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Human Rights Council concludes 13th session

arton2313The 13th session of the Human Rights Council, held in Geneva from 1-26 March, discussed the promotion of all human rights; various UN reports on human rights issues; human rights situations requiring the Council’s attention (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Palestine and other occupied Arab territories); and human rights bodies and mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review. The Council also considered the follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.


In her opening speech on 2 March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, drew attention to the escalation of existing violations of human rights which are being exacerbated by the worsening financial and economic crises worldwide. She argued that recent upheavals have enhanced the vulnerabilities of many people. While highlighting the creation of the Human Rights Council as a means to set up a “forum where responses to inequality, repression and impunity could be crafted and advocated to help build a larger freedom,” she called upon seizing this opportunity to make necessary adjustments to the Council’s operations. She finally called upon a better implementation of human rights on the part of Member States.

At the closing of the annual High-Level Segment of the Council’s on 3 March, Ms. Pillay seized the opportunity to call on the Council and its members to refocus on its mandate to address all human rights violations wherever they occur, and strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights. To read more, click here.

During the 13th session, various panel discussions were organized, among which a high-level panel discussion on the impact of global economic and financial crises on realization of human rights (1 March), the annual interactive debate on the rights of the persons with disabilities (5 March), the panel on the right to truth (9 March) and the annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child (10 March), the latter focusing on the fight against sexual violence against children. On 19 March the Council also held a panel discussion on the commemoration of the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, celebrated annually on 21 March. Press releases on these discussions are available online.

The High Commissioner also met with more than 100 NGO representatives during the session. Responding to the concerns raised by the NGOs on the protection of human rights defenders and combating discrimination, she underlined the importance of safeguarding the independence of NGOs worldwide and encouraged closer collaboration between OHCHR and NGOs, particularly in field offices. She also stressed that her Office assists States in implementing the Declaration on Human Rights defenders, and stands ready to explore new avenues to enhance protection for civil society.

More information on this NGO session is available online.

The Council also heard reports from and held interactive dialogues with Special Rapporteurs on various topics, among which:

  • Freedom of religion or belief; While presenting her annual report focusing on “early warning signs” of discrimination and violence, including by State actors, non-state actors and external factors, the Special Rapporteur stressed the numerous restrictions imposed on different forms of religious expression. She also expressed concern about reports of women who are forced to wear religious dress in public in certain countries. To read more on this interactive dialogue, click here.
  • Violence against children; the presentation of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General was followed by interactive debates.
  • Arbitrary detention; during which the Working Group recommended that States should apply the principle of proportionality and release migrants when it is not possible to repatriate them. To read more on this interactive dialogue, click here.
  • Right to food; on 5 March, Special Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter presented his annual report focusing on the topic of agribusiness and the role of commodity buyers, food processors and retailers in the realization of the right to food. He identified the three main challenges that the States are currently facing in realizing the right to food as “the increasing demand for primary agricultural goods, access to food for poorer populations and environmental challenges including impoverishment of the land and climate change.” Among the factors that can make a change are “strengthening labour rights for agricultural workers, supporting small family-style agriculture, and better regulating the behaviours of all actors in the agricultural production and distribution chain.” To read more on this interactive dialogue, click here.
  • Right to adequate housing; also on 5 March, Special Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik noted that although redevelopment projects could be an opportunity to improve the development of adequate housing, they often lead to massive violations of the right to adequate housing. To read more on this interactive dialogue, click here.
  • Promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; on 8 March, Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin presented his annual report focusing on the protection of the right to privacy in the fight against terrorism and its erosion in the context of global terrorism. To read more on this interactive dialogue, click here.
  • Internally displaced persons (IDPs); on 8 and 9 March, the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin, presented his annual report expressing the remaining challenges with regard to IDPs, such as issues of protracted displacement and the increase in internal displacement due to natural disasters, development projects and climate change. To read more on this interactive dialogue, click here.
  • Torture; Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak presented a study on 8 March revealing the disturbing reality that torture has only been eradicated in very few States. In the majority of States torture occurs on a regular or even systematic basis. To read more on this interactive dialogue, click here.
  • Minority issues.

On 26 March the Council closed its session after having adopted 28 resolutions on a wide range of issues.

The 14th regular session of the Council will be held from 31 May to 18 June 2011.

For more detailed information on the 13th session of the Human Rights Council, consult the resources listed below.

Human Rights Council Media Page

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

UN Human Rights Council


This article is available in Spanish.

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