News

19 Apr

In a positive development, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) today passed a resolution to webcast open sessions of the NGO Committee, unopposed. This victory for civil society participation at the UN was offset however, by an ECOSOC decision to close the door on a handful of NGOs from Turkey, or until recently based there. ECOSOC’s failure to reject Committee recommendations in these cases - which flouted established procedures - may have been unlawful. 

18 Apr

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) may act unlawfully if it accepts NGO Committee recommendations related to the accreditation of a group of Turkish NGOs and NGOs until recently based in Turkey. ECOSOC will consider these recommendations during its Coordination and Management Meeting on Wednesday morning, New York time.  

15 Apr

Webcasting the open sessions of the NGO Committee is on the agenda of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) next week.  A draft resolution for webcasting was tabled on Thursday, in name of 32 States.  This step comes after many years of calls by States and civil society to make the process for getting accreditation to the UN more transparent and accessible to NGOs.  

12 Apr

Following a series of shocks to the constitutional order in Venezuela, CIVICUS and ISHR have urged the Venezuelan government to ensure that fundamental freedoms, including that of peaceful assembly, be guaranteed.  

 

04 Apr

Civil society in the Philippines faces increasing challenges, and the country’s human rights review at the UN may offer real support to overcome them. In a briefing paper released today, ISHR joins with national-level human rights groups to highlight key areas of concern, including killings and harassment, impunity, and the absence of legal recognition and protection of human rights defenders.

ECOSOC | Victory for transparency but not for due process

After years of calls for improvements in the practice of the NGO Committee, ECOSOC took a significant step in the right direction today by deciding to institute webcasting of all NGO Committee open sessions.  The practice of the NGO Committee -  that makes recommendations regarding NGO accreditation with the UN - has been much criticised, including for its lack of transparency.  The resolution on webcasting, introduced by Chile, on behalf of Mexico and Uruguay, was adopted by ECOSOC without opposition. 

'This is a great outcome,' said ISHR's Eleanor Openshaw. ‘Instituting webcasting is an important advance in efforts to improve the workings of the Committee and a significant pushback against restrictions to civil society participation at the UN.'

'We are hugely appreciative of the leadership Chile, Mexico and Uruguay have consistently shown on the issue of reforming the NGO Committee and for their work in securing this decision on webcasting; and thank every State that voted in favour,' she added. 

During the debate, several States highlighted the benefits of webcasting. These benefits include the fact that NGOs the world over can now follow consideration of their cases directly; and that webcasting will allow applicants to understand the UN system better, provide the UN with accurate information when applying for accreditation, and be encouraged to participate including in the implementation of Agenda 2030. 

Opposition to the resolution had been expected.  At the NGO Committee, attempts to limit coverage of meetings have been made. Initiatives to discuss webcasting in the Committee have not prospered.  During the ECOSOC session, several States - including China, Pakistan, South Africa and Venezuela - noted that ECOSOC should not interfere in the work of the NGO Committee.  However, these concerns ultimately held no sway.  China called for a vote but then abstained.  The resolution passed with 37 in favour, 16 abstentions and one absention.

‘When it came to it, no State wanted to be seen to vote against an initiative presented by the sponsors as increasing accessibility for NGOs from the global south,’ said Eleanor Openshaw. 

ECOSOC took action on a second resolution granting accreditation to the NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) which works to promote freedom of religion and belief worldwide. In January the NGO Committee had voted to recommend denying CSW accreditation.  CSW’s application has been considered by the Committee 14 times, and they had received 80 questions.  ECOSOC rejected the Committee's recommendation and accredited CSW by 28 votes to 9, with 12 abstentions. 

Prior to that vote, the UK noted that ‘the NGO Committee should enable not frustrate the work of the NGOs.’ Estonia (for the EU) said that the NGO Committee ‘must honour and be seen to honour the vital role of civil society’.

Finally, hopes were dashed that ECOSOC would reject recommendations made to deny a group of Turkish NGOs (and NGOs until recently based in Turkey) information about the rejection or withdrawal of their accreditation, or an opportunity to challenge these decisions.  Several States, including the US, EU and Norway, criticised the Committee for setting aside established procedures in these cases, but no further statements were made or action taken when ECOSOC considered the Committee decisions one by one. 

‘ECOSOC’s confirmation of NGO Committee recommendations in these cases is deeply troubling. The UN has effectively closed the door on these NGOs,’ said Eleanor Openshaw. ‘In line with legal opinion we have received, we consider these decisions by ECOSOC may be unlawful.'

Article year: 
2017

ECOSOC may act unlawfully if it accepts NGO Committee recommendations

In January the NGO Committee voted to make a recommendation to reject accreditation applications of and withdraw accreditation from a group of Turkish NGOs and NGOs until recently based in Turkey. Turkey urged the NGO Committee to act on the basis that these organisations had been deregistered in Turkey and therefore – in Turkey's opinion – no longer existed. This despite at least two of the NGOs with accreditation being registered in other jurisdicitions. In violation of its own procedures, the NGO Committee then decided not to inform these NGOs of the intention to reject their applications or withdraw their accreditation; nor did they provide them with the right to reply. Several NGOs including ISHR, expressed grave concern at the NGO Committee’s failure to respect due process.

The NGO Committee considers NGO accreditation applications and withdrawals. Accreditation provides NGOs with a range of access and participation privileges that are most fully enjoyed at the Human Rights Council.  The NGO Committee makes recommendations to its parent body ECOSOC, which makes final decisions.   On Wednesday morning in New York, ECOSOC will consider recommendations made as part of the report provided to it by the Committee.  

‘We urge ECOSOC members to examine the basis on which the NGO Committee has recommended the rejection of applications and the withdrawal of accreditation in these cases,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘ECOSOC members must ensure its practices and those of its subsidiary bodies are consistent with international human rights standards.’

‘We call on ECOSOC to reject recommendations that are inconsistent with or fail to comply with international human rights standards,’ she added.

Following the NGO Committee session in January, ISHR sought legal opinion on whether registration at the national level is a factor in gaining ECOSOC accreditation or in the withdrawal of that accreditation. ISHR was concerned that registration was being considered a prerequisite for accreditation, when ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 – which establishes the NGO Committee’s mandate – only requires an applicant to ‘attest that is has been in existence for at least two years’.

The legal opinion, provided by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, offers the following key conclusions: 

Applying for accreditation:

An NGO only needs to establish ‘existence’ in one State.  That State does not necessarily have to be the State where the NGO is headquartered or where it carries out its operations.

Demonstrating ‘existence’ does not necessarily require registration. Showing legal personality is a common means to demonstrate existence. However, as ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 does not say NGOs need to exist in law (rather, it says they simply need to exist), where an NGO doesn’t have domestic legal personality, there may be circumstances where they could still demonstrate ‘existence’. 

Where an NGO satisfies requirements of showing 'existence', any recommendation by the NGO Committee to reject an accreditation application because it lacks registration would breach standards of international human rights law, as would any decision by ECOSOC to accept such a recommendation. 

Where a State has denied an NGO’s domestic registration in a manner incompatible with international human rights standards, any recommendation by the NGO Committee to reject an accreditation application for lack of registration would breach standards of international human rights law, as would any decision by ECOSOC to accept such a recommendation. 

Withdrawal of accreditation:

A State's decision to withdraw an NGO's registration under domestic law should not automatically disentitle the NGO from retaining consultative status. 

Accreditation can only be withdrawn on the basis that the NGO no longer meets the principles governing consultative status in ECOSOC resolution 1996/31. The NGO Committee periodically reviews the activities of NGOs on the basis of information it receives, including the NGO’s quadrennial report.  On that basis the NGO Committee ‘may recommend’ suspension or withdrawal of accreditation, but will need to exercise discretion in a manner compatible with standards of international human rights law. 

Legal framework: 

ECOSOC and the NGO Committee are legally obliged to exercise their functions consistently with international human rights standards that include the rights to due process, non-discrimination, and the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly. These standards apply in the interpretation and application of ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31, and in the NGO Committee developing and applying its own procedures and practices and making recommendations in relation to NGO consultative status.

ECOSOC is similarly bound to consider and act compatibly with international human rights standards. This includes a legal obligation to reject recommendations made in manner inconsistent with, or that do not comply with, international human rights standards. 

Practices of the NGO Committee and decisions of ECOSOC that fail to comply with international human rights standards do not have any precedential force. 

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw, e.openshaw@ishr.ch, +1 (929) 426 7679 (New York)

Article year: 
2017

ECOSOC to consider webcasting NGO Committee

All eyes will be on the ECOSOC on Wednesday as it considers a resolution - to be introduced by Chile - on webcasting the open sessions of its subsidiary body, the NGO Committee.  The Committee considers requests by NGOs for consultative status with the UN, in particular those from the global south.  The lack of webcasting of NGO Committee open sessions, has meant that NGOs that cannot travel to New York to follow the consideration of their case in person, are at a great disadvantage. 

States such as Chile, Mexico and Uruguay have made statements at ECOSOC in favour of webcasting.   Last year 230 NGOs called for webcasting of sessions

‘Webcasting sessions would help the working of the Committee become better known and – critically – assist all NGOs the world over to follow the consideration of their applications', said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. 'We urge all 54 ECOSOC members to support this resolution.’ 

In addition to the draft resolution on webcasting, ECOSOC will consider a draft resolution granting accreditation to the UK-based NGO, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).  CSW has had its application for accreditation deferred by the Committee for 8 years.  In January, a vote was called at the NGO Committee to grant CSW accreditation but it was defeated.  A vote in favour by ECOSOC next week, would overturn the Committee decision. 

CSW is supported by five UN Special Rapporteurs.  In their letter of the 5 April, the independent experts expressed ‘deep concern at the current working methods of the Committee, in particular the arbitrary deferral by the Committee of applications for consultative status of NGOs’.  The experts are  the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on minority issues and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.

It is still to be seen what action ECOSOC members may take related to NGO Committee recommendations  to close applications of and withdraw accreditation from a group of Turkish NGOs or NGOs recently working in the Turkey. A group of NGOs expressed grave concern about the lack of due process afforded to these organisations through the practice of the NGO Committee, and have called on ECOSOC to reverse the Committee recommendations.  

 

Article year: 
2017

Venezuela | The right to freedom of assembly must be respected

Decisions of the Venezuelan Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice to severely reduce the powers of the Venezuelan National Assembly are the most recent attempts to restrict the functions of the Assembly.  They have been roundly criticised.  The Attorney General noted that the Court’s  March decisions represented a rupture of the constitutional order.  The Inter-American Commission condemned the rulings as ‘a usurpation of legislative functions’.

Whilst these recent decisions were revoked, constitutional checks and balances remain at risk. 45 national civil society organisations have expressed concern over a weakening of the rule of law and threats to the separation of powers in the country. A state of exception, declared in January 2016, remains in place. 

In this context, demonstrations have taken place in the cities of Venezuela.  Reports of disproportionate use of force against demonstrators prompted the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States to express grave concern over ‘the use of repression, intimidation and terror as a tool of the enforcement of power’. The Inter-American Commission has also condemned the repression of demonstrations and urged the State ‘to respect and guarantee the necessary conditions for the exercise of political rights, freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly of those protesting in the country'.

ISHR has previously expressed concern about the lack of respect of fundamental freedoms in the country and of the stigmatisation, criminalisation and arbitrary detention experienced by some human rights defenders. ‘In this current climate, it is essential that the Venezuelan government take steps to ensure people can demonstrate peacefully and work for the respect of human rights without fear or hindrance,' said ISHR's Eleanor Openshaw.  

Please find the CIVICUS and ISHR alert here.

Article year: 
2017

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Opinion:

Human rights defenders play a key role in advancing the rule of law, yet they are often at risk because of their work. Sierra Leone has the potential to show international leadership by becoming the first anglophone country in West Africa to enact a specific human rights defender protection law, writes Irish Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Her Excellency Catherine Campbell.

Browse our articles:

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Topic

Mechanism

1984

ISHR commences work to develop an international Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders

1988

ISHR publishes first Human Rights Monitor, connecting human rights defenders on the ground with international human rights systems and developments

1993

ISHR facilitates global civil society engagement with the Second World Conference on Human Rights, which leads to the strengthening of women’s rights, the affirmation of universal rights, the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

1994

ISHR provides training, technical assistance and support to its 1000th human rights defender

1998

After 14 years of ISHR lobbying, advocacy and negotiation, the UN General Assembly adopts the landmark Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

2000

UN Secretary-General appoints Hina Jilani as inaugural UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, strengthening protection of human rights advocates at risk worldwide.

2004

ISHR leads a successful campaign for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

2005

ISHR co-founds and supports a range of international and regional human rights coalitions, including the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network

2006

ISHR contributes to the establishment and institution building of a new global peak body for human rights issues, the UN Human Rights Council

2007

ISHR leads and coordinates the development of the Yogyakarta Principles on sexual orientation and gender identity, strengthening legal recognition and protection of LGBT rights worldwide

2011

ISHR’s sustained advocacy on the issue of reprisals and intimidation faced by human rights defenders leads to adoption of landmark UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning and strengthening protections against reprisals

2012

Working with key NGO partners such as Amnesty International, ISHR leads civil society efforts to strengthen UN human rights treaty bodies, prevent their weakening and better connect their work with victims and human rights defenders on the ground

2013

Working with supportive states and NGOs, ISHR advocacy leads to adoption of historic Human Rights Council resolution calling on all States to review and amend national laws to respect and protect the work of human rights defenders