A preview of what to look out for at the upcoming Human Rights Council session: 13 June to 1 July 2016
The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 32nd regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 13 June to 1 July 2016.
The global crackdown on human rights defenders and independent civil society is a threat to international peace and security and undermines sustainable development. By contrast, as demonstrated by a major new report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, respect for civil society contributes to social cohesion, reduced inequality, accountable government, responsive public policy, a conducive environment for business and investment, and the empowerment of marginalised and disadvantaged groups.
In this respect, the presentation during this session of a resolution on the creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society, provides States with the opportunity to draw attention to serious restrictions imposed on civil society space, and the necessity to protect such space.
2016 marks the end of the first decade of the Council's work, and an opportunity to take stock of progress, spell out an overarching vision for the future and initiate necessary course corrections. To acknowledge the anniversary, ISHR will publish a special edition of its monthly Human Rights Monitor dedicated to the 10th anniversary. The monitor features an impressive line-up of human rights defenders, national and international policy makers, political leaders, and human rights experts from all regions.
Already today, the Council has a vital role to play in strengthening the protection of rights, preventing violations, promoting accountability, and pursuing implementation of human rights obligations by State and non-State actors.
In its first 10 years, the Council has made a positive contribution in each of these areas, but there is potential for that contribution to be far more significant, both in the short- to medium-term within the existing mandate, and in the longer-term through a strengthened status and mandate. In order for the Council to better fulfill its potential (both in the short- and long-terms), human rights defenders and other civil society actors must be engaged, supported and protected. To put it another way, the Council must become a more accessible, effective and protective space for defenders, the work of whom is essential for the Council to fulfill its mandate and potential.
On 13 June, the Council will hold an official panel to mark the 10th anniversary, featuring the participation of all 10 of its Presidents.
Of significance this session is a substantive resolution that will be presented by Ireland, Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone and Tunisia on the creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society.
This resolution directly responds to a new report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to be tabled at the 32nd session of the Council. The Report spells out the essential ingredients to respect and protect civil society, and ‘optimise its transformative potential’ when it comes to human rights, peace, security and development.
The report demonstrates that respect for civil society contributes to social cohesion, reduced inequality, accountable government, responsive public policy, a conducive environment for business and investment, and the empowerment of marginalised and disadvantaged groups.
The report highlights that ‘Countries where civil society space is protected reap significant dividends.’
The report, to which ISHR contributed through a major joint submission with eleven national-level NGOs, identifies five ‘essential ingredients’ to ‘optimise civil society’s transformative potential’:
ISHR welcomes this plans for the civil society space resolution. It is integral that the resolution recognises the role of both State and non-State actors in the protection of civil society space, and contributes to elevating the protection of civil society a central concern of the international community.
Following on from the 2014 resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, the Council will once again consider an initiative on addressing discrimination and violence on these grounds. As noted by the High Commissioner ‘current arrangements to protect the human rights of LGBT and intersex persons are inadequate’. Furthermore, ‘there is as yet no dedicated human rights mechanism at the international level that has a systematic and comprehensive approach to the human rights situation of LGBT and intersex persons’.
The need to establish of a dedicated protection mechanism to address SOGI-related human rights violations has never been as crucial, and is a necessary step towards urgently addressing the serious abuses on these grounds in every region of the world.
A major focus of the June session is on violence against women, including a resolution run by Canada focusing on prevention and response to violence against indigenous women. This resolution aims to reinforce the work of other mechanisms of the Council. It also seeks to make concrete recommendations on how States and other stakeholders can identify gaps in protections of indigenous women, who are proportionately at much higher risk of being victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
It will be important to underline the essential work of feminist organisations, women human rights defenders and other civil society actors in this regard. Unfortunately, however, these contributions too often come at a cost; defenders working on women's rights and gender issues, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, face specific challenges to their work and risks to their safety. The resolution, while aiming for a strong substantive focus, will also renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.
The mandate of the Working Group on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is scheduled for renewal at this session, through a resolution which is sponsored by Colombia and Mexico. The Working Group has become a critical tool for women human rights defenders globally in contributing to broader considerations of the ways in which discrimination on the basis of gender can lead to violations of a range of human rights. In June, the Working Group report focuses on the multiple and intersecting discrimination faced by women from a range of backgrounds, around the world, in seeking the full enjoyment of the right to health. We expect the resolution will be fairly short, but will likely contain elements related to the report recommendations.
Additional resolutions touching on women's rights and gender issues include Women and Nationality; Rights to Education for Girls; possibly FGM; and Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Girls (with a focus on conflict and post-conflict settings).
Access to remedy is one of the three pillars of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but arguably has received less attention by the Council. The resolution on business and human rights to be presented by Norway, Argentina, Ghana and Russia aims to pick up on the content of the OHCHR report on its efforts to outline guidance for States to improve access to state-based remedy.
In this context, the need to protect, engage with, and facilitate access to information for human rights defenders and affected communities should be clearly highlighted. We encourage the Council to adopt a strong resolution that recognises both the contributions of and threats to defenders and civil society in developing and monitoring business and human rights policies, including national action plans, and the importance of an enabling environment - including the full protection of fundamental freedoms - to the ability of victims of corporate abuse to successfully access appropriate remedy.
It is critical at this time of increasing restrictions on civil society and NGOs, as well as growing limitations on the right to peaceful assembly in the name of 'national security', that the mandate for the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly be renewed.
The resolution is also a chance to follow-up on key elements of Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai's, work over the last five years related to the benefits of civil society in strengthening respect for human rights on the ground, including professional associations such as those in the legal, medical and business sectors.
Following the special session of the Council on Burundi in December 2015, and the enhanced interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Burundi in March 2016 there will be an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner during which he will present his report on the human rights situation in Burundi.
During the special session on Burundi, ISHR made a statement to the Human Rights Council welcoming the enhanced UN human rights monitoring and investigation role envisaged in the resolution adopted by consensus at the session. During the 31st session, ISHR highlighted Burundi's failure to uphold high standards in the promotion and protection of human rights or to cooperate fully with the UN Human Rights Council, of which it is a member. Council membership comes with higher expectations on States in terms of their respect for human rights and cooperation with human rights mechanisms. As a member of the Human Rights Council, it is even more important that the Government of Burundi be urged to demonstrate good faith attempts to address human rights violations in the country
In flagrant disregard of the concerns raised by the joint statement highlighting human rights violations in China at the March Council session - not to mention those raised by the High Commissioner and various Special Procedures - the Government continues to silence dissent, harass defenders and suppress civil society.
ISHR urges governments to stand resolutely with Chinese human rights activists to call for transparency, reform and accountability of laws and policies that undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the unconditional release of detained human rights defenders, lawyers such as Wang Yu and Li Heping, and press freedom and democracy activists, in particular Guo Feixiong. The unwillingness to engage substantively with the Council, or to answer in any way for its actions, should call into question the Chinese government's role and legitimacy as a Council member.
Other country-specific developments
Several thematic reports on the situation of human rights in specific countries or regions will be presented to the Council, including the reports of the experts on human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. The Council will also conduct interactive dialogues with the experts on these countries, providing an opportunity for local human rights defenders to highlight violations that have occurred.
The Council will adopt the UPR reports of 14 countries. This will provide an opportunity for Niger, Singapore, Sierra Leone and Paraguay to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as recommended by ISHR’s briefing papers on these countries.
During the organisational meeting for the 32nd session, the President of the Human Rights Council once again stressed that delegations and organisations should contribute to a constructive working atmosphere.
He highlighted that it is in ‘the common interest of all those engaging in this Council session that a climate free from intimidation or reprisals be maintained’.
There is a heavy programme of work for the session, which includes 6 panel discussions and 82 reports to be presented. This session the programme for some days will be scheduled from 10am until 6pm, and effort will be made to avoid scheduling sessions at night.
As it did in previous sessions, the Council has limited the overall time for its interactive dialogues with special procedures to four hours, by reducing the individual speaking time for States. The overall time allocated to civil society was already limited to 30 minutes, and will remain unchanged. The President urged all those speaking at the session to exercise self-restraint in the preparation of statements, and reiterated that time limits will be enforced.
The following vacancies among Special Procedures mandate holders will be filled at this session:
In view of the pending appointments, it is relevant to recall that in appointing mandate holders, the President of the Council is required to give particular attention to the need to avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest. Mandate holders should also be genuinely committed to the independence and effectiveness of the special procedures system, and have a demonstrated commitment to civil society engagement and participation.
Newly appointed members of the Bureau for the 10th cycle include:
There are 6 panel discussions scheduled for this session:
The following resolutions were announced by main sponsors during the organisational meeting:
All events will take place at Palais des Nations in Geneva.
ISHR and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable will hold a public discussion about how and why human rights defenders should be consulted in the development of National Action Plans on Business and Human Rights (NAPs) and protected by their provisions at this session of the Council. This event is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 15 June from 16.00 to 17.30 in Room XXIII.
This event will also launch ISHR and ICAR's new guidance on this subject (available in English, French and Spanish), situating NAPs in the broader contexts of extreme risks facing human rights defenders taking on business abuses.
Civil society, State and UN representatives will discuss how defenders can help ensure business respect for human rights, the risks they face in doing so, and how NAPs can provide a policy platform through which to protect and engage communities, activists and NGOs.
The legal recognition and protection of defenders is crucial to ensuring that they can work in a safe, supportive environment and be free from attacks, reprisals and unreasonable legal restrictions. It also contributes to the broader goals of upholding human rights, promoting democracy and good government, respect for the rule of law, and the achievement of sustainable development.
Despite this, only a few States have incorporated the Declaration on human rights defenders comprehensively into national law, while many States continue to implement legislation restricting the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms.
In this context ISHR, in consultation with human rights defenders and human rights experts from all regions have developed a Model Law on the recognition and protection of human rights defenders.
A side-event (from 15.00 to 16.00, on 21 June in Room XXIII, Palais des Nations) will officially launch the Model Law.
CIVICUS, the International Service for Human Rights and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development are organising a side event on 13 June 2016. The time and the room are still to be confirmed. Panellists will include the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and women human rights defenders.
Note that due to severe limitations of rooms at Palais des Nations, NGO events have not been confirmed yet, and therefore cannot be highlighted in this Alert.