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27 February marks the start of the 52nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, which will run until 4 April. This is also the first session of the Human Rights Council since Belgium has started its third mandate in this most important human rights body on January 1st. Minister for Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib will attend the opening of the 52nd session on 27 and 28 February to present Belgium's priorities.
The universal protection and promotion of human rights is a cross-cutting priority of Belgian foreign policy. This commitment will be at the centre of Belgium's membership of the UN Human Rights Council and is in line with Belgium's most recent mandate as an elected member of the UN Security Council in 2019-2020.
Belgium's campaign to be elected to the Human Rights Council was built around themes such as strengthening accountability and the Rule of Law; promoting social space and protecting human rights defenders; gender equality and the fight against discrimination. Belgium will put emphasis to these themes throughout its three-year mandate.
The Human Rights Council will consider a large number of geographical dossiers. Amongst those, Belgium will closely follow up on the human rights situations in Afghanistan, the occupied Palestinian territories, DRC, Ethiopia, Iran, Mali, the Russian aggression war in Ukraine, and Belarus. Children's rights and the fight against the death penalty are thematical dossiers that Belgium wil put emphasis on. As always, Belgian positions will be determined in close consultation with EU partners. In addition to Belgium, the Human Rights Council currently includes Germany, Finland, France, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania and the Czech Republic.
Minister Lahbib will address the Ministerial opening of the 52nd session on 27 February as well as participate in a side-event organised by Belgium on the protection of lawyers whilst taking up a role as human rights defenders. Around the world, lawyers are increasingly victims of targeted hate campaigns on social media, or even physical attacks, persecution, arrest and detention. According to the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, more than 2,500 lawyers were murdered, abducted or imprisoned between 2010 and 2020.
Minister Lahbib will also participate in a ministerial side-event on the dire human rights situation in Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion one year ago, in the presence of Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Dzhaparova.
On 28 February, the Human Rights Council is hosting a panel on the death penalty, with an address by Minister Lahbib on behalf of the eight countries that initiated the panel. Belgium is a strong supporter of the universal abolition of the death penalty and, together with its partners, will table a new resolution on the death penalty issue in September.
During her stay in Geneva, Minister Lahbib will meet several of her colleagues for bilateral talks. Meetings are also scheduled with the new High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk and the new chairwoman of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Mirjana Spoljaric Egger. Finally, the minister will also address the Conference on Disarmament and meet the Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Later that week, Minister for Development Cooperation Caroline Gennez will be in Geneva to participate in a UPR high-level panel in Geneva and for a series of contacts with Belgian Development Cooperation partners in the field of, amongs others, climate change, migration and access to vaccines.
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