It was a strange June Council session. By starting much later this year, it felt like school had been punishingly extended for 3 extra weeks, just as the bell should have been granting us our summer freedom. Everyone did their best to wear their polite, professional faces. But the truth was, we all wanted to get out of the Council chamber, having had back to back meetings for months.
There was surprisingly little confrontation by usual Council standards, and as we moved to the final week it was clear that only a handful of resolutions would go to a vote. The general feeling among delegates was that the session was verging on the boring.
And yet somehow, almost by stealth, the Council made great strides forward this session. Two years ago it seemed unimaginable that there would ever be enough support in the Council to set up a Special Rapporteur to monitor the poor human rights situation in Belarus. Even last year, many were unconvinced that the situation was bad enough to warrant attention. But after another year of deterioration, marked by increased restrictions against political opponents and human rights defenders, the Council needed to up its game. It is a real sign of the Council’s growing maturity that it could pass the resolution, complete with Special Rapporteur, by a huge margin. Let’s hope Belarus take the path of engagement with the Rapporteur and don’t join the ranks of Iran and North Korea who refuse to engage with the Rapporteurs which could bring positive changes in their countries.
It would have been even harder a year ago to imagine what happened on Eritrea. The human rights situation in Eritrea has long been one of the most dismal, but most neglected, with one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Several African states decided that the Council could not keep ignoring the situation indefinitely and passed one of the Council’s toughest resolutions so far, and set up the second new Special Rapporteur of the session to monitor the situation and report back to the Council. As the resolution went through a tearful Eritrean NGO representative expressed her thanks on behalf of the repressed Eritrean people. It came as a fitting reminder that we are dealing with people’s lives and that our resolutions are much more than words on paper.
On Syria the Council passed another strong resolution by a huge margin. The voting outcome was a case of one step forward and one step back, with Ecuador finally joining the countries voting to condemn the Assad regime, but with India slipping back to a disappointing abstention after voting to condemn Syria at the most recent Special Session.
To their great credit, Cote D’Ivoire maintained their constructive engagement with the Council and saw the benefit of renewing the mandate of the Independent Expert set up to help them a year ago. Somalia has a similarly constructive attitude to engagement with the Human Rights Council, despite the enormous challenges in the country. During the adoption of another resolution on his country, the much respected Somali Ambassador declared that he wanted to combine the camel’s milk diplomacy of Somalia with the cow’s milk diplomacy of Geneva. It was an interesting image, but I’m not sure it’ll catch on as recipe for chocolate.
And with a giddy end of term spring in our step, we all headed for the exits. Summer tends to be the time when colleagues who have given so much head off for pastures greener so farewell to Anna, Mícheál, Claire, Lucy, Subhas and anyone else moving on. For those coming back to school in September, I’ll see you then. With a bit of luck I might even get a new satchel for my birthday.