Photo: UN Photo /Jean-Marc Ferré

Bahrain, Burundi, China, Türkiye, Yemen
, Middle East & North Africa

HRC36 | Key issues on agenda of September session

The 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 11 to 29 September 2017, will consider issues including women's rights, reprisals, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance. It will also present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Burundi, China, Myanmar and Yemen. Here's an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 36th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 11 to 29 September 2017.

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC36 on Twitter, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

Don’t miss these side events organised by ISHR:

#HRC36 | Thematic areas of interest

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions.

Human Rights Council Elections/Membership

It is vital to the credibility, influence and effectiveness of the Human Rights Council that its members uphold ‘the highest standards in terms of promotion and protection of human rights’ and cooperate fully with the Council and its mechanisms.

At its upcoming 72nd session, the UN General Assembly, will elect 15 new members for the Council’s 2018-2020 term.

The 36th session of the Council is therefore a key opportunity for scrutiny of the candidates.

During the last session of the Council, ISHR welcomed a pledge by a group of countries, led by the Netherlands, to make the HRC’s elections more competitive and legitimate, including by striving for competitive regional slates and considering and supporting candidates on human rights-based considerations.

In this light, ISHR and Amnesty International will host an event on Monday 11 September from 12:30 to 15:00 at Palais des Nations, Room XI. This event will provide a platform for candidates to highlight and present their vision for Council membership and present a key opportunity for a range of stakeholders to probe candidates on the commitments they may have made during their campaign. A pledging event will also be held on the same day at UN Headquarters in New York from 10:00 to 13:00 (NY time).

To offer an ‘at-a-glance’ objective comparison of the candidates, focusing on their cooperation with the Council, their support for civil society, their engagement with UN treaty bodies and special procedures, whether they have spoken out in concern about reprisals, and whether they have established a national human rights institution, ISHR has issued ‘scorecards’ on all candidates.

ISHR remains concerned about the lack of competitive slates in all but one region, and the candidacy of States who are responsible for gross and systematic human rights violations and who fail to fully cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms.


During the upcoming Human Rights Council session, a Core Group – composed of Hungary, Ghana, Fiji, Ireland and Uruguay – will present a draft resolution on reprisals, emphasising the right to communicate freely and without threat with the UN.

ISHR remains deeply concerned over reprisals against human rights defenders or other civil society actors who try to engage with UN mechanisms. ISHR welcomes this draft resolution, which builds on ISHR’s advocacy for the Human Rights Council to more effectively address and prevent reprisals.

The 36th session will also see the presentation of the Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals. In its submission to the SG, ISHR called for full, independent and impartial investigations on alleged reprisal cases worldwide. Where a State concerned fails to adequately investigate, the UN must take action to investigate and ensure accountability. One of the many instances of reprisals is the case of Chinese legal rights activist, Jiang Tianyong. His disappearance is said to be the result of his engagement with the international community, including his meetings with the international press, diplomats and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston. He was detained incommunicado for a month before his official arrest.

As requested by Human Rights Council resolution 12/2, the General Debate under Item 5 of the Human Rights Council is a key moment for States and civil society to raise and follow up cases of reprisals, and to push for accountability for such acts.

Special Procedures

The Joint Communications Report clearly demonstrates the ongoing reluctance by many States to fully cooperate with Special Procedures. ISHR continues to call for States to cooperate with independent experts and to combat reprisals.

35 States, including 13 Council members, have failed to respond to the human rights experts’ letters, highlighting alleged human rights violations. This lack of cooperation is unacceptable for any State; however it is even more egregious when a Council Member is involved. ISHR remains highly concerned by the number of reprisal cases and continues to advocate for more cooperation.

ISHR also draws attention to concrete steps the Special Procedures can take themselves to increase their effectiveness and impact, highlighting recommendations crafted by ISHR and eight other organisations during the 24th Annual Meeting of Special Procedures.

Women human rights defenders and women’s rights

This session the Council will host its annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective, which will take place on Friday 15 September from 10:00 to 13:00. This discussion will focus on the role of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with particular attention on the fifth goal of ‘achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls’.

Brazil, together with the Community of Portuguese Language Speaking Countries (CPLP), will present a resolution at this session focusing on the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the 2030 agenda.

It is imperative that the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals take a human rights-based approach. ISHR welcomes efforts by the Council to contribute to the 2030 Agenda. The meaningful and genuine participation and leadership of groups working on women’s rights and gender equality is key to the effective implementation of all UN human rights obligations, and the SDGs. ISHR stresses that due attention is given to address the barriers faced by WHRDs in this regard, including adequate resourcing of their movements and ensuring safe and democratic civic space.

Arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances

Both the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances will present their annual reports to the Council.

The report of the WGAD examines the issue of deprivation of liberty on discriminatory grounds, referring to a recent decision which found that the detention of human rights defenders may violate the right to non-discrimination and equal protection of the law. It also analyses issues relating to the increasing number of new regimes of deprivation of liberty that arise in different situations and contexts around the world, and calls upon the States concerned to take appropriate measures to prevent acts of reprisals against individuals who were the subject of an urgent appeal or opinion or who gave effect to a recommendation of the Working Group

The report of the WGEID notes ‘a pattern of threats, intimidation and reprisals against victims of enforced disappearance, including family members, witnesses and human rights defenders working on such cases’, referring to cases in Burundi, Egypt, India, Mexico, Sri Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

#HRC36 | Country-specific developments


The human rights situation in China is facing challenges and still continues to raise concerns, particularly with regards to reprisals and arbitrary detentions. Recent cases – such as the death of Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, the incommunicado detention of Chinese rights lawyer and activist Wang Quanzhang, and the unfair trial and ill-treatment of Jiang Tianyong – demonstrate the urgent need to raise more awareness and give visibility to human rights defenders in detention.

The death of Liu Xiaobo illustrates the poor conditions that defenders experience in detention, and should be taken as an opportunity for the international community to increase the attention given to China and push for accountability for the mistreatment of defenders in detention.

ISHR, in conjunction with Human Rights Watch and other partners, will host a side event on Chinese human rights defenders in detention on Tuesday 12 September from 15:00 to 16:30 at Palais des Nations in room XXVII. The discussion will include testimony from family members of human rights defenders in China, and an interactive discussion of the value of public diplomacy by the international community, specifically through human rights awards, and the way foundations maintain visibility for the defenders.


The Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Burundi has released its report, and is expected to present the final report on 18 and 19 September.

The report finds that there are ‘reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed and continue to be committed in Burundi since April 2015’. It also confirms the persistence of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and cruel treatment and sexual violence. The report further raises concerns about the severe limitations on the right to freedom of association including through the suspension of human rights NGOs who criticise the government, and through the adoption of new restrictive legislation increasing the Government’s control on the work of national and international NGOs.

ISHR continues to remain highly concerned and continues to call for Burundi to be suspended from the Council. Not only has the latest report of the COI confirmed the gross and systematic nature of the human rights violations in the country, the Commission also ‘deeply regret(ted) the Burundian government’s lack of cooperation (…) given that Burundi, as a member of the Council, has an obligation to cooperate with mechanisms set up by the Council’. The combination of these factors clearly warrant an invitation to the General Assembly to consider the suspension of Burundi as a member.

During the upcoming session, the European Union will present a draft resolution in regards to the human rights situation in Burundi. It’s important that this resolution reflects fully the gravity of the situation and strengthens the commitment of the Council to end human right violation in Burundi.


Along with 62 other organisations, ISHR has called for the Council to create an independent international investigation into violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Yemen since the start of the current conflict.

The letter stresses that ‘both sides have harassed, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists, human rights defenders and journalists, shrinking the space for civil society groups and the media to operate throughout the country’ and that previous efforts of the Human Rights Council have been insufficient to end impunity and provide accountability.

Complementing the NGO letter, the High Commissioner has also published a report finding that ‘human rights violations and abuses continue unabated in Yemen, along with unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law’. In the report UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein says it is ‘crucial for an independent, international investigation to be established on the conflict in Yemen’.

Both the Netherlands on behalf of a core group of States and Egypt on behalf of the Arab Group have announced proposed resolutions on Yemen. Already in 2016, two competing texts were presented, with the result of the Council failing to create an international investigation. At HRC36, States should heed the calls of both domestic and international civil society, and finally live up to the expectations of victims.


Following serious concerns about the ongoing human rights violations in Bahrain, ISHR, in conjunction with other regional and international NGOs, issued a joint letter calling for States to take action on the country at the upcoming session. This joint statement details that a range of objective criteria for initiating action are met. These criteria were proposed by Ireland on behalf of a growing group of countries during the Council’s 32nd session.

Human rights violations have significantly increased over the last year, such as arbitrary detention, acts of torture, and unfair trials. These abuses have been documented and condemned by international human rights experts, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and a range of Special Rapporteurs.


Given the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Turkey, ISHR joins and supports advocacy of other NGOs to address human rights violations in the country.

Following a failed coup in July 2016, the Turkish government began a crackdown on civil society members, which considerably restricted human rights. Those restrictions include violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly; the reintroduction of incommunicado detention; and alleged acts of torture and ill-treatment in detention.

As of July 2017, ten human rights defenders were arrested and being held in detention. Hundreds have been placed in detention under the allegation of supporting terrorist organisations, despite the lack of evidence. In a joint statement, a group of Special Procedures of the Council have called for the ‘Council to address the general deterioration of human rights in the country.’

Universal Periodic Review (UPR): States to be reviewed

During the upcoming session, 14 States are to be reviewed under the UPR Working Group (item 6): Bahrain, Ecuador, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia, Finland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, India, Brazil, the Philippines, Algeria, Poland, the Netherlands and South Africa.


#HRC36 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

Organisational meeting

During the organisational meeting for the 36th session, the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes four panels of discussion and 82 reports. States also announced more than 25 resolutions.

The President again 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. It is important that the international community act and work collectively to this end.

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for 6 mandates, the seventh will be discussed at the outset of the Council. The mandates to be filled in this session are:

  1. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance [HRC res. 34/35]
  2. Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members [HRC res. 35/9]
  3. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, member from Western European and other States [HRC res. 27/25]
  4. Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, member from African States [HRC res. 32/4]
  5. Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, member from Asia-Pacific States [HRC res. 32/4]
  6. Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, member from Eastern European States [HRC res. 32/4]
  7. Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice, member from Western European and other States [HRC res. 32/4]

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. Four panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  • The biennial panel discussion on unilateral coercive measures and human rights will take place on Thursday 14 September from 15:00 to 18:00. This panel will discuss the possibility of setting up principles and mechanisms for unilateral coercive measures and what resources can be used in order to ensure accountability.
  • The annual discussion on integration of a gender perspective is scheduled on Friday 15 September from 13:00 to 15:00. The debate will focus on sustainable goals and development, and the need for a collective action to ensure gender equality. This panel will be a marked opportunity for States to share their best practices and to explore the UPR’s potential in implementing the 2030 Agenda.
  • The annual panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples will take place on Wednesday 20 September from 9:00 to 12:00. This panel will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. States will be able to share their best practices and identify the challenges in implementing the so-called declaration.
  • The panel discussion on impact of racial discrimination on human rights of women and girls will take place on Monday 25 September from 15:00 to 18:00.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 36th session

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

  • Resolution on the situation of human rights in Yemen (Egypt on behalf of the Arab Group)
  • Resolution on mental health and human rights (Portugal and Brazil)
  • Resolution on the situation of human rights in Burundi (European Union)
  • Resolution the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic (United Kingdom – Core group)
  • Resolution to renew the country mandate on Syrian Arab Republic (United Kingdom)
  • Resolution on human rights and indigenous peoples (Mexico)
  • Resolution for the extension of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence (Switzerland, Argentina and Morocco)
  • Resolution on the death penalty (Belgium, Switzerland, costa Rica, France, Moldova and Mongolia)
  • Resolution on the contribution of a refugee’s team at the Olympic Games (Turkmenistan and Brazil)
  • Resolution on human rights and administration of justice (Austria)
  • Resolution on gender perspective (Brazil and CPLP)
  • Resolution on the right to development (Venezuela)
  • Resolution on the situation of human rights in Sudan (USA – Africa Group)
  • Resolution on technical cooperation, capacity-building by UN agencies in support of State’s implantation of SDGs (Thailand)
  • Resolution on the rights of farmers and indigenous people who work in rural areas (Bolivia, Ecuador and South Africa)
  • Resolution on reprisals and the right for everyone to communicate with UN mechanisms (Core Group of Hungary, Ghana, Fiji, Uruguay and Ireland)
  • Resolution for the extension of the mandate of the open-ended intergovernmental working group to consider the possibility of elaborating an international regulatory framework on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the activities of private military and security companies (Tunisia on behalf of the African Group)
  • Resolution on people of African Descent (Tunisia on behalf of the African Group)
  • Resolution on racism and intolerance (Tunisia on behalf of the African Group)
  • Resolution on technical assistance leading on improving the human rights situation in Sudan (Tunisia on behalf of the African Group)
  • Resolution on objection of conscience in military service (Croatia, Costa Rica and Poland)
  • Resolution on follow-up mechanisms (Paraguay and Brazil)
  • Resolution on unaccompanied migrant children (El Salvador)
  • Resolution on the human rights situation in Yemen (The Netherlands – Core Group)
  • Resolution for the extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Central African Republic (Central African Republic)
  • Resolution for the extension of the mandate of the Working Group on Enforces or Involuntary Disappearances (France, Morocco, Argentina and Japan)

#HRC36 | Side-events

  • ISHR, together with Amnesty International, is organising an event entitled ‘Human Rights Council Elections: discussions of candidate States’ visions for membership’. The event, which is co-sponsored by a cross-regional group of Permanent Missions, will take place on Monday 11 September from 12:30 to 15:00 at Palais des Nations, Room XI. This will be an opportunity for candidates to present their vision for Council Membership and to answer questions from various stakeholders on how they will realise their pledges and commitments.
  • ISHR will organise an event called ‘Defenders in Detention – Safeguarding the Legacy of Liu Xiaobo’, which will take place on Tuesday 12 September from 15.00 to 16:30, at Palais des Nations, Room XXVII. This panel speak out in memory of Liu Xiaobo to draw attention to defenders and their families who are affected by China’s crackdown on dissent.

Furthermore, ISHR will co-sponsor the following events:

  • Bahrain: Systematic State Abuse in the Name of Countering Terrorism will take place on Wednesday 13 September, from 11:00 to 12:30 at Palais des Nations, Room XI. The event is organised by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), Amnesty International and co-sponsored by ISHR.
  • Realising Women and Girls’ Sexual and Reproductive Rights amid backlash is an event organised by the Centre of Reproductive Rights and ISHR. It will take place on Thursday 14 September from 13:30 to 15:30, at Palais des Nations, Room XXVII.

Other key side events:

  • The International Network of Human rights (RIDH) and FIAN will organise an event which will focus on how to improve visibility of the Joint Communications Report and the possibility of having a specific space for debating those communications during every Human rights Council. The event will take place on Tuesday 19 September from 15:30 to 16:30 at Palais des Nations, Room XXII.
  • Small States at the Human Rights Council: Building Capacity, Strengthening Presence and Developing Outreach will take place on Tuesday 12 September from 15:00 to 16:30, at Palais des Nations, Room XXIII. The event is organised by The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Permanent Mission of Guyana.


Related articles