Outcomes from the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council: Progress & Shortcomings

Joint statement from the end of the United Nations' 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council


12 organisations share reflections on the key outcomes of the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues including human rights situations in Afghanistan, China, Philippines, and Yemen.

Thematic issues and resolutions

We welcome that for the first time, the Council heard from two representatives of directly impacted communities from the podium in the enhanced interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner and the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement: Collette Flanagan of Mothers against Police Brutality (MAPB) whose son was killed by U.S. police in 2013; and Jurema Werneck, director of Amnesty International in Brazil. As highlighted in the HC’s report, States are continuing to deny the existence and impact of systemic racism, especially institutional racism. Our view is that States actively protect the interests of police institutions in order to maintain the status quo which is designed to oppress Africans and people of African descent. We call on States to fully implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), to fully cooperate with the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement including accepting country visits, implement the recommendations from their report and the High Commissioner’s Agenda towards Transformative Change for Racial justice and Equality.

We welcome the ‘from rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance’ resolution. The resolution, interalia, strongly condemns the discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent, including refugees and asylum-seekers, at the hands of law enforcement officials engaged in migration and border governance. It calls on States to ensure accountability and reparations for human rights violations at borders and to adopt a racial justice approach, including by adopting policies to address structural racism in the management of international migration. It reiterates that the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans and colonialism were grave violations of international law that require States to make reparations proportionate to the harms committed and to ensure that structures in the society that are perpetuating the injustices of the past are transformed, including law enforcement and administration of justice and to dispense reparatory justice to remedy historical racial injustices.

We welcome the HRC’s first discussion on the legacies of colonialism as a step towards challenging entrenched structures of racism and colonialism, including in its contemporary manifestations as exemplified by apartheid in the Palestinian context. Some of the most entrenched forms of systemic racism are the result of continuing legacies of slavery, the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans and colonialism. The DDPA recognizes that colonialism has led to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and emphasises the structural forms of racism and racial discrimination that to this day require urgent attention, especially for Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian descent and Indigenous Peoples who were victims of colonialism and continue to be victims of its consequences. We concur with the Special Rapporteur on racism that “there can be no real way out of our most pressing global crises without meaningfully addressing the legacies of colonialism…[and] failure to address colonial legacies, especially by former and contemporary colonial powers is an important part of our global crises.” We call on the Council to keep colonialism on the agenda of the HRC until all of its manifestations are eradicated. A true decolonial approach must not only focus on the perceived “extreme” manifestations of racism and individual prejudice, but also on the systems of oppression that create an enabling environment for continued human rights violations.

We welcome the resolution on the “human rights implications of new and emerging technologies in the military domain” and its request for a study examining these implications. The adoption of the resolution adds to the growing attention that UN human rights mechanisms are paying to the negative human rights impacts of arms, including new technologies that can be weaponised. It is undoubtable that concerns relating to the military domain should not be seen as only relevant to disarmament fora. In response to comments from some States on whether international humanitarian law (IHL) falls within the remit of HRC, we recall that international human rights law and IHL are complementary and mutually reinforcing, as the HRC itself has reiterated on several occasions in past resolutions. We welcome the inclusion of paragraph on the responsibility to respect human rights of business enterprises, and in this regard, we recall the Information Note by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights on the Arms Industry (“Responsible business conduct in the arms sector: Ensuring business practice in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”) published in August 2022. While we welcome the reference in the resolution to the role of human rights defenders and civil society organisations in raising awareness about the human rights impacts of the use of new and emerging technologies in the military domain, we regret that it does not include a specific mention of the risks that the use of these technologies can pose for human rights defenders and civil society organisations.

We welcome the resolution on arbitrary detention and especially the inclusion of a new paragraph on the necessity to fully implement the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The resolution recognises the role of HRDs, peaceful protesters, journalists and media workers in safeguarding the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of liberty and calls upon States to make sure that they are not arbitrarily detained as a result of their activities. We further commend the main sponsor, France, for having rejected any language that could have weakened the resolution, especially on the right to legal assistance.

We welcome the adoption of the safety of journalists resolution. It has now been a decade since the first resolution on this topic, and the HRC has since created an elaborate and robust set of international standards to protect journalists. This iteration of the resolution adds new strong commitments on multiple new and emerging issues affecting journalists, from strategic lawsuits against public participation to extraterritorial attacks. It also strengthens language on investigations into attacks against journalists, calling on authorities to exhaust lines of enquiry that determine whether such attacks are linked to their journalistic work. We now urge States to implement these commitments to their full extent.

We welcome the approval by consensus by the Council of the resolution on terrorism and human rights, that has been updated with important paragraphs related to the centrality of the rule of law and human rights to counter terrorism, international human rights obligations in transfers of terrorist suspects, profiling of individuals, detention, the right to a fair trial and other due process guarantees, the right to privacy and freedom of expression, and in relation to children rights and civil society. We regret that paragraphs stemming from security based concerns have increased even though they are unrelated to the competence of the Council to promote human rights.

Human rights situations on the Council’s agenda

We warmly welcome the adoption of the resolution on the human rights situation in the Russian Federation, mandating a Special Rapporteur on Russia for the first time. Over the last several years, and particularly since Russia's renewed illegal invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February, the Russian authorities have engaged in a systematic campaign of repression of human rights and restriction of civic space including by shutting down independent media, intimidating and harassing human rights defenders and activists, banning peaceful protest, and imposing impermissible restrictions on the operations of independent civil society organisations in the country, including those that seek justice and effective remedies for human rights violations. The Russian Federation’s growing repressive policies, combined with the country’s exclusion from the Council of Europe – victims of new human rights violations committed by the Russian Federation from 17 September lost protection under the European Convention on Human Rights– and its diplomatic isolation from those States which have been supportive of human rights and civil society in Russia, have made it increasingly difficult for Russian human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organisations to engage with the international community. Russian civil society had been vocal in calling for a Special Rapporteur's mandate, strongly believing it will help to create a bridge between the United Nations and Russian civil society and the wider general public in Russia at an acute moment of widespread domestic human rights violations, both ensuring their voice is heard at an international level, and that the United Nations can further develop its understanding and analysis of the deterioration in Russia's domestic human rights situation and the implications that has had - and continues to have - for Russia's foreign policy decisions.

We welcome the extension and strengthening of the OHCHR capacity to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve evidence and information and to develop strategies for future accountability, as well as to extend the mandate for enhanced monitoring and reporting by the OHCHR on Sri Lanka. Given the complete lack of any credible avenues for accountability at the national level, the OHCHR’s Sri Lanka Accountability Project remains the only hope of justice, more than thirteen years after the war, for thousands of victims of war time atrocities and their families.

We welcome the UN Secretary General’s report on missing people in Syria; and urge States to support and implement the report’s findings, in line with resolution A/HRC/51/L.18 which underscored "the report’s finding that any measure towards addressing the continuing tragedy of missing persons in the Syrian Arab Republic requires a coherent and holistic approach going beyond current efforts, which must be inclusive and centered on victims". Addressing the issue of missing persons in Syria requires a "new international institution" mandated to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons, to “work in cooperation and complementarity with existing mechanisms”, the body having “a structural element that ensures that victims, survivors and their families [...] may participate in a full and meaningful manner in its operationalization and work” as recommended in the study of the Secretary General.

The Council has taken a vitally important step in renewing the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela and of the reporting mandate of OHCHR for a further two years. In its most recent report, A/HRC/51/43, the Fact-Finding Mission deepened its investigation of alleged crimes against humanity, making clear that alleged perpetrators remain in power. The ongoing accountability drive through the work of the Mission allied with the work of OHCHR, is key to providing victims of violations with hope for justice. It is also key to the prevention of ongoing violations, particularly in the context of upcoming elections, and of encouraging political processes that respect human rights.

Human rights situations which should be on the Council’s agenda

We regret that the Council failed to respond adequately to several human rights situations including Afghanistan, China, Philippines, and Yemen.

We welcome the extension and strengthening of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan. However, this in no way makes up for the Council’s repeated failure to respond to the calls from Afghan human rights defenders, especially women human rights defenders, and civil society for an independent accountability mechanism with a mandate and resources to investigate the full scope of violations abuses that continue to be committed in Afghanistan by all parties and to preserve evidence of these violations for future accountability. It is particularly concerning that despite the overwhelming evidence of gross violations and abuses in Afghanistan that the Council failed to muster consensus on even the bare minimum.

We deplore that this Council was unable to endorse the proposal for a debate on Xinjiang, after the UN identified possible crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese government against Uyghurs and Turkic peoples. Dialogue is a pillar of multilateralism, and is fundamental, even on the hardest issues. Despite the leadership of the core group and all 18 States who voted in favour, this Council looked the other way. We strongly condemn the 19 countries who blocked this proposal, and regret all the abstentions that enabled it. We particularly regret that leading OIC States Indonesia and Qatar, as well as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, the UAE, Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Sudan, Gabon, Cameroon and Eritrea, decided to abandon Uyghurs and Muslim minorities in China. We command Somalia for being the only Muslim Council member to stand up for Muslim minorities. Uyghur and international human rights groups won’t give up efforts to hold China accountable. We urgently call on current and future Council members to support efforts to prevent the continuation of atrocity crimes in Xinjiang, and uphold this Council’s credibility and moral authority.

We are deeply disappointed that despite the High Commissioner’s clear recommendation and demands by victims and their families as well as civil society from the Philippines, the Council has failed to put forward a resolution mandating the High Commissioner to continue monitoring and reporting on the situation, allowing the Philippines to use the rhetoric of cooperation and the UN Joint Programme for Human Rights to window-dress its appalling human rights record without any tangible progress or scrutiny.

We are dismayed by an Item 10 resolution that will not allow for reporting to the HRC on the human rights situation in Yemen.   Despite a truce that now looks in danger of collapsing, the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Yemen has not ended. The lives and well-being of millions of Yemen citizens continue to be threatened from attacks against civilians, one of the world's largest humanitarian crisis and widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Yet many governments at this Council have chosen silence and appeasement of the warring parties over the protection of victims and upholding the rule of law. To abandon the people of Yemen out of political convenience not only betrays the fundamental purposes of this Council but also encourages parties to the conflict to continue to use violence and war crimes as a means of accomplishing their goals.   Lasting peace in Yemen requires a sustained commitment by the international community to ensure accountability and redress for the millions of victims in Yemen. We call on UN member states to give meaning to the pledges they have made and begin to work toward the establishment of an international independent investigative mechanism on Yemen.

Signatories:

  1. Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man
  2. American Civil Liberties Union
  3. ARTICLE 19
  4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  7. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
  8. Franciscans International
  9. International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
  10. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  11. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
  12. The Global Interfaith Network (GIN-SSOGIE)