The United States advanced U.S. foreign policy objectives at the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) during our first session back as a voting member. We worked alongside Ukraine and HRC members to establish a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) – the first ever on Russia – to investigate alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in the context of Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine. The United States was also a member of the core group on Ukraine’s resolution to counter disinformation.
The United States co-sponsored more than half of the resolutions adopted and was a key member of the core groups on country-specific resolutions for South Sudan and Syria. The United States advanced other country-specific and thematic actions to promote greater respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls in all their diversity, indigenous persons, members of ethnic and religious minority groups, persons with disabilities, and members of other marginalized and vulnerable groups. The United States supported the Council’s role of shining a spotlight on countries of concern and promoting accountability for governments that abuse human rights. We also condemned reprisals against human rights defenders.
Russia: During an Urgent Debate on March 4, the United States voted to support Ukraine’s call for a CoI. The HRC voted overwhelmingly (32Y-2N-13A) to condemn Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, called on it to immediately halt its assault on the people of Ukraine, and demanded that it withdraw its forces immediately. The vote illustrated Russia’s growing isolation in the international community. The CoI is the most robust investigative mechanism the Council possesses, and this is the first time since the Council’s creation in 2006 that it has established a CoI on Russia. The detailed information this Commission collects will help ensure the Kremlin’s horrific conduct in Ukraine is carefully documented to hold those responsible for human rights violations and abuses to account.
Belarus: The United States co-sponsored the European Union’s resolution extending the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Examination for a year. It was established in 2021 to investigate human rights violations surrounding the fraudulent August 9, 2020 presidential election in Belarus and the ongoing violent crackdown against civil society. Among other things, the resolution condemns reports of the regime’s holding of political prisoners and continued arbitrary arrests and detentions by Belarusian authorities, including of individuals who have peacefully protested or spoken out against Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine and against the Lukashenka regime’s repression. The OHCHR Examination issued its first written report on March 4, 2022, detailing widespread human rights violations by Belarusian authorities. The Examination will issue a second written report in March 2023.
Nicaragua: The United States co-sponsored the resolution led by eight Western Hemisphere partners on the promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua. The resolution established a group of human rights experts on Nicaragua to conduct thorough and independent investigations into all alleged human rights violations and abuses committed in Nicaragua since April 2018. The resolution also continues the urgent call for a stop to unjust arrests and detentions and for the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners.
South Sudan: The United States, along with the United Kingdom, Norway, and Albania, led the renewal of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan for another year. The Commission plays a crucial and unique role in collecting and preserving evidence of human rights violations and abuses with a view to promoting accountability and transitional justice in South Sudan. We continue to work with the Government of South Sudan and other regional partners to improve the lives of the South Sudanese people and support their path to peace.
Syria: As part of the core group on Syria, the United States co-sponsored a resolution that highlighted ongoing atrocities by the Assad regime in Syria, renewed the mandate of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (COI), and called on OHCHR to document and report on civilian casualties. The United States stands with survivors of the Assad regime’s atrocities and will continue to strongly support Syrian human rights defenders and civil society, the COI, the International Impartial Independent Mechanism for Syria, and other UN mechanisms and agencies as they document the regime’s ongoing egregious abuses and violations.
Georgia: The United States proudly co-sponsored the Item 10 resolution on cooperation with Georgia. While much of the world’s attention is now rightly focused on Ukraine and Russia’s brutal invasion, we must also remember that Georgia continues to suffer under a 14-year Russian occupation of 20 percent of its territory.
Housing Resolution: The United States recognizes that access to adequate, affordable, and safe housing is important to leading a dignified life. We supported the addition by the core group (Brazil, Germany, Finland, and Namibia) of more inclusive language to the resolution, particularly on housing discrimination and the disparate impact of homelessness on members of vulnerable and marginalized populations, including in the aftermath of COVID-19. We were pleased to see that the resolution addressed racial discrimination in the housing market, including in the provision of credit and home appraisals, and encouraged the adoption of measures that lead to more diverse, inclusive communities.
Countering Disinformation: The United States, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Poland, Japan, Latvia, and Lithuania led the first-ever HRC resolution on the crucial role that countries play in leading inclusive, multistakeholder processes to counter disinformation. The resolution emphasized protection for the right to freedom of expression and encouraged countries to support increased transparency and media independence, literacy, education, and inclusion. It called on all countries not to conduct or sponsor disinformation campaigns and to condemn those countries that take such steps.
Agenda Item 7: The United States opposed Agenda Item 7, which singles out Israel. We voted against all resolutions that unfairly target Israel, including one under Agenda Item 2 on Accountability and Human Rights and three resolutions under Agenda Item 7.
The United States also supported the renewal of Special Rapporteurs for the human rights situations in Iran, North Korea, and Burma.
The United States strongly opposed several resolutions, as well as provisions in other resolutions, which sought to introduce vague language with no agreed meaning that implies human rights are held by groups or States rather than individuals, undermining respect for human rights and long-standing frameworks in the United Nations system. The use of language seeking to collectivize rights undermines the HRC’s focus on the universality of human rights and fundamental freedoms and seeks to subordinate individually held human rights to policy goals of development and economic progress.
Thematic Issues: The United States also co-sponsored resolutions on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Mandate Renewal for Human Rights and Terrorism; Cultural Rights and the Protection of Cultural Heritage; Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Sport; Prevention of Genocide; Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities; Right to Work; Human Rights Defenders; and Promoting the Voluntary Technical Assistance Trust Fund to Support Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.
Joint Statements: The United States signed onto 13 thematic or country-specific joint statements. The United States led a joint statement co-signed by 85 countries reaffirming a shared commitment to territorial integrity. We joined over 50 countries to sign a Poland-led joint statement condemning human rights abuses against anti-war protesters, independent media, representatives of the political opposition, and civil society organizations inside Russia. We also joined 50 countries in a joint statement highlighting the critical human rights situation in Yemen and calling for further justice and accountability for human rights abuses. Additionally, we joined country-specific statements on Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and supported thematic joint statements on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Environmental Human Rights Defenders, UN Voluntary Fund for Torture, Children in Armed Conflict, International Women’s Day, the Responsibility to Protect and Minority Issues, and Mainstreaming Human Rights.
Side Events: The United States led two side events: one on racial justice and another on women human rights defenders and technology. Building upon the themes discussed during the 2021 Summit for Democracy and in commemoration of the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Howard University (Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center and Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center) and CIVICUS hosted a virtual HRC side event on March 24 which highlighted the importance of inclusion in democracies. A panel moderated by Dr. Paul Mulindwa (Uganda) featured civil society and former government leaders from around the world. Dr. Mulindwa posed a wide range of questions to the panelists on topics such as the sustainability of global movements for racial equity, importance of inclusion and representation in governmental leadership, disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, institutional challenges to achieving equity, and recommendations for governments and civil society.
On March 29, the United States and the European Union Special Representative for Human Rights co-hosted a side event in partnership with Access Now and Frontline Defenders entitled “Protecting Women Human Rights Defenders Online.” The event was the first in a series of multilateral engagements within the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) working group to address the misuse of technology. Participants included Costa Rica’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, the Senior Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, and two prominent women human rights defenders. In co-hosting this event, the United States and EU sent a strong message to human rights defenders and those who threaten them that the U.S. and the EU prioritize this issue within the TTC and will work together to bring this to the forefront of our foreign policy and advocate for proper accountability.