HRC43 | Key issues on agenda of March 2020 session

17.02.2020

The 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 24 February to 20 March 2020, will consider issues including the protection of human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, protection and promotion of human rights while countering terrorism, the right to food and adequate housing, among others. It will also present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Burundi, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Eritrea, among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

The UN Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 43rd regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 24 February to 20 March 2020. The session provides a key opportunity for the Council to start addressing the key issues for 2020.

 

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC43 on Twitter, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

 

Don’t miss these side events organised by ISHR:

 

  • Women Human Rights Defenders in Conflict and Post-conflict situations on 4 March from 11:00 to 12:00 in Room XXVII
  • Intimidation and its Impact on Engagement with the UN Human Rights System: Methodological challenges and opportunities on 12 March from 13:30 to 14:30 in Room XXII 

Ensure that the Council can carry out all its work

The UN’s liquidity crisis is providing opportunities for autocratic States to restrict civil society participation at the Council and undermine the Council’s work.  The United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) and Member States must ensure the allocation of sufficient resources for the UN’s principal human rights body to be able to function effectively, so that it can continue to promote and protect human rights across the globe.

 

In December 2019, the Council decided to not hold general debates during the 44th session of the Council. ISHR reiterates that the removal of general debates in June will have a disproportionate and negative impact on civil society participation, and in particular on women human rights defenders and those working to combat violence and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Despite the adoption of a number of measures by the Council over the years to address the budgetary constraints faced by the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the Director General of UNOG informed the Council’s President that the Council may not be able to carry out all its mandated activities in 2020. This is due to the special emergency measures instituted by the UNSG to respond to the UN’s liquidity crisis which prohibit all lunch-time meetings, thus making it impossible for UNOG to provide conference services to all the Council’s required meetings. The President of the Council requested the UNSG to issue an exemption of these measures to ensure that the Council can hold all its meetings. The UNSG issued an exemption for meetings during the High-level Segment and voting on resolutions, but not for other meetings in the March session. 

 

ISHR jointly with 26 NGOs have expressed their concerns to the UNSG that in light of the special emergency measures and ongoing budget constraints, further measures may be imposed to restrict civil society participation at the Council. In his response, the UNSG reiterated the importance of effective civil society participation in the work of the Council, recognizing the vital role that civil society plays in solving global challenges, especially at a time when civic space is shrinking worldwide.

#HRC43| Thematic areas of interest

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions

Protection of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders

The Council will consider a resolution, presented by Norway, to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The mandate gathers and responds to information on the situation of defenders around the world, engages constructively with governments and non-State actors and provides recommendations to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration on human rights defenders.

 

In 2019, the Council and the General Assembly unanimously affirmed the vital work defenders play. The Council recognised the critical role of environmental human rights defenders in protecting vital ecosystems, addressing climate change, attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The General Assembly passed by consensus a resolution focusing on implementation of the Declaration and some key elements of protection policy; the resolution also attracted a record number of co-sponsors.

 

ISHR calls on all States to support the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur by participating positively in the negotiations on the resolution, presenting early co-sponsorship of the text, resisting any attempts to dilute the mandate and supporting consensus renewal of the mandate.

 

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders will present his report on human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations on 4 March, and country visits to Colombia and Mongolia.

Reprisals

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system.

 

The UN has taken action towards addressing this critical issue including:

  • Establishing a dedicated dialogue under item 5 to take place every September;
  • Affirmation by the Council of the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation; and
  • The appointment of the UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights as the Senior Official addressing reprisals.

ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who try to engage with UN mechanisms, and consistent in its calls for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation.

 

During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline.

 

Item 5 of the Human Rights Council's agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

 

During the organisational meeting held on 10 February, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals. In her welcome reception with civil society, the President commited to using various tools in the toolbox to increase the cost for States committing reprisals.

 

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence with States involved, and insist on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Other thematic reports

At this 43rd session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders alongside the annual report of the Secretary-General on the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights globally. These include interactive dialogues with the following:

 

  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing on her annual report and country visits reports to Nigeria and France. 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to food on her annual report and her country visits reports to Azerbaijan and Zimbabwe. 
  • The Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt on his annual report and his country visits reports to Bolivia and Mongolia
  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights on her annual report on cultural rights defenders and country visit report to the Maldives and Poland.
  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on his annual report and country visits to Fiji and Norway

The Council will discuss a range of civil and political rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with:

 

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture on his annual report and visit to Comoros.
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on his annual report and visits to the Netherlands and Sri Lanka.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism on her annual report and visit to Kazakhstan. 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy on his annual report.

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities on her annual report and country visits to Kuwait , Canada and Norway
  • The Special Rapporteur on the sale of children on her annual report and country visit to Bulgaria.
  • The Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism on her annual report and visit to South Africa.
  • The Special Rapporteur on minority issues on his annual report and visit to Spain. 

#HRC43 | Country-specific developments

China

Confronted with mounting evidence of serious human rights violations in China, specifically the mass internment, ‘re-education’, surveillance and harassment of Turkic Muslims in the western province of  Xinjiang, the view of many parts of the UN is incontrovertible. Beginning with a major UN review in August 2018, the UN High Commissioner has pressed for access, while the Special Procedures have expressed serious concerns about protection of freedom of religious belief, the impacts of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures, and the imposition of the death penalty in at least one case, that of university president Tashpolat Tiyip. In light of these concerns and the continued deterioration of the situation for human rights lawyers and defenders; the attacks on cultural rights and other freedoms in Tibet; and criminalisation of peaceful assembly and excessive use of police force in Hong Kong, it is high time for the Council to act. Member States should take concrete steps to call for independent, expert monitoring and reporting on the situation in Xinjiang, including access to the region, and urge accountability for actions by public authorities.

 

Saudi Arabia

The Council’s action on Saudi Arabia has contributed to the provisional release of at least seven women’s rights activists from detention. However, they are still facing trial and many remain in detention. Recent revelations of phone hacking, surveillance and possible blackmail and extortion of the owner of the Washington Post demonstrate the measures that the State is prepared to take to silence any form of criticism or dissent. The joint statement delivered by Australia in September sets out benchmarks for the Saudi government to take to demonstrate its willingness to improve the human rights situation. These benchmarks have not been met. States should ensure that Council scrutiny is maintained and in particular establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation.

 

Egypt

The lack of action by the international community has emboldened the Egyptian government to continue to violate fundamental rights of its citizens. Special Procedures have rung the alarm bell regarding the pattern of reprisals against individuals and groups who sought to or engaged with the UN. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, more than 3,000 people were arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted under counter-terrorism laws in a nationwide crackdown against all forms of peaceful expression. The Committee against Torture has found that torture in Egypt is widespread and systematic and the situation meets all of the objective criteria for situations requiring the Council's attention. States should initiate Council action on the situation before it further deteriorates.

 

India

The High Commissioner expressed concern over India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) for being ‘fundamentally discriminatory’ as it fails to extend protections to Muslim asylum seekers. Nationwide demonstrations and protests have been met with police brutality and arbitrary detentions. Vigilante groups allegedly affiliated with right-wing Hindu nationalist groups close to the government have physically attacked student protestors. Human rights defenders involved in organising peaceful assemblies have been detained and faced online harassment. ISHR calls on States to raise these concerns in their national statements including during the high level segment.

 

Burundi

At the last Council session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which will present its oral briefing on 10 March at 10:00. ISHR remains highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here.

Sri Lanka

Civil society groups are concerned over the backsliding on the commitments made by Sri Lanka in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. The recently elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been appointed prime minister, have been implicated in war crimes and numerous human rights violations when they were defence secretary and president respectively from 2005 to 2015. The new Government has made clear its intention to walk away from the Council process on Sri Lanka, a process that is currently the only hope for victims of human rights violations that truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence are possible. Meanwhile, the relatively open climate for human rights defenders and journalists of the past few years seems to be rapidly closing. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits by members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. ISHR calls on States to urge for continued cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with OHCHR and the Special Procedures. The Council should reiterate the reference in Resolution 40/1 to “the adoption of a time-bound implementation strategy” for implementation of all elements of Resolution 30/1.

Other country situations:

The High Commissioner will present her annual report to the Council on February 27 at 10:00. The Council will consider reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Occupied Palestinian Territories 
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
  • High Commissioner briefings on the following countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Nicaragua, Yemen, Venezuela, Myanmar, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
  • Oral update by the Secretary-General on the review of the operations of the United Nations in Myanmar
  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights on South Sudan 
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Iran
  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria 
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Mali 
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner's oral report on Ukraine 
  • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on Libya
  • High-level interactive dialogue on the Central African Republic

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Italy, El Salvador, the Gambia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. We publish and submit briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Angola, Egypt and Fiji  to to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

#HRC43 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 43rd session held on 10 February 2020, the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes four panels of discussion and 100 reports. States also announced at least 32 resolutions.

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for the following mandates:

  1. Five members of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development (one each from African States, Asia-Pacific States, Eastern European States, Latin American and Caribbean States and Western European and other States);
  2. Two members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (one from Asia and one from the Arctic); 
  3. Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights;
  4. Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons;
  5. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia; 
  6. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context;
  7. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences;
  8. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights;
  9. Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights;
  10. Special Rapporteur on the right to food;
  11. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples;
  12. Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material;
  13. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
  14. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

In view of the pending appointments, it is relevant to recall that in appointing mandate holders, the President of the Council is required to give particular attention to the need to avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest. Mandate holders should also be genuinely committed to the independence and effectiveness of the special procedures system, and have a demonstrated commitment to civil society engagement and participation.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 43rd session

At the organisational meeting the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Prevention of genocide (Armenia)
  2. Promotion and protection of human rights and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development  (Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Ecuador, Fiji, Luxembourg, Portugal, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Thailand and Uruguay)
  3. Special Rapporteur on Torture, mandate renewal (Denmark)
  4. Human rights through sport and Olympic Ideal (Brazil, China, Congo, Cyprus, Greece, Japan, Lebanon, Morocco, Republic of Korea, Russia)
  5. Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  6. Mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse (EU- GRULAC)
  7. Situation of human rights in Myanmar (EU)
  8. Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mandate renewal (EU)
  9. Mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  10. Birth registration and the right of everyone to recognition everywhere as a person before the law (Mexico, Turkey)
  11. Cooperation with Georgia (Georgia)
  12. Protecting the rights of human rights defenders, mandate renewal (Norway)
  13. Contemporary forms of racism, mandate renewal (African Group)
  14. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  15. Assistance technique et renforcement des capacités dans le domaine des droits de l’homme au Mali (African Group)
  16. Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC)
  17. 4 resolutions on the occupied Palestinian territories (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC)
  18. Human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC)
  19. Rights of persons with disabilities (Mexico, New Zealand)           
  20. Negative impact of unilateral coercive measures (NAM)
  21. Minorities, and mandate renewal (Austria, Senegal, Slovenia)
  22. Mental health and human rights (Portugal and Brazil)
  23. Right to work (Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Mexico, Romania).
  24. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  25. Situation of human rights in South Sudan, mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  26. Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, mandate renewal (North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  27. The effect of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, mandate renewal (Cuba) 
  28. The right to food (Cuba)
  29. Promotion of the enjoyment of the cultural rights of everyone and respect for cultural diversity (Cuba)
  30. Regional arrangements (Armenia, Belgium, Mexico, Senegal, Thailand)
  31. Right to housing, mandate renewal (Brazil, Germany, Finland, Namibia)
  32. Freedom of Expression, mandate renewal (Netherlands, Canada)

Furthermore, according to the voluntary calendar for resolutions, it is possible that more resolutions could also be presented at this session. Read the calendar here.

Officers of the Human Rights Council

Newly appointed members of the Bureau for the 14th cycle comprises of the following Ambassadors:

  • Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger (Austria), President of the Human Rights Council 
  • Mr. Yackoley Kokou Johnson (Togo), Vice-President and Rapporteur
  • Mr. Nasir Ahmad Andisha (Afghanistan), Vice-President
  • Ms. Socorro Flores Liera (Mexico), Vice-President
  • Mr. Juraj Podhorský (Slovakia), Vice-President

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Four panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

 

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming titled “Thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities” will take place on 24 February at 16:00
  2. High-level panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with a particular focus on their implementation will take place on 25 February at 09:00
  3. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, titled “Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on awareness-raising”, will take place on 6 March at 16:00
  4. Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent will take place on 13 March at 16:00

 

Read here the three year programme of work of the Council with supplementary information.

 

Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2020.

Photo: UN Photo_Eskinder Debebe

Contact: Salma El Hosseiny at s.hosseiny@ishr.ch