Written by Paloma Varela as part of her internship with the International Detention Coalition


GENEVA, CH (27 February – 24 March 2017) – It was another busy session with a focus on ending arbitrary immigration detention, and promoting more effective and humane alternatives to immigration detention at the 34th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council, held in Geneva, Switzerland from 27 February- 24 March 2017.

The UN Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations that consists of 47 member States responsible for the advancement and protection of human rights worldwide.


Photo: UN Human Rights Council by OHCHR


The ceremony for the 34th Human Rights Council commenced with an opening speech from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. His speech drew on historical elements and the key purpose of founding the Human Rights Council. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated that,


“. . . We, the peoples of the United Nations vowed ‘to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.’ This commitment was made immediately after the determination ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ – before all other language devoted to peace and security; before all language devoted to development”.


Mr. Ra’ad Al Hussein highlighted the annual report and updated the Human Rights Council of details and information regarding human rights situations of deep concern around the world.


The key theme highlighted the importance of human rights for all minority communities, and to reaffirm the values and ‘dignity and worth of every human being’ worldwide.


On Thursday, 2nd March 2017, the Human Rights Council held a clustered interactive dialogue with Dr. Nils Melzer, the newly-appointed UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The focus of the dialogue was to reaffirm the universal prohibition of all forms of torture and other forms of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” and to improve the current situation of human rights defenders. During the interactive dialogue, Dr. Melzer indicated that his first thematic report focused specifically on torture and ill-treatment in the context of migration control, including the obligation of States to end all forms of torture and provide alternatives to detention for migrants. For more information on this interactive dialogue, please find the link here.



On Tuesday, 6th March 2017, the annual full-day meeting on the Rights of the Child was held, focusing on “Protection of the Rights of the Child in the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. This built upon the previous work from the December 2016 meeting which highlighted that:


“. . . [children are disproportionately] subject to violence and multiple further rights violations, and migration linked to conflict and humanitarian crises worldwide places children and their families on a precipice, with children potentially facing separation from their caregivers, economic insecurity, marginalization and discrimination.”


The panel discussions featured contributions from, among others, Mr. Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson, Committee on the Rights of the Child and Ms. Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, who highlighted the continued relevance of working toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


“. . . Surrounded by violence and hardship, children feel ready to embark on a perilous journey of uncertainty and confront serious risks in the hope of finding a place of safety and security. Yet, more often than not these children fail to benefit from the protection they are entitled to. They can even be perceived as intruders rather than victims at risk as they cross borders in the search of a safe destination. It is imperative and urgent to transform the continuum of violence that shapes their life into a continuum of protection of their fundamental rights!”


Photo: Marta Santos Pais by United Nation Sustainable Development


On Wednesday, 8th March 2017, the IDC co-sponsored a side event regarding the effective implementation of the UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty.


The panelists included:

  • Manfred Nowak, Independent Expert leading the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty
  • Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative to the Secretary General on Violence Against Children
  • Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict
  • Ben Lewis, Advocacy Coordinator of the International Detention Coalition, and member of the Advisory Board to the Global Study
  • Benoît van Keirsbilck, past President of Defence for Children International, co-convener of the NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, and member of the Advisory Board to the Global Study



The side event emphasized the need for civil involvement and innovative partnerships to accelerate future outcomes of the study, and highlighted the issue of detention of refugee and migrant children. Panelists and participants discussed the need to strengthen existing data collection systems, to implement positive alternative practices, and made concrete recommendations for States to urgently end child immigration detention as a matter of priority. For more information about the panelists and the side event, please find the link here.


On Friday, 10th March 2017 the Council held an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue (EID) on the Human Rights of Migrants in the context of mass human movement. A number of key issues were discussed, including gaps in human rights protections, the current climate of anti-immigrant xenophobia, and the rising criminalization and detention of migrants. The IDC collaborated with the Association for the Prevention of Torture, and Save the Children International to make two oral interventions during the EID.


On Friday, 17th March 2017, the Council held a debate on racial profiling and hatred in migration, commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Council hold that xenophobia around the world is creating more dangerous situations for refugees and people seeking asylum who are forced into inhumane, arbitrary detainment. The debate highlighted key strategies to improve integrative measures for migrants and eliminate discrimination and fear mongering tactics against migrants. For more information on this event, please find the link here.


The 34th Regular Session of the Human Right Council concluded with the appointment of mandate holders, the election of Advisory Committee members was held, and the adoption of the session report was recounted.


The 35th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council will take place from 6 June to 23 June 2017. During the June session, a new mandate holder will be appointed to the role of UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. The June session will also include a Panel Discussion on the human rights of unaccompanied minors and separated children (UAM).


For more information on any of the past, or future, activities of the Human Rights Council, contact IDC Advocacy Coordinator, Ben Lewis ([email protected]).


Photo:  United Nations Head Office Geneva by UNOG