Civil society organisations presented key takeaways of the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council in a joint statementdelivered on 01 April 2022. The statement also draws attention on the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations.
We stand in solidarity with human rights defenders in Ukraine, as well as those in Russia and around the world striving for peace, justice and accountability.
We welcome the Council’s swift response to the devastating human rights consequences of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, setting up a strong accountability mechanism. The war in Ukraine represents the latest in a growing regional human rights crisis and the action taken by the Council to establish this accountability mechanism is an important step.
Since the Council took action in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian human rights defenders have documented evidence of violations that may amount to war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks, forced deportation of Ukrainians to Russia, abductions and disappearances of political activists and human rights defenders, and the intentional targeting of local political figures, journalists, civilians, and civilian infrastructure by. While we welcome the Council’s initial response, it is imperative that the Council remain diligent and responsive to situational needs, including a potential special session prior to HRC50 should the situation in Ukraine continue to deteriorate.
Every human rights situation must be dealt with on its merits, with Council members ensuring a principled and consistent application of international law and standards, including in all situations of occupation. It is imperative that the Council uses all available tools to ensure the fulfilment of the inalienable right to self-determination of the Palestinian people as a whole struggling against Israel’s apartheid, and to act with urgency to support Palestinian civil society in a context of mounting repression.
We recall the mounting recognition of Israel's imposition of an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, including by the UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk, but also prior to his historic report, in a joint statement by 47 UN Special Procedures which stated that "above all, the Israeli occupation has meant the denial of the right of Palestinian self-determination." In a joint statement at this session, 90 organisations reiterated that "Double standards on this matter, including those propagated by Europe and the United States, severely undermine the effectiveness and legitimacy of international human rights and humanitarian legal standards. For 73 years, the international community has enabled Israeli impunity and failed to hold Israeli perpetrators accountable for serious crimes against Palestinians. Accountability is long overdue.”
This Council must also urgently act to dismantle systemic racism in border control and migration governance and play its role in upholding all human rights for all at international borders, including the right to seek asylum. All human beings crossing European borders from Ukraine are fleeing the same dangers. We deplore the discrimination and violence against Africans and other racialized groups fleeing Ukraine, as well as the different approach taken towards refugees fleeing other conflicts.
We welcome the Council’s decision to extend the mandate of the OHCHR Examination on Belarus. We remind the Council that the original Examination did not start its work for a number of months which resulted in delays in documenting and analysing evidence of human rights violations committed in the context of Belarus’s 2020 presidential elections. We are concerned by reports that the Examination will be moved from Geneva to Vienna and delays which could result from such action. We encourage the Council to engage with OHCHR to ensure that the Examination rolls over without delay.
We welcome attention paid to the issue of transitional justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the context of the interactive dialogue at this session, and stress that any meaningful transitional justice process must include a judicial mechanism with a strong international component to hold perpetrators to account.
While we welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, we urge the Council to revisit its business as usual approach to the human rights situation in Iran. We regret that the resolution fails to contain any substance on the situation of human rights in the country, a situation that is unique for country resolutions under item 4. As noted by the Special Rapporteur in his report to this Council, “institutional impunity and the absence of a system for accountability for violations of human rights permeate the political and legal system of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” We furthermore urge the Council to answer the Special Rapporteur’s appeal for “the international community to call for accountability with respect to long-standing emblematic events that have been met with persistent impunity”.
It is clear from its interim report to this Council that the Fact-finding Mission for Libya must be renewed in June, ideally for a period of two years. Much more work needs to be done to promote the institutions necessary for accountability in the country.
We welcome the adoption of the resolution on Myanmar - by consensus - maintaining enhanced monitoring and reporting on the ongoing crisis, and with calls for suspension of arms transfers to Myanmar as a necessary step towards preventing further violations and abuses of human rights.
We celebrate the establishment of a Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua, as the repression intensifies, and the government does not show any willingness to cooperate with the UN. The Group’s mandate to investigate human rights violations since April 2018, including root causes and intersectional forms of discrimination, identify perpetrators, and preserve evidence, will pave the way for future accountability processes, putting victims at the heart of the Council’s response.
We welcome the adoption of the resolution on human rights defenders and we stress that recognizing and protecting human rights defenders involves not only their holistic and security protection but also recognition of the important work they do in conflict and post-conflict situations. We also welcome the reference of the impact of arms transfers in this resolution, but regret a more substantive reference could not be made in the operational paragraphs. We also regret that child human rights defenders have not been included in the resolution despite the strong request from many States.
We welcome the leadership of Uruguay, on behalf of GRULAC, and the EU on the resolution on the rights of the child and family reunification in the context of migration and armed conflict, ensuring a strong focus on children as rights holders, prevention of family separation and the establishment of effective and accessible family reunification procedures. We are concerned once again, by the attempt to weaken the text on child participation through amendments. Finally, we regret that the resolution does not include a clear reference to the existing standards on prohibition of child immigration detention, and that the important recognition, especially in the context of the resolution, that various forms of family exist was not retained in the text.
We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, although we regret that the resolution does not clearly stress the need for additional resources to the mandate due to its necessary focus on activities of UN on counter-terrorism in New York. We recognise the important analysis on states of emergency that was very relevant during the pandemic.
We welcome the adoption of the resolution on disinformation. The resolution reaffirms the central role of the right to freedom of expression in countering disinformation and stresses that censorship cannot be justified to counter disinformation, including through Internet shutdowns or vague and broad laws criminalising disinformation. It also draws attention to the role of algorithms and ranking systems in amplifying disinformation. We urge States to follow the approach of the resolution and counter disinformation through holistic measures, including by ensuring a free, independent, plural and diverse media, protecting the safety of journalists, and promoting access to information held by public bodies.
Whilst underlining the importance of protecting the independence of the OHCHR and ensuring there is no state interference in its work, we welcome the resolution on promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, its emphasis on austerity measures and policies imposed by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and its impact on economic, social and cultural right. We regret the language calling out IFIs was not stronger and in this regard encourage the workshop that will be convened by the High Commissioner to address the specific impacts of austerity measures imposed by IFIs on human rights specifically on recovery from COVID 19 Pandemic.
We welcome reports 49/68 on [...] prevention and technical assistance and capacity-building, and 49/88 on the contribution of [...] all human rights [...] to achieving the purposes and upholding the principles of the UN Charter - they emphasized how the Council and the broader human rights community can work more effectively and coherently across all UN pillars to sustain peace - including through systematically integrating human rights in UN common analysis and programming, and increasing synergies between UN pillars; and ensuring human rights are at the centre of a new social contract.
We regret that the Council failed to respond to several human rights situations. In the context of new heights of repression threatening the survival of independent civil society in Algeria, we welcome the High Commissioner’s call on the Government of Algeria to take all necessary steps to guarantee its people's rights to freedom of speech, association and peaceful assembly, to which we add the right to freedom of religion or belief. Special Procedures have repeatedly warned about increasing crackdown on religious minorities, in the context of a sustained crackdown on civil and political freedoms.
We note the High Commissioner’s announced visit to China, while expressing concerns at the lack of transparency over agreed terms for unfettered access. We recall precedents that cast shadow over the possibility that the Chinese authorities indeed allow genuine unrestricted access and inquiry, across the country. We deplore her Office’s lack of coherence in responding to serious human rights violations in China, as this Council still awaits a long-promised report on grave violations in Xinjiang, the Uyghur region, with no further indication on its protracted release.
We express deep disappointment in a lack of follow up by States to the joint statement condemning widespread violations in Egypt delivered last March. The Egyptian human rights movement and independent rights NGOs continue to face a real and imminent threats to their existence. The authorities continue to misuse counterterrorism laws to arbitrarily detain thousands, including hundreds of human rights defenders, activists, political opponents and journalists, while systematically resorting to enforced disappearances and torture. Judges continue to sentence hundreds of defendants following their convictions as a result of unfair criminal trials, including to death, amid an alarming spike in executions since late 2020. Given the failure of the Egyptian authorities to meaningfully address the on-going human rights crisis and tackle impunity for crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations, we strongly urge follow up action at this Council. The price of silence is too high.
It is unfortunate that the Council did not take steps to respond to the substantial and growing attacks on human rights on the territory of the Russian Federation. Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine, the authorities have further clamped down on the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression and made legitimate human rights work increasingly difficult. Peaceful protest is effectively forbidden. Independent media are forbidden from printing facts and required to solely report government narratives. Two decades of repression against independent civil society, journalists, and human rights defenders laid the groundwork for the authorities to be able to launch an unprovoked attack against Ukraine and the Council has a responsibility to respond accordingly. We demand that the Council establish a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia at its soonest opportunity.
Finally, we call on the UN General Assembly to suspend Russia's rights of membership of the Council for committing widespread, gross and systematic human rights violations, some amounting to war crimes.
 International Service for Human Rights, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Human Rights House Foundation, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, International Commission of Jurists, International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, child rights connect.