UN Human Rights Council holds the line on SOGI and gender equality, keeps watch on some key countries but fails again to address Russia and China

As it concludes its 50th session, the UN Human Rights Council has shown that it can act to address the human rights situations in countries in crisis, such as Libya, Syria, Belarus, Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea. It also has been able to withstand fierce opposition from retrograde States to work to protect those suffering violence and discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the Council continues to fail to address some of the direst human rights situations in powerful countries, such as the Russian Federation and China.

The ICJ welcomes the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The ICJ considers it unacceptable that this issue of basic human rights protection should in any way remain contentious among members of the UN Human Rights Council. It is inconceivable to countenance the use of violence or discrimination against any person based on status grounds. All States should fully support and cooperate with this mandate.

We welcome the adoption of key resolutions on the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and its consequences and on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls, though we regret the large number of amendments that were brought against them to lower the standards of protection of women’s rights as well as gender equality.

The ICJ welcomes the renewal of the mandate of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya (FFM).  However, we consider that limiting the extension to a mere nine months is not adequate in light of the broad mandate the FFM was given, and is likely to create inefficiencies in the Council’s protective efforts. The ICJ is concerned by the operative paragraph in the resolution defining this term as “non extendable” and “final”. The UN Human Rights Council should never tie its hands by predefining and prejudging in its resolutions the outcome of the work of its mechanisms, as developments on the ground are always evolving, even more so when a mechanism has not had the chance to effectively fulfil its mandate

The ICJ appreciates the urgent debate on the situation of human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan and the approval of a resolution by consensus of the Council. Despite the consensus, the resolution failed to adequately address the gravity of the unprecedented discrimination against women and girls in Afghanistan, in particular the obstruction of their right to education. The ICJ appreciates that the resolution appropriately refers to the ongoing oppression of women and girls in Afghanistan as “grave, institutionalized, widespread and systematic”, which may qualify as crimes under international law. However, the resolution places insufficient emphasis on impunity and accountability, without which the deplorable plight of women and girls in Afghanistan cannot be effectively addressed. We continue to call on the Council to establish an accountability mechanism in addition to the current mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.

The ICJ welcomes the renewal of the mandates of the Special Rapporteurs and accountability mechanisms on Syria, Eritrea and Belarus.

In light of the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the Russian Federation, the termination of its membership in the Council of Europe and applicability of the European Convention on Human Rights, leaving a huge gap in human rights monitoring and protection for the country, the ICJ regrets that the Council did not, during this session, establish the mandate for the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation. We call on the Council to establish this mandate during its 51st session in September 2022.

The ICJ welcomes the adoption by the Council of the resolution on the Independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers, affirming key standards on the independence of judges and lawyers. An independent judiciary and a free and independent bar are indispensable for the protection of human rights in the administration of justice. We particularly welcome the new focus on the participation of women in the administration of justice. Establishing gender equality in the administration of justice is essential to ensuring gender equality in society as a whole. The ICJ regrets the Russian Federation’s opposition to include in the resolution a call on States to work towards achieving gender parity in public decision-making roles in the judicial system.

The ICJ welcomes the approval of the resolution on the importance of casualty recording for the promotion and protection of human rights, which reaffirms key instruments and standards for accountability for gross violations of human rights, including crimes under international law. Particularly important is the resolution’s affirmation of the importance of the realization of the right to truth; the Updated Set of Principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity; the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law; and the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death.

The ICJ welcomes the approval by consensus of the resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests. While we are disappointed that the Council fell short of affirming an outright ban on the use of biometric identification in peaceful assemblies, the ICJ underlines the importance of the admonition to States to refrain from their “arbitrary or unlawful … use … to identify those peacefully participating in an assembly”. The resolution helpfully calls on States to “ensure that legislation related to national security, public order and public health are in with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law.” It also call on States “to refrain from the use of digital technology to silence, arbitrarily or unlawfully surveil, or harass individuals or groups”. The ICJ fully endorses the expression by the Council of “grave concern at the use of private surveillance technologies to commit widespread violations and abuses against those exercising their right to peaceful assembly, including through hacking”.

The ICJ welcomes the adoption by consensus of the resolution on human rights and climate change. The ICJ concurs with the Council that “climate change has contributed and continues to contribute to the increased frequency and intensity of both sudden-onset natural disasters and slow-onset events, and that these adversely affect the full enjoyment of all human rights”. The ICJ welcomes the call on all States to “address efficiently the economic, cultural and social impact and human rights challenges that climate change presents, for the full and effective enjoyment of human rights for all.” The ICJ, however, regrets that the resolution made no reference to the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, recognized by this Council through Resolution 48/13.


Massimo Frigo, ICJ Representative before the UN, t: +41797499949 – e: massimo(a)icj.org

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