Human Rights Council | Key issues on agenda at 34th session in March

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 34th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 27 February to 24 March 2017. Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC34 on Twitter.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 34th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 27 February to 24 March 2017.

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC34 on Twitter.


#HRC34 | Thematic areas of interest

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

Renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

The increasing global crackdown on civil society and persistent attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) underscore the importance of guaranteeing the continuation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Regrettably, HRDs around the globe are being intimidated and harassed, arbitrarily detained, physically attacked and killed.

This session, the proposed renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate provides a key opportunity for the Council to strengthen the recognition of the crucial role HRDs play in our societies. The mandate is fundamental to continuing to provide visibility of the situation of HRDs and highlight the need for their protection and ability to work in a safe and secure environment.

The Special Rapporteur has made concrete contributions to the protection of HRDs, especially those most exposed and vulnerable, including defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights; minority rights; defenders pushing for corporate accountability; environmental defenders; defenders of LGBTI rights; women defenders; and those promoting corporate accountability. The mandate has also been vital in disseminating and promoting implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The Special Rapporteur’s newly released report to the Council focuses on the activities his office carried out between June 2014 and March 2017. The report highlights his commitment to strengthen support for national mechanisms for the protection of defenders so they can be fully operational and effective. He also seeks to reinforce initiatives to improve and measure the implementation of recommendations and resolutions on the protection of defenders.

The Special Rapporteur stresses that more can be done under his mandate and that it is fundamental that his office continues to serve as a ‘watchdog, a warning mechanism and a crucial resource for thousands of people’. ‘We must be bolder and more creative in order to face up to threats that weigh heavily on civil society as a whole and on every individual fighting for fundamental rights and freedoms’ the Special Rapporteur emphasises.

Click here for our summary of the report.


The core group of States leading Council action to combat reprisals against those cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms will present a joint statement. The core group is composed of Fiji, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland and Uruguay.

ISHR welcomes this anticipated statement and any calls for the UN and States to prevent and ensure accountability for acts of intimidation and reprisals, a call echoed in the report prepared by ISHR for the UN Secretary-General.

The Secretary General’s most recent report published in September 2016, once again documents several cases of reprisals and intimidation by Council members who are meant to uphold the highest standard of human rights promotion and protection and ‘fully cooperate with the Council’. This includes Burundi, China, Iraq, Japan, and Venezuela.

ISHR also welcomes the designation by the Secretary-General of a high-level official – Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour – to receive, consider and respond to allegations of intimidation and reprisals against HRDs and other civil society actors engaging with the UN.

However, given the severity and prevalence of alleged reprisals, the Council, its President and Bureau need to do more to fulfil their moral and legal duty to prevent and promote accountability for threats and attacks against those who submit information or seek to otherwise engage with the Council.

Cultural rights defenders

The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights will present her annual report to the Council this session. It focuses on the threats that fundamentalism and extremism pose to human rights. More specifically, it raises concern over the wave of threats and attacks perpetrated by fundamentalists and extremists against women, minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as their impact on the enjoyment of cultural rights.

The report highlights that women human rights defenders have been leading the fight against fundamentalism by defending the right of women to take part in cultural life without discrimination. The Special Rapporteur urges States to take all measures to respect and ensure the rights of human rights defenders challenging fundamentalism and extremism, to support them, and guarantee that attacks against them are investigated and measures of protection are adopted when necessary.

Institutional strengthening of the Council: Acting preventatively and responding to country situations of concern

During the 32nd session of the Council last June, a cross-regional group of States delivered a statement expressing their commitment to be guided by objective criteria to determine when the Council should take action in relation to a particular issue or country situation of concern. ISHR urges States to join this commitment and to take into consideration relevant and objective criteria for initiating Council action.

ISHR also reiterates the call made in a joint civil society paper published on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Council that sets out steps towards a more accessible, effective and protective Human Rights Council.

#HRC34 | Country-specific developments

Among others, the following human rights situations are expected to attract particular attention at this forthcoming session of the Council:


At the March 2016 session, the High Commissioner and over a dozen states, individually and jointly, raised significant concerns about human rights in China and called for the unconditional release of defenders and others arbitrarily detained for peaceful exercise of rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. However, there has been little or no change in the country, and torture, enforced disappearances and ongoing abuses of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’ to target defenders continue. A group of international and regional NGOs have called for States to take China to task for failing its human rights obligations as a newly re-elected HRC member, and hope to be joined by global civil society actors in standing in solidarity with Chinese HRDs.


Given the marked deterioration of human rights situation in Bahrain, including reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces and severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, assembly and association, ISHR and other NGOs have called on States to promote and support a resolution or a joint statement on the country at this Council’s session.

The Council has not taken action on Bahrain since its 30th session. Concerns about unlawful executions and lack of investigation of torture allegations must be put on the record. Likewise, the dissolution of the main political party and the arbitrary arrest of leading human rights defenders highlight the worsening of the human rights situation in the country. Moreover, the lack of independence of the judiciary has resulted in the revocation of citizenship of those who have been critical of the government. Activists have been subjected to travel bans and prevented from engaging with the Council’s previous sessions.

It is critical that the international community take immediate steps to address this situation and strongly condemn these acts which require urgent attention.


The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present an oral briefing to the Council on 13 March. Last October, ISHR along with a group of other NGOs issued a joint statement calling on member States of the Council to initiate action to suspend Burundi due to its lack of cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms and the severity of human rights violations in the country.

Since then, Burundi has consistently failed to live up to commitments in General Assembly Resolution 60/251, by not cooperating with UN experts and treaty bodies. As a result, the country no longer meets basic membership standards. During the 58th session of the UN Committee against Torture, the State did not show up for the outcome of its review. Moreover, it has declared that it will no longer cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Sustained and systematic human rights violations coupled with a flagrant lack of cooperation with the human rights system are clear indications that the State has failed to uphold the highest standards in promoting and protecting human rights.

As recently as January 2017, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi called on the government to cooperate with it.

ISHR reiterates the call on members to initiate the process towards the suspension of Burundi from the Council. The Council must take immediate action to deal with cases of contempt in order to preserve its own integrity and credibility.

Other country situations: Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Myanmar and others

The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in many instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. They include:

The Council will also conduct interactive dialogues with these experts, providing an opportunity for local human rights defenders to highlight violations.

Universal Periodic Review (UPR): States to be reviewed

During this session the Council will adopt the UPR reports which list the recommendations the State under review is expected to implement of the following 11 countries –Haiti, Iceland, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, South Sudan, Syrian Arabic Republic, Timor-Leste, Togo, Uganda, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Civil society has a crucial role in monitoring and pushing for implementation of recommendations at the national level.

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

#HRC34 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

At this upcoming session, nine expert panel discussions will be held, seven vacancies of mandate holders will be filled and over 25 resolutions will be discussed.

Organisational meeting

During the organisational meeting for the 34th session, the President of the Human Rights Council once again stressed that delegations and organisations should contribute to a constructive working atmosphere.

He highlighted that it is in ‘the common interest of all those engaging in this Council session that a climate free from intimidation or reprisals be maintained’.

There is a heavy programme of work for the session, which includes 9 panel discussions and 76 reports and over 25 resolutions that will be presented and discussed. As it did in previous sessions, the Council has limited the overall time for its interactive dialogues with special procedures to four hours. The President urged all those speaking at the session to exercise self-restraint in the preparation of statements, and reiterated that time limits will be enforced

For the first time, speakers can register through an online system starting on 23 February 2017. The organisation of side events during the high level segment of the session is discouraged.

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for the following seven vacancies of mandate holders to be filled at this session:

  • Special Rapporteur on the right to development
  • Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, member from Latin American and Caribbean States
  • Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), member from the Arctic
  • Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), member from Asia
  • Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), member from North America
  • Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), member from the Pacific

ISHR highly values the important work that the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association conducted throughout his mandate and hopes that the new mandate holder will build upon and further strengthen the initiatives carried out by Mr. Kiai.

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.

Officers of the Human Rights Council

Newly appointed members of the Bureau for the 11th cycle comprises of the following Ambassadors:

  • Mr Joaquín Alexander MAZA MARTELLI, President of the Human Rights Council
  • Mr Amr Ahmed RAMADAN (Egypt), Vice President and Rapporteur
  • Mr Mouayed SALEH (Iraq), Vice President
  • Mr Shalva TSISKARASHVILI (Georgia), Vice President
  • Mr Valentin ZELLWEGER (Switzerland), Vice President

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member states and NGOs opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Nine panel discussions are scheduled for this session:

  • The Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming will take place on Monday 27 February 2017, from 15:00 to 18:00 in Room XX. The panel will focus on the theme of the contribution of human rights to peacebuilding through the enhancement of dialogue and international cooperation for the promotion of human rights.
  • The Biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty will take place on Wednesday 1 March 2017 from 15:00 to 18:00 in Room XX. The will discuss human rights violations related to the use of the death penalty in particular regarding the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • The Panel discussion on climate change and the rights of the child will take place on Thursday 2 March 2017, from 9:00 to 12:00 in Room XX. The panel will aim to discuss the relationship between climate change and the full and effective enjoyment of the rights of the child.
  • The Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities will take place on Friday 3 March 2017, from 9:00 to 12:00 in Room XX. The debate will focus on Article 5 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on equality and non-discrimination.
  • The Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child will take place on Monday 6 March 2017, in the morning from 9:00 to 12:00 and in the afternoon from 15:00 to 18:00 in Room XX. The theme of the meeting is the protection of the rights of the child in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • The Panel discussion on access to medicines as one of the fundamental elements of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health will take place on Wednesday 8 March 2017, from 15:00 to 18:00. The panel will aim to discuss the challenges related to ensuring access to medicines and review good practices.
  • The Panel discussion on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity as a human rights priority for all States, including in the context of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will take place on Thursday 9 March 2017 from 15:00 to 18:00 in Room XX. The panel will aim to share best practices and make recommendations to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity while upholding human rights.
  • The High-level panel discussion on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic will take place on Tuesday 14 March 2017, from 9:00 to 12:00 in Room XX. The panel will focus on the issue of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and the need for accountability for violations and abuses.
  • The Debate on racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration will take place on Friday 17 March 2017, from 9:00 to 12:00 in Room XX. This panel will aim examining causes of racial profiling and incitement to hatred, identifying challenges and sharing good practices and generating recommendations on this matter.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 34th session

At the organisational meeting on 13 February 2017 the following resolutions were announced (States sponsoring the resolution in brackets).

  • Resolution on the right to work (Greece, Indonesia, Mexico and Egypt)
  • Resolution on the effects of terrorism on all human rights (Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt)
  • Resolution on the enjoyment of all human rights (Egypt)
  • Resolution on transnational business corporations and human rights (Ecuador)
  • Resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age (Austria, Brazil, Germany, Lichtenstein and Switzerland)
  • Resolution on technical assistance and capacity building (Georgia)
  • Resolution on realisation of social, cultural and economic rights (Portugal)
  • Resolution on the rights of the child (European Union and GRULAC)
  • Resolution on freedom of religion and belief (European Union)
  • Resolution on the prevention of genocide (Armenia)
  • Resolution on persons who belong to minorities (Austria, Slovenia and Senegal)
  • Resolution on human rights, democracy and the rule of law (Rumania)
  • Resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (Sweden)
  • Resolution on registration at birth (Turkey)
  • Resolution on the environment (Costa Rica)
  • Resolution on trust fund to support developing countries and island states (Maldives)
  • Resolution on regional arrangements (Belgium – core group)
  • Resolution on Palestinian occupied territories (Pakistan)
  • Resolution on human rights situation in Syria (United Kingdom)
  • Resolution on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka (United Kingdom)
  • Resolution on human rights situation in South Sudan (United Kingdom)
  • Resolution for mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  • Resolution for mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (Norway)
  • Resolution for mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context (Namibia)
  • Resolution for mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Denmark)

#HRC34 | Side events

ISHR, together with the permanent mission of Finland, will organise an event on Ensuring sustainable development: the role and protection of defenders: Thursday 2 March, 10:30-11:45 in room 25.

This event will explore the role and challenges faced by human rights defenders in contributing to sustainable development, and the interests and obligations of States and business should play in that regard.

ISHR will also co-sponsor the following events:

  • Backsliding on civic space in democracies, Friday 3 March, 13:00 – 14:00 in room 21, organised by Amnesty International, CIVICUS, FIDH/OMCT, FORUM ASIA, HRDA, Human Rights Watch, IDSN and ISHR.
  • Land and Environmental Human Rights Defenders: Implementation of mechanisms how to reduce risks and increase security: Monday 6 March 2017, 15:00 – 17:00 in room 24, organised by Oidhaco, Kolko, SCIAF, ABColombia, PBI, CIDSE, CAFOD, Franciscans International, and ISHR


A provisional calendar of side events organised by NGOs is available here, but note it may be subject to change.


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