The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) held its 52nd session from 27 February to 4 April 2023. The UN Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Libya submitted its final report during the session, following the Council’s controversial decision to end its mandate - a decision that will likely encourage unremitting conflict and bloodshed in Libya, as it signals to militias and armed groups in the country that they will not be held accountable for the crimes they commit, warned human rights organizations in a joint statement. The organizations rebuked the Council for its disregard of the important findings of the FFM, and underscored the urgency of continuing to monitor human rights violations and crimes in Libya.
While continuing their campaign against impunity in Libya, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and partner human rights organizations advocated for the Human Rights Council to put sustained pressure on the governments of Egypt and Algeria to back up their claims of human rights progress with tangible reforms.
CIHRS and its partner organizations from local, regional and international human rights communities further addressed human rights issues in Syria, Yemen, and Palestine with the scope of their advocacy at the 52nd HRC thus extending to six Arab countries; including through eight oral interventions at the session and six events on its sidelines. The organizations commended the Council’s approval of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which stands in stark contrast to its failure to renew the FFM on Libya’s mandate.
The Human Rights Council’s lack of responsiveness towards large-scale atrocities perpetrated in Libya - as signified by its failure to renew the FFM’s mandate - -was denounced by CIHRS and its partners in a joint oral intervention on 1 April:
‘The indifference of this Council and the member states towards the crimes of rape, massacres, human trafficking, and other crimes perpetrated by state and non-state actors against Libyan nationals and migrants alike, is appalling.’
The collective condemnation of the HRC’s inaction on Libya was preceded by CIHRS’ reproach of the Council - in a 22 March oral intervention - for its silence on the ongoing human rights violations in the Middle East and North Africa region, especially in Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and Libya.
In parallel with the 52nd session, CIHRS co-organized a public side event on 6 March entitled ‘Avenues for Accountability in Libya’, which underscored the dire conditions of migrants and refugees and the burgeoning restrictions on local and international civil society operating in Libya. Later in the month on the 27th, CIHRS participated in a public side event that underscored the urgency of maintaining a UN international monitoring mechanism for Libya. The HRC was called on to form a new permanent and independent mechanism to monitor and report crimes in the country, in light of its failure to renew the mandate of the current UN monitoring mechanism in Libya, the FFM.
CIHRS along with other human rights organizations participating in the closing session, criticized the Council's failure to respond appropriately to the human rights situation in Algeria since, which has been deteriorating since the beginning of the Hirak movement. Civic space has become virtually closed while repression has intensified against activists and others in retaliation for their exercise of fundamental rights and freedom. Trials against human rights defenders are on the rise while the authorities increasingly deploy terrorism and national security legislation to prosecute people who exercise their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, and association.
CIHRS focused on the contradiction between the reforms alleged by the Egyptian government and the reality of the human rights crisis in Egypt, as confirmed by the mid-term Universal Periodic Review report submitted by Egyptian NGOs. While the government hailed the release of about 800 prisoners, 2,700 others were arrested on political charges. More people were sentenced to death by Egyptian courts in 2022 than in the previous year.
This is what was stated in the report of human rights organizations (Crisis by design), which was presented prior to the 52nd session, on the occasion of the half-term of the Universal Periodic Review of the Egyptian human rights file before the United Nations. The report confirmed the extent of the government’s retreat from the pledges it made during the review process. The authorities even blocked the CIHRS website that published this report.
On 16 March, CIHRS held the Side event ‘Egypt: An Economic and Human Rights Crisis’, which interrogated the human rights initiatives of the Egyptian government, such as the National Human Rights Strategy and the National Dialogue. These initiatives were considered by the speakers at the seminar as mere formalities intended to give the international community the impression that progress on human rights is taking place in Egypt.
The same issue was addressed by CIHRS oral intervention before the Council on 15 March,, which was delivered by the activist Sanaa Seif, in which she criticized the Member States’ retreat from pressuring the Egyptian authorities to improve the human rights situation in Egypt after the COP27 climate conference, and how these countries broke their promises in many human rights files, including the case of her brother, the detained Egyptian/British activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah.
This was also addressed in a joint oral intervention supported by CIHRS on 15 March before the Council. The signatory organizations supported the UN High Commissioner’s call on the Egyptian government to release political prisoners and lift restrictions on the public sphere.
At the session’s close, CIHRS and other human rights organizations from around the world expressed their regret at the Council's failure to respond to the crisis in Egypt and called for a UN resolution on Egypt’s human rights situation to be adopted the next session.
In their final oral intervention, CIHRS and other participant human rights organizations welcomed the mandate renewal of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, and called for sustained scrutiny and accountability for the gross human rights violations committed in the country. The intervention also welcomed the language contained in the resolution in support of establishing an international mechanism for missing persons in Syria, calling on UN member states to support such a mechanism in the General Assembly.
In a joint oral intervention delivered on 21 March, CIHRS and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression supported the efforts of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to continue monitoring and documenting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The organization affirmed the need to adhere to the recommendations of the Independent Investigation Commission to refer the Syrian file to the International Criminal Court, and to hold accountable all those involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Yemen and Palestine
On 6 March, CIHRS participated in a public side event parallel to the session, titled: ‘Charting a Path to Sustainable Peace in Yemen’ during which civil society representatives gave recommendations to the HRC, member states, and civil society towards achieving lasting peace amid the current humanitarian crisis in the country, potentially in tandem with UN mechanisms and local Yemeni leaders.
On 28 March, CIHRS participated in a public side event parallel to the session under the title ‘Denied Home, Denied Family: Palestinian Residency and Citizenship Rights Under Apartheid.’ The event discussed Israel's discriminatory laws and policies regarding residency and citizenship rights of the Palestinian people, and how these policies contribute to the fragmentation and isolation of Palestinians under Israel’s unlawful apartheid regime.
Further Developments at the 52nd HRC
It is also worth noting that the 52nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council witnessed the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Rapporteur on child trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights also presented her report on cultural rights and migration, which acknowledged that artists and intellectuals face serious challenges despite their influential role in the cultural and social integration of vast numbers of displaced persons and migrants worldwide.
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