Highlights of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council
From February 22 to March 24, 2021, the Right Livelihood Foundation participated in the forty-sixth session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). The session, which due to COVID19 was held entirely virtually, saw the presentation of a number of thematic and country-specific reports, and the adoption of 31 resolutions.
Read the full report, or check out the highlights from the five-week session below:
Human Rights Crisis in Belarus
Ales Bialiatski (2020 Right Livelihood Laureate) visited Geneva on the occasion of the 46th session of the HRC. He met with a number of decision-makers to shed light on the deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus. While discussing with UN representatives and diplomats, including the UK, EU, German and Swedish Ambassadors to the UN in Geneva, he denounced the violent crackdown on peaceful protests, arbitrary arrests against human rights defenders and journalists, including four members of his organisation Human Rights Center “Viasna”, and the use of torture by the Belarusian authorities.
These meetings came at a very crucial moment, with a resolution on the human rights violations in Belarus under negotiation at the Council. Bialiatski urged States to insist on the creation, through the upcoming resolution, of a mechanism to hold perpetrators accountable and to end impunity.
We strongly welcome that the resolution was adopted on March 24, with 20 votes in favour, 7 against and 20 abstentions. Other than denouncing the severity of the violations that occurred in the run-up and aftermath of the Presidential elections of August 2020, the resolution mandates the High Commissioner to create a specific monitoring and reporting mechanism focused on accountability.
Bialiatski also addressed the Council through a video statement during the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review of Belarus. He deplored Belarus’ failure to acknowledge key human rights issues, by rejecting crucial recommendations on impunity, cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms, and the release of political prisoners.
Lastly, jointly with Bialiatski’s organisation Viasna, the Foundation intervened during the presentation of the UN High Commissioner’s report on Belarus, condemning the arbitrary detention of Viasna’s members by police forces during the violent repression of protests, as a reprisal for their human rights documentation work.
During his time in Geneva, Bialiatski also participated in the Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) to discuss the role that the international community can play to help Belarusian people to achieve democracy.
Indigenous and afro-descendants peoples’ rights in Nicaragua
The High Commissioner presented her report on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, which states that indigenous communities and afro-descendants “face challenges owing to recurrent invasions and violent attacks by settlers (colonos)” and that “when these communities lose their lands, they also face hunger and disease”. Lottie Cunningham Wren (2020 Right Livelihood Laureate) has been instrumental in defending their rights, lands and resources. She denounced that throughout 2020 land grabbing and attacks against the communities by illegal armed settlers have severely increased.
During the Interactive Dialogue that followed, jointly with Cunningham Wren’s organisation CEJUDHCAN, and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), we addressed the Council to denounce these crimes. We condemned Nicaragua’s failure to comply with national and international laws protecting indigenous’ peoples rights, and the government collusion with business interests, thus encouraging violence and land grabbing. Together with CEJIL, we reiterated these calls in a General Debate.
Denouncing the human rights violations in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua at the Council was of utmost importance, as informal consultations on the resolution on Nicaragua were taking place at the margins of the session. The new resolution was adopted on March 23 by 20 votes in favour, 8 against and 18 abstentions. It strongly condemns the intensification of the repression in Nicaragua and ensures continued scrutiny by the Council in the next year.
We particularly welcome the inclusion in the text of violations facing indigenous peoples, and especially that the Council urged the Government of Nicaragua “to seek free, prior and informed consent […] and to take effective measures, in consultation with indigenous peoples, to prevent and address the increasing violence committed against them, including by conducting prompt and independent investigations into alleged killings and land seizures by armed groups”.
On March 12, following the presentation of the report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment on the global water crisis, we co-sponsored a side-event organised by the International Network for Human Rights (RIDH) and Peace Brigades International, on women defenders of land and the environment in Central America. Lottie Cunningham Wren, who shared the panel with the Special Rapporteur and other three women defenders from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, denounced the violence and criminalisation of those defending their communities’ territories and natural resources, and reiterated her calls for the effective implementation of the last step of the indigenous territories’ demarcation process, requiring the expulsion of colonos and corporations.
Women Human Rights Defenders in Iran and Egypt
During the session, we addressed the issue of intimidation and reprisals against Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) in two of the most repressive countries when it comes to promoting women’s rights and advancing gender equality: Iran and Egypt.
On March 9, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights situation in Iran presented his annual report, which condemns the Iranian authorities’ use of arbitrary charges to prolong the detention of activists, including Nasrin Sotoudeh (2020 Right Livelihood Laureate). In the following Interactive Dialogue, the Foundation spoke on behalf of Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh’s husband, who not only denounced his wife’s arbitrary detention, but also reported the judicial harassment against their family. In solidarity with all Iranian political prisoners, he called on the Council to urge their release. In addition, the Council adopted a resolution by 21 votes in favour, 12 against and 14 abstentions, ruling to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further period of one year.
Egyptian feminist Mozn Hassan (2016 Right Livelihood Laureate) also addressed the Council on March 10, bringing the attention to the growing systemic inclination by Egyptian authorites to largely target feminist activists, social media influencers, and WHRDs who speak up and defend women’s rights in the public sphere. During the same debate, thirty-one States made a joint declaration urging Egypt to guarantee space for civil society “to work without fear of intimidation, harassment, arrest, detention or any other form of reprisals”, including by lifting travel bans and asset freezes – to which Hassan and her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies have been subjected since 2016.
The issue of reprisals against WHRDs has long been one of the focuses of the Foundation, and 2020 saw a clear deterioration of their situation around the world. To create a space for discussion and seek solutions to this worrisome trend, on March 4, we organised the virtual event “Feminist Foreign Policy and Implications for WHRDs”. bringing together decision-makers and feminist activists to explore meaningful ways to create a conducive environment for those working in repressive environments. The high-level panel counted with contributions from Laureates Mozn Hassan and Sima Samar, who didn’t refrain from expressing their full solidarity with imprisoned fellow Laureate Nasrin Sotoudeh.
Western Sahara and the issue of self-determination
With the breaking of the ceasefire agreement between Morocco and the Polisario Front, the recognition by the former US administration of Western Sahara as part of Morocco, and increased human rights violations against the Sahrawi people, the situation in the occupied territories of Western Sahara significantly escalated in the second half of 2020. Aminatou Haidar (2019 Right Livelihood Laureate), who has personally repeatedly been targeted by the Moroccan authorities before and after the establishment of her organisation ISACOM, made an urgent call for action to the Council during the session, urging the international community to implement prompt and effective measures to prevent further violence.
The Foundation is part of the Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara, a group counting more than 250 NGOs advocating for an end to the illegal military occupation of Western Sahara. During the session, the group delivered two video statements during General Debate Item 2 and Item 10, calling on the Office of the High Commissioner to urgently implement a programme of technical cooperation and capacity building and to condemn serious violations of International Humanitarian Law and systematic human rights violations against the Sahrawi people.
Human rights violations in Russia
The sentence to 3 years and 6 months imprisonment handed down in February 2021 to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny sparked indignation and mass protests across the country. Human Rights Center “Memorial” (2004 Right Livelihood Laureate) brought the issue in front of the Council and spoke out about the violent repression by police forces. In the video statement, Tatiana Glushkova of Memorial called for the release of Navalny and all political prisoners, and for the repealing of repressive laws impeding the work of civil society.
During the same debate, forty-five States delivered a cross-regional joint statement expressing concern at the deteriorating situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia. The group of States urged the Russian authorities to respect their obligations under international human rights law.
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
During the Interactive Dialogue on the situation of human rights in the DRC, we joined the Lutheran World Federation, the DRC’s National Survivors Network, the Mukwege Foundation and the Panzi Foundation, established by Denis Mukwege (2013 Right Livelihood Laureate), to express deep concern at the continued perpetration of SGBV in the DRC. We highlighted the importance of ending impunity, providing access to justice and holistic support for survivors. Lastly, we urged the creation of an effective and comprehensive justice and reconciliation mechanism, including its components of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition.