- The 42nd regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC42) was held from Monday 9th September to Friday 27th September 2019.
- On 9th September, H.E. Ms. Michelle Bachelet presented her oral update on the global human rights situation. In it she focused extensively on the climate crisis and identified climate change as ‘a rapidly growing and global threat to human rights.’
- A number of dignitaries delivered statements during the session, including inter alia, H.E. Mr. Mbella Mbella Lejeune, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cameroon; H.E. Mr. Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians of Australia; H.E. Mr. Amadou Ba, Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Senegalese Diaspora of Senegal; H.E. Mr. Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan; H.E. Mr. Jerome Xavier Walcott, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados; and H.E. Mr. Jorge Arreaza Montserrat, Minister of the People’s Power for Foreign Affairs, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
- Three panel discussions were held during the session.
- More than 66 reports were considered under the Council’s various agenda items.
- More than 250 side events were organised by States and/or NGOs during the session.
- The Council received a briefing from the President of ECOSOC, H.E. Ms. Mona Juul (Norway), on the discussions of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which took place in July 2019.
- The outcome reports of the UPR Working Group of the following 14 States were adopted: Norway, Albania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Portugal, Bhutan, Dominica, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Brunei Darussalam, Costa Rica, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Qatar, and Nicaragua.
- One new Special Procedures mandate-holder was appointed to the following mandate: Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic.
- 38 texts were considered by the Council: 37 resolutions, and one President’s Statement. Of these, 26 were adopted by consensus (68.4%), and 12 by a recorded vote (31.6%). The number of adopted resolutions represents a considerable increase (58%) on the number adopted one year previously – in September 2018 (HRC39), as HRC39 saw the adoption of only 24 texts. This represents the third highest number of texts adopted during a September session since 2006.
- Eight written and/or oral amendments were put forward by States during the consideration of texts and resolutions. One was withdrawn by the main sponsors, while the remaining seven amendments were rejected by a vote.
- 28 of the texts adopted by the Council (74%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and 21 required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. The total costs of the newly mandated activities amounted to a total of $14,477,600, at the time of writing.
Briefing by the High Commissioner for Human Rights
On the 9th of September 2019, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, inaugurated the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council by announcing that her first year in office had ‘not been an easy task’. While affirming that much had been achieved for the cause of human rights around the world, she urged the Council to realise that numerous issues and situations urgently required its attention as the human rights community faced the dual challenge of tackling traditional human rights issues alongside new and emerging ones, such as the digital landscape and privacy, as well as climate change and its impact on the rights of everyone.
The latter formed the crux of her address as she urged all to realise that ‘we’ve never seen a threat of this scope to human rights’ and perhaps most emblematically that ‘we are burning up our future – literally’. Recalling UN reports that demonstrate the negative effect the climate emergency is already having on areas such as health and nutrition, economic growth, inequality, as well as conflict, displacement and social harmony, she expressed alarm at the fact that the ‘human rights implications of currently projected levels of global heating are catastrophic’, and called on all States to realise that ‘climate change is a reality that now affects every region of the world’, thus requiring the attention of every country, institution and policy-maker.
While noting that the window of opportunity for action to address the existential threat posed by climate change was rapidly closing, she offered a glimmer of hope in the increasing recognition of the right to a healthy and sustainable environment, in over 100 national and regional laws, as well as in what she sees to be an era of tremendous innovation, where more thoughtful approaches to the use of renewable resources, the protection and empowerment of marginalised communities, and environmentally-friendly strategies of businesses across their supply chains, can be discerned. With her habitual pragmatism she then proceeded to lay out a roadmap to ensure a human rights based approach to climate change, consisting of : 1) the realisation that climate change undermines rights, development and peace, in an inextricable manner 2) understanding that effective climate action requires broad and meaningful participation, notably of women and indigenous communities 3) committing to a better protection of environmental human rights defenders 4) seeing that those most affected, namely small islands nations, are already leading the way 5) realising that businesses and their responsibility to respect human rights are crucial to climate action.
The High Commissioner also addressed a number of country-specific situations of concern that she would not be addressing in specific statements over the course of the session. As such, she expressed concern at the shrinking civic space in Zimbabwe, Cambodia, the Gaza Strip, and Tanzania, as well as the crackdown on protesters in Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Hong Kong. She condemned ongoing violations in Burundi as well as recent incidents of xenophobic violence in South Africa. She assured that her Office continued to monitor the terrible toll that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria were having on civilian lives and called for accountability for the horrific violations documented by the Fact Finding Mission in Myanmar. She urged both Pakistan and India to ensure the respect of the human rights of Kashmiris, while placing a particular onus on India to end lockdowns and curfews, provide access to basic services, and ensure due process rights were upheld. She reaffirmed that the continued expansion of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was illegal under international law and decried the high levels of settler violence.
Finally, she expressed particular concern at anti-migrant policies being put in place in the US, Mexico and Central American countries, which she called ‘push-backs’ that would result in desperate families fleeing socio-economic distress – including as a result of climate change, insecurity, and corruption – to take more risky routes where they may be exposed to greater violence. She conveyed her profound disturbance at policies of separation of migrant children from their parents in the United States, ‘a nation built on its welcome of migrants’, and urged countries of the European Union to take more determined and effective action to deploy search and rescue operation and support the rescue work of NGOs in the Mediterranean. While recognising that migration governance measures are a national prerogative, she recalled the obligation of ensuring the full protection of human rights of all people concerned in their implementation.
In her concluding remarks, she highlighted the achievements countries around the world have demonstrated in surmounting tremendous human rights challenges, notably by turning their backs on dictatorships, empowering the discriminated and oppressed, and lifting millions out of poverty in a very short space of time. She urged all to defend these hard-won achievements and tackle the new and emerging challenges by acting in partnership with sufficient determination to build a better future for all.
High level dignitaries
In his statement, H.E. Mr. Amadou Ba, Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Senegalese Diaspora of Senegal, expressed his country’s concern regarding the growing ‘failure to respect minimum rules that apply to conflict situations’. He recalled the commitment of Senegal’s President, Mr. Macky Sall, to peace and international security, good governance and the fight against corruption. He then called on the Council to be more proactive and innovative in addressing issues of migration, new digital technologies, climate change, and the digitalisation of the globalised world. Mr.Ba concluded by reminding the Council of the upcoming President’s retreat in Dakar, an informal gathering aimed notably at identifying ways to enhance the work of the Council, to be held the 21st and 22nd of October. (link to statement)
H.E. Mr. Nasruddin Abdel Bari, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Sudan, started his address by recounting the political struggle through which citizens went to proclaim ‘a motto of freedom, justice and peace’ in Sudan. He added that to realise these three pillars of the revolution, the transitional military Council committed to creating a civilian-led government. Moreover, a ‘Constitutional document’ was signed last August, with the aim to ‘transform Sudan into a democratic nation where the government will always be of the people, by the people and for the people’. To do so, Mr. Abdel Bari announced that the newly established Council, which includes four women, one of whom is leading the ministry for Foreign Affairs for the first time in the history of Sudan, already took significant steps towards the aforementioned goals, notably by establishing a Legal Reform Commission, an Independent Investigation Commission and a Commission to lead the transitional process. The Minister of Justice concluded by calling on the international community to support and assist the ‘new Sudan’ in order to achieve this project of ‘transformation’. (link to statement).
As the representative of a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), H.E. Mr. Jerome Xavier Walcott JP, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Barbados, raised concerns over the threats that climate change pose to the human rights and dignity of all, ‘a glooming reality not only for the region of the Caribbean but also for the rest of the world’. He emphasised the role that the Human Rights Council has to play regarding raising awareness about the issue and responding to climate change-induced displacement and conflicts. Mr. Walcott JP also commended the work of the UPR mechanism and encouraged the OHCHR to strengthen the connection between the recommendations made during the review and their subsequent implementation. He concluded by thanking the Voluntary Trust Fund supporting LDCs and SIDS, that facilitated the participation in the work of the Council of 132 government officials since 2014, including one representative from Barbados. (link to statement)
H.E. Mr. Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians and Australia’s first Indigenous member of Cabinet, announced that his country had initiated a national conversation and process of truth telling regarding the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. In this context he acknowledged the problems the country faces, including high rates of incarceration and suicides within these particular demographics, but also emphasised the progress that has been made regarding the promotion and protection of human rights of Indigenous Peoples. He concluded by assuring of his country’s commitment to ‘reset’ the relationship between Australia’s government and Indigenous Australians and informed the Council about the Closing Gap framework, which aims to address these issues. (link to statement)
A total of three panel discussions were held during the 42nd session. The panels were on the following topics (click link for concept note and UN WebTV recordings).
- The way forward to a United Nations declaration on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of all human rights, including the right to development (Biennial panel discussion on unilateral coercive measures and human rights)
- Promotion and preservation of indigenous languages (Annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples)
- Gender-responsive initiatives to accelerate gender equality (Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms)
Trust fund to support the participation of LDCs and SIDS
The Trust Fund for the participation of LDCs and SIDS in the work of the Council (set up in 2012) funded the participation of 11 (six female and five male) government officials at HRC42, including five delegates and six fellows (who will stay in Geneva until 15 November 2019). The delegates came from Benin, Grenada, Malawi, Suriname, and Zambia. The fellows are government officials from the following countries: Angola, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Tanzania, and Uganda. For all of them, it was the first time they had participated in a Council session.
It has become customary for the beneficiaries of the Trust Fund to deliver a joint statement during item 10. This session, however, the beneficiaries delivered in total two joint statements: one during the general debate on item 6, and one during the general debate on item 10. Additionally, Zambia also delivered a joint statement on behalf of African Beneficiaries during the annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective.
Commissions of Inquiry, Fact-Finding Missions and Independent investigations
Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar
On the 17th of September 2019 during an interactive dialogue under item 2, the Fact-Finding Mission on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (FFM) presented their three thematic reports on the situation in the country, which they had prepared over the course of the year. The FFM last held an interactive dialogue with the Council at HRC39, and at that time, had concluded that the Myanmar authorities and particularly the Tadmadaw, Myanmar’s national armed forces, had committed crimes against humanity, as well as war crimes against ethnic minorities. It had found genocidal acts, and inference of genocidal intent against the Rohingya population, and called for Myanmar and the international community to ensure accountability and individual criminal responsibility. Mr. Marzuki Darusman, chairperson of the Fact-Finding Mission therefore commended the Council for its mandating of an Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) and assured that all material collected during the FFM’s investigations, including 1,227 interviews with victims and witnesses, had been transferred to the IIMM, in a manner that ensures its integrity so it could be used in criminal trials in courts outside Myanmar.
However, the chairperson warned that over the past year of investigations little had changed and the situation could in fact be said to have deteriorated. Mr. Darusman urged disengagement with businesses that their latest report established had been, and continue to be, used to support the Tadmadaw’s brutal operations on ethnic groups in violation of international law. He painted a painful picture of patterns of rapes and gang rapes against ethnic minorities, including with respect to men, boys and transgender people. He further stressed that the situations of the Rohingya remained largely unchanged, and concluded ‘that there is a strong inference of continued genocidal intent on the part of the State in relation to the Rohingya, that there is a serious risk of genocide recurring and that Myanmar is failing in its obligations under the Genocide Convention to prevent genocide, to investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalising and punishing genocide’. In these conditions he stressed that the return of the one million displaced Rohingya was impossible and called for a moratorium on development aid to Myanmar to ensure it did not serve to consolidate persecution.
Myanmar, as the country concerned, responded by lambasting the reports of the FFM – which it calls the ‘Darusman reports’ – and called into question its motives, sincerity, independence, impartiality and credibility, claiming that it ‘will be held responsible for wreaking havoc on the lives of the workers in Myanmar who are seeking out a living in one of the lowest income communities of the ASEAN region’.
International Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar
On the 9th of September 2019, Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the International Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) presented its initial report to the Council. In a short statement he recalled the IIMM’s mandate to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law in Myanmar since 2011 and build criminal case files for potential use in national, regional or international courts, and expressed gratitude to the GA for welcoming its establishment in resolution 73/264, as well as to the High Commissioner and the UN legal counsel for implementing the necessary preliminary steps to establish the Mechanism, which the Secretary-General had deemed operational on the 30th of August 2019.
Mr. Koumjian explained the difference of the IIMM’s mandate from other mechanisms on Myanmar, which by virtue of its function to facilitate fair and independent criminal proceedings, does not serve to advocate policies but rather to ensure accountability and deter further crimes, particularly in light of the absence of a temporal mandate. He promised to ‘vigorously pursue accountability for crimes irrespective of the race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or political affiliation, of either victims or perpetrators’, and given the massive scale of the IIMM’s mandate, which covers the entire territory of Myanmar since 2011, he expressed his intention to focus ‘on crimes appropriately representative of the suffering of the various peoples of Myanmar’. He committed to ensuring balance between the reporting obligations to the Council and the need for discretion to not compromise investigations and ensure protection of witnesses and victims. Mr. Koumjian stressed the importance of cooperation of both the government of Myanmar and neighbouring States with the work of the Mechanism and assured that he would continuously seek such cooperation while respecting their sovereignty. Finally, he concluded by stating that in his 19 years prosecuting the worst international crimes, he had learnt that though the process of accountability for mass crimes may be a long and difficult journey, victims’ desire for justice, for a chance to recount their experience, for recognition of the truth and for the behaviour of perpetrators to be condemned never wavered.
Myanmar, as the country concerned, responded by strongly objecting to the establishment of the IIMM, which it considers an extension of the selective and partial FFM. It assured of its full capability of addressing the issue of accountability for alleged violations domestically.
Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (COI), composed of Mr. Doudou Diène (Chair), Ms. Lucy Asuagbor and Ms. Françoise Hampson presented an oral update to the Council during an interactive dialogue under item 4 on the 17th of September 2019. They chose to focus their address not only on ongoing human rights violations in the country, ‘the persistence of which remains extremely preoccupying’, but also on factors creating a risk of deterioration, in light of the upcoming 2020 elections. Their work has continued to bring to light numerous and frequent human rights violations including summary executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, ill-treatment and sexual violence. Mr. Diène noted that these violations remain essentially political, stemming from the 2018 constitutional referendum process and now increasingly from the context of electoral preparations. While the opposition remains the primary targets of these abuses, the COI has documented a concerning widening of the notion of opposition to all who do not demonstrate support for the government, including poor rural families with no political affiliation. They further relate a striking intensification of restrictions of civil liberties, which are particularly concerning in an electoral period. Given the social, economic and political climate of the country along with the climate of impunity resulting from the instrumentalisation of the judiciary, Mr. Diène recommended all States to ensure prima facie asylum, and expressed concern at the recent agreement with Tanzania to return displaced Burundian populations.
Burundi, as the country concerned, rejected the COI’s report as politically motivated and a blemish on the supposed neutrality of the United Nations and its mechanisms, which they concluded was evidence that the system was driven by political lobbies. They further condemned the COI for overstepping its mandate in striving to identify risk factors.
Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arabic Republic
On the 17th of September 2019, with the Syrian conflict in its 9th year, Mr. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (COI), presented the COI’s latest report during an interactive dialogue under item 4. The report focused on the re-escalation of violence in Idlib province, following the failure of the agreement between Turkey and the Russian Federation to ensure a demilitarised buffer zone, resulting in the displacement of half a million people. The chairperson highlighted the indiscriminate attacks by the terrorist groups Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which killed and maimed dozens of civilians, along with the disproportionate response by pro-government forces, which destroyed infrastructure essential for the survival of the civilian population. In this regard, he commended the Secretary-General’s initiative to establish a Board of Inquiry to look into these attacks. Mr. Pinheiro condemned the deteriorating conditions of internally displaced persons in camps, with a particular emphasis on the disproportionate suffering of women and children, and called for access to basic services including medical care and psycho-social rehabilitation services. In a context which continues to be characterised by impunity and faltering political efforts towards peace, he urged all parties to the conflict to abide by the humanitarian imperative to protect civilians in their conduct of hostilities.
The Syrian Arab Republic, as the country concerned, was critical of the Council’s approach to the situation in the country which ‘ignores the causes of human suffering of Syrians, especially terrorism, unilateral coercive measures, aggression and foreign occupation’. It further condemned the COI’s failure to define the war crimes and violations committed by the international coalition led by the United States. It assured that the counterterrorism operations designed to expel terrorist organisations from Idlib were in line with international law, stating that ‘the Syrian government is keen more than anyone else to protect the civilian facilities which it built, including medical facilities, which terrorist groups have used as headquarters and bases to launch attacks on residential areas adjacent to the battle lines’.
Commission on human rights in South Sudan
Ms. Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CoHR), addressed the Council on the 16th of September 2019 in order to give an oral update on the situation in the country during an interactive dialogue under item 4. She lamented that such a wealthy and fertile nation could have a majority of its citizens starving every day, as both the Government and the opposition continue to prevent aid from being delivered to civilians as part of a deliberate strategy to target civilians in acts that may amount to war crimes. While welcoming the revitalised peace agreement, she expressed concern that hardliners might sabotage progress made towards its implementation and noted with concern that key commitments had not yet been met. Ms. Sooka decried South Sudan’s political elites’ willingness to remain oblivious to the fates of the near 2 million internally displaced and more than 2 million refugees living in neighbouring countries. As forceful recruitment of children, enforced disappearances and reports of torture persist, and starvation becomes the norm, she urged the African Union and the international community to deal effectively with armed groups that were destabilising the peace process. Given the CoHR’s specific mandate to address sexual violence, she expressed concern for ongoing rapes, further stating that if there was no justice, accountability and reparation for victims of these crimes then transitional justice would fail. She stressed that South Sudan requires a robust and holistic approach to transitional justice that depends on the establishment of the Hybrid Court, the Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the Reparations and Compensation Authority agreed upon in the revitalised peace agreement, and in a direct challenge to the African Union and the international community she asked ‘are you prepared to move forward with the establishment of the Court if the Government of South Sudan does not?’ claiming it to be a test of their credibility.
South Sudan, as the country concerned, took note of the report of the CoHR but announced that the official response would be delivered by the Minister of Justice, while assuring that the transitional government of national unity was taking every step to ensure peace and the full implementation of the revitalised peace agreement.
Universal Periodic Review
Adoption of the UPR Working Group outcome reports
The Council adopted the UPR outcome reports of Norway, Albania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Portugal, Bhutan, Dominica, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Brunei Darussalam, Costa Rica, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Qatar, and Nicaragua. A total of 3328 recommendations were made to these 14 States, out of which 2516 were accepted in whole, 21 were partially accepted, and 791 were noted or rejected.
18 Special Procedures (13 thematic, five country-specific) presented their annual reports at HRC42 (all of which are available here). During 13 interactive dialogues (eight ‘clustered’ and five individual), 119 States delivered 376 statements, of which 21% were from the African Group, 32% from APG, 11% from EEG, 17% from GRULAC, 18% from WEOG, and 2% from other countries (namely the State of Palestine, the Holy See and the Sovereign Order of Malta). Additionally, 35 Joint Statements were delivered.
Appointment of new mandate-holders
One new mandate-holder was appointed during the session to fill a position on an existing mandate. On the final day of the session, the following mandate-holder were appointed:
- Yao AGBETSE (Togo) was appointed as the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic
To inform the appointments, the Consultative Group, made up of representatives of Djibouti, Ecuador, Iraq, Italy, and the Republic of Moldova, scrutinised around nine individual applications for one vacancy. The Consultative Group sent its recommendations to the President of the Council on 8 August 2019, following ‘broad consultations, in particular through the regional coordinators,’ ‘to ensure the endorsement of [his] proposed candidate’. The President followed the recommendation of the Consultative Group. His proposal was sent to the Council via letter on 26 August.
As of today, there are 56 Special Procedures mandates (44 thematic, 12 country-specific), and 80 mandate-holders.
General debate under item 5
During the general debate on item 5 ‘Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms’, Portugal on behalf of the Group of Friends on National Mechanisms on Implementation Reporting and Follow-up (NMIRF), welcomed the recognition of the importance of NMRIFs by States as ‘catalysers for the prevention of human rights violations’. Additionally, the Group was pleased to note that ‘just under half of the candidates for Council membership that have published voluntary pledges have included a commitment to establish or strengthen their NMIRFs’. The Group of Friends further welcomed the High-Level Regional Dialogue on NMIRFs organised in Fiji in April 2019, where Pacific Small Islands Developing States (PSIDS) shared good practices and sought to identify key characteristics of effective national implementation mechanisms.
Uruguay on behalf of the Group of Friends of Special Procedures and other States, stressed that ‘the work of the Special Procedures is valuable to the work of human rights, their independent voice has been crucial on many occasions and they have been at the origin of important actions taken at the Council, we should be proud of their work.’ The group of States further welcomed measures taken by Special Procedures to enhance dialogue and cooperation with States and improve their methods of work, such as by publishing their reports on the HRC extranet.
Latvia, on behalf of a Group of 63 countries, expressed their appreciation for the growing number of countries that have issued a standing invitation to Special Procedures. In particular, the Group welcomed Botswana, Comoros and Malaysia having recently joined the 119 States that had already extended such an invitation.
ASEAN member States, represented by Thailand, underlined their commitment to enhancing coherence in the work of the human rights mechanisms and treaty bodies, particularly the Special Procedures. They welcomed the Coordination Committee’s statement of 2 September, in which the Committee announced measures to address States’ concerns related to the submission of thematic reports, end-of-mission statements, use of social media and news release, among others, and looked forward to further engagement with the Committee in future discussions scheduled for December 2019.
General debate under item 10
During the general debate under item 10 on technical assistance and capacity-building, Tanzania (United Republic of) on behalf of LDC countries thanked donors of the Trust Fund for their support of the participation of LDCs/SIDS in the work of the Human Rights Council and further expressed how important it is to be physically present at the HRC’s sessions for States with small or no permanent missions in Geneva.
Angola on behalf of the 11 beneficiaries of the LDCs/SIDS Trust Fund, further acknowledged the importance of the fund to ensure the reinforcement of the universal participation of States in the work of the Human Rights Council, as well as to empower LDCs/SIDS and strengthen their capacity to be an active part of regular HRC sessions. Additionally, the group of countries drew the attention of the Council to States suffering from natural disasters, and called for continued international assistance in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. Suriname, talking on behalf of SIDS, further called for a greater focus on the impacts of climate change and reiterated the High Commissioner’s statement: ‘the world has never seen a threat to the promotion and protection of human rights of this scope.’ Suriname added that the Voluntary Trust Fund has enabled 11 delegates from SIDS to be present at the 42nd session of the Council. Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Vanuatu joined the general recognition of the critical importance of the Trust Funds as an important part of technical assistance and capacity building, and called for continued strong support.
Thailand recalled that in late August, it had organized a two-day Regional Dialogue on National Mechanisms for Implementation, Reporting and Follow-up (NMIRF), in Bangkok, together with the OHCHR’s Regional Office for South East Asia, which served as an example of initiatives to share good practices and experiences. Morocco announced that it will organise a seminar with the OHCHR, in order to reflect on commitments made to support the work of the Office, particularly ‘the priority projects of the High Commissioner’.
Pakistan on behalf of the OIC added that technical cooperation and capacity building should give greater focus to the right to development as this would also ‘complement accelerated efforts of the international community to achieve the 2030 Agenda of “Leaving no one behind”’. Finland, on behalf of the EU, said that country-level cooperation is an important part of OHCHR’s work. In the same vein, Uganda thanked OHCHR’s support of national efforts and stressed the importance of multilateral engagement to ‘support the building and strengthening of national institutions, which are the primary duty barer of the promotion and protection of human rights’.
Two informal events held during the session offered a platform for reflection on the upcoming Council elections, scheduled to take place on 16 October 2019, in New York.
The first event, held on the third day of the session and sponsored by Amnesty International, ISHR, and the Permanent Missions of Bahamas, Czech Republic, Denmark, and Fiji, provided an opportunity for around 12 of the candidate States (out of 16) to present their candidatures, including their pledges and commitments for membership, and for civil society to engage them in dialogue.
The second event, hosted by the Permanent Mission of Norway and the URG on 23 September, marked the launch of the yourHRC.org Guide to the 2019 Human Rights Council elections. The Guide presents an objective analysis of each of the candidates for election, measuring their cooperation, participation, contribution, and commitments against the standards of membership set out in GA resolution 60/251. Find out more at: yourHRC.org.
Both events aimed to enhance transparency and accountability in the Council elections, as well as to promote a higher observance of the standards set out by the General Assembly in 2006.
During the session’s concluding remarks, the Maldives, delivered a joint statement on behalf of the contact group on Council membership, a cross-regional group that aims to contribute to bolstering the participation and engagement of all UN member States with the work of the Council, with a particular focus on Small States, especially SIDS and LDCs. It welcomed progress made in making the Council’s membership more diverse, inclusive and representative, with to date, just over 60% of UN member States having had the chance to serve on the Council, and urged continued efforts in this regard.
The 42nd session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 38 texts (37 resolutions and one President’s Statement). This is 14 texts more than the number of texts (24) adopted at the 39th session in September 2018, and as such, represents a significant increase year-on-year of 58%. This number is the third highest number of texts ever adopted during a September session. The significant increase also puts in question the continued success of the Council’s efficiency efforts over the past four years.
When combined with the 29 texts adopted at the 40th session and the 26 texts adopted at the 41st session, the total number of texts adopted in 2019 is 93. This represents a slight increase (8%) compared with the number of texts adopted in 2018 (86), but is still lower than the total number of texts adopted in the three years prior to 2018.
Around 32% of tabled resolutions at HRC42 were adopted by a recorded vote. This is a decrease of 10% compared with the previous September session.
26 (68%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, while 12 (32%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of the latter texts, two addressed human rights violations under agenda item 2, three under item 4, and seven sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10).
28 of the texts adopted by the Council (74%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring appropriations of $14’477’600 not previously covered by the UN regular budget.
Resolutions listed in order of L numbers
President’s statements listed in order of L numbers
|Title||Core group||PBIs||New resource requirements||
|Reports of the Advisory Committee||President of the Human Rights Council||✗||–||Consensus|
Analysis and conclusions
Although – in line with most post-summer holiday September sessions – the atmosphere at HRC42 felt somewhat ‘jaded,’ when delegates recover and look back at the outcomes of their work, it will probably be with a sense of pride. The session was perhaps notable as much for what was not covered (e.g. rumored initiatives on Kashmir and Special Procedures) as for what was. Yet even with that proviso in mind, the three-week session that just ended saw some truly historical developments (e.g. the bow of the new Sudan on the world stage), and generated outputs of lasting significance.
Accountability, capacity building, or both?
Looking first at the Council’s efforts to address situations of violations, either by creating/renewing accountability mechanisms (under item 4 and item 2), or by offering to extend capacity-building or technical assistance to the State concerned (under item 10), HRC42’s most notable moments and achievements centred around the situation in Sudan.
The situation of human rights in Sudan has been on the UN’s agenda for decades. Already in 1993, Commission on Human Rights (Commission) resolution 1993/60 established a Special Procedures mandate on human rights in Sudan. In establishing the mandate, the Commission expressed ‘its deep concern at the serious human rights violations in the Sudan, including summary executions, detentions without due process, forced displacement of persons and torture.’ Ten years later, in 2003, Sudan’s Darfur region became the centre of international attention when the Government responded to attacks by rebel groups by carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arabs. This resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the indictment of Sudan’s then President, Omar al-Bashir, for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Sudan also played a key – if unintentional – role in the replacement of the Commission by the Human Rights Council (in 2006). In 2004, in the midst of reports of terrible human rights violations in Darfur, Sudan was re-elected to the Commission. Three years earlier, Sudan had been elected to the body at the same elections that had seen the US lose its seat for the first time since 1947. These events, together with Libya’s accession to the Chairmanship of the Commission in 2003, played a key role in the subsequent collapse of the body, and the emergence of proposals for a smaller, stronger, Council.
Finally, at the new body’s 11th session in June 2009, and against a backdrop of repeated Western defeats on key Council resolutions and initiatives, a vote was called on a draft resolution on the situation Sudan. In one of the closest ever votes at the Council, the resolution was adopted with 20 in favour, 18 against, and 9 abstentions. This was considered by many (at the time and since) as a ‘make or break’ vote in the Council’s early history.
It is against this historiography that the symbolic, geopolitical and – most importantly – human rights-focused significance of events during HRC42 become apparent.
On Tuesday 24 September, H.E. Mr Nasruddin Abdel Bari, Minister of Justice of Sudan, delivered a remarkable speech to the Council (under item 10). It was remarkable for a number of reasons: first, it echoed and relayed the seismic changes currently taking place in Sudan; second, it sought to place Sudan on a new footing with the UN human rights system – a footing premised on cooperation rather than the confrontation of the past (see above); and thirdly, Mr Abdel Bari had also attended a previous, session of the Council – but on that occasion as a human rights defender calling on the Council to pay attention to the human rights situation in Sudan, rather than as a government minister.
‘As all of you know,’ he began, ‘men and women of my country led a peaceful revolution that started on December 19th of last year, in response to an unprecedented political and economic situation. Despite the excessive violence that the previous regime used […], after five months of struggle and great sacrifice, together with the support of the security armed forces, the former president of Sudan [Omar al-Bashir] was removed from power and a new dawn in Sudan’s history began.’
The Minister went on to describe the five months of negotiations that followed the overthrow of al-Bashir, and the journey towards a civilian government under a ‘Constitutional Document’ agreed with the help of Ethiopia and the African Union (AU). This Document, and the rebuilding of the State’s institutions, will see Sudan transformed ‘into a democratic nation where the government will always be of the people, by the people and for the people.’ ‘History has given us an opportunity to write a new chapter.’
In the area of human rights, Mr Abdel Bari said the new Government is committed to guarantee the freedoms of expression and assembly, and to hold those responsible for recent serious human rights violations to account. ‘The Government will also soon establish a Legal Reform Commission […] that will amend or abolish pieces of legislation in Sudan that restrict freedoms or are inconsistent with international law.’ The Minister also announced Sudan’s intention to join the international human rights conventions to which Sudan is not a party, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention against Torture (CAT).
The very next day, in New York, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet, and Sudan’s new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Asma Mohamed Abdalla (one of four women in the new Sudanese Cabinet), signed a historic cooperation agreement that will see OHCHR establish a new office in the country, to support the country’s democratic transition, and help the Government promote and protect the human rights of all the people of Sudan. ‘We have witnessed with admiration the persistence of the women, men and youth in Sudan in asserting their human rights,’ said the High Commissioner. ‘The road ahead promises to be full of challenges, but we are ready to assist to ensure human rights permeate the transition.’ Apart from the capital, field offices will also be opened in Darfur, Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan and East Sudan.
The Office will seek to support the transition in four main areas: combatting inequality and empowering women; legal and institutional reforms, to bring Sudan in line with international human rights obligations; justice to support accountability and reconciliation, with the meaningful participation of women and minorities; and strengthening the opening of democratic and civic space.
Both OHCHR and the Government of Sudan deserve enormous credit for this important agreement, as well as for the speed with which it was concluded. A strong OHCHR presence in Sudan will provide vital support to the Government, and help it overcome the significant challenges that lie ahead.
Finally, on 27 September, the Council adopted a resolution to scale-up its capacity-building and technical support to Sudan. In the resolution, member States welcomed ‘the non-violent inspiring popular uprising of the Sudanese people, in particular the wide participation of women and youth’ and ‘the signing of the Constitutional Document on 17 August 2019.’ The Council also noted ‘that the situation of human rights in Sudan has the potential to significantly improve,’ but that the country has an urgent ‘need for technical assistance and capacity building’ support to realise that potential. Finally, with the resolution, the Council decided to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan for a further year, to act as a focal point for the delivery of this assistance.
HRC42 also saw the adoption of a number of other important country-specific resolutions. The human rights situations in Venezuela and Yemen were both subject to two distinct and substantively different resolutions – demonstrating both the geopolitical tensions involved and (reflected) divisions in the Council’s membership. Broadly speaking, in both cases the two ‘competing’ resolutions presented contrasting approaches to the human rights situations in Venezuela and Yemen – with one set of texts emphasising public condemnation for serious violations and accountability, and the other set proposing a more ‘cooperative approach’, with a particular focus on capacity-building and technical assistance.
The reality of course – as demonstrated by the case of Sudan – is that accountability for violations and long-term capacity-building support must go hand-in-hand if a country’s human rights situation is to improve. It is therefore disappointing – and does little for the credibility of the Council – that the body ended up adopting two resolutions per situation. Notwithstanding, the principal responsibility for that lies with the countries concerned (Yemen and Venezuela) and their main backers, which have (repeatedly) shown themselves unwilling to engage with the UN human rights system in a meaningful way to address the serious human rights violations that have taken place.
In the end, the resolution on the human rights situation in Yemen (i.e. with a focus on accountability), led by the Netherlands and a core group, was adopted by a vote (22 in favour, 12 against, 11 abstentions), while its ‘item 10 sister resolution,’ led by Iraq on behalf of the Group of Arab States, was adopted by consensus. Regarding Venezuela, the item 4 resolution (creating a Fact Finding Mission) led by Lima Group, was adopted by a vote, with 19 in favour, 7 against and 21 abstentions; while the item 10-style text (actually tabled under item 2) present by Iran, was also adopted by a vote, with 18 in favour, six against, and 23 abstentions.
In a positive move for the Council’s credibility and authority, and for its human rights impact in the country concerned, HRC42 saw the EU and the OIC recommit themselves to cooperate on the human rights situation in Myanmar, especially as it relates to the treatment of the Rohingya. The resolution, adopted by a vote with 37 in favour, just 2 against, and 7 abstentions, requested the High Commissioner to follow-up on recommendations by the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM).
Finally, in another positive example of cooperation between the international human rights system and a concerned State, HRC42 decided to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on human rights in Somalia. Importantly, this new resolution asks the mandate-holder to develop a roadmap for closer engagement between the international system and the State, to better support human rights reforms through the effective delivery of technical assistance. This opens up the possibility that the mandate will be replaced with a more effective delivery mechanism for capacity-building support in the near future.
Finally bridging the human rights implementation gap?
A number of important thematic resolutions were also adopted at the end of HRC42. Perhaps the one that will have the greatest long-term impact was tabled by Paraguay and Brazil on the subject of ‘national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up.’ The resolution, adopted by consensus, represents a first concerted effort by the international community to help States, through the exchange of good practice, better implement their international human rights obligations and commitments (via the implementation of recommendations received from the UN human rights mechanisms). The resolution also links improved human rights implementation with the realisation of the SDGs ‘leaving no one behind,’ and the UN priority issue of prevention (especially primary prevention).
Another issue that rose to the top of the political agenda at HRC42 was the relationships between human rights and climate change, and (more broadly) between human rights and environmental protection (including the issues of the right to a clean and healthy environment, and of ‘environmental human rights defenders’). The High Commissioner’s keynote speech at the start of HRC42 (which marked the end of her first year in Office) focused heavily on these interconnected issues (in advance of the UN Climate Action Summit in New York); while the Marshall Islands and the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) organised an Ambassadorial meeting, also with the High Commissioner, to consider how to expand the Council’s role in fighting against global warming and environmental harm.
HRC42 saw Mexico and Egypt trying to work together, again, on a joint resolution on terrorism/counter-terrorism and human rights. A previous attempt to collaborate on this issue had broken down over Egypt’s demand that the Special Procedures mandate on this subject should also cover, inter alia, the negative effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights, (i.e. in addition to the original emphasis on how to respect human rights while fighting terrorism). Somewhat surprisingly, this time around the extension of the mandate – included in OP 23 of the current resolution – was eventually accepted by traditional co-sponsors of the Mexican-led terrorism resolution, leading to the resolution’s adoption by consensus.
Other thematic resolutions of note included:
- A resolution on the ‘Right to development,’ through which the Council decided to establish a Working Group to elaborate a draft legally-binding instrument on this right – adopted by vote (27-13-7).
- A resolution on the ‘Composition of staff of OHCHR,’ requesting the High Commissioner to produce a report on the geographical distribution of her staff – adopted by vote (30-13-4);
- A resolution on ‘The question of the death penalty’ – subject to ‘hostile amendments’ (all rejected) and eventually adopted by vote (27-13-7);
- A resolution on ‘Cooperation with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights’ (i.e. reprisals) – subject to ‘hostile amendments’ (all rejected), and eventually adopted by vote (36-0-11);
- A resolution on ‘The right to privacy in the digital age’ – adopted by consensus; and
- A resolution on ‘The role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights,’ which recognises the particular role played by Special Procedures in the prevention of human rights violations – adopted by consensus.
Finally, two new resolutions (i.e. new or one-off initiatives) were adopted at HRC42: one on ‘The right to social security,’ (adopted by consensus); and one on ‘The 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action,’ (also adopted by consensus). With the latter text, presented by the Chinese and French delegations on behalf of China, Denmark, France, Kenya and Mexico (i.e. a group including the hosts of the different World Conferences on Women held in 1975, 1980, 1985 and 1995), the Council welcomes the progress made towards achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, while stressing that challenges and obstacles remain in the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. To consider these achievements and gaps, the Council will convene a high-level panel discussion during its 43rd session in March 2020, ‘to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, with a particular focus on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome documents of its review conferences, as well as on achievements, best practices and challenges.’
The French version of the report is available here.
 Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Japan,
Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Uruguay, Zambia.
 Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan,
Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa.
 Angola, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, India, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Senegal.
 Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Canada and Ireland
Feature photo: 42nds session of the Human Rights Council 9 september 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré, licensed under under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Michelle Bachelet, United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights during 42nds session of the Human Rights Council. 9 september 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré, licensed under under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
H.E. Mr. Amadou BA, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Senegalese Diaspora of Senegal, UN WebTV
Nicolas Koumjian, Head of the Independant Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar during 42nds session of the Human Rights Council. 9 september 2019. UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré, licensed under under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
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