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40th session of Human Rights Council concludes: “Syria is far from returning to normal”

The 40th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) ended on Friday 22nd March after a month of high-level discussions in Geneva. The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body that is a part of the UN consisting of 47 states whose responsibility and role are to highlight the protection of human rights on a global scale.

This year’s focus, amongst many other items, ranged from media freedom, rights of the child, rights of person with disabilities, violence against women and right to work and freedom of media. The focal point of human rights ranged from countries afar afield as Nicaragua, Cameroon, the Georgia regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the fall of the last territory of Daesh in Syria.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, closing statement spoke of the continuing efforts of the international community to remain vigilant of human rights in Syria even with the threat of Daesh receding in the region.

“Turning to Syria I welcome the resolution adopted by the Council. The liberation of the last territory held by Daesh is a historic moment, but Syria is far from returning to normal. The international community must continue to highlight ongoing violations and abuses by all sides and support UN-led efforts for a political resolution. The Commission of Inquiry’s work is vital, and I welcome the renewal of its mandate for another year.”

The UK shares the views and concerns of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, held at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, on arbitrary detention which include those of activists, civil defence volunteers and recent returnees which includes recently recaptured areas of the country.

On freedom of the media Lord Ahmad spoke of the UK’s commitment to this human right and “On behalf of our co-hosts, the Government of Canada, and ourselves” invited all Foreign Ministers from this Council to attend the event that will take place in London on 10 and 11 July. This will be an international conference bringing together journalists, civil society and governments from around the world to highlight the issue.

“[…] according to Reporters Without Borders, 2018 was the most dangerous year on record to be a journalist. 80 were murdered, 348 imprisoned and a further 60 taken hostage.”

He continued: “That is why, this year, the UK has launched a campaign to champion media freedom. We want the world to know that journalism is not a crime. On the contrary, media freedom is an essential element of the human right of freedom of expression. Our campaign will advocate for the benefits of a free media; it will generate international support for the protection of journalists; and it will press for legislation to protect media freedom, not constrain it.”

The delegates heard statements by some 100 high-level dignitaries with Maria Ferananda Espinosa Garcés, President of the UN General Assembly, opening of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council. She highlighted some pertinent facts such as half the population of the world’s women and girls still remain victims of discrimination and violence in all countries across the globe. As well as mentioning that, according to 2018 figures, one of the biggest challenges for the human rights agenda is inequality with the concentration of wealth increased with 26 persons possessing, “more money than the 3800 million poorest people in the world”.

Michelle Bachelet former president of Chile, 2018, who is now UN High Commissioner of Human Rights also had an opening speech that acknowledged the work that must be done to fight for human rights across the globe.

“No country has a perfect human rights record, but all acknowledge that their people have rights, which the Government must uphold and protect. I am convinced States can meet these expectations, and I will continue my close engagement with Member States – to understand their approach and context and assist them in fulfilling their responsibilities.”

She continued: “Where leaders have the foresight to see the advantages of human rights-based policies, and the political will to advance them, we will be eager to bring practical assistance. Our technical cooperation programmes and policy guidance – which benefit from careful human rights monitoring and analysis – will have powerful effect.”

More than 83 reports under the various items of the Council’s agenda were considered. And the Council considered 29 texts that were all resolutions, however this represents a 31% drop in the number of adopted texts compared to one-year previously.

The new Permanent Representative of Mozambique to the United Nations, based in Vienna,
Mr. Amadeu Paulo Samuel da Conceição spoke of Cyclone Idai. The destruction it caused in Mozambique and neighbouring countries, the humanitarian urgency and how climate change is a prominent factor in these natural disasters.

“Thousands if not millions have lost everything through this natural disaster. We have no doubt that Idai Cyclone’s effect on our sister countries like Malawi and Zimbabwe is a clear display of the impact of climate change which is threatening our collective human rights to live in a safe and sound environment”.

The overview of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council this year saw the delivery of a number of important and positive commitments to human rights such as: adopting the resolution on Nicaragua sending a signal to victims of the current crisis that impunity for human rights violations to continue. The resolution on Myanmar that ended impunity and ensures accountability for those committing human rights violations. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism in Mexico and other states. And the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief mandate, that addresses religious intolerance.

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