling around the next global development goals. It is for this reason that the draft current SDGs contain very few explicit references to human rights, and are conspicuously silent on their role as a universal normative framework for sustainable development. Even the OWG Co-Chairs have admitted that they deliberately avoided explicit human rights language in the SDG draft for fear that this would be considered to be too “controversial.”’

Such a situation questions the merits of bringing economic rights for consideration to the Council, and whether it is the best forum to discuss these issues without first addressing the justiciability of these rights in national laws. It is also noted that until now only 16 UN Member States have ratified the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This is an area of work where the proponents of resolutions dealing with economic, social and cultural rights should be focusing their effort if their initiatives are to make a difference on the ground.

Despite appeals by many human rights organisations during their pre-session meetings with key countries, which are members of the Council, on the need to address current and pressing violations of human rights occurring in a selected number of countries, these calls went unheeded. Despite the failure of the Council Members to address these current violations of human rights in the plenary, the issues were addressed in a number of important side events organised by NGOs. Such a situation leads oneself to question whether the Council is becoming more and more a forum for discussions of thematic issues, which on many occasions are best addressed in other fora, and whether its Members are deliberately avoiding harder issues of violations of human rights currently happening in the world. One instance of this situation is a resolution initiated by a group of States on the right of children to engage in recreational activities. Such an initiative seems outrageous, or even disrespectful, to children who are currently victims of violations, as is the case of the situation of abducted school children in North Eastern Nigeria, which the Council has failed to address till now.

The success of the Council is, and always will be, based on the quality of its membership. This issue was discussed at length during the negotiations of resolution 60/251. Members of the Council have a responsibility to ensure the Council remains a credible body, whose main responsibility is to address gross and systematic violations of human rights anywhere in the world. The proliferation of thematic resolutions, many of which are best addressed in other fora, is becoming an increasing distraction, and a challenge for the Council to meet the mandate set by Heads of States and Governments in UNGA resolution 60/1. On way to address this lacunae would be for Member States to reflect on the need to introduce hybrid resolutions, i.e. thematic resolutions addressing specific violations of human rights in a specific region. Such an approach would at least provide a voice and an avenue to the victims of human rights violations to make their plight at best addressed or at worst heard by the international community. This is not currently the case at the Council, as it was in the day of the Commission on Human Rights.

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