Guide to Human Rights Defenders issues at the 41st Human Rights Council starting on 24 June

June 14, 2019

Thanks to the – as always very complete and timely – “Alert to the Human Rights Council’s 41st session” (from 24 June to 12 July 2019) issued by the International Service for Human Rights. I am able to give a short guide to the main items that relate to human rights defenders. To Read the full Alert to the session online click here and stay up-to-date with @ISHRglobal and #HRC41 on Twitter.

Thematic areas of interest:

Sexual orientation and gender identity: The interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) will be held on Monday 24 June at 11:00. The Council will consider the new thematic report of the mandate holder as well as the report of the country visits he made to Georgia and Mozambique. The Council will also consider the renewal of the mandate.

Business and human rights: The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with and consider several reports of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises on 26 June. The Working Group will present a report on the gender dimensions of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the reports of country visits to Thailand and Kenya. The Working Group’s report on the gender dimensions of the Guiding Principles integrates clear recognition that women human rights defenders play a vital role in challenging business-related human rights abuses as well as in promoting and protecting human rights in relation to business activity, including the right to an effective remedy. As a result of this work, women human rights defenders often face gender-specific risks including sexual violence, misogynist public shaming and online harassment. Among its recommendations, the Working Group calls on business enterprises to ensure the meaningful participation of women’s organisations, women human rights defenders and gender experts in all stages of human rights due diligence.

Women human rights defenders and women’s rights: The annual full day discussion on the human rights of women will take place on 27 and  28 June. The discussions will focus this year on violence against women in the world of work, the rights of older women and their economic empowerment. A panel focused on women’s rights and climate change will also be organised, focusing on climate action, best practices and lessons learned. States should place due consideration on the role of women human rights defenders and social movements in this regard, in line with the Human Rights Council resolution focused on environmental human rights defenders adopted in March 2019…
The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice which focuses on women deprived of liberty (including women human rights defenders in detention, facing travel bans, among other situations), and will consider their reports including a report on the country visits to Honduras and Poland. The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on 27 June and will consider her report including the report of her visits to Canada and Nepal.

Reprisals:  In spite of a number of measures, reprisals not only continue, but grow. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, including specific cases, and for relevant governments to provide updates on cases to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. During the organisational meeting held on 7 June, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals. In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/13/ishr-on-reprisals-un-and-states-must-do-more-to-address-reprisals/]

Other key thematic reports: The Council will hold dedicated debates and consider reports of several mandates relating to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and the role of human rights defenders in that work area, in some instances involving the renewal of the mandate:

  • The Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers and on the right to health (including country visits report to Canada and Kyrgyzstan) on 24 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (mandate renewal, reports include country visits to Tunisia and Armenia) on 25 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and right to education on 26 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression (including thematic report on surveillance companies and country visit report to Ecuador) on 25 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (including country visits reports to the UK and Laos) on 28 June

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on rights of specific groups including with:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (and country visit report to Niger) on 24 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons on 28 June (mandate renewal)
  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons (and country visit to Nigeria) on 27 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members on 24 June

Country-specific developments:

China: For more than a year, the international community has had access to credible reports and first-hand testimony of the harassment, surveillance, and mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. Despite the consistent work of the UN human rights mechanisms to review China, ask questions, and make recommendations, there has been no serious or effective response. The Council should take urgent action to seek access, monitoring and reporting of the situation to inform future actions. ..ISHR urges States to act collectively to advance a resolution calling for China to allow access to the region to independent human rights experts and to end country-wide the arbitrary detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs or political opinions.

Sudan: In response to the gross and systematic human rights violations occurring in Sudan, ISHR andother NGOs have urged Council Member States to urgently hold a Special Session on the human rights situation in Sudan. The Council should urgently establish an international fact-finding mission to document violations, identify perpetrators and push for accountability, in line with calls made by a group of Special Procedures including the Independent Expert on Sudan. Since 3 June, Rapid Security Forces, riot police and national security officers violently dispersed peaceful protesters in Khartoum as well as in different cities across Sudan. The MENA Women Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition reported that at least 113 people have died including women human rights defenders. Civil society documented cases of rape, attacks on hospitals, with hundreds injured and missing.  The Transitional Military Council is enforcing a ban on communication causing an internet black out. The High Commissioner has deplored the killings and proposed ‘the rapid deployment of a UN human rights monitoring team’ to Sudan.

Saudi Arabia: The June session provides an important opportunity for the Council to follow up on the joint statement delivered on behalf of 36 States [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/] .. Seven women’s rights activists have been provisionally released, but they are still facing trial, and other women human rights defenders are still in detention, with the human rights situation on the ground deteriorating markedly on other fronts, including through increased use of the death penalty and the authorities’ continuing crackdown on freedom of expression.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/28/3-saudi-women-human-rights-defenders-released-but-for-how-long-and-what-about-the-others/]
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions will present her findings of the investigation into the killing of Khashoggi. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/26/other-members-of-the-uns-khashoggi-investigation-team-named/%5D…..ISHR calls on States to advance a Human Rights Council resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country and calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders including the detained women human rights defenders and to drop all charges against them, including those provisionally released. ISHR considers the March joint statement as a first step towards more sustained and dedicated review by the Council in its efforts to hold its members accountable.

The Philippines: The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders. Several NGOs callied on the Council to advance accountability for human rights violations by adopting a resolution establishing an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings and this call was strongly endorsed by a group of independent UN experts who condemned a ‘sharp deterioration in the situation of human rights across the country, including sustained attacks on people and institutions defending human rights.’ [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/07/philippines-labour-rights-defender-dennis-sequena-shot-dead-while-meeting-with-workers/]

Egypt: Despite the Egyptian government’s assurances to the African Commission civil society faced restrictions, reprisals and intimidation for engaging or seeking to engage with the Commission. These restrictions and reprisals happened in a context where the Government of Egypt crushes dissent, discourages public participation in public affairs and punishes people who dare to claim basic human rights. Individuals and communities who engaged with the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing during her visit in September 2018 faced systematic reprisals. All other scheduled visits by the Special Procedures have been postponed as a result. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/07/egypt-denounced-for-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders-who-talked-to-visiting-un-delegation/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/12/reprisal-against-egyptian-human-rights-defender-mohamed-soltan/]. ISHR calls on States to condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisals for civil society engaging with the African Commission and with the Special Procedures, and recall Egypt’s obligations to prevent acts of intimidation and reprisals, investigate the allegations and provide victims with effective remedy.

Burundi: The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present its oral briefing on 2 July. The closing of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is regrettable and worrying. In addition, ISHR remains seriously concerned over the breaches to due process observed in all of human rights defender Germain Rukuki’s legal proceedings since his arrest without warrant on 13 July 2017. [See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/]. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here.

Other country situations: The High Commissioner will present her oral update to the Council on 24 June. The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus (mandate renewal) on 1 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea (mandate renewal) on 2 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar on 2 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue with the government of Sudan and OHCHR on 9 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and interactive dialogue with the team of experts on the situation in the Kasai region on 9 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation in Ukraine on 10 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic on 10 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Venezuela on 10 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar on 10 July
  • First oral update and enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Nicaragua on 11 July
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on cooperation with Georgia on 11 July

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports: During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Viet Nam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, North Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia, Eritrea, Cyprus, Dominican Republic and Cambodia.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 41st session: At the organisational meeting resolutions were announced (States sponsoring the resolution in brackets); it is possible that more resolutions could be presented at this session. These include:

  • The human rights situation in Belarus (European Union)
  • Human rights of internally displaced persons (Austria, Honduras, Uganda)
  • Human rights and climate change (Bangladesh, Philippines, Viet Nam)
  • Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay).
  • Elimination of discrimination against women and girls (Colombia, Mexico)
  • Rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico)
  • New and emerging and digital technologies and human rights (Republic of Korea, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Morocco, Singapore)
  • Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women(Canada)
  • The human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

There wil be again many side events at the Council, on which I will report separately.

Read here the three year programme of work of the Council with supplementary information.
Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2019.

5 Responses to “Guide to Human Rights Defenders issues at the 41st Human Rights Council starting on 24 June”


  1. […] Guide to Human Rights Defenders issues at the 41st Human Rights Council starting on 24 June […]


  2. […] session of the UN Human Rights Council is to start soon. In addition to items of the agenda [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/14/guide-to-human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-41st-huma…%5D there are – as usual – many side events in Geneva, both by States and NGOs, that […]


  3. […] On 24 June, 2019, the 41st session of the Human Rights Council started with an opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. I refer to the guide to human rights defenders issues published earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/14/guide-to-human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-41st-huma… […]


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