HRC38 | Civil society presents key takeaways from Human Rights Council


Civil society groups welcomed significant outcomes of the Human Rights Council's 38th session, including the adoption of resolutions protecting civil society space and peaceful protests. Another success worth mentioning is the adoption of resolutions protecting women and girls from violence,  in addition to Council action on a number of countries such as Eritrea, Belarus, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

In delivering a joint statement, ISHR and several other organisations* welcomed the adoption of the resolutions on civil society space, peaceful protest, on violence against women and girls and on discrimination against women and girls and the Council’s rejection of attempts to impede progress on protecting civil society space, peaceful protest and the rights to sexual and reproductive health.

On civil society space, the resolution recognises the essential contribution that civil society makes to international and regional organisations and provides guidance to States and organisations on improving their engagement with civil society.  On peaceful protest, it sets out in greater detail how international law and standards protect rights related to protests.

On violence against women and on discrimination against women, the organisations considered that ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights are vital in efforts to combat violence and discrimination against women, online and offline, as well as to ensure targeted and specific remedies to victims.  The resolutions recognised the work of women human rights defenders in this regard.  

On the resolution on the contribution of the Council to the prevention of human rights violations, the organisations considered it as an important opportunity to advance substantive consideration on strengthening the Council’s ability to deliver on its prevention mandate.

The resolution on human rights and the Internet was adopted by consensus, following challenging negotiations. It reaffirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, and calls on States to tackle digital divides between and within countries, emphasising the importance of tools for anonymity and encryption for the enjoyment of human rights online, in particular for journalists. The resolution condemns once more all measures that prevent or disrupt access to information online.

The resolution on Eritrea, while streamlined, extends expert monitoring of, and reporting on, the country and outlines a way forward for both engagement and human rights reform. The organisations urge Eritrea to engage in long-overdue meaningful cooperation.

The renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus under item 4 was adopted with an increased vote. It remains the only independent international mechanism to effectively monitor human rights violations in Belarus. The organisations, however, expressed their concern over a narrative to shift the mandate to item 10 in the absence of any systemic change in Belarus.

On the Democratic Republic of Congo, the resolution, which was adopted by consensus, puts in place continued monitoring and follow up on the expert’s recommendations on the Kasais. However, given violations and abuses throughout several regions in the country, occurring against the backdrop of an ongoing political crisis, delayed elections, and the brutal quashing of dissent, the organisations urge the Council to promptly move towards putting in place a country-wide mechanism that can respond to events on the ground as they emerge.

The Council adopted a strong resolution on Syria, which condemns violations and abuses by all parties, and appropriately addresses concerns raised by the Commission of Inquiry about the use of chemical weapons, sexual and gender-based violence, and the need to address situations of detainees and disappearances. The organisations stressed that the Council cannot stay silent in the face of continued atrocities as the conflict continues unabated into its seventh year.

During the 38th session, States delivered joint statements on Cambodia, the Philippines, and Venezuela. The organisations urged Council members and observers to work towards increased collective action to urgently address the dire human rights situations in these countries. 

On the Philippines, they emphasised that the Council should establish an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings in the ‘war on drugs’ and mandate the OHCHR to report on the human rights situation and on moves toward authoritarianism. 

The joint statement on Cambodia represents a glimmer of hope after the Council's failure to take meaningful action against clear sabotage of democratic space ahead of elections. Close scrutiny of the human rights situation before, during and after the elections is paramount and the Council must take immediate action on current and future human rights violations in this regard.

Luxembourg  delivered a joint statement, calling on the Human Rights Council President to provide short oral updates on cases of alleged intimidation or reprisal, including actions taken, at the start of Item 5 general debate of each Council session and also provide States concerned with the opportunity to respond.

The organisations ended their statement by affirming that the new Council member to replace the United States should demonstrate a principled commitment to human rights, to multilateralism and to addressing country situations of concern by applying objective criteria.

Watch the statement here: 

Read the full statement here

*Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the Association for Progressive Communications, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré