In a year which marks its 10th anniversary, the Human Rights Council clearly continues to play a paramount role in the UN human rights system. It is a crucial forum in which the EU defends and promotes the universality, indivisibility, and interdependence of human rights.
The 31st session of the Council which took place from 29 February to 24 March brought solid results. At the same time it highlighted that the universality of human rights worldwide is far from achieved, and that individual States as well as the international community as a whole have a responsibility to act against human rights violations.
At the 31st session, the European Union tabled – alone or jointly with other co-sponsors – four important resolutions:
A strong and clear resolution, tabled by the EU and Japan, addressing the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was successfully adopted without a vote at this session. The resolution addresses all the pertinent issues, including deep concern at the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in the DPRK, which, in many instances, may constitute crimes against humanity. It also welcomes the EU-Japan led resolution on the human rights situation in the DPRK adopted by the General Assembly last fall, which encouraged the Security Council to take appropriate action to ensure accountability, including through consideration of ICC-referral. As a new element, the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council this session further establishes a group of independent experts on accountability for human rights violations in the DPRK, in particular where such violations may amount to crimes against humanity. We look forward to their recommendations for practical mechanisms of accountability to secure truth and justice for the victims of such crimes. The resolution also extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for another year.
An EU-led resolution on Myanmar/Burma, adopted without a vote, likewise extends the Special Rapporteur's mandate. The text welcomes the continued positive developments in the country towards political and economic reform, democratization, national reconciliation, good governance, the rule of law and the efforts to promote and protect human rights, while encouraging the Government to take further steps to consolidate the progress made and address outstanding issues. It further recalls serious concerns at human rights violations, including regarding the situation in Rakhine State and particularly with respect to persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, including the Rohingya minority.
A resolution on the Freedom of Religion or Belief presented by the EU calls upon all States to step up their efforts to promote and protect the freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief of all persons and strongly encourages government representatives and leaders in all sectors of society to speak out when this right is violated. The resolution furthermore extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief for another three years, a mandate to which the EU attaches significant importance in the promotion, protection and implementation of this right.
Resulting from our excellent cooperation with the GRULAC Group of States, the resolution on the Rights of the Child: information and communications technologies and child sexual exploitation calls upon States to ensure the legal protection of children from sexual abuse and exploitation online, and inter alia to establish fast and effective procedures for the removal or blocking of such content, including by adopting legislation and promoting self-regulatory frameworks for businesses.
The EU also led a joint statement expressing concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which was supported by 39 delegations.
With regards to country situations, the European Union, among other:
- called on all parties in Syria to cease all attacks and bombing of civilian targets, take all appropriate steps to protect civilians, end sieges of civilian areas, fully respect international humanitarian law and implement the relevant UNSC resolutions. The EU recalls that all those responsible for severe violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable. We continue to support a referral of the situation in Syria by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court.
- urged the Government of Iran to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, and to consider amending or rescinding laws and policies that contravene freedom of expression online and offline. The EU expressed serious concern at the situation of religious minorities in Iran, and called on the Government to amend laws that violate the human rights of women, or that undermine their equal and full enjoyment of civil, political, social and economic rights.
- expressed its deep concern about the serious human rights violations and abuses which continue in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by so-called "separatists". Almost 8.000 have been killed and more than 1.46 million IDPs have lost their homes since the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The EU follows with special concern the continuing systematic intimidation of the Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian speaking communities in Crimea, following its illegal annexation by the Russian Federation.
In its statement under Item 4, the EU addressed the worrying human rights situations in South Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, China, the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the occupied Palestinian territory.
In 2016, the African Year of Human Rights, we continued to cooperate with African Partners to support the work of the Human Rights Council on the Central African Republic, Burundi, Mali, Guinea, Eritrea and South Sudan. Regarding the latter, the EU welcomes the establishment of a new Council mandate: aCommission for human rights in South Sudan tasked to monitor the human rights situation, and to provide guidance on transitional justice and accountability.
Thematic issues at the center of the EU's work at HRC31 included the freedom of opinion and expression offline and online, the freedom of association and assembly as well as the abolition of the death penalty and fight against torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment.
The EU also organized, with partners, a number of events in the margins of the Council. These included a discussion on the interdependence of Freedom of Religion or Belief and Freedom of Expression, a panel debate on the importance of the post-2030 development agenda for persons with disabilities, and an annual full day panel on the Rights of the Child. The EU Delegation also co-sponsored a debate on the death penalty at the Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights.
Finally, the EU continued to defend the work of the civil society and NGOs both through strong support of the resolution on Human Rights Defenders, which was under unprecedented attacks from a number of delegations, and by actively defending and promoting the NGOs' right to speak in the Council's debates.
All EU statements and interventions can be found on the website of the EU Delegation to the UN in Geneva.