UN Human Rights Council Concludes 22nd Session with Resolutions on North Korea, Mali, Syria, and Human Rights Defenders

UN Human Rights Council in session
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre

The United Nations Human Rights Council concluded its twenty-second regular session last week after adopting a number of decisions, statements and resolutions to address pressing concerns in a handful of countries, advance its work on a range of human rights issues, and call for greater protection of human rights defenders. [OHCHR] Among other notable decisions during the four-week session, the Council mandated the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry on North Korea and of an Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali.  The Council also renewed the mandates of several of its special rapporteurships and other special procedures, including on North Korea, Myanmar, Iran and Syria, Haiti, the right to food, countering terrorism, and freedom of religion or belief.

Commission of Inquiry on North Korea

In a move welcomed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, the Council resolved to establish a three-member commission of inquiry for a period of one year to investigate “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” and to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea. The Council stated it was “deeply concerned” about “the persisting deterioration in the human rights situation” in the country, and directed the commission of inquiry to investigate abuses including:  

the violation of the right to food, the violations associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, violations of freedom of expression, violations of the right to life, violations of freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other States, with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.

The commission of inquiry members will include the Special Rapporteur and two individuals to be appointed by the Human Rights Council President.  The resolution further urges the North Korean government to “cooperate fully” with the investigation and permit the commission members “unrestricted access to visit the country” and “all information necessary.”  For additional information on the human rights situation in North Korea, see the Special Rapporteur’s most recent report and an earlier IJRC post.

Resolution on Sri Lanka

Regarding the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, the Council called upon the national government to implement the recommendations made by the country’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, as well as those contained in the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on advice and technical assistance for the Government of Sri Lanka on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, and to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The Council noted that “considerable work lies ahead in the areas of justice, reconciliation and the resumption of livelihoods” and expressed concern about continuing human rights violations, including torture and killings, intimidation of civil society and journalists, and threats to the independence of the judiciary.  According to the draft resolution, the Office of the High Commissioner is due to present an oral update to the Council at its twenty-fourth session, and to submit a comprehensive report on the resolution’s implementation at its twenty-fifth session.


In a resolution strongly condemning ongoing human rights violations by the Syrian government and affiliated militias, the UN Human Rights Council also extended the mandate of the independent international commission of inquiry, originally created in March 2011.  The commission of inquiry’s purpose is to investigate human rights violations and identify the perpetrators, where possible.  With regard to the current situation in Syria, the Council expressed its concerns in the strongest language, describing the abuses as “widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms” including:

the shelling of populated areas with ballistic missiles, the use of heavy weapons and force against civilians, unlawful killings, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrest and detentions, massacres, enforced disappearances, widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population, the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, sexual violence against women, men and children, indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment on civilian gatherings, and mass killings…

While its condemnation extended to “any human rights abuses by armed opposition groups,” the Council noted “that abuses committed by anti-Government armed groups did not reach the intensity and scale of the violations committed by government forces and its affiliated militia.”  The commission of inquiry is to continue mapping and publishing information on violations and to report back to the Council at the next regular session.


On March 15, the Council created a new special procedure – an independent expert on the situation of human rights in Mali – in light of the ongoing crisis and the findings presented by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in her report on a recent fact-finding mission to the country. The independent expert is scheduled to report his or her findings to the Council during its twenty-fifth session, and will be tasked with “assisting the Government of Mali in its efforts to promote and protect human rights.”  

The Council’s concern for Mali stems from  abuses committed principally by non-governmental actors and “which include violence against women and children, summary and extrajudicial executions, hostage-taking, pillaging, destruction of cultural and religious sites and recruitment of child soldiers.”  Additionally, the Council called upon the government of Mali to “guarantee freedom of expression and invite[d] it to organize free, transparent elections as soon as possible with a view to creating conditions conducive to a return to constitutional order.”  For background information on the ongoing Mali conflict, see IJRC’s previous post.

Israeli Settlements

The Council passed several resolutions related to the building of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (A/HRC/22/L.45A/HRC/22/L.44A/HRC/22/L.43A/HRC/22/L.42, and A/HRC/22/L.41).  In follow-up to the Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (known colloquially as the “Goldstone Report”), the Council reiterated its call for the report’s recommendations to be implemented. In the same resolution, the Council also urged the General Assembly to “remain apprised of the matter until it is satisfied” that implementation has been sufficient to ensure justice and accountability and to also remain ready to consider taking additional action. [OHCHR]

The resolutions also renewed the Council’s call for Israel to “cease all practices and actions that violate the human rights of the Palestinian people; comply fully with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and cease all of its settlement activities.” [OHCHR]  Israel was urged to “cease its imposition of prolonged closures and economic and movement restrictions” within the Occupied Palestinian Territory. [OHCHR] The Council expressed deep concern about “the short and long-term detrimental impact of such widespread destruction and the continued impeding of the reconstruction process by Israel […] on the human rights situation and on the socioeconomic and humanitarian conditions of the Palestinian civilian population” in addition to “the continuing systematic violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people […] including that arising from the excessive use of force and military operations causing death and injury to Palestinian civilians.”  Read more about the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict here.

Renewed Special Procedures


The Council extended for another year the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, and instructed him to include in his next report recommendations with regard to technical assistance and capacity-building.  While the Council welcomed the “continued positive developments” in Myanmar and the government’s stated commitment to reform and national reconciliation, it expressed concern about “remaining human rights violations.”  These violations include, “arbitrary detention, forced displacement, land confiscations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as violations of international humanitarian law.” The Council also expressed “deep concern” about “the continuing armed conflict in Kachin State and the associated human rights violations and allegations of international humanitarian law violations, desecration of places of worship, sexual violence and torture.”


The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran was also extended for a period of one year. The Council also requested “the Special Rapporteur to submit reports on the implementation of his mandate to the Council at its twenty-fifth session and to the General Assembly at its sixty-eighth session.” The resolution calls upon Iran to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur, whose report stated, “[t]here continue to be widespread systemic and systematic violations of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran […] Moreover, a lack of Government investigation and redress generally fosters a culture of impunity, further weakening the impact of the human rights instruments Iran has ratified.”

Right to Food

The Council decided to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food for a period of three years. Additionally, the Council requested the Special Rapporteur to continue to monitor the evolution of the global food crisis, and to keep the Council informed of the impact of the crisis on the enjoyment of the right to food.

Religious Freedom

The Council resolved to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief for a further period of three years, while expressing deep concern with regard to acts of intolerance and violence and other “emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief.”

Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Human Rights Council also appointed two new members to the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, established by Council resolution A/HRC/RES/6/36 in 2007. [OHCHR]

Human Rights Defenders

In draft resolution A/HRC/22/L.13, the Council urged States to create a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders can operate free from hindrance and insecurity. The Council called upon States to ensure that legislation designed to guarantee public safety and public order contains clearly defined provisions consistent with international human rights law. The resolution also urges States to acknowledge publicly the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders in the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as an essential component of ensuring their protection. [OHCHR]

Universal Periodic Review

During the 22nd session, the Council adopted the final outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review of fourteen countries: Czech Republic, Argentina, Gabon, Ghana, Ukraine, Guatemala, Benin, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Pakistan, Zambia, Japan, Peru and Sri Lanka. The adoption of the final outcomes derived from the fourteenth UPR session held from October to November 2012. The Council also held a general debate on the Universal Periodic Review. [OHCHR]  

Other Texts

A number of other matters were addressed by the Council during its twenty-second session, including through the adoption of texts concerning international cooperation; the rights of national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities; birth registration; peaceful protest; the rights of children whose parents are sentenced to death or executed; human rights in post-conflict and disaster settings; and, the realization of economic, social and cultural rights.  The Human Rights Council also turned its attention to human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan and the provision of technical assistance to Libya. [OHCHR]

For additional information, see the full text of the decisions adopted during the 22nd regular session, the High Commissioner’s summary of all thirty-nine texts, and the relevant reports to and by the Council which formed the basis of its decisions.  The next regular session of the Council is scheduled to be held in June 2013.