Category Archives: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

March 2020: UN Treaty Bodies, Human Rights Council, and Regional Bodies in Session

European Committee of Social Rights
Credit: Council of Europe

In March, universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. Five United Nations treaty bodies and two pre-sessional working groups will be in session to assess States’ progress regarding economic, social and cultural rights; children’s rights; civil and political rights; the rights of persons with disabilities; and, migrants’ rights. The Human Rights Council will continue to hold its first of three regular sessions in 2020. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits in March. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Regionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold public sessions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will also hold a Grand Chamber hearing.

The UN treaty body sessions, the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearing, and the public hearings of the IACtHR and the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the ECtHR’s website, and the IACtHR’s Vimeo page and the IACHR’s YouTube page, respectively. Civil society members wishing to attend sessions should monitor updates related to the spread of the COVID-19 (Corona) virus, which may result in cancelled sessions or meetings and/or additional health checks.

To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies

Five of the 10 UN human rights treaty bodies will meet this month to review certain States parties’ implementation of their treaty obligations. They are the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Committee on the Rights of the Child; the Human Rights Committee; the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Further, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Pre-sessional Working Group and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Pre-sessional Working Group will begin their review of State reports and develop “list of issues” following their discussions on State reports. Through the State reporting procedure, treaty bodies review States’ reports and responses to a specific list of issues, receive additional information from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions (NHRIs), engage in an interactive dialogue with each State’s representatives, and then adopt concluding observations detailing the progress and remaining challenges in the State’s implementation of the treaty. Through a simplified reporting procedure, treaty bodies may invite States to respond only to questions (list of issues) prepared by the treaty body, rather than submitting a comprehensive report and also responses to a subsequent list of issues.

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) will continue to hold its 67th Session, which began on February 17 and will end on March 6, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. According to its tentative programme of work, during the session, the CESCR will hold interactive dialogues with Belgium, Benin, Guinea, Norway, and Ukraine to assess their compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights. The Committee will also hold closed discussions. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CESCR’s 67th Session webpage.

Following the CESCR’s Session 67th Session, the CESCR Pre-sessional Working Group will hold its 66th Session from March 9 to 13, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. The CESCR Pre-sessional Working Group will begin its review of the State reports of the Czech Republic, the Congo, and Uzbekistan. It will also consider list of issues prior to reporting for Canada, Chile, France, and Italy to address in its simplified reporting procedure. For more information on the CESCR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) will hold its 84th Extraordinary Session from March 2 to 6, 2020, in Apia, Samoa. According to the programme of work, the CRC will hold interactive dialogues with the Cook Islands, Micronesia, and Tuvalu to assess their compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Civil society members wishing to attend the CRC’s session must register through the Indico system before March 6, 2020. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CRC’s 84th Session webpage. For more information on the CRC, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Human Rights Committee

The Human Rights Committee will hold its 128th Session from March 2 to 27, 2020, in Geneva Switzerland. According to its programme of work and annotated provisional agenda, the Committee will hold interactive dialogues with the Central African Republic, Portugal, Tunisia, and Uzbekistan to access their implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Further, the Committee will hold an interactive dialogue with Dominica in absence of a State report. The Committee’s task forces will also consider and adopt list of issues for Haiti, Kenya, Philippines, and Sri Lanka ahead of their interactive dialogues. Finally, the Human Rights Committee will consider list of issues prior to reporting for Burkina Faso, Montenegro, Somalia, and United Kingdom and Northern Ireland to address in its simplified reporting procedure.

According to the information note for NGOs and NHRIs, civil society members who would like to attend the Human Rights Committee’s session must register through the Indico system before April 3, 2020. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CCPR’s 128th Session webpage. For more information on the Human Rights Committee, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) will hold its 23rd Session from March 9 to 27, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. According to its tentative programme of work, the CRPD will hold interactive dialogues with Bangladesh, Djibouti, Estonia, Hungary, Lao, and Venezuela to assess their implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Civil society members who would like to attend the CRPD’s session must register through the Indico system before March 20, 2020. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CRPD’s 23rd Session webpage.

Following the CRPD’s 23rd Session, the CRPD will hold its 13th Pre-sessional Working Group from March 30 to April 3, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. The Working Group will begin its review of State reports from Angola, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Georgia, Indonesia, Malawi, and Mauritania to assess their compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Additionally, the Working Group will consider list of issues prior to reporting from Croatia to address in its simplified reporting procedure. Civil society members who would like to participate in the Committee’s pre-sessional working group must register through the Indico system before March 13, 2020. For more information on the CRPD, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW) will hold its 32nd Session from March 30 to April 3, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. The CMW will hold interactive dialogues with Cabo Verde, Chile, Paraguay, and Rwanda to assess their compliance with the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The CMW will also consider and adopt list of issues for Syria ahead of its interactive dialogue, and consider list of issues prior to reporting for the Congo and Nigeria to consider in its simplified reporting procedure.

According to the information note for civil society organizations and NHRIs, individuals interested in attending the session must register through the Indico system by April 3, 2020. To view session documents, including State reports and civil society submissions, visit the CMW’s 32nd Session webpage. For more information on the CMW, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

UN Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental deliberative body, will continue to hold its 43rd Session, which began on February 24 and will end on March 20, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland. According to the session agenda, the Human Rights Council will review reports from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Secretary General, outcome reports from the Universal Periodic Review Working Group on specific States, and reports from UN special procedures mandate holders. The list of reports is available on the session’s webpage.

The Human Rights Council will select five individuals to serve as members of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development; two individuals to serve as members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights; the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia; the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences; the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights; the Special Rapporteur on the right to food; the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. The Human Rights Council will also convene several panel discussions on topics including the rights of the child, the rights of persons with disabilities, the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the International Decade for People of African Descent.

NGOs in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) can be accredited to participate in the Human Rights Council’s sessions as observers, as described on the Council’s webpage on NGO participation. Relevant documents and further information regarding the issues that the Human Rights Council will cover during the session, including submissions from civil society and the Council’s agenda, is available on the Human Rights Council’s 43rd Session webpage. For more information about the Human Rights Council, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Special Procedures

Seven independent human rights experts and monitoring bodies, known as UN “special procedures,” have country visits scheduled in March. Additionally, two working groups will hold private sessions in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression agreed to visit the Maldives from March 1 to 8, 2020.

The UN Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons agreed to visit New Zealand from March 2 to 12, 2020.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples agreed to visit Denmark and Greenland from March 10 to 19, 2020.

The UN Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity agreed to visit Costa Rica from March 16 to 27, 2020.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health agreed to visit New Zealand from March 23 to April 3, 2020.

The UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls agreed to visit Romania from February 24 to March 6, 2020.

The UN Working Group of experts on people of African descent agreed to visit Peru from February 25 to March 4, 2020.

The UN Working Group of experts on people of African descent will hold its 26th Session from March 30 to April 3, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland.

The UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination will hold its 39th Session from March 30 to April 3, 2020, in Geneva, Switzerland.

During their country visits, these special procedures mandate holders will assess both the overall human rights situation in the country and the issues specific to their thematic focus. Experts also meet with civil society, government, and national human rights institutions when they visit a country. Their findings are published later in reports addressed to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. See OHCHR, Country and other visits of Special Procedures. To view the full list of forthcoming country visits, review the Special Procedures’ Visits document and visit the OHCHR website. For more information on each special procedure, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Regional Bodies

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) will continue to hold its 27th Extraordinary Session, which began on February 19 and will end on March 4, 2020, in Banjul, The Gambia. The ACHPR reviews State compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights through its reporting procedure, assessment of individual complaints, fact-finding and promotional missions to States, and monitoring. For more information on the ACHPR, visit the IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will hold its 175th Period of Sessions from March 2 to 8, 2020, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. During the session, it will hold public hearings on a range of human rights concerns in the region, including in 12 countries. They are Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela. The calendar of hearings is available on the IACHR website. For more information on the IACHR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold its 134th Regular Session from March 9 to 20, 2020, in San José, Costa Rica. During its sessions, the IACtHR typically holds public hearings on the merits of individual complaints and deliberates on contentious cases alleging human rights violations. For more information about the IACtHR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

European Committee of Social Rights

The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) of the Council of Europe will hold its 312th Session from March 23 to 27, 2020, in Strasbourg, France. The draft agenda has been published on the ECSR’s calendar, and the synopsis for this session will be published at a later date. During its sessions, the ECSR reviews States’ reports on their implementation of the European Social Charter, considers collective complaints alleging violations of the Charter, and follows up on the Turin process to improve implementation of the Charter at the continental level. According to the ECSR’s calendar for national reporting, the ECSR will consider State reports concerning employment, training, and equal opportunities from the Netherlands, Sweden, Croatia, Norway, Slovenia, Cyprus, and the Czech Republic throughout the 2020 calendar year. The ECSR will consider simplified reports on the same topic from France, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Finland throughout the 2020 calendar year. Simplified reports focus on areas of non-conformity identified in the Committee’s previous conclusions. For more information on the European Committee of Social Rights, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

European Court of Human Rights

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hold a hearing in the case M.A. v. Denmark (no. 6697/18) on March 18, 2020, in Strasbourg, France. See ECtHR, Calendar of Hearings. The case concerns a Syrian national, M.A., whose request for family reunion with his wife from Syria was denied by Danish authorities. [ECtHR Press Release] In 2016, the Danish Immigration Appeals Board denied M.A.’s request for family reunion because the applicant, M.A., had not possessed a valid residence permit for at least three years – a requirement under national law for individuals granted temporary protection – and the Immigration Appeals Board did not find any “special reasons, such as concern for the unity of the family, to justify reunion.” [ECtHR Press Release] M.A. initiated proceedings before national courts claiming that the legislation requiring individuals, like himself, with temporary protection to reside in the country for three years before they can become eligible for family reunion was discriminatory given that others who are granted a higher degree of protection, such as refugees, become eligible after one year. [ECtHR Press Release] In 2017, the Danish Supreme Court ruled against the applicant, finding that the differential treatment was justified. [ECtHR Press Release] Subsequently, the applicant submitted a complaint before the ECtHR alleging a violation of Article 8 (right to family life) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 under the European Convention of Human Rights. [ECtHR Press Release] In November 2019, the ECtHR chamber assigned to the case relinquished its jurisdiction to the ECtHR Grand Chamber.

For more information on the ECtHR, visit IJRC’s Online Resource Hub.

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UN Finds Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Ituri, DRC

MONUSCO Peacekeepers on Patrol in Eastern DRC
Credit: UN Photo/Michael Ali

In a new report, a United Nations entity asserts that violent attacks, including sexual violence, between members of the Lendu and Hema community in the Democratic Republic of Congo since late 2017 may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. In January 2020, the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which together make up the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC, published a report assessing violence in the DRC’s northeastern Ituri province in the context of inter-ethnic tensions between the communities of Hema herders and Lendu farmers. [OHCHR Press Release] The report documents widespread attacks against civilians, mainly targeting the Hema community and including women and children, between December 2017 and September 2019. See UNJHRO, Rapport public sur les conflits en territoire de Djugu, province de l’Ituri Décembre 2017 à septembre 2019 (2020) [French only]. In particular, the report finds that the attacks may constitute the crimes against humanity of murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, among others – and, given that the events took place in the context of an internal armed conflict, may also constitute war crimes. See id. at paras. 78-81. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that at least 556,000 people have fled from the Ituri province as a result of the conflict, and about 57,000 people have fled to neighboring Uganda to seek refuge over the past two years. [UN News: Report] The new report consolidates and expands upon previous reporting by UNJHRO and UNHCR on the conflict. [VOA; Al Jazeera; UN News: Flare-Up]

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Recent Developments Highlight Increased Collaboration Among Human Rights Bodies

Signing of the MOU between the UN and the World Economic Forum
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Over the past several months, supranational human rights bodies have announced a flurry of joint events and agreements, highlighting some specific rights challenges and the increasing importance of technical collaboration. Between September and November 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) were among the bodies that entered into cooperation agreements or hosted events to formalize and enhance collaboration in the implementation of human rights instruments. While there are many other examples over the past decade, it is noteworthy that these collaborations appear to be happening with increasing frequency, formality, and transparency.

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Guatemala & Nicaragua: Cooperation with Human Rights Monitors Deteriorates

Press Conference by Foreign Minister of Guatemala
Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

The governments of Guatemala and Nicaragua each recently issued decisions terminating cooperation with international and regional oversight bodies in critical areas of human rights, prompting strong criticism. [UN News: Nicaragua; IACHR Press Release: Guatemala; European Council Press Release] Escalating his September 2018 decision that Guatemala would not renew its agreement with a United Nations-backed anti-corruption investigatory body, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales unilaterally decided to expel the body prior to the agreement’s expiration and ahead of the next presidential election. [UN News: CICIG; NY Times; IJRC: Oversight] Additionally, in December 2018, the Nicaraguan government, amid mounting civil unrest, announced measures effectively barring two monitoring mechanism set up by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and stated that it would no longer accept IACHR visits. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua; UN News: Nicaragua] UN experts have resoundingly condemned the governments for disregarding their international legal obligations under these agreements and the human rights at stake in the absence of this oversight. [UN News: CICIG; UN News: Nicaragua]

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Guatemala and Nicaragua Reject UN Human Rights Monitors Amid Turmoil

Protesters in Managua
Credit: By Voice of America, via Wikimedia Commons

Two Central American governments ended their cooperation with the United Nations on specific human rights initiatives and sought to exclude UN representatives from their territories in late August 2018. In Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales announced on August 31 he would not renew the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) when it expires in 2019 and barred CICIG head Iván Velásquez from reentering the country, despite a Supreme Court order rejecting a previous attempt to expel him. [IACHR: Guatemala; NYT] Since 2007, CICIG has assisted national authorities in prosecuting corruption, and recently announced an investigation into President Morales for illegal campaign contributions. [NYT]

Also on August 31, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega rescinded an invitation to a fact-finding team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), just after OHCHR published a report on authorities’ human rights violations against protesters since demonstrations against the Ortega government began in April 2018. [Al Jazeera; IJRC: Nicaragua] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), OHCHR, and civil society have expressed concern at these developments. [IACHR: Guatemala; IACHR: Nicaragua; OHCHR Press Release: Concern; HRW: Nicaragua; HRW: Torture] Observers fear the crises in both countries will continue to worsen. [NYT: Authoritarianism] Read more

U.S. to Cut Funding to UN Rights Bodies, Palestinian Refugees

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton
Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

The United States is reportedly planning to withdraw all financial support from the United Nations’ key human rights bodies – the Human Rights Council and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – and from the UN agency that provides humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees. [AP; CNN] John Bolton, the current U.S. National Security Advisor and former Ambassador to the UN, indicated the Trump administration wants to limit the work of the Human Rights Council, which it has accused of anti-Israel bias. [AP] In July, the U.S. gave up its seat on the Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental body that monitors human rights around the world. [IJRC: HRC] Similarly, the U.S. earlier reduced its funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as part of an effort to influence the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Foreign Policy: UNRWA]

The U.S. is currently the largest contributor to the UN’s regular budget, and also makes substantial voluntary contributions to OHCHR and UNRWA. [AP] While the outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, stated that the funding cuts would not be “fatal” to OHCHR, any reduction in financial support will certainly affect the UN’s work on human rights and refugee assistance. [Washington Post: OHCHR] These developments follow a series of recent U.S. withdrawals from several other significant international commitments, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran nuclear deal, and Paris Agreement. [IJRC: Paris Agreement; NY Times: Iran Nuclear Deal; Washington Post: TPP]

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Ten Human Rights Standards Implicated by U.S. Immigration Policy Changes

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at the San Ysidro crossing
Credit: Josh Denmark

Recent changes in the United States’ immigration policies have drawn fresh condemnation from human rights experts and civil society, particularly as news spread that authorities had separated approximately 2,000 children from their parents at the country’s southern border. [IACHR Press Release; OHCHR Press Release; UNHCR Press Release] These changes include automatic criminal prosecution and detention of adults – including asylum seekers – entering the United States without authorization, separation and detention of children who crossed the southern border outside a port of entry with their parents, and a directive instructing immigration officials not to recognize a State’s failure to protect victims of gang violence and domestic violence as grounds for asylum. In response to criticism earlier this month, President Trump signed an Executive Order on June 20, 2018 to detain children and parents together, but that also raised concerns because it did not address the reunification of separated families and proposed modifying time limits on detention of families. [OHCHR Press Release: UN Experts] The policy changes add to long-standing human rights concerns related to U.S. immigration policy. This post reviews 10 of the primary principles implicated. Read more

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