During the coming week, the U.N. Human Rights Council will be faced with many important issues left hanging when its 43rd session was suspended in March because of COVID-19. The meeting, which opens Monday, will employ a so-called hybrid approach, with a mix of both real and virtual presentations.
To ensure the safety of participants during this time of coronavirus, U.N. officials say social distancing measures will be strictly enforced. Delegations will have a reduced number of representatives attending the session and hundreds of side events by nongovernmental organizations will not take place on U.N. premises.
Presentation of reports and interactive dialogues on human rights issues will involve experts who are either physically present or speaking by video conference. Countries that will come under review include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Ukraine, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Central African Republic.
One of the highlights of the weeklong meeting will be an urgent debate on institutionalized racism in the United States underlined by the killing of African American George Floyd while in police custody.
Geneva director of Human Rights Watch John Fisher calls this a moment of reckoning for the United States. He said the event will likely be used by some countries to advance their own agendas.
“We are also very concerned that China is seeking to exploit this moment of global chaos and the disarray within the U.S. to crack down on rights and freedoms in Hong Kong … And, we are calling upon states to take this moment to bring more attention to Hong Kong, as I mentioned. We feel this is a time when China will be watching the international response, and, if that response is muted, will feel emboldened to go even further down the track,” he said.
A year ago, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callemard, presented her report on the killing of Saudi columnist for the Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi, which she claimed was by agents of the Saudi government. While this issue is not formally on the council agenda, Fisher believes it should be given renewed attention.
“In addition to, of course the murder of Khashoggi, while a number of women human rights defenders have been released from prison, a number remain. There are still allegations of torture. They still face criminal charges …There continues to be use of the death penalty, flogging, a crackdown on dissent, new waves of arrests,” he said.
At the end of the week, the council will take action on decisions and the adoption of more than 40 resolutions. They include recommendations on improving human rights in countries such as Libya, Iran, Nicaragua, South Sudan, and Myanmar.