During one full month, human rights were discussed at the world’s top human rights body, the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Council is to look into country situations and also address thematic issues. In a joint statement at the closure of the Council led by the International Service for Human Rights, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including HRHF expressed their mixed feeling about the Council: “The Council did nothing to address the suffocation of independent civil society in Egypt, or the massive crackdown on human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, and it did not take a firm stand on human rights violations in Ukraine,” the statement reads.
The main success of the session was the creation of a new special rapporteur mandate on the right to privacy, “a significant step towards ensuring mass surveillance and other privacy abuses […] receive systematic, independent and expert scrutiny at the international level” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of Article 19.
Failure to take a firm stands on human rights violations in Ukraine
The human rights situation in Ukraine was one of the main areas of concerns addressed throughout the entire session, with a specific discussion about the situation of minorities, in particular in Crimea. Maria Tomak (Centre for Civil Liberties) and Vadym Pyvovarov (Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law-Enforcement), both from member NGOs of the Human Rights House Kyiv, were in Geneva from 9 to 12 March, meeting various diplomatic missions. Furthermore, on 17 March 2015, in cooperation UNDP Ukraine, HRHF organised a side event on Ukraine, with a specific focus on Crimea.
Despite the large number of State delegations raising their concerns in regard to the human rights situation in Ukraine in their individual statements, the Council failed to take a firm stand on the current crisis. No resolution was presented at the session. The only action taken was a joint statement read by Canada in the framework of OHCHR’s technical cooperation. This statement was an initiative taken by Ukraine in cooperation with the European Union and like-minded States. The statement failed to gather support from other regional groups, like Latin America, Asia or Africa. As a matter of facts, this statement only showed support to Ukraine and did not reflect the gravity of the human rights violations committed by various parties in the country.
More attention on Azerbaijan
The Council failed on taking any joint action on the unprecedented repression in Azerbaijan. However, seven States: Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Norway and the United States of America mentioned Azerbaijan as a country of concern in their individual interventions under the agenda item 4, “Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.”
HRHF led a joint NGO statement, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of human rights defenders, journalists and activists.
Pressure on the High Commissioner
As mentioned in the NGO statement at the closure of the Council, “the resolution on the composition of staff continues the incremental but sustained attack on the independence of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).” The resolution led by Cuba invokes what it calls “imbalance in the geographical representation” of the staff of OHCHR, when it in reality goes well beyond staffing issues. In reality it aims at reducing the independence of the High Commissioner and putting political control via the Human Rights Council over OHCHR’s operational independence, which is not the competence of the Council, as underlined by the European Union in its statement on the issue.
NGOs expressed their concern in this regard in a specific statement on the issue, stating clearly that “now more than ever, we need a High Commissioner who can stand outside the politics of the Council and provide a principled independent voice to remind us all of the human rights standards that the Council is sworn to uphold.”
This resolution was adopted, as the funding of the United Nations human rights work will be discussed again in 2015. The Human Rights House Network had in 2013 called upon the increase of the UN budget for human rights: “Since its establishment 20 years ago, OHCHR has faced increasing requests, including the duty to mainstream human rights throughout the UN system. HRHN members in their joint letter believe that as we will soon celebrate the 10 years of the Human Rights Council all States and group of States aiming at promoting human rights should ambition to raise the share of the UN budget for the promotion of human rights to at least 10%,” HRHN said at the time.
Assessments of the 28th session:
- HRW’s voting records
- Universal Rights Group’s session report
- ISHR’s assessment: “Positive steps offset by failure to respond to grave country situations or sufficiently protect human rights defenders or institutions”
- FIDH’s assessment: “The Human Rights Council’s Responses to Unfolding Crises“
Ales Bialiatski at the Human Rights Council:
Ales Bialiatski, following his release, at the Belarusian Human Rights House in Vilnius“My name is Ales Bialiatski. […]
For three years, as recognized by the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention and the UN Human Rights Committee, I was arbitrarily detained in my country for my human rights activities. International public opinion, as well as the multiple calls for my release that resonated in this room, built the pressure that ultimately enabled me to be free.
In many countries, human rights defenders do not have the opportunity to act or speak openly. Their voices are stifled and go unheard. The Human Rights Council is unique in the space it provides to civil society, allowing it to make public statements about the problems in our regions. Human rights defenders and NGOs that participate in the work of the Council are actors of change and progress in their own societies. […]
I would like to make a simple wish: that human rights defenders who are currently impeded to come to this assembly, such as Nabeel Rajab, Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani, Hussein Gharir, Razan Zeitouneh, Yara Sallam, Mahienour El-Massry, Alaa Abdel Fattah, Raif Badawi, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Nargess Mohammadi, Leyla and Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev, Hilal Mammadov, Azimjan Askarov, and many others who have been subjected to spurious charges, imprisoned or kidnapped, be able to give their testimonies in this very room.”
Read Ales Bialiatski’s intervention here.