The 43rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council resumed on 15 June; it had been suspended on 13 March 2020 due to restrictions on meetings and assemblies in Geneva in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the session's suspension, CIHRS’ advocacy focused on four countries: Palestine, Syria, Libya and Egypt.
Following the resumption of the session, CIHRS focused on advancing the recognition of Israeli apartheid over the Palestinian people, ensuring the annual updating of the UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements, and advocating for the adoption of the long overdue investigation mechanism on Libya. CIHRS also engaged in the urgent debate on racism and in civil society mobilization against China’s attempts to undermine human rights at the HRC.
Unprecedented Recognition of Israel’s Apartheid Regime
This session witnessed unprecedented recognition of the Israeli regime of apartheid imposed upon the Palestinian people. In the context of its ongoing campaign calling for the recognition of Israeli apartheid over the Palestinian people and the adoption of effective measures to overcome the apartheid regime, CIHRS delivered a joint statement on behalf of 114 Palestinian, regional, and international civil society organizations, sending a strong message to UN member states that now is the time to recognize Israel’s establishment and perpetuation of an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people as a whole.
Countries including South Africa, Namibia, and Pakistan echoed civil society calls and addressed Israeli apartheid during the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council. Forty-seven UN rights experts also warned that “The morning after annexation would be the crystallization of an already unjust reality: two peoples living in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with profoundly unequal rights. This is a vision of a 21st century apartheid.” A group of human rights organizations, including CIHRS, affirmed in a joint statement before the Council that "annexing these lands would entrench racial, ethnic and religious separation and give it a legal basis."
CIHRS also delivered a statement on behalf of 29 civil society organizations, warning that “Annexation should not be addressed in isolation from the wider context. Annexation of the Jordan Valley would further entrench the Israeli apartheid regime over the Palestinian people [...] As such, the only genuine response to annexation needs to start by addressing the root causes prolonging Palestinian oppression: dismantling Israeli apartheid.”
Ensuring the annual updating of the UN database of Businesses Involved with Israeli Settlements
On 16 June 2020, CIHRS welcomed the release of the initial report of the UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements, which was published ahead of the 43rd HRC session in February 2020, after years of delay linked to undue political pressure on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to suppress this important tool. CIHRS and civil society from across the world called on the OHCHR to ensure annual updates of the database, as the database represents a historic touchstone and important precedent in broader efforts to ensure corporate accountability.
During HRC 43, states from Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America welcomed the release of the database. States also called for the annual update of the database by the OHCHR as mandated in HRC resolution 31/36, including in two joint statements on behalf of OIC and the Arab Group, reflecting the position of 57 states. Ecuador, chairing the open-ended intergovernmental working group mandated with the elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights, also delivered a strong statement calling for the annual update of the UN database.
The four annual resolutions on Palestine were adopted at this session; they cover the following issues: accountability, Israeli settlements, the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people and the human rights situation in the OPT. The accountability resolution was discussed under agenda item 2 and moved for the second consecutive year from agenda item 7 by the sponsors of the resolution. Echoing arguments also made by Israel, some European states have called for the removal of item 7, an agenda item focusing on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories. Despite being moved to item 2, many European states failed to vote in favor of the accountability resolution. This failure is a symptom of the double standards demonstrated by European countries and others when it comes to ensuring accountability for violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the state of Israel at the Human Rights Council.
Creation of Long Overdue Investigation into War Crimes
On June 22, 2020 The UN Human Rights Council (the Council) adopted an important resolution to establish an investigation on Libya at the conclusion of its 43rd session. The resolution calls on the UN to “dispatch a fact finding mission” to investigate international crimes by “all parties in Libya” in order to “preserve evidence with a view to ensuring that perpetrators of violations or abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law are held accountable.”
Speaking before the Council, CIHRS highlighted that an escalation in fighting in Libya has led to a 113% increase in civilian deaths between the last quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, with reports of enforced disappearances, torture of detainees, use of child soldiers, summary executions, bombing of civilian homes, use of improvised explosive devices, and unlawful killings, including the recent discovery of eight mass graves in Tarhuna.
Black Lives Matter and Systematic Racism
Under the African Group’s leadership and following its request, the Human Rights Council held an urgent debate on 17 June 2020 on the “current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protest”. On June 18, during the urgent debate, CIHRS delivered two statements expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and calling for the Human Rights Council to investigate systemic racism and police brutality in the United States and around the world. The resolution adopted by the HRC by consensus failed to provide the mandate requested by hundreds of civil society organizations around the world, following undue political pressure by the US and its allies, which led to the adoption of a weaker resolution lacking a clear mandate to investigate the US violations. This has underlined the Council’s double standards and unwillingness to hold the US accountable. In the end of session a joint statement delivered by ISHR on behalf of CIHRS and seven other human rights organizations during the closing session of the Council, civil society organizations denounced the HRC's failure to advance an international investigation on the US: “It is a reflection of the deplorable behavior - a mix of bullying and cowardice - of certain UN member States who chose to prioritize short-term politics over human rights. In doing so, they are complicit in maintaining and perpetuating entrenched systems of racism and white supremacy.”
Combating China’s attempts to undermine the Human Rights Council
CIHRS supported partners in advocating against the resolution put forward by China entitled “Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights”, which aims at advancing a restrictive and negative understanding of human rights at the Council, according to a letter by a number of human rights organizations, including CIHRS to the Council. While the resolution was adopted by the Human Rights Council, following important civil society advocacy, it did not enjoy support and failed to obtain consensus as member states raised concerns and requested a vote, which resulted in sixteen member states voting against the resolution and eight states abstaining.
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