19 September 2019, GENEVA - The 41st regular session of the Human Rights Council (HRC40) was held from Monday 24 June to Friday 12 July 2019 at the United Nations Office in Geneva. It included the holding of 4 panel discussions and 198 side events, the presentation of 74 reports, the adoption of 26 resolutions and the review of 14 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) outcomes of UN member States.
The Geneva Centre regularly followed the proceedings of this 40th session, in particular those relating to the human rights situation in Arab States and themes of special interest.
I: Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to education
Presentation by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Ms Koumbou Boly Barry
On 26 June, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education Ms Koumbou Boly Barry presented her report on the implementation of the right to education and Sustainable Development Goal 4. In her presentation, she stated that over the past two decades, there have been massive, unprecedented changes in the structure of education systems, whereby private actors have taken a stronger role in all countries. The Special Rapporteur added that such changes create a phenomenon of privatisation in and of education, threatening the right to education, and the realisation of SDG 4. She called on all States to firmly regulate the involvement of private sector in education as the latter is a human right, a public good and an obligation of States. Ms Boly Barry likewise warned that, while private education may sometimes be necessary to temporarily reach the largest number of students, as well as to guarantee freedom of education and to offer parents and learners freedom of choice, the use of for-profit private actors leads to many abuses. In conclusion, she underlined that she had very recently contacted the Global Education Partnership to express her concern over its discussion of the possibility of financing commercial actors working in the field of education, and that she intends to continue the discussion with them on that issue.
Statements by member States
- Egypt = Stated that Egypt concurs with the UN Special Rapporteur’s conclusion that ensuring the right to education requires the provision of free quality public education for all, as set forth in SDG 4. The speaker remarked that in articles 19, 20, and 21 of the Egyptian Constitution, the latter affirms that education is a fundamental human right for every Egyptian citizen.
- Qatar = Stated that they share the view of the Special Rapporteur on the importance of working towards the achievement of SDG 4 on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. Added that the State of Qatar ranked first in the Arab countries and fifth globally according to the latest classification of the World Economic Forum for the quality of the educational system for 2017/2018
- UAE = Highlighted that the UAE shares the concerns of the Special Rapporteur that the disparity between public and private education may pose a threat to the implementation of SDG 4. Stated that the government of UAE has adopted a dual strategy of building a strong educational system. It was added that the country has a strict legislation regarding the regulation of private schools including supervising the licensing and accreditation process of educational institutions, as well as conducting assessment visits to these schools on an annual basis. In conclusion, the delegation of the UAE stated that it will soon host the Special Rapporteur on the right to education as part of her field visit to the country, and in this context, they look forward to working and cooperating with her during and after her visit.
II: Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women
On 27 June, an annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women was organized at the United Nations Office in Geneva. In her opening remarks, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Michelle Bachelet said that widespread violence against women in the world of work was a major impediment to women’s enjoyment of their fundament rights and freedoms. Failure to pursue career development led many women and girls to be trapped in economic insecurity. This was a great loss: studies showed that women’s participation in the global economy could add USD 12 trillion to gross domestic product growth by 2025. A culture of impunity which minimized violence against women exposed women in informal occupations to higher risks of violence and abuse, she said, and stressed that every State, business, factory, community and individual had an interest in addressing these issues. Guaranteeing access to justice and effective remedies for women and girls was necessary, which could be accomplished through effective labour protection, occupational safety and health policies, and complaint mechanisms that prevented and responded to violence.
The Prime Minister of Iceland HE Ms. Karin Jakobsdóttir, in her opening remarks, said women were still far from achieving equality in political participation and still distant from vital decision-making processes that heavily impacted their lives. Previous victories regarding women’s reproductive freedom were under threat in far too many places; women’s bodies were being re-politicized and debates that should have been over decades ago were emerging again. This came at the same time as the #MeToo movement continued to expose the systematic harassment, violence and everyday sexism that women across various layers of societies were subjected to. Violence against women was both the cause and consequence of wider gender inequalities, and Iceland was committed to developing a better understanding of the revelations of the #MeToo movement at home and abroad. The sexist structures could only be dismantled through a large movement, she said, adding “We must do this together”.
Surya Deva, Chairperson of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and panel moderator, said that businesses should work with States and other stakeholders to address the root causes of violence against women in the world of work; try to bring systemic changes to patriarchal power structures, social norms, and gender stereotypes that bred violence; and seek to have more women in senior positions and provide managerial staff with gender-sensitive training.
Ms Maria Luz Vega, Coordinator of the Future of Work Initiative at the ILO, recalled that the Declaration of Philadelphia stipulated that human beings had the right “to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual development in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity”. It followed that violence and harassment at work was the anti-thesis of decent work. The ILO’s new convention was an important step to foster a more equal world of work for men and women, and to prevent, identify and address violence, including gendered violence. It reflected an awareness that certain practices and some kinds of behaviour were damaging not only for individuals but also for the working environment, productivity, and business reputation.
Ms Dubravka Simonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, recalled that this year marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of her mandate and noted with concern that the reason that had led to its establishment, namely violence against women, remained widespread, including in the world of work. As an independent mechanism for the elimination of violence against women, the mandate had addressed all its forms, including sexual harassment, as a human rights violation, with a particular focus on States’ obligations to adhere to a standard of due diligence when addressing the issue of violence against women. Systemic gender-based violence against women persisted in all societies and women around the world were disproportionately impacted by gender-based violence, including sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
Statements by States
- Egypt = Stated that the country has adopted the “National Strategy to Combat Violence against Women 2015-2020” to address violence against women and girls. Highlighted that there is no doubt that violence against women in the field of work and discrimination against them is one of the types of violence that negatively affects the rates of development in the country, Added that the government of Egypt remains committed to address any discriminatory practices that prevail in the Egyptian society and in workplaces adversely targeting women.
- Kuwait = Stated that Kuwait rejects any derogation or violation of women’s rights as women and men are equal before the law in public rights and duties, and there should be no discrimination between them on the basis of sex, origin, language or religion. Added that Kuwait remains committed to protect and promote women's rights by reviewing and updating all national legislation related to women's issues so as to contribute to the elimination of all forms of discrimination.
Statements by international and civil society organizations:
- Plan International = Highlighted that Urgent action is required to end gender-based discrimination and recognize violence and harassment in the world of work as a major human rights issue. More than one in three countries have no laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, it was said. Urged the Human Rights Council to make a strong statement that all forms of violence constitute a violation of human rights, regardless of where it takes place.
- UN Women = Stated that violence and harassment against women hamper their empowerment and their access to and progress in the labor market. Added that come women are disproportionately affected by violence because of their employment status, the type of work they carry out, or because of the conditions in the sector that they work in. Highlighted that violence and harassment against women and girls are often rooted in unequal gender power dynamics, gender stereotypes, patriarchal values and historical inequalities between men and women. Commended the newly adopted ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work and the joint handbook by UN Women and ILO on compiling lessons learned and emerging good practices to address violence against women in the world of work.
III: Panel debate: The human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs): progress and challenges
- On 01 July 2019, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue attended the conference on “The human rights of IDPs: progress and challenges” organized as a side event to the 41st regular session of the UN Human Rights Council.
- The aim of the event was to share good practices on measures taken to protect the basic human rights of more than 40 million IDPs worldwide. The conference likewise aspired to draw further attention on challenges faced by IDPs, and to take stock of global initiatives focusing on enhancing the protection and promotion of human rights of IDPs in countries affected by internal displacement.
- In his opening remarks, the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to UN in Geneva, HE Ambassador Vaqif Sadiqov, recalled that that there are more IDPs than refugees worldwide. Despite the fact that there are twice as many IDPs than refugees in the world, IDPs are not entitled to protection under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, as addressing the causes and consequences of forced displacement of IDPs remains primarily a sovereign and an internal issue. Ambassador Sadiqov underlined that the UN system has been construed in such a way that displacement issues involving trans-border migrants and refugees receive higher priority.
- In her statement, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs, Mrs Cecilia-Jimenez Damary, noted an urgent need for a system-wide approach to internal displacement at the UN. It was regrettable that the situation of internally displaced persons continued to be overlooked; to move forward, it was important to focus on the national level, find context-specific solutions for internally displaced persons, and ensure their participation in decision-making.
- The Deputy Chairman of the State Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan for Refugees and IDPs, Mr Fuad Huseynov, highlighted that the government of Azerbaijan has made it a key priority to enhance access to accessible housing, employment, livelihood options and education for IDPs in the country. The speaker stated that close to 400 decrees and 35 laws have been adopted by the government to Azerbaijan to enhance the rights and social status of IDPs. Baku has also taken steps to enhance employment opportunities for IDPs so as to improve their livelihood, well-being and resilience.
- The Director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Ms Alexandra Bilak, stated that forced displacement of IDPs must receive increased political attention. She noted that the issue of internal displacement is not just a humanitarian challenge, but needs to be treated as a fundamentally political and developmental one as well. Ms Bilak observed that neglecting internal displacement and letting it linger for a long-time is going to take its toll on individuals, societies and national economies.
- The Deputy Director of the Department for Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Mrs Farah Ajalova, reiterated the importance of identifying a peaceful solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh so as to address prolonged internal displacement and to identify durable solutions to the human rights situations of IDPs. These elements – the speaker said – are consistent with the efforts carried out by the OSCE Minsk Group to mediate a peaceful solution between Yerevan and Baku to the current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh
IV: Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
Independent International Commission of Inquiry (IICI) on the Syrian Arab Republic:
In his oral presentation to the Human Rights Council, the Chair of the IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic Mr Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro offered an update on the situation in Syria and the endeavours undertaken by the IICI to address the adverse human rights and humanitarian situation in the country. Mr Pinheiro stated that the fragile ceasefire in the demilitarized zone of northwest Syria is at risk of total collapse. He stated that the response of the Syrian government to attacks launched by terrorist groups and its affiliates has been wholly disproportionate, including attacks against protected structures and installations in residential areas within the demilitarized zone. The current surge of conflict in the demilitarised zone – he said – is further causing mass displacement of civilians in Idlib. To address the plight of the civilian population, Mr Pinheiro urged the Syrian government to provide humanitarian access and assistance to embattled and food-insecure regions. With regard to missing persons in the conflict, Mr Pinheiro urged the Syrian government and warring parties to comply with the provisions set forth in Resolution 2474 requiring all parties to the conflict to account for people reported missing and to provide family members with any information they may have on their fate.
Statements by Permanent Member States:
- Algeria: Reiterated its consistent position on the need for an inclusive political solution to the situation in Syria. Remained concerned by the presence of terrorist groups in the country. Called upon the international community to promote a climate conducive to peace and stability in the country.
- Bahrain: Expressed deep concern about the adverse humanitarian situation in Idlib. Emphasized the need for all warring parties to assume moral responsibility by moving away from combat tactics that violate the most basic principles of international humanitarian law, including the siege of cities, the scorched earth policy and the bombing of basic infrastructure such as medical and educational facilities. In conclusion, Bahrain reaffirmed its firm commitment to support international efforts aimed at resolving the conflict in Syria in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2254.
- Egypt: Remained concerned by the adverse humanitarian situation in Idlib. Called upon involved parties to respect international humanitarian law and to respect the human rights of civilians. Expressed its support to find a negotiated solution to the armed conflict in Syria.
- European Union (EU): Stated it was deeply concerned by the situation in the north-west of Syria, namely in the provinces of Idlib and northern Hama. Called upon all sides to fully respect international humanitarian law. Strongly condemned the indiscriminate attacks on civilians. In conclusion, the EU called for a negotiated political settlement to the armed conflict in Syria in accordance with UNSCR 2254.
- Iraq: Called for the respect of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria. Reiterated its support to facilitate the safe and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Urged the international community to address the humanitarian situation in the occupied Golan Heights.
- Jordan: Appealed to the international community to address the adverse human rights situation of people on the move, encompassing refugees and IDPs, and to facilitate their voluntarily return to Syria once the political situation improves. Expressed its support to a negotiated solution to the armed conflict in Syria in line with the provisions set forth in UNSCR 2254.
- Kuwait: Strongly condemned the systematic violations of human rights inflicted on the Syrian population. It deplored the indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population in northern Syria. Appealed to the international community to address humanitarian issues, related to the provision of safe and sustainable access to humanitarian assistance, the uplifting of military sieges in urban areas, address crimes against humanity and to bring perpetrators to justice. In conclusion, Kuwait called for a negotiated political solution to the conflict in line with UNSCR 2254.
- Qatar: Stated that the Syrian Army and its allies are responsible for the adverse humanitarian situation in Idlib. Added that Damascus continues to violate international humanitarian law and the Sochi ceasefire agreement through the repeated use of indiscriminate bombing on civilian facilities. In conclusion, Qatar called upon the international community to take the necessary measures to clarify the fate of detainees and missing persons in Syria and to hold accountable all those responsible for violations and crimes committed in the country.
- Saudi Arabia: Remained concerned by the ongoing violations of international humanitarian law and the adverse human rights situation of the civilian population in Idlib. Expressed its support for a political settlement to the conflict in line with UNSCR 2254. Called for the safe and voluntary return of IDPs and refugees to Syria once the conflict comes to an end.
- Syria: Called upon the international community to respect the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and to stop interfering in the internal matters of the country. Deplored the presence of violent and extremist groups that continue to destabilize the situation. Stressed that the imposition of unilateral coercive measures has adversely affected the economic and social situation in the country. Stated that it remains the country’s priority to regain military control over its territory.
- United Arab Emirates (UAE): Stated that the UAE remains deeply concerned by the escalation of violence in Idlib. The UAE urged all parties to respect the cease-fire agreement and to abide by its provisions so as to end hostilities. Pointed out that the UAE has announced a donation of USD 65 million to address the adverse humanitarian situation in the country following the holding of Third Brussels Conference on "Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region" held on 16 March 2019. Stated that the country has already allocated USD 1 billion for emergency and humanitarian development assistance to IDPs and Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Greece. In conclusion, the UAE called for a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
International and civil society organizations:
- Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW): Stated that it remained concerned by the prevailing humanitarian situation in Idlib, which has deteriorated severely since bombings resumed in February 2019. Added that the situation of Christians in Idlib remains of particular concern. In conclusion, CSW called on all parties to engage in a political process to end the armed conflict in Syria, and to respect the rights of religious minorities in the region.
- UN Women: Expressed its grave concern with regard to the tens of thousands of civilians displaced by recent battles in eastern Syria. Appealed to the Syrian government to address the appalling and inhumane conditions of shelter, health and hygiene that detainees are enduring in the country. Highlighted that it stands in solidarity with women and children adversely affected by the conflict in Syria.
V: UPR adoption of Yemen
Representative of the Government of the Republic of Yemen: Minister of Human Rights Mr Mohammed Mohsen Mohammed Askar:
The Minister of Human Rights highlighted the importance of the role of the Human Rights Council and the universal periodic review in protecting and promoting human rights. He said that the government of Yemen had confidence in the universal periodic review mechanism and was committed to implementing the resulting recommendations. In this connection, Mr Mohammed Askar stated that the government accepted 201 of the 252 recommendations made and that the government had set up a committee to implement these recommendations. However, as a result of the complex and difficult situation in Yemen emanating from the civil war, the universal periodic review recommendations have been difficult to implement. Despite this, the speaker noted that the country remained committed to ensuring equality for women and to fighting discrimination against them through constitutional and legal means. It was likewise highlighted that the government had developed a strategy to fight child recruitment and reintegrate children who had been involved in armed conflict into society. Mr Mohammed Askar also underlined that Yemen remains committed to protecting vulnerable groups, including migrants, refugees, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) from violence and exploitation. The Minister of Human Rights concluded his statement by affirming the commitment of Yemen to fulfilling all of its obligations under international conventions and treaties, in particular its obligation to protect and promote human rights.
Statements by Permanent Member States (OIC):
- Algeria: Commended the endeavours undertaken by Yemen to enhance the promotion of human rights. Expressed its support to Yemen for accepting two recommendations proposed by Algeria regarding the exploitation and trafficking of children.
- Bahrain: Expressed support to Yemen for its endeavours to improve the human rights situation in the country despite the civil war. Praised Yemen for setting up a National Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights violations since the coup and to combat the recruitment, use and exploitation of children by armed forces and groups.
- Egypt: Expressed support to Yemen for complying with the UPR recommendations put forward by UN member States. Pleased that Yemen accepted Egypt’s two recommendations with regard to strengthening the independence of the judiciary and to addressing human trafficking.
- Kuwait: Appreciated the steps taken by Yemen to implement the UPR recommendations. Encouraged Yemen to undertake further efforts to address the humanitarian needs of the Yemeni people affected by the armed conflict.
- Oman: Expressed support to Yemen for the completion of the UPR report and for having accepted the recommendations made by Oman regarding the delivery of food assistance for those in need and to rebuild educational infrastructure destroyed during the civil war.
VI: Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on racism
UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance Ms E. Tendayi Achiume:
- In her statement, the UN Special Rapporteur presented the outcome of her report on combatting the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism, and related practices to recruit youth into their hateful and discriminatory ideologies. She said that contemporary recruitment into hate groups is predominantly online, and often targets children and young people. Unfortunately, online recruitment strategies have allowed these groups to exert broad influence while also enjoying some degree of anonymity. In this regard, she observed that States have an obligation to curb the recruitment of youth into Nazi, neo-Nazi, and other discriminatory ideologies. International human rights law also requires States – the UN Special Rapporteur said – to adopt legal and policy measures to curb the propagation of these ideas, including on online platforms. In conclusion, the UN Special Rapporteur emphasized that State adoption of formal provisions alone will be insufficient to combat youth recruitment and online propaganda. In this connection, she said that States must install effective protections and ensure effective remedies to impede children and youth from falling prey to online propaganda.
Statements by Permanent Member States (OIC):
- Algeria: Observed that acts of terror perpetrated by fanatical extremists highlight the necessity of collective action by political actors to address the rise of hateful, discriminatory and racist speeches. Appealed to all UN member States to endorse the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) and to cooperate with the Group of Eminent Independent Experts on the implementation of the DDPA.
- Azerbaijan: Stated that the country attaches great importance to its conviction that peaceful co-existence is based on respect for human dignity and which constitutes the basis for justice, peace and development. Condemned all forms and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance worldwide.
- Morocco: Underlined that the country is playing a key role in addressing the root-causes of religious fundamentalism and radicalism in the country. Highlighted that the country remains committed to promote tolerance, peaceful co-existence and dialogue between societies.
- Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC): Emphasized the importance of addressing the unprecedented rise of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance in advanced and developed societies. Urged the member States of the UN to condemn all forms and manifestations of Islamophobia.
- Qatar: Condemned the rise of hate speech and racist practices that have been inflicted on refugees, migrants and Muslim minorities worldwide, solely on the basis of their ethnic origin and religious affiliation.
- Saudi Arabia: Stated that the country is actively addressing all forms and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance – that prevail in Saudi Arabia – through the adoption of relevant policy and legislative measures. Expressed concern about the rise of hate speech and Islamophobia in advanced societies.
- Tunisia: Highlighted that Nazism and neo-Nazism constitute a threat to the well-being of societies. Stated that concerted efforts – such as the implementation of the DDPA – are required to address the root-causes of these scourges. Underlined the importance of promoting a narrative emphasizing that cultural diversity remains a source of wealth for societies.