Throughout the course of over a month, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) took part in the 49th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC), convened from 28 February to 1 April 2022. In concert with partner Arab, regional, and international rights organizations, CIHRS drew attention to human rights conditions in six states of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; Palestine, Libya, Algeria, Syria, Egypt, and Yemen. Eighteen oral interventions and three written interventions were presented by CIHRS and partners during the session, while CIHRS organized and participated in seven webinars on the sidelines of the session, addressing human rights issues in the six countries.
Amid discussions concerning Russia’s war on Ukraine, CIHRS joined about seventy international rights organizations in a joint appeal to the HRC, which called on European Union (EU) states to comply with their obligation to respect human rights without discrimination. The appeal was published following reports of growing violence and mistreatment of refugees and migrants with African and Middle Eastern origins at European borders, including the refusal of border agents to issue entry visas to non-white persons fleeing violence, poverty, and dire circumstances in their home countries.
On the centennial anniversary of International Women’s Day, 8 March, CIHRS joined ten rights organizations in a joint statement on the struggle of the feminist movement to protect women’s rights in patriarchal, authoritarian societies and under conditions of conflict, pandemic, and poverty.
The 49th session also saw the Human Rights Council ratify three significant resolutions on Palestine and Syria. One resolution focused on the importance of accountability and justice, calling on Israel to revoke its baseless designation of Palestinian human rights and humanitarian organizations as terrorist organizations and to refrain from using counterterrorism laws to undermine civil society and its valuable work in bringing accountability. Another resolution renewed the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission on Syria while urging all member states, relevant UN bodies, international organizations, and civil society to coordinate and bolster their efforts on the issue of missing persons in Syria by including victims, survivors, and their families in existing mechanisms.
Condemnation of Israel’s crime of apartheid against Palestinians
During the 49th session of the Human Rights Council, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies focused on Israel’s perpetration of the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people. CIHRS continued a campaign it launched two years ago in cooperation with a coalition of international and Palestinian organizations while calling for an awareness campaign in parallel to the session. During the session, CIHRS cast light on policies and practices of Israel that constitute the crime of apartheid against Palestinians. Among these are policies dividing and fragmenting the Palestinian people, the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, and growing settler violence. In the same context, CIHRS organized a high-level panel discussion featuring the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the oPt, titled “Examining the Applicability of the Apartheid Framework for Repressive Israeli Rule”. The panel was sponsored by the UN delegations of Malaysia, Namibia, Pakistan, Palestine, and South Africa. During the discussion, the Special Rapporteur summarized the main findings of his report on Israel’s crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people
Days before the session, CIHRS joined a joint appeal to the UN and member states focusing on the importance of recognizing and condemning Israel’s crime of apartheid. In an oral statement before the HRC, CIHRS and its partners condemned Israel’s recent announcement that it would renew the citizenship and entry law, which severely restricts family reunification for Palestinians. In a dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and CIHRS denounced Israel’s racist segregation policies against Palestinian citizens in an oral intervention, urging the Special Rapporteur to undertake a national visit to investigate Israel’s commitment to upholding the right to housing.
In a joint statement, CIHRS addressed Israeli settlers’ rising violence against Palestinians, violence for which they enjoy utter impunity. Another statement took up land seizure policies, settlement expansion, and the exploitation and looting of Palestinian natural resources, and other environmental violations. In a joint oral intervention, CIHRS and its partners turned to practices used to expropriate Palestinian land and transfer ownership to the state of Israel, to pave the way for the construction of new Israeli settlements. Such practices are in flagrant violation of international law.
In support of the Special Rapporteur’s findings, which conclude that Israel implements numerous measures aimed at silencing human rights defenders and restricting groups that defend Palestinians’ rights, CIHRS welcomed the historic report in a press statement, and in an oral intervention during a dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, noted that the double standards of some states in this respect had significantly undermined the effectiveness and legitimacy of international law. CIHRS also presented an oral statement in conjunction with four Palestinian organizations to spotlight such retaliatory measures. Another oral intervention joined by CIHRS and thirteen Palestinian organizations, presented during the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, focused on Israeli practices designed to harass and intimidate activists. These include the Israeli authorities’ recent decision to designate six leading Palestinian rights organizations as “terrorist movements” and the targeting of human rights defenders for surveillance and detention.
In a joint statement, CIHRS condemned the rise in arbitrary arrest and mass administrative detention of Palestinians. Multinational corporations also play a significant role in cementing Israel’s apartheid regime, as CIHRS emphasized in a joint statement with nine Palestinian organizations. With the aim of better aligning corporate practice to international law, the organizations urged the United Nations to update the database of businesses linked to illegal Israeli settlements. In another joint statement, CIHRS called on UN member states to reconstitute the special UN Committee Against Apartheid and the UN Center Against Apartheid to monitor compliance with the convention on apartheid.
Counterterrorism laws used to criminalize the work of human rights defenders in Egypt and Algeria
During the 49th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and seventeen regional and international organizations issued a joint statement condemning the Algerian authorities’ mounting repression of peaceful opposition and independent civil society. The organizations urged the international community to support Algerian human rights defenders who are facing imprisonment on the basis of overly broad terrorism charges.
In Egypt, the government is similarly using terrorism-related charges to retaliate against rights defenders. In an oral statement, CIHRS called for the United Nations and the international community to bolster their efforts in securing the release of rights defenders, journalists, and democracy activists who remain wrongly imprisoned in Egypt. In the same context, in an oral intervention, CIHRS condemned the exploitation of counterterrorism legislation and policies by the governments of Egypt, Algeria, and Israel, which function to harass and prosecute human rights defenders and others as these governments seek to silence and eliminate opposition. The organizations called on the Human Rights Council to stand against state abuse of counterterrorism legislation by taking effective steps to protect rights defenders and other peaceful dissidents who are unjustly targeted.
On 10 March, CIHRS spotlighted the abuse of counterterrorism laws in the Middle East and North Africa, organizing the webinar “Terrorizing Human Rights Defenders: Counterterrorism as a Tool of Repression in the Middle East and North Africa” in conjunction with fourteen regional and international organizations. Addressed by Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the seminar took up the implications of counterterrorism as a pretext for the suppression of basic liberties in Egypt, Algeria, Israel, and Bahrain. The implications of counterterrorism’s misuse include a shrinking public sphere and weakened civil society
Relentless assaults on civil society in Libya
In a dialogue with the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Libya, CIHRS presented an oral intervention focusing on Libyan authorities’ attacks on independent human rights groups, noting that these groups are a principal reference for the FFM and their closure would likely undermine its work. In a statement issued jointly with the Aman Organization Against Racial Discrimination and the Libya Platform Coalition, CIHRS condemned the arbitrary restrictions placed by the Civil Society Commission in Tripoli on the work of rights organizations and journalists. The statement called on member states to renew the Fact-Finding Mission’s mandate and condemn those on all sides who violate human rights in Libya.
Urgent need for mechanism to investigate crimes in Yemen
During the session, CIHRS and Mwatana for Human Rights jointly called upon the international community to take effective action countering the alarming escalation in attacks on civilians in Yemen, particularly after the Human Rights Council ended the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE), assigned to investigate crimes in the country. The two organizations urged the UN to form an independent, impartial body to investigate and report on violations of international law in Yemen.
Syria remains unsafe for the return of refugees
As part of the dialogue with the International Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria, CIHRS and the Syrian organization Basma and Zeitouna presented an oral intervention asserting that Syria remains unsafe for returning Syrian refugees. Returnees are subjected to crimes and violations including arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance and abduction, torture, sexual violence, and extrajudicial killing.
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