The 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council started on 24 February 2020 and was suspended on 13 March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The session resumed on 15 June and ended on 23 June.
Urgent debate and resolution on systemic racism and police brutality
Please also read CAL’s press release: UN Human Rights Council Resolution on racial discrimination and police brutality
Urgent Debate on the current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests
At the request of Burkina Faso on behalf of the Group of African States, the Human Rights Council held an urgent debate on 17 and 18 June on “the current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests.” This came after a joint letter to HRC members from family members of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and Michael Brown and endorsed by over 600 civil society organizations, including SRI, requesting a special session of the Council and an independent inquiry into police violence and repression of protests in the United States.
Speakers at the urgent debate included Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd, Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tendayi Achiume, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and Quartey Thomas Kwesi, Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission.
The webcast of the two sections of the urgent debate is available online: 1st part and 2nd part. You can also catch up by reading CAL’s tweets and SRI’s updates from the Urgent Debate discussions on Twitter, using the hashtags #UrgentDebate and #HRC43.
During the debate, Philonise Floyd urged the Council to help his family and Black people in the US get justice by establishing an independent commission of inquiry to investigate police killings of Black people in the US, and the violence used against peaceful protestors who are reminding the world that Black Lives Matter.
In her address to the Council, the Special Rapporteur recalled her statement endorsed by 47 other Special Procedures mandate-holders on the protests against systemic racism in the United States, as well as the statement by the Working Group of Experts on People of African descent and joined by other Special Procedures condemning modern-day racial terror lynchings in the United States, and the statement issued by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination under its Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures, expressing alarm at the killing of George Floyd and the recurrence and impunity for police killings of people of African descent in the United States, and at the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against peaceful anti-racism protestors. She called on the Council to establish a commission of inquiry, stressing that “failure [to do so] would signal that Black lives do not matter, or that if they do, they do not matter enough to mobilize the Human Rights Council to intervene where it should.” She also called attention to the steady erosion within the United Nations of commitment to the anti-racism human rights framework, including to the commitments made at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001, and to the fact that states continue disregarding calls for reparations and for the dismantling of contemporary structures of racial injustice that are legacies of historical injustice. Michelle Bachelet echoed the Special Rapporteur’s call on the Council and its members to increase their focus on racism and called on states to confront the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism, including through reparations.
SRI and our partner the Coalition of African Lesbians also made a statement calling attention to the racist brutal violence of American law enforcement and the violence against those protesting it, and calling for the creation of an independent investigation and accountability mechanism on the issues of systemic racism and police killings in the US. We also expressed deep concern at the tone of the statements made by Global North States during the Urgent Debate and their co-optation of liberation language as lip service to hide racism in plain sight while refusing to take any meaningful action or to call out the US directly, even going as far as to express their trust in the US ‘rule of law’ and the very justice system that has consistently failed Black Americans in their demands for accountability.
Resolution: 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 - A/HRC/43/L.50
Led by Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group as an outcome of the urgent debate, the resolution originally called for the establishment of a commission of inquiry "to establish facts and circumstances related to the systemic racism, alleged violations of International Human Rights Law and abuses against Africans and People of African Descent in the United States of America and other parts of the world recently affected, by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the deaths of Africans and of People of African Descent; with a view to bringing perpetrators to justice."
However, many delegations, especially from the Western European and Others Group and the European Union, opposed the creation of a commission of inquiry focusing on the US, and pushed for a generic resolution instead. This, combined with diplomatic pressure from the US administration, led to a watered down version of the resolution stripped of almost all references to the US and replacing the creation of a commission of inquiry by a request to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “with the assistance of relevant Special Mandate Holders, to prepare a report on systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent, to contribute to accountability and redress for victims” and “to examine government responses to antiracism peaceful protests, including the alleged use of excessive force against protesters, bystanders and journalists.” It also requests an oral update from the High Commissioner on the preparation of her report to the 45th and 46th sessions of the Council, before the presentation of the comprehensive report at the 47th session, followed by an interactive dialogue, and requests the High Commissioner to include updates on police brutality against Africans and people of African descent in all her oral updates to the Council.
However, as stated by a representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, even this weakened mandate of a High Commissioner report is unlikely to be fulfilled within existing programs and activities given the current financial situation of the organization, at least not until additional resources are made available. This is deeply concerning, especially given the UN Secretariat’s current budget crisis due to withheld or delayed contributions from Member States, and the general lack of funding and attention given to anti-racism at the Council and beyond. This broader context also raises doubts about the Council’s ability to respond to the Special Rapporteur’s call for “a shift, even within the United Nations, in the fight against racial injustice to ensure that racial inequality receives the attention, political will, and resources required to achieve real and meaningful protection and promotion of human rights for people of African descent, and others.”
The weakened resolution was adopted by consensus, without a vote, on the very same day the Special Rapporteur on Racism and the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent had called on the HRC “to adopt, through a vote if necessary, a strong, substantive resolution, as was originally drafted and that is consistent with the clear and unequivocal demands of the families of the victims, civil society, and the independent experts of the Special Procedures rather than a diluted consensus resolution that would amount to lip service in the face of the urgency of this moment.”
Other Sexual Rights-related Resolutions
Awareness raising on the rights of persons with disabilities, and habilitation and rehabilitation - A/HRC/43/L.34
Led by Mexico and New Zealand and co-sponsored by 81 States as of 22 June 2020, this resolution further develops article 8 (awareness raising) and article 26 (habilitation and rehabilitation) of the CRPD, following two reports issued by the OHCHR on these articles. The resolution also sets the themes, participation in sport under article 30 (Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport) and article 31 (Statistics and data collection), for the next two OHCHR reports that will in turn be addressed by the next resolution, in 2022. These will also be the themes of the next two annual interactive debates on the rights of persons with disabilities.
The resolution incorporates language on intersectional forms of discrimination, and sexual and reproductive health in the context of the enjoyment of all rights by women and girls with disabilities. It also calls for measures on awareness raising and habilitation and rehabilitation to be gender-responsive.
However, the resolution falls short of its potential in several aspects. For instance, by failing to reference inclusive comprehensive sexuality education as a measure to implement article 8 of the CRPD, ensuring that both persons with and without disabilities can learn about sexuality on an equal basis with others and address ableist views on gender and sexuality of women and girls with disabilities. It did not address that declining social determinants of health may inhibit the rehabilitation process. States must ensure that acquiring a disability does not lead to a decline in social determinants of health related to the negative impact that ableism and disability-related barriers have on income, access to housing, health systems and services, social protection systems, and education. The resolution could also have benefited from stronger language regarding accessibility measures on the HRC and the UN system in general.
The resolution was adopted by consensus. You can watch the discussion and adoption here.
Mental health and human rights - A/HRC/43/L.19
Led by Brazil and Portugal, and co-sponsored by 84 States as of 19 June 2020, the resolution is based on the report on the role of the determinants of health in advancing the right to mental health by the Special Rapporteur on the right to health in 2019. The resolution improved from its first draft by better incorporating standards, particularly those related to articles 12 and 19 of the CRPD, language from the most recent report on psychological torture by the Special Rapporteur on Torture, and from the report on deprivation of liberty of persons with disabilities of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.
The resolution lacks a comprehensive gender analysis and does not adequately highlight the links between public health systems and social determinants of health, including gender inequality, poverty, violence, racism and xenophobia. A human rights-based approach to mental health necessitates an affirmation of the right to bodily autonomy and integrity, which the resolution fails to do.
The resolution was adopted by consensus. You can watch the discussion and adoption here.
Other relevant resolutions and decisions included:
- Methods of work of the Consultative Group of the Human Rights Council (led by Iraq and the Russian Federation) - A/HRC/43/L.25/Rev.1
- Human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic (President's statement) - PRST 43/1
- Right to work (Led by Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Mexico and Romania) - A/HRC/43/L.6
- The right to food (led by Cuba) - A/HRC/43/L.12
- The negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights (led by Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, except Colombia and Honduras) - A/HRC/43/L.21
- Regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights (led by Armenia, Belgium, Mexico, Senegal and Thailand) - A/HRC/43/L.22
- Promotion and protection of human rights and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (led by Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Ecuador, Fiji, Luxembourg, Portugal, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Thailand and Uruguay) - A/HRC/43/L.27
- The Council also decided to extend the mandates of the following Special Procedures for another 3 years: the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (A/HRC/43/L.16), the Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights (A/HRC/43/L.11), the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression (A/HRC/43/L.2), the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (A/HRC/43/L.4), the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders (A/HRC/43/L.5), the Special Rapporteur on minority issues (A/HRC/43/L.9), and the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing (A/HRC/43/L.20).
SRI Oral Statements
- Statement with the Coalition of African Lesbians for the Urgent Debate on the current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests (watch the statement here)
- High-Level Panel on Beijing+25 (watch the statement here)
- Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities: Statement on her report on bioethics (watch the statement here, and read SRI’s submission to that report here)
- Statement with the Coalition of African Lesbians for the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on foreign debt (watch the statement here)
- Statement with the Coalition of African Lesbians for the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food (watch the statement here)
- Annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities (watch the statement here with closed captions in English and international sign language interpretation)
- Statement from SRI partner the Federation for Women and Family Planning on the Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights’ visit to Poland
- Statement from SRI partner the Federation for Women and Family Planning under Item 8 General Debate.
- Joint statement from SRI partner Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights and the Disabled Women’s Network of Canada (DAWN) on the visit to Canada by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities (watch the statement here)
Joint oral statements
- SRI signed on to the statement made by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for the urgent debate on the current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests (watch the statement here)
- SRI presented a joint statement endorsed by 12 other civil society organizations defending civil society participation at the Council. Watch the statement here.
- SRI endorsed a joint statement made by CIVICUS on civil society participation under Item 8 - General Debate.
- SRI signed on to a joint statement delivered by the Center for Reproductive Rights on the observance of International Women's Day (watch it here).
- UPR outcome of Bolivia - Joint statement with the Right Here Right Now Platform of Bolivia (Plataforma Derechos Aquí y Ahora de Bolivia). Watch the statement here.
- UPR outcome of Bosnia and Herzegovina - Joint statement with the Sarajevo Open Centre (watch the statement here)
- UPR outcome of El Salvador - Joint statement with the Red Salvadoreña de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos, la Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Terapéutico, Ético y Eugenésico, and la Colectiva de Mujeres para el Desarrollo Local (watch the statement here)
- UPR outcome of the Gambia - Joint statement with Women in Liberation and Leadership (WILL) and African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR) (watch the statement here)
- UPR outcome of Kazakhstan - Joint statement with Sana Sezim (watch the statement here)