Outcomes from the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council

The 49th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC49) ended on 1 April with 35 resolutions adopted by its 47 member states on a range of country situations and thematic issues. It was held over five weeks of debates, negotiations and online events, making it the longest session in the Council’s history. The Council session took place in a hybrid model, with in-person civil society participation possible for the first time since 2020.

KEY OUTCOMES

An urgent debate on Ukraine held in the first week of the Council session was a swift response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, setting up a strong accountability mechanism to investigate violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law. The war in Ukraine represents the latest in a growing regional human rights crisis and the action taken by the Council to establish this accountability mechanism is an important step. Given the mounting evidence of atrocities, we welcome the UN General Assembly’s landmark decision on 7 April to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council. 

The Human Rights Council established a commission of inquiry on Nicaragua which significantly advances UN scrutiny on the country and will strengthen accountability processes. The resolution establishes a group of three human rights experts with the mandate to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Nicaragua and to collect evidence for use in ongoing and future accountability efforts. Under Ortega’s government, the human rights situation in Nicaragua has reached a point of critical repression. This resolution represents a significant step towards accountability, and justice for those affected. 

A new resolution on Myanmar was adopted by consensus by the Human Rights Council which extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further year and maintains monitoring and reporting from the High Commissioner, with a focus on accountability. This resolution is a step towards preventing further violations, but accountability for past and ongoing violations in Myanmar is still remote. We urge all member and observer states of the Council to support the referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court, as recommended by the High Commissioner. Read our statement on the resolution here.

The Council adopted a resolution on human rights defenders (HRDs), which highlights the myriad roles of defenders in conflict and post-conflict settings and reaffirms that human rights defenders working in these situations require specific holistic and security protections. It urges States to create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, particularly in light of their role in conflict prevention and resolution and post-conflict reconstruction, and highlights the value of relocation initiatives to protect human rights defenders from violence and attacks. The Russian Federation called a vote on the resolution, breaking the previous consensus. It was adopted overwhelmingly, with 39 ‘yes’ votes and eight abstentions. Read our statement on the resolution here.

A resolution on South Sudan was adopted, which renewed the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and ensured the continuation of its critical work. Read analysis from CIVICUS research partner DefendDefenders here.

STATEMENTS AT THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

CIVICUS featured a number of priority countries and issues through various statements:

Cambodia: the Council must be prepared to take action to guarantee human rights and free & fair elections
This is a critical moment for Cambodia. If upcoming elections this year and next take place in the current climate, they will further entrench a ruling party which has proven that it will use any legislative or extra-legal means at its disposal to remain in power. There are steps Cambodia can take to improve its human rights situation ahead of elections; the Council must be prepared to take further action on Cambodia should these not be met.

Tigray: Escalating violence & restrictions to civic space requires action to protect those on the ground
Civic space in Tigray has shrunk considerably with the repression of civil society both by State and non-state actors. Telecommunications restrictions continue with the aim of controlling communication channels.  The special session in December 2021 highlighted the urgent need for investigations and accountability for the serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes, that have rocked Tigray since November 2021 and which continue to escalate.

Council must heed warning signs and address rights violations in Russia, India and elsewhere
The Council’s prevention mandate translates to a responsibility to address situations which risk deterioration in human rights. One warning sign of this is of a serious and rapid decline in the respect for civic space. The CIVICUS Watchlist, identified in this regard a number of countries of which to take note, including Russia, India, El Salvador, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Kazakhstan. We call on the Council to address these worsening situations and prevent further deterioration.

The Human Rights Council should listen to the voices of those affected
The success and credibility of the Council rely on the engagement and participation of those on the frontline of human rights. The Council is stronger when it can hear the voices of those affected. It can protect and support those trying to effect positive change in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. It can create a route to justice for victims of violations and accountability for perpetrators. But it can only do so if its members uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Access all statements here. 

ADOPTION OF UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEWS

The Universal Periodic Reviews of HungaryPapua New GuineaTanzania and Thailand were adopted, with governments accepting a number of recommendations relating to civic space. We stand ready to monitor and support their implementation.

SIDE EVENTS

Respect, Protect and Fulfil: Guaranteeing Access to Resources as a State Responsibility
In the context of increasing civic space restrictions worldwide, the ability of civil society to operate, mobilise and take action is being undermined by cutting off this vital funding supply. This event brought together the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly, civil society representatives from the human rights and humanitarian sectors, with a focus on India and Nicaragua, and a donor representative to discuss the extent and impact on civil society and its work of limiting access to resources. Watch the recording here.

Equity and Inclusion of Racial, Ethnic, and Religious Minority Groups in Healthy Democracies
Members of racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups play an indispensable role in their societies by organising their communities, providing services, and advocating to ensure that government policy reflects community needs. Building upon the themes discussed during the 2021 Summit for Democracy and in commemoration of the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, this event brought together State representatives, activists and researchers to highlight the importance of inclusion in democracies. Watch the recording here.

Defenders in Asia: Holding the line amid mounting challenges
In Asia, in 2021 alone, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) documented 820 cases of violations against HRDs across 18 Asian countries. This event explored the situation of HRDs and highlight key trends of attacks against human rights defenders across Asia; and provided concrete recommendations to relevant stakeholders including civil society organisations, UN member states, UN agencies, and businesses on what can be done to support HRDs and protect them from violations and abuses. Recording available here.

Terrorising Human Rights Defenders: Counter-terrorism as a tool of repression in the MENA region
The use of vague and overly broad language in anti-terror legislation across the MENA region has facilitated the mischaracterisation of independent, legitimate human rights activities as forms of terrorism and to the arrest of countless individuals over the years, including human rights defenders, activists, journalists and lawyers on unfounded terrorism charges. This event provided UN member states with an update on the situation and to propose ways to deal with the destructive impact of these laws, practices and policies on civil society. Recording available here.