Highlights: Week One of the 19th Session of the HRC

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President of the Human Rights Council
President of the Human Rights Council

The 19th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council as the “Council’s main session of the year” (President of the HRC), was opened on Monday, 27 February 2012, by keynote statements from the President of the Council, the President of the General Assembly, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Federal Councillor and Head of the Department for Foreign Affairs of Switzerland – who all emphasised the need to tackle the situation in Syria. During the high-level segment opened by the Vice President of Colombia over 85 dignitaries spoke on key human rights issues in their countries and abroad. Issues addressed during the high level segment were diverse and ranged from the issue of child labour (more than 250 million children worldwide are still involved in labour), the effect of terrorism on innocent, unarmed civilians to the rights of migrants and increasing sexual violence against women in armed conflict as well as the issue of death penalty.

The major event of this week was the Urgent Debate on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria on Tuesday, 28 February, and Thursday, 1 March 2012. The outcome of the debate was Resolution A/HRC/19/L.1/Rev.1. For more information read our update!


Panels of this week:

  • Panel Discussion on Human Rights through Sport and the Olympic Ideal (Monday, 27 February 2012)

This Panel moderated by Jeremy Browne, UK Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a host of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympics Games, focused on the large influence that sport and major sporting events such as the Olympics and Paralympics have on international policies and the promotion of human rights. Questions raised included: How had the Paralympics affected policies on persons with disabilities in the respective organising countries? What international measures could be used to streamline the relationship between the Olympics and human rights? It was especially criticised that girls and women were discriminated against and prevented from participating in the Games.

  • Panel Discussion on Human Rights Mainstreaming and International Cooperation (Tuesday, 28 February 2012)

In a video-message the Secretary-General said that the respect for human rights was a responsibility for all Member States and the UN system. Panellists included representatives from UNDP, WHO, UNICEF, ILO, the World Bank and FAO. They emphasised that there was a greater understanding of including human rights in development. Moreover, human rights were never meant to be a separate activity but constituted a fundamental part of all UN work.

  • Panel Discussion on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Expression on the Internet (Wednesday, 29 February 2012)

The Internet has become an indispensable tool for people to receive and share information and as such it has transformed human rights movements: States can no longer exercise control by claiming a monopoly over information. This issue was the heart of the third panel moderated by Riz Khan of Al Jazeera. The discussion included the demand for no restriction on the flow of information on the internet, except when international human rights laws were threatened, as well as the need for a draft resolution and a convention for the protection of journalists to protect bloggers. States that filtered and blocked access to the internet were heavily criticised for limiting the freedom of expression.

  • Annual Discussion on the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Thursday, 1 March 2012)

The major issue of this debate was the importance of the participation of persons with disabilities in political and public life – especially given their historic invisibility. The realisation of the human rights of persons with disabilities constitutes a challenge for least developed countries due to the need for financial and technical resources. As a very strong gesture, Signmark, the first deaf rap artist in the world, spoke to the Council after a short performance. Watch his contribution.


On Friday, 2 March 2012, the High Commissioner for Human Rights presented her Annual Report 2011 to the Human Rights Council. Navi Pillay addressed Human Rights Mechanisms, commending the completion of the first cycle of the UPR with a 100% participation rate. She stated her deep concern about the rise in xenophobic and discriminatory practices around the world reminding of the declarations adopted as part of the 10th anniversary of the Durban Declaration. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were another important part of her statement commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development. She also highlighted the efforts of her office to support the transitions to democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.


An interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights followed her statement. Many States said that the Council’s focus on country situations in the past year and a half allowed the strengthening of the protection of human rights; moreover, they shared the High Commissioner’s concern with the rise in discrimination based on religious and cultural identity. The issue of sexual orientation and gender identity remains a very controversial issue.

Friday was a colourful day at the HRC: many representatives came in their traditional costumes.


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