Report on the 19th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Donald B. Holsinger, Ph.D. & Ellen S. Holsinger – Geneva

The United Nations Human Rights Council concluded its nineteenth regular session 23 March 2012, adopting 41 texts (“resolutions”) on a wide range of issues, including appointing a Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

The Council extended mandates of the Special Rapporteurs on Iran, on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and on Myanmar, and the mandate of the Special Procedure in the field of cultural rights, for a period of three years. At the request of the Haitian authorities, the Council extended for one year the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in this country. It also extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and requested the Commission to conduct and continuously update a mapping exercise of gross violations of human rights since March 2011, including an assessment of casualty figures, and to publish it periodically. The Council decided to dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the Occupied Syrian Golan provoking the withdrawal of the Israeli delegation from the HRC.

Subsequent to the urgent debate on humanitarian and human rights situation in Syria, the Council condemned in the strongest terms the sharply escalating widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the Syrian authorities and the attacks against civilians in cities and villages across the country. The Council adopted a resolution on reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, in which it called on the Government to take all necessary steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.

Resolutions of Particular Relevance to Freedom of Religion or Belief

Resolutions A/HRC/19/L.23 and A/HRC/19/L.7 both contain language pertaining to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration, the right to freedom of religion or belief.

The text of A/HRC/19/L.23 begins by recalling the well-known resolution (36/55) of the UN General Assembly of 25 November 1981. In the operational paragraphs there is not much that we would describe as new to this document with the possible exception of the inclusion of an element of education. The language is: “to promote, through the educational system and other means, mutual understanding, tolerance, non-discrimination and respect in all matters relating to freedom of religion or belief by encouraging, in society at large, a wider knowledge of different religions and beliefs and of the history, traditions, languages and cultures of the various religious minorities existing within their jurisdiction.

A/HRC/19/L.7 has a much longer name, “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, person based on religion or belief,” and a much narrower intent. The intent can be divined by examining two of the only three sponsors of the draft resolution, Pakistan and Venezuela. They were also joined by Australia. The irony is that the resolution was affirmed on March 16, within days of one of France’s most infamous mass murderers, a young French Muslim man, being apprehended and killed by French police in the southern French city of Toulouse. This may have been one reason there was so little interest in sponsorship. Clearly the HRC was in favor with the underlying rationale of the resolution but there wasn’t much interest in this resolution in the debate among delegates. 

 [1] The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.  “All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.” Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 12 March 2007, Opening of the 4th Human Rights Council Session.