With an initial keynote speech and a clear focus on present discriminations, the High Commissioner for Human Rights opened in Geneva Session 34 of the Human Rights Council. An almost entire month of debates, which are still going on, from February 27 to March 24, and many participants. The brilliant Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussien, likes to call things by name and has a special ability to put his finger on the wound.
New debates in Geneva
"Without a commitment to fundamental human rights, to the dignity and worth of the human person and to the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, our world will become chaos, misery and warfare,"
The agenda of this meeting consisted of large generic issues that encompass an endless number of problems and some specific ones that were introduced here and there. On this occasion, the presentation of the Annual Report of the High Commissioner was the strong point to open the sessions, since the team of this Office, that is touching the reality of the different countries all year round, is the one that knows the most about the state of the development of rights and how to protect and promote them. We speak here of all human rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.
At the same time, this Council Session reviewed the Durban Declaration, signed in 2001, inspired by the struggle of the South African people against apartheid, which goes against xenophobia, racism, racial discrimination and intolerance, which are particularly hot issues today.
Additionally, in accordance with the functioning of the Council, a debate was held at this session: “the contribution of human rights to peacebuilding through the enhancement of dialogue and international cooperation for the promotion of human rights.”
The rights of children were heard with all their nuances and dimensions, especially given the violations of their rights in countries in conflict, sexual assaults, especially those made to handicapped children who cannot defend themselves, the urgency to provide them with the necessary education and even the care of the environment where their lives are often developed, in the midst of wars and unbridled violence.
The environmental threat posed by climate change is also a threat to the survival of children, their health, their adequate nutrition, and so on. According to UNICEF, more than half a billion children live in areas at high risk of flooding, 115 million are at risk of tropical cyclones and almost 160 million are exposed to very severe droughts, among other data.
Crimes against humanity were highlighted in the case of the Syrian war, the greatest conflict of the last 60 years. There was a High-Level Panel on this issue which addressed enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, as well as the need to hold accountable those responsible for their violations and abuses.
A very active civil society
The many NGOs with consultative status, (there are about four thousand now), mobilized as usual regarding all these problems. There were many oral and written statements made by several organizations that were read, at full speed, in their corresponding sessions. And many NGOs organized some side events, the round tables that run parallel to the formal sessions, which in this Council had a great impact, not only by the number of offers and the interest of the issues, but also by the Convening capacity they had. Among the themes of the side events of the last week we found issues related to human trafficking, lethal weapons, children soldiers and their rehabilitation; lack of rights in Ecuador, Venezuela, Pakistan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Libya and Azerbaijan; children in armed conflict, refugees of legal age, rights in the Philippines, women's rights in Arab countries, etc. One of the side events that had more audience was titled: “Unaccompanied children on the move. Preserving their dignity”, organized by Caritas International with other collaborators.
Berta Marco, from Geneva