IBAHRI at the 55th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council: takeaways

Tuesday 9 April 2024

With the conclusion of the 55th session (HRC55) of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), held from 26 February – 5 April 2024, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) reflects on the key discussions and outcomes of the session, the side events held and the resolutions passed.


L'exposition Visages de la liberté (Faces of Freedom exhibition) held parallel to the HRC55.

The Geneva Bar Association, the judicial powers of the Canton of Geneva, the International Association of Lawyers (UIA), the IBAHRI and the International Observatory of Lawyers (OIAD) organised an exhibition of photographs – Visages de la liberté – to pay tribute to 15 lawyers who have been persecuted, condemned and killed in various countries in the world, simply for performing their professional duties. The exhibition is being hosted by the Palais des Nations Geneva from 12 March – 19 April 2024.



The IBAHRI welcomes the UNHRC’s adoption of a resolution on Belarus, establishing a new standalone independent investigative mechanism, stemming from the work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) examination on Belarus, tasked to collect and preserve evidence of potential international crimes beyond the 2020 elections period, with a view to advancing accountability. The resolution also ensures the renewal of the mandate of the special rapporteur who remains essential to Belarusian civil society.

The IBAHRI participated in the informal negotiations of the resolution on the human rights situation on Belarus, making general remarks on the collapse of the rule of law in the country, which threatens further deterioration ahead of the 2025 elections. The IBAHRI also made reference to lawyers currently arbitrarily detained, exiled, disbarred or disqualified, stressing that no independent lawyers are left in the country to ensure access to justice. The IBAHRI also provided legal inputs on each paragraph to enhance the text.

The IBAHRI delivered an oral statement during an interactive dialogue (ID) with the High Commissioner on Belarus. The statement stressed that, since August 2020, at least 134 lawyers have been deprived of their right to practice, many faced arbitrary detention due to their human rights work and as a consequence of exercising their freedom of expression and association. The statement drew particular attention to the case of lawyer Maksim Znak, arbitrarily detained since September 2020 and held incommunicado in penal colony No 3 near Viciebsk since 2022. Mr Znak has been denied access to his family, lawyer and independent medical personnel. The IBAHRI urged the UNHRC to support the renewal of the mandate of the special rapporteur and the establishment of a new independent accountability mechanism.

The IBAHRI joined Belarusian non-governmental organisation (NGO) Viasna and other organisations in a joint statement marking one year after the verdict against Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, and human rights lawyers and defenders Valiantsin Stefanovic and Uladzimir Labkovich. The undersigned organisations called for their immediate and unconditional release.



The IBAHRI welcomes the adoption of the UNHRC’s resolution on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression. The latest report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine (COI Ukraine) reveals disturbing evidence of war crimes, including the targeting of civilians, torture, sexual violence and the unlawful transfer of children. The IBAHRI participated in the informal consultation on the resolution extending the mandate of the COI Ukraine.

The IBAHRI, jointly with the Ukrainian Bar Association (UBA), delivered a statement during the interactive dialogue with the COI Ukraine condemning recent attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructures. The statement also expressed concern at the COI’s recent observations on allegations of genocide in Ukraine and that some of the rhetoric in Russian state media may constitute incitement to genocide. The IBAHRI strongly condemned the forcible transfers and deportation of Ukrainian children to the temporarily occupied territories and the Russian Federation and called on Russian Federation to take all the necessary measures to ensure the prompt repatriation and family reunification of all abducted Ukrainian children.

The IBAHRI co-organised, together with the Permanent Mission of Belgium, a side event to HRC55 titled: ‘Uprooted Children: Abducted, Forcibly Transferred and Deported during Conflict. Ukraine as a Case Study’. The session was moderated by the Ambassador of Belgium and featured IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, Mr Andriy Yermak (Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine), Mr Aaron Greenberg (UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Child Protection Advisor) and Mr Benoit Van Keirsbilck, member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The event was co-sponsored by 19 permanent missions with high-level ambassadorial attendance.

Main country-specific takeaways – in alphabetical order



Baroness Kennedy KC, delivered the oral statement on behalf of IBAHRI during the ID with the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, referencing the IBAHRI’s recent work on the Gender Apartheid Inquiry and calling for the situation of women and girls to be classified as apartheid.



IBAHRI joined the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) in a joint statement and oral statement marking the tenth anniversary of the death of Cao Shunli, a brave Chinese woman human rights lawyer. Working with fellow activists, Cao documented abuses, including the now-abolished ‘Re-education through Labour’ extrajudicial detention system.



The IBAHRI delivered an oral statement during the enhanced ID on the human rights situation in Eritrea, raising human rights violations in Eritrea as well as human rights violations perpetrated by Eritrea in Tigray, their ongoing presence in the region and impunity.



The IBAHRI welcomes the adoption of a resolution on Iran renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the extension of the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFMI) at the HRC55.

Under the leadership of Impact Iran, the IBAHRI joined a group of Iranian and international human rights organisations, in a letter calling on Member States of the UNHRC to support the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the extension of the mandate of the FFMI on Iran. The continuation of these two distinct and complementary mandates is essential for the UNHRC to fulfil its mandate of promotion and protection of human rights in Iran. The letter also voiced alarm at grave and persistent violations of human rights committed in the country, some of which the FFMI held to ‘amount to crimes against humanity [...] committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population, namely women, girls and others expressing support for human rights’ , and to call for the end of these violations, and for justice, truth and reparations.

The IBAHRI co-sponsored the side event “Persecution on the ground of gender, ethnicity and religion in Iran: the need for justice and accountability” organised by Impact Iran



The IBAHRI welcomed the adoption by consensus of the UNHRC the resolution on Myanmar, which reflects global concern for the deterioration of human rights and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar as a result of the 2021 military takeover and war against pro-democracy activists and public resistance. The IBAHRI also welcomed the UNHRC's recognition of serious human rights implications of the continuing sale of arms and jet fuel to Myanmar.

During the ID on the UNHRC High Commissioner’s oral update on Myanmar, the IBAHRI, together with the Law Council of Australia, the Law Society of England and Wales and Lawyers for Lawyers, condemned the ongoing atrocity crimes committed by the junta in Myanmar. The intervention highlighted, inter alia, ongoing arbitrary arrests and detention, unfair trials and a lack of due process, reports of torture and ill-treatment, and threats and attacks against lawyers – particularly when defending political cases. The IBAHRI urged the UNHRC to continue to respond robustly to the ever-worsening situation in Myanmar and called for a moratorium on the death penalty and to use all possible avenues to hold the junta accountable for all international crimes that are being committed.

The IBAHRI also co-sponsored a powerful side event of the International Commission of Jurists on the deterioration of the human rights situation in Myanmar. The event highlighted the international community's response, marked by sanctions and diplomatic efforts to restore peace and democracy, and its struggle to keep pace with the evolving situation on the ground. There is urgent need for a coordinated and effective international strategy to address the multifaceted crisis in Myanmar. Speakers attending the event included Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.



During the General Debate on the UNHRC High Commissioner’s presentation of reports on OHCHR activities in Guatemala, the IBAHRI delivered a statement to support Guatemala’s transfer of power to the newly elected president, Bernardo Arévalo, despite attempts to overturn the electoral results. The IBAHRI encouraged the new government to work towards the strengthening of institutions and access to justice, and to take immediate measures to provide protection to the legal profession against any form of undue interference with their work, in the hope that those efforts would allow a return to the country of the many legal actors forced to exile.



The IBAHRI contributed to the ID on the latest report of the Group of Experts on Nicaragua, condemning the growing crackdown of Nicaragua’s government on the Catholic Church and any other individual or group perceived as political opponents. The IBAHRI called on the international community to robustly respond to the deteriorating situation in the country and use all possible avenues to hold the Ortega government accountable for all international crimes that are being committed.



The IBAHRI welcomes the adoption of three resolutions calling for the implementation of effective accountability measures to ensure justice for Palestinian people, and for the realisation of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.

The IBAHRI and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) delivered a joint statement during the ID on the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs). LRWC and the IBAHRI denounced Israel’s systematic, discriminatory misuse of laws and orders against people throughout the OPTs, including human rights lawyers, and called for, inter alia, an immediate ceasefire; the implementation of the January 2024 provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) without further delay; the release of all arbitrarily detained persons, including lawyers, defenders, journalists, humanitarian, health care workers and hostages; and compliance with all international law and standards.



The IBAHRI delivered an oral statement during the ID on the adoption of Russia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The statement condemned systematic attacks against lawyers (including intimidation and judicial harassment), arbitrary and incommunicado detention, as well as the labelling of defence lawyers as ‘foreign agents’ for representing individuals with dissenting views. The IBAHRI urged Russia to, inter alia, comply with international human rights law and the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and release all those arbitrarily detained for politically motivated grounds, including lawyers. In addition, the IBAHRI urged the Russian Federation to immediately halt the forcible transfer of Ukrainian children, comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) concluding observations.

The IBAHRI joined Lawyers for Lawyers in a joint oral statement during the ID on the adoption Russia’s UPR. Stemming from the joint UPR submission on Russia, the statement denounced systematic attacks against lawyers and urged Russia to immediately halt judicial harassment against them, and to consider accepting relevant UPR recommendations related to lawyers that were rejected.

The IBAHRI joined LRWC in a joint oral statement during the ID on the adoption of Russia’s UPR, denouncing Russia’s repression of all dissent. The organisations condemned measures against lawyers, including: denial of access to clients; unwarranted disciplinary, administrative and criminal proceedings; intimidation; physical violence; arbitrary detention; and forcing lawyers to disclose confidential client information to the Russian government.


South Sudan

The IBAHRI and LRWC delivered an oral statement on the dire situation of South Sudan during the ID with the UNHRC High Commissioner on South Sudan. The statement emphasised serious concerns related to: violence and impunity that remain pervasive in the country; the lack of concrete improvements; and ongoing violations and abuses, including extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to crimes under international law. The IBAHRI and LRWC emphasised the key role played by the Commission of Human Rights on South Sudan (CHRSS) in collecting, analysing and preserving evidence of atrocity crimes.

Under the leadership of Defend Defenders (East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders project), the IBAHRI joined civil society organisations (CSOs) in a joint letter to Geneva-based permanent missions, to urge their delegations to support a full extension of the mandate of the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.



The IBAHRI welcomes a new resolution on the human rights situation in Syria and the extension of the mandate of the COI that continues to document and report violations from all sides to the conflict in an impartial and victim-centred manner. The IBAHRI made an oral statement focused on missing Yazidi women and girls, many still enslaved in Syria, and the lack of international efforts to get them back. The statement further raised the need to seek justice for Syria’s involvement in the genocide of the Yazidi people.



During the ID with the UNHRC High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the IBAHRI delivered a joint statement, highlighted concerns the persistent and pervasive attacks on the legal profession and legal institutions in Venezuela. The statement also highlighted instances of harassment, threats and arbitrary arrests of legal professionals for political reasons. The IBAHRI expressed serious concern at the situation of lawyer and human rights defender Rocio San Miguel, accused by Venezuela’s Attorney General of being involved in an alleged plot to kill government officials, including the president.




The IBAHRI co-sponsored a side event organised by Human Rights House Foundation on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan: ‘Media and Civil Society under pressure’. In the period leading up to Azerbaijan’s February 2024 presidential elections and, following its review under the Universal Periodic Review in November 2023, the country has experienced a disturbing escalation in human rights violations against independent media and civil society. This includes politically motivated detentions and charges against journalists and human rights defenders.



The IBAHRI co-sponsored the side event organised by Amnesty International on the repression of civil society in India: ‘India at the brink: Majoritarian mobilisation & closing civic space ahead of 2024 elections.’ The IBAHRI regrets the UNHRC’s silence on the situation in India despite the clear and compounding early warning signs of further deterioration that necessitate preventive action by the UNHRC based on the objective criteria.

Thematic takeaways


The IBAHRI welcomes the adoption of the resolution on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment: effective national legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture, including the specific new paragraph urging states concerned to comply with binding orders of the ICJ related to their obligations under the Convention against Torture. The IBAHRI participated in informal negotiations on the Resolution and submitted inputs to relevant paragraphs to strengthen the text.


The IBAHRI welcomes the adoption of the resolution on countering disinformation, with a focus on emerging issues, rejecting censorship and reaffirming the ‘essential role’ that the right to freedom of expression plays in countering disinformation. We welcome the specific focus on girls - besides women - as well as risks associated with artificial intelligence, gender-based violence, and electoral processes. The resolution mandates the Advisory Committee to produce a new report on disinformation. The IBAHRI participated in the informal negotiations and submitted input to enhance the text, in particular on the need to place stronger focus on girls, as well as on the need to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering disinformation.

Prevention of genocide

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on prevention of genocide and its focus on impunity, risks and early warnings, as well as the paragraph reaffirming that starvation of civilians as a method to combat is prohibited under international humanitarian law. The IBAHRI participated in a discussion on the draft resolution on genocide and commented on the need to focus on early warning signs and risk factors, reminding about the jurisprudence of the ICJ from 2007 on the duty to prevent genocide.


The IBAHRI welcomed the adoption of the first ever resolution on combating discrimination, violence and harmful practices against intersex persons. The IBAHRI welcomed that this resolution reflects growing attention by the UNHRC to this topic. The resolution calls for states to take measures to protect the human rights of this population.

ISHR delivered the joint NGO end-of-session statement on behalf of over 22 organisations sharing reflections on the key outcomes of the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations.


Contact the IBA Human Rights Institute at IBAHRI@int-bar.org

Notes to the Editor 

  1. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

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Website page link for this news release:

Short link: www.tinyurl.com/4ps67m8y
Full link: www.ibanet.org/IBAHRI-at-the-55th-session-of-the-United-Nations-Human-Rights-Council-takeaways