© ISHR

News

HRC54: Key issues on agenda of September 2023 session

The 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council (11 Sep - 13 Oct) will consider issues including reprisals, arbitrary detention, systemic racism, enforced disappearances, water and sanitation, and the rights of Indigenous peoples and people of African descent. It will also present an opportunity to address grave situations in over a dozen States. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

The UN Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 54th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 11 September to 13 October 2023.

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC54 on Twitter/X, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

Join us at a joint side event organised by ISHR and the UN Antiracism Coalition (UNARC) on Black migrants in Europe: law enforcement, identity, and politics, scheduled for 5 October at 12:00 in Room XXV. 

ISHR along with Amnesty International, Asia Pacific Forum for Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Association for Women in Development (AWID), Front Line Defenders, Mesoamerican Initiative for WHRDs (IM-Defensoras), WHRD Middle East and North Africa Coalition (WHRD MENA Coalition), and Woman Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRDIC) are bringing together 10 women human rights defenders from Africa, Asia, MENA, Mesoamerica and Eastern Europe to participate and engage in the Council for the week of 18-22 September. Join us for our joint side event on the gender perspectives of 25 years of human rights defender protection scheduled for 21 September at 14:00 in Room XXV.

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

Modalities of participation in HRC54

According to the Bureau minutes of 18 August 2023, ‘modalities for the 54th session should be the same as during the previous 53rd session. Consequently, NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC and NHRIs with “A” status would have the possibility to deliver their statements in person or via pre-recorded video statements…As implemented at the 51st, 52nd and 53rd sessions of the Human Rights Council, the Secretariat intends to allocate some space for side events at a reduced level compared to the pre-COVID-19 period due to the ongoing renovations under the Strategic Heritage Plan and their impact on the availability of meeting rooms at Palais des Nations.. a maximum of one side event per NGO may be requested. Each side event will last a maximum of one hour. The same requirements and practices as in the pre-COVID19 period will apply.’ Read here the information note by the Secretariat which is updated according to the latest information.

HRC 2023 Elections

The Human Rights Council (HRC) elections will happen on 10 October 2023 at the UN General Assembly in New York. This is when incoming State members for the period 2024-2026 will be elected. Like every year, Amnesty International and ISHR, this time with the co-sponsorship of South Africa and Belgium, are organising a Pledging Event on 6 September. This is the opportunity for civil society to directly engage with candidate States by asking them questions to which they will respond during the event. Please submit your questions ahead of the event. The list of countries that are running and seeking to be elected members of the HRC in 2024 is available here. ISHR has published scorecards for all the candidate States that offer a quick ‘at-a-glance’ objective comparison of the human rights record of each candidate. ISHR considers that none of the candidates has a perfect human rights record: they all need to do better. However, and according to the HRC membership criteria, China, Russia and Burundi stand out as manifestly unsuitable for membership of the HRC. Each of these States is responsible for perpetrating atrocity crimes, has a track record of reprisals against victims, witnesses and defenders who seek to engage with the UN, and is responsible for systematic repression of civil society at the national level. We call on all UN States at the General Assembly to not vote for these three candidates.

#HRC54 | Thematic areas of interest

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

Reprisals

During the 54th session, Ghana, Fiji, Hungary, Ireland and Uruguay will present a draft resolution on cooperation with the UN. ISHR urges all States to support the adoption of a HRC resolution that strengthens the UN’s responses to reprisals.

On 28 September, the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, will present the Secretary General’s annual Reprisals Report to the Council in her capacity as UN senior official on reprisals. ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who engage or seek to engage with UN bodies and mechanisms. We call for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation. HRC54 is a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals and demand that governments provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. An increasing number of States have raised concerns in recent sessions about individual cases of reprisals, including at HRC39, HRC41, HRC42, HRC43, HRC45, HRC51, HRC52 and HRC53. 

States raising cases is an important aspect of seeking accountability and ending impunity for acts of reprisal and intimidation against defenders engaging with the UN. It can also send a powerful message of solidarity to defenders, supporting and sustaining their work in repressive environments.

This year, ISHR launched a campaign regarding five cases. ISHR urges States to raise these cases in their statements:

  • Anexa Alfred Cunningham (Nicaragua), a Miskitu Indigenous leader, woman human rights defender, lawyer and expert on Indigenous peoples rights from Nicaragua, who has been denied entry back into her country since July 2022, when she participated in a session of a group of United Nations experts on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. States should demand that Anexa be permitted to return to her country, community and family and enabled to continue her work safely and without restriction.
  • Vanessa Mendoza (Andorra), a psychologist and the president of Associació Stop Violències, which focuses on gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive rights, and advocates for safe and legal abortion in Andorra. After engaging with CEDAW in 2019, Vanessa was charged with ‘slander with publicity’, ‘slander against the co-princes’ and ‘crimes against the prestige of the institutions’. She has been indicted for the alleged “crimes against the prestige of the institutions” involving a potentially heavy fine (up to 30,000 euros) and a criminal record if convicted. States should demand that the authorities in Andorra unconditionally drop all charges against Vanessa and amend laws which violate the rights to freedom of expression and association.
  • Kadar Abdi Ibrahim (Djibouti) is a human rights defender and journalist from Djibouti. He is also the Secretary-General of the political party Movement for Democracy and Freedom (MoDEL). Days after returning from Geneva, where Kadar carried out advocacy activities ahead of Djibouti’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), intelligence service agents raided his house and confiscated his passport. He has thus been banned from travel for five years. States should call on the authorities in Djibouti to lift the travel ban and return Kadar’s passport immediately and unconditionally.
  • Hong Kong civil society (Hong Kong): Until 2020, civil society in Hong Kong was vibrant and had engaged consistently and constructively with the UN. This engagement came to a screeching halt after the imposition by Beijing of the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL), which entered into force on 1 July 2020. States should urge the Hong Kong authorities to repeal the offensive National Security Law and desist from criminalising cooperation with the UN and other work to defend human rights.
  • Maryam al-Balushi and Amina al-Abduli (United Arab Emirates), Amina Al-Abdouli used to work as a school teacher. She was advocating for the Arab Spring and the Syrian uprising. She is a mother of five. Maryam Al Balushi was a student at the College of Technology. They were arrested for their human rights work, and held in incommunicado detention, tortured and forced into self-incriminatory confessions. After the UN Special Procedures mandate holders sent a letter to the UAE authorities raising concerns about their torture and ill treatment in detention in 2019, the UAE charged Amina and Maryam with three additional crimes. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found their detention arbitrary and a clear case of reprisals for communicating with Special Procedures. In April 2021, a court sentenced them to three additional years of prison for ‘publishing false information that disturbs the public order’. States should demand that authorities in the UAE immediately and unconditionally release Maryam and Amina and provide them with reparations for their arbitrary detention and ill-treatment.

In addition, we urge States to raise and follow up on cases from our 2022 campaign as well as individual cases of reprisals in the country specific debates taking place at this session. Further information on these cases can be found here or by contacting the ISHR team at [email protected]

During the organisational meeting held on 28 August 2023, the Vice 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.

Systemic racism against Africans and people of Africans descent

Join us at our side event on Black migrants in Europe: law enforcement, identity, and politics, scheduled for 5 October at 12:00 in Room XXV. 

On 5 October, the Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent (WGEPAD) will present its report on the ‘Economic empowerment of people of African descent’ and the reports of its country visits to the United Kingdom and Australia. On 6 October, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue on the report of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent. On 5 October, the Council will hold an enhanced interactive dialogue with the Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement (EMLER) and the High Commissioner on their annual reports on the ‘Promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers through transformative change for racial justice and equality’. The debate prioritises the participation of directly affected individuals and communities, including victims and their families. EMLER will also present their country visit reports on Sweden and the United States.

The UN Antiracism Coalition (UNARC) and its members, including Mothers against Police Brutality, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ISHR, coordinated meetings between civil society groups and the UN experts for the visit to the United States. UNARC is an international coalition, hosted at ISHR, that was created and led by Africans and people of African descent. It addresses the ongoing oppression and killing of Black people around the world due to global anti-Blackness and the histories of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. UNARC was instrumental in the creation of the EMLER. Members organised strategy sessions for human rights defenders, in particular, advocates met to push for the creation of the mechanism with a sole focus of addressing systemic racism and police violence, and importantly, to look at root causes such as colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. Read more about UNARC here and see a complete list of UNARC members here.

At the 54th session, the Africa Group will present the annual resolution ‘From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance’ and the mandate renewal of the WGEPAD. ISHR urges all States to fully support both resolutions, and to fully implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA). We also call on States to fully cooperate with the WGEPAD and EMLER including by accepting country visits, and implementing their recommendations as well as those from the Permanent Forum and the High Commissioner’s Agenda towards Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality.

Other thematic debates

At this 54th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates with the:

  1. Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation
  2. Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights
  3. Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  4. Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development and the Special Rapporteur on the right to development
  5. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences
  6. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  7. Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order
  8. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  9. 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
  10. Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
  11. OHCHR on its report on economic, social and cultural rights, and COVID-19 recovery
  12.  Advisory Committee
  13. ID on HC oral update on drivers, root causes and human rights impacts of religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence

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

  1. Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons
  2. Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Council will also consider various other reports, see the full list here.

#HRC54 | Country-specific developments

Afghanistan

The Council will hold an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan on 11 September, and on the OHCHR report on Afghanistan on 12 September, and will consider a resolution on the human rights situation in Afghanistan at this session.

ISHR supports the call of Afghan human rights defenders to the Council to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan. We also support the call to establish a parallel independent investigative mechanism in the upcoming September session and to ensure meaningful follow up to the joint report of the Special Rapporteur and the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, as well as continuation of a dedicated discussion at the Council on the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. Accountability for widespread human rights violations, including gender apartheid and other crimes against humanity, is imperative to securing sustainable peace and development in the country.

Algeria

We urge States to demand that Algeria, a Council member, end its crackdown on human rights defenders and civil society organisations, amend laws aimed at silencing peaceful dissent and stifling civil society, and immediately and unconditionally release arbitrarily detained human rights defenders and activists, including in the interactive dialogue with the Working Group on arbitrary detention. Since the beginning of the Hirak pro-democracy movement, the Working Group has issued at least 6 decisions of arbitrary detention, highlighting Algerian legislation that is inconsistent with international law, violations of due process and the right to a fair trial, as well as violations to the right to freedom of expression, discrimination based on language, ethnicity and religion. They have also condemned Algeria’s abuse of counter-terrorism legislation. States should call on Algeria to implement the recommendations of the working group.

We also urge States to address the case of reprisals against human rights defenders Kaddour Chouicha and Jamila Loukil, members of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) before its dissolution by the Algerian authorities. They were prevented from traveling to attend the pre-session organised by UPR-Info, a clear case of reprisals against human rights defenders attempting to cooperate with the UPR. Chouicha, Loukil and other HRDs are charged in a criminal case, which includes ‘enrolment in a terrorist or subversive organisation active abroad or in Algeria’. They are still awaiting trial as the authorities postponed their court session on 15 June 2023. If convicted of these charges, they face up to twenty years imprisonment.

Bahrain

Civil society organisations, including ISHR, have requested States to urge Bahraini authorities to unconditionally release all those sentenced for their political opinions, including human rights defenders Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Abduljalil Al-Singace, and in the meantime, to ensure that they are provided with life-saving medical care to prevent an imminent tragedy.

On 9 August 2023, Al-Khawaja initiated a hunger strike alongside hundreds of other inmates demanding better conditions in Jau Rehabilitation and Reform Center. Al-Khawaja, the co-founder of both the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, has been unjustly imprisoned for 12 years. He was arrested in 2011 for his role in peaceful demonstrations during Bahrain’s pro-democracy uprising and is currently serving a life sentence in Bahrain. Al-Khawaja’s health has deteriorated significantly during his imprisonment. He has been subjected to severe physical, sexual, and psychological torture. Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace, a Bahraini academic and award-winning human rights defender serving a life sentence in Bahrain, has been on a hunger strike without solid food since 8 July 2021, in protest at the confiscation of his handwritten notes by prison authorities.

Hundreds of people detained on politically motivated grounds in Bahrain’s Jau prison have been leading a hunger strike calling for an end to solitary confinement, increased time outside of their cells, prayer in congregation at the prison mosque, face-to-face visitation without glass barriers, proper medical care, and access to education.

Serious human rights abuses in Bahrain have not been sufficiently addressed at the Council since a joint statement delivered by States in 2015. The danger to the lives and wellbeing of Bahraini human rights defenders and others unjustly imprisoned in Bahrain require States to once again take up this issue as a matter of urgency.

Burundi

The Council will hold an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Burundi on 22 September.

As serious human rights violations persist in Burundi and the Government has failed to hold per­petrators accountable or take the concerns raised by Burundian and international actors seriously, the Coun­cil should not relax its scrutiny. The Council should extend the Special Rapporteur’s mandate for a further year.

ISHR signed on a joint letter calling on the Council to ensure that the Special Rapporteur is able to fulfill his man­date, as per resolution 48/16, to, inter alia, ‘monitor the situation of human rights in Bu­rundi, […] make recommen­da­tions for its improvement, [and] collect, examine and assess infor­ma­tion from all relevant stake­holders […], building upon the work of the Commission of Inquiry.’ To fulfill these mo­nitoring and docu­men­tation functions, the Special Rapporteur requires adequate funding for at least one additional staff member, which the UN Secretary-Gene­ral should provide to him.

China

31 August marked one year since the release of the groundbreaking OHCHR report finding possible crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese government in Xinjiang. This Council session also marks one year since the failure of the Council, and most of its Council Members, to stand by principle against Beijing’s coercion and promote a dialogue on the human rights of Uyghurs. Since that time, the recommendations of the OHCHR’s report have been echoed by the CERD in its Urgent Action decision on Xinjiang, by the CESCR and CEDAW in their respective Concluding Observations, and by 15 Special Procedures mandates in their seven benchmarks on Xinjiang. Yet, in a surprise visit to the region in August, President Xi Jinping reiterated its hardline policy and called for further efforts to ensure ‘social stability’ and ‘control illegal religious activities’. States should take collective action to urge China to implement key recommendations from the OHCHR Xinjiang report, and from relevant UN Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures, with a focus on root causes of violations that commonly affect Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese human rights defenders, including the abuse of national security laws and measures.

States should further ask for the prompt release of human rights defenders targeted by the Chinese government’s renewed crackdown on human rights lawyers, including lawyer Lu Siwei at risk of refoulement from Laos, activists Chang Weiping, Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong, recently convicted to lengthy prison sentences, as well as Yu Wensheng and Xu Yan, detained en route to meet with EU diplomats in Beijing. Ten years after the detention, and subsequent death in custody, of woman human rights defender Cao Shunli on her way to attend China’s UPR in Geneva, the Council must also pierce the veil of impunity for egregious cases of reprisals, and call on China to acknowledge its responsibility, bring perpetrators to justice and provide adequate remedy.

Egypt

Recent arrests and arbitrary detention of several media figures, dissidents and their family members in Egypt are indicative of the ongoing crackdown on basic freedoms and liberties in the country, and reflect a lack of genuine political will to improve the human rights situation by the Egyptian government. In the last ten years, Egyptian human rights organisations have recorded the enforced disappearance of no less than 3,000 citizens for varying periods of time, death by mistreatment and medical negligence of at least 1,200 people in detention centres, the sexual assault of at least 655 people and their family members, and the extrajudicial killing of more than 750 people. The continued silence on Egypt by States at the Council will only encourage further violations. NGOs continue to urge States to ensure appropriate action on Egypt at the Council though the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanisms on the human rights crises in the country. As an immediate step, States should deliver a follow-up joint statement condemning the human rights situation in the country and calling on the Egyptian government to refrain from continuing to carry out wide-spread human rights violations.

Israel/Palestinian territories

While Israel rejected all the recommendations on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and refugee return made by States during its UPR review, States should reiterate their commitment to putting an end to 75 years of denial of the Palestinian’s people inalienable rights to return and self-determination.

During HRC 53, civil society welcomed the resolution put forward by the OIC to ensure the full implementation of the United Nations database of businesses involved in Israeli’s settlement enterprise in the Palestinian territories. States must ensure that the mandate is implemented in full as it represents a question of credibility to the Council, including by ensuring that the budget adopted in the fifth committee of the General Assembly later this year is in line with the programme budget implications (PBI). 

Russia

The Council will hold an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Russian Federation on 21 September. The Council will also be called upon to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur (HRC Resolution 51/25).

ISHR strongly supports the renewal of the mandate and urges States to oppose Russia’s candidacy to the Human Rights Council.

The human rights situation in Russia continues to deteriorate, while Russia also continues to perpetrate atrocity crimes in Ukraine.

In recent months, Russia has enacted laws providing immunity against war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the ‘State’s interests’, intensified its assault against LGBT persons, adopted further measures to repress civil society and silence independent journalists, and continued to arbitrarily imprison human rights defenders. Of further and direct relevance to the Council, Russia adopted a new law on 28 April 2023 which criminalises assistance, cooperation or confidential communications with international bodies, which may include the HRC and its mechanisms. These regressive developments, and the lack of any improvement in the human rights situation in the country, clearly warrant the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

With respect to Russia’s candidacy for the Council, ISHR only campaigns against countries based on strict and objective criteria. Russia manifestly fulfils all of these criteria, being a country: (1) responsible for a pattern of reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN; (2) responsible for the repression of civil society (Russia is ranked as ‘closed’ (scoring 17/100 in the Civicus Monitor); and (3) directly responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine according to the HRC-mandated CoI. On ISHR’s HRC candidate scorecards, Russia scores just 1/20 on objective criteria.

Saudi Arabia

In light of the ongoing diplomatic rehabilitation of crown prince and de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi authorities’ brazen repression continues to intensify. Some notable recent trends as documented by ALQST include, but are not limited to: the further harsh sentencing against individuals for peaceful social media use, including a death sentence issued against a man for tweets, the prosecution of women such as Manahel al-Otaibi over her choice of clothing and support for women’s rights, the ongoing forcible disappearance of prisoners of conscience including Mohammed al-Qahtani and Essa al-Nukheifi beyond the expiry of their sentences, and; regressive developments in relation to the death penalty, including a surge in executions (95 individuals were executed in 2023 so far), and several young men at imminent risk of execution for crimes they allegedly committed as minors. Human Rights Watch has documented the brutal massacre of migrants at the Yemen border, in what may amount to further crimes against humanity. ISHR continues to call for States at the Council to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international monitoring and investigative mechanism on massive human rights violations perpetrated in and by Saudi Arabia.

Sudan

On 12 September, the Council will hold Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Sudan.

Sudanese Women Rights Action published a report ‘laying an overview of the conditions of women’s rights and gender equality in Sudan as an extended crisis started on October 25th, 2021, when the military took over the power in Sudan, ending the transitional period on a bloody note…the report presents verified information about the crises scope, context, and responses from a gender perspective based on the needs on the grounds, the challenges, and the recommended interventions according to local actors and women activists.’ ISHR urges the implementation of  the recommendations identified by women activists including to ‘pressure both fighting parties to commit to sustainable Ceasefire; pressure the fighting parties to open humanitarian corridors; provide urgent funding to the humanitarian aid interventions; ensure protection and evacuation of women and WHRDs from fighting areas’. Ahead of HRC54, ISHR joined over 110 NGOs in reiterating a call on the Council to establish an independent investigative mechanism on Sudan with a mandate to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Sudan, collect and preserve evidence, and identify those responsible.

Tunisia

We regret that the Council failed to exercise its prevention mandate and address the deteriorating human rights situation in Tunisia during HRC 53, during which the High Commissioner and UN Special Procedures raised alarm at the escalating pattern of human rights violations and the rapidly worsening situation in Tunisia following President Kais Saied’s power grab on 25 July 2021. In the last two years in Tunisia there has been a significant erosion of the rule of law, attacks on the independence of the judiciary, reprisals against independent judges and lawyers and judges associations, a crackdown on peaceful political opposition and abusive use of ‘counter-terrorism’ law in politicised prosecutions, as well as attacks on freedom of expression and threats to freedom of association.

In an open letter against the ‘Memorandum of Understanding on a Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership between the European Union (EU) and Tunisia’ and against the EU’s border externalisation policies, 379 researchers and members of civil society decried the use of vulnerable populations as scapegoats to mask the failures of public policy in Tunisia. While Tunisian authorities were persecuting Black African foreign nationals, including migrants, asylum seekers and refugees – deporting at least 1,200 sub-Saharan nationals to the borders with Libya and Algeria, in inaccessible and militarised desert zones, leaving them abandoned without water and food – the signing of the Memorandum effectively gave Tunisia ‘a blank check, following a strategy that is all the more irresponsible given its inefficacy’. Unless States tackle ‘the structural socio-economic causes of so-called irregular migration’, and radically rethink access to mobility, ‘this security approach to border management will only make crossings more deadly and strengthen smugglers’. Addressing these grave violations cannot be done without also urgently addressing the rule of law crisis in the country.

Venezuela

The UN’s fact-finding mission on Venezuela (FFM) will report to the Council on 25 and 26 September. The Mission will focus on the situation for human rights defenders in the country – an essential focus given the existing and proposed legislation adversely affecting civic space, and the threats and attacks defenders face. The recent sentencing of 6 union leaders, denounced by UN Special Rapporteurs, is a clear example of the criminalisation of human rights defenders, as is the continued detention of defender Javier Tarazona, since July 2021, and that of many other real or perceived opposition figures. The continuing impunity in regard to the killing of defender Virgilio Trujillo Arana a year ago is an example of how little will exists to prevent attacks against human rights defenders.

In its first report in 2020, the FFM stated that it had reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been carried out in Venezuela, with the principal targets of violations including social activists and political leaders at the forefront of protests. The recommendations made by the FFM at that time have not been implemented. We recall that Venezuela continues to refuse to engage with the FFM or allow it to enter the country.

States must participate in the interactive dialogue with the FFM to highlight the essential role of  human rights defenders; express utmost concern at the ongoing, systematic threats, attacks and restrictions against civic space, and urge the Venezuelan authorities to take immediate steps to implement the recommendations issued by the UN human rights system. States must speak out forcefully in support of the FFM and its work, and encourage other States to do the same. This vital accountability mandate must be supported and its recommendations echoed, so that victims of violations in the country can believe that one day justice will be done.

Other country situations:

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 11 September 2023. The Council will consider updates, reports 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 on the report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar and Interactive Dialogue on the OHCHR report on Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Nicaragua and oral update by the Group of Experts on Nicaragua
  • Interactive Dialogue on the report of the OHCHR on Sri Lanka
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
  • Interactive Dialogue on the interim oral update of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Belarus
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine and Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner oral update on Ukraine
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner and experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Interactive Dialogue on the oral update of OHCHR on technical assistance and capacity-building for South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and presentation of the Secretary-General’s report
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the interim report on Haiti
  • Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia
  • Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Yemen

#HRC54 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting held on 28 August, the Vice President of the Council presented the programme of work. It includes 5 panel discussions. States also announced at least 28 proposed resolutions. Read here the reports presented this session.

Appointment of mandate holders

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

  1. Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity
  2. Special Rapporteur on minority issues
  3. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
  4. Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism
  5. Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  6. Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy (Hansen’s disease) and their family members
  7. Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
  8. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, member from African States
  9. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, member from Asia-Pacific States
  10. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, member from Eastern European States
  11. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, member from Western European and other States
  12.  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, member from Eastern European States

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 on the part of candidates. Mandate holders should 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 54th session

At the organisational meeting on 28 August the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes – mandate renewal (Africa Group)
  2. From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (Africa Group)
  3. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent – mandate renewal (Africa Group)
  4. Open-ended intergovernmental working group to elaborate the content of an international regulatory framework on the regulation, monitoring and oversight of the activities of private military and security companies – mandate renewal (Africa Group)
  5. Technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Africa Group)
  6. Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity building in the field of human rights (Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Turkiye)
  7. The world program on the human rights education and training (Brazil, Costa Rica, Morocco, Philippines, Senegal, Slovenia)
  8. Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights (Colombia, Estonia, New Zealand)
  9. Question of the death penalty (Benin, Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Mongolia, Republic of Moldova, Switzerland)
  10. Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence – mandate renewal (Argentina, Morocco, Switzerland)
  11. Realising the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl (United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom)
  12. Capacity-building for protection of human rights of persons deprived of liberty in the penitentiary system in Honduras (Honduras)   
  13. Human rights and unilateral coercive measures (Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement)
  14. Right to development (Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement)
  15. Human rights and Indigenous Peoples (Guatemala, Mexico)
  16. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan – mandate renewal (EU)   
  17. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi – mandate renewal (EU)
  18. The use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination (Cuba)
  19. Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order – mandate renewal (Cuba)
  20. Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances – mandate renewal (Argentina, France, Japan, Morocco)
  21. Implementation of the UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (Bolivia)
  22. Technical assistance and capacity-building for Yemen in the field of human rights (Lebanon on behalf of the Arab Group)
  23. Centrality of care activities and its importance from a human rights perspective (Argentina, Mexico, Spain)
  24. Human rights of older persons (Argentina, Brazil, Slovenia)
  25. Special Rapporteur on Russia – mandate renewal (Luxembourg on behalf of 26 EU countries)
  26. Right to privacy in the digital age (Austria, Brazil, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico)
  27. A world of sports free from racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (Brazil and Africa Group)
  28. Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (Fiji, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Uruguay)

The core group on Sudan (Germany, Norway, UK, US) announced that they are considering presenting a resolution on Sudan at this session. The core group on Syria (Germany, France, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkiye, UK, USA) also announced that they are considering presenting a resolution on the human rights situation in Syria.

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 France, Tonga, Romania, Mali, Montenegro, Botswana, Bahamas, Burundi, Luxembourg, Barbados, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Liechtenstein, Serbia. 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. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Mali and Burundi to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

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. Five panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Biennial panel discussion on unilateral coercive measures and human rights
  2. Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms
  3. Biennial panel discussion on youth and human rights [accessible panel]
  4. Panel discussion on cyberbullying against children [accessible panel]
  5. Annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of Indigenous Peoples [accessible panel]

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 2023.

Contact: Salma El Hosseiny at [email protected]

Related articles

Sudan: calling for ceasefire and end of crackdown on humanitarian workers, activists

After a year at war, Sudan is witnessing unprecedented violence and targeted attacks on civil society and local responders, with dozens of activists and local volunteers arrested, threatened and prosecuted in several states during in recent weeks. We reiterate our call for ceasefire, restoration of communications and cease of attacks against health facilities.