Council Alert: Preview of the Human Rights Council's 27th session


The Human Rights Council will hold its 27th regular session at the United Nations in Geneva from 8 to 26 September. In what will be the first session for the new High Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, the Council will have the opportunity to strengthen the promotion and protection of civil society space.

The Human Rights Council will hold its 27th regular session at the United Nations in Geneva from 8 to 26 September.

In what will be the first session for the new High Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, the Council will have the opportunity to act to strengthen the promotion and protection of civil society space at the international and national levels when a resolution on the issue is presented. A resolution on tackling impunity for attacks against journalists will also feature at this session, and there is potential for a follow-up resolution on discrimination and violence against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The programme of work for the session includes a record number of panel discussions (ten are planned). Given the limited time available, the Council decided to limit the overall time for its interactive dialogues with Special Procedures to four hours, by reducing the individual speaking time for States. This change will be implemented on a trial basis, with the United States in particular expressing its unease and cautioning that this should not constitute a precedent. The overall time allocated to civil society was in general already limited to 30 minutes, and will remain unchanged.

Protecting civil society space

In June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published a significant report on civil society space, which will be considered during the 27th session at the Council. The report focuses on ‘the importance of the promotion and protection of civil society space’ and identifies a range of steps that should be taken by States and the UN to make certain that civil society actors can work free from hindrance and insecurity. The concurrent negotiation of a resolution on this topic, led by Ireland, Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone and Tunisia, provides a critical opportunity to reflect these proposed measures.

‘The resolution is vital because it comes at a point in time when civil society around the world is facing unprecedented restrictions and attacks’ said Michael Ineichen, Human Rights Council Advocacy Director at ISHR.

‘The resolution presents an opportunity for the Human Rights Council to affirm that laws to protect human rights defenders and journalists, adequate resources for non-governmental organisations, internet freedom, and respect for the right to peaceful protest are all key elements of democracy and development’, Mr Ineichen said.

A further opportunity for the Council to protect civil society’s participation in the protection of human rights will come when the Czech Republic together with Botswana, Indonesia, Netherlands and Peru introduces a resolution on equal political participation.

MeanwhileAustralia will present a resolution on National Human Rights Institutions, which it is hoped will include strong language about the role of NHRIs in protecting human rights defenders and combatting reprisals.

ISHR will host a side event with international experts and national human rights defenders to discuss recent developments and next steps in the protection of civil society space and the prevention of reprisals against human rights defenders. The event will take place on Friday, 19 September, from 9.15 - 11.45am, in Room 24 of the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Protection of journalists

Following up to last year’s panel discussion and the 2012 resolution, Austria (together with Brazil, France, Morocco, Tunisia and Qatar) will present a resolution on the protection of journalists, with a specific focus on impunity. Journalists in a number of countries, including Turkey, Egypt and Libya, currently face many restrictions, threats and attacks.

‘This resolution allows the Council to respond to the fact that, in many countries, journalists are one of the groups of human rights defenders which are most exposed to, and least protected from, excessive restrictions and severe attacks,’ said Ben Leather, ISHR’s Advocacy and Communications Manager. ‘Their continued ability to play a crucial role in informing society, States and the United Nations about threats to human rights must be guaranteed’.  

Sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights

Uruguay has indicated that it will ‘try to encourage an initiative for vulnerable groups, like LBGTI groups, as per the earlier resolution of the UN HRC,’ whilst Chile indicated it would be supportive of such a move. While the Human Rights Council adopted its first ever UN resolution on sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights in 2011, the systematic and ongoing violations against LGBTI people across the world since have not received the international attention they deserve.

ISHR is concerned by the fact that it has been three years since the Council’s first adoption of a text on sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights.

'The time has come for the Council to heed calls by LGBTI rights advocates and approve an initiative that responds adequately to the increasing challenges and vulnerabilities faced by LGBTI people on the ground, including by ensuring monitoring and regular reporting to the Council about cases of violations,' said the Manager of ISHR's Women Human Rights Defender Program, Pooja Patel.


In advance of the session, a global coalition of NGOs has written to Ambassadors calling for the Council to act to address the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation and promote accountability for past human rights violations in Egypt. In an open letter, the NGOs said, 'we urge your delegation to ensure that the Human Rights Council adopts a resolution that clearly and unequivocally condemns the ongoing crackdown and increasing restrictions to basic freedoms in Egypt and calls upon the Government of Egypt to fully respect its human rights obligations and to ensure accountability and justice for past and ongoing gross human rights violations.'

'The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council's independent experts, and leading journalists and NGOs have all documented, exposed and condemned the human rights situation in Egypt,' said ISHR Director Phil Lynch. 

'Despite this, the Human Rights Council itself has repeatedly failed to address the situation in Egypt. States with a serious commitment to human rights, democracy, accountability and the rule of law must not stand idle. Member States of the Human Rights Council have both a moral and legal obligation to ensure the Council acts in relation to this grave situation,' Mr Lynch said.

The letter expresses serious concerns at the excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, the promulgation of mass death sentences in trials that are manifestly unfair, the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, the de-registration of non-governmental organisations, and ongoing attacks against journalists reporting on these issues.

It remains to be seen whether a State or States will act on this initiative.

Addressing reprisals

While this session will not consider the adoption of a resolution on intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN, it will consider the annual report of the Secretary-General on alleged cases of reprisals and State responses (not yet available). There have already been a number of alleged cases of reprisals in advance of the session, particularly in relation to those who are assisting the Council with its inquiry into gross human rights violations in Sri Lanka, and it is imperative that the Council, its President and Bureau, and Member States be prepared to act rapidly and decisively to condemn reprisals and pursue investigations and accountability where they occur.


The USA will introduce a resolution on the human rights situation in Sudan. During the organisational meeting on 25 August, US Ambassador Keith Harper stated that there is a need to see a stronger resolution reflecting cases of bombardments of civilians and killings of peaceful protesters, as well as to significantly strengthen the Council’s response to the human rights conditions on the ground.

Panel discussions

The long list of panel discussions includes one on the protection of the human rights of persons deprived of their liberty, lead by Austria, a panel on the protection of the family and its members, led by Egypt, a panel on the role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights, lead by Ukraine, as well as an annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective (HRC resolution 6/30).

Ethiopia, on behalf of the African Group, introduced a panel discussion on South Sudan focusing on the identification of effective measures to improve the human rights situation in the country. However, the participation of a civil society representative on the panel was not contemplated in the resolution which requested this discussion and therefore no NGO will be represented amongst the speakers. ‘The disregard for civil society voices in this debate is ironic during a session that considers the promotion of civil society space’ said Clement Voulé, head of ISHR’s Advocacy at the African Commission.

Renewal of special procedures mandate and appointment of mandate holders

Resolutions to renew the mandates of the Special Rapporteur on promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances will be tabled by Switzerland and France respectively, each of them working with a core group.

Moreover, the Council will appoint new mandate holders to the position of Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as to the position of the Independent Expert on Cote d’Ivoire and Independent Expert on Sudan (if renewed). The Council will also appoint one member from Western European and other States to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and one member from Asia-Pacific and Eastern European States to the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

It is planned that the Council will elect members of the Advisory Committee for its seven vacant seats. The Secretariat has received the nominations of six candidates from the Governments of France, Guatemala, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Republic of Korea.

Country-specific developments

Several thematic reports on the situation of human rights in specific countries will be presented to the Council this session, including the reports of the experts on the situation of human rights in Cambodia (Surya Prasad Subedi), Somalia (Bahame Nyandugua) and Sudan (Mashood Baderin).

The Council will conduct an interactive dialogue with the experts on the above counties as well as on the High Commissioner’s report on Ukraine. These meetings provide an opportunity for human rights defenders to highlight human rights violations in their countries.

Ethiopia, on behalf of African Group, requested to convene an Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Situation of the Human Rights in the Central African Republic under Agenda Item 10.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 27th session

(as announced at the organisational meeting on 25 August):

Resolution on human rights and indigenous people (Guatemala, Mexico)

Resolution on civil society space (Ireland, Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone, Tunisia)

Resolution on child morbidity and mortality (Ireland, Uruguay)

Resolution on National Human Rights Institutions (Australia)

Resolution on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation (Germany, Spain)

Resolution on the human rights situation in Sudan (US)

Resolution on the safety of journalists (Austria, Brazil, France, Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar)

Resolution on the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence (Switzerland, Argentina, and Morocco)

Resolution on promotion of human rights through sport and Olympic ideals (Russia)

Resolution on the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances (France, Argentina)

Resolution on violence and discrimination against a range of persons (Chile)

Resolution on the consequences of foreign debt and vulture funds on human rights and in particular ESCR (Argentina)

Resolution on local governments and human rights (Republic of Korea)

Resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity (New Zealand, Burkina Faso, Colombia)

Resolution on children's rights (Romania)

Resolution on the promotion of technical cooperation in the work of the Human Rights Council (Thailand, Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia)

Resolution on technical assistance and capacity building for Yemen on human rights (Netherlands, Yemen)

Resolution on equal political participation (Czech Republic, Botswana, Indonesia, Netherlands and Peru)

Resolution on right to development, and human rights and coercive measures (Iran, NAM)

Resolution on reducing and eliminating child early and forced marriage (Sierra Leone, Argentina, Canada, Uruguay, Montenegro)

Contact: Michael Ineichen, Human Rights Council Advocacy Director, on or + 41 78 827 77 86. 


  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • LGBT rights
  • NGOs
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • United Nations
  • UN Human Rights Council