Highlights: Week One of the 20th Session of the HRC

The World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) is a global nonprofit organization representing and coordinating a membership of over 100 national United Nations Associations.
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

The 20th Session of the Human Rights Council was opened on Monday, 18th June, by the President of the Council, Ms Laura Dupuy Lasserre, and began with the presentation of the report of High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

High Commissioner’s report

The High Commissioner spoke about increasing migration due to the global economic crisis and expressed concern about the consequences of austerity policies on the most vulnerable members of society.  She also focused on the growing violence against journalists in Latin America and the resurgence of racism and xenophobia in Europe.  She commended the high level of participation in the recent UPR review of 14 states, and looked forward to attending the UN Summit on Sustainable Development,  Rio +20 where she aims to ensure that all measures adopted respect human rights obligations and responsibilities.  States congratulated the High Commissioner for the extension of her term during the general debate following her presentation.

Highlights this week

This week’s meetings were dedicated to discussion of Item 3, the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.  Clustered interactive dialogues were held with various Special Rapporteurs, including the Special Rapporteurs on peaceful assembly and association; freedom of opinion and expression; the right to education; extreme poverty; cultural rights and trafficking. Below are more details on a selection of this week’s Council meetings:

Interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur on health and Special Rapporteur on the right to education

Occupational health was a key issue in the discussion, with most states highlighting the need for modification of the rights of migrant workers and health regulations in labour law, as well as more attention towards women workers’ rights. With regard to education, states drew attention to the growing levels of violence in schools, and called for more material and financial investment in schools.   It was also mentioned that the improvement of education must be seen in the context of combating marginalisation.

Interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression

The Special Rapporteurs reports focused on the protection of journalism and media freedom.  States were particularly concerned about online journalism and questions were raised about whether online journalists have the same rights as print journalists, how to prevent hacking of journalists’ and bloggers’ accounts, and the fact that online journalists aren’t subject to the same level of accountability as print journalists.  States asked the Special Rapporteurs for concrete methods to tackle impunity of attacks against journalists and to promote the role of journalists in society.  A particularly contentious issue was the balance between maintaining national security and ensuring people’s right to freedom of expression.

Interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism

A hot topic in this debate was the violation of human rights in extraterritorial counterterrorism operations, specifically the United States’ use of drones for targeted killings.  States tended to focus on the threat to the right of peaceful assembly in Belarus and Syria, although Belarus contested the singling-out of certain states, and Syria protested the disregard of the issue of states’ support for terrorists in other countries.

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