The 19th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) was held in Geneva from 27 February to 23 March 2012. It engaged several hundred participants including UN member States, UN bodies, NHRI and NGO representatives.
A total of 18 NHRIs contributed to the session on a wide range of substantive discussions through written submissions to the HRC, attendance at plenary meetings, delivery of oral statements, attendance at and organisation of side events, and for the first time ever through video statements.
The session witnessed a high level of interaction between NHRIs and Special Procedures (SP) in relation to SP country mission reports. NHRIs also contributed to the deliberations concerning the adoption of UPR reports.
In addition to the cross-regional representation of NHRIs at the 19th HRC session, the ICC was represented by ICC Chair, Rosslyn Noonan, ICC Secretary, Florence Simbiri Jaoko, and ICC Geneva Representative, Katharina Rose, at side events and plenary meetings.
Around 200 representatives from national human rights institutions, governments, civil society organisations and UN agencies from across the globe took part in the ICC 25th General Meeting, held in Geneva from 19 through 22 March, 2012.
HRC President, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, participated in the opening ceremony. A further key highlight was to the HRC’s decision to adopt the report of the Task Force on secretariat services, accessibility for persons with disabilities and use of information technology, on 21 March, 2012, providing A-status NHRIs with the opportunity to deliver video-statements.
High Level and General Segment
During the High Level Segment a number of States informed the Council of steps taken to establish Paris Principle compliant NHRIs in their respective countries, including: Iraq, Mozambique, Belgium, Uruguay, Italy and Yemen. Nepal stated that its National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has been accorded full autonomy in its functioning by the Interim Constitution. Chile advised the Council to its recent establishment of a Paris Principles compliant NHRI.
ICC Secretary, Florence Simibiri Jaoko, commended these developments in her oral statement during the General Segment and acknowledged the international community’s support in establishing and strengthening NHRIs around the globe. Speaking in the context of uprisings in the Arab world, the ICC Secretary highlighted the important role and critical responsibilities NHRIs have in building societies where human rights underpin behaviour, policy development and decision-making.
ICC statement on the annual report of the High Commissioner
On the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the ICC Secretary expressed appreciation for the OHCHR’s support for, and engagement with NHRIs and their regional coordinating bodies. The report’s focus on gender equality and women’s human rights was warmly welcomed by the Secretary, who seized the occasion to inform the Council of the 11th International Conference of NHRIs in November 2012, in Jordan on the theme of the human rights of women and girls, gender based equality and the role of NHRIs. Further, the Secretary expressed the ICC’s interest in cooperating with UN Women on a UN system-wide action plan on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Critically, the ICC Secretary encouraged the OHCHR to support and facilitate the treaty body reform process and to ensure that the process be conducted in an open and transparent manner with participation from all stakeholders.
During the Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner, Australia asked the High Commissioner to comment on the relationship between OHCHR and NHRIs. The High Commissioner responded that OHCHR offers technical and financial support to NHRIs, assists with the organisation of the NHRI accreditation process and works to strengthen the four regional offices of the ICC.
NHRI Interaction with Special Procedures
A total of 10 NHRIs contributed to the Interactive Dialogue (ID) with SPs, many of whom offered their support in increasing the visibility of SP recommendations, and working to promote implementation thereof at country level.
The NHRIs of Timor Leste, Great Britain, South Africa, and Cameroon made written submissions to the HRC prior to the session.
While most interventions were delivered by NHRI representatives, some presentations were made by the ICC Geneva Representative upon request and on behalf of Paris Principles compliant NHRIs.
A key highlight of the session and important step forward in terms of ensuring greater accessibility by NHRIs to the deliberations of the HRC was reflected in the remote participation of NHRIs through video statements during the ID with SP.
As a result of ICC advocacy, the Council decided at its 19th session, on 21 March, 2012, to adopt a decision, which grants Paris Principles compliant NHRIs the right to deliver pre-recorded video messages at the HRC in accordance with the provisions described in the annex to Council resolution 16/21, paragraph 13 and paragraph 28.
This implies that NHRIs are entitled to intervene immediately after (a.) the State under review during the adoption of the outcome of the UPR review by the Council plenary and (b.) the country concerned during the interactive dialogue, following the presentation of a country mission report by a special procedure mandate holder.
The entitlement in relation to SP came into effect at HRC 19, while the one related to UPR will be implemented at HRC 21 during the adoption of UPR 13th reports.
The NHRIs of Timor Leste, South Africa and Georgia were the first to make use of this new opportunity.
NHRI contributions focused on a wide range of issues on subjects such as: torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, enforced or involuntary disappearances, the right to food, arbitrary detention, the human rights of internally displaced persons, and the sale of children.
Among good examples of NHRI engagement with SP, the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC) delivered a statement on the report of the SR on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), in which it drew the Council’s attention to critical issues that warrant Government attention. Hereunder, the need to adopt the draft policy on IDPs, the need to recognise the protection needs of the Subuki group and others displaced by causes other than election violence. Commissioner Fatuma met with the SR on the side lines of the session and pledged to work closely with the latter on identifying specific recommendations, which the Commission would seek to follow up on with relevant stakeholders.
NHRI participation in general debates
A number of NHRIs used the General Debate as a platform to address the human rights situation in their respective countries. An issue that featured prominently at HRC 19 is that of reprisals and intimidation against human rights defenders. Consequently, the HRC President, High Commissioner for Human Right and Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders delivered statements, which strongly rejected any act of intimidation or reprisals against individuals and groups who cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.
On the general debate, item 2, regarding the annual report of the High Commissioner and Secretary General country reports, the Network of African Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) brought the Council’s attention to recent developments in Togo and Malawi where the NHRI Chairpersons have respectively been forced to leave the country.
Under the same agenda item, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), speaking on behalf of the Commonwealth forum of national human rights institutions, echoed the grave concerns raised by NANHRI, in relation to the situation in Malawi.
During the general debate, item 8, regarding follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the AHRC’s President informed the Council of steps undertaken to monitor the implementation of Australia’s UPR recommendations. Reference was made to a recently published AHRC report, which provides an overview of progress made and the draft National Action Plan of December 2011.
NHRI participation in panel discussions
In the opening remarks of the panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming, Assistant Administrator and Director at UNDP, Jordan Ryan, asserted the great importance with which UNDP regards its cooperation with the OHCHR and the ICC in building the capacity of NHRIs.
On this panel discussion, the ICC Secretary acknowledged the fruitful cooperation with UNDP and OHCHR and expressed a keenness to develop equally strong relationships with UN Women and other UN agencies as the ICC prepares for its 11th International Conference.
During the panel on freedom of expression on the internet, the ICC Secretary concurred with the SR’s finding that a gap exists between the proclamation of international standards set out to ensure freedom of information and expression, and the fulfilment thereof at national level. The ICC Secretary underscored the instrumental role NHRIs can serve in ensuring that national laws comply with international standards, and in providing platforms where tolerance and freedom of expression is promoted.
During the annual discussion on human rights and persons with disability, the ICC Secretary affirmed the important role NHRIs play in ensuring the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in political and public life, by engaging Governments, people with disabilities and organisations that represent them. Parallel to the Council session, the ICC contributed to informal consultations on the draft of the resolution on the rights of persons with disabilities: participation in political and public life, which was adopted by the Council, without vote, on 22 March, 2012.
During the panel discussions on disabilities, the Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme du Maroc delivered a statement, which listed the implementation gaps in the fulfilment of the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in public and political in Morocco.
During the first ever panel discussion on discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Equality and Human Rights Commission of Great Britain delivered a joint NHRI statement, which affirmed NHRI’s support for the mainstreaming of protections for individuals discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity through existing international and regional human rights systems.
Further the statement reflected the NHRIs’ commitment to work with relevant authorities and communities to monitor and inform on incidents of discrimination and violence linked to sexual orientation and gender identity, and to continue to engage with the HRC and Member States to ensure that these human rights violations are adequately addressed.
During the panel discussion on human rights and HIV/AIDS, the Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme du Royaume du Maroc provided illustrations of how NHRIs can contribute to the development of national policies and action plans to combat the discrimination, stigmatisation and violations against people living with HIV/AIDS.
Adoption of UPR reports and NHRI contributions
The NHRIs of Australia and Cameroon submitted reports on the UPR process for the consideration of the Council, prior to the session. The NHRIs of Tanzania, Ireland, Uganda, Timor Leste and Thailand contributed with oral statements during the plenary meetings, before the adoption of the UPR reports of their respective countries.
The Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Etta Rosales, participated as a panellist on the annual thematic discussion on best practices on technical cooperation: paving the way for the second cycle of the UPR. Based on the Philippines’ experience with the 1st UPR cycle, the Chairperson provided useful lessons learned and examples of the role NHRIs can play in preparation for and follow up to the UPR process.
NHRI participation in side events
In addition to contributing to plenary meetings of the HRC, ICC and NHRI representatives actively participated in a range of parallel side events.
The Chairperson of the Ugandan Human Rights Commission, Med Kaggwa, participated in an event on ‘Constitutional guarantees for the promotion and protection of human rights’ organised by the Inter-ministerial Delegation for Human Rights of Morocco, with the support of the OHCHR and the Permanent Mission of Morocco in Geneva.
ICC Chair, Rosslyn Noonan, participated in an NGO Panel on ‘Human Rights Education in Non-formal settings’ organised by the NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning.
The UK National Human Rights Institutions held an event on the theme ‘Preparing for the Universal Periodic review of the United Kingdom – a briefing for Permanent Missions’.
In parallel with both the Council session and the ICC’s 25th General Meeting, the ICC in collaboration with OHCHR organised an event on ‘Strengthening National Human Rights Institutions: The Paris Principles and the ICC accreditation system’.
Key decisions and conclusions concerning NHRIs
The HRC 19th session adopted two resolutions of particular relevance for the work of NHRIs.
1. Resolution 19/11 on the rights of persons with disabilities: participation in political and public life, adopted by the Council, without vote, on 22 March. It requests the OHCHR to prepare a study on the work and employment of persons with disabilities, in consultation with relevant stakeholders and encourages NHRIs to participate actively in the next annual interactive debate in March 2013 on the work and employment of persons with disabilities, as well as in regular and special session of the HRC and its WGs.
2. Resolution 19/36 on human rights democracy and rule of law, adopted, as orally revised, on 23 March, with 43 votes in favour, 0 against and 2 abstentions from China and Cuba. The resolution inter alia ‘calls upon States to make continuous efforts to strengthen the rule of law and promote democracy by establishing or strengthening NHRIs in compliance with the Paris Principles…and requests the OHCHR in consultation with NHRIs and other relevant stakeholders to draft a study on common challenges facing States in their efforts to secure democracy and the rule of law from a human rights prospective, as well as on lessons learned and best practices in the engagement of States with the international community to support such processes and to present the study to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-second session.’
ICC activities in support of NHRI engagement at HRC 19
The ICC, through the support of the ICC Geneva Representative and in cooperation with NIRMS, provided support and advice to NHRIs and regional coordinators in their engagement with the HRC, both prior to and during the 19th session.
Activities included: identifying opportunities to ICC members to engage; assisting in the preparation of written submissions and oral statements presented to the HRC; organising meetings and liaising with key stakeholders; delivering statements on behalf of A-status NHRIs; and reporting back.
The 19th session of the HRC witnessed a high level of NHRI engagement with a wide range of human rights mechanisms. Contributions were made through various means on a various substantive discussions.
Significantly, NHRIs asserted their commitment to follow up on the recommendations of the Special Procedures, to strengthen human rights on the ground.
A key highlight of the session was the remote participation of NHRIs through video statements following the presentations of country reports by Special Procedure mandate holders. This marks an important new opportunity for NHRIs to interact with SP, a right which will be extended to NHRIs in relation to the adoption of UPR 13 reports at HRC 21 in September, 2012.
Regrettably, however, the session was tainted by unprecedented levels of reprisals against human rights defenders, as deplored in statements by the HRC President, High Commissioner, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, NANHRI and the AHRC on behalf of the Commonwealth forum of NHRIs. This is a challenge that is likely to increasingly warrant attention, as the Council platforms for engagement by critical, independent human rights defenders expand.
Looking ahead to HRC 20 in June, a key priority for the ICC will be a successful HRC resolution on NHRIs, with a broad cross-regional co-sponsorship. Further, the Secretary General reports on NHRIs and the accreditation process will be presented for discussion at HRC 20th session.