41st Session of the Human Rights Council.

Report on the 41st session of the Human Rights Council

by the URG team Human Rights Council reports, Regular session

Quick summary

  • The 41st regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC41) was held from Monday 24th June to Friday 12th July 2019.
  • On 24th June, H.E. Ms. Michelle Bachelet presented her oral update on the global human rights situation.
  • A number of dignitaries delivered statements during the session, including inter alia, H.E. Mr. Rumen Radev, President of Bulgaria; H.E. Ms. Hilda C. Heine, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands; H.E. Ms. Katrin Jakobsdottir, Prime Minister of Iceland; H.E. Mr. Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia; H.E. Mr. Aksel Jakobsen, Deputy Minister for Development of Norway; and H.E. Ms. Yoka Brandt, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.
  • Four panel discussions were held during the session.
  • More than 74 reports under the Council’s various agenda items were considered.
  • More than 198 side events were held by States and/or NGOs.
  • The outcomes of the UPR Working Group reviews of the following 14 countries were adopted: New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Viet Nam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, North Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia, Eritrea, Cyprus, Dominican and Republic, Cambodia
  • 26 texts (all resolutions) were considered and adopted by the Council. This represents a significant increase (30% drop) compared to last June (HRC38) when 20 texts were adopted.
  • Of these 26 resolutions, 16 were adopted by consensus (62%), and 10 by a recorded vote (38%).
  • Several new initiatives were tabled and adopted during this session of the Council, including ‘New and emerging digital technologies and human rights’, ‘Equal Pay’ and ‘Promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines’.
  • 20 written amendments were put forward by States during the consideration of resolutions – all were rejected by a vote.
  • 17 of the texts adopted by the Council (65%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and 11 required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. The total costs of the newly mandated activities amounted to a total of $3’632’100 (at the moment of writing).
  • No new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed during this session of the Council.

Briefing by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

On the 24th of June 2019, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, inaugurated the 41st session of the Human Rights Council by recalling that ‘the eyes of the world are on the Council, as it prepares to delve into many important human rights situations and themes’, including: women’s enjoyment of human rights in the world of work; old age and climate change; targeted surveillance and the private surveillance industry; and mental health. Her oral update on the situation of human rights around the globe began by highlighting the situation of suspected ISIL fighters and their families, including foreign alleged fighters, detained in Syria and Iraq. She urged States, notably States of origin, to ensure accountability for crimes perpetrated, while maintaining due process guarantees – two indispensable elements to protect societies from future radicalisation and violence.

The High Commissioner underlined her concerns at increasing violence and incitement to violence on the basis of religion. She condemned instances of such violence and urged vigilance in the face of the vicious and mutually reinforcing cycle of hatred and violent extremism. Despite the urgency of the matter, she also urged caution to avoid excessively broad restrictions on free speech and referred to the new UN Strategy and Action Plan on Hate Speech for guidance. She then turned to the importance of developing universal social protection measures rooted in human rights, which – aside from being a fundamental right – she considers to be indispensable for conflict prevention and sustainable development. Recalling that human rights violations are fueled by impunity, which in turn is founded on obfuscation of the truth, she commended Panama and Mexico for steps taken towards truth-telling, and cautioned Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador against pursuing their amnesty legislations.

The High Commissioner also drew the Council’s attention to a number of country-specific situations, including, inter alia, Cameroon, Sudan, Myanmar and the Philippines. In the case of the former, she commended the government’s openness and willingness to cooperate while noting areas of concern, whereas she lamented lack of access and cooperation on the part of the others, even going as far as to welcome the joint statement by Special Procedure mandate-holders calling for the Council’s attention to the situation in the Philippines. She also assured that bilateral negotiations regarding unfettered access by her Office to the Xinjiang province in China were ongoing.

While noting with appreciation the global progress achieved in regards to the abolition of the death penalty, for example in the Gambia and Benin, the High Commissioner expressed dismay at ongoing executions, particularly of child offenders, in Iran and Saudi Arabia. She also addressed the issue of migration, lamenting the trend towards criminalisation of basic human compassion for migrants, notably in Europe and the United States, and commended Portugal for its open and forward-looking migrant policy that offers easy access to social and legal assistance and encourages access to the labour market. She further underscored that in the context of a surge of conflict around Tripoli, Libya could not be considered a port of safe return.

Finally, the High Commissioner recalled that in the coming months a series of crucial meetings on measures to tackle climate change and boost sustainable development would be held, and urged the international community to acknowledge that only principled multilateralism could address these issues, amongst others. She also emphasised the need to address the challenges raised by digital technology, as it transforms almost all sectors of every economy and society, from healthcare, to education, to the workplace, to human rights activism, political participation and development, while noting that the human rights framework could be used to address these challenges. In this regard she listed areas of concern including massive and arbitrary surveillance; the safety of human rights defenders, journalists and others who rely on encryption and anonymity; maintaining freedoms of expression, association, and assembly online while addressing incitement to hatred and violence; countering the promotion of terrorism online in accordance with human rights standards; addressing the damaging bias in access to healthcare, employment and insurance introduced by artificial intelligence and big data; increasing threats of cyber attacks and cybercrime; and interference in elections through disinformation campaigns powered by digital tools. ‘Technological developments must drive progress and hope – not discrimination, repression and despair.’

Link to full statement.

High level dignitaries

In her address to the Council, H.E Ms. Hilda C. Heine, President of the Marshall Islands urged the UN to ‘not let politics cloud its judgement and [be] more engaged with local voices’, contending doing so might have avoided tragedy and the gross violation of human rights, most recently in Myanmar. Ms. Heine also underscored the dire consequences of climate change on the enjoyment of human rights, particularly for SIDS. She concluded by announcing to the Council the official opening of the Permanent Mission of the Marshall Islands in Geneva, whose primary role will be to engage with the Council. (Link to statement)

In his statement, H.E Mr. Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, celebrated the one-year anniversary of Armenia’s peaceful ‘Velvet Revolution’ and subsequent successful democratic Parliamentary election. On the subject of gender equality, Mr. Mnatsakanyan pointed to new higher quotas for women in the parliament and the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. He also warned of the ‘resolute action’ required to combat hate speech, xenophobia and intolerance, welcoming the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech recently launched by the Secretary General. Finally, Mr. Mnatsakanyan took the opportunity to announce Armenia’s candidature for one of the two Eastern European Group seats in the Council term 2020-22. (Link to Statement)

H.E Ms. Yoka Brandt, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, announced her countries candidature for the 2020-22 Council membership cycle with a call to ‘work harder to defend human rights and improve this Council’. Ms. Brandt identified three strands of potential improvement. (1) the responsibility of member States in living up to the standards of the Council’s founding resolution (2) addressing country situations according to objective criteria (3) adequate funding of the entire UN Human Rights system. In this vein, Ms. Brandt pledged the Netherlands support – political and financial – along with increased bilateral support to a broad range of civil society actors. (Link to statement)

In her statement, H.E. Ms. Deqa Yasin, Minister for Women and Human Rights Development of Somalia, acknowledged the honour of Somalia’s election to the Council for the first time since its establishment. She noted that as ‘the promotion and protection of all human rights is a shared global responsibility’ more should be done to ensure a structured and coordinated approach to human rights issues within the UN system. Representing a country emerging from prolonged conflict, Ms. Yasin urged the Council to end impunity for the violation of human rights in conflict zones. In bringing her intervention to a close, Ms. Yasin praised the important work of the Office of the High Commissioner and its country office in Somalia, noting that its strength and efficacy is essential for the Council to properly implement its mandate (Link to statement)

Panel discussions

A total of four panel discussions were held during the 41st session. The panels were on the following topics (click link for meeting summaries).

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 15 (12 female and three male) government officials at HRC41. The delegates came from Bahamas, Comoros, Dominica, Djibouti, Fiji, the Gambia, Kiribati, Madagascar, Nauru, Nepal, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Somalia, and Vanuatu. For all of them, it was the first time they had participated in a Council session.

It has become customary for the beneficiaries of the Trust Fund to deliver a joint statement during item 10. This session, however, the beneficiaries delivered in total three joint statements: one during the general debate on item 6, one during the panel discussion on  climate change and women, and one during the general debate on item 10.

Commissions of Inquiry, Fact-Finding Missions and Independent investigations

Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

During an Interactive Dialogue under item 4, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the Syrian Arabic Republic provided the Council with an oral update on the human rights situation in the country. Mr. Sergio Pinheiro, Chairperson of the CoI, was emphatic in his reminder that the violent conflict in Syria is not over. He noted the risk of total collapse of existing ceasefires, a surge of hostilities around Idlib, Hamma and Aleppo, and the launching of attacks against health facilities, schools and IDP camps.

On the topic of IDPs, Mr. Pinheiro noted that the conflict has now displaced 6.6 million people internally and a further 5.6 million have become refugees, fleeing the conflict. Those who have become IDPs are especially vulnerable, especially children, as camps are stretched to breaking point and there is a lack of protection and law enforcement mechanisms. He noted that some children risk being left without a nationality and separated from their parents, as a result of the policies of Member States seeking to repatriate children or to strip parents of their nationality.

Linked to this is the refusal of some states to repatriate those who are seen to have familial links to ISIL. Mr Pinheiro reminded states that the ICCPR and UN Human Rights Committee both uphold that there are ‘very few, if any’ circumstances under which an individual may be reasonably prevented from entering their country.

In the Commission’s closing remarks, they noted that they had reported on, inter alia, ‘the starvation of civilians and deaths of children in sieges; the disappearance of tens of thousands; the prolonged incommunicado detention of suspected ISIL fighters [and] the lack of humanitarian assistance to millions of displaced, leading to preventable deaths’. Yet while ‘we uphold humanitarian law and human rights in fine speeches’ no one is fully adhering to them in the context of the Syrian conflict and thus, the interests of the Syrian people have been ignored for over seven years of conflict. There will be an updated written report presented by the Commission during HRC42 and 43.

Syria, speaking as the concerned country, distanced itself from the content of the briefing and instead focussed on the issue of sanctions against the country, as well as the lack of real dialogue that the current set-up of the Interactive Dialogue provides. It also lamented the ‘biased’ approach of the CoI, which in Syria’s opinion does not look into the violations and abuses perpetrated by other States or State-backed organisations within Syria.

Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

The Commission of Inquiry on Burundu, composed of Mr. Doudou Diène (Chair), Ms. Lucy Asuagbor and Ms. Françoise Hampson presented an oral update on their work to the Council during an Interactive Dialogue under item 4. Mr. Diène began by noting that, just as in previous years, all efforts towards dialogue with the Burundian government have been met with non-compliance, but that the Commission will maintain a policy of open engagement towards them should they wish to contribute information to the forthcoming report.

Commission member, Ms. Lucy Asuagbor, noted that despite Burundi not being in a situation of armed conflict, its population has been subject to numerous and frequent human rights violations abuses for the past four years. Serious violations, including summary executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, ill-treatment and sexual violence are ongoing, especially targeting opposition political figures and Burundians who have returned under the Tripartite Voluntary Repatriation Programme. Further, Ms. Asuagbor underlined the impunity these crimes seem to enjoy. Given that most of these abuses occur in rural areas and at the communal level, she contended, government authorities are able to avoid accountability by simply denying victims’ accounts and protecting the perpetrators; often Imbonerakure, police and intelligence officers, as well as local authorities.

Ms. Françoise Hampson began her intervention to the Council by focusing on the heavy censorship, restrictions and often suspensions that independent media in Burundi are facing – especially in light of the new press law, which has had the practical effect to equating criticising the government with ‘attempting to destabilise the State’. Illustrating the shrinking space for civil society actors, Ms. Hampson noted that PARCEM ‘one of the last independent NGOs in Burundi, had recently been indefinitely suspended for ‘tarnishing the country’s image’, by presenting analysis to the World Bank.

The Commission concluded that it remained deeply concerned with the human rights situation in Burundi and as a result would be examining specific risk factors tied to the 2020 election, which may aggravate the situation. The findings of this analysis will be presented in the Commission’s final report to the Council at HRC42 in September.

Burundi, speaking as the concerned State, remarked that the Commission had strayed far from its true expertise and mandate and questioned how the Council could endorse such a report. It denounced the report as an act of sabotage.

Universal Periodic Review

Adoption of the UPR Working Group outcome reports

The Council adopted the UPR outcome reports of New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Viet Nam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, North Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia, Eritrea, Cyprus, Dominican and Republic, Cambodia. A total of 3001 recommendations were made to these 14 States, out of which 2453 were accepted in whole, 20 were partially accepted, and 528 were noted or rejected.

Special Procedures

Interactive Dialogues

21 Special Procedures (17 thematic, four country-specific) presented their annual reports at HRC41 (all of which are available here). During 13 interactive dialogues (eight ‘clustered’ and five individual), 130 States delivered 605 statements (either individually or jointly), of which 22% were from the African Group, 25% from APG, 11% from EEG, 15% from GRULAC, 27% from WEOG, and 1% from other countries (namely the State of Palestine, the Holy See and the Sovereign Order of Malta).

Appointment of new mandate-holders

No new mandate-holders were appointed during this session of the Human Rights Council.

As of today, there are 56 Special Procedures mandates (43 thematic, 13 country-specific), and 82 mandate-holders (58% male, 42% female).

General debate under item 10

During the general debate under item 10 on technical assistance and capacity-building, Fiji delivered a joint statement on behalf of former beneficiaries of the LDCs/SIDs Trust Fund, in which it thanked supporters for the opportunities the Trust Fund had offered them. This was echoed by a joint statement delivered by the Gambia on behalf of new beneficiaries, in which the significant role the Trust Fund played in increasing their engagement in the Council’s work was highlighted alongside the positive effect this participation would have in “transferring knowledge and skills across [their] national institutions”. Barbados further underlined how participation in the session, enabled by the Fund, “both brought the UN home and helped to bridge the NY-Geneva divide”.

Brazil on behalf of the core group for the technical cooperation and capacity building resolution delivered a statement exhorting all stakeholders “to make better use of existing platforms and consider formal and informal platforms where States can report on their domestic implementation and identify their capacity building needs”. It then went on to recognise the crucial role UN country teams play in reinforcing synergies between human rights and the SDGs, before concluding that “technical cooperation and capacity building, when pursued with the full cooperation and consent of the State, is one of the most important tools that contributes to the Council’s prevention mandate”.

Also during the item 10 general debate, India delivered a statement in which it emphasised that for technical cooperation to be effective, regular monitoring and evaluation of results achieved is critical, and in which it took note of the OHCHR’s efforts to improve its Performance Monitoring System. In its statement, Thailand also noted the importance of treaty body reporting, “essential not only as an obligation, but also as a process for sharing knowledge and experiences, for cultivating trust and a culture of cross-sectoral cooperation, and for continuing the momentum of turning human rights commitments into actions”.

UNTV item 10 (part 1) (part 2)


The 41st session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 26 texts (all resolutions). This is six resolutions more than the number of texts (20) adopted at the 38th session in June 2018 or an increase of 30%.

Around 38% of tabled resolutions at HRC41 were adopted by a recorded vote. This is an increase of 8% compared with the previous June session.

20 (77%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, while six (23%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of the latter texts, two addressed human rights violations under agenda item 2, two under item 4, and two sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10).

17 of the texts adopted by the Council (65%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring appropriations of $3’632’100 not previously covered by the UN regular budget.

Resolutions listed in order of L numbers

Agenda item Resolution Sponsors PBI? Extra-Budgetary Appropriations



Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) (Non-Aligned Movement, except Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Peru) $28’200

Adopted by vote


Promotion of the right to peace Cuba

Adopted by vote


Human rights and international solidarity Cuba

Adopted by vote


The Social Forum Cuba

Adopted without a vote


Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to violence against women and girls in the world of work Canada $0

Adopted without a vote


Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls Colombia, Mexico $0

Adopted without a vote


The human rights of migrants Mexico

Adopted without a vote


Consequences of child, early and forced marriage Argentina, Canada, Honduras, Italy, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Zambia $399’300

Adopted without a vote


Cooperation with and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights Ukraine

Adopted by vote


Mandate of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay $0

Adopted by vote


The negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, Poland, United Kingdom $71’200

Adopted without a vote


The situation of human rights in Belarus Finland (European Union) $0

Adopted by vote


Access to medicines and vaccines in the context of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand $164’100

Adopted without a vote


New and emerging digital technologies and human rights Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Morocco, Republic of Korea, Singapore $50’600

Adopted without a vote


Situation of human rights in Eritrea Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands $0

Adopted by vote


Renouvellement du mandat de l’équipe d’experts internationaux sur le Kasai Angola (African Group) $2’170’800

Adopted without a vote


The contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights China $133’300

Adopted by vote


The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Czechia, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico $0

Adopted without a vote


Youth and human rights Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Tunisia $74’600

Adopted without a vote


Promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines Iceland $203’100

Adopted by vote


Equal pay Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Panama, South Africa, Switzerland

Adopted without a vote


Impact of arms transfers on human rights Ecuador, Peru

Adopted without a vote


Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons Austria, Honduras, Uganda $106’500

Adopted without a vote


Human rights and climate change Bangladesh, Philippines, Viet Nam $230’400

Adopted without a vote


The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom

Adopted by vote


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

Adopted without a vote

Analysis and conclusions

One of the most notable trends at the Human Rights Council since its establishment in 2006, has been that ‘societal issues’ such gender and the role of women in society, sexual and reproductive rights, and LGBTI rights, have increasingly become a key ‘lightening rod’ for inter-State disagreement and division. In line with this trend, June sessions of the Council – wherein reports, debates and resolutions on these ‘societal issues’ tend to be concentrated – have become more contested. (In the early years of the Council’s life, June sessions were seen as the ‘lightest’ or ‘easiest’ sessions).

This broad trend continued during HRC41. Four important resolutions focused on different ‘societal issues’ were tabled during the session. These focused on: violence against women and girls; child, early and forced marriage (CEFM); discrimination against women and girls; and sexual orientation and gender identify (SOGI). Between them, the four texts attracted 20 ‘amendments from the floor’ (i.e. ‘hostile amendments’) during voting at HRC41, (three on the text on violence against women and girls, three on the text on discrimination against women and girls, four on the text on CEFM, and ten on the resolution on SOGI). Notwithstanding, ultimately all these amendments were rejected by the Council – most by very wide margins.

In the end, and despite the rejection of all ‘hostile amendments,’ three of the four resolutions (all except the SOGI resolution) were adopted by consensus. This is a positive signal that recent efforts by States to work cross-regionally to ‘contain’ or perhaps even find common ground on sensitive but important human rights issues, continue to generate results.

Regarding SOGI, the final resolution on renewing the ‘mandate of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,’ led by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay, was subjected to ten ‘hostile amendments,’ all from Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), except Albania and Tunisia. Unlike in 2016, however, when the mandate was first created (through resolution 32/2), on this occasion none of the amendments passed. All were roundly rejected by the Council. In a further sign of progress since 2016, the final (unamended) resolution was adopted by the Council with 27 in favour, 12 against and 7 abstentions. Those numbers compare favourably to voting at the time of the adoption of resolution 32/3: 23 in favour, 18 against and 6 abstentions. Moreover, countries from all regions voted in favour of the mandate renewal, including: Bahamas, Fiji, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia. Looking at the African Group, which in 2016 had lined up heavily against the resolution, this time only four African members of the Council voted against, while three voted in favour, five abstained, and one did not vote. These numbers suggest a remarkable shift in attitudes at the Council in just three years, and reflect gains for SOGI rights on the African continent in recent years.

A last word on the SOGI resolution is that, shockingly, Hungary, an EU member State, when asked to support the renewal of a mandate designed to protect members of the LGBTI community against violence and discrimination, chose not to do so, (Hungary abstained).

Another draft resolution that drew considerable attention at HRC41 was China’s text on ‘the contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights.’ This is the second time China has tabled a resolution on this subject – the previous occasion was in June 2017. On that occasion, resolution 35/21 was adopted by a vote, with 30 in favour, 13 against and 3 abstentions. This time 33 States voted in favour, again 13 against (basically Western States) and no abstentions. The adopted text calls for the organisation of an inter-sessional meeting, before June 2021, on the contribution of development to the enjoyment of human rights.

Although – as was the case two years ago – China did take on board some proposals from Western States during the open informal negotiations, in the end the text still appeared to suggest to many States and NGOs, that development is an essential precondition for the enjoyment of human rights (i.e. development first, human rights second). For example, although China did include paragraphs (in the preamble and in the operative part of the text) recognising that ‘development and the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing,’ on each occasion these paragraphs were preceded by paragraphs reaffirming, for example, ‘the significant contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights by all,’ or that ‘development is the basis for the improvement of living standards and the welfare of the population of each State, and hence contributes to the enjoyment of all human rights.’

China’s 2018 resolution on ‘promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights’ (resolution 37/23) was more warmly received by the Council – only one State (the US) voted against the text.

Two other thematic resolutions of note at HRC41 were a new text on ‘equal pay’ by Iceland together with a cross-regional core group; and a text on ‘new and emerging digital technologies and human rights’ by the Republic of Korea, Denmark and a cross-regional core group.[1]

With the latter resolution, the Council acknowledged (importantly) that new technologies may have negative implications for human rights, but can also have profoundly positive consequences; and requested its Advisory Committee to prepare a report on the ‘possible impacts, opportunities and challenges of new and emerging digital technologies with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights, including mapping of relevant existing initiatives by the UN,’ and to offer recommendations for future action by the Council and its mechanisms.

With its resolution on ‘equal pay,’ the Council expressed its concern that pay inequality persists around the world, called on States to redouble their efforts to address inequalities, and – in an innovative step for the Council – ‘recommended that the GA declare an international equal pay day to celebrate the efforts of all stakeholders to achieve equal pay for work of equal value and urge further action for the goal of equal pay for work of equal value for all.’ When presenting the text, Iceland made clear that this would be a one-off resolution, (again, a welcome innovation).

A final welcome development regarding thematic issues and resolutions at HRC41 was that, for the first time since the issue’s introduction at HRC24 (2013), HRC41 saw a resolution on ‘the impact of arms transfers on human rights’ (tabled by Ecuador and Peru) adopted by consensus.

Addressing situations of violations

Perhaps the most notable new resolution at HRC41 was tabled by Iceland under agenda item 2, and focused on ‘the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.’ The resolution, which was eventually adopted by a (relatively close) vote, with 18 in favour, 14 against and 15 abstentions, urged the Philippines to take all necessary measures to prevent further extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the context of the on-going ‘war and drugs,’ and to carry out impartial investigations and hold perpetrators accountable for previous violations. The resolution also requested the High Commissioner to ‘prepare a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines, and to present it to the Council at its 44th session, to be followed by an enhanced interactive dialogue.’ The resolution is noteworthy because the Philippines has long been an active and influential player at the Council, and was considered somewhat ‘untouchable.’ Yet, faced with the scale of alleged violations in the country, the Council has acted as per its mandate under paragraph 3 of GA resolution 60/251. That it is has been able to do so is down, principally, to the leadership of Iceland, and to the principled voting positions of other Small States such as the Bahamas and Fiji. By contrast, Hungary voted against the resolution.

HRC41 also saw an interactive dialogue between the High Commissioner and the Council on the situation in Venezuela, following her visit to the country in June. The High Commissioner’s report was well received by members of the Lima Group (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru), and by the EU. Both welcomed recent cooperation between OHCHR and the Government of Venezuela, but also called for accountability for the serious violations that have taken place, as such the report and the visit were seen as an initial step in a longer process. Venezuela and its allies firmly rejected the report and its findings.

In a surprise move during the last week of HRC41, 22 Western States[3] sent a joint letter to the President of the Council regarding alleged serious human rights violations, especially targeting Uighurs and other minorities, in China’s Xinjiang region[4]. The letter sought to remind China of its obligations under international human rights law and as a member of the Council, and called on the country to allow visits by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. The letter also asked ‘the High Commissioner to keep the Human Rights Council regularly informed.’

This is the first time since the Council’s establishment that such a joint latter, raising allegations of violations and calling for States and the High Commissioner to take certain steps, has been sent to the Council President. It is not clear what legal status it has – if any; or what – if anything – the President and/or the High Commissioner should do in order to comply with the letter’s requests. Perhaps it does not matter. The aim of the letter was to increase awareness and strengthen the international spotlight on the situation in Xinjiang – in the context of a situation where no Western or other State has been willing to table a resolution on the situation or even organise a joint statement at the Council.

The effectiveness of this strategy will depend on the letter’s impact on China. Certainly in terms of generating international media interest and showing that the Council is ‘doing something’ about the situation in Xinjiang, the letter has had an effect. It also provoked a response from China in the shape of a counter letter signed by 37 States from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, which sought to place the situation in Xinjiang in the context of counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation.

However, perhaps the most important litmus test of the letter’s utility will be whether it makes China more or less likely to accept visits to Xinjiang by the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur (considering that China had accepted both visits – albeit it within specific parameters – before the letter).

Efficiency stalls?

HRC41 saw a significant increase (to 26 – a 30% increase) in the number of adopted resolutions compared to the last June session (HRC38). This brings to an end a period (covering HRC38, 39 and 40) during which the Council has been able to secure significant reductions in the number of adopted texts – with important benefits for the body and its effectiveness.

Notwithstanding, according to URG’s analysis of tabling patterns over the past 12 years, the number of resolutions adopted at HRC41 (26) remains consistent with the overall pattern of rationalisation seen over the past two years, as more and more sponsors biennialise or triennialise resolutions. Indeed, URG’s recent projection of resolution numbers for 2019 and 2020 predicted that HRC41 would see the adoption of 31 texts (five more than was actually the case). It is also important to recall that the June 2018 session of the Council saw an all-time low number of adopted texts for a June session.

[1] Republic of Korea, Denmark, Austria, Brazil, Morocco and Singapore.

[2] https://www.universal-rights.org/blog/is-the-human-rights-council-finally-becoming-efficient/

[3] Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, UK.

[4] https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/supporting_resources/190708_joint_statement_xinjiang.pdf

Photo credits

Feature photo: A Voting during 41st Session of the Human Rights Council. 12 July 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré

Michelle Bachelet, United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights, present oral update on the activities of his Office and global human rights developments during 41st Session of the Human Rights Council. 24 June 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré

Hilda C. Heine President of Marshall Islands during 41st Session of the Human Rights Council. 24 June 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré

Zohrab Mnatsakanyan Minister for Foreign Affairs of Armenia during 41st Session of the Human Rights Council. 24 June 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré

Deqa Yasin, Minister for Women and Human Rights Development of Somalia during 41st Session of the Human Rights Council. 24 June 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré

Yoka Brandt, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands during 41st Session of the Human Rights Council. 24 June 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré

Cecilia Jimenez, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons during 41st Session of the Human Rights Council. 1 July. 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré

Victor Madrigal-Borloz Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) present she report on his missions to Georgia and Mozambique during 41st Session of the Human Rights Council. 24 June 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré

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