Important Victories Marred by Increasing Threats to Global Rights Standards

In Arab Countries, United Nations Human Rights Councilby CIHRS

© OHCHR 1996-2012

© OHCHR 1996-2012

The last days of the 32nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (the Council), which concluded on July 1, witnessed the adoption of several important resolutions despite sustained attempts by repressive governments to undermine global human rights standards.

For the second Council session in a row, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights opened proceedings with an impassioned warning to UN member states that the global system of human rights and humanitarian law face unprecedented threats due to intensifying “clampdowns on public freedoms … crackdowns on civil society activists and human rights defenders,” the dismantling of judicial institutions and growing inequality.

China, Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia led a group of like-minded states in attempts to weaken or reject resolutions intended to uphold human rights online and to protect civil society freedoms, as well as a resolution to establish an international expert to investigate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These attacks largely failed to garner a majority of support by member states and the resolutions were adopted. Nonetheless, their attempts were successful in introducing several amendments to these resolutions that weaken their effect.

Throughout the session, many countries expressed growing alarm at widespread human rights violations in Egypt. Egypt responded by raising repeated objections and attempting to silence a joint statement by Egyptian civil society that called on the Egyptian government to end the ongoing crackdown on human rights organizations in the country.

A resolution on Syria was adopted during the session, which provided a stronger focus on the protection of the human rights of persons in detention.

During this Council session, CIHRS addressed a number of human rights issues in the MENA region, including the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), Syria, Yemen, Egypt, and other countries in the region.

During the 32nd HRC session, jointly with Palestinian partners, CIHRS submitted three written interventions on Israel’s policies of forcibly transferring Palestinians in the OPT and East Jerusalem. Addressing the same topic, and in cooperation with 7 organizations working on the human rights situation in Palestine,  CIHRS delivered an oral intervention tackling the policy of punitive residency revocations that Israel has escalated recently in occupied East Jerusalem. The statement called on states to condemn Israeli policies aiming at forcibly transferring Palestinians from Jerusalem, put pressure on Israel to end residency revocation practices immediately, and prosecute, before their own national courts, Israeli officials responsible for planning and executing forcible transfer. The organizations also called upon the newly appointed Special Rapporteur on the Situation in the OPT to report on the escalation of violations in occupied East Jerusalem. In the same regard, during a joint meeting with the new Special Rapporteur, CIHRS presented a joint letter requesting that he Special Rapporteur seriously address the consistent denial of access of Special Procedures and other HRC mechanisms to the OPT by Israel, the occupying power.

Moreover, in an oral intervention, CIHRS called upon the Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution that urges the relevant parties to release those arbitrarily detained in Syria, and to ensure safe, immediate and unconditional access to all prisons and other places of detention in the country. It further requested that the Council convene a high level panel discussion during its upcoming session that would feature Syrian voices from the ground and witness testimonies to the crimes being committed in Syria. CIHRS reiterated those recommendations in a joint letter sent to the permanent representatives of the Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as in a joint side event. The event further recommended that the Security Council refer the situation in Syria to the ICC and that third party states use their domestic jurisdiction based on the principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute those responsible for grave breaches of international law against detainees.

On Yemen, CIHRS called on UN member states to ensure that parties to the conflict end all violations committed against civilians in Yemen, respect and protect freedom of expression, and release detained human rights defenders and journalists. It further reiterated its call to the Human Rights Council to create an international inquiry into the conflict in Yemen in order to address ongoing impunity for grave violations committed by all parties to the conflict and stop the violence. This call was made through an oral intervention and a joint side event that took place during the Council’s session.

On Egypt, CIHRS delivered an oral intervention jointly with 10 Egyptian human rights organizations, seconding repeated calls made by UN experts in the last two months for the Egyptian authorities to cease curtailing public freedoms. It also called on Egypt to close case no. 173 – better known as the “foreign funding case “- and to drop all charges against rights defenders and organizations.

Finally, jointly with local and international partners, CIHRS co-sponsored two side events on Bahrain and Iraq. The event on Bahrain discussed and compared technical cooperation programs between Bahrain, the OHCHR and other states as well as the type of technical cooperation initiatives civil society wants to see from the international community. On Iraq, the side event stressed the need for a comprehensive post-war strategy addressing ongoing violations as well as security needs but also reconciliation, reparation and the re-establishment of the rule of law.

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