The 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) was opened by the address of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. For 15 days, the HRC considered and discussed over 100 reports in regard to diverse range of human right in different parts of the world. This session included interactive dialogues with special procedures mandate holders, general debates under HRC agenda items, annual full-day panel discussion on the human rights of women and annual thematic panel discussion on technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights as well as side-events and high-profile visits.
The Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties (GCRL) actively participated in the 41st session of the Human Rights Council. Namely, GCRL made written contributions, oral statements, organised, participated and contributed to various side events.
“To stand for a world which is based on hope and dignity – a world that has a future, which is stronger, and safer, because it upholds the civil, political, economic, social and
cultural rights of all.”
Oral update by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
On 24 June, the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council commenced with the opening statement of High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. The High Commissioner noted reports to be examined during this session which are crucial to women’s enjoyment of human rights in the context of work, old age and climate change; targeted surveillance and the private surveillance industry; mental health; and other essential areas of political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights.
The High Commissioner Bachelet stated that over 55,000 suspected Daesh fighters and their families have been detained in Syria and Iraq the collapse of ISIL, emphasized that the suspects should be investigated and prosecuted with due process guarantees regardless of the country of origin and nature of the crime and encouraged Member States to act in line with the OHCHR guidance note regarding human rights-based responses to the situation of foreign fighters and their families.
Furthermore, Madame Bachelet expressed her concerns in regards to military escalations in Syria, increasing tensions in Sri Lanka following terroristic attacks and persecution of the remaining Rohingya in northern Rakhine State of Myanmar, regretted that Saudi Arabia dismissed the report by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions issued last week and strongly condemned the mass execution of 37 persons in April, including children. Also, Iran was criticized for sentencing children to death.
Additionally, she noted human rights challenges raised by the digital technology, violence, and the incitement of violence, on the basis of religion, universal social protection, the criminalisation of basic human compassion for migrants, climate change and sustainable development. On a positive note, the High Commissioner commended global progress on death penalty marking the 30th anniversary of the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.
Reports of Special Rapporteurs
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
On 26 June, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, presented her annual report that focuses on the investigation, accountability and prevention of intentional state killings of human rights defenders, journalists and prominent dissidents, including those who have sought safety abroad. Special Rapporteur Callamard underlined the paralysis of the UN system in regards to the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi “which is emblematic of a global pattern of targeted killings of journalists and media workers, as well as human rights defenders and political activists, that is regularly denounced by States and UN agencies”. Moreover, Madame Callamard accused the Kingdom authorities in the extrajudicial killing of Khashoggi and stated that “it is a result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources” and that ”there are credible evidence, warranting further investigation of 15 high-level Saudi Officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s and his key adviser”.
Special Rapporteur called to establish UN criminal investigation, identify mechanisms to deliver justice and claim universal jurisdiction on Khashoggi case as it constitutes an international crime and cannot be considered domestic matter only. Furthermore, she recommended conduct of study and establishment of prevention and accountability Special Procedures Task Force and a Standing Instrument for the Criminal Investigation into Allegations of Targeted Killing, or other acts of violence against journalists, human rights defenders or others targeted because of their peaceful activities or expressions. The Special Rapporteur concluded by saying that silence and inaction would further cause injustice and global instability.
In response, Saudi Arabia totally dismissed the accusations of the Special Rapporteur Callamard as based on non-credible sources and lack of knowledge on the Saudi efforts on Khashoggi case and denounced her disrespect of the mandate procedures and unprofessional work. The Saudi delegate reiterated the position of his Kingdom that persons are executed for the most serious crimes following trial in compliance with international standards. Moreover, the delegate strongly dismissed the international pressure on case of Khashoggi as unsupportive as the investigation of this crime is still ongoing.
Reports of Special Rapporteurs
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
During her oral update to the 41st session of the Human Rights Council, Ms, Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar reminded the government about its duty and the responsibility of companies to ensure that environmental safeguards are adequate, implemented and complied with to protect people and noted that despite some positive steps taken by the Myanmar government, the situation continues to deteriorate in several areas. Furthermore, the High Commissioner added that “Muslims across the country continue to be subjected to harassment and intimidation led by ultra-nationalist groups” and that “freedom of expression continues to be stifled through draconian laws used to suppress criticism of the Tatmadaw.”
Madame Lee spoke about deeply disturbing reports of civilians, mostly ethnic Rakhine men, being disappeared, or detained and interrogated by the Tatmadaw on suspicion of association with the Arakan Army with some of them dying in the Tatmadaw’s custody. She has also pointed out that the tragedy in Rakhine State is ongoing, where less than two years ago horrific atrocities were inflicted on the Rohingya, and the civilian population is once again being subjected to grievous human rights violations by security forces.
The Special Rapporteur appealed to the international community that to not overlook the situation of over a million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar whose return from Bangladesh is impossible at this time as “the remaining Rohingya in Myanmar continue to be denied their rights and are persecuted by authorities.” Finally, she reiterated that accountability cannot be achieved in the domestic arena and expressed her disappointment that “nine months following the resolution establishing it, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar is still not functioning.”
Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention
On 2 July, Mr. Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic orally updated the Human Rights Council on the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic for over seven years. His statement started with reference to fragility of ceasefire in the demilitarized zone of northwest Syria and an upsurge in fighting, predominantly around southern Idlib, northern Hama, and western Aleppo governorates.
In addition to a number of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law as well as ignoring of universally recognized humanitarian principles by all parties, the Chair underlined the starvation of civilians and deaths of children in sieges; the disappearance of tens of thousands; the prolonged incommunicado detention of suspected ISIL fighters; the lack of humanitarian assistance to millions of displaced, leading to preventable deaths; and the stripping of nationalities and refusal to repatriate nationals without due process to prevent their return, or approving their transfer to countries where they may be subject to torture, ill-treatment, or the death penalty in violation of the principle of non-refoulement.
Mr. Pinheiro praised the initiative of the Kuwaiti presidency of the Security Council and its first ever resolution on missing persons in armed conflict – Resolution 2474 thus “lending its voice to the obligations that require all parties to the conflict to account for people reported missing and to provide family members with any information they may have on their fate”.
In response during time given to Syria as the country concerned, the Syrian delegate labelled the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry as monologue to distort image of Syria by group of interested states and abstained from commenting on contents as considered it repetitive. Furthermore, the delegate accused the UK and US in bombardments killing civilians and denounced those sponsoring terrorism.
On 10 July, Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights gave oral briefing to the Human Rights Council pursuant to Resolution A/HRC/RES/S-27/1 of 5 December 2017, which requested the High Commissioner to track progress concerning the human rights situation of the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. The Deputy High Commissioner noted that 730,000 Rohingya are confined to desperate humanitarian conditions in Bangladesh and those remaining in Rakhine state continue fleeing due to alleged systematic human rights violations committed against them by the security forces.
Furthermore, Ms Gilmore emphasized that the national investigations conducted by the Myanmar government are insufficient. Lastly, she noted memorandum on repatriation signed by UNHCR, UNDP and Burmese government was extended for another year despite inconducive conditions for return and called the government to establish credible process to recognition of Rohingya citizenship and to ensure enabling environment for their return.
Finally, the Deputy High Commissioner welcomed the full operationalization of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar mandated by the Council and the commencement by the Head of the Mechanism, Mr. Nicholas Koumjian, of his functions on 1 July 2019. In response, the Myanmar delegate reminded their objection to the Resolution A/HRC/RES/S-27/1, denounced accusations as distortion of truth, underlined that pressure exercised on his government should be avoided and encourage to focus on the soonest repatriation of Rohingya due to the upcoming monsoon season.
Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories
On 8 July, the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council continues with discussion under long-standing Item 7of agenda on human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories. The Palestinian and Syrian delegates took the floor as countries concerned and denounced widespread human rights violations and illegal occupation by Israel. The UN member states criticized Israeli “colonial settlement enterprise”, indiscriminate use of force against Palestinian civilians and called for two-state solution. The Council members also emphasized the boycott of Item 7 by Israel and blatant disrespect for international law by the Unites States in reference to relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
On 27 June, the annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women started with the panel on violence against women in the world of work. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet launched the discussion by emphasizing that “behaviours and practices which result in physical, psychological, sexual or economic harm to women and girls damage their health –physical and mental – and harm the likelihood that they will enter into, or remain in, the labour market” and that “failure to pursue career development leads many women and girls to be trapped in economic insecurity, unable to generate income or access social protections”.
Furthermore, the Prime Minister of Iceland, H.E. Katrin Jakobsdottir shared good practice of gender equality from her home-country as Iceland has ranked at the top of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for ten consecutive years. The inter-active dialogue on Item 3 continued with the Working Group on discrimination against women and the Working Group on business and human rights, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.
Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties contribution
Syria, Yemen and Libya: Failure to Protect innocent civilians
On 9 July, Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties in cooperation with the Institut International pour les Droits et le Développement organised a side event on “Syria, Yemen and Libya: Failure to Protect innocent civilians”. During this side-event, GCRL presented newly published report “Yemen: How dare you?”, which gives general overview of the situation in Yemen with detailed analysis of grave breaches of international law, makes an evaluation of the international response to the crises through United Nations and suggests recommendations.
Ms. Nour Hamada, President of Geneva Alliance for Human Rights and Development made a presentation on the case of Syria emphasizing the use of chemical weapons, targeting health infrastructures, children victims and humanitarian disaster in Idlib and making relevant recommendations. Furthermore, Mr. Abdeljalil Dahahri, Head of the associative program “Cry of the victims” gave a historical perspective of humanitarian law and the responsibility to protect civilians. Finally, Ms. Lamia Fadla, GCRL President spoke about human rights violation in Libya and called for the establishment of an independent international commission to investigate the smuggling and use of prohibited weapons in the Libyan conflict.
Death penalty under unfair trial
On the first day of the HRC session, Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties participated in the side event on death penalty in Saudi Arabia organized by the Institut International pour les Droits et le Développement. Ms. Gulnoz Saydaminova, Vice-President of the Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties made an overview of the international standards and Geneva-based human rights mechanisms on death penalty and made a presentation on the issue of executions following the unfair trials in Saudi Arabia.
The Director of Justice Foundation for Human Rights described cases of death penalty in Egypt executed without due process and fair trial guarantees. The Director of the Human Rights Monitor UK focused on women’s rights violations in Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Palestine including arbitrary detention, defamation, rape and sexual abuse, deportation and travel bans, unfair trials, life imprisonment and executions.
Emirates intervention in the Arab region
On 9 July, Ms Gulnoz Saydaminova, Vice-President of Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties (GCRL) made introductory intervention during side event on Human Rights in the Arab region organized by the Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health. Namely, Ms Saydaminova made an overview of the international standards and Geneva-based human rights mechanisms on freedom of opinion and expression, the current issues in regard to these freedoms in the United Arab Emirates and the GCRL activities respectively.
GCRL attended different side-events organised during the 41 session of the Human Rights Council. Namely, on religious intolerance organised by UN OHCHR and EU, side-event in commemoration of UN International day in support of victims of torture: fault lines between non-coercive investigation and psychological torture by UN OHCHR, human rights based and gender responsive migration policies by UN Women, panel discussion on the Right to Education in the Humanitarian Context by UNESCO, Migration and Human Rights Film screening and panel discussion, Gender disparity in UN and informal consultations on the draft resolution on the Syrian Arab Republic by the UK delegation.
On 3 July, Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties in oral joint statement with the International Institute for Rights and Development called for the establishment of an independent international commission to investigate the smuggling and use of prohibited weapons in the Libyan conflict. The statement presented by the GCRL President, Ms. Lamia Fadla, during the general debate under Item 4 which relates to human rights situations that require the attention of the Human Rights Council.
On 15 July, in a joint statement with the International Institute for Rights and Development, GCRL made an intervention under Item 9 of the agenda at the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council and called on Iran to end persecution and discrimination against Ahwazi minorities. The statement denounced the policy of discrimination and ethnic cleansing, and other systematic human rights violations committed by Iran against the Arab minorities in that country. Item 9 is devoted to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in the follow-up and implementation of the Durban GCRL Declaration and Program of Action.
Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties in cooperation with Institut International pour les Droits et le Développement submitted two written statements to the 41st session of the Human Rights Council. The first statement underlined the mass atrocities committed in Yemen and the role of UN member states in commission of international crimes as accomplice through sale of arms. The second statement described the situation in Syria as inexorable human tragedy and outlined the escalation of violence in 2019 and continued mass human rights violations.