The Human Rights Council’s 22nd session ended on Friday 22 March 2013 following the adoption of several resolutions of paramount importance for the European Union: on Syria, Myanmar/Burma, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Freedom of religion or belief, Rights of the Child and Sri Lanka. Four of these resolutions were presented and led by the EU. These important results were presented by Mr. Bert Theuermann, Chair of the Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM) in the Council of the European Union, during the last DROI subcommittee meeting, which took place at European Parliament in Brussels on April 11th. The Human Rights Council (HRC) is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them.
The Council is made up of 47 UN Member States which are elected by the UN General Assembly. It has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year. It meets at the UN Office at Geneva. The Human Rights Council replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
The Council was created by the United Nations General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by resolution 60/251. Its first session took place from 19 to 30 June 2006. One year later, the Council adopted its « Institution-building package » to guide its work and set up its procedures and mechanisms.
Among them were the Universal Periodic Review mechanism which serves to assess the human rights situations in all United Nations Member States, the Advisory Committee which serves as the Council’s « think tank », providing it with expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues and the Complaint Procedure which allows individuals and organizations to bring human rights violations to the attention of the Council.
The Human Rights Council also works with the UN Special Procedures established by the former Commission on Human Rights and now assumed by the Council. These are made up of special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts and working groups that monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on thematic issues or human rights situations in specific countries.
During the Foreign Affairs Council on 18 February, EU Foreign Ministers discussed the EU priorities at the UN Human Rights Fora. Ahead of the 22nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, the EU reaffirmed its strong support for the HRC and other UN bodies tasked with the promotion and protection of human rights around the world, including the Third Committee of the General Assembly.
The EU remains fully committed to a strong and effective multilateral human rights system that impartially monitors the implementation by all States of their human rights obligations.
The Human Rights Council once again had to address the despicable situation in Syria as the conflict entered its third year. The report of the International Commission of Inquiry given on 11 March presented a horrific picture of the human rights violations and abuses perpetrated in the country. It was thus essential that the Council adopts a strong resolution, supported by the vast majority of countries including the EU, which insists on the need for accountability and preventing impunity. The EU fully supports the very important investigation and mapping work carried out by the Commission of Inquiry and has advocated the extension of its mandate for one year, which was agreed upon in the end by the Council.
The resolution on Myanmar/Burma prepared by the European Union in full transparency with Myanmar was unanimously agreed upon without a single dissenting voice. It reflects the positive developments in the country and encourages continuation of reforms. At the same time, significant human rights shortcomings remain, notably with regards to the situation of minorities in the States of Rakhine and Kachin, that require continued monitoring. The resolution therefore invites Myanmar to follow-up quickly on the opening of a country office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for one further year.
The EU is deeply concerned about the grave human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It welcomes therefore the support expressed by the Human Rights Council by consensus on the proposal, made jointly with Japan, to set up an international Commission of Inquiry. The Commission, established for one year, is mandated to investigate human rights violations and ensure accountability, in particular in the cases where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.
The European Union extended its full support to the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran and the urgent demand for his access to the country. It also backed two resolutions which keep the issues of accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka on the agenda of the Human Rights Council and deal with the concerns over human rights violations in Mali. The EU joined a cross-regional statement on Bahrain, which – while welcoming resumption of the National Dialogue – expresses concern about the ongoing human rights problems. On the series of resolutions concerning the human rights situation in Palestine, the EU was able to engage constructively with the concerned parties, and helped achieve outcomes which reflect an overall will to ease tensions on this divisive issue in the Council.
On the critical theme of freedom of religion or belief, the EU welcomes the Human Rights Council’s extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for three more years. Another EU priority was the adoption by the Council of the resolution on the rights of the child, which this year focused on the right to health. It addresses some of the key health challenges children are facing, including maternal and child mortality, malnutrition, mental health, sexual and reproductive health, harmful practices, environmental health, armed conflict and violence.
During this session, the European Union co-organised a very successful high-level panel discussion about « The Power of Empowered Women » on 26 February, the conclusions of which were highlighted on the International Women Day on 8 March. It held a side-event with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief on 6 March and co-organised the annual meeting on the rights of the child on 7 March.
Marianna Zammuto (Institut d’Etudes Européennes)
For further information about the activity of the UN Human Rights Council and/or about its last session check out the web site:
For the last DROI subcommittee meeting, during which Mr Bert Theuermann did his intervention check out www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/en/committees/video?event=20130411-0900-COMMITTEE-DROI&category=COMMITTEE&format=wmv