UN: Human Rights Council gets underway as global conflicts continue

UN: Human Rights Council gets underway as global conflicts continue - Civic Space

Smoke rises after Israeli air strikes in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 10 October 2023. Photo: Anas-Mohammed / Shutterstock

Today, on 26 February 2024, the 55th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC55) began in Geneva. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk spoke at the opening of the session, both deploring how conflicts are causing unprecedented suffering to millions of people worldwide and how human rights commitments provide an answer in steering us from disaster. Over the next six weeks, States will now debate and act on major human rights concerns, with significant implications for the protection of the right to freedom of expression and related rights across the globe. 

ARTICLE 19 will be present at HRC55 to advocate for progressive international standards relevant for the right to freedom of expression, including in a new resolution on disinformation, as well as in discussions on tackling religious intolerance. At the same time, we will be maintaining scrutiny of the human rights crises unfolding in many countries and holding governments to account where they are failing to live up to their obligations and commitments, including Belarus, Myanmar, and Russia.

HRC55 is taking place amid the humanitarian catastrophe and all-out assault on the right to freedom of expression in the occupied Gaza Strip. Those States that claim commitment to upholding human rights and are steadfast in their promotion of the freedom of expression and media freedom at the Human Rights Council will be judged at the session on whether or not they call for an immediate ceasefire and work to ensure accountability for the catastrophic failure of Israel to secure the safety 1.5 million people during Israel’s invasion of Gaza.



Ukraine – alongside a core group consisting of Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States – will bring forward a substantive resolution on disinformation. This resolution was first negotiated and adopted two years ago, and the new iteration will be updated with a thematic focus on disinformation during armed conflicts. The Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression previously presented an annual report on this very topic, providing a foundation for negotiations.

During armed conflict, disinformation and propaganda sponsored by State and non-State actors can have many harmful consequences for those most affected by the hostilities. It may lead to the vilification of certain groups and encourage violence against them, or distort information that is vital for the safety and wellbeing of civilians. Yet, it is during times of conflict that the right to freedom of expression and a free flow of information should be vigorously defended. It is a crucial element in any long-term policy to promote peace and bring an end to the conflict, as well as protect lives. It is also necessary for adequate reporting on the conflict itself and for addressing human rights abuses – both as a cause of the conflict and a factor perpetuating it. Yet, we routinely observe that undue restrictions are imposed on freedom of expression and information and these rights become serious casualties during armed conflicts.

We will be taking part in negotiations to advocate that the resolution takes a human rights-based approach and incorporates our own policy positions on this topic, both to governments and social media companies, ensuring that it underlines the promotion of the right to freedom of expression as the remedy to tackling disinformation during armed conflict. We will also ensure that the Special Rapporteur’s report on disinformation and armed conflict guides the negotiations and is used for a foundation of the resolution.


Tackling religious hate

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation will be presenting its annual resolution on combating religious intolerance, seen as a renewal of Resolution 16/18, a universally agreed-upon framework to address the root causes of hate based on religion or belief in law, policy, and practice. The European Union will also present a parallel resolution on freedom of religion or belief. At the same time, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief will present a report on tackling religious hate followed by an interactive dialogue, while there will also be a panel discussion on the topic.

We are dismayed over the rise in discrimination and violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief worldwide. We believe open space for dialogue, debate, and dissent is key to preventing violence, by allowing religious hatred to be challenged online and offline. We underline that the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief, and equality are mutually dependent and reinforcing.

HRC55 is the perfect opportunity for States to reiterate their commitment to Resolutuon 16/18 and other UN frameworks for protecting freedom of religion or belief and for tackling religious hate, including a commitment to reinvigorate the Istanbul Process. We will be working with partners – including through taking part in negotiations, as well as speaking in the interactive dialogue and panel discussion – to help protect these frameworks and encourage greater commitment and implementation.



Myanmar will remain high on the agenda of the Council as the devastating human rights impacts of the coup have waged on for over three years. At the session, the European Union will lead their annual resolution on the country, while both the new High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar will present reports on the dire human rights situation.

We are horrified over the torture and killing of journalist Myat Thu Tan in military custody, another victim of the junta’s relentless assault on civil society. Meanwhile, the junta have also scaled up their widespread collection of biometric data – including fingerprints, iris and face scans – without providing proper human rights-centric legislation to secure the safety of private data. We fear that this is an attempt to ensure mass surveillance of the civil population, leaving civil society actors with nowhere to hide from the junta’s violent repression of the right to freedom of expression and other human rights.

The human rights crisis extends to the treatment of those fleeing deprivation, violence, and human rights violations. Some governments have forcibly returned refugees and other Myanmar nationals to Myanmar despite the risk of imprisonment, torture, or even execution, violating the principle of non-refoulement under international law.

We will be working with the European Union to ensure the resolution responds to these new threats to the right to freedom of expression. In light of the heightened human rights abuses and the widespread collection of biometric data in Myanmar, it is imperative that the European Union addresses these issues in the resolution and leads efforts to ensure that companies conducting biometrics collection undergo rigorous human rights due diligence processes.



At HRC55, States will need to negotiate a resolution to renew the mandate of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. This mechanism, created two years ago, has the vital role to investigate violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law committed since Russia began its full-scale invasion.

This renewal comes at an important time, as this week marked two terrible years of suffering since the start of the full-scale invasion. Two years of intense and barbaric attacks on civilians, living with the constant threat that, at any moment, they could lose their homes, schools, hospitals, and their lives. Fast forward to today, and the Kremlin has intensified its assault on Ukraine, launching heavy missile attacks targeting Kyiv, Lviv, Dnipro, and other major urban areas in recent weeks.

We will remain steadfast in our support for the Commission of Inquiry at the session and be working with partners to encourage all delegations to ensure the renewal.


During HRC55, follow @article19un for live updates and use #HRC56 to join the discussion. You can also check out our full coverage of the session here.