Council Alert: Human Rights Council September 2012 session


The Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 21st session from 10 to 28 September. For more information including the draft programme of work, the list of reports and the annoted agenda, use the link here. Note that the programme of work remains subject to change. Information concerning NGOs and how to participate within the Council can be found here.


The Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 21st session from 10 to 28 September. For more information including the draft programme of work, the list of reports and the annoted agenda, use the link here. Note that the programme of work remains subject to change. Information concerning NGOs and how to participate within the Council can be found here. The orginisational meeting for the upcoming session, led by the Council President Laura Dupuy Lasserre, was held on 27 August. During the meeting States discussed the programme of work for the Council’s 21st Session and the various planned panel discussion.

Expected highlights of the session

The Council will have an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria on Monday 17 September. This is expected to be the final report of the COI before the Council, after which the Special Rapporteur on Syria will take over. This follows on from the two reports already presented by the COI on Syria and its ongoing civil war. The COI report does not deviate much from the previous two reports that have been presented to the Council.

In the interactive dialogue with the Council the COI is likely to reiterate its existing call for an end to gross violations and related impunity of human rights, and reinforce its recommendation for continued monitoring with a view to ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable. However, the appointment of Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as the Joint Special Envoy following the resignation of Kofi Annan in August, and the third resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 2012, are likely to influence the nature of the discussion.

The Council will also hold interactive dialogues with three country specific mandates. The Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and the Independent Experts on Somalia and Sudan will present their reports to the Council.

This will be the first time that an Independent Expert will report on Sudan since the independence of South Sudan in July 2011. The Independent Expert’s report follows from discussion in June 2011 that focused on the serious human rights violations in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Reflecting the creation of a new State and the human right violations there will likely be calls for a stronger mandate on Sudan, and a resurgence of calls for a mandate on South Sudan.

Although not specifically on the Council’s agenda, the human rights situations in Sri Lanka and Bahrain are likely to attract significant attention. At its March session, the Council had requested OHCHR to present a report in March 2013 only. However, given the UPR of Sri Lanka planned for 1 November, debates are likely to start in September. Likewise, Bahrain was the subject of a cross regional joint statement in June 2012, and will be of continued concern during the September session, not least because the UPR report on Bahrain will be adopted.

At this session, 15 thematic special procedure mandate holders will present their reports, in a series of grouped interactive dialogues.

The Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, will present his report to the Council on Tuesday 11 September. This will be the first report on this issue since his mandate was established through a Council resolution in September 2011.

The Council will convene a panel entitled ‘Cooperation with UN Human Rights mechanisms: issues of intimidation or reprisals’. The panel, sponsored by Hungary, will be held on Thursday 13 September and is a result of Decision 18/118. The panel is part of an ongoing focus on this issue that builds on reports and resolutions made at the Council’s predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, and continued at the Council.

In a separate debate under Item 5, the Council will consider the latest report by the Secretary General and will build on material from previous reports that include information on cooperating with any part of the UN human rights system, and not just the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies. The report uses stronger language than previous iterations and calls for a move to ‘go beyond reporting’. It outlines clear and solid support for the initiatives and engaged role of the Council’s President and the High Commissioner and for greater involvement on the issue by the Council. While during previous considerations of the Secretary-General’s report, concerned States were largely silent, it will be interesting to observe if the greater attention to reprisals elicits a more specific response.


NGO Opportunity: ECOSOC accredited NGOs and human rights defenders can raise examples of cases where States have failed to fulfil their expected role in handling alleged reprisals. Accredited NGOs can participate in the panel via video message or through attendance in Geneva.

The Russian Federation announced during the organisational meeting that it plans on proposing a new draft resolution on the connection between traditional values and universal human rights. The draft resolution has not been released and is not available at the time of writing. This draft resolution is being introduced despite a delay in the presentation and review of the Council’s Advisory Committee report on promoting fundamental human rights through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind. The report will now be presented at the 22nd session of the Council, in March 2013.

The delay follows a heated debate on the issue in the Advisory Committee that has proven to be a divisive issue for the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee acts as a think tank for the Council and, in addition to traditional values, discusses a number of topics mandated by the Council, including the right of people to peace, the right to food, the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights, and international solidarity.

The announced resolution by the Russian Federation builds on previous texts on this issue, over which NGOs and States have expressed concern. Traditional values are often seen to undermine rather than promote human rights. The traditional values argument, if accepted, could limit the ability to question harmful practices occurring in many States, including in the context of consideration by other human right mechanisms such as the UPR and treaty bodies. Russia and the 28 sponsors of the original resolution in 2009 refused to reaffirm that no State has the right to invoke traditional values to counter, limit or avoid their obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Russia’s traditional values resolution continues the worrying trend of resolutions with questionable content from a human rights perspective, such as the efforts of Pakistan with its, now defunct, ‘defamation of religion’ resolutions. This trend has the potential to discredit the Council as an international moral compass.

Finally, The Council will appoint three new mandate holders for the positions of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, and Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. Interestingly, the Ambassador of Cuba has recently replaced the Ambassador of Honduras in the consultative group, a group of five representatives of the Regional Groups, serving in their personal capacities, responsible for shortlisting candidates for appointment by the President of the Council. The Cuban Ambassador, having been one of the most ardent critics of the establishment of a mandate on Belarus, will find himself in a tricky situation having to select the best-qualified mandate holder.

The Council will also elect new members of the Advisory Committee. The only current nominees for election to the Advisory Committee are Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani from Bahrain and Mario L. Coriolano from Argentina; their biographical data can be found here. In this context, during the organisational meeting, Amnesty International noted that even if there are no more candidates for election than vacancies, there should be a ballot (and not merely an acclamation as announced by the President) because a ballot is the only mechanism that exists to allow member States to give effect to paragraph 68 of the institution-building package, which provides that persons in conflict of interests shall be excluded from election to the Advisory Committee.

Universal Periodic Review

The adoption of the UPR report on Bahrain will provide an opportunity to build on the joint statement and to put pressure on the Council to consider paying attention to the situation outside of the UPR framework.

Adoption of the UPR reports of Morocco and Tunisia is also on the agenda. These reports reflect positive trends in human rights development in both countries that have accompanied their political changes in the Arab Spring. The reviews in the UPR Working Group for both of these countries have been overwhelmingly positive in their evaluation of the changes in these nations and have outlined a number of recommendations for the fledgling democracies. The adoption of the reports provides an opportunity for human rights defenders to critically reflect on the positive picture painted by the States in the UPR.


NGO Opportunity: As part of the opening of the UPR dialogue, NGOs and human rights defenders are able to participate in the dialogue by video message. This is the only time that NGOs get to formally participate in the UPR process and provides an important opportunity to highlight critical issues. Video submission can be made from anywhere in the world, as long as they satisfy the criteria.

Overall, the session will be heavier than the one held in June as there are a larger number of expected resolutions and UPR adoptions further weighing down the agenda. Senegal (on behalf of the African Group) raised this issue, noting that the very full agenda made it difficult for the small delegations to contribute effectively. June has shown that a more manageable workload during the sessions may lead to more substantive debates and better engagement by all delegations, particularly small ones, and the Council would do well to consider that lesson for the future.

Resolutions to be brought at the 21st session, as mentioned at the organisational meeting

Decision convening a Panel in March 2013 on the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (Austria)

Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity building – improvement of last year’s resolution, determining the theme of the March 2013 panel on technical cooperation, and focus on how the council can support the implementation of UPR recommendations (Thailand)

Human rights and extreme poverty – adoption of the guiding principles developed by the Special rapporteur (France)

Human rights and indigenous peoples – omnibus text bringing together all agreed language (Guatemala and Mexico)

Human rights education and training – follow up to the Global Programme on human rights education (Costa Rica)

Human rights and transitional justice – Focus on the gender perspective in transitional justice measures (Switzerland)

International solidarity and human rights (Cuba)

Maternal Mortality and Morbidity – with Colombia and New Zealand – in line with last year’s resolution, follow up to the OHCHR guidelines on maternal mortality and morbidity prevention (Burkina Faso)

Private military societies (African Group)

Promoting an equitable democratic order (Cuba)

Racism (African Group)

Right to development – capturing the latest developments in the Council’s proceedings (Egypt on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement)

Right to peaceful assembly and association – building upon the resolution establishing the SR mandate (USA)

Right to truth – based on the previously agreed texts and building upon the reports prepared by the OHCHR (Argentina)

Safety of journalists – on behalf of a group of delegations (Austria)

Use of mercenaries to violate human rights and prevent and impede the achievement of human rights (Cuba)

Traditional values of mankind – Examples and good practices to ensure a truly universal recognition of human rights. (Russia)

There are four thematic panel discussions planned for the 21stsession

These panels are all the result of resolutions adopted by the Council. The following panel discussions will be held:

Intimidation and reprisals against individuals or groups having cooperated with the UN
The panel will include a video message by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and have an opening statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem Pillay. Other panelists include Mr Hassan Shire of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, and Ms Mehr Khan Williams, Chair of the ISHR board. The panel will be convened on Thursday 13 September.

Human Rights and indigenous people: Access to justice

This panel will take place on Thursday 18 September and will focus on the conflict that arises from access to justice and equity for indigenous people.

Integration of gender perspective in the UN system

This panel will be convened on Thursday 20 September. This year the focus of the discussion is on empowerment of women through economic, social and cultural rights. As part of the panel closed captioning, sign language and wheel chair access will be provided to open up access to the debate.

International Nelson Mandela Day

This panel will be convened on Friday 21 September.


  • Pacific
  • Middle East and North Africa
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Bahrain
  • Belarus
  • Eritrea
  • Morocco
  • Russia
  • Sri Lanka
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Tunisia