UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferr

HRC47 : CIHRS and partners advocate for victims’ rights in the Middle East and North Africa

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program, United Nations Human Rights Council, International Advocacy Program, Arab Countries, United Nations Human Rights Council by CIHRS

During the 47th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council held from 21 June to 15 July 2021, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and its partners addressed four written statements and twelve oral interventions before the Council (HRC) in regards to the deteriorating human rights situations in five countries in the Middle East and North Africa region: Syria, Algeria, Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt. In parallel to the session, CIHRS organized three online side events on human rights issues in Algeria, Syria, and Egypt.

The session featured the unanimous adoption – led by the African Group - of a historic resolution mandating an independent UN mechanism to address systemic racism and promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. CIHRS joined a joint human rights statement welcoming the resolution’s adoption, considering it to be a testimony to the courage and commitment of victims of racism and police brutality, together with their families, representatives, and allies in the struggle against racism worldwide. The resolution came on the heels of a critical  dialogue on human rights abuses resulting from racism both structural and individual, including police brutality and violence against peaceful protest. CIHRS had engaged civil society from around the world during this dialogue, calling upon the Council to investigate systemic racism and police brutality in the United States and globally.

Alongside racism and police brutality, the 47th HRC addressed the urgent issue of climate change and its relation to human rights violations. CIHRS joined over 450 human rights, civil society, and indigenous rights organizations and allied individuals, including a number of academics, from around the world in an open letter that urged UN member states to establish a mandate for a new UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change.

China’s dire human rights situation was another focus of the 47th HRC, with CIHRS joining civil society from around the world in a joint statement delivered by International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) before the Council, requesting that the High Commissioner “urgently strengthen remote monitoring and initiate public reporting on the human rights situation across China, focusing especially on Uyghur and Tibetan regions and Hong Kong” as a means to counteract the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity against its Muslim population.

UN member states were also called upon to support the work of independent civil society amid an increasingly repressive climate where states worldwide are crippling civil society by severely restricting its access to resources and funding through legislation and practices that violate international human rights standards.  A global coalition of NGOs including CIHRS called on member states to create guidelines on the freedom of civil society to solicit, receive, and utilize resources.  The resolution on civil society space adopted at the 47th  HRC recognized restrictions on access to resources as a primary challenge facing civil society around the world that must be addressed by the High Commissioner.

The 47th session also witnessed the Council’s adoption, on 13 July, of resolution A/HRC/47/L.6 on Syria with twenty-six states voting in favor, six against, and fifteen abstentions. In line with the demands of civil society, the resolution highlighted the findings of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria related to the missing and disappeared and called on member states and the international community to join the coordinated efforts of Syrian civil society in proactively addressing the issue of missing persons in the country, including those forcibly disappeared. The resolution also underscored  “the importance of the full and meaningful participation of victims, survivors and their families in such efforts.”


HRC must confront systematic attacks against human rights defenders, including government abuse of counterterrorism to silence opposition

CIHRS organized an event featuring Egyptian human rights defenders and UN experts.  Speakers at the event included Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism;  Brian Dooley, Senior Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;  Said Benarbia, Director of the International Commission of Jurists’ Middle East and North Africa Programme,  and Céline Lebrun Shaath,   prominent human rights defender and wife of arbitrarily imprisoned Palestinian- Egyptian human rights defender Ramy Shaath.  The discussion was moderated by CIHRS Director Bahey eldin Hassan.

The interactive webinar entitled “Weaponizing Counter Terrorism Laws to Silence Human Rights Defenders,” highlighted the abusive use of counterterrorism laws in Egypt to target human rights defenders, including the widening practice of placing lawyers and human rights defenders on the “terrorist list.” Participants presented a set of recommendations to the Human Rights Council to improve this situation.  The event occurred in conjunction with protests and other events organized around the world calling for the release of Ramy Shaath on his birthday and for an end to the repression of human rights defenders in Egypt.

Earlier this year, at the previous session of the Council on 12 March 2021, 31 UN member states delivered a joint declaration condemning the human rights situation in Egypt, including the use of counterterrorism laws to punish peaceful critics.

Also during the session, in an interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression,  CIHRS in cooperation with Ramy Shaath's Freedom Campaign produced an oral statement that was delivered to the Council by Céline Lebrun Shaath on the arbitrary arrest and detention of her husband and the criminalization of free speech and human rights work in Egypt.   Lebrun Shaath called on the UN to “hold Egypt accountable and ensure the release of Ramy and the thousands like him.”


Steadfast civil society mobilization to ensure annual update of database on companies operating in Israeli settlements, and increasing international recognition of Israel’s crime of apartheid against Palestinians

During the 47th session of the HRC, CIHRS was among 65 civil society organizations from around the world calling on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide information on forthcoming measures to address the budgetary challenges facing the mandate stipulated in resolution 31/36 to annually update the UN database on companies operating in illegal Israeli settlements. Adequate resources must be allocated so that the mandate can be fully implemented on an annual basis, a position affirmed by Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, in his report submitted during the session. UN member states emphasized the urgency of the annual update, including through two joint statements of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab Group. UN member states’ support for the annual database update was the culmination of sustained and dedicated advocacy efforts spearheaded by Palestinian civil society and allied organizations and partners.

Ahead of the 47th HRC, CIHRS and partners submitted a statement calling on member states to ensure the annual update of the UN database. The database establishes a tangible mechanism strengthening the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Under the interactive dialogue, CIHRS joined over thirty organizations in a statement emphasizing that the voluntary nature of UNGPs has proven insufficient in generating a systemic change despite their standard setting role. The organizations called for “a more concrete and ambitious road-map that places access to justice and a set of solid international binding norms as key steps towards accountability and redress.”

The 47th session of the HRC featured an unprecedented and expanding international consensus on the need to address Israel’s crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people. Special Rapporteur Lynk concluded in his report that “Israeli settlements are the engine of this forever occupation, and amount to a war crime,” emphasizing that settler colonialism infringes on “the right of the indigenous population [...] to be free from racial and ethnic discrimination and apartheid." He stressed that the “alien occupation is metastasizing into annexation and even apartheid, as well as into a one-state reality of vastly unequal rights.”

Over half a dozen member states spoke on behalf of the expanding international acknowledgment of Israel’s apartheid during the interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur, including Pakistan speaking on behalf of the OIC. It stated that Israeli demolitions are “manifestations of Israel’s illegal demographic and geographic engineering, which has always been a central pillar of its colonization, apartheid, and annexation policies.”

Speaking before the HRC, CIHRS and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) addressed the latest Israeli attack on Gaza,  which cannot be separated from the forced displacement of Palestinian families in Jerusalem or settlement building in the West Bank - all aiming to sustain Israel’s “institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression, which amounts to apartheid.”

During the interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, in a joint statement by Al Mezan, civil society organizations including CIHRS, called on the UN to recognize and address the root causes of Israel's violations of the right to health of Palestinians, including settler-colonialism and apartheid. During the interactive dialogue with the SR on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression, CIHRS joined a joint statement by Miftah calling on the special rapporteur to address practices and policies intended to harass, intimidate, and silence human rights groups and defenders, in the context of Israel’s apartheid regime. CIHRS further joined joint statements by Al-Haq and Miftah that called on UN member states to support accountability mechanisms, including the ICC investigation into the situation in Palestine, the newly established Commission of Inquiry, and the annual update of the UN database on companies operating in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.

Nada Awad, International Advocacy Officer at CIHRS, participated in a side event organized by the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) entitled “Rights at Risk: Time for Action” on 13 July 2021. The webinar focused on anti-rights actors at the United Nations. Awad addressed Israel’s narrative at the HRC, which promotes itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” In reality, Israel has systematically oppressed the Palestinian people for 73 years and imposed a regime of racial domination and oppression constituting the crime against humanity of apartheid.


Inadequate HRC response to escalating government crackdown on pro-democracy movement

Ahead of  the 47th HRC, 82 civil society organizations including CIHRS addressed a joint letter to UN member states on the urgency of taking action at the Council to protect Algeria’s pro-democracy movement amid a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation, with the Algerian government closing civic space and intensifying its attacks on freedom of assembly, notably through the increasingly pervasive use of arbitrary detention against peaceful citizens for exercising their fundamental rights to assembly and speech.

On 18 June, CIHRS and partners organized a side event “Democracy Denied: The relentless criminalization of fundamental freedoms warrants an urgent response” underscoring the  importance of an international response to the Algerian government’s alarming crackdown on pro-democracy forces. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Clément Voule, called on the Algerian government to release protesters arbitrarily arrested for exercising their right to peaceful assembly and to allow him to conduct a field visit to assess the human rights situation on the ground and make recommendations towards ensuring that the right to free assembly is upheld.

In the interactive dialogue with his mandate, Special Rapporteur Voule confirmed that he will organize such a visit, in response to Algeria’s statement during the dialogue asserting its readiness for a visit by the mandate. In the same interactive dialogue, the United States, called on Algeria among other countries to  “strengthen protections of [freedom of assembly and association].” During the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner, Belgium called on Algeria to guarantee the rights to peaceful assembly and expression, including in the context of elections, as well as to conduct impartial and independent inquiries into alleged human rights violations. During the interactive dialogue with Irene Khan, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the United States exemplified  the use of legislation to “suppress independent voices” by referring to Algeria, where “the government blocked independent news websites.”

Despite numerous indicators of Algeria’s direly deteriorating rights situation, the Human Rights Council has failed to adequately address the country’s crisis during the 47th session. Measures are expected to be forthcoming that address the gravity of the situation, including the Algerian government’s disregard of at least seven communications from 30 March to 8 April 2021 from multiple special procedures, including in relation to arbitrary and violent arrests, unfair trials, and reprisals against human rights defenders and peaceful activists.


Urgency of taking action on arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance recognized by Human Rights Council

The 47th session of the Human Rights Council witnessed unprecedented support and mobilization by UN member states for the formation of an international mechanism to reveal the fate and whereabouts of the forcibly disappeared or arbitrarily detained in Syria. This occurred the wake of the momentum created by the organizations of victims and survivors of human rights crimes and violations in Syria and their families, as part of a participatory human rights campaign aimed at pushing the Council to take serious measures in this regard.

CIHRS and partners organized a side event on 30 June  entitled “Humans not Numbers: The Case for an International Mechanism to Address the Detainees and Disappeared Crisis in Syria.” Held in collaboration with the Charter for Truth and Justice, a coalition of victim-based organizations, and the International Service for Human Rights, the event featured a discussion on the need for an international mechanism centralizing efforts to locate the detained and disappeared and bring answers to thousands of Syrian families.

In a joint statement delivered during the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria, Lamis Alkhateeb, an activist with Families for Freedom, urged UN member states to implement the CoI’s recommendation to establish an independent mechanism consolidating claims regarding missing persons.

Many countries have joined the call for this international mechanism on the detained and disappeared in Syria, including the Netherlands, Croatia, Afghanistan, Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom. Ireland commended the leading role of Syrian organizations in confronting the crisis of the disappeared while reaffirming its support for an international mechanism that is independent and impartial.


Jointly with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, CIHRS delivered a statement on Lebanon's restrictive practices towards rights of Palestinian refugees; the statement was delivered during the adoption of Lebanon’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 8 July 2021. Although Palestinian refugees have resided in Lebanon for 73 years, Lebanese law does not clearly define their legal personality, gravely undermining their fundamental rights. The organizations addressed the disproportionate impacts of Lebanon’s discriminatory legislation, the economic crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic on Palestinian refugees; and called on Lebanon to address systemic discrimination against Palestinian refugees by amending the law to guarantee the full and equal enjoyment of human rights, including by establishing a clear definition of legal personality for Palestinian refugees. CIHRS joined the Palestinian Human Rights Organization (PHRO) and partners in a submission on the human rights situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, including Palestinian refugees coming from Syria.

Lebanon did not accept essential recommendations including by Sweden to “facilitate access to employment for Palestinians by removing discriminatory restrictions in all professional fields and amend legislation limiting Palestinian refugees from owning property” or by France to “promote access to means of subsistence and improve the living conditions of Syrian and Palestinian refugees.”

CIHRS supported a joint civil society letter issued on the 15 June 2021 calling on member and observer states of the UNHRC to establish a yearlong independent and impartial fact-finding mission into the Beirut port explosion of 4 August 2020.    Given the inadequacy of the investigations of the Lebanese authorities to date, the signatories called on the Council to initiate an international investigation ensuring redress and compensation for victims while those complicit are held accountable for a preventable catastrophe that left 217 dead, 7000 injured, and approximately 300,000 homeless or displaced.

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