33rd Human Rights Council - Introduction

NEW RELEASES – To remark the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Human Rights Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated: “Ten years on, I commend the Council on making important progress towards putting the human rights pillar back at the centre of the United Nations system.”1


At its closure, the 32nd Human Rights Council (HRC) represented an important milestone in the international panorama. The Council focused its work on conflict zones and countries affected by military action. States like Syria, Yemen, Burundi and Ukraine – with reference to the war in Crimea – took part in the discussion and were involved in the working agenda. These were some of the issues discussed in the previous Human Rights Council which focused particularly on the war in Syria and on the inevitable tragic consequences that the war had - and still has - on human rights. The impact of war on the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights is undeniable and the Council discussed these matters thoroughly. However, considering the recommendations that had been made, not much has been followed and accepted.

Today, Geneva welcomed the delegations of the 47 countries which form the intergovernmental body of the United Nations Human Rights Council, presided by the South-Korean Choi Kyong-lim. Always aiming at strengthening and promoting human rights around the world, the Council started its working agenda today covering incredibly important matters. Apart from continuing from where it stopped, i.e. covering the serious issue of conflicts and violent upheavals, the Council also focused on other crucial human rights issues.

Mr Lèo Heller, the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, mentioned this afternoon undeniably important issues. He interestingly focused on the violence and gender-based impediment of full enjoyment of human rights that women and girls have to go through in relation to their menstruation. He mentioned the importance of intersectionality when addressing these issues and stated that it represents a key concept to be born in mind when discussing the issue of sanitation, hygiene along with restrictions of freedom of movement connected to menstruation. He also talked about the importance of public action and the need for a clear involvement of governments to tackle these serious and often underdeveloped matters. Moreover, after expressing deep concern over the issue of lack of water sanitation for a growing number of people in the world, Mr Heller mentioned the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as a crucial starting point to be taken into consideration and respected fully. The delegations of Botswana and El Salvador responded, thereafter, to the Special Rapporteur’s speech highlighting the importance of water sanitation in both countries but also reaffirming the relevance of the support of the international community in these processes.

The work of the 33rd HRC has just started. Nevertheless, a lot has been covered and discussed already and the importance of such a crucial event for human rights cannot be underestimated. On the other side, the role of human rights has been put into discussion several times in the UN panorama and by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself. What is the role of human rights in the United Nations’ work? How can human rights be fully integrated in the multifaceted and enormous institution that the UN represents today? These are important questions that should be addressed not to forget that improvement and progress come from constructive criticism and reflection. Hopefully, the 33rd HRC will cope with these questions in an attempt to restore faith in human rights and their role in this world.


1 OHCHR (2016) « United Nations Human Rights Council – 10th Anniversary. » Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/hrc/pages/hrcat10.aspx


International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx

OHCHR (2016) « United Nations Human Rights Council – 10th Anniversary. » Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/hrc/pages/hrcat10.aspx

Tribune de Genève (2016) « A Genève, la session des droits de l’homme aura un goût amer. » Available at: http://mobile2.tdg.ch/articles/57d57f2fab5c372b05000001