Report on the 50th session of the Human Rights Council

by the URG team Blog, Blog, Uncategorized, URG Human Rights Council Reports

Quick summary

  • The 50th regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC50) was held from Monday 13 June to Friday 8 July 2022.
  • The Human Rights Council marked its 50th session through a high-level interactive discussion that provided stakeholders an opportunity to reflect on the achievements made and the lessons learned since its 1st session (concept note video).
  • On 1 July 2022, an urgent debate was convened on the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. The voting on draft  resolution 50/L.62 on the ‘situation of human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan’ was suspended until Friday 8 July when it was adopted by consensus. In particular, the draft resolution calls on ‘the Taliban to reverse the policies and practices that currently restrict the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Afghan women and girls’ (OP4), and to ensure ‘that local Women Rights Organisations and local Organisations led by women can continue to carry out their work’ (OP5) and requests the holding of an enhanced interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, other relevant human rights mechanisms, United Nations bodies and agencies including UNAMA, non-governmental organisations, including Afghan women’s rights organisations in Afghanistan and the diaspora during HRC55 (OP9).
  • On 13 June, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, H.E. Ms. Michelle Bachelet, opened HRC50 by presenting her 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 follow by an interactive dialogue) on her report on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics and other health emergencies and the socio-economic consequences thereof in advancing sustainable development and the realisation of all human rights on June 13; on the follow up on the implementation of the recommendations made by the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar on June 14; on the situation of human rights since, and human rights violations and abuses committed during, the period of the military takeover in Sudan on June 15; on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan on June 15 and 16; on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua on June 16; and on the grave human rights and humanitarian situation in Mariupol on June 16.
  • Eight panel discussions were held during the session.
  • More than 70 reports under the Council’s various agenda items were considered.
  • Eight new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed to the following mandates: the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (Islamic Republic of Iran), the Special Rapporteur on the right to education (Pakistan), the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Peru), a member for the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development (from the Latin American and Caribbean States), the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Australia), a member for the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (from Eastern European States), and two members for the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (from African States and from Western European and other States).
  • The outcome reports of the UPR Working Group of the following 12 States were adopted: Haiti, Iceland, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Timor-Leste, Togo, Uganda, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), and Zimbabwe. 
  • 24 texts (23 resolutions and one decision) were considered by the Council. This represents a 8% decrease in the number of adopted texts compared to one-year prior (HRC47). Of the 23 adopted resolutions, 16 were adopted by consensus (83%), and 7 by a recorded vote (17%).
  • 38 written amendments were put forward by States during the consideration of texts and resolutions: 1 amendment was adopted; 11 were withdrawn by the main sponsor and the remaining 26 amendments were rejected by a vote.
  • 19 of the texts adopted by the Council (79%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and required $9,843,900 of new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets.Urgent debate on human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan – Mr. Richard Bennett, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan. Credits : UN web TV. 

High Commissioner’s annual report

On 13 June 2022, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Bachelet, presented her annual report on the global state of human rights. She began by calling attention to the war in Ukraine, noting that it ‘continues to destroy the lives of many, causing havoc and destruction.’ She then went onto describe the global food, fuel, and financial crises threatening millions of people worldwide, as a result, and emphasised that, while ‘it is tempting to slip back into emergency mode,’ we must ‘invest in addressing the conditions that provoke these crises.’ She highlighted that the World Food Programme estimates that the number of severely food insecure will grow from 276 million at the start of 2022 to 323 million over the course of the year. ‘Inequalities between and within countries are skyrocketing, threatening COVID-19 recoveries, undermining progress in the implementation of the SDGs and slowing down climate action,’ she said. Recalling States’ commitments during the COVID-19 pandemic and stressing the need to avoid the devastating consequences of post-2008 austerity measures, the High Commissioner urged the international community to return to the course of ‘building – together – transformative societies and towards greener economies that will be more resilient to crises’. She pointed to the 2030 Agenda and Paris Agreement as blueprints for this ambition.   

The High Commissioner highlighted four areas of intervention as focus points. With regards to the first, inequality and discrimination, she expressed alarm at deepening inequalities and staggering levels of extreme poverty, exacerbated by the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, which, she argued, could be as great today as in the early 20th century. She noted her Office’s work to develop metrics beyond GDP as measures of progress, as well as the guidance provided to States on anti-discrimination measures, including through trainings in Georgia, Malawi, Mozambique and North Macedonia to implement the  Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, technical assistance provided in Chile and Honduras to enhance investigations into gender-related killings and support to Guinea-Bissau and Serbia to ensure a human rights-based approach to SDG reporting and policy making, respectively. Ultimately, she stressed the need for disaggregated data and improved national statistical capacity, particularly regarding multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. To this end, she pointed to the work OHCHR is conducting with UNDP to strengthen UNCT and NHRI’s capacity on SDG and prevention monitoring. 

The High Commissioner’s second point was that national budgets should integrate human rights as powerful levers for SDG progress, as allocation of sufficient resources to cover at least minimum essential levels of economic and social rights will help deliver better development results. She recalled how States that adopted innovative measures for social protection during the COVID-19 pandemic saw mitigated socioeconomic consequences, and highlighted the need for these responses on a universal scale, given that half the world’s population do not have access to any social protection. She pointed to her Office’s efforts to analyse budgets, mobilise resources and create more fiscal space through a human rights lens, including: in Somalia where drawing on UPR recommendations they helped assess the human rights compliance of Government cash transfer scheme; in Timor Leste, where they are exploring strategies to extend social protection to women informal workers; and in South Africa where they provided guidance on human rights-based social sector investment, and made recommendations on domestic resource mobilisation options, including through progressive taxation. Ultimately, she urged the realisation of bold initiatives, such as the establishment of the proposed Global Fund for Social Protection. 

Third, the High Commissioner stressed the need for ‘greater international cooperation and solidarity, including for debt relief,’ lamenting that the financing gap to achieve the SDGs has widened by over 70 per cent to an annual amount of $4.3 trillion. She stressed that in the face of looming debt crises, concerted and coordinated action by all stakeholders was urgently needed. She argued that strengthening fiscal systems can help mobilise domestic resources but also called on States to redouble efforts to reach the 0.7 per cent ODA target and on the private sector, notably rating agencies, to better align investments with human rights and development objectives by relying on the UN Guiding Principles. Finally, she called for reform of the international financial architecture, including the role played by international financial institutions in supporting indebted countries, to ensure international human rights law serves as a basis for support.  

Finally, and in her view, most important to ‘building resilience in times of crisis,’ the High Commissioner pointed to the crucial importance of safeguarding civic space, arguing that ‘we cannot separate progress on economic goals, such as reducing poverty, from the rights of those who are the intended beneficiaries of those developments – including the right of those people to be heard.’ In this context, she lamented attacks on defenders and journalists online and offline and stressed that ‘arresting those who protest peacefully, shutting down independent media, and detaining lawyers negatively impacts our prosperity and security.’ She noted with pride her efforts to develop UN system guidance on civic space and to support human rights defender networks around the globe.  Ultimately, she stressed that ‘human rights are the tool to respond to political pressures for a quick fix. And they are the tools that bring people together. This is not a pretty path: open societies can be chaotic, with their flaws visible to all, and their results not immediate. But it is a steady one. I hope we can unite on this path.’

The High Commissioner then discussed her recent country visit to China, where she raised concerns, including the human rights situation of the Uyghur in Xinjiang, human rights violations in the context of countering terrorism, business and human rights and the situations in Tibet and Hong Kong.  She announced her agreement with the Government of China to hold an annual meeting on human rights concerns and informed the Council that her assessment of the situation of the Uyghur was being updated and would be shared with the Government for factual comment before publication.

Turning to other country-specific situations, the High Commissioner voiced her concern about ‘persistent impunity for violations of human rights’ in many situations around the world. She lamented impunity for corruption as a structural root cause of violence in Haiti, continued impunity in South Sudan despite progress towards transitional justice, and the prevailing climate of impunity for killings and injuries of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory. She welcomed investigations regarding events in Kazakhstan earlier in the year, but called for them to be thorough and independent, while calling for due process standards to be respected in Tajikistan. The High Commissioner expressed concern at threats to the rule of law, including with regard to the trials and prison sentences of activists and political opponents in Turkey, the United Kingdom’s plan to replace the Human Rights Act, attacks against justice officials in Guatemala, involvement of military in public security in Mexico, drug-related executions in Singapore, measures taken to fight gang violence in El Salvador, arbitrary arrests of anti-war protesters in the the Russian Federation, threats against environmental human rights defenders, Indigenous Peoples and other vulnerable groups in Brazil, as well as with regards to the worsening human rights situation in the Sahel region, and the renewed escalation in human rights violations as part of the conflict in northern Ethiopia. She commended the Central African Republic, Malaysia and Zambia for steps taken towards abolishing the death penalty, welcomed steps towards transitional justice in Colombia and expressed hope for peaceful and inclusive elections in Angola and Kenya. The High Commissioner also pointed to the grave context of food insecurity in Yemen and the negative  impact of the war in Ukraine on protracted conflicts in the region, including the South Caucasus, Western Balkans and Transnistria region. Finally, Ms. Bachelet highlighted the worrying consequences of economic crises in Sri Lanka and Lebanon, as well as the COVID-19 crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.   

While welcoming recent progress by Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico in regards to sexual and reproductive health rights, the High Commissioner expressed alarm around ‘significant setbacks’ globally, and notably in the United States, due to restrictive abortion laws and noted the importance of sexual and reproductive health rights for women’s well-being and development. 

In closing out her final annual report to the Council, the High Commissioner implored member States to focus on unity, to seek and be willing to receive open dialogue, and to ensure greater participation of civil society, to counter deepening polarisation. 

The official transcript of Ms. Bachelet’s speech can be found here.

UN Geneva Follow, 50th Session of Human Rights Council Standing ovation for Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights during 50th session of Human Rights Council. High-level commemorative event on the occasion of the 50th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. 15 June 2022. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré

Panel discussions and other thematic meetings

A total of eight panel discussions were held during the 50th session. The panels were focused on the following topics:

  • Panel discussion on the root causes of human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar (concept note video)
  • Panel discussion on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality (concept note video)
  • Panel discussion on good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights during and after the COVID-19 pandemic (concept note video)
  • Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women – Panel 1: Exploring the nexus between climate change and violence against women and girls through a human rights lens (concept note video)
  • Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women – Panel 2: Human rights-based and gender-responsive care and support systems (concept note video)
  • Panel discussion on the human rights of people in vulnerable situations in the context of climate change (concept note video)
  • High-level panel discussion on countering the negative impact of disinformation on the enjoyment and realisation of human rights (concept note video)
  • Annual thematic panel discussion on technical cooperation and capacity-building (concept notevideo)

Panel discussion on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality, Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credits : UN web TV.

Commissions of Inquiry, Fact-Finding Missions and Independent investigations

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

On 13 and 14 June 2022, the International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, composed of Ms. Navi Pillay (President), Mr. Miloon Kothari and Mr. Chris Sidoti, presented their report on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestian Territory and in Israel, which was followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs. 

Ms. Navi Pillay, in her opening remarks, commended the Council for its adoption of A/HRC/RES/S-30/1 (27 May 2021), which established the COI and provided it with the mandate to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law leading up to and since 13 April 2021 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, as well as all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity. In presenting the Commission’s report, Ms. Pillay highlighted the asymmetrical nature of the conflict, and the state of ‘perpetual occupation’ in Palestine, which included discrimination, forced displacement, settlement destructions, and excessive use of force by Israeli security forces. The Palestinian Authority has further failed to hold legislative and presidential elections. 

Ms. Navi Pillay additionally reported a lack of commitment to settle for peace and a high rate of impunity, which is fuelling the cycle of violence and compromising peace agreements. She presented the three main recommendations of the first report, which are: 1) that the occupation must end without discrimination; 2) that the international community needs to abide by its international obligations and hold the guilty accountable; and 3) as the COI’s capacity has been weakened by a 25% reduction in resources, it requested the Council to reinstate said resources.   

Ms. Pillay stated that the Commission intends to conduct its own investigation of alleged violations, and will work closely with judicial mechanisms to present recommendations regarding accountability measures, including individual accountability. She expressed the Commission’s regret that Israel refuses to cooperate with the COI or permit access to Israel or Palestine, and called upon the international community to cease double standards concerning accountability. 

Israel, as a country concerned, was given the floor but was not in the room. 

Palestine, as a country concerned, thanked the COI for its report, stating that it should be used as a roadmap. Palestine urged the United Nations Secretary General and High Commissioner on Human Rights to provide support to the COI regarding the reduction of its budget and staff. Palestine noted the double standards of the US and Israel, as they support COIs in other areas, but not the Commission concerned. Palestine further expressed its regret that the COI was not permitted access to East Jerusalem, and noted that the Commission did not mention violations that had occurred in the past month such as attacks on places of worship, extrajudicial killings, and home demolitions. It further described the use of force against journalists and civilians, and asked that reports include recommendations on holding countries and businesses accountable. 

The COI was mandated to report on an annual basis to the Human Rights Council (as of its 50th session) and General Assembly (as of its 77th session).

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel. Credits : UN web TV. 

Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic

On 29 June 2022, 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 reminded the Council that despite waning attention, a war is still raging in the Syrian Arab Republic. Mr. Pinhiero reminded the Council that in March the Commission reported ‘significant levels of violence’ and that the economy is in a freefall, and informed the Council that the current situation is worse. He stated that the level of humanitarian need throughout the country is at its highest ever, with 14.6 million Syrians dependent on humanitarian assistance, 12 million facing acute food insecurity, and 90 per cent living in poverty. 

Mr. Pinheiro argued that instead of focusing on whether to close the one remaining authorised border crossing for aid, the Security Council should focus on how to expand access to life-saving aid across the country and through every appropriate route, as parties to the conflict have themselves consistently failed in their obligations to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need across Syria. He further specified that millions of refugees are under increasing pressure to return, even though a UNHRC poll showed that 93% do not intend to return, with the most cited reason being the dire security and safety situation.

Mr. Pinhiero expressed his concerns regarding non-compliance with international law in the conduct of hostilities by all parties to the conflict, and recalled the report of the High Commissioner on Human Rights revealing 300,000 civilians killed in the war. He further stated that the Commission released its own policy paper that aimed to identify a way forward towards preventing further harms to civilians in Syria.

The chair described a poor situation for civilians throughout the country, as civilians are suffering attacks and even being directly targeted. Attacks have destroyed makeshift camps, objects indispensable for the survival of the civilian population (such as food and water resources) have been struck, and living conditions in displacement camps continue to deteriorate, forcing people to return to their homes on the frontlines.

Mr.Pinheiro pointed out a recent legislative decree, which grants amnesty for terrorist crimes. He said that people went on the street after this announcement hoping in vain for more information about detained relatives. He wondered how the people in detention will be benefiting from this amnesty and called on the Human Rights Council to ensure that this decree is implemented and extended to other crimes. He recalled that concrete actions are needed and that the longer they are delayed, the harder the task will be.

He reminded the Council of the 3,000 children and 2,000 women in camps and the targeting of humanitarian actors. He encouraged member States to prioritise bringing children, mothers and seriously ill people home. 

The Syrian Arab Republic, as the country concerned, rejected the oral update of the Commission of Inquiry, arguing that it is based on a non-consensual and interventionist agenda of the US and the EU, and is a pretext for their hostile policy. The Syrian delegation argued that the COI’s statement relies on misleading sources and that it faces challenges because of the US and the Turkish occupation of parts of their territories. The delegation also argued that these two countries continue to support terrorist groups and sponsor the smuggling of gas and marijuana across the borders. The Syrian delegation pointed out the imposed unilateral coercive measures which are impacting basic rights and hindering the government’s recovery and development efforts. The delegation recalled that the Council has the responsibility to monitor and document crimes perpetrated by Turkey and hold the State accountable. The Syrian delegation also specified that the amnesty decree concerns terrorist crimes, which did not lead to death. The delegation declared that they created a conducive space for return, creating jobs and bolstering economic activities, but that this is undermined by the politicisation of the return of refugees. The delegation argued that the Syrian Arab Republic requires the unconditional lifting of unilateral coercive measures imposed on the State, and the departure of the US and Turkish militaries from the territory. 

International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia

On 30 June 2022, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, composed of Ms. Kaari Betty Murungi (Chair), Mr. Steven Ratner and Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, delivered an oral update to the Council, followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs on the situation of human rights in the country.

Ms. Kaari Betty Murungi stated that the Commission is alarmed by violations and abuses of international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law. The dire humanitarian crisis has been made worse by lack of access by the civilian population to humanitarian assistance in some areas, including medical and food aid, and obstruction of aid workers and persistent drought exacerbate the suffering of millions of people in Ethiopia and in the region. 

Ms. Murungi reported the progress of the Commission on a number of fronts. First, they have assembled staff. Second, they adopted clear terms of reference, which are published on the OHCHR webpage. Third, in May 2022, they initiated a process of dialogue and engagement with the government, including with the Minister of Justice. Fourth, the Commission has now received the document summarising the work of the Ethiopian Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Accountability and Redress. They are currently reviewing this document and look forward to discussing it with interlocutors when they meet. Fifth, the Commission has requested both the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission for access to relevant materials in their custody. Six, they have begun significant engagement with other stakeholders, including other governments in the region and elsewhere. The Commission is also seeking access to survivors, victims, and witnesses. Seven, they have made progress on the investigation front, as the Commission has been engaging with a wide range of interlocutors (including victims and witnesses) following international best practices used by other UN commissions of inquiry. 

Ms. Murungi highlighted that the Commission requires additional resources to fulfil its mandate, including technical support, in addition to logistical and financial support.

Ethiopia, as the country concerned, recalled that since 2016, a wide range of reforms have been undertaken to enhance democracy and development. At first, the country faced external challenges, such as the conflict in the north of the country, which reversed the efforts of the government. However, the government decided to turn the page and seek a peaceful end to the conflict. 

The government delegation declared that they also launched an inclusive national dialogue to address problems across the country. The government further declared an indefinite humanitarian truce and underlined its membership to the African Leaders for Peace and its efforts to seek accountability for severe human rights violations. They also welcomed the Joint Investigative Report and have tried to implement its recommendations by creating the Inter-Ministerial Task Force. 

The Ethiopian government recalled that they rejected the resolution at the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council because the government regarded the mandate as counterproductive due to the duplication of work with the Ethiopian Commission and the work of the High Commissioner. However, consistent with cooperation with human rights mechanisms, Ethiopia has started discussions with the international commission to explore mutually acceptable modalities for cooperation. Ethiopia expressed its appreciation for the readiness of the Expert Commission to find a mutually acceptable agreement based on the principle of complementary and to find modalities to build up on the Joint Investigations. Ethiopia stated that they still have reservations regarding the resolution and they are still looking for ways to reach a common understanding, re-enforcing the principle of complementary with the Joint Investigation. 

Ethiopia reiterated the importance of not duplicating work, and the significance of complementary efforts made by Ethiopia. They emphasised the role of national human rights institutions and the international commission as they assist States in ensuring accountability. 

Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya

On 6 July 2022, the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, composed of Mr. Mohamed Auajjar (Chair), Ms. Tracy Robinson and Ms. Chaloka Beyani, presented its report on the situation of human rights in the country, which was followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs. 

Interactive dialogue following the report of the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya. Credits : UN web TV. 

Mr. Mohamed Auajjar welcomed the opportunity to engage with the Council and expressed gratitude to the government of Libya for its cooperation and support of the FFM’s investigations. He recalled that justice, truth and reparation of the victims and their families are the main objectives of the Mission as it directs its efforts to contribute to peace, democracy and the rule of law. He declared that the FFM had high-level exchanges with the Libyan political and legal authorities, and had the opportunity to visit Tarhounah twice to collect additional evidence and speak with witnesses about abuses in the country. 

Mohamed Auajjar recalled that cooperation is essential to ensuring accountability under international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Violations were noted, including direct attacks against civilians, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, breaches of fundamental freedoms, violations against journalists and human rights defenders and violations of women’s and children’s rights. The FFM collected evidence at more than 27 places of detention and conducted interviews with current and previous detainees. 

Mr.Auajjar declared that the FFM unveiled a dire human rights situation that has plagued the country since 2016, stating that there is a heavy toll on the most vulnerable populations and that participation in civic space has been undermined. He expressed the Mission’s concerns over patterns of torture (which are prevalent in certain prisons), the recruitment of children to take a direct part in hostilities, internally displaced people (who are unable to return home), and over migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, who are caught in patterns of violence in camps or in the hand of traffickers. 

Between 2015 and 2020, the FFM investigated the dominance of militias in the region, based on the evidence of over 50 interviews. The FFM has reasonable grounds to believe that militias committed crimes against humanity pursuant to a deliberate campaign of punishment and terror against a part of the population. The FFM identified three undiscovered mass graves and underlined that it is critical to know the whereabouts of these atrocities. The position of bodies indicated that they were dumped randomly. They have gunshot wounds in the back of the head or in the chest, and 90% of the bodies were bound by their hands and blindfolded.

The FFM underlined that violations continue to impact the lives of civilians, who continue to suffer trauma, poverty and psychological torture. All civilians have the right to truth, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition.

The FFM declared that they will submit a list of suspects, who are believed, on reasonable grounds, to be responsible for the mass atrocities in Tarhounah and should be held accountable, at the end of the mandate. 

The FFM called for the establishment of a special tribunal within the Libyan system with the support of the UN and stressed that the human rights situation calls for urgent action to stop immediate abuses, and that victims are restore to obtain reparations and ensure accountability

The FFM must support the authorities, recommend a national plan of action to recognise all Treaty Bodies to ensure full respect for human rights and reiterated that the Libyan people deserve a strong commitment from within the country and the international community to bring peace, and that this is only achievable with political will. 

Libya, as the country concerned, expressed its appreciation of the efforts of the FFM to continue its mandate, stating that t shows the number of violations and the complexity of challenges that the country faces in this transition period. Libya declared that it continues to strengthen accountability for human rights violations through national reconciliation and reparations, as it is believed to be the ultimate path for safeguarding human rights. Libya reiterated its clear and manifest commitment to human rights, as they are enshrined in its constitutional documents.

Libya underlined that the country has undertaken steps for the promotion of human rights and for a comprehensive national reconciliation plan based on transitional justice and emphasised that it has interacted positively with the mechanism and has decided through the African Group to present a draft for one final mandate of the FFM. This draft will be presented at the 52nd session to continue working towards national reconciliation and to fight impunity. The FFM should abide by its mandate, and in spite of the challenges, it is important to strengthen human rights mechanisms.  

Resolution 50/L23, sponsored by Côte d’Ivoire, on behalf of the African Group, extends the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission on Libya for a final non-extendable period of nine months, to present its concluding recommendations. 

Adoption of the UPR Working Group outcome reports

The Council adopted the UPR outcome reports of Haiti, Iceland, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, South Sudan, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Timor-Leste, Togo, Uganda, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), and Zimbabwe. A total of 2,962 recommendations were made to these 12 States, out of which 2,392 were accepted, 3 partially accepted, and 567 were noted.

The effectiveness of the mechanism was particularly addressed. Sudan explained that despite its current period of transition –marked by economic, social and political challenges and difficulties of all kinds – the country was not prevented from working to promote human rights. In that regard, the State declared that the UPR is one of the most effective means to promote, develop and fulfil its human rights. Likewise, Moldova declared that the third cycle of the UPR had given the State an opportunity to map the progress made so far at implementing all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights.

After all UPR outcomes reports for States considered during the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (with the current exception of Myanmar, given that the Council has agreed to postpone the adoption of its report until the General Assembly decides on the representation of Myanmar to the UN), H.E. Federico Villegas, President of the Human Rights Council, reflected on the evolution of the mechanism. First, since its establishment, 100 percent of participation in the mechanism has been maintained. Second, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the review process has seen an increased engagement of States, at the highest level of the Government, and of other stakeholders. Last, during the third cycle, there has been an increase in the total number of recommendations received as well as those accepted by States. This growth in numbers has been completed with States’ efforts to implement the recommendations at the national level. Among others, the following concrete steps taken by States to enhance implementation were recalled: ratification of additional human rights treaties, increased reporting to Treaty Bodies, renewed commitments to ensure the successful visits of mandate holders, and the establishment of additional national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and national mechanisms for the prevention of torture, as well as national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up (NMIRFs). In the words of the President, ‘the Universal Periodic Review is the most fundamental tool for the international community, and today all countries have seen that this mechanism is a roadmap for the development of human rights.’

Special Procedures

Interactive Dialogues

38 mandate holders (32 thematic, 6 country-specific) presented annual reports or oral updates to HRC50 (the written reports are available here). During 36 interactive dialogues (all individual), 149 States delivered statements (either individually or jointly), of which 24% were from the African Group, 24% from APG, 13% from EEG, 13% from GRULAC, 18% from WEOG, and 1% from other countries (namely the State of Palestine and the Holy See).

 

Interactive dialogue following the Presentation of Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change. Credits : UN web TV, screenshot. 

Appointment of new mandate-holders

Eight new mandate-holders were appointed during the session to fill positions on existing mandates. On the final day of the session, the following mandate-holders were appointed:

  1. Ms. Liliana VALIÑA (Argentina) was appointed as a member from Latin American and Caribbean States to the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development, member from Latin American and Caribbean States;
  2. Ms. Nazila GHANEA (Islamic Republic of Iran) was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief;
  3. Ms. Farida SHAHEED (Pakistan) was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the right to education;
  4. Ms. Elizabeth SALMON (Peru) was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea;
  5. Dr. Alice Jill EDWARDS (Australia) was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  6. Ms.  Grażyna BARANOWSKA (Poland) was appointed as a member from the Eastern European States to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances;
  7. Mr. Damilola OLAWUYI (Nigeria) was appointed as a member from the African States to the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises; and
  8. Mr. Robert MCCORQUODALE (Australia) was appointed as a member from the Western European and other States to the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

To inform the appointments, the Consultative Group, made up of representatives of Qatar, Morocco, El Salvador, Belgium and a member from Eastern European States, scrutinised around 114 individual applications for eight vacancies. The Consultative Group sent its recommendations to the President of the Council on 23 May 2022 for the eight vacancies. The President followed the recommendations of the Consultative Group in seven out of eight cases. His proposals were sent to the Council via letter on 2 June. For the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the President decided to put forward a different candidate to the one ranked number one by the Consultative Group.

As of October 2021, there were 58 mandates, including 45 thematic and 13 country mandates, and 81 mandate-holders (50,6% female, 49,4% male). 

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 10 (four female and six male) government officials at HRC50, from Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Jamaica, Madagascar and Maldives. A large proportion of delegates (70%) come from States that are currently members of the Council. For five delegates, it was the first time they had participated in a Council session.

Resolutions

The 50th session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 24 texts, 23 resolutions and one decision. This is 11 texts less than the number of texts (35) adopted at the 49th session in March 2022 or a significant decrease of 46%.

Approximately 83% of tabled resolutions at HRC50 were adopted without a vote. 

17 (71%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, seven (29%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of the latter texts, one addresses human rights situation 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 HRC50 will result in seven mandate extensions, three panels, 11 interactive dialogs and 16 reports. 

19 (79%) of the texts adopted by the Council had Programme Budget Implications (PBI).

Agenda item Title Sponsors PBI EBA Means of adoption 
1 Situation of human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan France (on behalf of the European Union) V 16,500 Adopted without a vote
2 Reporting by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in the Sudan Germany, Norway, United Kingdom, United States of AMerica V 1,162,000 Adopted without a vote
2 Situation of human rights in Eritrea France (on behalf of the European Union) V 465,00 Adopted by a vote (21-10-16)
2 Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation) V 522,700 Adopted without a vote
3 Access to medicines, vaccines and other health products 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 V 686,100 Adopted without a vote
3 Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls Argentina, Chile, Mexico V 1,415,400 Adopted without a vote
3 Elimination of female genital mutilation Côte d’Ivoire (on behalf of the African Group) V 100,400 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) V 73,800 Adopted by a vote (29-16-2)
3 Freedom of opinion and expression Brazil, Canada, Fiji, Namibia, Netherlands, Sweden V 123,400 Adopted without a vote
3 Human rights and climate change Bangladesh, Philippines, Vietnam V 282,000 Adopted without a vote
3 Human rights and international solidarity Cuba X X Adopted by a vote (31-15-1)
3 Human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms Ecuador, Peru V 89,400 Adopted without a vote
3 Independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers: participation of women in the administration of justice Australia, Botswana, Hungary, Maldives, Mexico, Thailand X X Adopted without a vote
3 The importance of casualty recording for the promotion and protection of human rights Costa Rica, Croatia, Liechtenstein, Sierra Leone V 137,000 Adopted without a vote
3 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, V 2,073,900 Adopted by a vote (23-17-7)
3 Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons Austria, Honduras, Uganda V 310,900 Adopted without a vote
3 Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and its consequences Canada V 405,300 Adopted without a vote
3 The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests Costa Rica, Switzerland V 1,169,000 Adopted without a vote
3 The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Czechia, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico, United States of America V 462,600 Adopted without a vote
3 The Social Forum Cuba V 137,300 Adopted without  vote
4 Situation of human rights in Belarus France (on behalf of the European Union) V 465,000 Adopted by a vote (23-6-18)
4 Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkiye, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America X X Adopted by a vote (25-6-15)
6 Commencement of the fourth cycle of the universal periodic review President of the Human Rights Council X X X
10 Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya Côte d’Ivoire (on behalf of the Group of African States) X X Adopted without a vote

Analysis and Conclusion

The landmark fiftieth session of the Human Rights Council began dramatically when the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, announced she would not be seeking a second term and would thus shortly end her tenure. This came as a surprise to many, as rumours in New York and Geneva had suggested she would continue. It is possible that the heavy criticism she received over her visit to China and in particular her end of visit press statement was ultimately responsible for her decision to step down. Whatever the reason, the fact that even a politician of the stature of Bachelet, a former President of Chile, struggled to ‘balance’ the different aspects of her mandate (being required to simultaneously work with with States and publicly criticise them) raises the question (raised in a recent URG blog) of whether the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights is indeed an ‘impossible job.’

Later, in her statement to the high-level event marking the Council’s fiftieth session, the High Commissioner praised the work of the body over its first 16 years. Over that time, she said, ‘it has grown into a forum that addresses virtually every human rights issue through open, honest and transparent dialogue. Its activities have increased exponentially – the Council has held 49 regular sessions, 34 special sessions and seven urgent debates. It has adopted 1,372 resolutions. The importance of the Council within the United Nations architecture is markedly clear. Each session, the Council hears from a growing diversity of voices, a trend we must continue. Increased participation by small island developing states and developing countries for example – including in the roles of President or Vice-President – is representative of the meaningful multilateralism that this Council stands for.’

Conservatism vs. liberalism

Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Credits : UN web TV. 

There has been significant press coverage, over recent weeks, about the US Supreme Court’s blows against women’s rights, especially sexual and reproductive health rights; yet it has gone largely unnoticed that the exact same ideological struggle, between conservative UN member States (principally members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – the OIC, and Russia) and more liberal, progressive States (principally the West and countries of Latin America), has been a main undercurrent of Council politics for the past decade.

At HRC50, this struggle principally played out in divisions over three draft Council resolutions: on the Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, on the elimination of all forms discrimination against women and girls, and especially on the renewal of  Mandate of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Regarding the latter, OIC States tabled 13 ‘hostile’ amendments at the Council plenary. The voting on each amendment was extremely close, suggesting the current Council membership is finely balanced between conservative more progressive States, though in the end only one (relatively unimportant) amendment was adopted (L7). Amendment 1, which would have changed the name and focus of the mandate, and thus destroyed its purpose, was rejected with 19 in favour, 23 against, and 3 abstentions.

The final draft resolution, with that single amendment, presented by Uruguay, was adopted with 23 in favour, 17 against (including China) and 7 abstentions (including Poland).

The draft resolution on the elimination of all forms discrimination against women and girls, presented by Mexico, similarly faced a large number of hostile amendments (by Nigeria, Egypt, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia) aiming to remove terms such as ‘gender’ (and instead proposed ‘sex’), ‘bodily integrity,’ ‘safe abortion,’ ‘sex education’, ‘comprehensive sex education,’ and ‘reproductive rights.’  In the end all amendments were rejected by relatively healthy margins, and the final resolution was adopted by consensus.

The draft resolution on violence against women was likewise eventually adopted by consensus after a Russian amendment was easily rejected (with just nine votes in favour).

A further interesting vote on a thematic resolution centred on the regular draft text on ‘Human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms.’ On this occasion the US was able to join consensus after the US delegation worked closely with the main sponsors during negotiations (this was seen as politically important for the US in the aftermath of recent mass shootings).

Country-specific situations

 As usual, the Council addressed a number of serious situations of human rights violations during its fiftieth session. One resolution, following an urgent debate on the subject held on 1 July, focused on the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan – rights that have been under systematic attack since the Taliban’s take-over of the country. The resolution, eventually adopted by consensus, calls upon the Taliban to reverse policies and practices that restrict the rights of women and girls, including their right to education. As well as being substantively important, the resolution is also symbolically significant because it is a rare yet positive example of a ‘hybrid’ resolution – i.e., one that looks at certain rights or the rights of certain groups in a defined geographical context. Such hybrid texts, which benefit from specificity and relevance, should be used more often at the Council. 

Other country specific resolutions adopted at HRC50 covered situations in:

  • Sudan – the text asks the High Commissioner and Independent Expert on Sudan to continue to monitor the situation on the ground (adopted by consensus with support of the country concerned).
  • Belarus – the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus was renewed for a further year (adopted by a vote (23-6-18)). 
  • Eritrea – the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea was renewed for a further year (adopted by vote (21-10-16)).
  • Myanmar – the text requests the High Commissioner to follow-up on the recommendations of the UN Fact-Finding Mission and to present an oral update at HRC56 (adopted by consensus).

Federico Villegas, President of the Human Rights Council and Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights attends 50th session of Human Rights Council. 13 June 2022. UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré

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