51st session of the UN Human Rights Council
Saudi Arabia and allies obstruct accountability for war crimes in Yemen, Secretary General recommends mechanism to reveal the fate of missing persons in Syria
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) concluded its 51st session on 7 October 2022. A resolution on Yemen put forward by Saudi Arabia and Yemen failed to allow for reporting to the Council on the human rights situation in the country. Multiple proposals to ensure Yemen remained on the Council agenda were rejected by Saudi Arabia and its allies, underscoring the urgent need to ensure the establishment of an investigative mechanism for Yemen. The failure to adopt such a mechanism was denounced by twelve human rights organizations - as it not only undermines the Council's essential role, but it also signals to the warring parties that they can continue with impunity to perpetrate violence and war crimes.
During the 51st session, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) with Mwatana for Human Rights presented an oral statement before the Council, in which they reiterated the demand for an independent international investigation mechanism to monitor crimes committed in Yemen.
CIHRS organized a side event alongside the session, in cooperation with eleven regional and international human rights organizations, titled “Yemen: An Abandoned Nation; International Accountability Critical to Achieving Justice, Promoting Lasting Peace and Ending Humanitarian Crisis,” on 28 September. The participants agreed on the vital role that had been upheld by the Group of Eminent Experts (GEE) on Yemen. Following sustained pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two of the main warring parties in Yemen, the Council ended the GEE’s mandate last year. This has left a gap in the documentation and reporting to be submitted to the UN on Yemen, thus heightening the need for the creation of a new UN mechanism to fulfill this role.
The HRC pass several resolutions during the 51st session, including one on the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, journalists, and peaceful demonstrators that fully defines the responsibilities of states and their obligations. The HRC adopted another resolution on combating terrorism, which included clear recommendations on ensuring the rule of law and respecting human rights in the context of combating terrorism. It underscored state compliance with international human rights obligations when targeting, transferring and detaining suspects, including legal procedures that must be upheld: the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy and free expression, the rights of children, and the right of civil society to operate without being targeted unjustly by anti-terror legislation.
CIHRS criticized the silence of member states on the egregious violations and crimes committed by the Egyptian government, including torture and arbitrary detention, as Egypt prepares to host the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) on 27 November. Under the pretext of combatting terrorism, the government targets human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, and independent media professionals.
CIHRS further called on the international community, in a joint statement, to ensure the protection of human rights defenders in Egypt and Algeria from the ongoing reprisals against them in relation for their work and cooperation with the United Nations, including harassment, arbitrary detention, and travel bans.
In another statement, CIHRS condemned the international community's failure to protect Palestinian civil society organizations and their employees from the Israeli state’s sustained harassment and prosecution in retaliation for civil society’s work in exposing Israel’s crimes and violations under its apartheid system of governance. The offices of seven leading Palestinian organizations were raided and stormed, with employees labelled as terrorist and threatened with arrest, as a means of intimidating them and curtailing their human rights work.
During the session, the report of the United Nations Secretary-General on Syria recommended the formation of an international mechanism to reveal the whereabouts and fate of missing persons in Syria - in cooperation with existing mechanisms - to ensure that victims, survivors, and their families participate fully and have influence on its decisions. CIHRS and partner organizations welcomed the report’s recommendations. Meanwhile, the forcible return of displaced persons and refugees to Syria was condemned by CIHRS in a joint statement. The organizations stressed that conditions in Syria do not meet the requirements of safe voluntary return, as the country is currently undergoing its worst economic and humanitarian crisis since the beginning of the conflict. The statement also called on member states to reassess the impact of sanctions on humanitarian aid provided to the Syrian people.
It is worth noting that the 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council began at the Council's headquarters in Geneva on 12 September, and lasted for three consecutive weeks. During the session, CIHRS addressed human rights issues in five countries - Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine- whether through oral interventions before the Council or participating in activities on the side events of the session.
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