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HRC49: Key issues on agenda of March 2022 Human Rights Council session

The 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 28 February – 1 April 2022, 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, China, Syria, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, 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 49th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 28 February – 1 April 2022. 

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC49 on Twitter, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

During the session, follow the live-updated programme of work on Sched

Modalities of civil society participation in HRC49

On 7 February 2022, the HRC Bureau underscored the important role played by NGOs in the Council and agreed that efforts should be made to reinstate in-person participation by NGOs to the greatest extent possible. The Bureau of the Human Rights Council agreed that NGOs in consultative status with the ECOSOC should be invited to deliver their statements for the interactive dialogues, panel discussions and UPR adoptions in person from room XIX or through pre-recorded video messages,with the exception of general debates to which NGOs are invited to only submit video messages during the 49th session. The NGO list of speakers for each general debate would be set in line with the average number of NGOs that participated in each of the general debates in the previous three March sessions (46th, 43rd and 40th, respectively). Side events cannot take place inside the Palais des Nations during the 49th session. In case NGOs decide to organize virtual events in parallel to the 49th session, information on such events could be listed on the OHCHR civil society webpage along with a statement indicating that the events are not official Council events. Read here the information note by the Secretariat which is updated according to the latest information.  Read here explainer by HRC-net.

#HRC49 | Thematic areas of interest

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

Protection of human rights defenders

On 11 March 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur will present her report on the work of human rights defenders to address corruption. At the 49th session of the HRC, Norway will present a thematic resolution on human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict situations. A group of NGOs have produced a list of 25 recommendations related to key concerns that should be addressed in the resolution. These include recommendations related to the removal of legislation that impinges upon the ability of defenders to do their work, including counter-terrorism legislation; the development of protection measures that take into account the specific needs of particular groups of defenders and the precarious nature of their situation in conflict and post-conflict contexts, and specific measures to support human rights defenders in such contexts, including in regard to the provision of cloud-based solutions for storage of documentation, flexible and reliable funding and swift responses in the case of the need for relocation of human rights defenders and their families. ISHR joins these calls and to impress upon the Council the need for a strong commitment to acknowledging and taking action to protect human rights defenders working in such contexts.  In addition, we call on all UN members to monitor and report on their implementation of the resolution in a comprehensive way, sharing updates on challenges faced and progress made during relevant UN dialogues and debates.   

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:

  • Requesting that the Secretary General prepare an annual report on cases and trends of reprisals;
  • 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 on addressing reprisals.

Despite this, 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 48th session, the Council adopted a resolution on reprisals. The text was adopted by consensus for the first time since 2009 and invites the UN Secretary General to submit his annual report on reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly. Once again the resolution listed key trends including that acts of intimidation and reprisals can signal patterns, increasing self-censorship, and 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 by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and ensuring accountability for all acts of intimidation or reprisal, both online and offline, by condemning all such acts publicly, providing access to effective remedies for victims, and preventing any recurrence.

Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of 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. The President should also update the Council on actions taken by the President and Bureau to follow up on cases and promote accountability under this item.

During the organisational meeting held on 14 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 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 insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Other thematic debates

At this 49th session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders. The debates with mandate holders include: 

  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to food
  • The Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing
  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights 

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

  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
  • The Special Rapporteur on torture
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy

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

  • The Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children
  • The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
  • The Special Rapporteur on minority issues
  • The Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights of persons with albinism

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on interrelation of human rights and human rights thematic issues including:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism
  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

#HRC49 | Country-specific developments

China 

High Commissioner Bachelet has still not released her Office’s report on grave human rights violations in the Uyghur region, six months after announcing its upcoming publication, and three months since her spokesperson indicated it would only be a matter of ‘weeks’. Further delays risk entrenching the Chinese government’s sense of impunity, and will harm the credibility of, and confidence in her Office’s capacity to address grave violations, some of which could amount to atrocity crimes. States should urge the High Commissioner to promptly publish her report, and present it to the Human Rights Council as a matter of utmost priority. 

The Council should take appropriate action upon publication of the report, commensurate with the gravity of human rights violations across the country, and the Chinese authorities’ unwillingness to be scrutinised by UN experts. States should ensure that multilateral discussions and action on the situation in China duly considers the common root causes and patterns of systematic human rights violations against Tibetans, Hong Kongers, as well as human rights defenders and lawyers. This includes ensuring sustained pressure around China’s abuse of national security in discourse and law, and on the widespread and systematic use of enforced disappearance under ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location’ (RSDL).

Burundi

The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (CoI) concluded its work at the 48th HRC session in October 2021 while a new resolution establishing a mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi was adopted, resolution 48/16. The resolution tasks the mandate with monitoring the human rights situation in the country, making recommendations for its imp­ro­ve­ment, and re­por­ting to the Human Rights Council. While the Spe­cial Rapporteur will be unable to continue the entirety of the investigative work carried out by the CoI, they will “collect, examine and assess” information on human rights deve­lop­ments. Ahead of HRC48 more than 40 organisations, including ISHR, urged the Council to continue its scrutiny and further work towards justice and accountability in Burundi.

The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) will ensure that evidence col­lec­ted by the CoI is “consolidated, preserved, accessible and usable in support of ongoing and future accountability efforts” including efforts to hold Bu­rundian officials responsible for atrocities in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Burundian government should resume its engagement with the Council and grant the Special Rap­porteur, who will be appointed in March 2022, access to the country for an official visit.

France 

Following an urgent call by ISHR and the Comité Adama, UN experts sent two communications to the French government on 15 and 26 November 2021 asking for measures to ensure that human rights defenders, including people of African descent, enjoy a safe environment in which to carry out their legitimate work for human rights and justice. The lack of investigation in the case of Adama Traoré’s death and the judicial harassment against his sister Assa Traoré for her activism is a sign of broader systemic racism against Black people in policing and criminal justice in France. 

ISHR urges the HRC to continue its scrutiny and calls on France to ensure a prompt, transparent, and impartial investigation into the case of Adama Traoré; end the judicial harassment of Assa Traoré for her activism; accept the requests of the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism and the Working Group on People of African Descent to visit the country; end impunity for police violence; and ensure truly free and impartial investigations into the death or injury of anyone at the hands of the police, especially people of African descent.

Egypt 

The joint statement delivered by States in March 2021 at the 46th session of the HRC played a critical role in securing the conditional release of several human rights defenders and journalists arbitrarily detained throughout 2021 and 2022. Regrettably, these releases do not reflect any significant change in Egypt’s systematic attacks on civic space and human rights defenders, including arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and criminalisation of the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly or public participation. On 3 February 2022, 175 parliamentarians from across Europe urged the HRC to establish a “long overdue monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt”. ISHR joined more than 100 NGOs from around the world in urging the HRC to create a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the ever-deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. Continued, sustained and coordinated action on Egypt at the HRC is more necessary than ever. The HRC should follow up on the 2021 State joint statement and heed the calls of civil society and parliamentarians. 

Nicaragua 

A year after Council resolution 46/2, civil society reporting indicates no meaningful action has been taken by Nicaragua to implement any of the Council’s recommendations to the government. Instead, it has deepened its crackdown on human rights defenders and any form of dissent, and further closed civil society space ahead of the November 2021 electoral process. The government’s absolute disregard for cooperation with international and regional mechanisms, including the treaty bodies, is an additional sign that the government does not intend to revert course on the country’s human rights crisis. ISHR, jointly with the Colectivo 18/2, urges the Human Rights Council to establish an independent mechanism to investigate grave human rights violations since April 2018 in Nicaragua, as well as their root causes. The mechanism should verify alleged grave violations, identify perpetrators, and preserve evidence, with a view to long-term accountability processes. 

Saudi Arabia

According to ALQST’s 2021 annual report, for a short time in early 2021, intense global pressure on Saudi Arabia’s leaders to improve their dismal human rights record resulted in some minor reforms and concessions, yet, when the pressure eased, the Saudi authorities resumed their habitual pattern of abuses with renewed intensity. A number of high-profile women human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience were conditionally released, but they remain under severe restrictions which means that while they are released, they are not yet free. Saudi authorities continue to crackdown on freedom of expression and hand down lengthy prison sentences to human rights defenders. Saudi Arabia is sensitive regarding its reputation and susceptible to international pressure. ISHR joins ALQST and other civil society organisations in urging the HRC to heighten its scrutiny after three joint statements in March 2019, September 2019 and September 2020, by following up through the adoption of a resolution establishing a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. 

Sudan

On 5 November 2021, the Human Rights Council held a special session to address the ongoing situation in the Republic of Sudan and mandated an Expert on human rights in Sudan to monitor and report on the situation until the restoration of its civilian-led Government. The HRC must extend the reporting mandate of the Expert as the human rights situation is deteriorating. The military is closing the civic space for women’s rights groups and women human rights defenders, including by stigmatising women’s rights groups as terrorists or drug abusers. The recent arrests of women human rights defenders are part of a systemic attack against WHRDs in Sudan. The military and security forces are using social media and traditional media to defame women protesters. Women’s rights groups and WHRDs are facing a new wave of attacks that include framing charges to prolong the detention of WHRDs and defame the women’s rights movement. The military reinstated the authorities of the former regime’s security forces in December 2021 in the emergency order number 3. The new emergency order gave Sudanese security complete impunity and protection from accountability for any form of violations on duty.  Sudanese security forces have a well-documented history of sexual abuse and torture of women detainees. WHRDs in detention are at risk of maltreatment, torture, and sexual violence. 

Venezuela

Venezuela is back under the microscope with updates from the Office of the High Commissioner and from the Council’s fact-finding mission on the country both scheduled for 17th March. Attention on the human rights situation in the country follows hot on the heels of the Universal Periodic Review of Venezuela that took place at the end of January.  The Council session is taking place at a time that Venezuelan civil society continues facing restrictions and attacks on their work. The head of human rights organisation, Fundaredes, has now been arbitrarily detained for 224 days. The Council session is an opportunity for States to express concern about the restrictions on civil society, and to enquire about the implementation of prior recommendations made to Venezuela by both OHCHR and the Mission. Despite being a Council member, Venezuela has yet to allow the Council’s own fact-finding mission access to the country, something the Council as a whole should denounce. 

Other country situations

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 7 March. The Council will consider updates, 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:

  • Oral update and interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
  • Oral update and interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Tigray region of Ethiopia 
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s written update on Sri Lanka
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on  Nicaragua
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Afghanistan
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on ensuring accountability and justice in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Oral updates and interactive dialogues with the High Commissioner and fact-finding mission on Venezuela 
  • Oral update bv the High Commissioner and interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the OHCHR’s report on Belarus
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report, enhanced interactive dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report, and interactive dialogue on the Special Rapporteur’s report on Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue on the Special Rapporteur’s report on Iran
  • Interactive Dialogue on the Commission of Inquiry’s report on Syria 
  • Interactive Dialogue on the Special Rapporteur’s report on the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967
  • Interactive Dialogues on the High Commissioner’s report and Commission on Human Rights’ report on South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Ukraine
  • High-level Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Central African Republic
  • Oral updates and enhanced interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner and the team of international experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Oral update by the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia 
  • Interactive Dialogue on the Independent Expert’s report on Mali 
  • Interactive Dialogue on the fact-finding mission’s report on Libya

#HRC49 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 49th session held on 14 February, the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes 7 panel discussions and 1 thematic meeting. States also announced at least 33 proposed resolutions. Read here the reports presented at this session. 

Appointment of mandate holders

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

  1. Three members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (one from the Pacific, one from Central and South America and the Caribbean, and one from Central and Eastern Europe, the Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasia); 
  2. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change; 
  3. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan; 
  4. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi; 
  5. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967; 
  6. A member of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, from Western European and other States; 
  7. A member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, from Asia-Pacific States; 
  8. A member of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, from Asia-Pacific States;
  9. A member of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, from Latin American and Caribbean States (an unforeseen vacancy that has arisen due to a resignation).

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 49th session

At the organisational meeting on 14 February the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Human rights of persons belonging to minorities (Austria, Mexico, Slovenia)
  2. 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) 
  3. Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the obligation to ensure accountability and justice (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC) 
  4. Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC) 
  5. Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC) 
  6. Human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC) 
  7. The effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States (Cuba)
  8. The right to food (Cuba)
  9. Cultural rights (Cuba)
  10. The negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights (Azerbaijan on behalf of NAM)
  11. Commemoration of the 35th anniversary on the Declaration on the right to development (Azerbaijan on behalf of NAM)
  12. Right to work (Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Mexico, Romania)
  13.  Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran – mandate renewal (Iceland, Moldova, North Macedonia, UK) 
  14.  Promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights and addressing inequalities (China, Bolivia, Egypt, Pakistan)
  15.  Cultural rights and protection of cultural heritage (Cyprus, Argentina, Ethiopia, Greece, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Mali, Poland, Switzerland)
  16. Rights of the child (GRULAC and EU)
  17. Human rights defenders (Norway)
  18. Adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to non-discrimination in this context (Germany, Brazil, Finland, Namibia)
  19. Cooperation with Georgia (Georgia) 
  20. Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic – mandate renewal (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, UK, USA)
  21. Situation of human rights in South Sudan – mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, USA, UK)
  22. Rights of persons with disabilities (Mexico, New Zealand)
  23. Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism – mandate renewal (Mexico)
  24. Ensuring equitable, affordable, timely and universal access for all countries to vaccines in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic (Ecuador and Azerbaijan on behalf of NAM) 
  25. Prevention of genocide (Armenia)
  26. Situation of human rights in Belarus – mandate renewal (EU)
  27. Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)- mandate renewal (EU) 
  28. Situation of human rights in Myanmar – mandate renewal (EU)
  29. Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  30. Technical assistance and capacity-building for Mali in the field of human rights (Africa Group)
  31. Technical assistance and capacity-building for South Sudan (Africa Group) 
  32. Strengthening the voluntary technical assistance trust fund to enhance the participation of LDCs and SIDS in the work of the Human Rights Council (Mauritius, Barbados, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Maldives, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Turkey)  
  33. Role of states in countering the negative impact of disinformation on human rights (Ukraine)

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

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Myanmar, Greece, Suriname, Samoa, Hungary, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Papua New Guinea, Tajikistan, United Republic of Tanzania, Eswatini, Antigua and Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand and Ireland.

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 a mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. 

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. 7 panel discussions and 1 thematic meeting are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming on the theme “The contribution of universal participation to the mainstreaming of human rights throughout the United Nations system on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to Support the Participation of Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in the Work of the Human Rights Council” (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  2. Meeting on enhancing technical cooperation and capacity-building in promoting and protecting the human rights of persons in vulnerable and marginalized situations in recovery efforts during and after the COVID-19 pandemic
  3. Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child on the theme “The rights of the child and family reunification” (accessible to persons with disabilities) [two accessible panels]
  4. Panel discussion on ensuring equitable, affordable, timely and universal access for all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  5. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities on the theme “Statistics and data collection under article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  6. Panel discussion on the importance of robust and efficient public policies and of adequately resourced and fully functioning services for the protection of economic, social and cultural rights to address the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and to contribute to recovery efforts
  7. Debate in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

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

Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2022.

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