Human rights defenders at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council

September 20, 2022

The 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council has started well and good on 12 September and will last until 7 October. I am awfully delayed in extracting from the – as always excellent – guide – produced by the team of the ISHR – the issues most directly affecting human rights defenders. Apologies.

Readthe full Alert to the session online here and to stay up-to-date, follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC51 on Twitter. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/15/new-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-volker-turk-the-man-for-an-impossible-job/

Throughout the session ISHR is calling on States to #EndReprisals against human rights defenders and civil society groups who engage with the United Nations!

Some Thematic areas

Reprisals On 29 September, Ilze Brands Kehris, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights will present the Secretary-General’s annual report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (also known as ‘the Reprisals Report’) to the Council in her capacity as UN senior official on reprisals. The presentation of the report will be followed by a dedicated interactive dialogue, as mandated by the September 2017 resolution on reprisals. ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who engage or seek to engage with UN bodies mechanisms. The dedicated dialogue is a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals and demand that Governments provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. An increasing number of States have raised concerns in recent sessions about individual cases of reprisals, including in Egypt, Nicaragua, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Yemen, Burundi, China and Venezuela, Egypt, Burundi, Lao and China, Belarus, Iran, Turkmenistan, and the Philippines. During its 48th session, the Council adopted a resolution on reprisals. The text, which was adopted by consensus, invited the UN Secretary-General to submit an annual report on reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly. Once again, the resolution listed key trends including that acts of intimidation and reprisals can signal patterns, increasing self-censorship, and the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and ensuring accountability for all acts of intimidation or reprisal, both online and offline, by condemning all such acts publicly, providing access to effective remedies for victims, and preventing any recurrence.

Other thematic reports At this 51st session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates, including

Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence

Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences 

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.

Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes 

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including with the: Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Council will also consider various other reports, see the full list here.  

Country-specific developments
Afghanistan The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan and enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights situation of women and girls in Afghanistan on 12 September. While a Special Rapporteur mandate is necessary to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, the dire situation in the country and the atrocities affecting women and girls warrant a more robust and systematic response. ISHR together with other NGOs call on the Council to establish in parallel an ongoing accountability mechanism with the specific mandate: To investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights law amounting to crimes under international law in Afghanistan, in particular against women and girls, To collect, consolidate and analyse evidence of such violations and abuses, including their gender dimension, and to systematically record and preserve all information, documentation and evidence, including interviews, witness testimony and forensic material, consistent with international law standards, in view of any future legal proceedings; To document and verify relevant information and evidence, including through field engagement, and to cooperate with judicial and other entities, national and international, as appropriate; To identify, where possible, those individuals and entities responsible for all alleged violations and abuses of human rights law amounting to crimes under international law in Afghanistan, in particular against women and girls, with a view to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable.

China  Despite significant pressure, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) has published its human rights assessment on the Uyghur region (Xinjiang). The report highlights ‘serious human rights violations’, including torture and sexual and gender-based violence, stressing that existing ‘highly securitised and discriminatory’ re-education camps ‘provide fertile ground for such violations to take place on a broad scale.’ The OHCHR found that the ‘arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim group […] may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.’ It also warns that ‘conditions remain in place for serious violations to continue and recur’, calling for ‘urgent attention’ by the international community.  The Human Rights Council, and all governments that are genuinely committed to rights protection globally, cannot turn a blind eye to the severity and scale of evidence verified by the UN.  In line with ‘objective criteria’ for Human Rights Council action, ISHR calls on:  The Council to hold a formal discussion on China’s human rights crisis, including the human rights situations in the Uyghur region (Xinjiang), the Tibetan region, Hong Kong, and on human rights defenders;  States to initiate and support efforts to establish an independent international mechanism to monitor and report on the human rights situation in China, in line with the call by 50 UN Special Procedures experts. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/01/finally-the-long-awaited-un-report-on-china/

Burundi The Council will hold an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Burundi on 22 September.  Since the Special Rapporteur’s mandate was operationalised, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way. The limited improvements since President Évariste Ndayishimiye was sworn in, in June 2020, as well as the positive signals he sent, particularly with regard to freedom of the press and promises of justice, have not materialised into long-term reforms. All the structural issues the CoI and other human rights actors identified remain in place. These include arbitrary arrests of political opponents or those perceived as such, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, sexual and genderbased violence, undue restrictions to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and violations of economic, social and cultural rights that are intertwined with the economic underpinnings of the State. In the absence of structural improvements and as grave human rights violations and abuses continue to be committed with impunity, the Council should adopt a resolution that reflects realities on the ground and ensures continued monitoring, reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation. It should grant the Special Rapporteur the time he needs to fulfill his mandate and urge Burundi to cooperate with him, including by granting him access to the country. At its 51st session, the Council should adopt a resolution that extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Burundi for a further year.

Egypt The continued silence of the Council on the critical human rights situation in Egypt is of great concern. As Egypt prepares to host COP27, it continues to carry out widespread and systematic violations of human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association against Egyptian and foreign nationals.

Egyptian authorities have for years employed draconian laws, including laws on counterterrorism, cybercrimes, and civil society in order to subdue the civilian populations and stifle all forms of peaceful dissent and mobilization. Under the current government, Egypt has become among the worst three countries in the world in the numbers of jailed journalists and almost all independent media has been forced to shut down or threatened into silence. Hundreds of websites continue to be banned. Scores of civil society and media representatives have been and continue to be disappeared, tortured and/or arbitrarily detained under the pretense of counter-terrorism and national security.

While the release of a few select arbitrarily-detained activists is a sign that international pressure works, the number of releases pales in comparison to the vast numbers of individuals newly detained by the National Security Prosecution, or whose arbitrary detention has been renewed in 2022. Amongst those still in prison is well known Egyptian-British human rights defender Alaa Abdel Fattah – recently sentenced to an additional 5 years in prison by an exceptional court.  He is on hunger strike for over 150 days. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/07/07/mona-seifs-letter-a-cry-for-help-for-alaa/]We urge the Council and its Special Procedures to take action to protect and ensure the release of all those arbitrarily detained in Egypt.

Russia  Together with Russian and international human rights organisations, ISHR continues to call on the Human Rights Council to establish a dedicated international mechanism to monitor and report on the dire human rights situation in Russia. As recognised by UN human rights experts, this situation includes: the stigmatisation and criminalisation of independent civil society; the persecution of human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and political activists, including through arbitrary arrest, detention, ill-treatment and torture; the banning of independent media and the silencing of journalists; attacks against women and LGBTI persons and activists; the propagation of massive disinformation; and the systematic erosion of any semblance of the rule of law or accountability mechanisms.  As further recognised by independent UN experts, by undermining and attacking independent civil society, persecuting human rights defenders, activists, and opposition and dissenting voices, banning independent media, silencing journalists, and effectively outlawing any form of peaceful protest, the Russian authorities have created an environment that, at least in part, facilitates its war in Ukraine. The war has led to an enormous loss of civilian life, displacement of millions of Ukrainian civilians, and contributed to a global food security and energy crisis, among other developments. A dedicated Special Rapporteur mandate would independently collect, analyse and present information on the human rights situation in Russia and make recommendations to the Council and the authorities on how to address it. It would serve as a crucial lifeline between Russian human rights defenders and the international community at a time when other bridges have been cut. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/26/lev-ponomarev-human-rights-defender-leaves-russia/] Finally, a Special Rapporteur could speak up authoritatively against the deepening restrictions on human rights in Russia and on behalf of those facing intimidation, harassment and reprisal for their human rights work.

Israel and oPT ISHR joined over 150 organisations from all world regions demand that the international community condemns and takes action to protect seven Palestinian civil society organisations that have been subject to illegal threats, raids and closure by Israeli authorities.

On the morning of 18 August 2022, the Israeli occupying forces (IOF) raided and sealed the doorways into the offices of the seven Palestinian organisations: Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq Law in the Service of Man (Al-Haq), Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), Health Work Committees (HWC), the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC). We urge States to unequivocally condemn Israel’s targeting of Palestinian civil society and tactics to further repress of freedom of expression, and to take all necessary action to support and protect Palestinian human rights defenders and ensure the continuation of their invaluable work.

We call upon States to demand that Israel immediately revoke its designations of Palestinian human rights and civil society organisations as ‘terrorist organisations’, reverse the military orders designating the organisations and closing their offices, and repeal its Anti-Terrorism Law (2016) as it does not meet basic human rights standards. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/15/human-rights-defenders-targeted-by-israel-launch-new-joint-website/

Venezuela The HRC’s fact-finding mission on Venezuela will present its final report under its current mandate to the Human Rights Council on 26 September, followed by an interactive dialogue with States. All eyes are on Latin American states, in particular, to see whether or not they will present a resolution to renew the mission’s mandate.  While there have been significant human rights changes in Venezuela – including a reduction in extrajudicial executions between 2020 and 2021 – the human rights situation in the country remains grim, with clear retrogression in some cases. This is not the time for States to end the work of the Mission, a key accountability mechanism which during its work to date has produced evidence of likely crimes against humanity.  Not only is its work on past violations far from over, but it could play a key role in the prevention of further violations, particularly at times of instability such as is possible during upcoming Presidential elections.   ISHR has worked as part of a Coalition of Venezuelan, regional and international organisations calling for the continuation of the mandate of the Mission. These demands were recently made in a letter to States, signed by 125 other Venezuelan and international organisations. The continuation of the Mission should be a key part of foreign policy aims of states of the region, and ISHR hopes to see States step up on this front in the coming days and weeks.

Yemen ISHR joined NGOs in urging States to work toward the establishment of an independent international criminally focused investigative mechanism on Yemen in the coming period, including at HRC51. While a Yemen truce hangs in the balance, little to no progress has been made by parties to the conflict to  address ongoing and widespread violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law or remedy the harms they have inflicted on civilians throughout the conflict. The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains desperate, and, in recent weeks, armed clashes have once again increased. Civilians continue to fall victim to shelling, drone strikes and other attacks.These factors attest to the urgent and critical need to reinvigorate international accountability efforts on Yemen through the establishment of an independent international investigation. After its mandate ended in October 2021, members of the GEE called on the international community to take specific initiatives at the international level in pursuit of accountability.  Continued impunity will only increase the likelihood that more children will starve, more rights defenders and journalists will be imprisoned or executed, more homes and schools will be bombed, and the cycle of violence and suffering will continue. In this context, an international independent criminal accountability mechanism for Yemen can play a critical role to deter violence, protect civilians and promote a genuine and lasting peace.  In December 2021, nearly 90 civil society organisations called on member states of the UN to move quickly and establish such a mechanism in order to  investigate and publicly report on the most serious violations and abuses of international law committed in Yemen.

Other country situations These include: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan and Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the human rights situation of women and girls in Afghanistan Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Nicaragua Interactive Dialogue on the report of the OHCHR on Sri Lanka Interactive Dialogue on the report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, Interactive Dialogue with the SR on Myanmar, Interactive Dialogue on the OHCHR report on Myanmar, Acting High Commissioner oral update on the human rights situation in Myanmar Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia Interactive Dialogue on the oral update of OHCHR on technical assistance and capacity-building for South Sudan Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic  Interactive Dialogue on the interim oral update of the Acting High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Belarus  Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine and Interactive Dialogue on the Acting High Commissioner oral update on Ukraine Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner and experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and presentation of the Secretary-General’s report  Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic  Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia  Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the Philippines

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

States announced at least 29 proposed resolutions. Read here the reports presented this session. Appointment of mandate holders: The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for:  Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, member from Eastern European States; Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Read here the three year programme of work of the Council with supplementary information. Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2022.

Concerning side events, the Secretariat informed the Bureau that it had developed a way to organise the time slots for the three meeting rooms in order to allow for side events to take place in the Palais des Nations during the 51st session of the Council. The time slots for side events will be allocated according to availability and on a first-come, first-served basis. In order to accommodate as many requests as possible, only one side event per requesting organiser will be accommodated and each side event would be limited to one hour in duration. Organisers are requested to strictly respect the allotted time and to leave the room on time in order to ensure the smooth organisation of the following side event. NGOs will find additional information on the modalities and the criteria at the OHCHR NGO participation web page. The Secretariat underscored that these measures will be implemented during the 51st session on a pilot basis.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/20/report-on-the-50th-session-of-the-un-hrc/

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc51-key-issues-on-agenda-of-september-2022-session/

One Response to “Human rights defenders at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council”


  1. […] Human rights defenders at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council […]


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