On Monday, February 27, 2012, the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) was inaugurated at the council’s headquarters in Geneva; the session is slated to close on March 23, 2012.
This session comes as some nations, such as Tunisia and Libya, have taken their first steps toward democratization, while others in the region—notably Syria and Bahrain—have stumbled as a result of the might of authoritarian regimes or, like Egypt and Yemen, because of the failures of those overseeing the transition to democracy.
Non-governmental organizations play an important role in the HRC, highlighting the human rights situation in various countries and confronting governments with their violations of these rights. Thus, the Council permits NGOs to discuss the situation through a system of interventions, both written and oral. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) enjoys consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC permitting it to submit and engage in interventions to the HRC.
In cooperation with several other Arab organizations, CIHRS is submitting nine written interventions that look at the rights situation in Egypt, Palestine and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and Algeria, as well as three interventions on human rights defenders in Egypt, internet freedom in the Arab world, and torture in Egypt, Syria, and Bahrain.
During this session, CIHRS is taking part, through oral interventions, in several interactive dialogues during the session with the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and human rights defenders, as well as the High Commissioner for Human Rights. CIHRS is also participating in a dialogue with the fact-finding committees for Libya and Syria. This is in addition to several other oral interventions that CIHRS intends to present during the session dealing with the human rights situation in Egypt, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. The Human Rights Council will also conduct the Universal Periodic Review for both Libya and Syria during this session.
Despite the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in some Arab states such as Egypt and Bahrain, the HRC did not set aside separate sessions for these countries on the agenda. CIHRS has attempted to overcome this by forcing a look at these countries in its written and oral interventions on Egypt and Bahrain in sessions devoted to torture, internet freedoms, and human rights defenders.
Several seminars and side events will be held on the sidelines of the session, many of them organized by CIHRS jointly with other organizations. The first side event which CIHRS plans to organize jointly with other international organizations is set to meet on March 2 discussing the topic of internet freedom in the Arab world. Other side events include one on the human rights situation in Egypt, scheduled for March 8, and another on the situation in Syria, to be held on March 14, the latter part of several activities organized by CIHRS in Egypt and other Arab countries to support the Syrian revolution, whose first anniversary will be marked on March 15, 2012. CIHRS is also organizing a meeting with the special rapporteur on human rights defenders to discuss the status of such defenders in the Arab world.
With 47 member-states, the Human Rights Council is the primary UN body concerned with human rights issues. It holds three sessions annually to discuss human rights in various countries. The council began operations in 2006, holding its first session on June 19, 2006.
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