HRC39 | Key issues on agenda of September 2018 session

03.09.2018

The 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council, to be held from 10 to 28 September 2018, will consider issues including acts of intimidation and reprisals against those who seek to or engage with the UN, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, the human rights of indigenous peoples, and various other issues. It will also present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Burundi, Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Sudan, among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

The UN Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 39th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 10 September to 28 September 2018.

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC39 on Twitter, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

Don’t miss these side events organised by ISHR:

  • Human Rights Council Elections 2018: discussions of candidate State’s visions for membership, 11 September 2018, 13h30 to 15h30 in Room XXII

  • Shared Space under Pressure launch of guidance document on business support for civic freedoms and human rights defenders:  17 September, 13:30 to 14:30 in Room XXVII

  • Ending reprisals: Discussion with human rights defenders and experts: 20 September, 10:00 to 11:00 in Room XXV

#HRC39 | Thematic areas of interest

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions.

Reprisals

On 19 September, the Council will hold its first dedicated interactive  dialogue on reprisals. It will engage with the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights who in his capacity as UN senior official on reprisals will present the Secretary General’s annual report on the cooperation with the United Nations its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights(‘the reprials report’) to the Council. The dedicated dialogue to address acts of intimidation and reprisals was mandated by the resolution on reprisals in September 2017.

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system.

The UN has taken action towards addressing this critical issue including:

  • Establishing a dedicated dialogue under item 5 to take place every September;

  • Affirmation by the Council of the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation; and

  • The appointment of UN Assistant Secretary General on Human RIghts, Andrew Gilmour, as the Senior Official on addressing reprisals.

However, ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who try to engage with UN mechanisms, and consistent in its calls for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation.

The dedicated dialogue provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and demand that Governments involved in existing cases provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability.

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence with States involved, and insist on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Other key thematic reports

The Council will hold interactive dialogues and consider the reports of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including on their country visits to Argentina and Sri Lanka, as well as the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance including on their country visit to Gambia.

The Council will consider the human rights of indigenous peoples on several occasions: it will hold a panel on the issue (see further below), the annual reports by the High Commissioner,  the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, including on her visits to Mexico and Guatemala, and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence will also present his annual report, followed by an interactive dialogue, in addition to discussing the Secretary General report on the prevention of genocide.

The Council will discuss the report of the Secretary-General on capital punishment and the implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty.

The Council will also discuss the report of the High Commissioner on mechanisms concerned with ensuring the safety of journalists and the Council will consider a resolution on the issue. The first informal consultation is scheduled for 11 September at 15:30.

The Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes will present a set of principles for States, businesses and other actors to protect workers, including the need to protect worker representatives and defenders from reprisal.

The Council will consider three different reports on the right to development: the annual report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, the High Commissioner’s report and the report of the Working Group on the Right to Development, in addition to a resolution on the issue (see below).

The Council will also hold interactive dialogues and consider the reports of the:

  • Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

  • Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights

  • Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order

  • Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination

  • Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons

  • Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery

  • Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

#HRC39 | Country-specific developments

Burundi

During its 36th session, the Council passed two resolutions on Burundi; one led by the European Union extending the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry and a second resolution by the African Group that requested OHCHR to send three experts to engage with Burundi and other stakeholders to “collect and preserve information, to determine the facts and circumstances in accordance with international standards and to forward to the judicial authorities of Burundi such information” in order to establish the truth and ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable. Read here ISHR’s analysis of the two resolutions.

At the 39th session, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on his final report on Burundi on 11 September from 15:00 to 18:00. The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on 17 September between 09:00 and 12:00.

ISHR continues to remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, which clearly warrant an invitation to the General Assembly to consider the suspension of Burundi as a member of the Council. ISHR joined a group of NGOs in calling for the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. 

For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here.

Yemen

Last September, the Council appointed a Group of Eminent Experts to carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations of international human rights law committed by all parties to the conflict since September 2014. They will present their report followed by an interactive dialogue on 26 September from 09:00 to 12:00. The Council will also consider a report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Yemen and on the implementation of the technical assistance.

The Group of Eminent Experts’ report strongly suggests that parties to the armed conflict have perpetrated, and continue to perpetrate, violations and crimes under international law. Over 50 civil society organisations have called on the Council to renew and strengthen the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts through the enhancement of its reporting structure and strengthening language on accountability.

China

The 39th session is the final session before China’s Universal Periodic Review. It also marks the fifth year of the detention of rights activist Cao Shunli, who later died while in detention. In light of these facts, States should be even more active in raising concern about the dangerous environment in China for human rights and those who defend them, and in calling for China to be held accountable for its apparent unwillingness to uphold the highest human rights standards. Specifically, we urge States, individually and jointly, to: 

  • Condemn the discriminatory use of extralegal detentions against Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in China, as part of a spectrum of measures taken under the guise of ‘national security’ and with the aim of suppressing Uyghur linguistic, cultural and religious identities.

  • Demand full access for independent human rights observers, including UN experts, to all parts of China, including Tibetan and Uyghur areas.

  • Continue to call for the release of individuals arbitrarily detained and/or held incommunicado, including Wang Quanzhang, Yu Wensheng, and Zhen Jianghua.

  • Urge full access and protections to those currently serving unjust or arbitrary sentences, including Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, sentenced to life imprisonment four years ago, and Tibetan cultural rights advocate Tashi Wangchuk, whose second appeal was rejected on 23 August.    

Other country situations:

The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates.

They include:

  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on Syria

  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights in South Sudan

  • Interactive dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Myanmar

  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Ukraine

  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner's report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Libya

  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia

  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia

  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Sudan

  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Turkmenistan, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Tuvalu, Germany, Djibouti, Canada, Bangladesh, Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, and Cuba.

ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. We publish and submit briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Burkina Faso and Bangladesh to to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

#HRC39 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 39th session held on 27 August 2018, the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes three panels of discussion and 70 reports. States also announced at least 20 resolutions. However, more resolutions are expected to be presented during the session as per the 2018 voluntary yearly calendar of thematic resolutions.

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for the following two vacancies of mandate holders to be filled at this session:

  1. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus

  2. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea

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.

Election of members of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee

The Council will elect Advisory Committee members for the four vacant seats, one from the Group of African States, one from the Group of Asia-Pacific States, one from the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States and one from the Group of Western European and other States. A note with the list of nominations by the Secretary General will soon be available.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 39th session

At the organisational meeting the following resolutions were announced (States sponsoring the resolution in brackets):

  1. The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation (Germany and Spain)

  2. The human rights situation in Yemen (Yemen and a group of countries)

  3. National human rights institutions (Australia)

  4. The impacts of the control systems on the international watercourse on the rights of safe water, food, and environment and its influence on economic, social and cultural rights (Iraq)

  5. The right to development (Venezuela)

  6. The protection of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Togo on behalf of the African group)

  7. The protection of human rights in the Sudan (Togo on behalf of the African group)

  8. World Programme for Human Rights Education (Brazil, Costa Rica, Italy, Morocco, Slovenia, Senegal,  Philippines, Thailand)

  9. The human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom)

  10. The human rights situation in Somalia (the UK and a group of countries)

  11. The safety of journalists (Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar and Tunisia)

  12. The human rights of indigenous peoples (Guatemala and Mexico)

  13. Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity (Burkina Faso, Colombia, New Zealand)

  14. The promotion and protection of the human rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, South Africa)

  15. The human rights situation in Burundi (the European Union)

  16. The human rights situation in Myanmar (the European Union)

  17. Equal participation in political and public affairs (Botswana, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Netherlands, Peru)

  18. The situation of Rohingya muslims and other minorities in Myanmar (Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation)

  19. Technical cooperation and capacity building in the field of human rights (Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey)

  20. Local government and human rights (Chile, Egypt, South Korea, Romania)

Furthermore, according to the voluntary calendar for resolutions, it is possible that more resolutions could also be presented at this session. Read the calendar here.

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Three panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  • The high-level panel discussion to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide will take place on 13 September from 10:00 to 12:00.

  • The annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples will take place on 19 September from 9:00 to 11:00. The theme will be the participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the development and implementation of strategies and projects in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

  • The annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms will take place on 24 September from 16:00 to 18:00. The theme will be gender integration and human rights investigations: strengthening a victim-centred approach.

#HRC39 | Side events

  • Human Rights Council Elections 2018: discussions of candidate State’s visions for membership. The pledging side-event is organised by ISHR and Amnesty International and will take place on 11 September 2018 at 13:30 to 15:30 in Room XXII. The event is co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Albania, Canada, Chile, Mongolia and Senegal and is intended to give candidates an opportunity to present their visions for Council membership and to respond to questions from a range of stakeholders on how they propose to realise the pledges and commitments they may have made in seeking election.

  • Shared Space under Pressure launch of guidance document on business support for civic freedoms and human rights defenders is an event organised by ISHR and will take place on 17 September from 13:30 to 14:30 in Room XXVII. The panelists will present and discuss a gnew publication by the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, which provides concrete advice to companies on how to protect human rights defenders.

  • Ending reprisals: Discussion with human rights defenders and experts. The event will highlight the nature and extent of reprisals and intimidation for those cooperating with the UN, discuss and expand on the Secretary General’s report on cooperation with the UN and consider efforts to date to address reprisals as well as ways to further develop and strengthen policies to prevent and address reprisals. It will take place on 20 September from 10:00 to 11:00 in Room XXV.

Other key side events at the Council:

States and NGOs are holding a series of events. You can download the list of State events here and NGO events here.

  • Accountability and the need to end impunity for human rights violations in Yemen: Human rights defenders including bloggers, Internet activists and journalists at extreme risk of persecution is an event organised by the Gulf Center for Human Rights and co-sponsored by ISHR, CIVICUS and FIDH. It will take place on 10 September from 12:00 to 13:00 in Room XXIV.

  • Saudi Arabia’s 3rd Cycle UPR: a Refusal to Reform is an event organised by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. It will review the Kingdom’s human rights record over the past five years, taking a look at some of the recommendations offered during the previous cycle in October 2013 that have gone unfulfilled, from women’s rights to capital punishment, torture to the lack of a written penal code, and human rights defenders and civil society. It will take place on 11 September from 12:00 to 13:00 in Room XXIII.

  • Gross human rights violations in Myanmar: options for international criminal accountability is an event organised by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and will take place on 13 September at 12:00 in  Room XXVII. The discussion will focus on means of documenting violations, possible evidence-gathering mechanisms and the role of the International Criminal Court.

  • Burundi: ending the crisis and paving the way for accountability is an event organsed by DefendDefenders in collaboration with a range of Burundian and international partners including ISHR. It will highlight ongoing grave violations in Burundi, lack of domestic accountability, and the need to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi to avoid a monitoring and reporting gap and to prepare for accountability at the international level. It will take place on Thursday 13 September from 13:00-14:00 in Room XXIV.

  • Bridging the gap: HRC resolutions and the human rights situation in Sudan will examine Sudan’s human rights and humanitarian situation and the last UN Human Rights Council resolutions, which have failed to adequately reflect it. During this side event organised by DefendDefenders, panelists will discuss Sudan’s record, ongoing violations and abuses, and what the HRC needs to do to fulfil its mandate and prioritize the rights of all Sudanese. It will take place on Friday 14 September from 14:00-15:00 in Room XXIV.

  • Women’s Access to Justice is an event organised by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and will take place on 17 September at 14:00 in  Room XXIV. The discussion will focus on how to implement a women-centred approach in strengthening access to justice, considering ways to ensure that gender issues are robustly integrated into human rights investigations and judicial mechanisms and implemented by the actors operating within these areas. The discussion will draw on themes relevant to the annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective taking place on 24 September.

  • Human Rights in Myanmar is an event organised by Forum Asia on 17 September from 10:00 to 11:00 in Room XXV. Human rights defenders from Myanmar will present their perspectives on the findings of the report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, and key recommendations for the UN Human Rights Council.

  • From Documenting Violations to Preparing for Prosecutions: How can the UN respond effectively to crimes under international law in situations of crisis? is an event organised by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands and will take place on 18 September at  15:30 in Room XXII. The discussion will focus on why the Council and other international bodies need to move quickly to preserve evidence of crimes under international law, and options for doing so, with the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria, and the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, as examples to inform possible future mechanisms or a permanent standing mechanism.

  • Crisis in the DRC: a country-wide perspective is an event organised by CIVICUS that will take place on 18 September. The exact time and room will be announced soon.

  • Human Rights in Cambodia is an event organised by Forum Asia on 19 September from 10:00 to 11:00 in Room XXV. Civil society will discuss the closure of civic space in Cambodia following the July 2018 national elections, which have been widely condemned as neither free nor fair, as well as what the UN Human Rights Council should do to respond to attacks on civil society and the degradation of democratic freedoms.

Photo: UN Photo/ Eskinder Debebe