The 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 26 February – 5 April 2024, 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 Sudan, Nicaragua, Venezuela, China, Syria, South Sudan, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Eritrea, occupied Palestinian territory/Israel, among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.
“In South Africa, human rights defenders, especially those who work to monitor the activities of the extractive industry have often been threatened and assaulted”, says Lucien Limacher, an attorney at the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), an advocacy group based in Johannesburg. “This authoritative recommendation of the Committee is particularly welcome in the current context”, he adds.
In a joint submission to the Committee, LRC, the Global Initiative on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR) and ISHR outlined the dangerous situation of economic, social and cultural rights defenders in the country, and provided a range of suggestions relating to the first review of South Africa by this Committee. “We’re delighted that the Committee adopted detailed and focused recommendations on defenders in their concluding observations,” says GI-ESCR’s Geneva representative Lucy McKernan.
The UN Committee values the work of defenders and recognises the crucial role they play in its work. In a welcome statement in 2016, the Committee found that undue restrictions and abuses on ESCR defenders constitute a ‘violation of States’ obligations under the Covenant’.
“We welcome the call of the Committee that all reported cases of intimidation, harassment and violence against human rights defenders must be promptly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators be brought to justice,” says ISHR’s head of treaty body advocacy, Vincent Ploton. “We encourage the South African authorities to adopt an implementation plan for these recommendations, and submit the second periodic report to the Committee on time,” he concludes.
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For many rights holders, victims and human rights defenders, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) provides a vital lever increasing pressure for change at the national level, while for others it provides the last resort or only opportunity to expose violations, seek accountability, and garner support for their essential work towards a fair, equal and sustainable world. We need the HRC to be credible, effective and accessible to everyone. This is only possible if States ensure that remote and hybrid participation of civil society is maintained; that international law is upheld universally; promptly and adequately respond to HRDs’ demands for accountability; lead and support HRC action in line with objective human rights criteria; and ensure that HRC members live up to their responsibilities, including full cooperation with the HRC and its mechanisms.
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