On 4 April 2023, the UN Human Rights Council concluded its 52nd Session in Geneva. This session was particularly significant for country-specific issues, with resolutions discussed and adopted on a wide range of situations, including Belarus, Georgia, Haiti, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, North Korea, South Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine. At the same time, the Council successfully renewed many essential mandates, including the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders.
ARTICLE 19 was present at the session to promote and defend the right to freedom of expression. We maintained our vocal scrutiny of the human right crisis in both Iran and Myanmar. We also made a statement and co-organised a side event on the use of technologies in counter-terrorism efforts. The resolutions we followed and influenced, including by taking part in negotiations, are outlined below.
Freedom of opinion and expression
Canada and the Netherlands led a technical resolution that successfully renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Created in 1993, this renewal marked the 30-year anniversary of the mandate. During negotiations on the renewal, the mandate received strong, widespread support from countries in all world regions and the resolution was adopted by consensus.
This resolution is essential in ensuring the mandate’s critical work can continue. Over 30 years, the mandate has been a leading voice for the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of expression worldwide and created a robust set of international standards. Its innovative work on issues from artificial intelligence to disinformation has shaped the way we understand the right to freedom of expression in the digital age, while a focus on issues such as the safety of journalists or gender justice has ensured we are attentive to the challenges faced by particular groups at risk of violations of their right to freedom of expression. At the same time, through thousands of communications and country visits to all world regions, the mandate has worked to ensure accountability and justice.
We urge all States to translate their vocal support for the mandate during the session into concrete action, including by implementing the mandate’s recommendations on the right to freedom of expression and meaningful engagement through communications and country visits.
Iceland led a resolution to renew the vital mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran. The resolution was passed with 28 votes in favour, 8 votes against adoption and 16 abstentions, with more cross-regional support than ever. This follows the recent creation of a complementary fact-finding mission to investigate and gather, analyse and preserve evidence of human rights violations specifically in the context of recent protests, with a view of cooperation with future legal proceedings.
This resolution is no longer purely procedural unlike previous iterations and now contains substantive elements, drawing attention to issues from executions to the violent repression of protests, and more importantly highlighting the ‘sustained and systematic impunity for gross violations of human rights and an absence of accountability’ in the country. This move is welcome as a symbolic recognition of the human rights crisis in the country – including executions, torture, mass arbitrary detentions, discrimination against minorities and sham trials, while the authorities restrict an entire people’s access to the internet to conceal and facilitate their crimes.
We call on States to ensure that this momentum is not lost and to maintain its clear and unequivocal message to the Iranian authorities that they cannot continue with their brutal assault on human life with impunity.
The European Union led its annual resolution on Myanmar to address the deteriorating human rights situation and renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Unlike many country-specific resolutions, this was adopted by consensus, showing strong cross-regional dismay over ongoing human rights violations and potential crimes against humanity.
This resolution introduces new language to address new and emerging human rights issues since the previous text. It calls upon the Myanmar armed forces to immediately cease and refrain from executions and condemns unequivocally the execution of four political prisoners last year. At the same time, it mirrors our own call on governments to refrain from the export, sale or transfer of surveillance goods and technologies, including dual-use items, when they assess they might be used to violate or abuse human rights. Given the human rights crisis in the country, it is certain that such surveillance goods and technologies will have devastating effects.
We urge the Myanmar military to immediately cease its complete disregard for human rights, including its creation of a ‘digital dictatorship’ in the country.