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Statement by Her Excellency Ms. Nazhat Shameen Khan, President of the Human Rights Council, to the 76th session of the General Assembly

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29 October 2021

​New York, 29 October 2021

Mr. President,
Excellencies,  
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to present to you the annual report of the Human Rights Council for this year, as mandated by this august body.

It has been an immense privilege for me to serve as President of the Council during its 15th cycle. I continue to take enormous pride in presiding over the United Nations’ premier human rights body, which continues to spotlight human rights situations across the globe. I present today’s report on behalf of the Council and its Bureau, whose support I could not have done without over these past 10 months.

But first, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Argentina, Benin, Cameroon, Eritrea, Finland, Gambia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Montenegro, Paraguay, Qatar, Somalia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States of America for having been elected by this Assembly earlier this month to serve as members of the Human Rights Council. 

As members of the Council, these 18 States, along with the 29 continuing members, undertake a great responsibility to uphold the highest standards of human rights, as laid out in the Council’s founding document – GA resolution 60/251 -, which was adopted in this hall in 2006.   

With these elections, as from the first of January 2022, a total of 123 UN member States will have served as members of the Human Rights Council – that is to say nearly two-third of the States represented here. This diversity in membership is one of the Council’s greatest strengths, and gives it legitimacy when speaking out on human rights violations in all countries.

Today we are faced with many global crises that cannot be addressed by a single nation, or region; rather, they require the deep commitment and determination of all States, big and small, represented in this esteemed hall.

Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates,

Turning to the report before you - the Human Rights Council has indeed accomplished a lot this year.  The Council continued to introduce innovations, break boundaries and set new standards, all against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to disrupt countless lives and livelihoods. 

As my predecessor expressed to you last year, COVID-19 has in some way acted as a magnifying glass for pre-existing human rights issues. I could not agree more. And in response, the Council has sharpened its focus and resolve on numerous rights challenges posed by the pandemic. It is essential we continue to do so.

No fewer than 12 reports highlighting multiple human rights dimensions of the pandemic have been presented to the Council this year. Five panel discussions have been held with the same purpose. Four specific resolutions have been adopted to further address the irrefutable link between COVID-19 and human rights. These resolutions recommend ways to ensure people’s rights are respected in the face of this devastating virus.  They assist and support us as we look towards recovery and prepare better for future health emergencies.

The Council not only managed to successfully complete its mandated tasks for the year while navigating the obstacles posed by the pandemic, but it also continued to lead the way for other UN bodies and international organisations by showing great flexibility and innovation through the strengthening of its working methods. Our intention was to ensure there was no human rights protection gap in the time of global crisis. 

For the first time in its 15-year history, in 2021, the Council adopted extraordinary modalities allowing for the decision-making process to take place in a fully virtual manner.  First, a virtual roll-call voting approach, endorsed by member States, was made available at our special session on Myanmar in February. Subsequently, the Council approved the use of the ‘e-Recorded votes’ module on the e-deleGATE platform for its 46th regular session in March. This module was specially tailored to meet the needs of the Council with instantaneous and sequential voting. The Council thus became the first UN intergovernmental body to have used an electronic means for decision-making when in-person meetings were not possible. This allowed its members to electronically cast their votes on 29 of the 45 draft proposals adopted by the Council at the end of its 46th session. Had it not been for the determination, flexibility, and innovative approach by all stakeholders, we simply would not have managed to complete our work this year. Moreover, the generous provision of use of the Zoom platform and the UN webcasting in all six official UN languages, also enabled the Council to successfully continue its work and complete its mandated activities unabated, despite the restricted conditions. 

While we cannot ignore that the virtual modalities had their challenges, the benefits of their application were numerous. For example, the virtual high-level segment in February yielded a record high number of participants – with nine heads of State and government and around 121 ministers – many of whom participated for the first time. The common thread weaving through their statements was the impact of COVID-19 on human rights. And the resounding message was that we are all in this together, and that we must work together to overcome the persisting global challenges created by the pandemic.

The overall number of participants during Council meetings and during informal negotiations increased as well, as the use of the virtual platform provided a greater degree of accessibility for participants who would in normal circumstances not be able to travel to Geneva.

The Council’s steadfast commitment to addressing human rights issues and responding promptly to human rights emergencies was reflected in the need to add extra meetings to our regular sessions this year in order to complete our work. Whilst we have had more meetings and longer sessions, we are extremely conscious of the need to carry out our work as efficiently and effectively as possible. We will continue to work hard to implement various measures aimed at increasing the Council’s efficiency.

Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates, 

This year the Council extended more than 17 Special Procedure and investigative body mandates, and created 5 new mandates.  In total, the Council adopted 83 resolutions, 3 decisions and 1 President’s statement throughout the course of its three regular sessions and three special sessions.

Building on its work in 2020 on the issue of the promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent, against excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers, the Council decided during its 47th session in July to establish an international independent expert mechanism, comprising of three experts with law enforcement and human rights expertise, to drive transformative change for racial justice and equality in the context of law enforcement globally.

At its 48th session which concluded earlier this month, the Council adopted a resolution establishing a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, and a resolution recognizing the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. These resolutions are the culmination of years of work and a result of strong political will and commitment to address a global environmental crisis and achieving environmental justice.

The Council also established a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, which will benefit from additional expertise from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and is mandated to ensure accountability for human rights violations and crimes under international law in the country. 

Also during the session, through its resolution on Burundi, the Council welcomed steps taken by the Government to reinforce cooperation with the international community and regional organizations and decided to create a new Special Rapporteur to monitor the situation of human rights in the country, to make recommendations for its improvement, and to support the Government of Burundi in fulfilling its human rights obligations.

This year, in its prompt response to human rights emergencies, the Council convened three special sessions to address the human rights situations in Myanmar, the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, and in Afghanistan.

At the Council's special session on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, the Council decided to establish an ongoing independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate in the occupied Palestinian territory, and in Israel, all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law leading up to and since 13 April 2021.

Additionally, the Council extended mandates for the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic; the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan; the Fact-Finding Mission on Libya; and the Special Rapporteurs on Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Council also created a new mandate for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, including on progress in reconciliation and accountability. 

The Council also maintained its focus on providing technical assistance and capacity-building by deciding to continue the mandates for individual mandate holders on Cambodia, Mali and Somalia, while also extending and expanding the mandate of the Team of Experts on the Kasaï region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose mandate now covers the entire country. Moreover, the Council adopted a resolution in July requesting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide advice and technical assistance in order to strengthen the capacity of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the criminal justice system.

Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates,

Allow me to turn briefly to the Human Rights Council resolutions containing specific recommendations for the General Assembly. This year, the Council has recommended that the General Assembly: submit the report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar to relevant United Nations bodies for their consideration and appropriate action, as well as submit the reports of the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to the Security Council for appropriate action. The Council also recommended that the Commission of Inquiry on Syria continue briefing the Security Council and the General Assembly. Additionally, the Council’s recent resolution on the human right to clean, healthy and sustainable environment, which I previously mentioned, invites the General Assembly to consider the matter.

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In addition to its three regular sessions, the Human Rights Council has also held two sessions of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and will be holding the third Working Group session next week from 1 to 12 November.

This universal peer-to-peer review mechanism, which focuses on improving the human rights situation on the ground through nationally-owned processes led by the Government, with the constructive engagement of other national stakeholders and the support of the international community, continues to celebrate 100% participation of all UN member States. To date, we have had a total of 168 Member States reviewed so far in the UPR third cycle – with an additional 14 States coming up for review next week. 
 
Through the Voluntary Fund for financial and technical assistance in the implementation of the universal periodic review, about 25 countries have requested assistance this year. I would like highlight here the importance of donor countries using their Overseas Development Assistance to support efforts of States to implement human rights recommendations – especially in countries that are already recipients of development assistance and where the recommendations of the donor countries were accepted by the State under review.

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Council’s other subsidiary bodies have also continued their important work despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 and the related restrictions. During this year, the Council’s think tank – its Advisory Committee –submitted four thematic reports, namely on gender equality, on new and emerging digital technologies, on the ways and means of assessing the situation regarding racial equality in the world, and on the negative effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights.

And the confidential work of the Council's complaints procedure yielded several positive achievements at the national level on issues such as the  death penalty,  the deprivation of nationality to avoid statelessness, and worker's rights.

I am also pleased to report that throughout 2021, the Council’s Task Force on accessibility for persons with disabilities, which was established in 2011 with the mandate to enhance the accessibility of the Council and its mechanisms for persons with disabilities, continued to work towards the full implementation of the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy in the work of the Council.  In this regard, the Council has held eleven fully accessible debates throughout this year.

The LDCs/SIDS Trust Fund also continued to strengthen the national capacities of the least developed countries and small island developing states to advance human rights domestically.  Despite COVID-19 related restrictions, the Trust Fund supported the participation of a total of 19 delegates in its regular sessions of the Council. At its 46th session in March, the Council adopted a Decision calling for a high-level panel discussion to mark the tenth anniversary of the Trust Fund, with a record number of 160 UN member States sponsoring it.

As a national of a small island developing state, I am deeply grateful to those who have contributed so generously to this important initiative, which allows delegates from around the world to participate in our meetings, especially those without permanent representation in Geneva, and take their unique experiences back home.

Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,

The Council would not be complete without the invaluable role played by civil society. Their voices speak to the conscience of the Council and their contributions bring truth to power. This year alone, civil society representatives have delivered approximately 900 statements and some 260 civil society organizations have participated in our meetings throughout the year, sometimes at great risk, to their own personal safety. In order to achieve our common goal of guaranteeing all human rights for everyone around the world, it is imperative that we continue to remain inclusive, representative and build strong relations with civil society and reserve a safe space for them. To that end, I am pleased to report that at its last session the Council adopted without a vote, for the first time, a resolution on cooperation with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights. 

Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates,
Friends and colleagues,

The Human Rights Council continues demonstrate to the world that  it is a body well poised to address crises, both protracted and looming, even when faced with extraordinary challenges. It has demonstrated great flexibility, creativity and determination in carrying out its mandate, and I have no doubt that it will continue to achieve significant results and make positive impacts in the lives of people. We must never lose sight of those we serve.  We have a collective moral duty to speak out for those who cannot speak, to champion their causes, and to work towards the protection and promotion of human rights, everywhere.

The work of the Council is vital to the work carried out here in New York, and vice versa. We have seen many discussions transcend across the various UN bodies and forums, reinforcing the pillars upon which the United Nations is built – human rights, peace and security and development. In order for the United Nations to live up to its full potential, it is essential that we continue to strengthen our cooperation, to build new bridges and to work collectively.

Thank you.

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