Report on the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council

by the URG team Human Rights Council reports, Regular session

Quick summary

  • The 53rd regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC53) was held from Monday 19 June to Friday 14 July 2023.
  • On 11 and 12 July 2023, an urgent debate was convened to ‘discuss the alarming rise in premeditated and public acts of religious hatred as manifested by recurrent desecration of the Holy Quran in some European and other countries.’ The voting on draft  resolution 53/L.23 on the ‘countering religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence’ took place on Wednesday 12 July when it was adopted by vote (28-12-7). The resolution requests the convening of an expert panel discussion, at the Council’s 54th session, to identify drivers and manifestations of religious hatred, and outline existing gaps that impede the prevention and prosecution of these acts, as well as propose normative, legal, policy and administrative deterrence, both offline and online, to counter such acts (OP4). The resolution also requests the High Commissioner to present a report on the panel discussion and provide an oral update on the drivers and root causes of religious hatred, highlighting gaps in existing national frameworks (OP5 and OP6).
  • On 19 June, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Volker Türk, opened HRC53 by presenting his annual report on the global state of human rights, followed by an interactive dialogue. During the session, the High Commissioner also provided oral updates (each followed by an interactive dialogue) on the situation of human rights in Ukraine and in Georgia. He held interactive dialogues on his reports on  the Islamic Republic of Iran; Myanmar; Sudan; the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela; on the follow-up to the resolution on Cooperation with Georgia; on the promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua.
  • Five panel discussions were held during the session.
  • More than 60 reports under the Council’s various agenda items were considered.
  • Four new Special Procedures mandate-holders were expected to be appointed; however, consultations between the Council President and the Consultative Group failed to reach consensus. Therefore, the President decided to defer the appointments to the 54th session and continue the consultations in the lead-up to the session, while extending the mandate of existing mandate-holders until the new appointments.
  • The outcome reports of the UPR Working Group of the following 13 States were adopted: Argentina, Benin, Czechia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Japan, Pakistan, Peru, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and Zambia. 
  • During HRC53, 22 interactive dialogues with Special Procedures mandate-holders, nine interactive dialogues with the High Commissioner, three enhanced interactive dialogues, and one urgent debate were held.
  • 30 texts (30 resolutions) were considered by the Council. This represents a 17% decrease in the number of adopted texts compared to one-year prior (HRC50). Of the 30 adopted resolutions, 19 were adopted by consensus (63%), and 11 by a recorded vote (37%).
  • 17 written amendments were put forward by States during the consideration of texts and resolutions: eight were rejected by vote and nine were withdrawn by the main sponsor.
  • 28 (93%) of the texts adopted by the Council had Programme Budget Implications (PBI).

High Commissioner’s briefing

On 19 June 2023, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Volker Türk, presented his annual report on the global state of human rights. He began his address by highlighting this year’s 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and underlining that ‘human rights are literally the cornerstone of the United Nations.’ While in the decades since, the ecosystem of international human rights bodies has flourished, the High Commissioner underscored that we are ‘at a crucial juncture’ amid ongoing conflicts, the Sustainable Development Agenda being off-track, and the threat of environmental harm. 

In light of these challenges, Mr. Türk focused his statement on international cooperation between member States and the international human rights bodies. He first examined State cooperation with OHCHR, and then turned to engagement with the three mechanisms.

The High Commissioner shared positive examples among the 95 States that engage with OHCHR through the accommodation of field presences. In the Latin America and Caribbean region, he highlighted Colombia’s renewal of its invitation to Special Procedures mandate holders, engagement with Treaty Bodies, and its work on peace and accountability with the field presence. He also noted Honduras’ engagement with OHCHR on development, environmental human rights defenders, and land-related conflict. Regarding Guatemala, the High Commissioner pointed to OHCHR’s presence assisting authorities on women’s rights, Indigenous Peoples and people with disabilities, and called on the country to extend that presence. Mr. Türk also drew attention to the way forward in his Office’s engagement in Peru and Bolivia, having recently concluded a two-year agreement with the former to work on environmental human rights defenders, social conflict and access to justice, while noting ongoing discussions in the latter, after the Government concluded the OHCHR technical support mission.

In the African region, the High Commissioner drew attention to Kenya, where OHCHR supports law enforcement agencies to develop human rights-compliant policing, and commended the country’s plan on Business and Human Rights as an example of progress derived from ‘cooperation across the full spectrum of human rights bodies.’ Mr. Türk also welcomed cooperation from Mauritania, resulting in progress on the issue of slavery and accountability for human rights violations by security forces. The High Commissioner then turned to Mali’s request for the withdrawal of MINUSMA, making it clear that ‘human rights must always be above the fray of politics.’ He extended his invitation for continued cooperation with transitional authorities and civil society, while also calling on the authorities to refrain from taking reprisals against UN staff, victims, and witnesses.

Turning to the Asia-Pacific region, the High Commissioner raised his concerns for the shrinking of civic space ahead of elections in Cambodia, while welcoming engagement with human rights field presences in Sri Lanka and Philippines, especially the facilitation of Special Procedures visits. Mr. Türk also shared examples of support from his Office in regards to the impact of climate change in Fiji and Tuvalu, and concerning human rights defenders and torture prevention in Mongolia. He further noted the contributions of OHCHR to democratic transitions in the Maldives and Timor Leste, as well as its ongoing support to Nepal for its transitional justice legislation. The High Commissioner expressed his deep concern for the dismantling of human rights, especially of women and girls, in Afghanistan, but he also welcomed the opening of engagement with the Special Rapporteur. Referring to Iran, he highlighted the very limited implementation of States’ obligations under international human rights law and the lack of cooperation with the Special Procedures country mandate. 

In terms of the Eastern European region, the High Commissioner welcomed the Government of Ukraine’s cooperation with the Council’s Independent Commission of Inquiry and the Human Rights Monitoring Mission. He urged the Russian Federation to cooperate with the mechanisms on issues including the shrinking of civic space, attacks against human rights defenders and political critics, and torture. Mr. Türk called on the country to engage with the Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, including by granting it access to visit detainees, prisoners of war, Ukrainian children, and people with disabilities. He also encouraged the de facto authorities in the South Caucasus region to provide access to OHCHR for monitoring and human rights assessment, and encouraged both Armenia and Azerbaijan to step up their efforts towards peace.

United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Volker Türk, addresses the Human Rights Council at the opening of the 53rd session, 19 June 2023. Photo by United States Mission Geneva on Flickr

The High Commissioner then addressed the status of State cooperation with the three human rights mechanisms. He stressed that the UPR is a ‘legitimate matter of international concern’ and not an interference in national sovereignty, and urged States to step up the implementation of recommendations. Calling for increased cooperation with the Special Procedures, Mr. Türk condemned the online and offline attacks against mandate-holders, and highlighted specific challenges faced by country-specific mandates, including the lack of engagement from respective authorities with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua, and the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. He welcomed the engagement from the Government with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and the cooperation of Ethiopia with OHCHR. In contrast, he regretted the self-isolation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, noting Israel’s lack of cooperation with the Independent Commission of Inquiry as well as the denial of visas for human rights monitoring officers. 

Regarding Treaty Bodies, the High Commissioner raised his concerns about the ‘alarmingly high’ backlog in State reporting and reviews, stressing the under-reporting to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. He shared some positive examples of State cooperation, recognising China for its cooperation over the past year, Senegal for being up to date with all reporting requirements, Belize for its progress in reporting, and Samoa for the ratification of core human rights treaties and the functioning of its follow-up mechanism. In contrast, he noted the failure to cooperate from Australia and Nicaragua. Mr. Türk also called for a strengthening of the treaty body system, especially in light of the General Assembly resolution in December 2024, to make it more ‘sustainable, cost-effective and fit-for-purpose,’ and encouraged States to ensure a gender balance in their nomination of experts.

The High Commissioner ended his statement reflecting on the growth of OHCHR since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration thirty years ago, while noting the importance of scaling up engagement, including through the establishment of field presences in China and India; increased work in humanitarian situations; and through the integration of human rights guidance into early warning and early action, planning and preparedness, and operational responses to crisis. To do so, he called on greater support –budgetary and political– in order to develop a ‘ healthy, well-resourced human rights ecosystem.’ 

The official transcript of Mr. Türk’s speech can be found here.

Panel discussions and other thematic meetings

A total of five panel discussions were held during the 53rd session. The panels were focused on the following topics:

  1. Panel discussion on the measures necessary to find durable solutions to the Rohingya crisis and to end all forms of human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, 21 June 2023 (concept note video)
  • Human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities continue and have worsened after the military coup and their vulnerabilities aggravated by an increase in restrictions on conduct of humanitarian operations and lack of access to humanitarian assistance. Any durable solutions to this crisis must be anchored in respect for human rights of the Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar and a holistic approach.
  • While the most durable, long-term and permanent solution would be repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar, it was noted by panelists and other speakers that conditions for voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return do not exist currently and repatriation in line with international standards impossible unless security and human rights of the Rohingya guaranteed. They highlighted the need to ensure these conditions are in place before undertaking repatriation which includes addressing short-term and long-term needs of the Rohingya and that any such returns must be voluntary based on an assessment of voluntariness and on free and informed consent.
  • In the short-term, the panelists and other speakers called for immediate cessation of violence and highlighted the international obligation to ensure full and safe humanitarian access and conditions for delivery of humanitarian services to Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons and all other persons in need. They also called upon the international community to step up efforts to meet urgent humanitarian needs through sustained funding for humanitarian activities and supporting the Rohingya in building their lives to reduce dependency on humanitarian aid. Recognizing the increasing pressures faced by refugees and host states in camps along with severe shortfalls in funding for international initiatives, they also called upon states to improve conditions in these refugee camps. There were also calls for imposition of a global arms embargo and targeted sanctions with proper enforcement in case of non-compliance and breaches to cut down weapons and revenue to the military junta.
  • According to the panelists and other speakers, in the long-term any durable solution requires overhaul and reform of the political system in Myanmar at all levels by inter alia establishing a democratic representative political system, repealing all discriminatory laws and policies, undertaking inclusive national dialogue aimed at national reconciliation and implementing respect for human rights and dignity of all without discrimination. They underscored the need to address the root causes of the crisis i.e. ending systemic and institutionalized discrimination and persecution of the Rohingya including but not limited to repealing citizenship laws and ensuring full recognition of the citizenship and indigenous ethnic identity/status of the Rohingya along with protection of their human rights and dignity. 
  • Panelists and other speakers stressed on the need to ensure accountability for human rights violations and atrocities committed against the Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar and close the impunity gap by holding perpetrators responsible and ensuring access to justice for victims including through commitments to a transitional justice framework such as a truth and reconciliation commission to ensure non-recurrence. They called upon the international community to support ongoing accountability mechanisms at international, regional and national levels including the ongoing case at the ICJ and investigation by the ICC prosecutor and urged the Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC and establish a tribunal to look into the full scope of crimes committed in Myanmar. They also stressed the key role played by ASEAN and other states in the region calling for development of a robust and comprehensive regional response and protection framework. Economic compensation or financial reparation by Myanmar was also proposed as a measure to ensure justice and accountability.

2-3. Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women

  • Morning panel: Gender-based violence against women and girls in public and political life, 30 June 2023 (concept​ n​ote video)
    • Gender-based violence is a major barrier to participation of women and girls in public and political life and is directly linked to their de facto exclusion from decision making. It is particularly heightened in contexts of armed conflicts.
    • Gender-based violence against women and girls in public and political life includes physical and psychological harm in the form of killings, rapes, harassment, threats and attacks including hate speech on traditional media outlets, social media and other online platforms. It is rooted in structural inequalities and discrimination, harmful gender-based stereotypes and negative social norms permeating all aspects of the lives of women and girls and is used as a means to exercise control, perpetuate subordination, silence voices and political aspirations of women and girls.
    • Gender-based violence affects women human rights defenders and activists, women’s organisations, women journalists and media workers, women running for or holding public office and other decision making positions and is often used as reprisal or backlash for uncovering corruption, asserting their human rights including sexual and reproductive health rights and needs relating to sexual orientation and gender identity amongst others.
    • Panelists and other speakers highlighted the disproportionate impact of gender-based violence on women from marginalised communities due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, language etc. who as a result face greater barriers to participation in public and political life. These multiple and intersecting identities compound and create unique vulnerabilities and experiences of oppression resulting in heightened violence and barriers to participation in public and political life. This leads to underrepresentation in decision-making spaces leading to a limited understanding of their specific needs making it difficult to address or cater to them and prevent a cycle of exclusion.
    • Gender-based violence against women and girls in public and political life undermines their dignity, human rights and liberty, deprives them of equal economic and other opportunities, leads to withdrawal from public and political life and exclusion from decision-making systems which in turn undermines fundamental tenets of democracy. Ensuring full and effective participation of women and girls in public and political life and the resources to do so meaningfully is central to gender equality which in turn is necessary for the achievement of sustainable development.
    • Panelists and other speakers stressed the need for transformative systemic change through concrete measures and a global proactive and zero tolerance approach towards women’s rights and obligations under the CEDAW, primarily through strong and inclusive legal and policy frameworks with a focus on prevention as key. This includes quotes, women empowerment through awareness raising campaigns and capacity buildings, establishing effective reporting mechanisms and ensuring accountability.  This also extends to providing social protection in the form of economic incentive measures, inclusive education systems and access to quality education particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields such as STEM, bridging digital divide through skill development. Many also stressed upon need for multi-stakeholder engagement and cooperation to overcome working in silos including with parliaments, civil societies, religious leaders, trade unions and professional associations.

      Ms. Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, and Ms. Cristina Solano Díaz, Representative of the National Political Assembly of Indigenous Women of Mexico during the annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women

  • Afternoon panel:  Social protection: women’s participation and leadership, 30 June 2023 (concept note video)
    • Social protection and equal access to it is a human right and participation of women and girls in decision making on social protection is key to its realisation. Social protection is not a luxury but an essential tool to end poverty, to help those in poverty meet their needs and realise human rights and to promote social inclusion and is necessary for the achievement of sustainable development goals. Our Common Agenda calls for universal social protection and full equal and active participation of women and girls.
    • Often social protection schemes and conditionalities associated with them reinforce harmful gender based stereotypes, negative social norms and structural discrimination and inequalities, and this highlights the need to address root causes. The lack of access to social protection has a disproportionate impact on women and girls from marginalised communities due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination as well as children leading to heightened vulnerability and greater barriers. For eg. migrants in irregular situations or undocumented migrants.
    • Lack of access to social protection influenced by many factors such as disproportionate burden of domestic and care work on women, loss of income and other formal employment opportunities such as promotion, penalties and restrictive benefits due to maternal and childcare responsibilities and in turn being forced into unregulated and informal employment with limited access to social protection, exclusion of social protection at old age due to mandatory early retirement ages and exclusion from equal access to pension. There is also a gap between legal coverage and effective coverage of social protection and is tied to poverty and lack of information about the right to social protection.
    • There is also a need for gender transformative/responsive social protection schemes to make them more inclusive and tailored according to the specific needs and rights of women and girls which requires participation of women and girls in decision making for social protection policies and programmes. This is paramount for gender equality and ensuring equal access and realisation of the right to social protection and other human rights. There is a need to address underrepresentation in social protection decision making and involve participation of women and girls in the planning, design, implementation and assessment of social protection schemes including from marginalised communities.
    • This requires reimagining of a new social contract for social protection based on equal rights and opportunities for all and includes measures to remove barriers to participation by women and girls such as ensuring integration into labor markets and providing equal employment and other economic opportunities through demographic dividend strategies based on education, skill development, vocational training and preventing teen pregnancies and child marriages; deliberate  policy investments and frameworks; targeted initiatives for empowerment, capacity building and awareness-raising; creation of safe and enabling spaces for dialogue at various levels and involving multi-stakeholder engagement; promoting responsibility sharing in domestic and care work on an equal basis through relevant policy investments and frameworks such as ensuring accessibility and availability of child care and maternal healthcare facilities and resources and provisions for comprehensive paternal and maternal benefits.
  1. Annual panel discussion on the adverse impacts of climate change on human rights. Theme: Adverse impact of climate change on the full realisation of the right to food, 3 July 2023 (concept notevideo)
  • Climate change seriously threatens the realisation of the right to food and impacts its four components-accessibility, availability, adequacy and sustainability-and in turn threatens the full and effective enjoyment of other human rights. Climate change and related extreme weather events and disasters are increasing pressure on existing food production, damaging traditional food security systems and productivity of food sources, and is a leading cause of unprecedented rise in global hunger, malnutrition and acute food insecurity, affecting all aspects of food systems. These challenges are exacerbated by armed conflicts and instability.
  • Climate change has a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Peoples, small scale farmers and low income households particularly in developing countries and those directly dependent on agriculture and subsistence farming, herding, fishing and hunting whose livelihoods, traditional knowledge and ways of life are threatened by climate change. Plus, certain groups face heightened barriers due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination including children, women and girls, persons belonging to minority groups, persons with disabilities etc.
  •  Low income countries and certain regions are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Majority of climate change related disasters have hit countries where the right to food already violated and social protection systems are not equipped to adequately respond to climate change induced hunger and malnutrition.
  • Panelists and other speakers highlighted the need for urgent action, emphasizing on a human rights based approach to climate action and ensuring realization of the right to food by addressing root causes and placing rights-holders at the centre of climate action at all levels including their involvement in planning, development, implementation and evaluation. This includes social protection floors or measures especially for vulnerable groups and communities; empowerment and capacity building through awareness raising campaigns; anticipatory action as a tool to tackle climate change impacts and investments in early warning systems; international solidarity and cooperation to close the gaps in funding as needs outpace funds; end subsidies to fossil fuel industries and phase out fossil fuels, shun greenwashing, hold governments and business accountable, increased climate action and financing by international development and financial institutions; just transitions to green economies internationally and nationally; transformation or transition to sustainable food systems and promotion of agroecological approaches; land security for Indigenous Peoples and protection of their traditional knowledge and ways of life and its use balanced with scientific knowledge in climate action.
  1. Panel discussion on the role of digital, media and information literacy in the promotion and enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, 3 July 2023 (concept note video)
  • Digital, media and information literacy (DMIL) is essential for the realisation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression by all without discrimination and it promotes digital inclusion and tackles the digital divide. DMIL ensures access to information and essential public services, facilitates active and effective public participation and inclusion, provides equal opportunities for socio-economic development, empowers and builds capacities of rights-holders to better realise their rights including freedom of expression.
  • DMIL though not a ‘silver bullet’ is an essential tool to equip rights-holders with the knowledge and understanding of rapidly advancing digital technologies and to develop their skills to critically engage with such technologies in their use which includes developing their abilities to access such technologies, assess and evaluate their credibility and quality of information and sources. According to panelists, DMIL consists of a substantive component i.e. education and training of freedom of expression principles and an understanding of the risks and opportunities related to use of such digital technologies and a technical component simplifying understandings of such technologies and their dynamics and interactions.
  • The panel discussion also highlighted the need to address challenges such as disinformation/misinformation; use of internet shutdowns; lack of access to the internet and other digital infrastructure; violations of the freedom of expression by undue state restrictions on content through censorship, banning and criminalization; surveillance and infringements of privacy. It also highlighted the specific targeting of human rights defenders, media workers and journalists and political opposition amongst others.
  • Panelists and other speakers outlined recommendations to ensure DMIL including education and training, empowerment through capacity-building and awareness-raising, facilitating digital inclusion through connectivity and infrastructure. While noting that the digital divide runs across multiple and intersecting axes of discrimination, the panel discussion also stressed on paying particular attention to vulnerable groups and communities such as women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities, persons in rural areas etc.
  • It also highlighted the need for multi-stakeholder initiatives and efforts including platforms for dialogue to share good practices and develop further guidance and approaches to DMIL at the international level as well as need for investment in DMIL particularly in developing countries and the global South. Member states must promote DMIL within legal and policy frameworks centred on human rights based approaches, remove barriers to accessibility and availability of DMIL resources such as high costs of internet, integration of DMIL within formal education systems at all levels, strengthen and build institutional capacity and establish accountability mechanisms for violation of rights. Businesses and technology companies must invest in research and development to devise DMIL, adopt DMIL themselves to promote user understanding while ensuring transparency, promote DMIL as a part of their commitment to the UNGP.

Commissions of Inquiry, Fact-Finding Missions and Independent investigations

Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

On 5 July 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 situation of human rights in the country.

Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro first noted the dire situation of those living in earthquake-devastated regions, with inhabitants being subjected to air and ground strikes, and lacking access to humanitarian aid. Mr. Pinheiro stated that it is unacceptable to leave humanitarian access entirely under the control of the parties to the conflict, who have blocked aid in the past, underscoring the necessity of heeding the Secretary General’s call for a 12 month extension of aid through border crossings with Türkiye. 

Mr. Pinheiro continued by highlighting that more than 51,000 people, mostly women and children, continue to be interned in appalling conditions in the north-east of the country. He stated that the Commission welcomes the repatriations and releases of Syrians that have occurred since the beginning of the year, but that the pace of said voluntary repatriations and releases needs to increase, given camp conditions and unlawfulness of the detentions. 

According to Mr. Pinheiro, Da’esh continues to pose a threat to civilians in Syria, and that civilians have also recently been killed in suspected Syrian, Russian, Israeli, Jordanian, Turkish and US strikes. Mr. Pinheiro reiterated the insistence of the Commission that all parties must take all feasible precautions to minimise harm to civilians, and all indiscriminate and direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects (particularly objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population) must cease immediately. 

Mr. Pinheiro noted the need to ensure voluntary and safe return of refugees, as very small numbers of the seven million Syrians who fled abroad are returning, mostly due to the security situation and risks related to extortion, arrest and imprisonment, conscription into armed service, and lack of livelihood and work opportunities.

Next, the Chair highlighted the fact that grave crimes are still being committed in Syria, including arbitrary arrests, torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, and deaths in detention. He further expressed the Commission’s concerns regarding the increased recruitment of child soldiers and amplified discrimination against women and girls. Mr. Pinheiro called on the Syrian government and all other parties to cease torture and ill-treatment, including sexual and gender-based violence, in all places of detention. 

Finally, Mr. Pinheiro welcomed the initiation of proceedings at the International Court of Justice concerning the Syrian State’s failure to adhere to its obligations under the Convention Against Torture, and welcomed the General Assembly’s resolution establishing an international institution for Syria’s missing. 

The Syrian Arab Republic, as the country concerned, noted that the Commission is clearly biassed against the government, and that the government does not recognise the Commission’s mandate. The Commission continues to ignore and justify policies of countries that have occupied its territory. The representative stated that the Syrian Arab Republic was committed to liberate its territories from terrorism and restore security, stability and the rule of law throughout the country. Syria reaffirmed its firm commitment to providing humanitarian assistance to all in need and to continue efforts for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of all Syrian refugees.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. Credits: UN web TV

Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel

On 20 June 2023, the International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, composed of Ms. Navi Pillay (Chair), Mr. Miloon Kothari and Mr. Chris Sidoti, presented their report on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Israel, which was followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs. 

Ms. Navi Pillay, in her opening remarks, stated that the Commission’s most recent report focused on restrictions and attacks on and harassment of civil society. Ms. Pillay remarked that the report found that civil society actors’ (both Palestinian and Israeli) rights to freedom of association, expression and opinion, peaceful assembly, in addition to a number of economic, social and cultural rights were being violated. While the Commission found that rights were being violated by the three responsible authorities (Government of Israel, Government of the State of Palestine, and the de facto authorities in Gaza), the majority of violations were committed by Israeli authorities. 

Ms. Pillay detailed how the Israeli government has used a strategy of delegitimising and silencing both Palestinian and Israeli civil society actors to restrict civic space, quell dissent, disrupt democratic institutions and practices, and strengthen authoritarianism. The Commission found that the Israeli authorities used a number of different methods to deter and interfere with civil society actors, including wide use of deportations and revoking of residency and identity documents, deprivation of liberty (including through arbitrary arrests and detention, and administrative detention), travel bans and restrictions of movement. Palestinian Authority and Gaza authorities also used tactics such as detention, torture, and ill treatment. 

According to Ms. Pillay, legislation (such as counter-terrorism legislation) is being used in an increasing manner against all responsible authorities against civil society actors. Further, both Palestinian and Israeli women human rights defenders have been targeted by non-State actors, as well as all duty bearers.

The State of Palestine, speaking as a country concerned, deplored the joint statement made against the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry by some States. It highlighted how the State of Palestine has been illegally occupied for 56 years, and that there have been ongoing incursions by occupation forces. Further, the occupying power has refused to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. In 2022, Israel classified six Palestinian institutions as terrorist organisations then closed them, and additionally killed 52 journalists without any accountability for those responsible. The State of Palestine closed by stating that it is investigating the violations highlighted in the Commission’s report.

Israel, as a country concerned, was not present. 

Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran

On 5 July 2023, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran, composed of Sara Hossain (Chair), Shaheen Sardar Ali, and, Viviana Kristicevic, 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.

Ms. Sara Hossain began by stating that Jina Mahsa’s family’s right to truth and justice remains unfulfilled, with concerns that domestic investigations have fallen short of international human rights standards. While protests no longer dominate the daily news, allegations of human rights violations continue to be heard and received.

Ms. Hossain continued that while protests no longer dominate the daily news, allegations of human rights violations continue to be heard and received. The government of Iran announced that 22,000 people have been pardoned in connection with the protests, which suggests that many more have been detained or charged. Further, harsh punishments continue to be meted out to those involved in the protests, and at least 26 individuals have reportedly been sentenced to death, and dozens more have been charged with or face offences carrying the death penalty. Seven men have already been executed following hasty proceedings marred by serious allegations of fair trial violations.

Next, Ms. Hossain noted the FFM’s concern about  a series of alleged poisonings of schools in 28 provinces, which have been affecting directly and indirectly, the rights of thousands of girls, including their right to access education. The FFM will investigate reports that the poisonings may have been orchestrated as a means to punish girls for, or to deter them from involvement in the protests. 

Ms. Hossain expressed concern regarding the reported use of facial recognition technologies to identify and arrest women and girls failing to comply with fundamentally discriminatory forced veiling laws. Further, two draft bills under consideration with a view to increasing punishments for women and girls found in breach of veiling provision would represent yet another setback for the growing number of women demanding their right to equality and freedom of expression.

The Chair then highlighted the Mission’s mandate, which is to: thoroughly and independently investigate alleged human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran related to the protests that started on 16 September 2022, especially with respect to women and children; establish the facts and circumstances surrounding such alleged violations; and to collect, consolidate and analyse evidence of such violations and to preserve it, including in view of cooperation in any legal proceedings.

Finally, Ms. Hossain noted that the FFM recently met with the Iranian President’s recently appointed ‘Special Committee to investigate the 2022 unrests’ and will look into its work in light of the criteria under international human rights law and standards applicable to domestic investigations, including promptness, independence, impartiality, transparency, thoroughness and effectiveness. Ms. Hossain called on the government of Iran to fully comply with the mandate. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran, as the country concerned, argued that the protests were not peaceful assemblies but riots aided by foreign countries. The representative argued that nearly all those charged related to the protests have been pardoned. Iran questioned the genuine concern for women and children of the countries that convened the special session on Iran due to the situation of women and girls in their own counties. He highlighted that a committee has been established by the President of Iran with the objective of identifying and addressing all material and bodily harm suffered by citizens and law enforcement personnel, receiving and investigating the complaints of the injured and investigating the claims about the violation of people’s rights during the incidents. Finally, the representative of Iran commented that the establishment of a so-called fact-finding mission was a politically motivated and unacceptable move.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran. Credits: UN web TV

Adoption of the UPR Working Group outcome reports

The Council adopted the UPR outcome reports of Argentina, Benin, Czechia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Japan, Pakistan, Peru, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and Zambia. A total of 3,517 recommendations were made to these 13 States, out of which 2,715 were supported, 773 were noted, and 29 were partially supported/noted. 

Many states under review in this cycle while reaffirming their commitment to the Universal Periodic Review process, highlighted the importance of the UPR mechanism and its contributions. The Republic of Korea stated that the UPR process presented a valuable opportunity to closely examine and monitor human rights situations and reaffirmed its unwavering support for it. Pakistan stated that it accorded high importance to the UPR process as a productive mechanism that enables states to meet their human rights obligations through constructive engagement and in a largely non-politicised manner. Switzerland stated that the UPR process strengthened the national debate on human rights and was thus a high point for human rights in the country.

Other states also in review in the cycle elaborated upon the extent of their constructive engagement with the UPR process and reaffirmed their commitment towards action and implementation vis-à-vis the recommendations. Guatemala stated that for the first time coordination was organised at the highest political level for the review, analysis and discussion of the recommendations. Sri Lanka, facing innumerable challenges in light of its recent crisis, stated that it was keen to use this opportunity as a catalyst for a realistic assessment of challenges, to learn from the past and to build better and stronger in moving forward. Czechia also stated that the UPR was a central occasion to further advance its promotion and protection of human rights on ground and saw it as an impetus to improving the situation of human rights and would take the recommendations as tools for implementation. Gabon stated that the constructive spirit and engagement displayed through the review had strengthened its views of the UPR mechanism, which is underpinned by cooperation. Ghana stated that the review had provided the opportunity to have an overview of the human rights situation in the country and determine where priorities lie.

Special Procedures

Interactive Dialogues

22 mandate holders (18 thematic, 4 country-specific) presented annual reports or oral updates to HRC53 (the written reports are available here). During 37 interactive dialogues, 154 States delivered statements (either individually or jointly), of which 24% were from the African Group, 26% from APG, 13% from EEG, 14% from GRULAC, 21% from WEOG, and 1% from other countries (namely the State of Palestine and the Sovereign Order of Malta).

Appointment of new mandate-holders

Four new mandate-holders were expected to be appointed during the session: the including the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Special Rapporteur on minority issues; and Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

However, on the final day of the session, the Council President announced that his consultations with the Consultative Group failed to reach consensus, and therefore, he decided to defer the appointments to the 54th session, while continuing the consultations in the lead-up to the session. The mandates of the existing mandate-holders will therefore be extended until the appointment of their successors.

Trust Fund for SIDS/LDCs

The Trust Fund for the participation of LDCs and SIDS in the work of the Council (set up in 2012) funded the participation of 13 (eight female and five male) government officials at HRC53, from Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Gambia (Republic of The), Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Suriname, Tanzania (United Republic of), and Togo. A small proportion of delegates (23%) come from States that are currently members of the Council. 


The 53rd session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 30 resolutions. This is 6 texts less than the number of texts (36) adopted at the 50th session in 2022 or a decrease of 17%.

Approximately 63% of tabled resolutions at HRC53 were adopted without a vote. 

23 (77%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, seven (23%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of the latter texts, one addresses human rights situations under item 1, three address human rights violations under agenda item 2, and two under agenda item 4 ‘Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention,’ while one sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10).

In total, all resolutions adopted at HRC53 will result in eleven mandate extensions.

28 (93%) of the texts adopted by the Council had Programme Budget Implications (PBI).

Resolutions listed in order of L numbers

Agenda item Title Sponsors PBI EBA Means of adoption 
1 Countering religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation) 146,800 Adopted by vote (28-12-7)
1 Cooperation with and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights Ukraine Adopted by vote (28-16-3)
2 Situation of human rights in Eritrea Spain (on behalf of the European Union) 441,300 Adopted by vote (18-7-21)
2 Implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 31/36 (Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan) Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation) 42,000 Adopted by vote (31-13-3)
2 Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation) 452,800 Adopted without a vote
3 Business and human rights Argentina 493,700 Adopted without a vote
3 Mandate of the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity Cuba 1,294 200 Adopted by a vote (31-13-3)
3 Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Sweden, Finland 777,000 Adopted without a vote
3 Human rights and climate change Philippines, Bangladesh, Viet Nam 210,400 Adopted without a vote
3 The right to education Portugal 777,000 Adopted without a vote
3 Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy (Hansen’s disease) and their family members Japan, Brazil, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Portugal 1,883 700 Adopted without a vote
3 Trafficking in persons, especially women and children Philippines, Argentina, Germany, Jordan 837,800 Adopted without a vote
3 Extreme poverty and human rights France, Albania, Belgium, Chile, Morocco, Peru, Philippines, Romania 1,294 200 Adopted without a vote
3 Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights Azerbaijan (on behalf of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries) 924,900 Adopted by vote (33-13-1)
3 Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Hungary, Australia, Botswana, Maldives, Mexico, Thailand 777,000 Adopted without a vote
3 Civil society space Ireland, Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone, Tunisia 72,000 Adopted without a vote
3 Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities New Zealand, Mexico 2,434 800 Adopted without a vote
3 Impact of arms transfers on human rights Ecuador, Peru 226,600 Adopted without a vote
3 The right to a nationality: equality in nationality rights in law and in practice United States of America, Australia, Colombia, Mexico, Slovakia 2,073,900 Adopted by a vote (23-17-7)
3 The negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights Morocco, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Poland, United Kingdom Information unavailable Adopted without a vote
3 Child, early and forced marriage: ending and preventing forced marriage Netherlands (Kingdom of the), Argentina, Canada, Honduras, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, Uruguay 525,200 Adopted without a vote
3 Human rights of migrants: prevention and accountability for human rights violations in transit Mexico 137,600 Adopted without a vote
3 ​​Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls in criminal justice detention Canada 147,200 Adopted without a vote
3 The contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights China 10,000 Adopted by vote


3 New and emerging digital technologies and human rights Republic of Korea, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Morocco, Singapore 4,000 Adopted without a vote
4 Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands (Kingdom of the), Qatar, Turkey, United States of America Adopted by a vote (24-18-4)nounc
4 Situation of human rights in Belarus Spain (on behalf of the European Union) 427,300 Adopted by a vote (20-21-6)
5 The Social Forum Cuba 41,300 Adopted without  vote
9 The incompatibility between democracy and racism Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay 134,400 Adopted without  vote
10 Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights in Colombia to implement the recommendations of the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition Colombia 4,410,800 Adopted by vote (28-0-19)

Analysis and Conclusion

Much attention, during the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC53), was focused on an attempt (ultimately successful) by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to bring its old initiative on ‘defamation of religions’ back to the Council (the initiative had been discontinued in 2010), as well as continued disagreements between the West and Latin America on the one side, and the OIC and large parts of the African Group on the other, over issues of gender and women’s rights. However, at a less visible / more technical level, HRC53 saw important progress in driving forward the ‘international human rights implementation agenda,’ with an intersessional meeting on ‘national mechanisms on implementation, reporting and follow-up’ (NMIRFs), and an enhanced interactive dialogue on ‘item 10 reform’ – i.e., how the Council might better respond to State requests for technical assistance and capacity-building support.  

Urgent debate on ‘Quran burnings’

On 11 July, at the request of the OIC, the Council held an urgent debate to ‘discuss the alarming rise in premeditated and public acts of religious hatred as manifested by recurrent desecration of the Holy Quran in some European and other countries.’ The debate laid bare deep divisions in the Council between Western States emphasising the need for a measured response to such hateful acts – a response that safeguards freedom of opinion and expression, and members of the OIC arguing that such acts constitute incitement to religious hatred, discrimination and violence and should therefore be prohibited in law.

Following the debate, Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, tabled draft resolution A/HRC/53/L.23 on countering religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. Despite Western efforts to push back against the return of this ‘defamation of religions’ approach, the OIC comfortably won the vote on the draft, which was adopted by 28 in favour, 12 against, and 7 abstentions.

Speaking after the adoption of the resolution, URG Executive Director Marc Limon said:

“The UN human rights system was set up in the 1940s in large part to address issues of religious intolerance and hatred (in the aftermath of the Holocaust). From that time until 2011, States were unable to agree upon a practical, consensual response to religious intolerance, and regularly fell back into arguments on so-called ‘defamation of religion,’ especially following the rise in Islamophobia after 9/11.

The Commission’s and then the Council’s resolutions on defamation of religions were a dead end – it proved impossible for OIC and Western States to agree on the boundary between legitimate free speech and incitement to religious hatred, discrimination, and violence (hate speech).

That is why the adoption of resolution 16/18 and its action plan in 2011 was so significant. It represented the first time OIC (Pakistan, Turkey, the OIC Secretary-General) and Western (UK, US) could come together and agree on a workable, practical, holistic, and consensual approach to addressing religious hatred. Moreover, it was backed up by a process of implementation – the Istanbul Process.

Since then, eight meetings of the Istanbul Process have been held. All of them – especially the most recent – have gathered evidence that the 16/18 action plan is being implemented, through new policies, laws, and projects around the world. This is backed up by URG’s own research which shows that resolution 16/18 is having a real and measurable impact on human rights, especially the rights of members of religious minorities.

While OIC anger at repeated incidents of religious intolerance and hatred (Islamophobia) in the West is understandable (as are the concerns of Western States about attacks against Christian minorities in Muslim majority States, as well as rising anti-Semitism around the world), it is therefore sad and disappointing that the Council has fallen back into old arguments over ‘defamation of religion.’ While the OIC scored a significant diplomatic victory with the vote result in the Council, it is a pyrrhic victory.

What is now important is for OIC, Western, and other States (religious intolerance is a global problem) to now come together and recommit themselves to resolution 16/18, its action plan, and the Istanbul Process. That must include, as an urgent matter, more Western States (as well as States from regions, such as Latin America, that are yet to host a gathering of the Istanbul Process) coming forward with offers to host future Istanbul Process meetings. It should also include a cross-regional joint statement at the 54th session of the Council, led by Pakistan, Turkey, UK, and US, recommitting States to resolution 16/18 and the Istanbul Process.”

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

HRC53 also saw an OIC attempt to amend a draft resolution (A/HRC/53/L.25/Rev.1) presented by Colombia, through which the country sought to secure enhanced technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights, in particular to help it implement the recommendations of the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence and Non-Repetition.

Normally, such country-led initiatives to secure enhanced capacity-building support are welcomed by Council members and are adopted by consensus. However, on this occasion Pakistan (on behalf of OIC, except Albania) introduced an oral amendment to the draft text, which sought to replace the language on violence against ‘persons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity’ with ‘persons in other vulnerable situations.’ When introducing the amendment, Pakistan justified this unusual and aggressive step by arguing that the concept of sexual orientation or gender identity is not universally agreed nor recognised under existing international human rights law.

Despite widespread anger in the Latin American and Western Groups at the OIC’s tactics, the amendment came close to passing (with 20 in favour, 22 against, and 4 abstentions). Council members from WEOG, the EEG and GRULAC voted against the text, while African Group and APG States (including China) voted in favour. In the end, the abstentions of India, Malawi, Benin, and Viet Nam proved crucial.

Like the debate and resolution on ‘defamation of religions,’ the OIC’s attempt to move against a draft resolution on technical assistance and capacity-building, and to defy GA resolution 60/251 which clearly states that capacity-building support shall be provided upon the request and according to the stated needs of the country concerned, points to increased polarisation and politicisation in the Council. The close nature of the vote on the amendment also points (again, consistent with the vote on the resolution on ‘defamation of religions’) to the growing power of the OIC, China, and the African Group in the Council.

The resolution was eventually adopted by 28 in favour, 0 against, and 19 abstentions.

Women’s and girl’s rights

June sessions of the Council traditionally see a large number of resolutions focused on issues of gender, and women’s and girl’s rights, and, moreover, over recent years, those texts have increasingly attracted hostile amendments from socially conservative States, especially Russia and members of the OIC. HRC53 was no different. Two resolutions in particular were the focus of attention at the 53rd session: a Canada-led text on accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls in criminal justice detention (A_HRC_53_L.5_Rev.1), and a draft resolution on child, early and forced marriage: ending and preventing forced marriage (A/HRC/53/L.3/Rev.1). The latter text was presented by a cross-regional core group made up of the Netherlands, Argentina, Canada, Honduras, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

Three amendments were introduced to the Canada-led text on violence against women and girls, one by the Russian Federation, one by Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and one by Egypt. The Russian amendment (L.33) sought to remove ‘disputed’ terms such as ‘comprehensive sexuality education,’ ‘gender-responsive’ and ‘the right to sexual and reproductive health.’ The Iraq-Saudi Arabia amendment (L.40) likewise sought to delete what they consider to be ‘controversial’ or ‘disputed’ language, such as ‘reproductive rights’ and ‘bodily autonomy,’ while Egypt’s amendment (L.43), rejected the inclusion of language on ‘comprehensive sexuality education’ arguing that this ‘highly controversial language’ would risk making children ‘sexualized’ and make it harder to ‘maintain stable families.’ Egypt’s amendment also rejected the term ‘safe abortion.’ All three amendments were called to a vote, and all were rejected (11-21-13, 13-22-11, 16-22-8).

In the end, the unamended resolution was adopted by consensus, although China disassociated itself from consensus and Pakistan disassociated itself from the paragraphs referring to SRHR and bodily autonomy.

Six amendments were tabled to the draft resolution on child, early and forced marriage:

  • One, presented by Nigeria and Saudi Arabia (L.31) seeking to add ‘with appropriate direction from their parents or legal guardians, with the best interests of the child as their basic concern,’ when referring to the provision of information on sexual and reproductive health to adolescent girls and boys and young women and men. The amendment was rejected by vote (15-21-10).
  •  One presented by Iraq (L.45) seeking to eliminate language on ‘bodily integrity, autonomy and agency of women and girls,’ ‘reproductive rights,’ ‘bodily integrity and autonomy’ (to be replaced with ‘personal integrity and autonomy’). The amendment was rejected by vote (11-23-12).
  •  Two introduced by Egypt, one (L.41) seeking to include additional language after  ‘domestic violence and intimate partner violence’ to clarify that this is only relevant ‘where [they are] addressed separately in different legal systems’ (the amendment was rejected by vote – 13-21-11), and one (L.42) with language differentiating the rights of women to have control over their sexuality and SRHR from the rights of girls (the amendment was also rejected by vote – 10-22-14).
  • Two introduced by Russia, L.32, rejected by vote (10-21-14), and L.46, which was eventually withdrawn.

In the end, the unamended resolution was adopted by consensus.

New and emerging technologies

In addition to texts on women’s rights and gender, HRC53 also saw the adoption of an important resolution on ‘New and emerging digital technologies and human rights’ (A/HRC/53/L.27/Rev.1), presented by the Republic of Korea, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Morocco, and Singapore. This ambitious text focused thematically on promoting a rights-based approach to artificial intelligence (AI), but also had several important operational elements, including a request to OHCHR to prepare a mapping report of the work and recommendations of the mechanisms in the field of new and emerging technologies, identifying gaps and challenges, and making recommendations on how to address them. The mapping report, when complete, may point to the need for a new Council mechanism on technology and human rights. A further operational paragraph requested OHCHR to convene a multi-stakeholder consultation to discuss challenges, good practices and lessons learnt in applying the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights to the activities of technology companies.

China initially tabled two amendments to the draft text, however it later withdrew them. The resolution was adopted by consensus, though China disassociated itself from consensus on the text, and India disassociated itself from one operative paragraph.

Joint statement on democracy

On 11 July, Ambassador the Permanent Representative of Georgia delivered a cross-regional statement calling on the Council to assume a leadership role in the global reinvigoration of democracy. The statement, led by a group of main sponsors from Eastern Europe (Georgia, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine), Africa (Gambia and Malawi), Asia-Pacific (Fiji), and Latin America (Costa Rica), argued that human rights and democracy are interdependent and mutually reinforcing, and thus the present ‘democratic crisis is, at heart, a human rights crisis.’ With that in mind, Ambassador Maisuradze urged ‘the universal, multilateral UN human rights system to place itself in the vanguard of the global reinvigoration of democratic society.’

The statement comes against a backdrop of democratic decline in all parts of the world. According to International IDEA’s ‘Global State of Democracy Report 2022,’ half of all democratic governments around the world are in decline, undermined by internal (e.g., the misuse of new technologies to manipulate elections, spread disinformation and foment distrust in poll results) and external (e.g., the increasing confidence of autocratic States, and the military threat to democracies posed by Russia) challenges. To-date, the Council has remained relatively disengaged from this critical geopolitical struggle, notwithstanding its major implications for the enjoyment of human rights. The joint statement at HRC53 may point to a renewed focus in the body on the critical relationship between democracy and human rights.

The international human rights implementation agenda

As so often at the Council, while the aforementioned debates and resolutions on issues of religion, hate speech/freedom of expression, gender, and women’s and girls’ rights may attract the most attention and generate the most acrimony, they are not the initiatives most likely to drive change on the ground. For that, it is necessary to look towards more technical initiatives designed to strengthen the processes and mechanisms of the human rights system, especially by strengthening the domestic implementation of international human rights obligations and commitments.

In that regard, two developments at HRC53 were particularly noteworthy.

The first was an intersessional seminar (actually held during HRC53 rather than between sessions) on the establishment and development of national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up (NMIRFs), held on 23 June. The aim of the meeting was ostensibly to allow States to continue to share good practice in the creation and development of NMIRFs, building on five regional seminars held over recent years. However, a key goal of the seminar was also to begin to distil those good practices into universal principles for NMIRFs, similar to the Paris Principles for NHRIs. Such universal principles would build on the Pacific Principles of Practice on NMIRFs, adopted by Pacific Island States in 2019. Where sophisticated NMIRFs exist around the world (principally in small developing countries) they have been shown to have a significant positive impact in terms of improved implementation and more regular and accurate periodic reporting. URG’s statement at the seminar can be read here. During the meeting, Kazakhstan also called for universal principles for NMIRFs.

The main sponsors of the Council’s regular resolutions on NMIRFs, Paraguay and Brazil, are now expected to take the results of the seminar, and take them forward in a new Council text in 2024.

The second development was an enhanced interactive dialogue on item 10 reform, held during the last week of the Council. Whereas the aforementioned intersessional seminar aimed to strengthen the capacity of States to implement and report on their international human rights obligations and commitments, the debate on the reform of the Council’s work under its agenda item 10 (technical assistance and capacity-building) was designed to strengthen the ability of the Council and OHCHR to support States with the implementation of recommendations received from the international human rights mechanisms. Ahead of the enhanced interactive dialogue, URG published a new policy brief on item 10 reform, which presents ideas and proposals for how the Council’s technical assistance and capacity-building work might be improved in the future. A number of those ideas were echoed by States during the dialogue. For example, Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the EU, called for the Council to establish a ‘roster of experts’ to conduct capacity-building work in the field, while Thailand called for the creation of a new ‘item 10 platform’ for States to share information on their achievements and challenges with implementation, and to request capacity-building support.

Some of the ideas and recommendations shared in the policy brief and at the intersessional meeting may now be taken forward by the core group on technical assistance and capacity-building, led by Thailand and a wider cross-regional core group.

Featured picture: 53rd session of the Human Rights Council. Volker Türk, High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ambassador Václav Bálek, President of the Human Rights Council (17th cycle). Palais des Nations, Room XX, Geneva, Switzerland. June 19, 2023. UN Web TV.

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