U.S. engagement at the 19th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council helped spur international action on a series of important human rights situations around the world.
The Council was seized throughout this session with the carnage in Syria, opening with a high-level urgent debate on Syria and the adoption of a resolution demanding urgent humanitarian and medical access to besieged populations inside Syria.
In a second resolution, the Council voted to extend and strengthen the work of the International Commission of Inquiry (COI), the team of investigators who are reporting on the situation in Syria, with a view to ensuring that those responsible for human rights violations are ultimately brought to account. The resolution extending the COI’s mandate marks the first time the Council has asked investigators to provide continuous mapping of both human rights violations and casualties in an ongoing crisis. Expressing grave concern about systemic impunity for human rights violations by the Assad regime, the Council also asked Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to ensure the safe and secure storage of all evidence of human rights violations gathered by the COI.
The Council’s consensus resolution on Yemen is an example of the positive results that can be achieved when a government proactively seeks the support and assistance of the international community to promote and protect human rights. As a result of the Council’s action, Yemen will receive technical assistance from the United Nations as it works to build institutions that enable Yemen to fulfill its human rights obligations. The new Yemeni government’s cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Human rights and its willingness to open a country office that will help the government make progress on human rights represents an important model for other governments facing difficult transitions.
On Libya, after a year of crisis and dramatic change, the new government used its reentry to the Council to put forward a resolution reinforcing its commitment to promote and protect human rights as it addresses fundamental challenges in establishing the rule of law and basic governing institutions.
A major achievement at this session was the adoption of a resolution on the Promotion of Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka. This is an important step for the people of Sri Lanka as it encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to take the necessary measures to address accountability and continue on the path toward reconciliation. With this resolution, the Council sent a strong signal that Sri Lanka will only achieve lasting peace through real reconciliation and accountability.
The Council voted to continue the focus on the egregious human rights situations in Iran and North Korean by renewing the mandates of UN investigators to report on and monitor the human rights situations in those countries. Although there are signs of progress in Burma, the United States also joined other nations to support a resolution that maintains HRC scrutiny of the situation in that country.
The U.S. and its partners worked together to use the Council as a platform to advance universal human rights values and highlight core themes and issues. Sweden sponsored the first panel discussion on Internet Freedom to reaffirm our fundamental and longstanding commitment to the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, both online and off.
The Council also held its first panel discussion on discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as called for in last year’s landmark LGBT resolution. The panel opened with a statement from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in which he pledged that the UN would uphold the rights of LGBT people, and stated that any attack on LGBT people “is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to uphold.”
The progress this session made in many areas, was undercut by the Council’s continued disproportionate focus on Israel, as was exemplified this session by five separate resolutions on Israel-Palestine and the creation of yet another one-sided United Nations mechanism related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An international Fact Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements will do nothing to promote a just, lasting peace, and may be counterproductive to international efforts to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to direct negotiations. The United States will continue to work to eliminate the Council’s outrageous bias against Israel.