Africa at the 49th session of the Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council (HRC) holds no fewer than three regular sessions a year, for a total of at least ten weeks (United Nations Human Rights Council, 2021). Regular sessions of the Human Rights Council serve as a forum for dialogue on pressing thematic and country-specific human rights issues facing the international community. The three-year program of work of the Human Rights Council for 2021 – 2023 covers the 46th to the 54th regular sessions to be held during the period from 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2023. This work program seeks to highlight a variety of human rights issues around the world. As such, Africa has been also considered in different parts of the program, a year of which has almost passed.
As the program shows, during the sessions 46 to 48 the focus on Africa was through the Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent and a focus on human rights conditions in different countries, including Eritrea, South Sudan, Burundi, Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kasai, the Central African Republic, the Central African Republic, the Tigray region of Ethiopia, through different Interactive Dialogues (ID). There have been also considerations of reports on systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent; the issues such as technical assistance and capacity-building have been also considered for countries such as South Sudan.
Sessions 49 to 51 are planned to be held in 2022. The interactive dialogues on the oral update of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea are supposed to continue in the 49th session. As the 2021 report shows Eritrea has not yet put in place an institutional and legal framework to uphold minimum human rights standards in a democratic society, with the situation of human rights in Eritrea remaining a source of serious concern. The Special Rapporteur underscored the centrality of human rights and the rule of law to stability in Eritrea, calling upon the Government to strengthen its efforts to address the situation of human rights in the country as part of a holistic approach to the challenges of governance and democracy in Eritrea. The country is on the program as there are still numerous challenges, including combating impunity, extending efforts to guarantee the freedoms of religion, expression, association, peaceful assembly and the press, introducing reforms to national service, strengthening the participatory political system and the rule of law, and creating efficient, responsive and transparent institutions in the country (Human Rights Council, 47th session, 2021).
Concerning the cooperation between Eritrea and OHCHR, the Human Rights Council (2021) requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its 49th session on progress made in the cooperation between Eritrea and the Office of the High Commissioner, and its impact on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. It was also decided to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea for a further period of one year and to continue to assess and report on the situation of human rights in follow-up to the report of the Special Rapporteur. Eritrea’s cooperation with the Council has been welcomed so far and further cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is encouraged (UN Human Rights, 2021).
Interactive dialogues on the oral update of the HC on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia are also considered in the 49th session, which was also a matter under consideration in the 48th session. The Joint Statement on human rights in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia (2021) expressed concerns regarding the ongoing violence in northern Ethiopia and numerous reports of human rights abuses, killing of civilians and humanitarian workers, sexual and gender-based violence, and attacks on Eritrean refugees and displaced persons in Ethiopia. The Human Rights Council expressed grave concerns on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, referring to serious human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law and international refugee law allegedly committed by all parties in the Tigray region since the start of the conflict in 2020. The 49th session is hoped to receive more promising reports and observe more improvements in the current conditions.
The conditions of South Sudan have been considered during the 46th to 48th sessions of the Human Rights Council, and it is supposed to continue in the 49th session by interactive dialogues on the comprehensive report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. According to Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet (2021), provided to the 48th session of the Human Rights Council Oral update on technical assistance and capacity building for South Sudan (under item 10), the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has had crucial contributions to the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. On the other hand, high concerns are expressed at the high levels of violence attributed to community-based militias, which continue to affect innocent civilians, threaten the country’s stability, and endanger prospects for lasting peace. Abductions mainly connected to a surge of localized violence in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area were an important challenge, necessitating continued efforts to ensure that all those abducted are released.
Besides, despite challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNMISS Human Rights Division continued its efforts focusing on capacity building activities on human rights in the South Sudan during 2021 while also providing technical support to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on international human rights mechanisms. However, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights states, the Government of South Sudan is expected to make specific requests for additional capacity building activities, which are supposed to be reported at the Human Rights Council’s 49th session.
The 49th session will also consider the reports of the working group (WG) on the Universal Periodic Review (thirty-ninth session) for several countries, including Sudan and Tanzania in the African continent. The report on Sudan covers different areas such as the scope, of international obligations and cooperation with international human rights mechanisms and bodies, National human rights framework, and the implementation of international human rights obligations, taking into account applicable international humanitarian law. The issues about which there were continuing concerns included equality and non-discrimination, development, the environment, and business and human right, right to life, liberty and security of person, administration of justice, including impunity, and the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and prohibition of all forms of slavery. The report also covers economic, social and cultural rights, including right to work and to just and favorable conditions of work, right to social security, right to an adequate standard of living, right to health, and right to education. Finally, rights of specific persons or groups, including women, children, persons with disabilities, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons, and stateless persons have been also considered by the report.
The 39th session report on the United Republic of Tanzania, I addition to many of the above issues, took into consideration human rights and counter-terrorism, the right to participate in public and political life, and the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples.
Human Rights Council, Forty-seventh session 21 June–9 July 2021, Agenda item 2, Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General, www.reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/A_HRC_47_21_E.pdf
Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Thirty-ninth session, 1–12 November 2021, Compilation on the Sudan, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, www.reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/A_HRC_WG.6_39_SDN_2_E.pdf
Human Rights Council Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Thirty-ninth session, 1–12 November 2021, Compilation on the United Republic of Tanzania, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, www.undocs.org/A/HRC/WG.6/39/TZA/2
Joint Statement led by the US on human rights in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia (2021). www.dfat.gov.au/international-relations/international-organisations/un/statements/48th-session-human-rights-council/joint-statement-human-rights-tigray-region-ethiopia-delivered-during-high-commissioners-oral-update-13-september-2021
48th session of the Human Rights Council Oral update on technical assistance and capacity building for South Sudan (under item 10): Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, 6 October 2021, www.reliefweb.int/report/south-sudan/48th-session-human-rights-council-oral-update-technical-assistance-and-capacity
United Nations Human Rights, Special Rapporteur Tells Human Rights Council that Serious Human Rights Issues Persist in Eritrea (2021). www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27189&LangID=E
United Nations Human Rights, Human Rights Council Concludes Forty-Seventh Regular Session after Adopting 25 Resolutions and 2 Decisions (2021). www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=27310&LangID=E