Summary of FORUM-ASIA’s interventions at the 46th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC46)
9 April 2021 6:00 pm

The 46th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council took place from 22 February to 23 March 2021. FORUM-ASIA’s advocacy focused on human rights situations in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Kashmir and the Philippines. It also engaged in discussions on the topic of reprisals in several other Asian countries, including in West Papua, Hong Kong, India and Thailand. It also supported side events on the protection for human rights defenders in Asia, Hong Kong democracy and human rights, hate speech against minorities in South Asia and the impact of online caste-hate speech.

 

Important step forward in the pursuit of accountability in Sri Lanka

The resolution of the 46th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council on promoting accountability, reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka marks a modest yet an important milestone in the quest for accountability in Sri Lanka. This resolution – the first after the Sri Lankan government’s withdrawal of support for the resolution 30/1 which outlines the commitments of both the government and the Council for accountability, reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka – paves the way forward towards accountability in absence of the government’s support.

The resolution, in a crucial step forward, aims to strengthen the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) “to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka.”

The report follows a damning report by the High Commissioner, which pointed to trends emerging over the past year which “represent a clear and early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation” and set the scene for “the recurrence of the policies and practices that gave rise to grave human rights violations.” Expressing concern over these trends identified in the High Commissioner’s report, the resolution mandates enhanced monitoring and reporting to the Council by the OHCHR.

Before the session, pointing to attempts by the government to subvert accountability, FORUM-ASIA called on the Council to act urgently on the recommendations of the High Commissioner’s report to ensure accountability and address the deteriorating human rights situation. In an oral statement during the session, FORUM-ASIA reiterated these calls drawing attention to attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society, systematic discrimination against Muslims and other minorities, and Sri Lanka’s descent towards authoritarianism with the adoption of the new amendment to the Constitution. During the session, FORUM-ASIA also supported a joint civil society call for international accountability in Sri Lanka, including by mandating the OHCHR to collect and preserve evidence, and enhance monitoring and reporting on the deteriorating situation.

The resolution was adopted amid heightened fear of attacks and reprisals against civil society and human rights defenders who advocate international accountability in Sri Lanka. This, in particular, foregrounds the need for protection of human rights defenders, victims and survivors in the process of implementing the resolution.

 

Global condemnation of Myanmar’s military junta

At the 46th session, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the situation of human rights in Myanmar by consensus. This resolution condemns the 1 February military coup, use of violence including lethal force against and killings of peaceful protestors standing up for democracy, arbitrary detention of political leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, activists, as well as violence against Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, and calls for accountability.

Adoption of the resolution by the consensus of the Council sends an important message of global condemnation of Myanmar military’s illegitimate seizure of power from the elected civilian government, and its past and ongoing atrocities against civilians and ethnic and religious minorities including Rohingya.

The resolution, in addition to extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, mandates enhanced monitoring and reporting by the Special Rapporteur and the High Commissioner on the current crisis as well as implementation of reports by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

During the session, FORUM-ASIA called for accountability for Myanmar military’s atrocities including genocide against Rohingya, and on the UN Security Council and the international community to impose global arms embargoes and targeted sanctions against the military, its businesses and associates.

The Special Rapporteur, presenting his report to the Council, said that the military junta’s systematic and violent crackdowns on peaceful protestors could amount to crimes against humanity and called for coordinated international action against the junta.

The global condemnation of junta reflected in statements by States during the session as well as the resolution appears to have made no impact on the ground as the junta continue to escalate its systematic violence against peaceful protestors. It is imperative that the Security Council follows up its statements and the Council’s resolutions with concrete action including arms embargoes, targeted sanctions against the military, its businesses and associates, and a delegation to Myanmar to monitor and prevent further atrocities.

 

Spotlight on restrictions on killings of human rights defenders and shrinking civic space in Asia

During the session, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders raised alarm at the widespread killings of human rights defenders around the world. According to the Special Rapporteur’s report to the Council, a total of 1,325 defenders have been killed in at least 64 countries, including several countries in Asia. The Special Rapporteur particularly highlighted the elevated numbers of killings in Philippines and India.

FORUM-ASIA statement on the situation of human rights defenders during the session drew attention to how vilification and normalization of violence against defenders by state actors and through government narrative as in the Philippines fuels conditions that enable recurrence of killings. FORUM-ASIA called on the Council to pay attention to trends in violence against defenders as an important early warning sign of greater and more systematic restrictions on human rights.

In the oral update on the global human rights situation to the Council,  the High Commissioner called attention to “serious contraction in civic space” across South East Asia. These include arbitrary detention and arrests, harassment and violence and criminal charges faced by human rights defenders, activists and journalists in Cambodia, Indonesia – including in Papua region, Philippines, Thailand, Lao PDR, and Vietnam.

In India, the High Commissioner drew attention to the farmers protests, suggesting criminal charges against journalists and activists reporting on protests, and attempts to restrict freedom of expression on social media, “are disturbing departures from essential human rights principles.”

 

More action needed on Kashmir, Philippines and several other Asian countries

The High Commissioner expressed concern at the restrictions on communication and civil society activists in Indian-Administered Kashmir, as well as restrictions on internet access in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir.

In a statement during the session, FORUM-ASIA echoed the High Commissioner’s concerns about restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Kashmir. In particular, FORUM-ASIA drew attention to the raids in October 2020 on homes and offices of human rights defenders and NGOs by India’s anti-terror authorities which are clear attempts at intimidation that have contributed to the escalation of the ongoing crisis in the Indian-Administered Kashmir. FORUM-ASIA called on the High Commissioner to continue to monitor and report on the situation in Kashmir.

During the session, FORUM-ASIA led a joint statement by 8 NGOs on the Philippines which called on the Council to set an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity in the country, given the escalation of killings and the absence of progress towards accountability since the adoption of the Council’s resolution on September 2020.

FORUM-ASIA called for the Council’s attention on the situations in several other Asian countries including in West Papua, Hong Kong, India and Thailand.

 

FORUM-ASIA’s oral statements at the #HRC46