Human Rights Council

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Highlights from the 4h cycle of the Human Rights Council

September 2010

 

The Human Rights Council (HRC) is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations. Established in 2006, the Council assumes the role and responsibilities of the Commission on Human Rights, relating to the work of the Office of the High Commissioner. Convening at least three times per year, the Council aims to strengthen the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide.

This summary highlights the 12th, 13th and 14th sessions of the Human Rights Council.

12th session

The 12th session of the Human Rights Council took place from the 14th of September to the 2nd of October 2009. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, opened the session by addressing specific human rights issues pertaining to the discrimination of indigenous peoples, the rights of minorities and women and addressed the attacks of peaceful regime opponents.

The Council held interactive dialogues with the Special Procedures and heard reports on the following themes: child prostitution and child pornography, children and armed conflict, contemporary forms of slavery, the access to safe water and sanitation, human rights and international solidarity and toxic waste. In addition, the council addressed the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, contemporary forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, racial discrimination, the situation of human rights in Cambodia and the situation of human rights in Somalia. Further country reports were issued by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Liberia and Burundi and by the UN Secretary-General on Cambodia.

A number of general debates were held during the Council's 12th session. They include a discussion on the promotion and protection of human, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights; the right to development; human rights bodies and mechanisms; and the human rights situations that require the Council's attention. Moreover, the debates covered the human rights situation in Palestine and other Occupied Arab Territories; the Universal Periodic Review mechanism; the follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action; racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance; the follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action; and on technical assistance and capacity building.

With regards to Item 4, which deals with the situation that require the Council's attention, Nigeria and China triggered important discussions concerning asylum seekers and the Romani people in Europe. This is significant because African and Asian countries have not often spoken on issues concerning this item number. In the past, these debates have usually led to naming and shaming, and it is often said that these discussions undermine the spirit of dialogue and cooperation of the Council.

The situation of Sri Lanka was addressed under several items of the Council's agenda. During the panel discussion on the issue of migrants, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned about criminalizing children and migrants. Additionally, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention raised the concern that migration is often categorized as a security risk. Together with Ms. Pillay, Olivier de Schutter, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, presented a report on the follow-up to the Council's Special Session on the economic and financial crises and the food crisis. Special attention was paid to the report of the Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, commonly known as the "Goldstone Report".

During its 12th session, the Human Rights Council adopted 28 resolutions and 3 decisions were adopted. Additionally, all outcomes of the UPR review have been adopted without a vote. Countries under review included Monaco, Belize, Congo, Malta, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Chad, Vietnam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Comoros, and Slovakia.

13th session

The 13th session of the Council was held from 1 until 26 March 2010. During her opening speech, the High Commissioner for Human Rights addressed the escalation of human rights violations, which have been worsened by the financial crisis. She called upon the Council to make adjustments to its operations and upon the member States to better implement human rights. Moreover, she higlighted that the Council should act by supporting real change on the ground, improve the coordination of human rights mechanisms, ensure sufficient resources and focus more on chronic human rights conditions.

During the 13th session, the promotion of human rights was discussed. Human rights situations, requiring the Council's attention, were in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Palestine and other occupied Arab territories. Further discussions took place addressing UN reports on human rights issues, human rights bodies and mechanisms like the UPR. Additionally, the follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was considered by the Council. It was further decided to establish a committee of independent experts to monitor steps taken to implement the Goldstone report on the Gaza conflict and its adoption of 16 UPR reports. The Council additionally decided to postpone the discussion of the joint study on secret detention, because it received significant opposition from the African Group and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

The Human Rights Council held interactive dialogues with Special Rapporteurs and heard 18 reports which varied in focus. Such topics include the freedom of religion or belief, violence against children, arbitrary detention, the right to food, right to adequate housing, the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, internally displaced persons, torture and minority issues. Additionally, several panel discussions were organised to engage dialogue on issues concerning the impact of global economic and financial crises on realization of human rights, the rights of the persons with disabilities, the rights to truth and on the rights of the child. Additionally, a panel discussion was held on the commemoration of the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Navi Pillay met with numerous NGO representatives during the 13th Council session. During the Council, she stressed the importance of safeguarding the independence of NGOs worldwide when responding to the NGOs concerns about the protection of human rights defenders. She also encouraged a closer cooperation between the OHCHR and NGOs.

Member States made specific proposals, which include the importance to base the review of the Council on a proper assessment of the Council's work and to strengthen the role of the Presidency. While many states praised the Council's work concerning the UPR, they underlined the need to avoid duplication with the treaty bodies. It was also proposed to establish an ethics committee of independent experts to monitor implementation of the code of conduct of the Special Procedures. Finally, the question of membership in the Council was discussed, as many states accused the Council of not having strict enough policies in order to join.

During the closing of the Council's High-Segment, Navi Pillay called on the Council and its members to refocus its mandate to address all human rights violations wherever they occur, and strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights. Human Rights Council President Alex Van Meeuwen stressed the constructive spirit throughout the 13th session of the Council. In total, 20 out of 28 resolutions and decisions were adopted by consensus.

14th session

The Human Rights Council held its 14th session from 31 May to 18 June 2010. It was the last session of the Council's 4th cycle and the final one chaired by the outgoing President Alex van Meeuwen. Due to the fact that the Presidency rotates among regional groups, the next President is from the Group of Asian states. Mr. Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Ambassador of Thailand, has been elected as new President of the Council.

During its 14th session, the Council held a number of debates on human rights situations that require the Council's attention; the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development; the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories; human rights bodies and mechanisms; the follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action; technical assistance and capacity building; on the follow up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance.

The Council held interactive dialogues with 22 special procedures. The reports focused on the protection of human rights defenders, sexual orientation, secret detention, extrajudicial execution and on the freedom of expression. The Council renewed the mandates of its special procedures on internally displaced persons and on the freedom of religion or belief. Furthermore, panel discussions were held on women's human rights, on the protection of journalists in armed conflicts, on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes; on the enjoyment of human rights; on giving voice to the victims of human trafficking; and on the human rights dimensions of maternal mortality. The Council also held a general debate about the Universal Periodic Review and adopted the reports on the UPR of Qatar, Nicaragua, Italy, Kazakhstan, Slovenia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, El Salvador, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, the Gambia, Egypt, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Some thematic areas saw successful outcomes, like the large joint statement on maternal mortality, the discussion of decriminalisation of consensual sexual conduct and the consensus resolution on freedom of religion and belief. Unfortunately, the responses to country situations were still weak.

What's on the agenda for the next session?

The 15th regular session of the Council will be held from 13 September to 1 October 2010. Under Item 1, organisational and procedural matters will be discussed. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will present her annual report in her opening speech under Item 2. Further, under Item 3, a half-day discussion on women's equality before the law will take place. Interactive dialogues, dealing with the Special Procedures, will cover: the report on indigenous peoples, international solidarity, toxic waste, contemporary forms of slavery, access to safe drinking water and sanitation, children in armed conflict, extreme poverty, draft guiding principles and address the issue of mercenaries.

Other topics that will be addressed include the question of the death penalty, the right to development on its eleventh session, the use of forensic experts, the question on human trafficking, the plan of action for the 2nd phase of the World Programme for Human Rights Education, and the study on child migration. Moreover, additional issues addressed will include: programmes and other measures for the protection of witnesses, indigenous peoples, the Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples, the workshop on regional arrangement, women's equality before the law, unilateral coercive measures, existing communications and inquiry procedures, the rights of persons belonging to national or ethic, religious and linguistic minorities and on the outcome of the Panel on journalists in armed conflicts.

Under Item 4, concerning the human rights situations that require the Council's attention, an interactive dialogue will be held on the Sudan. Item 5 will include a report of the Expert Mechanism on indigenous peoples on its third session, the Advisory Committee draft set of principles and guidelines on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, the EMRIP progress report on its study on indigenous peoples and the right to participate in decision-making and the HC note transmitting the report of the seventeenth meeting of HRC Special Procedures. Under Item 6, reports of the working group on the UPR of the 8th session will be taken into account on Kyrgyzstan, Kiribati, Guinea, Lao PDR, Spain, Lesotho, Kenya, Armenia, Guinea-Bissau, Sweden, Grenada, Turkey, Guyana, Kuwait and Belarus.

Item 7 will address the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories and include a report of the Committee of Independent Experts, the SG report on the implementation of FFM recommendations and the HC report on the implementation of Resolution 13/9. Under Item 8, the follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the annual discussion on integrating the human rights of women throughout the UN system will be held. Item 9 includes reports on manifestations of defamation of religion, on the inadmissibility of certain practices, the people of African descent and on the International Year of People of African Descent.

Finally, under Item 10, a stand-alone interactive dialog on assistance to Somalia in the field of human rights will be held, focusing on technical cooperation, capacity-building and effective measures to improve the human rights situation in the country. Reports will additionally be held on the situation of human rights in Somalia, on human rights in Cambodia, on Burundi, on OHCHR's assistance to Cambodia and on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region.

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