UN Human Rights Council holds annual session as Ukraine crisis deepens


As the conflict in Ukraine deepens and the Covid-19 pandemic continues, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva holds its annual month-long session on Monday.

Over 130 foreign dignitaries are expected at the Palais des Nations, the UN Office in the Swiss city, for the high-level segment of the debates.

Ahead of the opening of the Council’s 49th session, its newly elected President Federico Villegas spoke to UN News about his vision for the proceedings, challenges linked to the polarisation of the Council, and the critical role of civil society organisations.

“There is no country that can say that it does not have a human rights challenge,” said Mr. Villegas, who is the Ambassador of Argentina to the UN in Geneva.

While the international community is currently witnessing an increase in geopolitical tensions, the veteran diplomat recalled that no nation is beyond reproach.

He said no country can claim to have “solved everything” when it comes to issues such as the right to freedom of expression or the fight against discrimination, adding “we therefore have a collective responsibility”.

The Human Rights Council is where that responsibility is upheld.

Established by the General Assembly in 2006, it is an intergovernmental body within the UN system, made up of 47 States responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.

As the crisis in Ukraine escalated last week, the Council reported on its Twitter account that the country’s UN Ambassador in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, requested that an urgent debate on the human rights situation there be convened during the upcoming session.

Countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan and Myanmar are on the agenda this year, as are  issues such as the access to decent housing and the rights of minorities.  An annual debate on the rights of persons with disabilities will also be held.

In total, the Council will consider over 100 reports presented by more than 30 human rights experts and groups, before the 49th session concludes on 1 April.

Reports will address some 50 country situations and 40 themes, including Covid-19. Three panel discussions will be held to examine public health policies, access to vaccines, and the impact of the pandemic on human rights.

This latest session will be held over a record period of five weeks, and in a hybrid format, with meetings taking place both in-person and online.

Delegations have welcomed the return to face-to-face meetings after being deprived of holding informal consultations for two years.

Secretary-General António Guteres was scheduled to participate but will remain in New York “due to the aggravating situation in Ukraine”, his Spokesperson announced on Saturday. (Source: UN News)