UN Human Rights Council Session concludes 46th Regular Session

The United Nations Human Rights Council held its forty-sixth regular session from 22 February to 23 March 2021 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.  It started off with a high-level segment from 22 to 24 February where dignitaries representing more than 130 countries addressed the Council on their governments’ efforts to promote and protect human rights. It was held for the first time entirely online.

This session also welcomed the new president, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji.  It was opened with speeches from Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres; the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir; the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet; as well as the Chief of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, Ignazio Cassis.

Sec. Gen. Guterres has called the Council “to focus on two areas where the imperative for action is great — and the scale of the challenge looms large: the blight of racism, discrimination and xenophobia and, second, the most pervasive human rights violation of all: gender inequality.”  He stressed how “people around the world are relying on us to secure and protect their rights. With the pandemic shining a spotlight on human rights, recovery gives us an opportunity to generate momentum for transformation. Now is the time to reset. To reshape. To rebuild. To recover better, guided by human rights and human dignity for all.”

The Council reviewed reports on a wide range of human rights issues and engaged in over 30 interactive dialogues with human rights experts, groups, and mechanisms concerning, among other issues, around 50 countries.  Presentations of about 100 thematic and country reports on a wide range of issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic were conducted.

The Council also held an annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming; its biennial high-level panel on death penalty; its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child; its annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities; a meeting on the role of poverty alleviation in promoting and protecting human rights; and a debate on the mid-term review of the International Decade for People of African Descent.

The high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming focused on “The state of play in the fight against racism and discrimination 20 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action and the exacerbating effects the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has had on these efforts”. The panelists were Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General;  Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

For the theme on the rights of the child, discussions were held on its relation with the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the amplified risks due to the pandemic on children’s vulnerability to trafficking and sexual exploitation.

All the speakers affirmed their commitment to eliminate racism, discrimination, and all related intolerance, and welcomed the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Other speakers noted that this was a sad commemoration – the COVID-19 pandemic had brought out racial discrimination and disparities in institutions that were designed to protect the global population. Some speakers expressed their concern about the nationalist approach to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The recent rise of nationalism laid bare the fact that the world was not winning the war against the scourge of racism.

Of particular interest to IIMA and VIDES was the interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children.  She stressed out how state actors and civil society should work together to combat the covid-19 pandemic’s devastating short, medium, and long-term consequences for children.

The final outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review of 14 States were considered and adopted, namely that of Andorra, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Honduras, Jamaica, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Panama, and the United States.  IIMA and VIDES delivered joint oral statements for the UPR Outcomes of Honduras and the United States of America.


In conclusion, the HRC adopted 30 resolutions and one decision, extending mandates on the environment, cultural rights, albinism, privacy, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Islamic Republic of Iran, Myanmar, Syrian Arab Republic, South Sudan, and Mali, and focusing on the wide-ranging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.