The 30th session of the Human Rights Council concluded today with governments failing to take the principled steps necessary to ensure the world's peak human rights body effectively addresses some of the world's most significant human rights situations, a group of 12 NGOs has said.
In a joint statement at the close of the session, the NGOs expressed particular regret at the 'continued unwillingness of the Council to address widespread human rights violations perpetrated by its member States, and the failure of the same States to fully cooperate with the Council or adhere to basic membership standards'. Membership of the Council includes States such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
More positively, the NGOs welcomed a resolution in relation to accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, saying that, if effectively implemented, the resolution 'could become a good example of what can be achieved at the Council through persistence, leadership and courage on the part of civil society and, in some cases, States'.
The United States and the United Kingdom have worked for a number of years to push the Human Rights Council to mandate an investigation and promote accountability in relation to alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka, an effort at least partially supported at this session by the new government of Sri Lanka.
NGOs also welcomed steps to put Burundi on this Council's agenda, presenting an opportunity and responsibility to prevent further deterioration in the country, and the convening of a victim-oriented panel discussion on North Korea, the first time the Council has held a dedicated panel discussion on a country situation under Item 4.
Conversely, NGOs said 'we are disappointed by the lack of transparency in negotiations of the resolution on Sudan' and the 'failure to set up the much-needed reporting mechanism on the forgotten conflicts in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur'.
The joint NGO statement prepared by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and Human Rights Watch also expressed 'dismay at the failure to hold all parties to the conflict in Yemen to account for gross and systematic violations', with the Council adopting a weak resolution negotiated by Saudi Arabia following the withdrawal of a stronger resolution proposed by the Netherlands.
Delivering the statement, Human Rights Watch's Philippe Dam said, 'We echo the call of some States for further urgent action on Yemen should the situation fail to improve. The world will be watching.'
Looking ahead, the NGOs welcomed a decision for part of the next session of the Council, scheduled for March 2016, to focus on the rights of migrants, while emphasising the urgent and continuing need for States to abide by their international obligations to respect the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
In relation to the participation of civil society in the work of the UN, NGOs welcomed 'the explicit affirmation by more than 60 States of the Council's legal duty to address intimidation and reprisals, and protect those cooperating with the Council'.
'This legal duty requires that both the President and Bureau of the Council, together with States, prevent acts of intimidation and reprisal, and investigate, follow up and promote accountability for such acts when they occur,' said ISHR's Michael Ineichen.
In this regard, NGOs acknowledged and welcomed the more active and positive role played Council President Joachim Rücker to address reprisals and promote cooperation with the Council, urging his 2016 successors as President to continue and build on this practice.
The coalition of NGOs delivering the joint statement include:
International Service for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Human Rights House Foundation
Human Rights Law Centre
World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)