Highlights from the 50th Session of the Human Rights Council

Last week, the Human Rights Council concluded its 50th session, which lasted from June 13 to July 8, 2022. Throughout these 5 weeks, Right Livelihood raised multiple issues affecting numerous Laureates. Here are some general reflections on the session as well as a few highlights on Right Livelihood’s engagement: 

Overall, the session continued to see a decrease in the attention given to the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation in Ukraine remained high on the Agenda. During the first week, the High Commissioner updated the Council on the situation in Mariupol. On multiple occasions, States urged the Russian Federation to align with its international obligations and halt its military invasion of Ukraine.

The situation of Belarus was also discussed and its involvement in the Russian invasion of Ukraine was oftentimes stressed. On June 29, the Council held an interactive dialogue with Ms. Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Belarus, who deplored that the authorities continue to refuse to cooperate with her mandate. She stressed that civil society continues to be targeted with reprisals, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, in complete impunity. Belarus chose not to engage at all in the debate, while most speakers joined the Special Rapporteur in expressing alarm over the situation. Poland specifically urged the release of Ales Bialiatski, among others. On this occasion, Right Livelihood, jointly with Human Rights Center Viasna delivered a statement deploring the precarious detention conditions and ill-treatment of political prisoners, including all members of Viasna, and urging for their release. At the end of the session, the Council adopted a resolution renewing Ms Marin’s mandate for one year.

Afghanistan was also high on the agenda, with an urgent debate held on July 1st to address the situation of women and girls in the country. States almost unanimously called on the Taliban to honour Afghanistan’s international obligations and ensure the enjoyment of all human rights of women and girls. The Council then adopted a resolution condemning in the strongest terms all human rights violations and abuses. It also calls on the reinstatement of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and of the Ministry of Women’s affairs.

The High Commissioner also updated the Council on Nicaragua, expressing concern over the political crisis in the country, the wave of arbitrary arrests and the authorities’ continuing cancellation of NGOs legal status. She requested the Council to scale up their actions for the release of all those arbitrarily detained and for Nicaragua to promptly accept entry in the country by her office. During the debate, many speakers deplored the shrinking democratic space and called on Nicaragua to bring its laws in line with its human rights obligations and release all political prisoners. Right Livelihood delivered a statement drawing attention to the specific situation faced by indigenous peoples who are suffering a humanitarian crisis and are facing a risk of ethnocide. We urged the newly established Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua to ensure that particular attention is given to the abuses they face. During the debate, no delegation made references to this extremely worrying situation, which is regrettable, Right Livelihood will continue to press for scrutiny on this issue.

Other country situations of great relevance to Right Livelihood Laureates were mentioned by the High Commissioner when she presented her annual report and in the ensuing interactive dialogue. Ms. Bachelet deplored the threats to the rule of law in Guatemala. In Brazil, she was alarmed by the threats against environmental human rights defenders and indigenous peoples, including mercury contamination. She also addressed the domestic situation in the Russian Federation and the recent waves of arbitrary arrest. While we welcome the continued attention to these important country situations directly affecting various Laureates, we regret that Ms. Bachelet made no mention of the situation of Western Sahara, where Human Rights violations continue to take place on a daily basis. In addition, further scrutiny must be given to the domestic situation in the Russian Federation. We hope that the Council will take the necessary step to formally include it in its agenda and consider appointing a Special Rapporteur. Lastly, Ms. Bachelet also announced the end of her term in office. Her successor shall be appointed through a transparent and inclusive process.

In May 2022, we condemned the re-election of Ms. Consuelo Porras as attorney general of Guatemala. 24 independent justice operators had to flee the country as a result of her persecution, directed at those who attempted to uncover corruption cases. Right Livelihood, therefore, brought this concerning situation before the Council, during the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mr. Diego Garcia Sayan, whose annual report focused on the protection of lawyers from interference and attacks. During the debate, many countries shared the concerns expressed by Mr. Sayan. Peru, on behalf of 10 Latin American States was particularly alarmed at the growing trend of interference against justice operators fighting corruption and protecting human rights. Unfortunately, no State directly addressed the Guatemalan situation, however, we welcome that the United States shared concerns over Russian and Belarusian lawyers.

The June session of the Council is often considered to have a particular focus on gender issues and more recently, environmental ones. It in fact saw the very first interactive dialogue with Mr. Ian Fry, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, who presented the priorities of his mandate, which began on May 2022. Among others, he underlined that the needs of indigenous peoples will be a key area of his work. We look forward to engaging with him on issues relevant to the work of numerous Laureates.

In mid-June, Mozn Hassan, 2016 Right Livelihood Laureate came to Geneva and held meetings with UN representatives, civil society partners and multiple permanent missions to discuss the challenges and opportunities for feminist activism in the MENA region, which Ms. Hassan is now fostering through the Doria Feminst Fund. She also addressed the Council on the occasion of the Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls, during which she highlighted the difficulties faced by young women in accessing funding. She called on States, international financial institutions and private donors to provide financial and non-financial resources to grassroots organisations and movements while respecting their organisational autonomy, promoting civic space, and ensuring that an intersectional gendered approach is implemented in foreign aid and planning.

On June 20, Right Livelihood also organised a side-event, featuring Right Livelihood Laureates Mozn Hassan, Marthe Wandou and Petra Tötterman-Andorff, from Kvinna till Kvinna, as well as Adriana Quinones, director ad-interim of UN Women’s office in Geneva. The event sought to explore ways through which educational tools can be used to progress towards gender equality through the experience of the panellists.

Right Livelihood Laureate Kasha Nabagesera addressed issues related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) in Uganda, on the occasion of the adoption of Uganda’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR)  outcome. This concluded our engagement with Uganda’s UPR process, for which we had submitted a report on LGBTI+ rights and advocated directly with relevant States. During the review, 17 States had issued recommendations on the topic, all of which were noted by Uganda. In total, Uganda accepted 149 recommendations, and noted 144, out of a total of 293. That is just over 50%. It is regrettable that Uganda was not more welcoming and receptive to the recommendations put before its delegation.

At the end of the Session, the Council adopted 23 resolutions. The OHCHR noted that, despite the very tense geo-political situation, 75% of the texts were adopted by consensus, rather than by vote, which is a great improvement from last years’ average of 30%. Nevertheless, it is important to note a growing polarisation on some issues, including on Women’s Rights and issues related to SOGI. We welcome that during the session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity for a period of three years. The resolution also explicitly condemned legislation criminalising same-sex conduct and called on States to amend any discriminating legislation based on SOGI. Nevertheless, the resolution could only be approved by vote, after rejecting 12 amendments out of 13, which would have fundamentally weakened its text. It is worrying that all these amendments passed with an extremely slight majority of members.

In a similar fashion, the resolution on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls was approved after the rejection of 8 different amendments, some of which challenging the very notion of bodily autonomy, or sexual and reproductive health and rights. The text stresses the importance of young women and girls’ participation in public life, and renewed the mandate of the working group for a period of 3 years.

Lastly, the Council adopted by consensus a resolution on Human Rights and climate change, which decided, amongst others, to incorporate a panel discussion on the adverse impacts of climate change on human rights, in the annual programme of work of the Council. On the topic of independence of judges and lawyers, the Council also adopted by consensus a resolution on women’s participation in the administration of justice and a resolution anchoring freedom of expression in the digital age. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Peaceful Assembly was also renewed for another term. In conclusion, a new initiative, on the importance of Casualty Recording for the promotion and protection of human rights, was also adopted by consensus. The text reaffirms the importance of the right to truth and access to justice and stresses that casualty recording can contribute to better protection of civilians in armed conflicts.