03/04/2019 Highlights from the 40th Human Rights Council Session

Highlights from the 40th Human Rights Council Session

Human Rights, 03/04/2019

From 25th February to the 22nd March 2019, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation participated in the 40th session of the Human Rights Council. The session saw the presentation of a number of thematic reports on topics such as freedom of religion or belief, the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, women human rights defenders and human rights and the environment. The Council also considered various countries of concern, including the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan.

A range of thematic resolutions were adopted at the end of the session on issues such as the Protection of Environmental Human Rights Defenders; Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law; Freedom of Religion or Belief; and the Promotion of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism.

The Foundation took the opportunity to highlight the exemplary work of its Laureates, and to draw attention to the risks and obstacles they face due to an increasingly restrictive environment for civil society around the world.

Here are some highlights from the four-week session:

Women Human Rights Defenders

Ruth Manorama at the Human Rights Council Side Event. (Photo: Amy Au)

Oral Statement on Women Human Rights Defenders: The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr Michel Forst, presented his report on the worsening global landscape for women engaged in human rights work. In response, we delivered a statement highlighting the situation of three female Laureates, Mozn Hassan, Kasha Nabagesera and Khadija Ismayilova, who have faced specifically gendered obstacles to their work in their home countries of Egypt, Uganda, and Azerbaijan respectively. We welcomed the priorities set by the report, and called on states urgently to ensure an enabling environment for women human rights defenders.

“WHRD: Local realities and shared global challenges”: Two days before the International Women’s Day (8th March), we hosted a side event that brought five Laureates (Sima Samar, Ruth Manorama, Charlotte dos Santos Pruth from Kvinna Till Kvinna, Mozn Hassan, and Helen Mack) together to talk about the worsening situation for women activists on the ground. They outlined key recommendations and strategic priorities to tackle discrimination and inequality, and to advance women’s rights.

Human Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia

“Saudi Arabia: Time for Accountability”: We co-hosted a side event on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, in partnership with MENA Rights Group, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture. In his opening remarks, Johannes Mosskin (Director of Communications) underlined that many human rights defenders are currently serving long sentences in prison in the Kingdom, including three Laureates of the 2018 Right Livelihood Award, Abdullah Al-Hamid, Waleed Abu Al-Khair and Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani. Other speakers included two UN Special Rapporteurs, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin and Michel Forst, Zaynab Al-Khawaja from the Gulf Centre, and Saudi activists Omaima Al-Najar and Yahya Assiri.

Michel Forst at the Human Rights Council Side Event. (Photo: Amy Au)

Michel Forst at the Human Rights Council Side Event. (Photo: Amy Au)

Oral Statement, Saudi Arabia’s Universal Periodic Review Adoption: Together with MENA Rights Group, we delivered an oral statement calling for the release of Abdullah Al-hamid, Mohammad Fahad Al-qahtani, and Waleed Abu Al-khair, as well as all other political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. We pointed out the increasing criminalisation of civil society activity and the severe crackdown on human rights defenders in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia has accepted many of the recommendations made by States in the third cycle of its Universal Periodic Review and must implement them accordingly.

On 7th March, as a result of civil society organisations’ continuous work, a landmark joint statement by 36 countries, led by Iceland, called on Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record and to release all individuals deprived of liberty solely for exercising their fundamental rights.

Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Oral Statement on Counter-Terrorism in Turkey: At this session, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, released her annual report, which highlighted the negative impacts of counter-terrorism policies on civil society. The Foundation delivered an oral statement drawing attention to the dangerous environment for journalists in Turkey, and the criminalisation of dissent under alleged terrorist threats, specifically in the case of the laureate organisation Cumhuriyet’s reporters and staff.

Oral Statement on Human Rights Abuses in Chechnya: We delivered a further oral statement condemning the abhorrent treatment of human rights activists in Chechnya and other Northern Caucasus Republics. In particular, we urged the international community to call for the release of Oyub Titiev, former Chechnya head of Memorial, a Right Livelihood Award Laureate of 2004. Five days after the statement, on 18th March, Titiev was sentenced to four years imprisonment for bogus charges of drug possession, after being held in pre-trail detention for over a year.

Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala

Iván Velásquez at FIFDH. (Photo: Alexander Berth)

Iván Velásquez at FIFDH. (Photo: Alexander Berth)

Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights, “For Memory, Against Impunity”: Iván Velásquez, Right Livelihood Award Laureate of 2018, participated in a panel on impunity in Guatemala. The discussion followed a screening of ‘Burden of Peace’, a film about Claudia Paz y Paz, the first woman to become Attorney General of Guatemala. Velásquez, head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), called for international actors to support the Guatemalan citizens working to strengthen justice, rule of law, and democratic institutions in the country.

“Corruption and Human Rights”: We co-sponsored an event organised by Red Internacional de Derechos Humanos (RIDH) on corruption and impunity in Guatemala and in the region. Iván Velásquez spoke alongside Jamil Chade (Brazilian journalist), Claudia Samayoa (founder of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit in Guatemala), and Ramon Munoz (RIDH).

Laureates in Geneva

We welcomed the following Laureates to Geneva in March:

  • Sima Samar (RLA 2012) spoke at the Foundation’s side event on women human rights defenders, and participated in a range of other side events and high-level meetings.
  • Ruth Manorama (RLA 2006) participated in the Foundation’s side event on women human rights defenders. She also delivered a statement on Dalit rights, on behalf of the International Dalit Solidarity Network and co-sponsored by RLAF.
  • Helen Mack Chang (RLA 1992) spoke at the Foundation’s side event on women human rights defenders, and met with permanent missions, UN officials, and other NGOs to discuss the current situation of human rights and democracy in Guatemala.
  • Charlotte dos Santos Pruth, Advocacy and Policy Advisor at Kvinna till Kvinna (RLA 2002), travelled to Geneva participate in the side event on women human rights defenders.
  • Raji Sourani (RLA 2013) spoke at an event organised by Palestinian organisation Al Mezan on Accountability and Human Rights in Gaza, following the peaceful March of Return protests that were violently suppressed by Israel in 2018. He also met with diplomats to discuss the ongoing human rights situation in Gaza and discussed the findings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
  • Iván Velásquez (RLA 2018) participated in a panel at the Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights. He also met with permanent missions and UN officials to discuss the CICIG commission and its work against impunity in Guatemala.

The United Nations Human Rights Council gathers three times a year in Geneva to discuss human rights situations around the world. For further information about the work of the Council, learn more at the OHCHR website.