UN: Highlights from the 55th Session of the Human Rights Council

UN: Highlights from the 55th Session of the Human Rights Council - Civic Space

Ukrainian journalist filming in a village that was freed from Russian occupation, July 2022. Photo: podyom / Shutterstock

On 5 April 2024, the UN Human Rights Council concluded its 55th Session in Geneva. Against a backdrop of armed conflict and other human rights crises across the globe, the Council took action to ensure heightened scrutiny and accountability for country-specific situations, as well as to elaborate on international human rights standards. 

ARTICLE 19 advocated at the session to promote the right to freedom of expression and interrelated rights. We actively took part in negotiations on thematic resolutions on disinformation and freedom of religion or belief, and also closely followed country-specific resolutions on Belarus, Iran, and Myanmar. We presented a number of statements, including on counter-terrorism, protest, and tackling religious hate, as well as on country-specific concerns in Belarus and Palestine. We joined partners for two side events – one on countering disinformation, and another on the safety of journalists with a spotlight on Gaza.

We highlight the details of the resolutions we followed closely at the session below.



Ukraine – alongside a core group consisting of Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States – led a new resolution on countering disinformation, which was adopted by consensus. We worked closely with the core group and other delegations and took part in negotiations at the session to ensure that this resolution retained a human rights-based approach to countering disinformation.

As with the previous iteration of the resolution adopted two years ago, this resolution once again rejects censorship and reaffirms the ‘essential role’ that the right to freedom of expression plays in countering disinformation. The resolution has also been updated with language on the threats of disinformation in the context of armed conflict and elections, as well as the risks posed by artificial intelligence. We urge States to follow the approach of the resolution and to combat disinformation through holistic measures, including by ensuring a diverse, free and independent media environment, protecting journalists and media workers, and implementing comprehensive right to information laws. Importantly, States must also ensure that they do not conduct their own disinformation campaigns. At the same time, social media companies have an essential role to play and should take heed of the resolution by reforming their business models that allow disinformation to flourish on their platforms.

The resolution also mandates the Advisory Committee to produce a new report on disinformation. Across the UN, there have been a huge amount of initiatives on countering disinformation – or similar concepts, like information integrity – and we have seen a lack of synergies across these initiatives. This has brought a risk of not only duplicating standards but actually creating competing standards. This in turn gives States an opportunity to cherry-pick and justify certain practices that are problematic, while also preventing the international community and civil society from holding them to account for this. As such, we urge the Advisory Committee to ensure a human rights-based approach and to use the comprehensive work of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression as the foundation for this new report.


Freedom of religion or belief

The European Union led the technical renewal of their annual resolution on freedom of religion or belief. However, for the first time since 2011, we regret that the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation did not table their parallel resolution on combating intolerance – widely known by its original name Resolution 16/18 – at the session.

Since 2011, these duel resolutions have been renewed each year, representing a consensual and universal framework to address the root causes of hate based on religion or belief in law, policy, and practice. Together, these resolutions promote diversity, inclusion, and pluralism over censorship as fundamental to challenge deep-seated prejudices that drive hate against religious groups and individuals. However, the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation delayed and ultimately decided to not table their resolution at the session, amid ongoing discussions to open up the resolution and include language related to blasphemy or the so-called ‘defamation of religions’. Alongside partners, we repeatedly called for the technical rollover of the text at the session and warned that returning to old divisive standards on blasphemy would not only be fundamentally out of line with the rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief, but would seriously threaten the consensual framework.

We call on the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation to once again renew Resolution 16/18 at a future session, while ensuring no substantive changes are made to this consensual framework. We also urge all States to reaffirm their commitment to Resolution 16/18 and related documents like the Rabat Plan of Action and adopt comprehensive and evidence-based national implementation plans, with the full and effective participation of diverse stakeholders.

Our full blog on these developments is being published shortly.


Country-specific action

This Human Rights Council session was vital for ensuring continued scrutiny and accountability for a number of our priority countries through the creation or renewal of various mandates. This includes the creation of a new independent investigative mechanism on Belarus and the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus, the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Iran and the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Iran, the renewal of monitoring of the High Commissioner on Myanmar and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, as well as the renewal of the International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. The Council also adopted three resolutions calling for the implementation of effective accountability measures to ensure justice for atrocity crimes committed in the context of Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestine.

We express our full support for these mandates, which are crucial in documenting and investigating human rights violations and provide pathways to ensure justice for victims.