What the next session of the Human Rights Council will do with Human Rights Defenders

June 9, 2016

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 32nd regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 13 June to 1 July 2016. The Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights published its preview called “Alert to the Human Rights Council’s 32nd session”. This special issue of the ISHR Monitor is worth reading in full, but for those with special interest in human rights defenders here are some of the highlights: 

Creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society ISHR-logo-colour-high

A substantive resolution will be presented by Ireland, Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone and Tunisia on the creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society. This resolution directly responds to a new report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to be tabled at the 32nd session of the Council. The Report spells out the essential ingredients to respect and protect civil society, and ‘optimise its transformative potential’ when it comes to human rights, peace, security and development. The report demonstrates that respect for civil society contributes to social cohesion, reduced inequality, accountable government, responsive public policy, a conducive environment for business and investment, and the empowerment of marginalised and disadvantaged groups. The report highlights that ‘Countries where civil society space is protected reap significant dividends.’

The report, to which ISHR contributed through a major joint submission with eleven national-level NGOs, identifies five ‘essential ingredients’ to ‘optimise civil society’s transformative potential’:

  • ‘a robust legal framework compliant with international standards that safeguards public freedoms and effective access to justice’;
  • ‘a political environment conducive to civil society work’, including accountability for attacks against human rights defenders and protection against reprisals;
  • ‘access to information’ from both public and private actors;
  • avenues for civil society participation in decision-making processes at the national and international levels; and
  • ‘long-term support and resources for civil society’.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

Following on from the 2014 resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, the Council will once again consider an initiative on addressing discrimination and violence on these grounds. As noted by the High Commissioner ‘current arrangements to protect the human rights of LGBT and intersex persons are inadequate’. Furthermore, ‘there is as yet no dedicated human rights mechanism at the international level that has a systematic and comprehensive approach to the human rights situation of LGBT and intersex persons’. 


Violence and discrimination against women

The June session includes a resolution run by Canada focusing on prevention and response to violence against indigenous women. This resolution aims to reinforce the work of other mechanisms of the Council. It also seeks to make concrete recommendations on how States and other stakeholders can identify gaps in protections of indigenous women, who are proportionately at much higher risk of being victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Women human rights defenders and other civil society actors have a crucial role in this regard but they face huge risks . The resolution will also renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

The mandate of the Working Group on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is scheduled for renewal at this session, through a resolution which is sponsored by Colombia and Mexico. The Working Group has become a critical tool for women human rights defenders globally in contributing to broader considerations of the ways in which discrimination on the basis of gender can lead to violations of a range of human rights. In June, the Working Group report focuses on the multiple and intersecting discrimination faced by women from a range of backgrounds, around the world, in seeking the full enjoyment of the right to health.  [see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/women-human-rights-defenders/]

Business and human rights

Access to remedy is one of the three pillars of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, but arguably has received less attention by the Council. The resolution on business and human rights to be presented by Norway, Argentina, Ghana and Russia aims to pick up on the content of the OHCHR report on its efforts to outline guidance for States to improve access to state-based remedy. In this context, the need to protect, engage with, and facilitate access to information for human rights defenders and affected communities should be clearly highlighted.

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association

It is critical at this time of increasing restrictions on civil society and NGOs, as well as growing limitations on the right to peaceful assembly in the name of ‘national security’, that the mandate for the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly be renewed. The resolution is also a chance to follow-up on key elements of Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai’s, work over the last five years related to the benefits of civil society in strengthening respect for human rights on the ground, including professional associations such as those in the legal, medical and business sectors.


Following the special session of the Council on Burundi in December 2015, and the enhanced interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Burundi in March 2016 there will be an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner during which he will present his report on the human rights situation in Burundi. ..As a member of the Human Rights Council, it is even more important that the Government of Burundi be urged to demonstrate good faith attempts to address human rights violations in the country! [see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/what-is-burundi-doing-in-the-un-human-rights-council/]

Other country situations

Several country reports will be presented to the Council, including the reports of the experts on human rights in Côte d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. The Council will conduct interactive dialogues with the experts on these countries, providing an opportunity for local human rights defenders to highlight violations that have occurred.

The Council will adopt the UPR reports of 14 countries. This will provide an opportunity for NigerSingaporeSierra Leone and Paraguay to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as recommended by ISHR’s briefing papers on these countries.

Organisational meeting

During the organisational meeting for the 32nd session, the President again stressed that delegations and organisations should contribute to a constructive working atmosphere. He highlighted that it is in ‘the common interest of all those engaging in this Council session that a climate free from intimidation or reprisals be maintained’.


For the full text of the Alert see: https://www.ishr.ch/news/alert-human-rights-councils-32nd-session#safe


Source: Alert to the Human Rights Council’s 32nd session

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: