49th Human Rights Council Reports

Report on Opening Meeting


February 28th, 2022: Opening Ceremony of the 49th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council

All sources used to draft the report can be found here. The report was drafted by Samantha Khoo on February 22nd, 2022.

Composition of the HRC

Main Report

From the 28th of February to the 1st of April 2022, The Human Rights Council is holding its 49th session in Geneva. As the most important event aiming to assess Human Rights issues worldwide and promote dialogue between nations, it is being conducted in hybrid form due to the still ongoing Covid-19 pandemic worldwide. During the Opening Session, we had the chance to hear from main actors in the field of Human Rights and Development, who reiterated the importance of Sustainable Development, International Dialogue and Human Rights to achieve Peace.

Urgent Debate

The President of the Human Rights Council, Federico Villegas, began by welcoming everyone to the inaugural session of the 49th session of the Human Rights Council at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. On 24 February 2022, a letter had been received from Yevheniia Filipenko, Permanent Representative of Ukraine, requesting the Human Rights Council to hold an urgent debate on the "situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression" as urgently as possible during this session. Urgent debates were based on a decision by the Council to adjust its programme of work to address a human rights matter which was considered to be urgent. Ukraine and the Russian Federation spoke as countries concerned.

Yevheniia Filipenko began by thanking the bureau for considering their request to convene an urgent debate. She stated that the unprovoked attack on Ukraine was an attack on the very principles of the Human Rights Council, a council that Russia is a member of. She stated that the specific targeting of schools, hospitals and kindergartens are an attempt by the Russian government to sow panic into Ukrainians and that Ukraine has filed a case against Russia in the International Court of Justice. She informed the audience that apart from the violence, the rise in misinformation from the Russian government in an attempt to distort the narrative is also extremely damaging for the Ukrainian population. She believes that it is the responsibility of the Council to push back against the misinformation and to strongly respond to Russia's violation of international law and the principles of the Human Rights Council. The use of Russian veto power in the Security Council prevented action from being taken, but she encouraged the United Nations General Assembly and United Nations Human Rights

Council to respond to Russia's actions. She put forth the notion that the UNHRC must showcase its credibility and take action against the blatant violation of the UN Charter and International Human Rights Law. She called upon members to take responsibility and accept the request for an urgent debate before ending her speech and thanking everyone.

Gennady Gatilov, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation, expressed his disappointment with certain delegations to ramp up tensions within the council. He argued that there is no need for the urgent debate and it is merely a means for Kyiv to distract the world from its actions in the Donbas region over the last 8 years. He questions why the Human Rights Council has chosen to stay silent over these issues and why the Western governments have continued to pump the Kyiv government with weapons. He then refuses to go further into the topic and once again refers to the actions of Ukraine in the Donbas region. He calls again for an honest dialogue regarding the situation of Human Rights in Ukraine. He stated that they are against the urgent debate and call for a vote on the matter before ending his speech.

Following a roll-call vote of 29 votes in favour, 5 against and 13 abstentions* The Council decided to hold the urgent debate.

Keynote Speakers

Ignacio Cassis, President of Switzerland, said Switzerland had a long tradition as a host country based on universal conventions. The Human Rights Council made a fundamental contribution to the respect and promotion of human rights around the world, allowing human rights violations to be denounced, providing accountability, and protecting from future violations. Today the turn of events was unexpected, with war raging in the heart of Europe once again. Here in Geneva, humanitarianism and multilateralism needed to be discussed. Switzerland condemned the attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and considered the action a blatant violation of international humanitarian law. Russia had violated the most fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter. The attempts of the Russian Federation to legitimise its actions were not credible and there was nothing that could legitimise this intervention. Russia should withdraw immediately from Ukraine and de-escalate its military. Switzerland was prepared to welcome all persons in need and called upon the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and civil rights. All civilians must be protected and treated with humanity. Medical structures, infrastructure and personnel must be protected in all circumstances. All parties should ensure rapid humanitarian access with no impediments. The Russian people could not have free access to information on the events and could not express themselves freely. The arrest of peaceful demonstrators was condemned. The Geneva humanitarian institutions could make a major contribution to protecting international human rights and human rights in Ukraine. Those who committed grave violations of international law and international human rights law must be brought to account. Switzerland strongly supported the urgent debate. This session of the Human Rights Council would of course be marked by the dramatic events, but there were other matters of concern: stability and prosperity would be better guaranteed in a world where the human rights of all were respected. The respect of human rights was a key element to prevent conflicts and to strengthen democratic structures. Switzerland was committed to taking further account of human rights in the Palais des Nations and ensuring cooperation between the three pillars of

the United Nations. Switzerland had submitted its candidacy to the Security Council as a non-permanent member for 2023-2024

Abdullah Shaheed, President of the General Assembly, recognised the tremendous efforts of High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, her Office, and the whole United Nations system in the promotion and protection of all human rights for all. Regarding the COVID pandemic, he reiterated the conclusions of the recent high-level thematic debate on vaccine equity, which stressed the importance of including a human rights perspective when recovering from the pandemic and using the 2030 Agenda as the roadmap to recovery. Beyond COVID, Mr. Shaheed said he would prioritise the needs of the planet in his presidency and welcomed recent progress at this Council on these issues, including two resolutions, on human rights and climate change, and the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. A high-level event in July would highlight the synergies on this issue across the various meetings taking place during his presidency.

Gender equality would also take priority during his presidency, with the President's cabinet being gender-balanced, with more women than men, and the President promised to participate only in gender-balanced panels. In addition to his commitment to women and girls was an understanding that young people must be empowered. Mr. Shaheed said he had made it a point to include their voices at meetings and events at the General Assembly during this session. Under the Fellowship for HOPE, eight young diplomats from underrepresented countries had joined his team to gain valuable insight into the work of the United Nations. He hoped that they would take these insights and lessons back to their home communities and support their nations in the field of multilateralism. Upholding human rights also meant tackling racism and other forms of discrimination, and as such one of the first meetings he had presided over was the commemorative meeting to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, in September 2021. He would also continue to prioritise bringing the voices of civil society back into the halls of the United Nations during his presidency.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that human rights were under assault everywhere. Human rights could not be confiscated by dictators or erased by poverty. Nor were they a luxury that could be left for later. They were inescapable and powerful. The United Nations worked every day, everywhere, to uphold and promote human rights for all. The solutions to crises were all rooted in human rights, COVID-19 pandemic included. The unequal recovery from the pandemic had revealed the moral bankruptcy of the global financial system. Calling for a renewed social contract, based on rights and opportunities for all, the Secretary-General said that it was essential to tackle poverty and hunger, invest in education and lifelong learning, and rebuild trust and social cohesion. The rights of women and girls must be at the forefront and the recovery was an opportunity for targeted investments in women's education, employment, training and decent work, to make up ground lost during the pandemic.

The climate crisis was a human rights crisis, he said. Today's report on adaptation from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was another death knell for the world that they knew. Floods, droughts and rising sea levels would lead to even greater humanitarian catastrophes, food shortages and migration. Up to one-fifth of the planet could be too hot for humans to survive. A few countries were trampling on the rights of the rest of the world and a

few companies were reaping rich rewards while ignoring the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Welcoming the Council's recognition of the right to a healthy environment, "an important tool for accountability and climate justice", the Secretary-General said the Paris Agreement was intrinsically linked to human rights. Digital technology was "the Wild West" for human rights and the internet must be treated as a global public good that should benefit everyone, everywhere. The world needed a digital public square that was inclusive and safe for all and social media platforms that supported human rights and freedoms.

The escalation of military operations by the Russian Federation in Ukraine was leading to escalating human rights violations. The Secretary-General said the conflict was the utter negation of human rights across the board. The Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine was continuing its work and humanitarian agencies would step up their operations. The grim irony, he continued, was that conflicts were themselves frequently rooted in the denial of human rights, from discrimination against minorities to gaping inequalities and injustice. He said protecting minorities and promoting their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights were among the most important conflict prevention tools that were available. Around the world, a much sharper and more sustained focus on minority rights was needed. The Secretary-General urged the authorities in countries from Myanmar to Afghanistan, Ethiopia and beyond to step up the protection of minorities and respect the equal rights of all their people, during and after the war.

Supporting that diversity defined the richness of human civilization, he highlighted the need for a much sharper and more sustained focus on minority rights. "Refugees and migrants are a group that needs special protection", he said, adding that hostile asylum and migration policies, as well as the xenophobic rhetoric that often accompanied them, threatened the lives of migrants and refugees and made hypocrites of those who purported to lead by example on human rights. He expressed his strong support for the work of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to protect and enhance human rights everywhere. The Secretary-General stated that the human rights movement was an affirmation of basic humanity. "Through the daily grind of advocacy, monitoring, and investigation, human rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers, are standing up for our common humanity – often at great personal risk", he stated. He concluded by saluting them and honouring their work.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said this Council session was taking place at a time that called for strong and visionary leadership. Remarkable progress that had been made over two decades in every region – in decreasing conflict, reducing poverty and expanding access to education and other rights – was in jeopardy. Depleted by the pandemic, divided by growing polarisation, undermined by growing environmental harm and corroded by digital disinformation, hatred and distortions of democracy, and disregard of the rule of law, many societies were evolving – or plunging – into increased repression and violence; rising poverty; anger; and conflict. The military attack on Ukraine was putting at risk countless lives. Between Thursday morning and last night, the Office of the High Commissioner had recorded 406 civilian casualties, including 102 killed –including 7 children – and 304 injured. Meanwhile, millions of civilians, including vulnerable and older people, were forced to huddle in different forms of bomb shelters, such as underground stations, to escape explosions. The High Commissioner for Refugees had reported that 422,000 people had fled the country – and many more were internally displaced.

Action to end the conflict, respect the United Nations Charter and abide by international law was needed. The international community must also, with unprecedented vigour, fight corruption, which robbed the public treasury for private gain – creating predatory elites whose interests may sharply diverge from the well-being of the people. Tackling the root causes of grievances and instability, and investing in justice and human dignity was urgent to the task of guiding societies – in every region – away from reckless and escalating violence. Already, conflict was creating humanitarian needs on a scale that far exceeded the capacity for assistance. It was shattering lives and economies, driving people from their homes and creating both bitter grievances and despair. Decisions that were taken at this crucial time would have a lasting impact. They must re-establish a trajectory that benefitted all. The Secretary-General had set the path for that global effort – framing a new approach that was anchored in human rights and supported by a strong human rights system, at the core of revitalised and strengthened multilateral organisations. The Office of the High Commissioner stood ready to support this crucial work in every way.

*The countries who voted no (Cuba, Eritrea, Russian Federation, Venezuela and China), those who voted yes (Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Honduras, Indonesia, Japan, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Ukraine, UK, USA, Argentina, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Côte d'Ivoire), and countries that abstained (Gabon, India, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Namibia, Pakistan, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Cameroon).


Cultural Diversity and Sustainable Development for Peace