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Council Alert: Human Rights Council March 2011 session
Monday, 21 February 2011 12:01

 

The Human Rights Council (the Council) held the organisational meeting for its 16th session on 14 February. The March session will run from 28 February to 25 March. As the Council’s main session, it will comprise a 3-day ‘high-level segment’, during which dignitaries from many States are expected. A small number of civil society speakers will have the opportunity to address the Council during the ‘general segment’ following the high-level segment on Wednesday 2 March.

 

Fifteen special procedure mandate holders will present their reports to the Council, including the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Ms Margaret Sekkaggya. She will present her annual report, which focuses on the theme of women human rights defenders, a mission report from her visit to Armenia, and a communications report (not yet available) containing her letters to governments and responses thereto. See the programme of work, the annotated agenda, and the list of reports for more information.

 

The 16th session will see a series of country focused discussions. The Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar will present their annual reports (not yet available). Both mandates expire in March, and the Council will have to decide on their continuation. The Council will consider be a joint report by several mandate holders on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (not yet available), as well as the ‘Interim report of the SG on the situation of human rights in Iran’ (not yet available) mandated by General Assembly Resolution 65/226. Additional reports of the High Commissioner on country situations include Colombia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Guatemala and Bolivia, Cyprus, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

 

 

The Independent Expert on Burundi is again scheduled to present a report to the Council. The Independent Expert has not appeared before the Council since September 2008 when it was decided that he would only report after the establishment of a national human rights institution. However it had been exceptionally agreed that the mandate holder could report to the 14th session of the Council. Neither this report nor the one scheduled for the 15th session took place, on grounds that Burundi had not received the written report in time to respond. Burundi spoke during the organisational meeting to complain yet again that it had not received the report. While the request for postponement was denied it remains to be seen whether the Independent Expert will report as scheduled.

 

A number of thematic special procedures mandates expire in March. The Council will have to decide on their renewal at this session. They include the following mandates:

 

1.     Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity

2.     Independent Expert on minority issues

3.     Independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights

4.     Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation

5.     Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

6.     Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

7.     Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography

8.     Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

9.     Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

10.  Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences

11.  Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

 

The US announced its intention to gather cross-regional support for the renewal of the mandate on freedom of expression, following on from its success in gathering cross-regional support for the creation of a new Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association at the 15th session of the Council. While the renewal of thematic mandates is often a procedural process, it also provides an opportunity for States to either strengthen – or weaken – existing mandates. During discussions on the review of the Council’s work and functioning Egypt (on behalf of the NAM) and Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group) have mounted serious attacks on the system of special procedures, including suggestions of merging overlapping mandates. It remains to be seen if those dynamics will influence the renewal of important special procedures mandates.

 

The rights of children will receive special attention from the Council: the special rapporteur on the sale of children will present his report to the Council, as will the special representative to the Secretary-General on violence against children. There will also be a full-day meeting on the rights of the child.

 

The Council will again hold panel discussions on a series of themes. To tie in with the proclamation of 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent, and to implement resolution 14/16, there will be a panel on the enjoyment of the human rights of people of African Descent. There will also be half day panels on the human rights of persons with disabilities, and on human rights and issues related to terrorist hostage-taking.

 

During the organisational meeting, States announced further resolutions that they intend to work on at the March session. The full list appears below, but amongst the more significant is a resolution on traditional values and human rights sponsored by the Russian Federation. This follows the convening of a seminar on traditional values and human rights in October 2010 (see the report on the seminar here). While the Russian Federation frames the debate on traditional values as positive contribution to human rights, many fear that the concept will ultimately jeopardise the universal scope of international human rights law.

 

Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) announced its traditional resolution on combating ‘defamation of religions’. At the March 2010 session, Pakistan lost several supporters for this resolution. Although it was still adopted, several States had changed their position from support to abstention. The General Assembly resolution on ‘defamation of religions’, passed in late 2010, saw more support withering away. Pakistan may therefore have to accommodate the concerns of those, particularly European States and the US, who have long argued that the concept of ‘defamation’ is not well suited to address intolerance. Instead, a clear focus on ‘incitement to hatred’, based on articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), would help to address the issue without the danger of undermining freedom of expression.

 

Cuba will again introduce its resolution on the composition of the staff of OHCHR. The resolution has been adopted – generally by a vote – for several years now. Cuba and its supporters depict it as a constructive contribution to improving the geographical balance of OHCHR staff. However, in the context of the resolution adopted at the 15th session on cooperation between OHCHR and the Council, it clearly appears as part of the agenda to establish more oversight by the Council over the work of OHCHR.

 

The Council will consider the outcomes of the 16 state reviews that took place during the 9th session of the UPR in November 2010. Of particular interest will be the adoption of the review outcome of the US.

The coming session of the Council will also feature elections for seven vacancies on the Human Rights Advisory Committee,[1] and consider the draft Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training originally prepared by the Advisory Committee.

 

List of resolutions to be introduced at the 16th session

 

Austria

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on minority issues

 

Azerbaijan

 

-         Missing persons – based on the report of the Advisory Committee

 

Brazil

 

-         Human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS

 

Canada

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences

 

Costa Rica, Switzerland, Maldives, and Uruguay

 

-         Human rights and the environment

 

Cuba

 

-         Right to food

 

-         Composition of the staff of the OHCHR

 

-         Social Forum

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights (not announced)

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity (not announced)

 

Denmark

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

 

Egypt (on behalf of the NAM)

 

-         International cooperation and human rights

 

France/Argentina/Morocco:

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances

 

Hungary

 

-         Rights of the child (with GRULAC)

 

-         Freedom of religion and belief

 

New Zealand

 

-         Role of international cooperation in the implementation of the rights of people with disabilities

 

Norway

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

 

Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC)

 

-         The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination

 

-         The grave human rights violations by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem

 

-         Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan

 

-         Human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan

 

-         Follow up to the flotilla report by the Committee of Experts and to previous special sessions

 

-         Combatting defamation of religions

 

Russian Federation

 

-         Human rights and traditional values

 

Slovenia

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (not announced)

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (with Japan) (not announced)

 

Spain

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert on right to access to safe drinking water and sanitation (with Germany)

 

-         Decision on convening a panel the rights of victims of terrorism (with Colombia)

 

Switzerland (on behalf of the Platform on human rights education and training)

 

-         Draft declaration on human rights education and training finalised by the Working Group, to ensure its adoption by the Council and prepare its adoption by the General Assembly at its 66th session

 

Uruguay

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (not announced)

 

USA

 

-         Renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression



[1] Of these, 2 will be for Africa, 2 for Asia, 1 for Eastern Europe, 1 for Western Europe, and 1 for Latin America

Last Updated on Monday, 21 February 2011 12:02
 
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