UN's human rights council kicks off longest-ever session amid world chaos

AP , AFP , Ahram Online , Sunday 26 Feb 2023

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will help kick off the latest and longest-ever session of the U.N.'s top human rights body on Monday, with Iran's foreign minister, a senior Russian envoy, and the top diplomats of France and Germany among scores of leaders set to take part.

UN Human rights
File photo: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses his statement, during the opening of the High-Level Segment of the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Feb. 24, 2020. AP


The more than five-week session of the Human Rights Council opens as the world grapples with rights concerns including Russia's war in Ukraine, repression of dissent in Russia and Belarus, new violence in the occupied Palestinians territories, and efforts to solidify a peace deal in Ethiopia that ended two years of conflict between the national government and rebels in the Tigray region.

The council, made up of 47 members countries, takes up an extensive array of human rights issues — including discrimination, the freedom of religion, right to housing or the deleterious impact of economic sanctions targeting governments on regular people — as well as country "situations" like those in Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar, Nicaragua and South Sudan. It usually meets three times a year.

Proponents say the Geneva-based rights body has grown in importance as a diplomatic venue because the U.N. Security Council in New York has been increasingly divided in recent years due to a major rift between affiliations among its five permanent members: China and Russia on one side, Britain, France and the United States on the other.

On Monday, among the speakers after Guterres and the presidents of Congo, Montenegro and Colombia, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian will come up between Germany's Annalena Baerbock and France's Catherine Colonna. China's foreign minister, Qin Gang, is set to make a statement by video.

Amirabdollahian's visit comes in the wake of vociferous and continued protests that erupted in Iran after the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the country’s morality police.

Moscow is set to be represented at the highest level since Russia suspended its council membership last year — largely because the U.N. General Assembly was on the cusp of stripping it. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, known more for his expertise on defense matters, is set to attend on Thursday. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to speak by video message the same day.

A year ago, scores of diplomats walked out of the council chamber as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared by video, to express their opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine days earlier. He had originally been set to attend in person but many Western countries closed their airspace to flights from Russia after the invasion.

In the session, the United States is likely to try to keep pressure on China over its record on issues over a crackdown on pro-democracy activists and others in Hong Kong, long-running concerns about Tibet, and others about the western region of Xinjiang — on which former U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet issued a scathing report last fall just minutes before she left office.

"We will continue to shine a spotlight on documented abuses of Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang by the PRC," said the U.S. ambassador to the council, Michèle Taylor. "We are not going to just walk away from that ... I don’t have an answer right now for exactly what’s planned, but I can tell you that we’re engaged in robust conversations about what that might look like."

Western diplomats say they are looking to see what tone the new U.N. human rights chief, Volker Türk, takes on the issue. He is set to speak right after Guterres.

Among other items on the agenda will be the possible renewal of the term of a team of experts, known as a Commission of Inquiry, on the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and Ethiopia's effort to prematurely end the mandate of a council-designated team of investigators who have been looking into rights issues related to the conflict with Tigray rebels.

In the same vein, Mr. Türk urged an end to the "illogic of escalation that has been building up, to the detriment of the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis," in a statement on Feb. 3.

"Last year saw record numbers of Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem – and the highest number of fatalities of Israelis inside Israel and in the occupied West Bank in many years. Already this year, we have seen more bloodshed, more destruction, and the situation continues to grow more volatile," he added.

2022 is seen as the deadliest year in the West Bank since 2004, with nearly 224 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces; Palestinian gunmen killed 30 Israelis in the same year.

More recently, Israeli attacks have claimed the lives of 62 Palestinian adults and children since the start of 2023.

Nine Israeli, including a police officer have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.

The death tally continues to rise as Israeli forces has ramped up near-nightly raids in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, under a new coalition government headed by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, widely regarded as the most right-wing in the country's history.

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