- The 28th regular session of the Human Rights Council was held from 2nd to 27th March 2015.
- Opening the session, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein drew attention to the the disconnect between the obligations and commitments of states under international law and the alarming regularity with which human rights are disregarded and violated.
- The high level segment was attended by, amongst others, H.E. Mr Didier Burkhalter, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Swiss Confederation; H.E. Mr Gjorge Ivanov, President, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; H.E. Mr Josala Vorege Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji; and around 81 participants of ministerial rank including H.E. Mr Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation; H.E. Mr John Kerry, Secretary of State of United States of America; H.E. Mr Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium; H.E. Mr Bruno Rogriguez Parilla, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba; H.E. Mr Abdul Hasan Mahmood Ali, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh; and H.E. Mr Alexis Thambwe Mwamba, Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Democratic Republic Congo.
- 8 panel discussions were held during the session.
- 83 reports under the various items on the Council’s agenda were considered.
- The outcomes of the UPR working groups of the following 14 countries were adopted: Angola, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, El Salvador, Fiji, Gambia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, San Marino and Slovenia.
- More than 214 side events were held by states and/or NGOs during the session.
- Two new mandates were established: an Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism and a Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.
- The Council considered 37 texts: 34 resolutions and 3 President’s statements. Of these, 23 were adopted by consensus (62%), and 14 by a recorded vote (38%).
- 21 of the texts adopted by the Council (57%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and 14 required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. The total costs of the newly mandated activities amounted to $11,928,350.
High Level Segment
Opening the 28th session of the Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, drew attention to the fact that: ‘All [states] by ratifying the UN Charter, have made a clear commitment to […] “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights; in the dignity and worth of the human person; in the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small; and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties, and other sources of international law, can be maintained; and to promote social progress, and better standards of life in larger freedom.” And yet, with alarming regularity, human rights are disregarded, and violated, sometimes to a shocking degree.‘
The opening meeting also featured video messages from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President of the General Assembly Sam Kutesa, and statements by Joachim Rücker, President of the Human Rights Council and Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, Didier Burkhalter. During its four-day high-level segment, the Council heard addresses from a head of state, a prime minister, and 96 government ministers and other senior dignitaries. Two high-level panel discussions were convened, one on the question of the death penalty and one on human rights mainstreaming.
A total of 8 panel discussions were held during the 28th session. The panels were on the following topics (click for OHCHR meeting summaries):
- Annual high-level panel on human rights mainstreaming; (Agenda item 1)
- Biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty; (Agenda item 3)
- Full-day discussion on human rights and climate change; (Agenda item 3)
- Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities; (Agenda item 3)
- Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child; (Agenda item 3)
- Panel discussion on the issue of national policies and human rights; (Agenda item 10)
- Debate on the state of racial discrimination worldwide (Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination); (Agenda item 9)
- Annual thematic discussion on technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights; (Agenda item 10)
17 mandate holders (11 thematic, 6 country-specific) presented annual reports to the Council (all of which are available here). The Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic and the Independent Expert on capacity-building and technical cooperation with Côte d’Ivoire in the field of human rights also provided an oral update. During 15 interactive dialogues with the mandate-holders, 114 states delivered statements (in their individual capacity), of which 20% were from the African Group, 30% from Asia Pacific Group, 21% from WEOG, 18% from EEG and 11% from GRULAC.
Special Procedures Annual Report presented under item 5
For the first time ever, the Special Procedures mechanism submitted a detailed annual report (A/HRC/28/41) to the Council (previously, Special Procedures only published a report of their annual meeting). The report was still officially called ‘report of the 21st annual meeting’ of Special Procedures, however this time the title went on: ‘including updated information on the special procedures.’ The report gives a comprehensive picture of what Special Procedures did in 2014 individually and as a system, in terms of country visits, communications, thematic reports, follow-up activities, joint actions, development of international standards, and advocacy. On cooperation, the report provides information on levels of state responsiveness to Special Procedures urgent appeals and other communications, noting that states responded to only 42.7% of all communications in 2014, and even amongst the responses there was a considerable degree of variation in terms of substance, with some merely offering an ‘acknowledgement of receipt’ while others did provide ‘more substantive replies.’
Also for the first time, the Chairperson of the Special Procedures Coordination Committee – so the representative of the mechanism – was given the opportunity to personally present the report to the Council under the General Debate of agenda item 5. In his statement presenting the report, Professor François Crépeau said that the new report was designed to respond to a demand for ‘more information on the Special Procedures system as a whole and its achievements in line with the outcome of the Council’s five year review which requested to maintain information on Special Procedures in a comprehensive and easily accessible manner.’
Responding to these two historic steps (the new report and the presentation), a cross-regional group of 44 states delivered a statement welcoming the ‘additional information contained in the report,’ and the presence of the Chair which allows for ‘regular interaction’ between the Council and the Special Procedures system.
Another significant development this session was the use of the item 5 General Debate as a forum for states and the Special Procedures mechanism to engage in a dialogue on follow-up to the implementation of recommendations. The annual report and the presentation of the Chair both drew attention to good practices, from both mandate holders and states, in this area. A number of states, notably Uruguay and Tunisia, provided information in follow-up to country missions.
All of these important new developments occurred in line with recommendations made in the URG-Brookings Institution’s 2014 report on Special Procedures.
New mandates and renewals
Two new mandates were established during the session: an Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism and a Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. This brings the current number of mandates to 54 (41 thematic, 13 country-specific), representing a 35% increase in the number of mandates since 2006.
Two thematic mandates were renewed this session. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights was extended for three years, and the mandate of the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment was renewed (again for three years) as a Special Rapporteur.
New Mandate Holders
Three new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed this session:
- Mr Idriss JAZAIRY as the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights
- Ms. Rhona SMITH as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia
- Mr Dante PESCE as the Member for the Latin American and Caribbean States of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
As the President of the Council noted in his letter of the 20th March 2015, some stake holders expressed reservations about the appointment of Mr Idriss Jazairy due to concerns over ‘his extensive work, as Algerian Ambassador and on-going, on the system of Special Procedure mandate holders.’
During the item 5 debate, a number of states expressed concern about the composition of the Special Procedures system. India‘reiterate[d] the need to ensure equitable geographic representation, as well as an appropriate representation of different legal systems,’ while Norway expressed concern ‘about the lack of gender balance among Special Procedures mandate holders’ (after this session’s appointments, 39% of mandate holders are female). The President of the Council expressed similar concerns, stressing that ‘more needs to be done’ to enhance both geographical and gender balance, ‘particularly in regard to a better gender balance within the Working Groups.’ In light of this, he ‘strongly encourage[d] qualified women-candidates to apply for forth-coming appointments.’
Adoption of UPR Working Group Reports
The Council adopted the reports of Angola, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, El Salvador, Fiji, Gambia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kazakhstan, Madagascar, San Marino, Slovenia, each of which was reviewed between 27th October – 7th November 2014 by the UPR Working Group. A total of 2,651 recommendations were made to these 14 countries, out of which 1,977 were accepted in whole or in part and 673 were noted or rejected.
|Country||Number of Recommendations||Accepted by/Enjoying the Support of the State (in whole or in part)||Noted by/Rejected by/Not Enjoying the Support of the State||No Clear Answer|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||167||0||167||0|
The adoption of the UPR outcome of Gambia, initially scheduled for 18th March, was postponed to 26th due to the fact that the country had not indicated a clear position on all recommendations during the review. Following a series of consultations between OHCHR and Gambia, the latter eventually provided a response to the recommendations – though no delegation from Gambia participated in the adoption of the report. Another country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, announced that it would only take note of the 167 recommendations received during their review (October 2014) at this session, even though it had also been expected to provide its final responses on recommendations. The delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina committed to come back to the Council to provide its ‘detailed answers to all recommendations’ by the 29th session in June 2015. Many observers felt that the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina may set an unwelcome precedent.
During the debate under item 6, several states and NGOs took the floor to underline the current challenges of the UPR while recognizing its added value to share best practices and improve the human rights situation on the ground.
Among the interventions was one by the UK on behalf of a group of 50 countries. These states committed themselves to ensuring that all their recommendations will be precise, practical, constructive, forward looking and implementable, and that they would show restraint on the number of recommendations given, with a maximum of 2 per state (given to each reporting state). It is also to be observed that the issue of limiting recommendations is opposed by a coalition of NGOs led by UPR Info, on the grounds that such an approach would narrow the scope of the review of a country and leave important issues uncovered.
It is to be recalled that a similar statement was made during the 22nd session of the Council in 2013 by a group of states led by the UK, Morocco and Brazil. URG carried out an analysis on whether these states have honoured the commitment made (i.e. limiting their recommendations to 2). The URG’s analysis, conducted from the 15th to the 19th session of the UPR Working Group, shows that only the Netherlands, UK and Brazil have consistently respected their voluntary commitment. Even then, there were exceptions – for example Brazil made 4 recommendations to Israel and the UK made 3 recommendations to Canada.
Resolutions, Decisions and President’s Statements
The 28th session of the Council concluded with the adoption of 37 texts: 34 resolutions and 3 President’s statements (PRSTs). This represents a decrease of 12% from the number of texts adopted at the 24th session in March 2014, and the lowest number since 2010. The drop – together with a related deeper focus on the implementation of existing resolutions – may be due to a renewed focus on the relevant (i.e. methods of work) provisions of the Council’s institution-building package (IBP) and 5-year review outcome. This renewed focus has been driven by Turkey and Norway through a cross regional statement, with 73 countries in total, on ‘improving methods of work in the Council’ (delivered under item 3), by engagement on this matter by the new President of the Council, and by the URG’s recent report on the Council’s work and output.
Around 38% of the texts were adopted by a recorded vote.
24 (65%) of the texts adopted by the Council were thematic in nature, while only 13 (35%) dealt with country-specific situations. Of these, 9 addressed human rights violations (under agenda items 4, 7 and 10) and 4 sought to protect human rights through technical assistance and capacity building (under item 10).
21 of the adopted texts (57%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI), requiring appropriations of $11,928,350 not previously covered by the UN regular budget.
During item 3, a group of 49 states again drew attention to the growing gap between the ambition of the Council (as reflected in the large number of resolutions and mandated activities) and the resources made available to the human rights pillar. The statement argued that establishing ‘sustainable resourcing over the coming years should be a top priority for both UN member states and the Office.’
|Agenda Item||Resolution||Submitted by||PBI||(New) Extra-Budgetary Appropriations||Adoption|
|2||Composition of staff of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights||Cuba||✗||–||Vote (31-16-0)|
|3||Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights||Iran (NAM)||✓||$71,400||Consensus|
|3||Ensuring use of remotely piloted aircraft or armed drones in counterterrorism and military operations in accordance with international law, including international human rights and humanitarian law||Pakistan||✗||–||Vote (29-6-12)|
|3||The right of persons with disabilities to live independently and be included in the community on an equal basis with others||Mexico and New Zealand||✗||–||Consensus|
The negative impact of the non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin to the countries of origin on the enjoyment of human rights, and the importance of improving international cooperation
|Algeria (African Group)||✓||
|3||Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism||Algeria (African Group)||✓||$1,269,600 (2016-17)||Consensus|
|3||Renewal of the Mandate of the Open-ended intergovernmental working group to consider the possibility of elaborating an international regulatory framework on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the activities of private military and security companies||Algeria (African Group), Cuba, Venezuela (Bol. Rep.)||✓||0||Vote (32-13-2)|
|3||Freedom of religion or belief||Latvia (EU)||✗||–||Consensus|
|3||The effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights||Cuba||✗||–||Vote (31-14-1)|
|3||Mandate of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights||Cuba||✓||0||Consensus|
|3||The right to food||Cuba||✗||–||Consensus|
|3||Human rights and the environment||Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland||✓||0||Consensus|
|3||Question of the realization in all countries of economic, social and cultural rights||Portugal||✗||–||Consensus|
|3||Birth registration and the right of everyone to recognition everywhere as a person before the law||Mexico, Turkey||✓||$71,400 (2016-17)||Consensus|
|3||Human rights, democracy and the rule of law||Morocco, Norway, Peru, Republic of Korea, Romania, Tunisia||✓||$250,100 (2016-17)||Vote (35-0-12)|
|3||Prevention of genocide||Armenia||✗||–||Consensus|
|3||Right to work||Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Mexico, Romania||✓||
|3||The right to privacy in the digital age||Austria, Brazil, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland||✓||$1,363,200||Consensus|
|3||Rights of the Child: Toward better investment in the rights of the child||EU and LAC||✗||–||Consensus|
|3||Effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights||Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia||✓||$43,300 (2014-15)||Vote (25-16-6)|
|4||The continuing grave deterioration in the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic||France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, USA, UK||✓||
|4||Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran||Moldova, Sweden, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, USA||✓||0||Vote (20-11-16)|
|4||Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea||Japan, EU||✓||
|4||Situation of human rights in Myanmar||Latvia (EU)||✓||0||Consensus|
|7||Human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan||Pakistan (OIC)||✗||–||Vote (29-1-17)|
|7||Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination||Pakistan (OIC)||✗||–||Vote (45-1-1)|
|7||Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan||Pakistan (OIC)||✗||–||Vote (45-1-1)|
|7||Human rights situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem||Pakistan (OIC)||✗||–||Vote (43-1-3)|
|8||Contribution of the Human Rights Council to the United Nations General Assembly special session on the world drug problem of 2016||Albania, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Greece, Norway, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay, Switzerland||✓||
|9||Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief||Pakistan (OIC)||✓||
|10||Technical assistance and capacity building to improve human rights in Libya||Algeria (African Group)||✓||
|10||Technical assistance and capacity-building for Mali in the field of human rights||Algeria (African Group)||✓||
$237,850 (July-December 2015)
|10||Technical assistance and capacity-building in strengthening human rights in Iraq in the light of the abuses committed by Da’esh and associated terrorist groups||Bahrain (Arab Group)||✓||$30,600 (2014-15)||Consensus|
|10||Strengthening of technical cooperation and consultative services in Guinea||Algeria (African Group)||✗||–||Consensus|
Decisions and President’s Statements
|Agenda Item||Decision/President’s Statement||Submitted by||PBI||(New) Extra-Budgetary Appropriations||Adoption|
|1||Draft Presidential statement on the Seventieth anniversary of the End of the Second World War||HRC President||✗||–||Consensus|
|8||Twentieth Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and Adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action||HRC President||✗||–||Consensus|
|10||Situation of human rights in Haiti||France, Haiti||✓||0||Consensus|
Conclusion and analysis
One of the more contentious issues faced by states at the 28th Session was the consideration of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) report (see URG’s blog on this issue here) and the subsequent resolution, tabled by Cuba, on the composition of the staff of the Office. This was eventually adopted by vote, with developing countries (with the exception of Morocco) voting in favour and developed countries voted against. By adopting this resolution, the Council invites the General Assembly and its subsidiary bodies to give consideration to the relevant sections of the report of the JIU and to the implementation of the resolution. The requests for vote (on both the specific paragraph dealing with the JIU report and on the resolution as a whole) was made on the ground that such an issue should be dealt with by the GA’s Fifth Committee, and the reference to the JIU report undermines the independence of the High Commissioner by introducing the idea of Council oversight of the OHCHR. At the end of the 28th session, a statement by a group of 52 states again drew attention to the dangers inherent in such oversight.
For many observers, the outcome of this session was a glass both half empty and half full.
There were, according to observers, some positive developments such as the creation of a new mandate on the right to privacy, including mass surveillance; the consensual adoption of two important and potential divisive resolutions on religion – one following up on resolution 16/18 on religious intolerance (OIC), and its sister resolution on freedom of religion (EU); and the adoption of resolutions on DPRK, Iran, Myanmar and Syria. The latter resolutions are important considering the Council’s key mandate to respond to human rights violations in specific situations.
Other positive developments include the proactive engagement of China on a number of issues. For example, it led an initiative, through securing a PRST, drawing attention to the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. China also delivered a statement on behalf of the Like Minded Group (LMG) on the UPR Trust Fund on implementation of recommendations, drawing particular attention to the needs of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.
On the downside, the Council failed to effectively address human rights violations in South Sudan and in Iraq, violations that may amount to crimes against humanity. There was no resolution at all on South Sudan, while on Iraq, a weak and one-sided resolution, drafted and tabled by the country itself, was adopted under item 10 (capacity-building and technical cooperation). Such developments call into question the credibility of the Council and suggest that delegations are not serious about implementing the mandate handed down to them by heads of states and governments in GA resolution 60/1 and by the GA in resolution 60/251.
Again, general thematic debates tended to take up the majority of the Council’s time during its 28th session. This is contrary to the Council’s intergovernmental mandate.
As underscored by the President of the Council in his closing remarks, another negative development has been the growing number of acts of intimidation and attacks against civil society representatives and human rights defenders. This is despite the fact that states, through resolution 16/21, collectively rejected any act of intimidation or reprisal against individuals or groups that have cooperated, or are seeking to cooperate, with the UN and its mechanisms in the field of human rights.
As noted above, initiatives such as the Turkey-Norway cross-regional statement on the Council’s methods of work appear to have contributed to a decrease in the number of resolutions considered by the Council at this session, as compared to the 2014 March session. One reason for this is that states have been reminded of, and have taken steps in line with, the relevant provisions of resolution 16/21 containing the outcome of the Council’s 5-year review. For example, at the 28th session New Zealand and Mexico decided to biennalize their initiatives on disabilities. As well as keeping the Council’s agenda and programme of work manageable, such initiatives also provide more time for states to focus on the implementation of existing resolutions and their impact on the ground.
With this in mind, the surprising position adopted by Brazil on the issue of biennalisation is disappointing. In its statement prior to the adoption of the resolution on the right of persons with disabilities (L5), Brazil claimed that biennalisation undermines the prerogatives and sovereign rights of states to introduce new resolutions. This, however, represents an incorrect reading of paragraph 48 of resolution 16/21. Indeed, it is ironic that Brazil should take such a stance, when it was the former Permanent Representative of Brazil, while facilitating negotiations on methods of work during the 5-year review, who proposed that states should consider submitting regular thematic initiatives on a triennial basis. It is also worth noting that part of the rationale for biennialisation or triennialisation, in addition to freeing up time to discuss implementation, is to ensure sufficient time to address violations of human rights, in accordance with GA resolution 60/251. As noted in URG’s recent report on the Council’s work and output since 2006, only the US and the EU (or leading EU member states) regularly take steps to fulfil this GA mandate by tabling resolutions under item 4 on the violation of human rights in specific situations. As shown in Human Rights Watch’s ‘2014 Votes Count’ report, Brazil rarely contributed to country specific debates in 2014 only taking the floor during the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. At this session, the abstention of Brazil on the Council’s resolution on the continuing grave deterioration in the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic has been labelled as disappointing in several quarters. It reveals a lack of leadership in the Council and, moreover, may lead an informed observer to question Brazil’s claim to a permanent seat on the Security Council.
 Algeria, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Chile, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Mexico, Moldova, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, UK, Tunisia and Turkey.
 An AG member of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) was also appointed, but in our view this is not a ‘Special Procedure’ sensu stricto.
Images: Joachim Rücker, President of the Human Rights Council during of the High Level Segment of the 28th Session at the Human Rights Council. 2 March 2015 by UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein speaking at the opening of the 28th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council by U.S. Mission Geneva Photo / Eric Bridiers licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0
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