Delegation of the European Union to India and Bhutan

The 46th session of the Human Rights Council – an EU perspective

24/03/2021 - 17:14
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“Across the world in the middle of a major global health crisis, human rights and democracy are under threat. In many places, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the erosion of the democratic fabric. Governments are censoring journalists, manipulating information, locking up peaceful protesters, attacking human rights defenders and eroding women’s rights. We all must do more on human rights. As EU we do our part.” These were the opening words of EU High Representative Josep Borrell when he addressed the 46th session of the Human Rights Council. Throughout the past four weeks of HRC46 the EU has worked tirelessly to live up to this promise to ‘do more, to do its part.’


The EU has led four resolutions and has actively participated in the negotiations of all other resolutions adopted at HRC46 in view of ensuring that our views and values are clearly heard.

Since the 2020 presidential election in Belarus we are witnessing a massive crackdown on human rights, such as freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of the media,” says Ambassador Walter Stevens, Head of the EU Delegation to the UN in Geneva. The UN High Commissioner's strong report describes a 'human rights crisis of unprecedented scale' and speaks of 'long-standing, chronic patterns of systemic violations and impunity'. Arbitrary arrests and detentions of opposition members, journalists and media workers, human rights defenders, as well as prison sentences handed down to media workers have became a daily reality. “To prevent further escalation of the human rights crisis in Belarus, we believe that the continued scrutiny of the Council and international community is necessary. We support the people of Belarus. We must hold perpetrators of grave human rights violations accountable to end the impunity,” emphasizes EU Ambassador Stevens. For these reasons, the EU presented at HRC46 a resolution that strengthens the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner in order to contribute to accountability. We call on the Belarusian Government to fully cooperate with the High Commissioner as well as with the UN Special Rapporteur and to enter into a meaningful dialogue with civil society and the political opposition.

Since the coup in Myanmar, the military has increased its brutal repression of peaceful protests across the country, leaving many protestors dead or wounded. “The shooting and killing of unarmed citizens, is yet another extremely serious and blatant disregard for international law by the security forces who must be held to account. Violence will not give legitimacy to the illegal over-throwing of the elected civilian government,” says EU Ambassador Stevens. “The military authorities must immediately stop the use of force against civilians and allow the population to exercise their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly as well as access to information.” The resolution introduced by the EU at HRC46 aims at addressing human rights violations and abuses in Myanmar before and after the military coup. It calls for justice and accountability and extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. It also reflects the commitment across regional groups to not forget the past grave violations of international law and the ongoing discrimination and violence against ethnic and religious minorities, including the Rohingya.

The EU has been at the forefront of bringing the dire human rights situation in North Korea (DPRK) to the attention of the Human Rights Council for seventeen years now. “It is our common responsibility as international community and as members of this Council to ensure that the egregious human rights situation in the country continues to receive the attention it deserves,” reminds EU Ambassador Stevens.  The resolution introduced by the EU at HRC46 aims to address the most pertinent issues related to the human rights situation in the DPRK. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the resolution calls on the DPRK to allow access for humanitarian organizations. Furthermore, the resolution includes the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for one year and the extension of the mandate of the OHCHR Accountability Project for another two years. The resolution also requests that the High Commissioner provides an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its forty-ninth session and a written report at its fifty-second session that will include additional options for strengthening, institutionalising, and further advancing the work on accountability in the DPRK.

 On 15 March we marked a sad 10th anniversary of the Syrian uprising. “Ten years of detention, torture, enforced disappearances, barrel bombs on schools, houses and hospitals, and even use of chemical weapons,” underlines EU Ambassador Stevens and adds: “I had the honour to meet many brave Syrians, women and men, refugees in Europe and internally displaced. They are all asking for peace, but what they also demand is accountability for the crimes committed in the last ten years. There can be no peace without full accountability, no peace without justice”. The EU has supported and will continue to support efforts to gather evidence with a view to future legal action. It was therefore important that the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry.

Promoting respect and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FORB) remains a major priority for the European Union. It is a right to be exercised by everyone everywhere, based on the principles of equality, non-discrimination and universality. We have therefore, as in previous years, introduced a resolution at the Human Rights Council to respect and protect this fundamental right. “We are pleased that this resolution, as well as the resolution by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Combating Religious Intolerance, have both been adopted by consensus,” notes EU Ambassador Stevens. This year’s thematic report of the UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed focused on countering Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred to eliminate discrimination and intolerance based on religion or belief, to which the EU Delegation also organised a very timely debate.

As every year, the EU was a main sponsor of the Annual Day of the Rights of the Child,  which  focused this time on  a  child  rights-based  approach  to  the  sustainable  development  goals. We welcome the increased presence of youth and child representatives during that discussion. “It was a strong signal to the world how the Human Rights Council came together and spoke out with one voice  against  neglect,  violence  and  abuse  of  children,  underscoring  the  importance of upholding the rights of the child throughout the implementation and monitoring of the SDG agenda,” notes EU Ambassador Stevens. “The EU calls on the UN to ensure a system-wide approach to the rights of the child,” he adds.

At HRC46 we also paid special attention on the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 crisis and its socio-economic consequences are having on the rights of women, persons with disabilities and on all persons in vulnerable situations. We will therefore continue to advocate that response measures should take into account the needs of those that are most at risk of marginalisation, stigmatisation, xenophobia and racism and other forms of discrimination.

All 27 EU Member States also supported several Joint Statements at HRC46, including on the human rights situations in Tigray and in Venezuela, on the use of the death penalty as a sanction against blasphemy and apostasy, and on racism. The EU also participated in the Annual Debate on the rights of person with disabilities, where we underlined once more our full commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its implementation. We did so within both the EU own statement and Joint Statement presented on behalf of the EU and Member States of the Non-Aligned movement.

 “The world needs a strong voice on human rights as we strive to rebuild post-COVID19. The Human Rights Council needs to continue advocating for the rights of victims, to multiply the voices of those that face discrimination and to call for accountability for violations wherever they occur. And the Council itself should be a safe place. Reprisals against those who attend these sessions or cooperate with the UN system are unacceptable,” reminds EU High Representative Josep Borrell in his address to the 46th session of the Human Rights Council

All EU interventions and statements will be posted on the EU Delegation's website. For further updates follow the EU Delegation's Twitter and Instagram account @EU_UNGeneva.


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