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FORUM-ASIA at the 41st regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC41)

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The 41st regular session of the UN Human Rights Council took place from 24 June to 12 July 2019. Its advocacy focused on Cambodia, Myanmar, and the Philippines, and on its thematic priorities on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association; and business and human rights. It organised side events on the situations in Kashmir, Myanmar, and the Philippines, and on freedoms of expression, assembly and association in Asia. FORUM-ASIA also supported statements on Kashmir, Sri Lanka, sexual orientation and gender identity, and reprisals against Special Procedures.


The outcomes of Cambodia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) took place this session. Cambodia accepted 173 out of 198 recommendations it received from its review last January. During the discussion on Cambodia, FORUM-ASIA delivered a statement on the need to remedy the continuing shutdown of civic and democratic space in the country.  It called on Cambodia to accept its remaining recommendations, and to create a concrete, time bound action plan in consultation with civil society and all stakeholders. FORUM-ASIA also raised Cambodia in the general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, and called on the government to review and repeal repressive legislation in line with its international obligations.

In its advocacy, FORUM-ASIA called on states to use the timeliness of Cambodia’s UPR this session to draw attention to issues in the country, with the aim of having a strong and substantive resolution on Cambodia as scheduled for the September session of the Council. The European Union, Australia, France, Germany, and United Kingdom were among the states that included Cambodia in their statements this session.


The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar presented an oral update to the Council. In the interactive dialogue that followed, FORUM-ASIA echoed the Special Rapporteur’s call to expedite the full operationalisation of the independent mechanism established by the Human Rights Council before the end of the mandate of the UN Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar. It also called on the Council to urgently redress the systemic failures of the UN in Myanmar. FORUM-ASIA issued a press release on the Special Rapporteur’s update, and made concrete recommendations on business and human rights in Myanmar.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights also presented an oral update on the situation of the Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar. In the interactive dialogue that followed, FORUM-ASIA called on Myanmar to restore the citizenship of the Rohingya, guarantee their civil and political rights, repeal all discriminatory laws such as the “protection of race and religion laws” of 2015, and ensure their access to basic services as a first step to pave the way for the dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya to their places of origin. It also called on the international community to urgently hold Myanmar army accountable to its crimes, including by referring Myanmar to the ICC, and exercising universal jurisdiction.

FORUM-ASIA also organised a side event on human rights violations, impunity, and militarisation of the economy of Myanmar.

The Philippines

In her update to the Council, the High Commissioner expressed concern on the “extraordinarily high number of deaths and persistent reports of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the context of campaigns against drug use.” In the general debate that followed, FORUM-ASIA called on the Council to adopt a resolution to establish an independent international investigation on these killings, and to mandate the OHCHR to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, including threats to freedoms of expression, assembly and association and human rights defenders. It called on the Philippines to end its ‘war on drugs’ and all forms of incitement to killings; cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms; and to end all forms of intimidation and reprisals against those working on human rights. It also raised concerns on threats against media, human rights defenders, and Special Procedures mandate holders during the interactive dialogue on freedom of expression.

FORUM-ASIA has been consistently calling for concerted Council action on the Philippines since June 2017. At this session, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution requesting the High Commissioner “to prepare a comprehensive written report on the human rights situation in the Philippines and to present it to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fourth session”, which is to be held in June 2020. In a press release, FORUM-ASIA welcomed this as an important first step towards credible investigations into the killings and accountability. In a joint civil society end of session statement, FORUM-ASIA urged the Council to follow up with additional action if the situation further deteriorates.

Several states mentioned the Philippines in statements this session, including the European Union, Australia, Germany, Iceland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. FORUM-ASIA had also drawn attention to the Philippines in a documentary screening, side event, and statement on reprisals against Special Procedures.

Freedoms of Expression, Assembly, and Association

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression presented his report on surveillance and human rights, while the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association presented his report on challenges to these rights in the digital age. At the interactive dialogue that followed, FORUM-ASIA supported a statement agreeing with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression on the need for an immediate moratorium on the global sale and transfer of surveillance technologies, particularly as they are used to target civil society activists, journalists, and dissenting voices. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association was also renewed at this session. FORUM-ASIA welcomed the renewal of this mandate through the joint civil society end of session statement.

FORUM-ASIA engaged on these themes at a side event highlighting issues in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, with the participation of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. It also drew attention to these issues in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka during the general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, and in the discussion on Viet Nam’s UPR outcomes.

Business and Human Rights

The Working Group on Business and Human Rights presented its report to the Council, including a report on its mission to Thailand in 2018. In the general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, FORUM-ASIA expressed concern over the serious adverse impact of business activities on human rights and the environment. It echoed concerns of the Working Group on the negative impact of Thai companies operating abroad. Furthermore, increasing use of strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) against communities and human rights defenders exposing harmful business practices by Thai companies has added further restrictions and a chilling effect on legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and dissent in Thailand.

FORUM-ASIA called on the Thai Government to implement the recommendations of the Working Group, including through adoption of a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on BHR and with genuine participation of civil society. The government and corporations must comply with the Guiding Principles to protect and respect human rights and redress any harm, paying special attention to its extraterritorial obligations and protection of human rights defenders.