Highlights of Week Two of the 19th Session of the HRC

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Panel on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
Panel on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

LGBT rights, International Women’s Day, annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child and dialogues with many Special Procedures mandate holders: the second week of the HRC bore an intriguing discussion on some vital human rights issues!

The major issue dealt with in the second week of the HRC was Agenda Item 3 “The Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.” The Council also lived up to a historic moment: a Panel organised by South Africa and Brazil on the discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity – although, unfortunately, boycotted by most OIC countries and some other States.


What happened at this historic Panel on 7 March 2012?

Following the adoption of resolution 17/19 last June, it brought the discussion of violence and discrimination of LGBT people for the first time into the Human Rights Council. In his video message Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that a historic shift was under way since violence and discrimination directed at people just because they were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender was a violation of international law to which the HRC must respond.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay deplored that 76 countries had laws that either explicitly criminalised or prohibited same-sex relations. She noted that an underlying problem of this issue was prejudice which had to be overcome not by law alone - as outlined in her report: “My life has taught me that ignorance and bigotry are no match for the power of education… As people start to focus on facts, not fear, prejudice will start to ebb away… It is not easy but we have done it before!” The panellists highlighted that threats and violence formed part of everyday lives of LGBT persons, as well as violations to their right to a private life, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, to work, or to receive education. The discussion generally highlighted that it was not about creating new rights for certain people but about ensuring that all human rights could be enjoyed by all human beings.


Interactive Dialogues (ID) with Special Procedures mandate holders

  • ID with Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Human Rights Defenders (5 March 2012)

Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Mendes, focused in his report on commissions of inquiry to deepen an understanding of the international community as to when and in which form such commissions should be created. He also presented his facts from visits to Tunisia and Kyrgyzstan. In the following discussion some States expressed doubts if a report on commissions of inquiry was part of Mr Mendes’ mandate.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, highlighted the particular risk of journalists and media workers, defenders working on environmental and land issues, and youth and student defenders in her latest report. Her visit to India revealed that often human rights defenders were labelled as "militants" or "anti-nationalists". In the following debate it was stressed that a balance between rights and obligations had to be maintained.


  • ID with Mandate Holders on Enforced Disappearances and on Freedom of Religion or Belief (5-6 March 2012)

Chair-Rapporteur on the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, Jeremy Sarkin, condemned that enforced disappearances continued to be used by some States as a tool to deal with situations of conflict or internal unrest. A number of speakers emphasized the importance of country visits and urged Iran and Syria to extend their cooperation and respond to requests for a visit.

Heiner Bielefeldt, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, highlighted the problem that some States seemed to limit freedom of religion or belief to a given list of religious options. In the discussion the variety of national contexts was underlined: recommendations across the board would be difficult.


  • ID with Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Food and on Adequate Housing (6 March 2012)

Mr. De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, highlighted the urgent need to invest in types of agriculture that could resist shocks that were a result of greenhouse gas emissions and other harsh natural conditions and thus impacted negatively on the right to food, for example in Madagascar, South Africa, Mexico and China – his most recent missions.

Ms Rolnik, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, highlighted the impact of a variety of factors such as poverty, natural disasters, war, occupation etc. on the violation of women’s right to adequate housing. Several speakers said the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing needed to have a greater understanding of Shaira law before commenting that it discriminated against women in inheritance.


  • ID on Arbitrary Detention and on the human right of internally displaced persons (7 March 2012)

The report of Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the rights of internally displaced persons, was dedicated to the situation of internally displaced persons living outside camp settings. Some of the major problems involve efficient data collection, the situation of displaced persons in urban contexts, and the role of host communities.

The Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mads Andenas, highlighted the importance of habeas corpus which is needed more than ever today as it serves a robust safeguard against arbitrary deprivation of liberty of political opponents, religious dissenters and members of minorities. Country missions to Georgia and Germany were concluded.


  • ID on Violence against Children and on the sale of children (7 March 2012)

Marta Santos Pais, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, promoted the importance of the ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a key instrument to decrease, prevent and persecute violence against children.

Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, focused on the vulnerability of children during humanitarian crises and environmental disasters. The major issue during the discussion evolved around the measures that could be taken to provide for children during humanitarian crises.


Annual Full-Day Meeting on Children (8 March 2012)

Two major debates were the subject of this year’s discussion on children: the first dealt with the administration of justice and the second with the protection of the rights of children deprived of their liberty and children of incarcerated parents. Navi Pillay highlighted in her opening statement that the trend toward lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility was of high concern. In the discussion many States deplored the fact that millions of children around the world were affected by the incarceration of their parents which had negative ramifications on their physical and emotional well-being.


Next Week country situations, such as the situation in Syria, the DPRK, Myanmar and others will be reviewed, as well as the consideration of UPR reports will commence.


Quote of the Week:

“Today we all have an opportunity to begin together a new chapter dedicated to ending violence and discrimination against all people, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It is a historic moment for this Council and for the United Nations.” (Navi Pillay) Let us hope that more and more States will continue to be part of this very important dialogue!

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