25th session of the human rights council comes to an end
Protests are the subject of a resolution that, while relevant, is not forceful enough to guarantee rights
The approval of the resolution on peaceful protests presented by Switzerland, Costa Rica and Turkey, after heated debates, was one of the main highlights of the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council, held in Geneva from March 3-28. The text of the resolution, which could have been more decisive in protecting the human rights of demonstrators, should be seen as an opportunity to continue advancing the issue on the international level.
The limits imposed by the international community on this matter contrasted with a number of important decisions on the protection of rights. These included the approval of an investigation into the crimes committed in Sri Lanka during the civil war (1983-2009) and the renewal of the mandate of the special rapporteur for Iran, a country where executions and the persecution of opponents have been increasing, despite the expectations generated by the new government.
See below a summary of the highlights of the session and the actions of Conectas in Geneva:
The resolution on protests was the subject of intense and heated debates. The result was the approval of a text that fell short of the expectations of non-governmental organizations in terms of the protection of human rights. The resolution made no progress on a number of points requested by civil society, such as the ban on the use of lethal weapons by agents of the State during demonstrations. Moreover, the text does not explicitly recognize that an act of violence occurring during a protest does not affect the rights of the demonstrators or exempt the State from guaranteeing the full respect of human rights. See the demands that had been presented by NGOs, including Conectas, in a letter and an oral statement.
A group of countries led by South Africa, which included India, China and Russia – i.e., all Brazil’s partners in the BRICS – presented a package of amendments to the resolution that further weakened the text. These amendments would have permitted, for example, protests to be considered a threat to national security and organizers to be held responsible for any acts of violence committed during the demonstrations. Conectas and partner organizations opposed the amendments in a joint statement.
Brazil, demonstrating a commitment to human rights, stood apart from the other countries of the BRICS and took a position against these two serious amendments, contributing to them being rejected by the majority. However, the country abstained on another two less harmful amendments, which were also rejected. The text of the resolution was finally approved by 31 votes in favor, including Brazil’s, 7 abstentions and 9 votes against. All the other members of the BRICS voted against the resolution.
Although the approved text has its limitations, it does make some headway by asking the Office of the High Commissioner, in collaboration with the UN special rapporteurs, to prepare guidelines for promoting and protecting human rights in the context of peaceful protests. These guidelines, which must be presented within a period of two years, constitute an important opportunity to make progress on the matter.
Sri Lanka and North Korea
The Human Rights Council, with the approval of a resolution on Sri Lanka, established an international investigation into the crimes committed in this country during the civil war. The investigation, to be conducted by the Office of the High Commissioner, will contribute to progress on accountability for human rights violations. Conectas and another 23 organizations from the Global South sent a letter to the delegations of the Council’s Member States expressing their support for an international investigation, claiming that progress on the ground has been inadequate and insufficient. Despite attempts led by Pakistan to postpone the debate and reject the creation of the international investigation, the resolution was approved with a favorable vote from Brazil, which once again took a different position than the other BRICS countries (China and Russia voted against and India and South Africa abstained).
In the same session, the Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, which was established last year, presented its final report. The Commission concluded, through the testimonies it collected, that North Korea has committed crimes against humanity. The Human Rights Council also approved, with the support of Brazil, a resolution recommending that the General Assembly submit the report to the United Nations Security Council “in order that those responsible for human rights violations, including those that may amount to crimes against humanity, are held to account”. Once again, Russia and China voted against the resolution and India and South Africa abstained.
The mandate of the rapporteur for Iran was renewed during the session, with the support of Brazil. Conectas and partner organizations sent an appeal to delegations in Geneva and to Member States emphasizing the importance of this mandate, even considering the change of government. In the document, the organizations assert that Iran has seen an increase in the application of the death penalty since the start of the new government, as well as the arbitrary detention of hundreds of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities and restrictions on freedom of expression and the press. The renewal of the rapporteur’s mandate was yet another resolution that did not have the support of the BRICS (China, Russia and India voted against and South Africa abstained).
Brazil and the BRICS
“It is positive that in the resolutions on protests, on Sri Lanka, North Korea and Iran – where human rights were at stake, Brazil did not vote in concert with the BRICS and stood apart from the other countries of the group,” said Camila Asano, coordinator of the Foreign Policy program at Conectas. “It is alarming that India and South Africa, countries that Brazil considers democratic and promoters of human rights, did not vote consistently with these principles. It begs the question as to whether Brazil, given its alleged capacity for coordination within IBSA, engaged in any dialogue with its allies to try and change their positions,” she added.
Complaints by Conectas
In addition to monitoring the debates and the votes of the Brazilian government and the other BRICS members, Conectas presented a number of complaints at the 25th session of the Council on the persistent human rights violations in the country. In three oral statements, the organization spoke about the crimes committed in the Pedrinhas prison complex in the state of Maranhão, the situation of Haitian immigrants in the town of Brasileia and the oppressive searches of prison visitors – a topic that also inspired a side event.