The Human Rights Council (the Council) convened in Geneva for its 22nd session from 25 February to 22 March 2013. Several hundred participants representing UN member States, UN bodies, NHRIs and non-governmental organisations attended.
The session witnessed a moderate level of NHRI engagement with the Council compared to previous sessions. In total, nine A-status NHRIs from across the four regional groups of the ICC contributed through participation in plenary meetings, presentation of oral statements, video statements and written submissions.
Contributions were made on the following substantive issues: adequate housing; torture and other cruel treatment, human rights defenders; effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of states; rights of persons with disability; rights of the child; implications of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT); and human rights mainstreaming.
In addition to the cross regional representation, the ICC was represented by ICC Chair, Dr. Mousa Burayzat, Commissioner at the South African Human Rights Commissions (SAHRC) Lindiwe Mokate and ICC Geneva Representative (Maternity Replacement for Katharina Rose) Bruce Adamson at plenary meetings and side events.
All NHRI statements, webcast links to delivery of statements, and written submissions to HRC 22 can be accessed through the ICC/NHRI website: http://nhri.ohchr.org/EN/IHRS/HumanRightsCouncil/22/Pages/default.aspx
Picture: Commissioner Lindiwe Mokate, South African Human Rights Commission and ICC Geneva Representative Bruce Adamson
During the General Segment ICC Chair Dr. Mousa Burayzat brought the Council's attention to concrete action points agreed upon by NHRIs at the 11th International Conference of NHRIs in Amman, Jordan in November 2012 on the human rights of women and girls, and gender equality.
'The most salient recommendations of the Amman Declaration and Programme of Action call on NHRIs inter alia to: monitor the performance of the state, business and other stakeholders in relation to the rights of women and girls; respond to, and investigate allegations, of violations of the right of women and girls; counter prejudices and stereotyping through human rights education; and building strategic partnerships with key national and UN agencies committed to fulfilling the rights of women and girls', said the ICC Chair.
High Level Panel on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
A high level panel discussion commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action was held during the high level segment of the 22nd Council session.
In her opening address, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay recalled that the Vienna Conference was instrumental in the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and marked the recognition of women's rights as human rights by Governments and human rights activists.
Further, the Vienna Conference created a strong impetus for the establishment and strengthening of NHRIs in compliance with the Paris Principles' said Chargé de Mission Albert Sasson from the Conseil Consultatif des Droits de L’Homme du Maroc (CNDH) who spoke on the panel. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action specifically affirmed the important and constructive role played by NHRIs and called on each State to establish one.2013 also marks the anniversary of the endorsement of the Paris Principles by the UN General Assembly (GA) as the international minimum standard for NHRIs as well as the establishment of the ICC as the international NHRI network.
ICC statement on the annual report of the High Commissioner
During the Interactive Dialogue (ID) with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her annual report, the ICC Chair affirmed the ICC's commitment to support the implementation of common ICC/OHCHR strategic priorities. Activities to this end include continued support in establishing and strengthening NHRIs worldwide; implementation of the Amman Declaration and Programme of Action; establishing new Special Procedures mandates, commissions of inquiry and fact finding missions; and supporting NHRIs in the second round of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
The High Commissioner was assured of the ICC's continued commitment to actively contribute to the treaty body strengthening process. The ICC Chair encouraged the OHCHR to ensure that the process be conducted in an open and transparent manner with participation from all stakeholders.
NHRI Interaction with Special Procedures
Three NHRIs contributed to the ID with Special Procedures.The National Human Rights Commission of Rwanda (NHRCR) and CNDH contributed to the ID with Special Procedures through oral statements on country mission reports to their respective countries on topics related to adequate housing and torture and other cruel treatment, respectively.
The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) delivered a video statement on the country mission report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekaggya. Speaking on his country mission to Morocco, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel treatment Juan Mendez noted that a culture of human rights is emerging in Morocco in part as a direct result of the establishment and work of the CNDH. The Special Rapporteur called on the Government to strengthen its cooperation with the CNDH in relation to torture, ill treatment and due arrest at police stations.
The report on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/22/47) by Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekaggya was the first report by a Special Rapporteur to focus solely on the role of NHRIs.
The report highlights that NHRIs can be considered as human rights defenders, while potentially playing an important role in the protection of human rights defenders. It offers specific recommendations to States and NHRIs for strengthening the role of the latter in protecting human rights defenders.
In his statement on behalf of the ICC, the ICC Chair called on states to ensure in law and practice that NHRIs are considered as human rights defenders and to refrain from interfering with the independence and autonomy of NHRIs. The ICC Chair affirmed the ICC's commitment to investigate instances of intimation, stigmatisation, harassment or attacks against human rights defenders.
Several states acknowledged the unique role of NHRIs as human rights defenders (including Australia, Morocco, Denmark, India, United Kingdom and Germany).Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur but called for further examination of her recommendation to give members and staff of NHRIs immunity from criminal and civil proceedings.
Germany enquired about the role NHRIs can play in facilitating access by human rights defenders to international human rights mechanisms. Ireland welcomed practical suggestions on how to increase public awareness on role of human rights defenders and the1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
In her concluding remarks, the Special Rapporteur encouraged NHRIs to carry out awareness-raising programmes on international human rights mechanisms and access thereto. The Special Rapporteur informed the Council of her pending work with the ICC to address reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with the UN.
Human Rights Council adopts resolution on Human Rights Defenders
A highlight of the session was the Council's adoption without vote of a resolution on 'protecting human rights defenders' (A/HRC/22/L.13).
The resolution, presented by Norway and co-sponsored by 62 states across all regions, was adopted without a vote on 21 March 2013. It calls on states to end impunity for acts of intimidation against human rights defenders and to amend nation laws which target the latter.
As a direct result of ICC advocacy, the resolution:
• Underlines the value of NHRIs, established and operating in accordance with the Paris Principles, in the continued monitoring of existing legislation and consistently informing the State about its impact on the activities of human rights defenders, including by issuing relevant and concrete recommendations;• Stresses in particular the valuable contributions of NHRIs, civil society and other stakeholders in providing input to States on the potential implications of draft legislation when such legislation is being developed or reviewed to ensure that it is in compliance with international human rights law; and• Encourages NHRIs, civil society and other stakeholders to provide information, including to States, in the context of the UPR and work of treaty bodies on the enabling environment for human rights defenders, including legislation and its application affecting the activities of human rights defenders.
ICC advocacy was led by ICC Geneva Representative a.i. Bruce Adamson who attended and contributed with proposed text amendments to informal consultations on the draft resolution.
Adoption of UPR reports and NHRI contributions
The NHRIs of Ukraine, Guatemala and the Republic of Korea contributed with oral statements during the plenary meetings, before the adoption of the UPR reports of their respective countries.
During the general segment under item 6, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) Professor Gillian Triggs addressed the Council through video statement. The AHRC President shared a good practice example of NHRI engagement in the UPR process. In December 2012, the AHRC published its annual report on the status of implementation of Australia's UPR recommendations. The AHRC President commended the Government for developing a national action plan and reaffirmed the AHRC's commitment to assist with its implementation.
Picture: Standing Commissioner Young Hye Kim, National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea
NHRI participation in panel discussions
During the annual day on the rights of the child, Human Rights Advisor of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Assistant Director-General for Family, Women's and Children's Health Paul Hunt noted that NHRIs can and do play an important role in monitoring, reviewing and remedying child rights violations.
Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Maria Herczog stated that NHRIs are well placed to advocate for states to fulfil their obligations under the CRC in light of the limited capacity of the CRC to follow up on the implementation of its recommendations to states.
During the segment of the panel focused on the right to physical and mental health of the child, the CNDH drew the Council's attention to groups of concern that continue to require the Government's attention, hereunder children placed in institutions, children with disability and street children.
During the segment focused on the implementation of the right of the child to health and accountability mechanisms, the SAHRC informed the Council of its key role in monitoring the role of the right to health care. The SAHRC shared good practice on the role NHRIs can play in identifying policies, service delivery programmes and projects aimed at improving the situation of children. More information thereon can be found in the SAHRC/UNICEF publication 'South African's Children - A Review of Equity and Child Rights'.
During the annual discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities, Commissioner Lindiwe Mokate from SAHRC, speaking on behalf of the ICC, welcomed the OHCHR's Thematic Study on the work and employment of persons with disabilities (A/HRC/22/25). The Commissioner underscored the important role of NHRIs can play in providing complaints mechanisms and alternative dispute resolutions to address issues of stigmatisation, prejudice reflected in attitudes and policies often preventing persons with disability from gaining employment.
The CNDH also contributed with an oral statement on the thematic discussion of rights of persons with disabilities.
Report of the independent fact finding mission to investigate implications of Israeli settlements
During the interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, the Chairperson of the fact finding mission Christine Chanet, said that settlements in the West Bank including East Jerusalem was a 'growing, creeping form of annexation which compromised the right to self-determination of people living in the OPT.
Palestine, as country concerned, called on the immediate implementation of the fact finding mission and stated with indignation that the settlements constitute a flagrant violation of the right to movement, education, and are detrimental to the Palestinian economy. Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, the European Union and Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group endorsed the statement by Palestine. The US refuted the findings of the fact finding mission and blamed the Council for singling out Israel, saying it 'threatened its legitimacy'.
In her video statement to the Council, the Executive Director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights of Palestine Randa Siniora highlighted the grave impact of Israeli settlements on Palestinian people living in the OPT, including expropriation of land, property, water and other natural resources, to name but a few. The Executive Director called on the international community inter alia to exert pressure on Israel to immediately dismantle all its settlements in the 1967 OPT and to hold Israel accountable for all its 'war crimes'.
ICC/NHRI participation in side events
In addition to contributing to plenary meetings of the HRC, ICC and NHRI representatives participated in a range of parallel side events.
The ICC Chair participated in a high level side event on the power of empowered women moderated by Al Jazeera with contributions by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Director General of the United Nations office at Geneva Kass,-Jomart Tokayev and the former President of the Swiss Confederation Ruth Dreifuss.
ICC Geneva Representative a.i. Bruce Adamson actively participated in a side event on the criminalisation of human rights defenders, attended by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekaggya, and organised by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).
ICC activities in support of NHRI engagement at HRC 22
The ICC Geneva Representative and Assistant ICC Geneva Representative with the support of NIRMS provided assistance and advice to NHRIs and regional coordinators in their engagement with the Council, both prior to and during the 22nd Council session.
Activities included: identifying opportunities to engage; assisting in the preparation of written submissions and oral statements presented to the HRC; providing input to the draft resolution on human rights defenders and reporting back.
A key highlight of the 22nd Council session was the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Conference on human rights. The network of NHRIs has significantly expanded from a few members in 1993, to a 104 of which 69 enjoy A status in 2013. As a result of ICC advocacy NHRIs now enjoy high level recognition as important actors in the international human rights system as reflected in various resolutions of the Council and General Assembly. Opportunities for NHRI engagement with international human rights mechanism, in particular, the Human Rights Council have steadily been increasing.
These developments have in turn raised levels of expectation for NHRIs to contribute to and engage with international human rights mechanisms. The Council witnessed a moderate level of NHRI participation at its 22nd session compared with previous sessions, with a total of nine NHRI contributions.
While NHRIs continuously strive to prove their full compliance with the Paris Principle, hereunder by engaging with the international human rights mechanisms, the international community has a significant and complimentary role to play in creating an enabling environment for NHRIs. This includes providing capacity building activities and funding for NHRIs and the regional networks of the ICC; further advocacy for the independent participation of NHRIs in UN bodies and fora, particularly in relation to the UN treaty body system; and promoting UN system wide coordination on NHRIs.
Another highlight of the session was the widely welcomed report by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, which recognises the role of NHRIs both as human rights defenders in their own right and as protectors of human rights defenders.
Looking ahead to HRC 23 in June 2013, a key priority for the ICC will be a successful HRC resolution 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 23.
For more information on HRC 22 please contact ICC Geneva Representative a.i. Bruce Adamson (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Assistant ICC Geneva Representative Sarah Pallesen (email@example.com).