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Special Sessions
Tuesday, 22 April 2008 05:14


For information about Special Sessions of the Human Rights Council that have happened since May 2009, visit the latest Council news and Council news archives.


Information about the 1st to 11th Special Sessions of the Human Rights Council can be found below.


Detailed reports on special sessions are available in the Publications section. 



9th special session

The Human Rights Council (the Council) convened its 9th special session on 9 and 12 January 2009 in Geneva. The meeting was called for by Egypt, on behalf of the Arab and African Groups, by Pakistan, on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and by Cuba, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), to discuss ‘the grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the recent aggression of the occupied Gaza Strip’. The request for the special session was supported by 27 other member States of the Council. This was the fourth special session of the Council dedicated to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The interest in the special session was reflected in the high level of attendance by States, United Nations (UN) agencies, and civil society. The long list of speakers, moreover, led to the extension of the session by half a day. The large majority of speakers spoke emotively of the need for urgent action to address the grave humanitarian crisis in the region. While many sought to assign responsibility for the violence to a particular party to the conflict, all were unanimous in their call for a ceasefire as a necessary precursor to a durable solution. The resolution that was adopted by a majority vote reflects many of the points raised during the session.


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8th special session

The Human Rights Council (the Council) on 1 December 2008 adopted a consensus decision at its special session held on the human rights situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The special session started on Friday, 28 November but with considerable delay. Ongoing negotiations on a draft resolution tabled by the African Group and a decision to wait for a delegation scheduled to arrive from Kinshasa had contributed to this late start. Accordingly, the special session only concluded on Monday, 1 December 2008. Despite the additional time available, the ministerial level delegation of the DRC did not travel to Geneva.


The resolution was tabled by Egypt (on behalf of the African Group), and revised in a series of informal consultations. France (on behalf of the European Union) had also tabled a draft, which was withdrawn following these negotiations. In the resolution, the Council ‘expresses its serious concern at the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in North Kivu’. Reflecting the emphasis of the interactive dialogue during the special session, the resolution condemns all acts of violence and in particular sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers. The Council also ‘emphasizes the importance of strengthening the mandate of MONUC with a view to increasing its capacity to protect civilians.’ Finally, it invites a number special procedures and the High Commissioner to submit reports to the Council’s 10th regular session in March 2009.


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7th special session 

The Human Rights Council (the Council) convened its 7th special session on 22 May 2008 in Geneva. This session was called for by Cuba to discuss ‘the negative impact on the realization of the right to food of the orsening of the world food crisis, caused inter alia by the soaring food prices.’ This meeting was notable in several respects. First and foremost, this was the first special session addressing a thematic issue, as opposed to a country situation. Furthermore, the dedication of the first thematic special session to the right to food reflects an advancement in the Council’s treatment of economic, social, and cultural rights. Second, Cuba’s call for this special session was supported by an unprecedented number of States, including an overwhelming majority of the Council (41 out of 47 members). The number and range of States that took the floor was impressive. Third, there was a conscious effort by some States to define the role of the Council in mainstreaming a human rights approach in the response of the United Nations (UN) to the current world food crisis. This has interesting implications for the institutional development of this body.


At the same time, there were two areas in which the Council’s action was unsatisfactory. The first of these was the weakness of the actual content and outcome of the session. The majority of States that took the floor merely reiterated the fundamental importance of the right to food, gave its take on the causes and impacts of the current world food crisis, and urged concerted international action. Moreover, although the narrow focus and undemanding provisions may have allowed for the resolution to be adopted by consensus, the Council missed an opportunity to declare its position on the world food crisis and assert its role within the UN’s response to it. The other disappointment was the poor time management by the President of the Council, Ambassador Doru-Romulus Costea, and its consequence for non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In brief, NGOs were only given the floor at the end of the session, after the resolution had been adopted by the Council. More..  
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6th special session

The Human Rights Council (the Council) held its 6th special session on 23 and 24 January 2008. The session was convened at the request of the group of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) with the support from some other States to consider and take action on human rights violations emanating from Israeli military incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including recent ones in occupied Gaza and the West Bank town of Nablus.
The President of the Council, Ambassador Doru Romulus Costea of Romania, opened the session by inviting Ms Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights (the High Commissioner) to make a statement. This was followed by comments from member States and observers, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs). After two rounds of informal consultations that had been held prior to the special session, Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) and Syria (on behalf of the group of Arab States) tabled a draft resolution.

Despite the fact that the discussions during the special session were polarised, and more or less followed the same pattern as earlier debates in the Council on the situation of Palestine, the atmosphere seemed to be slightly different this time. The fact that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was indeed precarious when the session was held, and that the draft resolution was formulated in comparatively mild terms, led to a very dim glimmer of hope that the Council could find, for once, a way out of its political impasse regarding the human rights situation. However, while some States categorically insisted that the resolution include a reference to the rockets directed at Israeli civilians by Palestinian armed groups, the sponsors of the resolution were not willing to acknowledge violations by Palestinians. Resolution S-6/1 thus could not garner consensus.
The 6th special session again showed the Council’s difficulty in dealing with human rights situations. The Council’s failures are two-fold. First, other situations requiring urgent attention often do not receive it. Second, in relation to the Palestine-Israel situation itself, the politics of the Council have prevented the serious, concentrated action that is required. Again, the possibility of a strong, consensus resolution of the Council was dismissed in favour of polarised point-scoring. This does no service and offers no support to those in that region whose human rights are being routinely violated, Palestinians, Israelis and others. More...


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5th special session 

The 5th special session of the Human Rights Council (the Council) addressed the present situation of human rights in Myanmar. In the weeks before the 6th session of the Council that took place from 10 to 28 September, Myanmar had witnessed large-scale public protests, initially led by Buddhist monks but increasingly supported by the general public. The immediate trigger for the protests was a significant increase in fuel prices, which led to a sharp increase in food prices. During the last week of the 6th session of the Council, media reports of increasingly violent reactions to the protest by the military and security forces dominated the headlines around the world. Portugal, on behalf of the European Union (EU), then called for a special session of the Human Rights Council, which received cross-regional support.

The special session was dominated by many States and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) expressing grave concern at the ongoing situation. A number of personal testimonies added a sense of urgency to the debate. The presence of human rights defenders from Myanmar, alongside an increased media presence, raised expectations that the Council could meaningfully contribute to changing the situation on the ground. Notably, a number of Asian States appeared to be losing their patience with the Government of Myanmar, and seemed to start using their influence.

After a day’s deliberations, the Council adopted a resolution by consensus, in which it ‘strongly deplores the continued violent repression of peaceful demonstrations’. It also encourages the Government of Myanmar to cooperate with the UN and requests the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to assess the situation and monitor the implementation of the resolution. Whether the Government of Myanmar will cooperate with the Council and allow the Special Rapporteur to visit remains to be seen. This will be the test to see if the Council has done enough to address the situation and fulfil its mandate. More...


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4th special session 

The 4th special session of the Human Rights Council (the Council) was convened to assess the human rights situation in Darfur, Sudan. The request to convene the session was co-sponsored by more than 30 nations, portraying strong cross-regional support for action on Darfur. After a weak resolution on Darfur was accepted by the Council with a vote of 22 in favor during its 3rd session, the special session was seen as a chance for the Council to provide a credible response to the situation.

A large number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) attended the special session, of which 18 were given time to take the floor. Considering the short notice given, NGOs were able to coordinate quickly and demonstrate significant strength at the session. As noted by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in their statement, it was quite remarkable that a large number of local NGOs were able to participate. A parallel event titled “Voices from Darfur: relaying the victims' account” included two panel speakers from Darfur, and one other from the region. In addition, the majority of those who spoke during the event were locals. During the special session itself, two NGO statements were read out by Sudanese citizens and two NGO interventions included personal testimonies delivered by inhabitants of Darfur. In addition, Amnesty International (AI) read out a personal testimony from a Sudanese victim. More...
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3rd special session 

Following a request by the Permanent Representatives of Bahrain and Pakistan on behalf of the Group of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) the third special session of the Human Rights Council (the Council) was held on 15 November 2006. It was convened to discuss the Israeli military incursions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) including the recent one in the Northern Gaza and the assault on Beit Hanoun. When requesting this special session, the Group of Arab States and the OIC also distributed to Council members a draft resolution that they proposed discussing at the special session.

The President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Louis Alfonso de Alba, Mexico’s Permanent Representative to International Organisations in Geneva, opened the third special session by inviting the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Louise Arbour, to make a statement. Ms Arbour explained to the Council that she would be visiting Israel and the OPT from the 19 November 2006 and that her visit would focus on the protection of civilians during the armed conflict. She will present a report on her findings at the third Council session in late November/early December.

For more information, see ISHR report on the special session and the Human Rights Monitor 2006.


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2nd special session

The Human Rights Council held its second session on 11 August 2006 at the request of the Arab Group to ‘consider and take action on the gross human rights violations by Israel in Lebanon, including the Qana massacre, the country-wide targeting of innocent civilians and the destruction of vital civilian infrastructure’. A draft resolution circulated by the OIC formed the basis for discussion.

The general discussion paralleled that of the first special session, and assumed the same general political allegiances. The draft resolution of the OIC strongly condemns the grave violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law in Lebanon, calls on Israel to immediately stop military operations, and decides to dispatch an urgent high-level commission of inquiry to investigate the humanitarian situation in Lebanon and report back to the Council by 1 September 2006.

For more information, see ISHR report on the special session and the Human Rights Monitor 2006.


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1st special session 

The first of three special sessions relating to Israel was convened on 5 and 6 July 2006 at the request of the Arab Group in order to ‘consider the latest escalation of the situation in the Palestinian and other occupied Arab Territories’. This was seen by many as a demonstration of the Council’s commitment to responding to gross and systematic human rights situations, and an opportunity to prove itself. Israel and the USA, however, expressly challenged the validity of the session, with the latter referring to it as a regurgitation of the selectivity and politicisation of the former Commission on Human Rights.

The difficulties surrounding the outcome Resolution of the first special session stemmed from the question of balance. Whilst the sponsors of the Resolution sought to focus almost exclusively on the violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law committed by Israel in the OPT, its opponents maintained that the Resolution failed to give sufficient attention to the responsibilities of Palestinian armed groups and others. Additionally, while the draft resolution called for the immediate release of Palestinian ministers, other officials, and civilians, it made no reference to the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit. The text’s core substantive element was to dispatch an urgent fact-finding mission headed by the Special Rapporteur.


For more information, see ISHR report on the special session and the Human Rights Monitor 2006.

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Last Updated on Friday, 16 September 2011 13:09

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