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47th session of the Human Rights Council opens with women’s rights high on the agenda

This year, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji is presiding as President of the United Nations Human Rights Council forty-seventh regular session. From 21 June to 13 July 2021 the Palais des Nations in Geneva will be the venue, despite many of the participants having to join virtually due to Covid restrictions.

The depth and breadth of the sessions highlights the need more than ever for a place to bring the world together to discuss human rights. Over 70 thematic and country reports will be presented, the final outcomes of 14 states’ Universal Periodic Reviews given and 30 interactive dialogue sessions with a spread across 40 countries will be held with rights experts and civil society.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights began proceedings with her annual report then focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic which has caused a ripple effect across the world; impacting all areas of human rights:

“Navigating a clear way out of the complex COVID-19 crisis and towards an inclusive, green, sustainable and resilient future will be the work of this generation of world leaders or their downfall…[The UN Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights] places support for the full spectrum of all human rights at the heart of every society’s capacity to recover from the pandemic emergency and at the core of all UN bodies and teams”

The 47th session will have a particular focus on the human rights of women with a full-day discussion on the human rights of women, which will address violence against women and girls with disabilities. There is also a Working Group dialogue on discrimination against women and separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, this is in addition to a high-level panel discussion on the multisectoral prevention of and response to female genital mutilation.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office tweeted its support for a female focus at the 47th Session noting

“The UK will champion girls’ education and call for strong action on the world’s most pressing human rights challenges.”

IOHR has partnered with the International Association for Human Rights Advocacy in Geneva (IAHRAG) to provide a specific briefing on the human rights violations to women in the Republic of Turkey to specific UN missions with a call to reinstate the Istanbul Convention.

Valerie Peay, IOHR Director said

“the Human Right Council sessions enable the whole international community to identify, explore and address human rights violations together in a transparent and rules based environment. Without favour or bias, it enables debate and a shared understanding of the key issues that impact women and girls so that remedies can be found and countries called to stand up to their international obligations.”

On Tuesday, the Human Rights Council will hear the presentation of a report by the Secretary-General on Iran which is timely with the results of the Iranian election bringing hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi to power as President Elect. Close to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Raisi has already faced international outcry against his history of human rights violations and his position on the role of women in Iranian society. Iran has not given entry to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran in the three years he has held the post and refused to acknowledge his findings of human rights violations.

This year the Council will hold separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

IOHR will be supporting this session with an oral statement, Peay noted “ we are honoured to be invited to share a platform with the Global Alliance Against Female Genital Mutilation and IAHRAG to give an oral statement on the dire situation of freedom of expression in Turkey today based on the knowledge gathered from witnesses and civil society partners.”

The Council will engage in separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons and the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the Prevention of Genocide at the end of the first week. Michelle Bachelet highlighted the need to “anchor our states in the sound foundation of justice” but did not allude to the call of genocide and crimes against humanity against China, however she did raise the request for access to Xinjiang.

“I continue to discuss with China modalities for a visit, including meaningful access, to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and hope this can be achieved this year.”

The Chinese response from Liu Yuyin, spokesman at China’s mission in Geneva was swift,

“The High Commissioner is advised to stop making erroneous remarks against China, and refrain from interfering in China’s sovereignty and judicial independence.”

As China is holding the Winter Olympics next year and facing calls for a boycott, it remains to be seen the responses in the Council’s quadrennial panel discussion on promoting human rights through sport and the Olympic ideal; under the theme of “The potential of leveraging sport and the Olympic ideal for promoting human rights for young people”.

The Human Rights Council – background

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, made up of 47 States, which are responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. The Council was created by the United Nations General Assembly on 15 March 2006 with the main purpose of addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them.

The composition of the Human Rights Council at its forty-seventh session is as follows:

Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, France, Gabon, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Libya, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

The President of the Human Rights Council in 2021 is Ambassador Nazhat Shameen Khan, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

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