The 48th session of the Human Rights Council was held from September 13th to October 8th, 2021. The Human Rights council’s mandate is to promote and protect human rights around the world. The 48th session was held online, meaning that only the president – Nazhat Shameem Khan – and speakers, including experts, special rapporteurs, vice presidents and the high commissioner Michelle Bachelet - were allowed to participate from Palais Des Nations in Geneva.
Most state delegations along with civil society organizations were participating online, via zoom or prerecorded statements. This was due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which remains very relevant as vaccines are not yet available everywhere. Out of concern for equal access and inclusive participation, the 48th session was held online to prevent barring entities from participating due to covid-19.
While public health is a priority, the holding of the session online does present obstacles to full participation and restricts opportunities for gathering outside of the sessions. The only viable option was to hold the council online, a difficult yet necessary decision. However, this measure should in no case because a permanent feature of the Human Rights Council. Indeed, virtual participation requires material equipment to record and stream oral statements, as well as a stable internet connection. Moreover, the timing of the session is centered around Geneva’s time zone, making it hard for entities across the world to follow meetings in real time. Online participation restricts opportunities for side-events, networking, informal meetings, experience-sharing, and much more. Therefore, these necessary measures in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic had a great effect on civil society participation and accessibility.
The council held meetings on pressing human rights situations and followed-up on the mandated reports by group of experts and special rapporteurs. The grave situations in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Yemen were discussed first, and followed by thematic meetings with special rapporteurs such as racism, African descent, the right to development, enforced disappearances, reparations and truth etc. Independent commissions presented their reports, among others on Burundi, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Venezuela and Libya. The annual panel discussions focused on the digital gender gap, the rights of indigenous people, peaceful protests, human rights training and Covid-19 inequalities. The Human Rights Council also held adoptions for the UPR outcomes drafted since the previous HRC meeting. Finally, specific countries were discussed under item 10 for capacity building and technical assistance, such as South Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Sudan, the DRC, Somalia.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) participated actively in the 48th session of the Human Rights Council. Jointly with other NGOs, such as EAFORD, the Mezan Centre for Human Rights and International-lawyers.org, we delivered sixteen oral statements. GICJ submitted five written statements to the OHCHR, on issues in South Sudan, Iraq, and migration and racism in Europe. GICJ also followed many of the meetings, and wrote a number of discussion reports with our own perspective on the issues discussed.
GICJ reiterates that the participation of civil society in international forums such as the Human Rights Council is crucial for the improvement of human rights everywhere. NGOs publicly monitor and surveil government actions and their call-out power gives a voice to victims of abuse. Moreover, NGOs represent individuals on the field and articulate the interests of minorities, victims, stakeholders, local populations, workers, and much more. They bring informed, contextualized perspectives to the table to contribute to creating solutions tailored to the needs of the population. Therefore, their participation at the UN is absolutely essential and must be enhanced.
Click on the titles below to view each section.
The President of the Human Rights Council, Ms. Nazhat Shaheem Khan, opened the first meeting of the 48th session. She welcomed the sixteen delegations from small states and small states who have been allowed to participate in the Human Rights Council owing to a fund destined to improve their participation.
She announced the online modalities of the session, ensuring that the rights to reply and points of order would be enabled online. She also announced that side-events would not be held in the Palais des Nations, and that any side event organized by NGOs would not be considered part of the session. She assured that such modalities were only consequence of the pandemic and would not serve as a precedent.
She emphasized the importance of accessibility of the Council’s work for persons with disabilities. She asked all delegations send in the transcripts of their speeches. The President also warned against sexual harassment and said no act of such nature would be tolerated, and all claims would be investigated. She assured the same stood for acts of reprisals, intimidation and discrimination.
- Organizational and procedural matters
- Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
- Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development
- Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention
- Human rights bodies and mechanisms
- Universal periodic review (UPR)
- Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories
- Follow-up to and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
- Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action
- Technical assistance and capacity-building
During the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) delivered sixteen oral statements in collaboration with Mezan Center for Human Rights, International-lawyers.orf and International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD). GICJ also submitted five written statements in collaboration with a number of NGOs.
Click here to watch all of the oral statements delivered at the 48th Human Rights Council Session.
GICJ submitted several joint written statements to the 48th Session of the Human Rights Council. These statements highlight human rights violations that need more attention by the UN, Member States, and the international community. We published five written statements, the summaries of which can be found below.
Migration and Asylum Policies in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands
Germany’s rise in rightwing tendencies (PEGIDA movement and the AfD party) are concerning for the welfare of migrants and refugees in the country. Despite generally open public opinion, growing political and social desire seem to tend towards the regulation of migration. A new immigration law (2019) facilitates the deportation process, and the EU Court of Justice has ruled a German detention law unlawful. However, Germany accepts more refugees than any other country in Europe.
Austria is imposing strict regulation of migration routes along its borders, building fences and limiting refugee admissions. Effective suspension of asylum applications during the pandemic Covid-19 constitutes violations of refugee’s human rights. Further to this, Austria violates the non-refoulement principle by returning asylum-seekers collectively, and without proper individual risk assessment.
The Netherlands is unequipped t handle the amount of refugee applications it receives which has led to policies of discouragement. Authorities adopted strict deportation measures, slow procedures and limited basic services. The deportation of underage refugees has been ruled as a violation of European law by the ECJ. None of these countries have ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW).
Furthermore, allegations of illegal pushbacks conducted by the European Agency FRONTEX are worrisome, along with the collaboration with the so called Libyan “coast guard”. These amount to severe human right violations and breaches of international law.
- All three countries comply with non-refoulement, halt deportation to unsafe locations, and take responsibility for the unlawful acts of FRONTEX.
- All three countries repeal their policies which plan on limited the availability of asylum applications.
- All three countries guarantee the satisfaction of the basic needs of asylum-seekers and the refugee population.
Click here to read the full statement.
Xenophobia, Islamophobia, Antisemitism and Racism in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
Germany is undergoing a wave of islamophobia in public discourse, charged with xenophobic narratives of the extreme right. Organizations such as Alternative for Germany (AfD) reveal racist opinions which contribute to the radicalization of individuals, and eventually, hate crimes. Hate murders have killed ten people in Germany in 2020. Xenophobia and racism target Germans because of their cultural heritage of ethnicity, resulting in discriminatory killings. Antisemitism is still very present in Germany, but the government has a strong commitment to fighting it through dedicated offices.
Austria has seen a rise in racist incidents, which amount to 3000 in 2020. Islamophobia and xenophobia have increased in public opinion, with narratives targeting Muslims, refugees. An anti-face disguise law is targeting Muslim women who wear face covers, discouraging the integration of all and violating their fundamental rights. Antisemitism is also present in Austria where an ISIS sympathizer killed four people in Vienna in November 2020. The government prioritized fighting antisemitism but targets the refugee population instead of the right wing organizations.
The Netherlands’ centrist parties are taking a harsher, more right-wing stance on several issues like Islam, immigration. In 2020, the benefits scandal however uncovered institutional racism: for 20 years, the tax authority wrongly accused 25 000 parents of fraudulently claiming childcare allowances. The authorities found that the methods used to accuse them were discriminatory, scrutinizing people’s ethnicity or dual nationality. Islamophobia is also on the rise, headed by politician Geert Wilders. The Netherlands also passed a law prohibiting face disguise in public.
We urge the German government to counter discriminatory voices before they lead public discourse. Authorities must promote their anti-discrimination agency and strengthen mechanisms to detect and prosecute hate crimes more effectively. This includes detecting tendencies to limit religious freedom early. The German government should pay more attention to ethnic racism against immigrant workers, who have been part of society for a long time, but still face deeply-rooted discrimination.
We are concerned by the rising hate crimes in Austria and find it unacceptable that xenophobic voices increasingly influence political discourse. The government must step up its measures to document hate crimes and improve its institutional systems to coordinate with police, prosecution, and victims. We find the anti-face disguise law discriminatory and violating human rights including religious freedom.
We encourage Austria to combat hate campaigns, mostly against Muslims, by right-wing forces.
We are concerned by the rising influence of racist voices in the political discourse in the Netherlands. Although extreme Islamophobic parties do not participate in government, they still gain a high percentage of votes and therefore pressure conservative governing parties to adopt xenophobic opinions. Further, we call on the Dutch government to take measures to combat institutional racism. Discrimination based on ethnicity by state authorities is unacceptable. The Dutch law prohibiting face disguises in public spaces may violate the rights of Muslim women. Governments have the obligation to protect these minorities.
A call to end impunity in Iraq
Iraq’s sectarian system of government and dysfunctional judicial system fosters widespread lack of accountability. Ending impunity is at the core of the Iraqi youth’s campaign, who took to the streets to protest against the non-accountability which follows killings and human rights abuses in the country.
The root cause can be traced back to March 2003 when the US-led coalition invaded and occupied Iraq. The “war on terror” created extreme destruction in indiscriminate and brutal ways. The judiciary of Iraq was immensely affected. Judges were selected for their allegiance to the invasion and the provisional government dismantled state institutions. The result was a sectarian government which conducts to this day systematic human rights violations. Due process and fair trial was hindered, trials were expedited. The politicization and lack of independence make it difficult to investigate crimes and shelters perpetrators from accountability. Iraqi protesters demand a new non-sectarian system with sustainable, true democracy. The demonstrations since October 2019 have been met with violence and arrests. The government fails to take action to bring perpetrators of abuse to demonstrators to justice.
The activities conducted by the Iraqi government breaches its international obligations. In light of the persisting human rights abuses in Iraq, it is imperative that the international community and, in particular, the UN Human Rights Council, acknowledges and recognizes in its deliberations that the ongoing situation in Iraq is of increasing international concern. the crimes committed by various actors are in clear, absolute and undoubted breach of human rights laws. There is an imperative need for an intervention by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and all relevant UN human rights bodies in order to concert international action to dissolve Iraqi militias and hold all perpetrators accountable for their crimes. We, the NGO signatories to this statement, recommend that:
- The United Nations exerts pressure on Iraqi authorities to cease all attacks, threats and intimidation of peaceful demonstrators;
- The United Nations exerts pressure on Iraqi authorities to meet international obligations to investigate the killing, injury, abduction, disappearance and related ill-treatment and torture of demonstrators and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished.
- The United Nations exerts pressure on Iraqi authorities so that its government ensures that individuals investigated and prosecuted for alleged offences committed in the context of demonstrations enjoy all procedural safeguards and fair trial guarantees;
- Due to the failure of the Iraqi government to investigate and prosecute all alleged violations that have occurred in Iraq, the United Nations should establish an international, independent commission of inquiry, which shall be completely free from interference by the Iraqi government to investigate the above reported crimes and hold those responsible, as we believe would be the best approach;
- The Human Rights Council takes all the necessary steps to appoint a Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in Iraq.
Click here to read the full statement.
Human Rights Situation in South Sudan
The 9th of July of this year 2021 marked ten years since the Republic gained its independence. Sadly, the people of South Sudan continue to suffer greatly from a civil war that broke out in 2013, which brought about serious human rights abuses. With a dysfunctional governmental structure, and a rise in opposition militias across the country to the detriment of civilian and all vulnerable groups in general. In a country with widespread famine, children are easily targeted to become child soldiers as they are in desperate need of food, support and security.
The use of child soldiers and minors in conflict is frequent among militias in armed conflict. Cases of
child soldiers used on the battlefield were even reported within the governmental forces. Ergo, more than 17,000 children have been recruited since the beginning of the war, while the practice continues to be exercised. The recruitment of child soldiers includes boys who are forced to hold weapons, but also girls, used as cooks, for sexual exploitation, and sometimes as fighters.
In April 2018, predatory tactics of abducting children and forcing them to bear arms were reported among the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition SPLA-IO(RM). By late 2018, around 18 children were abducted and forced to bear arms by National Salvation Front (NAS), a non-state actor in the conflict; a breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Article 4 of the 2002 Optional Protocol on both sides of the war and the governmental peace agreement of September 2018. Despite the non-international status of the conflict, the state's duty under international law is still to "take all feasible measures to prevent such recruitment and use, including the adoption of legal measures necessary to prohibit and criminalize such practices.”
Lack of access to education and protection drives child recruitment. The lack of funding of rehabilitation programs also worsen the situation: given the financial situation in the country international actors need to play an economic role. Improvements owing to UNICEF and other international programs need to be reinforced. Recommendations to the Human Rights Council:
- Conduct thorough investigation during clashes to ensure that no children are unlawfully killed or mistreated
- Conduct thorough investigation among the state’s army and all governmental representative forces such as the police, for the use and general recruitment of child
- Create accountability mechanisms for all perpetrators responsible for the use of children in armed conflict.
- Raise awareness among communities regarding the social adaptation of ex-child
Humanitarian and aid workers are also under attack in South Sudan, with over 120 victims since the start of the civil war. Kidnappings, attacks and assaults are extremely worrying. These attacks are carried out intentionally by perpetrators of non state armed forces, and sometimes by the military itself. We urge the government of South Sudan to ensure that aid workers are protected. The Human Rights Council should mobilize the international community to enhance their security in South Sudan.
Click here to read the full statement.
Judicial System in South Sudan and relation Human Rights Issues
Failure of Justice and accountability in any society is a recipe for disorder and is a threat to peaceful coexistence. The Republic of South Sudan, a nation that hasn’t had the time to know peace - having been affected by deadly armed conflict just two years after its independence, it never got the opportunity to concentrate on building its institutions, especially those critical to the administration of justice for ensure lasting peace. The war has left the country’s justice system weak.
As a direct result of the prolonged armed conflict, justice administration in the country has been entangled with a lack of fair trial and due process rights issues, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and lack of access to legal counsel and legal aid, and deplorable detention conditions.
The judicial system lacks both adequate institutions and personnel, and its independence is also challenged. Abuse by security officers has shrunken the civil scape due to constant arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture, intimidations, and the clamp down on media and political opponents are the methods used to silence citizens and ensure a culture of impunity. Killings without due process and the use of the death penalty are on the rise in South Sudan.
Executives interference wit the judiciary and control over the prosecution hinders accountability for human rights violations. The delays of implementation of transitional justice programs is further entrenching impunity and undermines peacebuilding in the country. Impunity is flourishing due to this lack of political will.
The government continues to restrict opposition, suppress dissent, and limit participation in governance. Arbitrary arrests, detention, surveillance and media restriction are some of the many ways the government is silencing political dissent. The national security service (NSS) was reported to engage in torture of civilians, journalists and political leaders with great impunity.
The death penalty is still possible in South Sudan, and 140 people are still on death row. People are regularly executed with blatant disregard for the international human rights commitments made by the country. We recommend the Human rights Council to implement the following:
- Take measures to engage the AU to unilaterally establish the Hybrid Court to bring an end to the era of impunity in South Sudan.
- Assist the government of South Sudan in intensifying its efforts to ensure that Chapter V and VI of the Revitalized Agreement are implemented and the transitional justice institutions are established.
- Provide technical support and assistance including training, equipment support and capacity building to the South Sudan judiciary, lawyers, Ministry of Justice, prosecutors, and Legislative Assembly – and towards ensuring proper rule of law for arrests and detentions.
- Engage South Sudan in creating an accountability mechanism to control its armed forces for violations of human rights and arbitrary detentions.
- Assist the government in undertaking a comprehensive security sector and judicial reforms to end human rights violations by law enforcement officers.
- Assist South Sudanese security forces with tools to adequately investigate crimes and bring to account perpetrators in line with international standards.
- Provide the necessary support to place a moratorium on the execution of death penalty and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
Click here to read the full statement.
After attending various Interactive Dialogues and Panel Discussions, GICJ drafted multiple reports summarizing the meetings and outcomes. GICJ has published a total of seventeen reports on various human rights topics that were covered during the 48th Human Rights Council Session.
Click on the titles to read the full reports.
By Louise Requin
During the 1st meeting of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, the head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) presented its annual report. The IIMM’s mandate is to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011.
The report of the IIMM presents details of its mandate, its findings, its capacity-building and cooperation efforts with international judiciary authorities. Preliminary findings based on the collected evidence point to crimes against humanity committed by the security forces, with greater intensity since the coup of February 2021. The IIMM believes it could make secure, substantiated claims of such crimes with the evidence it has been presented with.
Regarding capacity-building, the IIMM is looking to hire more specialized staff. The mechanism puts primordial importance on the investigation of crimes of sexual and gender-based violence and is therefore looking hire specialized staff members trained to deal with victims of such crimes. Moreover, the IIMM is seeking to improve its language capacity to better communicate with victims and make its findings more visible to the people of Myanmar.
The mechanism seeks to strengthen the reach of its mandate by accessing financial records. Head of the IIMM Nicholas Koumjian believes that crimes are incentivized by financial interests.
Furthermore, the report of the IIMM stressed the importance of cooperation with judicial authorities, as the mechanism itself is not a tribunal, and does not have the capacity to prosecute or indict individuals. Therefore, the ongoing investigations at the ICC and the ICJ are crucial to the achievement of truth and restorative justice for the people of Myanmar. The mechanism is collaborating in these international proceedings through the provision of evidence.
Geneva International Center for Justice strongly supports the mandate of the IIMM, as truth-seeking and documentation are essential steps to criminal prosecution. Restorative justice is crucial for the victims and necessary to the memory of those who have died under the regime of Myanmar. However, the IIMM cannot bring perpetrators to justice on its own. GICJ calls on all relevant judicial authorities to seize the matter and prosecute those responsible. GICJ supports the ICC’s ongoing investigation and calls on all signatories of the Rome Statute to do the same.
Furthermore, GICJ strongly encourages all states who host Rohingya refugees to enhance their protection. The killing of Rohingya leader Mohibullah on September 29 unfortunately shows the international community is not doing enough to protect the victims of brutality who have fled from Myanmar. GICJ encourages the international community to provide technical assistance and financial support to countries hosting and resettling Rohingya refugees.
By Beatrice Serra
At the 48th session of the Huma Rights Council, the High Commissioner presented an oral update about human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, followed by an Interactive Dialogue.
Ms. Michelle Bachelet opened the session by expressing her concerns about the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region, which is expanding into the surrounding regions threatening to spill over to the whole Horn of Africa. Mass detention, killings, systematic looting and sexual violence have continued to create an atmosphere of fear, and an erosion of living conditions that resulted in the forced displacement of the Tigrayan civilian populations; civilian suffering is widespread, and impunity is pervasive.
Mr. Bekele pointed out how the escalation of hostilities is affecting communication, public services and humanitarian assistance with military clashes targeting routes, civilian populations, and infrastructure; deep concerns also remain for the dire humanitarian situation. The federal government, local authorities, and humanitarian agencies are urged to increase their efforts to ensure uninterrupted and improved provision of humanitarian aid to civilians in the Tigray region and neighbouring regions. Moreover, Mr. Rémy Ngoy Lumbu reiterated the commitment of the African Commission to cooperate with all stakeholders interested in the conflict by respecting the human rights of people and sovereignty of Ethiopia. To conclude, Mr. Hessebon reiterated the commitment of the Government of Ethiopia to overcome the challenge posed in the Tigray region by constructively engaging with all stakeholders for the improvement of the human rights situation.
In the ensuing debate, delegations took the floor to express their concern on the grave human rights violations and abuses perpetuated by all parties involved in the Tigray region and surrounding areas. States urged Ethiopia to end impunity by holding perpetrators accountable and requested the immediate withdrawal of the Eritrean troops. A constructive engagement with the High Commissioner, the Representative of the African Union for the Horn African region, all political stakeholders, as well as the international community was deemed necessary to put an end to civilian suffering. Deep concerns have been reiterated by civil society organization for which the priority remains the cessation of hostilities and de-escalation of tensions to achieve a long-lasting ceasefire. Further to this, a main cause of concern are reports of mass rape and starvation being used as weapons of war to exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation with millions on the brink of famine while siege and death is already occurring. Moreover, critical internet and communication shutdowns and blocking of websites are conducted to control information in the region. In this regard, NGOs urged the Government of Ethiopia to continue to engage with any findings of the joint investigation as well as implement other experts’ recommendations.
Geneva International Center for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the oral update and the attention given by the HRC to the human rights situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The government of Ethiopia should take any necessary steps to held perpetrators of human rights violations accountable to end impunity, while Eritrean troops urge to immediately withdraw from the region. In this regard, we strongly encourage Ethiopia in increasing its commitment in considering and accepting the report and recommendations delivered by the join investigations.
The military hostilities carried out by the parties involved in the conflict is exacerbating, thus putting at risk the lives of civilians, including humanitarian and medical personnel. Therefore, GICJ calls on all parties of the conflict to comply with international humanitarian and human rights obligations as well as ensure that civil society organizations and humanitarian personnel can carry on their work. Moreover, being aware of the complex ongoing conflict, we deem necessary the end of military hostilities between the parties involved and the negotiation of a long-lasting ceasefire without any conditions.
By Louise Requin
The conflict in Yemen is a civil war opposing the Houthi militia to the legitimate Yemeni Government, headed by President Hadi and backed by a Saudi-led coalition. The conflict has divided the country into a Houthi-controlled North and a Government-controlled South.
The group of eminent experts is issuing its report which researched remotely on human rights violations. The findings lay out violent forms of arbitrary detention, specifically targeting human rights activists and journalists. Women are specifically at risk and reports find incredible levels of sexual violence performed by the Houthis on detained women. The humanitarian crisis rages on as the blockade continues, impeding food, medicine and fuel delivery. Airstrikes continue despite warnings that they constitute breaches of international law due to their indiscriminate and disproportional character.
Member states and civil societies organizations discussed the group’s finding after the chair presented the report. Discussions revolved around the legitimacy of the Group’s mandate. The coalition and aligned countries reject the Group’s findings and demand the non-renewal of its mandate. Conversely they support the national enquiry committee and requested international support for the latter. Western countries differed and expressed strong support for the Group’s mandate.
The group recommendations were the following: to refer the situation to the ICC, to expand the list of sanctioned individuals, to establish an independent criminal justice investigation, for third states to investigate war crimes, to create a special tribunal.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the efforts of the Group in reporting human rights violations. However, we deplore the lack of emphasis on Iran’s participation in arms transfer to the Houthis. The Yemeni civil war is a proxy conflict opposing Iran to Saudi Arabia, the Group should have addressed these issues. Furthermore, the UK, the USA and France are major suppliers to the coalition in weapons. Their involvement therefore enables the continuation of the conflict and should have been addressed. Finally, GICJ deplores the report’s characterization of the Houthis as “de facto authorities”, a term which credits the terrorist organization with power in a dangerous way.
By Marc Gancedo
Transitional Justice is the process whereby; judiciary and non-judiciary measures are taken to ensure a peaceful transition conducive to reconciliation following a period of social conflict.
The report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparations, and Guarantees of non-recurrence focused on the issue of accountability. The report stresses the need for taking a comprehensive, holistic approach when tackling transitional justice that is not just limited to criminal justice. Moreover, it insists that states are responsible for carrying out pertinent investigations in cases of violations of human rights. In no case, will they be allowed to utilize the national legal framework to evade responsibilities. Victims must take a pivotal role, and all measures taken must have the wellbeing of those affected by human rights violations at the top of their agenda. The report also sheds light on the need for greater cooperation between national and international judicial mechanisms so that their actions are coordinated, and the measures of the other hamper neither body.
On the 16th of September of 2021, the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Fabián Salvioli, took the floor and presented his report to the stakeholders opening an interactive dialogue under item 3 of the agenda. In his opening statement, he reiterated several of the points made in the report. On the need to take complementary non-judiciary measures parallel to the criminal prosecution, he insisted that the pursuit of peace should not be detrimental to the pursuit of justice and that victims should not have to choose between one or the other. The general attitude of the intervening delegations was one of commitment to transitional justice providing special attention to transitional justice mechanisms and the capacity building of these. The centrality of victims during the process was a recurrent theme, as was the need to take a holistic approach that considers all aspects and is inclusive to all parts involved. Support notwithstanding, a few delegations spoke out against some of the points raised by the Special Rapporteur concerning the need for national mechanisms to adjust to international standards.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) welcomes Mr. Salvioli’s insistence on including memory as the fifth pillar of Transitional Justice, an element that has been historically overlooked in processes across the world. We underscore the urgency of adopting an inclusive victim-centered approach to ensure reconciliation.
By Tristan Arlaud
During the fourth day of the 48th Session on September 16, 2021, the Human Rights Council held an Interactive Dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the right to development. Introduced by the Vice-President of the Council, Ms. Klentiana Mahmutaj, Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development, and a well-known barrister specializing in human rights law initiated the dialogue. She presented the Expert Mechanism’s thematic study and second annual report on operationalizing the right to development in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The study urges on the need to "move beyond the rhetoric and to strive for greater acceptance, operationalization and realization of the right to development across all three levels of obligations of States.” The obligations entail for States to
- Act individually as they formulate national development policies and programs affecting individuals whether under their jurisdiction or outside of their jurisdiction
- Collaborate in global and regional partnerships
The study provides eleven recommendations addressed to states, individually and jointly, and International Organizations committed to working closely with all stakeholders to implement the 2030 Sustain Development Goals.
More than twenty delegations spoke and shared mixed views on three recurring topics. Firstly, countries expressed their concern about the impact of the Covid-19 on development, as the pandemic exacerbated social inequalities and restricted access to basic social and economic rights to many. Secondly, delegations expressed unsupportive opinions on the creation of the Expert Mechanism; but still will continue to participate in dialogues, as they understand States’ crucial responsibility to prioritize the right to development by cooperatively acting with one another and the realization and protection of human rights. They accentuated that efforts need to be double in the wake of the pandemic to prevent any forms of retrogressive realization of economic, social, and cultural rights. Thirdly, the importance of the 2030 SDGs was highlighted by numerous speakers and the need for the operationalization of the right to development. It is necessary to enhance international cooperation and collective work between all countries to better react to any events that may negatively impact society in the years to come. The Geneva International Center for Justice welcomes the recommendation of the Expert Mechanism for all NGOs to participate in public sessions of the Expert Mechanism. As the right to development is crucial, NGOs are immense contributors to the progressive realization of economic, social, and cultural rights; ergo, their participation should not be reduced.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) cannot further stress all stakeholders on the importance of respecting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal to better our societies and improve communication and cooperation between nations in light of the detrimental effect of climate change.
By Amie Silito
The 9th Meeting of the 48th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council focused on the renewed mandate of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, with emphasis on displaced persons in the global pandemic. The report highlighted obstacles governments face in the fight against modern slavery and provided mechanisms to strengthen national and international policies related to the topic.
The Special Rapporteur reaffirmed his commitment to monitoring the issue of displaced persons and their vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking. He welcomed input from non-governmental organizations, states and various organizations on improving mechanisms to tackle the issue of trafficking and exploitation.
The worst forms of child labor were assessed in light of 2021 marking the international year for the elimination of Child Labor. Inadequate access to education and resources were identified as constituents making displaced children vulnerable to exploitation and abuse which has worsened in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Effective practices have been implemented by states to aid displaced persons through access to employment, education, health care, legal protection and access to justice. In turn, displaced persons are sheltered from becoming victims of contemporary forms of slavery. The report specifically highlights the integration of displaced persons holding medical qualifications into medical facilities to help fight COVID-19. The special rapporteur emphasized the vital role which Humanitarian Agencies, Civil Society organizations and other non-state actors have played in protecting vulnerable persons from contemporary forms of slavery. However, more must be done to enhance displaced persons rights and opportunities.
Geneva International Centre for Justice is gravely concerned by the vulnerability of displaced persons with irregular or uncertain migration status. States such as Australia have implemented harmful policies to deter itinerant asylum seekers, subjecting them to indefinite detention once they reach Australia’s shores. These policies lead to surge arrivals via plane and bridging visas which render displaced persons vulnerable to forced labor and exploitation. We implore Member States to improve restrictive domestic laws and regulations hindering displaced persons rights and opportunities.
An appeal is lodged to private sector businesses to implement the UN Guiding Principles and anti-slavery policies to act as an ally to the UN and uphold human rights for all. NGOs, IGOs, cultural and religious organizations, the private and public sector as well as academia are encouraged to increase global awareness of modern slavery and hold governments accountable to their commitments to the UN and the anti-slavery movement.
Global organizations and governments must keep up to date with policy advancements to anticipate changing methods used by traffickers. The ratification of the Refugee Convention and the Stateless Persons Convention is indispensable in upholding universal human rights and all States should ratify such conventions. Modern slavery must be made an urgent priority by all governments around the world and GICJ reiterates the crucial role they play in preventing, investigating and holding accountable those who abuse basic human rights.
By Payton Focht
The Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances was the 13th meeting of the 48th Session of the Human Rights Council on 21 September. This meeting focused on the Working Group's report on enforced disappearances in the context of transnational transfers. This is when states have agreements to detain individuals under one jurisdiction and transfer them to another state’s jurisdiction. This is problematic because it doesn’t allow for appropriate due process, and individuals have been abducted for various amounts of time with no contact with families or lawyers. The Working Group has documented massive numbers of disappeared persons but was unable to complete any country visits due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The debate reflected the topics set out in the report. Henrikas Mickevičius, the Vice-Chairperson for the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, discusses the issue of enforced disappearances in the context of transnational transfers. He explains how enforced disappearances take different forms, and the focus must be the needs of the victims and their families. Many of the delegations expressed an understanding of the severity of the issues at hand and were receptive to the report done by the Working Group.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) would like to state that the enforced disappearance issues in Iraq, according to our sources, are between two hundred thousand and a million disappeared persons since 2003. The Iraqi authorities and its militia used the pretext of fighting terrorism to justify the abduction of thousands of innocent civilians for a sectarian agenda. GICJ is concerned that the visit to Iraq still has not happened. We think the visit is crucial as the Iraqi authorities continue to avoid implementing the recommendations from 2016 and 2020. In addition, we would like to stand in solidarity with the recent discovery of native children that were enforceable disappeared and killed in boarding schools in Canada. This is a grave human rights violation, and Canada must put forth massive efforts to rectify the situation. They must release the identities of the children killed, ensure that the families are taken care of emotionally and financially, and take steps to ensure this type of systematic enforced disappearance and massacre does not happen again. The issues of enforced disappearances are widespread and often systematically ignored by governments. The international community is responsible for holding each other to a higher standard and ensuring that these issues do not go unnoticed, undocumented, or without justice for victims and their families.
By Sarah Tayara
In the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, States and non-governmental organisations came together in the Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to discuss the flagrant human rights situation since the beginning of the decade long conflict. Ms Karen AbuZayd presented the findings of the Commission, making it very clear that despite 10 years having passed since the establishment of the Commission, war crimes and crimes against humanity continue to haunt the Syrian people.
Despite mentioning a wide array of salient issues, Ms AbuZayd highlighted the profound problem of arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and execution of detainees by the Syrian government and other parties in the conflict. She emphasised that victims and their families are often forced to suffer in silence due to the fear of being arrested, tortured and killed from speaking up. Ms AbuZayd concluded by reiterating the need to end the war, to locate the missing, and to reunite them with their family. Most importantly, she called upon the body to address the needs and aspirations of Syrians and to attempt the one thing not yet attempted for 10 years: to put Syrians first.
In response to the report, Mr. Hussam Edin Alaa, speaking on behalf of Syria, claimed that the Commission was harbouring a heavily politicised agenda. He insisted that the report intended to smear the reputation of the Syrian regime which, he claims, has only been fighting terrorist organisations over the last 10 years and is not responsibility for the deprivation, torture and hardships of its civilians. Russia, Iran and China, amongst other countries followed Syria’s condemnation of the ‘politicised agenda’ of the report and its threat to Syria’s sovereignty.
Turkey and the European Union, amongst others, adopted an opposing stance, strongly denouncing the Syrian regime’s abhorrent conduct and blatant disregard for the life and rights of its population of the last 10 years. Drawing on the report, these States condemned the use of chemical weapons, the ongoing attacks against civilians and the Syrian regime’s persistent obstruction for a necessary political solution.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) joins the commission in the strongest condemnation of the countless human rights violations committed against innocent civilians in the Syrian conflict. We recognise the undeniable culpability of the Syrian regime which has been violating the rights and integrity of the Syrian people for over a decade. We urge the United Nations to do more to ensure that a legitimate system of accountability is implemented to hold the perpetrators of human rights violations responsible. We also call for an immediate political ceasefire the UNSCR 2254, and for the release of political prisoners and illegally detained civilians. Through these commitments, GICJ hopes that innocent Syrians will begin to have their rights reinstated for them in the way that they deserve.
By Buba Ceesay
At the 48th regular session of the Human Rights Council, the United Nations Commission for Human Rights in South Sudan (UNCHRSS) presented its oral update on the human rights situation in South Sudan, including progress made.
At the 17th meeting, the commission presented its oral update to the Council. The commission drew the attention of the Council to the human rights situation in South Sudan and the progress made so far by the government. The commission expressed its concern about the widespread and localized violence which has engulfed 9 of the 10 states in South Sudan. The commission called on the government of South Sudan to show political will in the country's transition to a more peaceful and stable country. It stressed its dissatisfaction with the slow pace of the transitional justice agenda and the implementation of the revitalized agreement, noting that this is an obstacle to peace and stability in the country. The commission reiterated its concern about serious human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings, repression of media and activists, and a host of other violations that are widespread in South Sudan. Concern about the lack of accountability for serious violations, creating pervasive impunity in South Sudan for human rights and humanitarian law violations was also raised.
The commission detailed the level of corruption and embezzlement of public funds by the political elites in South Sudan and linked these heinous activities to the clear violation of the right to life, health, and education.
The commission, however, acknowledged the progress made by South Sudan, such as the restitution of the Legislative Assembly and the constitution-making process, and commended the government, but called on the government and stakeholders to redouble their efforts and commitment to ensure that justice and respect for the rule of law prevail in South Sudan.
South Sudan described comments as not reflecting the true feelings on the ground and claimed that the country had made progress and that the security situation was relatively stable. He argued that the constitutional reform project and the military courts that have tried and held perpetrators accountable are part of the progress made by South Sudan. However, the government of South Sudan did not respond to specific human rights and humanitarian issues raised by the commission.
Delegations, interested states, NGOs and civil society organizations expressed concern about the human rights situation in South Sudan and acknowledged the invaluable work of the commission. The Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the update of the commission and applauds it for its immense work. It has joined the order in condemning the violations of human rights and humanitarian law in South Sudan and urging the government of South Sudan to address the plight of human rights victims and to take immediate steps to implement Chapter V of the revitalized agreement to ensure reparation and closure for the victims.
By Amie Sillito
The 18th and 19th meeting of the 48th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council examined the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, focusing on the extent of human rights violations and abuses committed since June 2020. The Commission identified developments made in areas such as the fight against corruption, impunity, the rule of law and the upholding of fundamental human rights. The report also provided recommendations to the Burundi government and the UN Council to build upon improvements seen in the country.
Little progress was identified in the report regarding the promotion and protection of human rights despite the governments promises to improve the situation in Burundi. The report highlighted the rise in the number of human rights violations including persons subjected to torture, enforced disappearances and imprisonment since the beginning of 2021.
Numerous delegations commended the Commission’s report and its work in Burundi whilst a handful of delegations denounced the report and claimed the UN Council was interfering in the domestic politics of Burundi. All NGOs present recommended that the Council continue its mandate on Burundi and condemned the Burundi government’s lack of action regarding the numerous violations. The government was also encouraged to uphold judicial mechanisms to ensure perpetrators of human rights abuses are held accountable and to secure justice for all victims. The Commission concluded the meeting by urging the Council to continue its mandate and for the international community to maintain its oversight over Burundi.
GICJ is deeply concerned about the numerous ongoing human rights violations in Burundi including torture and forced disappearances as well as the restrictions placed upon civil society and the media in reporting these abuses. We encourage Burundi to continue increasing its efforts in recognizing and investigating all human rights violations committed and hold perpetrators accountable; only by doing so Burundi can move towards peace, stability and development. It is regrettable to hear the continued refusal of Burundi to collaborate with international human rights bodies and the COI. Therefore, we urge all parties to resume progressive cooperation and Burundi to assume responsibility for the human rights violations reported in the country and to make the required structural changes.
The government of Burundi is urged to acknowledge the grave human rights violations taking place and implement recommendations made in the report, to put an end to the abuse. The government is also encouraged to weed out corruption and impunity in order to uphold the rule of law and preserve the legitimacy of judicial mechanisms. We specifically recommend implementing the recommendations of the Implementation Review Group of the United Nations Convention against Corruption in its efforts.
It is imperative that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is able to conduct its work in an impartial and objective manner to contribute towards national reconciliation and peace in Burundi. In this sense, the government must spare no effort in protecting the Commission and its directives.
By Alicia Louise
The 24th meeting of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council focused on the practical implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and Goal 10 of the SDGs on reducing inequality within and among countries. Panellists discussed how to, ensure vaccine equality among States, provide inclusive, equitable and quality education for all, bridge the digital divide, as well as, guarantee the right to the best state of physical and mental health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. State representatives submitted their requests for assistance, shared best practices and solutions to challenges and lessons learned, including in the context of integrated approaches to the promotion and protection of human rights. The discussion also addressed the necessity of increased international cooperation to ameliorate inequalities within and among States.
UN Human Rights Commissioner (UNHRC), Michelle Bachelet, opened by reflecting on the consequences of the gross disparities, created and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. She emphasised that the resilience of individuals and States is undermined by the lack of protection and enforcement of human rights, and works only to make both highly susceptible to medical, economic and social shock(s). The Commissioner expressed disappointment that, in particular, much of the progress on women and indigenous peoples’ equality has been eroded.
Magladena Sepúlveda, former Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, highlighted 6 key opportunities for States arising from the COVID-19 crises:
- Increasing investment in public services.
- Treating paid and unpaid care work as a collective good, with sufficient remuneration, resources and regulation to ensure a steady supply of staff, and quality care services.
- Renouncing vaccine nationalism.
- Implementing and enforcing robust measures to prevent tax evasion and avoidance. Governments should also institute a global minimum tax rate for corporations.
- Adopting environmentally-safe recovery packages that adhere to the provisions of the Paris Agreement.
- Renewing respect for human rights so, accountability, privacy and data protection, freedom of movement, participation, peaceful assembly and access to information can be achieved.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) acknowledges the seriousness of the inequalities worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we note with concern that some countries are facing dual or multiple pandemics simultaneously, such as armed conflict, climate change disasters and high rates of violence. Each must be addressed in turn. We support petitions for waivers of vaccine patents and intellectual property rights, and urge States to prioritise in particular, the promotion and administration of COVID-19 vaccinations and routine immunisations for migrants, refugees, children, prisoners, persons detained and internally displaced, who are most susceptible to disease and health complications due to their high mobility. We challenge the suggestion that healthcare in prisons should match the standard set in the community. Instead, we recommend that healthcare provisions in prisons and detention centres be monitored, regulated and assessed against national standards, to avoid delivering substandard healthcare, simply because it replicates the current level of provision in the community. We call upon States to begin an immediate appraisal of the quality of medical care in public and private establishments with custody of individuals, addressing healthcare concerns swiftly, and making a commitment to end immigration related detention and continue early release schemes, if it is safe to do so.
By Karin Heisen
Indigenous peoples are suffering disproportionately from the COVID-19 pandemic. This is due to their marginalization rooted in centuries of colonialism and land dispossession. During the annual panel discussion on the rights of Indigenous peoples, the Human Rights Council deliberated the situation of Indigenous peoples facing the pandemic, with a special focus on the right to participation. Panellists identified the digital divide and the lack of consultation, self-governance and culturally-appropriate responses as key issues. Many states highlighted the ways they support Indigenous peoples while others acknowledged the need to do better. Civil society called for an intersectional approach to pandemic recovery that draws on Indigenous knowledge and recognizes ecological rights.
Panellists urged states to ensure Indigenous self-determination. Davis expressed that it is crucial to distinguish between the right to free, prior and informed consent and the right to self-determination under article 3 UNDRIP. Consent should not be conflated with the right of Indigenous peoples to freely determine their futures in their entirety. The exercising of this right should also not be criminalized, as has been the case in some states, Cali Tzay added. Cali Tzay further asserted that the UN must ensure NGO participation. NGOs have valuable knowledge and direct contact to Indigenous peoples, but the UN has been restricting their participation for many years now.
The panellists called for Indigenous-led solutions to rebuilding from the pandemic and economic support for these. Although Indigenous peoples have voiced that they prefer in-person consultations, online options are often only possible. Nuorgam called on the UN to support digital connectivity by purchasing data packages and ensuring access to hardware and electricity. States should also support Indigenous peoples’ mobility needs, with their full, free and prior consent. Nuorgam continued that states need to collect disaggregated data on Indigenous peoples to support evidence-based policy-making and programming. Lastly, in these hard times, states should invest in mental health interventions, with the awareness that traditional medicines and practices can play a key role in the health of Indigenous communities.
Geneva International Centre for Justice believes in centring Indigenous voices. This means Indigenous peoples lead in pandemic recovery solutions to protect their own communities.This COVID-19 period is part of a long history of states colonizing and dispossessing Indigenous lands. States have violated their human rights and attacked Indigenous bodies, thought, governance, self-determination and freedom. Now, Indigenous peoples are suffering disproportionately during the pandemic. The UN and member states must let Indigenous peoples control COVID-19 responses in their own communities and provide any assistance –financial, informational, technical or otherwise– Indigenous peoples deem as necessary.
By Alicia Louise
At the 25th meeting of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, a High-Level Panel was convened to discuss best practices, obstacles and the future of human rights education and training 10-years after the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training (HRC res 42/7). This panel focused on human rights education (HRE) and training for youth, aged 15-24. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, panellists viewed this time as an opportunity to remind States of their obligations towards the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goal 4.7, allowing the youth to take the lead in developing policies and programmes that affect them. Particular attention was given to how we prioritise the return of young people to in-person learning, and provide gender-transformative, safe, inclusive education that also addresses climate change concerns proactively.
Youth Activism Programme Manager at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Irfaan Mangera, stated that outside of formal institutions, young people are looking for hope and spaces to make sense of the world and their identity. Mr Mangera shared best practice from the youth activism programme at the Kathrada Foundation. Here, they encourage various forms of learning, a sense of community and collective spirit. Young people undertake leadership training, develop their skills of engagement, visit historical sites, and engage with informal learning opportunities to understand the past, and renew their sense of commitment to championing change in their communities. Local youths have been empowered in this way, holding officials into account and protecting people from xenophobic attacks. Mr Mangera states that HRE should be multifaceted and taught using an intersectional approach, including democratic civil participation, environmental studies, and teach youth how to tackle discrimination and access mental health services.
Several countries highlighted national efforts to establish a curriculum for students in poverty, so children could continue learning throughout the pandemic. For instance, the representative for the Dominican Republic notes the facilitation of access to various technological tools and a digital platform for remote learning, accompanied by provision of the necessary assessment instruments and didactic resources. They report that adult learners were able to access courses through schools in different towns. However, they still face real obstacles in maintaining access to education for the most vulnerable and impoverished children, for which they request the support and collaboration of the international community.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) believes we must explore how we incorporate human rights education and training in all areas of our public life, so that the ‘real world’ resembles what children have been taught in their classrooms. There are also human rights violations that occur in schools and college training environments today, which are extremely detrimental to the human rights principles we want to promote. For instance, corporal punishment is still a phenomenon that occurs in schools throughout the Caribbean, which greatly undermines the substance of HRE and training. Moreover, the threat of terrorism, armed gunmen, environmental hazards, discrimination, inaccessibility for students with disabilities and so much more, are antithetical to the fundamental human right to education. In order to achieve the aims of our international human rights obligations, the international community must work hard to eliminate these artificial and physical barriers to education. We look forward to further discussions on these matters, and positive actions to follow.
By Payton Focht
Peaceful protests are essential for democracy and a crucial aspect of human rights. Unfortunately, there has been a rise in threats against protesters, putting at risk the fundamental right to peaceful assembly. The Covid-19 pandemic has allowed governments to restrict the right to assembly to an unacceptable degree, leaving people unable to enjoy freedom of expression. In addition, there has been a growing issue globally of police brutality against peaceful protesters. These incidents are human rights abuses and must be addressed.
The panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests at the 48th session of the Human Rights Counsel panelists consisted of; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule- Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Yuval Shany- Hersch Lauterpacht Chair in Public International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and former Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Lysa John- Secretary General of CIVICUS, and Commissioner Luís Carrilho- United Nations Police Adviser. The main theme of discussion was assembly in a technological and Covid-19 world.
The right of assembly is a crucial human right that should not be limited to the extent that is has been by many countries. People disserve the right to be heard and any state that attempt to limit that right should be held accountable to the greatest extent.
GICJ would like to reiterate that peaceful protests are a pillar of democracy and the right to assemble should be protected. We agree that the limits that have been imposed on the right of assembly because of Covid-19 has gone too far all over the world. GICJ feels that what is happening is a gross misuse of power and technology by the government and the international community needs to take active steps to ensure that this pattern does not continue to worsen.
In Iraq specifically, it is well known that the Iraqi government has been targeting protesters that oppose them politically, individuals are being abducted and detained without due process. The people of Iraq have been protesting and calling to end impunity since 2019. The international community must do everything in its capacity to hold the persons of grave human rights violations in Iraq accountable. The UN must hold Iraqi authorities accountable for the crimes against protesters and must put an end to the violence and the disruption they are causing.
States across the world that have neglected their duty to their people and have put unnecessary restrictions on protesters or have used force against their people should be fully held accountable. There should be independent investigations into instances of brutality, misuse of health restrictions, and misuse of technology. People in all countries disserve this basic democratic right to improve their countries, states that disallow this human right should not be allowed to continue with this mistreatment.
By Amie Sillito
The general debate of item 7 took place on 1 October 2021 at the 32nd Meeting of the 48th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council focused on the High Commissioner’s report on the allocation of water resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem. The report highlighted abuses of international human rights law namely the failure to allocate safe drinking water to Palestinians as well as combative behaviour such as the destruction of water apparatus by Israeli forces, cutting off the water supply and conflicts which resulted in damage to Palestinian infrastructure.
The general debate provided parallel responses from the Council with majority of the delegates supporting the Palestinian cause and calling upon Israel to ensure safe access to water and sanitation for all citizens. Many delegates called upon the international community to denounce support for Israeli Occupation in Palestinian territory and the annexation of land. Israel’s actions were labelled hypocritical considering their statement provided under item 3 of the agenda, supporting women, peace, and diplomacy, since it has failed to safeguard the rights of Palestinian women and children.The rebuttal to these statements included accusations of states anti-Semitic behaviour, complicit behaviour by the UN and a criticism of item 7 as a direct attack on the Jewish state.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) emphasises the obligations placed upon the occupying power in ensuring access to water and sanitation for all Palestinians. We welcome the High Commissioner’s report and the recommendations provided to Israel to redress the water crisis in Palestine. It is imperative that Israel respect the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people and cease all violations committed against them. The right to water and sanitation is a fundamental human right under resolution 64/292 of the United Nations General Assembly which must not be denied to any country. Tristan Arlaud from GICJ delivered a joint oral statement with Meezaan Center to condemn the use of water as a tool of domination in the region. As highlighted in the report, Israel last bombing campaign in the Gaza strip led to severe restrictions in access to drinking-water. Such should alarm the international community. Further to this, we remind the government that combative actions such as these constitute a breach of international human rights law. We hereby call on the international community to take all necessary measures to implement all UN resolutions to end the continued Israeli occupation and support the Palestinian people to achieve their inalienable right to self-determination. We reiterate that all actions restricting access to water and sanitation are inhumane, depriving the Palestinian population of an essential entitlement to the realization of all human rights according to General Assembly resolution 64/392.
By Amie Sillito
The 36th meeting of the 48th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council considered the reports of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/48/47) and the team (A/HRC/48/82) during an interactive dialogue.
The session examined the report which highlighted human rights violations under the state of siege in the DRC. The report documented the decrease in the number of violations and highlighted the positive steps government has taken to protect and uphold such rights through government institutions. The report also highlighted weaknesses in the judicial system which allow ongoing violations to continue. The report revealed that the majority of violations were perpetrated by state officials, particularly in conflict ridden areas where there was a significant military presence. The level of sexual violence was also raised as a concern as well as the lack of resources and support provided to victims following such ordeals.
A significant number of delegations commended the government on its progress in protecting and upholding human rights, particularly the adoption of legislation and legislative mechanisms to facilitate the process. The presence of extremist groups in the North and East provinces were highlighted as a major issue, particularly since they caused significant instability and violence. The levels of ethnic violence in the Kasai region were also examined and the government was urged to hold perpetrators of these crimes accountable to ensure peace and security. The numerous attacks on human rights protestors and the media were underscored by various NGOs who called on the government to protect the rights of such groups and uphold the right to right to freedom of expression.
The high levels of sexual and physical violence carried out against women and children remains deeply concerning and Geneva International Centre for Justice urges the government of the DRC to prioritise these issues. Perpetrators of such crimes should be held accountable through a properly funded judicial system and competent judiciary to ensure the rule of law is upheld. We urge the Council to carry on its mandate and continue reporting on the situation in the DRC to ensure civilian rights are protected and the government is held accountable for its commitments.
The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is encouraged to ensure that government organs have sufficient resources to fulfil the government’s mandate to protect human rights. Reporting channels for such violations must be made accessible to the entire civilian population and investigations must take place expeditiously to ensure justice and stability in the region. It is imperative that the government remains transparent in its process of reconciliation and that it works with the international community to facilitate such processes. GICJ encourages the opening up of the democratic space and the protection of journalists and human rights activists according to international law. The government must take action against military personnel who fail to function within the parameters of international law. It must also investigate and remove high- ranking officers from security forces implicated in cases of human rights violations.
Lastly, education centres must be set up throughout the country providing all civilians with platforms to educate themselves about their rights and civic responsibilities. Centres for victims of human rights violations must also be improved to ensure all victims have access to help.
By Amie Sillito
In its resolution 45/35, the Human Rights Council decided to renew, for a period of one year, the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic and requested the Independent Expert to submit a written report to the Council at its forty-eighth session. The Council participated in an interactive dialogue to discuss the report of the Independent Expert whereby the Independent Expert called upon the international community to pledge their resources and financial support to rebuild infrastructure and the education sector in the CAR. The delegate for the Central African Republic reaffirmed the government’s commitment to rooting out impunity and creating a stable social and economic climate in the country. The delegate shared that the government had driven out belligerent groups occupying government buildings and that it was continuing the crackdown on armed groups wreaking havoc and creating instability throughout the different provinces.
Numerous delegations expressed their concern over the deteriorating security situation in the CAR and Russian military personnel accused of committing gross human rights violations. Non-governmental organisations highlighted the issue of landmines and the threat which they pose to the safety of children and humanitarian personnel. The Independent Expert delivered his final remarks and provided measures which could be used to prevent further violations of human rights. It was emphasised that prosecution channels must be strengthened, and full investigations carried out in order to achieve justice. The Independent Expert called on the international community to provide resources and assistance to the CAR to guarantee stability and peace in the region.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) commends the government on legislative and institutional measures taken to protect the civilian population from ongoing violence. The recent charges laid against Captain Eugène Ngaïkosset by the Special Criminal Court are seen as a sign of progress in securing justice and rooting out impunity. We encourage the national courts to continue prosecuting suspected human rights violators and urge the government to implement protective mechanisms to prevent threats and intimidation directed at the judiciary.
In light of the progress made, Geneva International Centre for Justice remains concerned over the targeting of humanitarian workers by militia groups who continue to attack and capture innocent workers. Groups such as these must be held accountable and prosecuted, with appropriate sentencing for crimes committed including the recruitment of child soldiers and the destruction and looting of property.
The Central African Republic requires support from the international community however, intervention coincides with the obligation to abide by international and domestic law. We hereby call on the Russian Federation to take action against Russian mercenaries situated in the country accused of homicide, rape, and causing significant instability.
The 48th session of the Human Rights Council hasdemonstrated that collaboration among NGOs can create strong and meaningful participation at the UN level. Preparing statements remotely has taken a lot of adaptative skills from our team, and created a lot of challenges. It has also increased needs for equipment, and was therefore not an easy transition to make. Despite our intense participation during the 48th session, the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented a lot of opportunities from taking place. For instance, side-events were made impossible at the Palais des Nations. Informal gatherings had to take place online, which creates barriers for persons with disabilities, persons without a stable internet connection or persons with low digital literacy. Despite the great progress made in communication and information technologies, working fully online remains restrictive and lacks inclusivity. Covid-19 has also limited the amount of statements NGOs could submit to the Human rights council, which is a clear restriction on civil society participation. This is why the virtual sessions should remain a temporary measures that should be abandonned as soon as the sanitary situation allows it.
Geneva International Centre for Justice recalls that civil society participation is the bridge between civilians and international decision-making. As such, it is an essential element that guarantees the democratic quality of such processes. Moreover, civil society organizations are the articulation of regional and subnational interests. They are informed of the local contexts and are able to report back in vernacular terms to the interested populations. Therefore, their participation is crucial to prevent international fora from becoming an elite club. The UN must find solutions to ensure that the temporary digitization of the Human Rights Council does not restrict civil society participation.
GICJ thanks its collaborators, interns and volunteers for their hard work during the session. You can read about our team here.