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The 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council

On 1st July, the United Nations Human Rights Council opened its forty-fourth regular session in Geneva, Switzerland. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, started off with an update on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The session will continue until 17th July.

“Six months after the first cases were detected, it is clear that this epidemic threatens both peace and development – and that it calls for more civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, not less,” Bachelet said.

“Discrimination kills. Depriving people of their social and economic rights, kills. And these deaths and harms damage all of society. COVID-19 is like a heat-seeking device that exposes, and is fuelled by, systemic failures to uphold human rights.”

Today, 9th July, the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Obiora C. Okafor, addressed international solidarity and climate change, a topic he has submitted a report on. He also spoke about his mission to Qatar, which was followed by the concerned country statement and an interactive discussion.

According to the Independent Expert, an important goal of the report is to better illuminate the role of human rights-based international solidarity in responding to climate change, which is a common concern of humanity and a complementary objective is to strengthen the appreciation of the role that the lack of human rights-based international solidarity plays in exacerbating the challenges brought upon the world by climate change.

Mr Okafor considered it pressing to “address the issues identified in the report, given the tragic impacts of climate change across the world, the fact that greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high in 2018, and that diverse States, peoples and institutions are striving to contribute to the avoidance of further climate change-induced harm.”

The report concluded that “Given the existential threat posed by climate change and the negative human rights implications of the deficient progress made thus far to address many facets of the problem through cooperation, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and the highest possible ambition for direct action (i.e., human rights-based international solidarity), it is imperative that States and other actors vastly strengthen their efforts to address the concerns raised in the present report.”

“The Human Rights Council is very well positioned to facilitate that process.”

Among other things, the report recommends that “all States, corporations and international organizations should take all necessary separate and joint steps towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, consistent with their highest possible ambitions to reduce emissions and the common objective of keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5°C under the Paris Agreement.”

Mr Okafor also spoke about his mission to Qatar. He conducted a visit from the 2nd to 10th September 2019 and, in accordance with his mandate, the objective was to learn about the nature and scope of development cooperation and other human rights related solidarity policies and activities in Qatar.

In the report submitted to the Council on his visit, Mr Okafor, among other points, recommends “that the Government of Qatar ratify the international human rights instruments to which it is not yet a party, including the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.”

He also noted that:

“With regard to migrant workers and particularly domestic workers, the Independent Expert recommends that the Government establish stronger monitoring and inspection mechanisms, including with regard to the implementation of recently enacted laws, such as an independent mechanism to monitor the functioning of the wage protection system and access to justice for foreign migrant workers.”

Later during this week, the sessions will discuss, among other things, the role of civil society, how business and human rights interact, corruption, racial equality in the context of information technology and the situation in Honduras, Georgia, Iraq and Kuwait.

About the Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.

The Council was created by the United Nations General Assembly in March 2006 and a year later, the Council adopted its “Institution-building package” to guide its work and set up its procedures and mechanisms. Among them were the Universal Periodic Review mechanism which serves to assess the human rights situations in all United Nations Member States, the Advisory Committee which serves as the Council’s “think tank” providing it with expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues and the Complaint Procedure which allows individuals and organisations to bring human rights violations to the attention of the Council.

The Human Rights Council also works with the UN Special Procedures established by the former Commission on Human Rights and now assumed by the Council. These are made up of special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts and working groups that monitor, examine, advise and publicly report on thematic issues or human rights situations in specific countries.

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