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HRC50: Civil society presents key takeaways from Human Rights Council

16 organisations share reflections on the key outcomes of the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations. A shortened version was delivered at the Council. Full written version below.

We welcome the resolution on discrimination against women and girls which focused on girls’ activism. This strong text regrettably faced a series of amendments which challenged the very notion of children, especially of girls and adolescents as rights holders, and sought to deny women and girls their agency.  The amendments are a continuation of a trend of hostile arguments and rhetoric on issues of gender, autonomy of women and girls and participation, which is coalescing and increasing in an alarming fashion. We are deeply concerned by the coordinated and targeted attacks against the rights of women, girls, LGBTIQ+ people and marginalized communities which aim at undermining sexual and reproductive rights and the right to bodily autonomy.  We are also concerned by recurrent attacks against children’s rights, which specifically question their right to participate and express their views freely and their rights as human rights defenders. We urge this Council to abide by its mandate to uphold the strongest human rights standards for all and to resist any retrogression that would have deep and harmful impact on those affected. 

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for the second time, and the successful opposition of 12 out of 13 hostile amendments presented. 1,256 non-governmental organisations from 149 States and territories in all regions supported a campaign to renew the mandate. This was the first time this Council explicitly condemned legislation that criminalises consensual same-sex conducts and diverse gender identities, and called on States to amend discriminatory legislation and combat violence on the grounds on SOGI. This renewal once again reaffirms this Council’s commitment to combating discrimination and violence on the grounds of SOGI.

We welcome the resolution on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. At a time when civic space urgently needs to be protected and defended, we welcome that the resolution addressed substantive concerns, including access to funding, which is increasingly an existential threat to civil society worldwide.

We welcome that the resolution on peaceful protest reiterates that protests are a fundamental aspect of participation in public affairs, and highlights that people from marginalized communities can be particularly vulnerable to unlawful use of force. We regret that language urging a landmark moratorium on surveillance technology that could be used to violate human rights during protests was lost during negotiations. Hostile amendments calling for obligations to be imposed on protest organisers were overwhelmingly rejected. We now call on states to ensure accountability for excessive use of force which has been all too prevalent in protests worldwide, and urge future resolutions to strengthen this core issue.

We welcome the new resolution on freedom of opinion of expression, which reiterates that this vital right is one of the essential foundations of democratic societies and an important indicator of the level of protection of other human rights and freedoms. We particularly welcome new guidance related to the theme of digital, media and information literacy, which enables the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression. However, we strongly encourage the core group to ensure that future iterations of the resolution address core challenges to the right to freedom of expression which have been overlooked, including criminal defamation laws and strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).

We welcome the approval of the resolution on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers, its focus on participation of women in the administration of justice, and the enhanced gender approach. This is a timely and crucial focus for this Council.

We welcome the Council’s approval of the resolution on the  importance of casualty recording for the promotion and protection of human rights that reaffirms the importance of the right to truth and takes note of key international standards for accountability, such as the updated set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity[1] and the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, and the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death.

We welcome the resolution on human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms’ focus on business and human rights – which we hope will contribute to ensuring that States and manufacturers and dealers of firearms undertake participatory, gender-responsive human rights impacts assessments, and ensuring mandatory human rights due diligence (HRDD) requirements for the arms sector based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We regret that important notions of patterns of structural discrimination have been reduced to discrimination rooted in negative stereotypes.

We welcome  the urgent debate on women and girls in Afghanistan and urge the Council to ensure that it remains accessible and responds adequately to the demands and needs of women human rights defenders from the country. It is imperative that this Council continues to ensure access and engagement of women human rights defenders, women political leaders and survivors and takes all necessary measures to address and ensure accountability for gender apartheid in Afghanistan. While welcoming the resolution, we regret the lack of inclusion of NGO suggestions for more specific investigation and reporting operational language that would have mandated the High Commissioner to look into the specific situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. We strongly encourage that future resolutions regarding the situation address the core issue of accountability, which has been overlooked in resolutions passed by the Council to date.

We welcome the latest resolution on Belarus, which extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Since the previous version of this resolution was passed at HRC47, the human rights situation in Belarus has significantly deteriorated, with all independent human rights organisations in Belarus forcibly liquidated, and many human rights defenders indefinitely detained or imprisoned.

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, who plays an essential role in documenting violations Eritrean authorities commit at home and abroad. We stress the need for the HRC to adopt resolutions that fully reflect the situation in the country and fully describe and condemn violations.

The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Libya (FFM)  presented their latest report to the UN Human Rights Council only  days after protestors in Libya stormed the countries parliament and other government buildings.   Their report details gross human rights violations committed by armed groups and government forces throughout the country, including allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes.   Despite these findings the UN Human Rights Council has  adopted a resolution drafted by Libya that only allows the investigation to continue for a  “final, non-extendable period of nine months.” NGOs have called on states to ensure that UN monitoring is maintained as long as gross human rights violations and abuses continue to be carried out in Libya with impunity.  By creating an abbreviated operational time frame and pre-emptively dismissing the possibility of renewing the FFMs mandate – the resolution adopted by this Council sends a dangerous message to armed groups in the country that the international community lacks the will to ensure a  sustained and serious accountability process. For these reasons, and in light of recent events in Libya,  we urge member states of the Human Rights Council to  work to ensure the  FFM is preserved or an alternative mechanism is created that will sufficiently respond to the long-standing and urgent need to protect victims and end impunity in Libya beyond March 2023. Failure to do so will only encourage more violence and hamper efforts to ensure a sustainable peace.

We note the approval of the resolution on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. Rohingyas and other minorities in Myanmar continue to be victims of gross human rights violations, including crimes under international law, and it is important their plight  remains at the centre of this Council’s attention. We regret however that the resolution fails to recognise the gravity of the situation on the ground and calls for the immediate “voluntary” return of Rohingya to Myanmar despite the complete absence of the conditions for safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return in the country, as confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.

We welcome the report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) which emphasized Israel’s systematic discrimination, and stressed its strategic geographic, social and political fragmentation of the Palestinian people. The report addressed the lack of accountability and compliance with recommendations made by previous UN bodies, including commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions, addressing the failure of third States to uphold their obligations under international law. In the interactive dialogue, the CoI responded to the joint statement by the United States of America questioning the validity of the CoI mandate, by exposing the double standards when it comes to holding Israel accountable. Commissioners also reiterated the overwhelming support for the mandate, including during the interactive dialogue. We call on States to continue to support this important accountability mechanism and ensure the CoI has sufficient resources to discharge its mandate.

The outcome on Sudan that was achieved at this session is the best possible outcome that could be achieved by consensus. As the de facto authorities and security forces continue to kill protesters peacefully demanding civilian rule, however, consensus cannot be the Council’s only guide. We stress the need for long-term scrutiny of Sudan, beyond what resolution 50/L.14/Rev.1 has requested. The Council should keep all options on the table to expose and respond to the situation.

We regret that the Council failed to respond to several human rights situations.

In Cameroon, as the crisis in the North-West and South-West regions continues, with violations committed by all sides, including recently unspeakable atrocities committed by armed separatists, and grave violations continue to be reported in the Far North and in the rest of the country, particularly against independent and opposition voices, it is essential for the Council to follow up on its joint statement of March 2019. This is all the more important since both the African Union and the UN Security Council have been silent on what remains one of the most serious human rights crises on the African continent.

We welcome the joint statement by 47 States expressing serious concern at the human rights situation in China, including in the Uyghur region (Xinjiang), Hong Kong and Tibet, and echo the call for the prompt release of the High Commissioner’s long-overdue report on the serious violations in Xinjiang. The High Commissioner, or her successor, should present her report upon release in an intersessional briefing to the Human Rights Council. 42 Special Procedures experts have also reiterated their call for the creation of a UN-mandated mechanism to ‘monitor, analyse and report annually on the human rights situation in China’, underlining the importance for the credibility of the UN system to ‘ensure a consistent UN approach to all States.’ In its September session, the Council should take action on the basis of objective information from the UN system – namely the OHCHR Xinjiang report, Special Procedures concerns, and the upcoming Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee’s ongoing review of Hong Kong – with a view to establish a space for formal discussion of the human rights situation in China. 

The continued silence of this Council on the critical human rights situation in Egypt is of great concern.  As Egypt prepares to host COP 27 it continues to carry out  widespread and systematic violations of human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. Almost all independent media has been forced to shut down or threatened into silence.  100s of websites continue to be banned.  Thousands of civil society and media representatives have been and continue to be  disappeared, tortured and/or arbitrarily detained under the pretence of counter-terrorism and national security. This includes well known blogger and democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah – recently  sentenced to an additional 5 years in prison by an exceptional court.  His crime?  Advocating for democracy and rights.  He is currently approaching day 100 of a hunger strike. We urge this Council and its Special Procedures to take action to protect and ensure the release of Mr. Fattah and the thousands of others like him in Egypt.  

There have been strong calls from international and Russian civil society for Russia to be on the formal agenda of the Human Rights Council since the beginning of 2021.  A recent further intensification of human rights violations in Russia has led to calls for the HRC to mandate a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation. While the joint statement signed by nearly 50 delegations at HRC50 was important, the situation now demands stronger action and we will be looking for the HRC to take action at the next session.

Signatories:  International Service for Human Rights; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); ARTICLE 19; DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project); CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI); International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI); The Global Interfaith Network (GIN SSOGIE NPC); World Uyghur Congress; Gulf Centre for Human Rights; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Child Rights Connect; Access Now; Association for Progressive Communications (APC); IFEX; Human Rights House Foundation; FIDH.

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