General Assembly: 24th Plenary Meeting, 76th Session
While many Member States praised the Human Rights Council for its inclusivity and focus on human rights emergencies in Afghanistan, Myanmar and elsewhere, others accused it of being selective in its monitoring and condemnation, as the General Assembly took up the intergovernmental body’s annual report today.
Presenting its annual report (document A/76/53), Human Rights Council President Nazhat Shameem Khan (Fiji) said the Council’s diverse membership is among its greatest strengths at a time when global crises require a deep commitment of all States. “We have a collective moral duty to speak out for those who cannot speak, to champion their causes and to work towards the protection and promotion of human rights, everywhere,” she said.
Spotlighting issues discussed, she said the Council built on its work in 2020 on the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent, and against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers. Among resolutions adopted, one established a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change and another recognized the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The Council also established a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, which will benefit from additional expertise from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and is mandated to ensure accountability for violations and crimes under international law in the country.
The Council promptly responded to emergencies, holding three special sessions to address situations in Afghanistan, Myanmar and the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, she pointed out. It also extended mandates for the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the Special Rapporteurs on Belarus and Iran, and created a new mandate for OHCHR to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the situation in Sri Lanka.
Noting that the COVID‑19 pandemic has acted as a magnifying glass for pre‑existing human rights issues, she said the Council considered 12 reports highlighting multiple human rights dimensions of the pandemic and held five panel discussions. In adopting four resolutions to further address the irrefutable pandemic‑human rights link, the body recommended ways to ensure people’s rights are respected in the face of the devastating virus.
The General Assembly President, Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), stressing the importance of protecting human rights as the world recovers from the pandemic, hailed the Council’s adoption of a text stating that access to vaccines is a basic human right.
As the floor was opened for debate, several delegations commended the Council’s work in drawing attention to the rights of vulnerable groups during the pandemic and the human rights aspects of climate change. The representative of Bolivia supported the focus on indigenous peoples. The speaker for Bangladesh welcomed that the Rohingya issue continues to remain high on the Council’s agenda.
The European Union’s representative, in his capacity as observer, lauded the body’s continued efforts, sometimes in difficult circumstances, to address long‑lasting crises, such as in Myanmar, Afghanistan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The representative of Afghanistan said that since the Taliban’s illegal takeover of power on 15 August, his country has witnessed gross violations of human rights, in particular women’s rights, every day. He called on the international community to remain actively seized of the matter and to hold the Taliban to account. “The Taliban must never be allowed to roll back the substantial progress that we have collectively made over the past two decades towards the promotion of human rights and gender equality,” he stressed.
The speaker for Yemen, on behalf of a group of States, welcomed the Council’s decision not to extend the mandate of the United Nations Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen. The Group’s work failed to meet the applicable standards of reporting, shortcomings that were clearly recognized by most Council members. Saudi Arabia’s representative agreed, stressing the only way to end the crisis in Yemen is for the parties to come to an agreement based on regional initiatives.
Liechtenstein’s delegate said that the Council’s special sessions on Myanmar and Afghanistan should have produced stronger outcomes and suggested that the Assembly might step in if the Council can no longer help chart the way forward in Yemen. In a similar vein, the representative of the Netherlands, speaking for a group of States, said the international community must actively explore further alternative mechanisms to monitor the human rights situation in Yemen and ensure accountability.
The United States’ speaker noted her country’s reengagement with the Council as an observer and its election as a member for the 2022‑2024 term. She encouraged Ethiopia and all other relevant parties to implement the recommendations of the joint OHCHR‑Ethiopian Human Rights Council report on Tigray.
Ethiopia’s representative, however, said his Government had asked for the necessary time and space for the investigation to run its course. But the Council went ahead and adopted a politically motivated resolution, he said, referring to resolution 47/13, adopted in July. His country agreed to a joint investigation by national and international authorities and has exhibited transparency. However, unethical media have portrayed it unfairly.
Others, such as the speakers for India and Iran, said the Council continues to selectively focus on certain human rights issues and situations, which is counterproductive to its mandate of global promotion and protection of human rights. Country‑specific initiatives must enjoy the support of the concerned States so that they lead to the desired impact on the ground.
Also today, the Assembly adopted without a vote the draft decision “Participation in the high‑level meeting of the General Assembly on the appraisal of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons”.
Also speaking today were representatives of Venezuela (on behalf the Group of Friends in Defense of the United Nations Charter), Germany, Maldives, Philippines, Ukraine, Georgia, Switzerland, Israel, Chile, Malaysia, Canada, Argentina, Cameroon, Bolivia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Croatia, United Kingdom, Eritrea, Egypt, Uruguay, Colombia, Belarus, Bahamas, Myanmar, Syria, Indonesia, China, Rwanda and Algeria.
The representatives of Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Syria spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 2 November, to take up the report of the Economic and Social Council and to discuss follow‑up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit.