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2016 report on icjw activities at un geneva

Mary Lilling, ICJW Representative to the UN in Geneva reports on activities at the UN in Geneva during 2016.

For the past few years, Rachel Babecoff has sent out regular reports on the 3 yearly sessions of the Human Rights Council, the many side events organized during those sessions and the year-round meetings of the 5 different NGO Committees that we attend on behalf of ICJW.

Unfortunately for the moment, for personal and professional reasons, Rachel cannot continue to represent ICJW in Geneva, which leaves a big void. My report will be a short overview of the main events Léonie de Picciotto and I attended during the 33rd Session of the Human Rights Council, as well as a number of preparatory meetings.

New Israeli Ambassador

On September 5, UN Watch organized a lunch welcoming the new ambassador of Israel to the UN in Geneva, for the first time a woman. Aware of the double standards and the singling out of Israel at the UN Human Rights Council, Aviva Raz-Schechter has nevertheless set a positive agenda for herself. She “believes in off-the-record discussions", because “a lot can be achieved behind the scenes.” Considering rapid changes in today’s world “voices of new opportunities can come up quickly”.

The 33rd session of the Human Rights Council (September 13-Septmber 30, 2016)

The 3-week session included an interactive dialogue with the independent international
Commission of Inquiry on Syria, an enhanced interactive dialogue on Burundi, the UPR (Universal Periodical Reviews) of 14 countries, the celebration of the 5th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights education and Training, a panel on Youth and Human Rights, the debate on the oral update of the High Commissioner of Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action, the annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the HRC among many other thematic and country-specific issues.

This HRC session is considered as a “lighter” one, the main one being the 4-week March HRC. During this last HRC of 2016, concluding the 10th anniversary of the Human Rights Council, at least twenty-four resolutions were drafted; interactive dialogues, panels and general debates were held during the Plenary Meetings, and 200 side events were organized by NGOs, governments and both together. Over 200 journalists cover the HRC, and there are regular press briefings and press summaries.

Among the usual 10 agenda items reviewed was the permanent agenda item 7: “The Human Rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”) Under item 10 - "Technical Assistance and Capacity Building” - we heard reports on Cambodia, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Somalia. The High Commissioner made oral updates on the situation in Ukraine, in Libya and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We attended many Plenary Meetings and a large number of side events; several of which would deserve a report in themselves. We choose to go to meetings which are either gender related and other issues linked to ICJW’s objectives (racism, anti-Semitism, interfaith), the situation in the Middle East, and present-day emerging issues of concern (migration, older persons, safety of journalists). 

Of course, being participants of NGO Committees, we make it a point to attend the side events they organize. Needless to add that we also attend side events and events organized by Jewish and Israeli NGOs or concerning Jewish issues. On September 13, we attended the UNESCO Peace Exhibit “Les Rescapés de la Shoah” by artist Alain Husson Dumoutier,  whose 32 paintings were inspired by the testimony of 32 Holocaust survivors.

Side events attended during the 33rd Human Rights Council:
-Informal Exchange of views between the EU and NGO partners on HRC33 priorities
-Fighting Impunity for conflict-related violence
-Human Rights of older persons-Imperatives and Desiderata
-Respecting, Protecting and Fulfilling the Rights of Older Persons
-Transitional Justice in Yemen
-Protecting the Right to Education in Palestine
-Palestinians in Syria
-Human Rights and Maternal Mortality
-Religion and Religious Freedom in International Diplomacy
-Keeping Faith with the Durban Declaration and the Program of Action at its 15th Anniversary
-Draft of Resolution on unaccompanied children and adolescent migrants
-Immigration and Asylum issues and the problem of Human Trafficking- the example of Sudan
-Safety of Journalists. Human rights and Sustainable Development
-The Destruction of Heritage in the Arab World
-Challenges Facing African Women’s Human Rights
-The Genocide of the Yezidis
-Arab Spring and Human Rights
-Journalists in Armed Conflicts

I was particularly moved by the stories of young  Yezidi   girls who survived kidnapping, rape, sexual violence and had the courage to share their unbearable experiences. 

On behalf of ICJW I spoke at two side events: one on "Deteriorating Education of Palestinian Children",  where I gave facts on the bilingual school in Jerusalem. The other was about the Durban Conference, organized by the Arab Commission of Human Rights, where history was being rewritten.  Unfortunately, what was to have been an important side event organized by NGO Monitor “15 Years since Durban - Restoring the Universality of Human Rights”, with keynote speakers David Harris, the Hon. Michael Danby (Australian MP), the Israeli Ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter, and Prof. Alan Dershowitz (via Skype), was poorly attended, and only by those already convinced.

The 33rd HRC concluded its session by adopting 30 resolutions and this time there was no resolution on Israel.