UN Rights Body Ends With a Whimper: On the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the United Nations Human Rights Council struggles to address rights violations

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  The latest session of the UN Human Rights Council, which ended on June 18, has highlighted the political malaise that has made it difficult for the world’s preeminent human rights body to carry out its primary purpose of addressing rights violations throughout the world. 


On the 18th of June, 1948, the world community came together at the UN Rights Commission to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   62 years to the day, the Human Rights Council, which replaced the Commission in 2006, ended its 14th Session with a series of resolutions that fail to adequately deal with concrete instances of human rights violations. 


According to Moataz El Fegiery, Executive Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), “This Council is bleeding out credibility and relevance due to its unwillingness to seriously address grave rights abuses occurring all over the world.  Unfortunately, this type of slow death may be exactly what a lot of governments hostile towards the Human Rights Council are aiming to achieve.”


Important resolutions, which were co-sponsored by the states they address, were passed, including “Technical assistance” for Kyrgyzstan, and one “Addressing attacks on school children in Afghanistan.” However, two other resolutions, on Somalia and Sudan, failed to provide any substantive recommendations or demands to improve the situation.  


Also, a highly anticipated debate on human rights in Sudan, which was due to take place on 7 June, was delayed until September, and the Council’s Independent Expert on Burundi’s report was postponed until the next session of the Council.  More troubling, an attempt by a cross-regional group of 55 states to raise the issue of human rights in Iran on 15 June was met with strong objections from many states including Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC), and Sudan (on behalf of the Arab Group) .  The diplomatic clash resulted in the suspension of the Council for several hours, and an eventual decision by the President of the Council to allow the subject to be raised but only as an exceptional measure.


“The fact that the ability of states to address the grave human rights situation in Iran is declared by the President as an ‘exceptional’ measure – not to be taken as a precedent – is a clear demonstration of the political challenges facing the Council,” said Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva Office of CIHRS, “It also highlights the important role NGOs play. Often they are the only actors that take the floor to reveal concrete rights violations, and give particular recommendations to states concerning these violations.”


Egypt, Cuba, Pakistan, India, China and others continuously and categorically oppose virtually all country specific mandates, arguably the strongest tool available to the Council to address human rights violations.  Egypt, with the full backing of the Arab Group, has been particularly successful at slowly weakening or taking away any country specific issue on the Council’s agenda.  In turn, the United States and European Union have not been open to any serious consideration of human rights in Iraq or Afghanistan, both of which are countries occupied by the US and some EU member states.


Contact:  Moataz El Fegiery (Arabic)- moataz@cihrs.org,   Jeremie Smith (English)- jsmith@cihrs.org

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