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Council adopts landmark resolutions on freedom of assembly; water & sanitation; indigenous peoples
Friday, 01 October 2010 16:32

 

On 30 September 2010, the Human Rights Council (the Council) adopted a series of key cross-regional resolutions by consensus. This included the first-time establishment of a new Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, a resolution recalling the General Assembly’s recognition of the right to water as a human rights, and renewal and strengthening of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. Other important special procedures mandates such as the Working Group on arbitrary detention and that the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism were also renewed for a further three years. While also renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti, the Council failed to repeat the good practice of a two-year extension given to the mandate when it was last renewed. Instead the mandate was only extended for one year.

 

The new Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association is tasked to report on violations of these rights and on threats, harassment and reprisals against those exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The mandate was established at the initiative of a cross-regional group of States including the United States, the Czech Republic, the Maldives, Nigeria, Lithuania, Mexico, Indonesia and Latvia. Despite principled opposition to the creation of this mandate on spurious grounds by the Russian Federation, Egypt and China, the resolution was adopted by consensus. However, China, Pakistan, Cuba and Libya disassociated themselves from the consensus. The text was weakened in last minute negotiations, among other things by taking away the request to the new Special Rapporteur to also report to the General Assembly. However, it presents a key achievement in furthering the protection of the rights of human rights defenders in carrying out their work.

 

The Council also adopted without a vote a resolution on ‘Human Rights and access to safe drinking water and sanitation’ presented by Spain and Germany, with over 50 co-sponsors. Importantly, the resolution recalled General Assembly Resolution 64/292 of 28 July 2010, which recognised the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation ‘as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights’. The Council resolution also incorporated the main results and findings of the report of the Independent Expert, Ms Catarina de Albuquerque, presented to the Council on 15 September 2010.

 

The Netherlands, Denmark and Slovakia, which had abstained from the vote on the General Assembly resolution, co-sponsored the Council’s resolution. Mauritania regretted the fact that the Council’s resolution does not take into account that to access safe drinking water and sanitation developing countries need certain requirements (such as equipment facilities, infrastructures and services) as well as technology transfers from developed countries.

Interestingly the US, which had abstained from the General Assembly resolution on the grounds that existing international law does not recognise ‘a right to water and sanitation’, joined consensus on this resolution. The UK, while showing restraint in not calling for a vote, did not join consensus and reiterated its view that the right to water is only an element of an adequate standard of living, that there is no international recognition of a right to sanitation. Under the circumstances, the UK explanation of vote should not distract from the important step forward towards clear recognition and protection of the right to water and sanitation.

 

With the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, the Council has agreed to add the long-fought-four ‘S’ to the title of the mandate. Despite the statement of the UK during the negotiations of this resolution that the reference to ‘the rights of indigenous peoples’ in the plural was beyond its ‘red line in terms of collective rights’, the resolution was adopted by consensus. However, both the UK and the US made explanations of vote underlining that the collective rights of a group should never outweigh the individual human rights of persons belonging to that group.

 

Other important resolutions adopted included a resolution on maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights which was sponsored by over 90 countries, a resolution creating a new Working Group on discrimination against women, and the renewal of the Independent Experts on the Sudan and Somalia, respectively. ISHR will report on these and addition resolutions in a separate news item.

 

All resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council can be accessed on the Council's website.

Last Updated on Friday, 01 October 2010 19:09
 
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