The 10th Anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Council:
Global Human Rights Movement at a Dangerous Crossroads

In United Nations Human Rights Council by CIHRS

CIHRS calls for stronger global leadership to protect the rights of real people in real places, and to protect the United Nations human rights system

On the 10th Anniversary of the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) calls on the international community to take urgent action at the UN to address the unprecedented human rights crises in the Arab region.

Photo by: Paola Daher, CIHRS

The 31st session took place at a time when the Arab region is devastated by armed conflict, terrorism, brutal repression, prolonged belligerent occupation of the Palestinian Territory,  and what may be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ in  Yemen and  Syria.  Human rights violations and abuses remain the rootcause and primary factor sustaining these situations.

Four weeks ago, on the 29th of February government dignitaries from throughout the world gathered to address the opening of the 31st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) and celebrate its 10th anniversary.

On the same day the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in a speech before the Council, issued a dire warning to the global community:  Unless governments rapidly begin to demonstrate stronger “leadership” in defence of human rights, the world will continue to veer towards “violence and death” like that witnessed in Syria, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere.  The High Commissioner also decried the “piecemeal dismantling” of the global human rights and humanitarian system by the short-sighted and unprincipled policies that “more and more states” have begun to adopt.

These warnings have been thrown into sharp focus as this session of the Council comes to an end.   The last month has witnessed an unprecedented number of attempts by states such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others to weaken Council resolutions that protect peaceful protesters and human rights defenders, while also putting forward proposals that attempt to undermine the universality of human rights.

These challenges come at a time when democratic governments have increasingly refused to play a leadership role to address critical human rights situations at the Council.   Resolutions intended to gather information and ensure accountability for rights violations in Libya, Syria and Yemen have all been weakened over the last year.   Meanwhile, the Council remains silent on countries committing unprecedented levels of repression in several countries in the MENA region.

During this Council session, CIHRS has addressed a variety of human rights issues in the MENA region, including the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Morocco.

During the 31ST HRC session, in cooperation with 7 partners[1] CIHRS has identified the main priorities for Libyan authorities and the international community to address human rights violations in Libya through a side event, and an oral intervention. In these events, CIHRS urged the continuation of international investigation as deterrence mechanism to assist the new executive and judiciary authorities to work safely in addressing human rights concerns and to establish rule of law in Libya.

Moreover, CIHRS has engaged in the discussion concerning the human rights situation in the OPT, by focusing on the need to implement previous recommendations addressed to duty bearers by the council to ensure genuine accountability.  CIHRS published a brief calling for specific actions in this regard. These calls were presented to the council through a joint oral intervention and a side event. Among other, CIHRS and partners[2] supported conducting a comprehensive review of Israel’s failure to implement recommendations, as well as the establishment of a list of businesses operating in settlements. The partner organizations and CIHRS have also sent a letter to the president of the HRC to note that the postponement in appointing a new special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories postpones the urgent needs and protection of the Palestinian people.

On Syria, CIHRS has delivered an oral intervention on the 5th anniversary of the conflict in Syria calling on the HRC to designate hearings for testimonies of Syrian victims. It also called on the fact-finding committee to document violations by foreign forces fighting in Syria. Moreover, CIHRS along with 23 international and Syrian organizations sent a letter to HRC member states and observer nations calling on them to redouble international efforts to obtain the release of all persons arbitrarily detained and ensure accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

Furthermore, in collaboration with four Moroccan and International partners[3], CIHRS has also delivered an oral intervention on Morocco to express its concern for the increasing restrictions imposed on journalists and defenders of freedom of expression and association in Morocco. Morocco should look at enhancing its positive human rights record when compared to its neighbours within the region and its relative openness to human rights organizations rather than following the footsteps of other MENA countries that are constantly undermining human rights on the national level.

On Yemen, CIHRS joined four international organizations in sending a letter to member states of the UN human rights council calling for an establishment of a UN lead investigation mechanism to investigate alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of international human rights law committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen.

Finally on Egypt, CIHRS along with 16 Egyptian organizations have submitted a letter to the UN High Commissioner for human rights detailing the recent developments in seven major issues of concern, including extrajudicial killing and police brutality; imprisonment, torture, and ill treatment; freedom of association and assembly; the suppression of media and artistic freedoms and draconian measures against cultural and academic institutions; economic and social justice; women’s rights; and religious freedoms. The letter was followed by an oral intervention by the same organization focusing on the very recent violations against human rights defenders in Egypt, ranging from travel bans and threats of sexual assault to prosecution and imprisonment.

CIHRS has also participated in a number of high level meetings during the council session, including with the UN Secretary General both in New York and in Geneva and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to discuss the UN response to the alarming level of violations and closure of public space in the region.

Human rights must become a central pillar of the UN approach to conflict resolution if sustainable peace and prosperity is to become a reality for millions of citizens throughout the world.  The inability of the international community to prevent the deteriorating  human rights  situation in Syria and other Arab countries such as Yemen, the OPT and Libya,  is in part due to a long-standing marginalization of human rights concerns within  high-level peace talks and political discussions that take place  at the UN.

Unfortunately, the international community has joined some MENA countries and responded to the expansion of conflict, terrorism and humanitarian disasters within the Arab region by brushing human rights concerns under the rug and hoping that repressive governments will be able to “control the situation.”     It is not working, and a new approach is required.

[1]The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights Watch, the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), CIVICUS, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL).

[2]Al-Haq, the Mezan Center for Human Rights, the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, the Center for Social Work at Quds University, and Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association.

[3]The Committee to Protect Journalists, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, International Media Support, and the Moroccan Association for Human Rights.

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