In spite of or because of the US’ absence, the 39th Human Rights Council considered a relative success

September 29, 2018

Civil society organisations welcomed significant outcomes of the Human Rights Council’s 39th session, including the creation of independent investigative mechanism on Myanmar, the renewal of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen and the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, and a dedicated space on the Council’s agenda in 2019 to discuss the human rights situation in Venezuela. [see alsohttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/08/many-hrd-issues-at-the-39th-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/]

In a joint statement, several NGOs (ISHR The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), Amnesty International, Article 19, Center for Reproductive Rights. CIVICUS, DefendDefenders, FIDH, Forum Asia, Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists) welcomed the Council’s adoption of landmark resolutions on several country situations:

On Myanmar, the creation of the independent investigative mechanism is an important step towards accountability for the horrific crimes committed in Myanmar, as elaborated in the Fact Finding Mission’s report to this session. The overwhelming support for the resolution, notwithstanding China’s shameful blocking of consensus, was a clear message to victims and survivors that the international community stands with them in their fight for justice. 

On Yemen, the Council demonstrated that principled action is possible, and has sent a strong message to victims of human rights violations in Yemen that accountability is a priority for the international community, by voting in favor of renewing the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts to continue international investigations into violations committed by all parties to the conflict. 

Furthermore, the leadership by a group of States, including Latin American countries, on the landmark resolution on Venezuela, was as an important step for the Council applying objective criteria to address country situations that warrant its attention. The resolution, adopted with support from all regions, sends a strong message of support to the Venezuelan people. By opening up a space for dialogue at the Council, the resolution brings scrutiny to the tragic human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country.  

The renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi will enable it to continue its critical investigation and work towards accountability. However, the Council failed to respond more strongly to Burundi’s record of non-cooperation and attacks against the UN human rights system. [see alsohttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/26/enough-is-enough-ngos-call-for-burundi-suspension-from-un-human-rights-council/]

The Council also adopted a resolution on Syria, which among other things condemns all violations and abuses of international human rights law and all violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict.

However, on other country situations including China, Sudan, Cambodia and the Philippines, the Council failed to take appropriate action. 

On Sudan, the Council adopted a weak resolution that envisions an end to the Independent Expert’s mandate once an OHCHR office is set up; a “deal” Sudan has already indicated it does not feel bound by, and which is an abdication of the Council’s responsibility to human rights victims in Sudan while grave violations are ongoing. At a minimum, States should ensure the planned country office monitors and publicly reports on the human rights situation across Sudan, and that the High Commissioner is mandated to report to the Council on the Office’s findings.  

The Council failed to take action on the Philippines, in spite of the need to establish independent international and national investigations into extrajudicial killings in the government’s ‘war on drugs’, and to monitor and respond to the government’s moves toward authoritarianism. 

In addition, the Council continued with its weak response to the deepening human rights and the rule of law crisis in Cambodia, failing to change its approach even when faced with clear findings by the Special Rapporteur demonstrating that the exclusive focus on technical assistance and capacity building in the country, is failing.

Many States, NGOs and the High Commissioner, raised concerns about China’s human rights record, specifically noting serious violations of the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province. It is regrettable that States did not make a concrete and collective call for action by China to cease the internment of estimates ranging up to 1 million individuals from these communities. 

On thematic resolutions, the Council adopted by consensus a resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs, as well as a resolution on the safety of journalists. The latter sets out a clear roadmap of practical actions to end impunity for attacks.  

The Council also adopted by consensus a resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights in humanitarian settings. Women and girls affected by conflict have been denied accountability for too long. The implementation of this resolution will ensure that their rights, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights, are respected, protected and fulfilled. 

Finally, the Council’s first interactive dialogue on acts of reprisals and intimidation was an important step to ensure accountability for this shameful practice. More States need to have the courage and conviction to stand up for human rights defenders and call out countries that attack and intimidate them. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

Read the full statement here.

One Response to “In spite of or because of the US’ absence, the 39th Human Rights Council considered a relative success”


  1. […] the last session of the the Human Rights Council having been considered fruitful by civil society [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/29/in-spite-of-or-because-of-the-us-absence-the-39th-human…], the focus is now on New York. This week, the UN General Assembly’s principal human rights […]


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