September 9, 2013
The UN Human Rights Council today (September 9) began its 24th session in the Palace of Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting, which ends on September 27, will be marked by debates on serious human rights situation in countries such as Syria, Bahrain, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Reports will also be submitted on extractivist industries and the rights of indigenous peoples, abusive detention of immigrants and the challenges imposed on truth commissions. It will also address some specific items, such as the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Health and the opening of the application period for the election of the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders. See the program of work, the orders of the day and watch the session on the internet here.
In its address during agenda item 2, the delegation of Brazil mentioned, this morning, talks between Israel and Palestine and the human rights situation in Egypt, calling for dialogue and reconciliation. The emphasis of the address, however, was on the possibility of military intervention in Syria outside the auspices of the UN and the Brazilian government’s rejection of such action, as well as the current charges of spying by the United States government. The Brazilian delegation stressed that this practice, which violates the right to privacy and is related to access to information and freedom of expression, strikes at the heart of the mandate of the Human Rights Council, signaling the need for measures to be taken within International Human Rights Law.
Two reports on Syria will be submitted at this session of the Council, one from the Commission of Inquiry and another from the Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Persons. Indeed, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, began her opening statements at the session by expressing her concern over the situation in the country: “The international community is late, very late, to take serious joint action to halt the downward spiral that has gripped Syria. This is no time for powerful States to continue to disagree on the way forward, or for geopolitical interests to override the legal and moral obligation to save lives (…). States, together with the United Nations, must find a way to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table and halt the bloodshed.”
Conectas and organizations from a number of different countries have been monitoring the human rights situation in Bahrain since February 2011, when peaceful protests for political reforms first broke out in the country. Although an Independent Commission of Inquiry was set up in the same year, which has investigated serious human rights violations committed by the government, including torture and extrajudicial executions, the abuses have continued. Petitions from civil society, including Conectas, encouraged joint statements by several countries at the 20th and 22nd sessions of the Council, when more than 40 countries expressed concern over the situation unfolding in Bahrain.
Nevertheless, the human rights situation in Bahrain in 2013 is still cause for concern: the government has established legal mechanisms to restrict demonstrations and the freedom of association, passing specific laws to control the activities of civil society organizations, while also reacting violently to those who oppose these measures. Reports of torture and arbitrary detention are still common, including against human rights defenders.
As such, civil society organizations were hoping for more concrete measures to be taken by States at the 24th session of the Human Rights Council. Civil society organizations, including Conectas, wrote to the States requesting the approval of a country resolution for Bahrain. However, once again the States opted for a joint statement. In a letter, Conectas and other organizations encouraged the countries that did not support the previous joint statements, such as Brazil, to support this latest initiative proposed by the government of Switzerland.
The result was a success, and Brazil this morning joined the group of more than 45 countries in a joint statement which, in addition to expressing deep concern over the situation in Bahrain, presents recommendations to its government. These recommendations include the urgent implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and cooperation with the UN Special Procedures and with the treaty bodies.
This session of the Council will include the presentation and analysis of the report on the human rights situation in Sudan and the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert, which is currently in Council agenda item 10 (cooperation). Given the continuing violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the country, Conectas and organizations from a number of different countries have requested, in a joint statement, that the States establish a Special Rapporteur for the country, approve a resolution condemning the ongoing violations, establish an independent investigation and urge Sudan to grant humanitarian agencies access to the country, while also including this situation in agenda item 4 (human rights situations that require the Council’s attention).
Democratic Republic of Congo
The High Commissioner for Human Rights will submit a report to the 24th session of the Council on the human rights situation in Congo between November 2011 and May 2013. Despite the efforts by the Congolese authorities, the High Commissioner notes that the human rights situation has significantly deteriorated since the previous report. It points to an increase in serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that could amount to war crimes, and that can be attributed to various armed groups, including M23 (Mouvement du 23 mars), rebel groups and security forces. The report emphasizes the widespread and continuous use of torture and mistreatment by the security forces and armed groups, as well as arbitrary and illegal arrests and detention. However, the main target of concern is the wave of sexual violence in the country committed by the warring parties. Most of the cases are not investigated and never make it to court. Read the full report.
The second renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health will occur during this session of the Council. This mandate was created on the initiative of the Brazilian government and the renewal shall be decided by the Brazilian delegation. It is hoped that, this time, the renewal process will be a mere formality, without any alterations to the text of the resolution. At the last renewal, the Working Group on Intellectual Property (GTPI/REBRIP), on which Conectas serves, participated in a broad debate on the wording of the mandate of the Rapporteur and expressed particular concern over the lack of any mention of intellectual property among his duties.
Read the mandate of the rapporteur in English here and in Spanish here.
Human rights defenders
Civil society organizations, including Conectas, will submit a written joint statement on the election of the new Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, which will take place during the 25th session of the Council. Given that applications open in September and the deadline will end in October, the statement provides a checklist to view the criteria applied in the selection of the rapporteur. The statement lists the criteria established by the Human Rights Council and adds some details developed by the organizations that signed the statement. For example, more precise requirements on professional training and experience.
Extractivist industries and the rights of indigenous peoples
The Special Rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples will submit his latest report: Extractivist industries and indigenous peoples. In the report, James Anaya identifies alternative business models and the international laws that should be respected so the rights of indigenous peoples are duly respected when natural resources are extracted within their territories. The report highlights respect for the principle of free, prior and informed consent, which involves extensive consultation procedures. The rapporteur also calls on Brazil to reply to requests for information sent in 2012 in relation to two charges of human rights violations committed against the Guaraní-Kaiowá indigenous community in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Read the full report and its addendum.
The Report of the Secretary-General on Administration of Justice will be submitted in this session of the Council, emphasizing, among other issues, concern over the high number of cases in which detention occurs for long periods without trial. More than 10.75 million people are currently detained around the world, of which 3.2 million were detained without trial. Within this context, the report stresses the detention of migrants, particularly those who are undocumented or in an irregular situation. These abuses are justified by a number of reasons, including national security. The vulnerability of detained migrants increases as they have little access to information and interpreters, and they face difficulties obtaining legal assistance or consular services. Read the full report here.
The Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth and Justice will submit to this session of the Council his analysis on Truth Commissions around the world, their achievements and challenges. According to the rapporteur, the main challenges are related to the definition of mandates and working methods (which can very often overburden the Commissions) and the implementation of their recommendations (since once the work of the Commissions is completed, this becomes the responsibility of the government). In relation to Brazil, the rapporteur informs that he has made a new request to visit the country and he also expressed concern over the selection of commissioners: direct selection, by the same authority that establishes the Commission’s mandate and without a process of formal consultations. Read the full report here.