News

10 Dec

Today is Human Rights Day. Today is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s a day to say thanks and contribute to a better world through ISHR.

10 Dec

Major businesses have issued first ever call to protect civic freedoms, human rights defenders and rule of law in a landmark joint statement.

02 Nov

ISHR is calling for applications for its flagship Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme in 2019 – the extensive training programme for human rights defenders, so if you are a human rights defender keen to increase your interaction with the UN system, apply now!

10 Dec
Rainbow flag photo credit: Common Wikimedia Ludovic Bertron

ISHR and ILGA have updated their factsheets on different UN experts – check out the references to LGBTI persons and recommendations that these Special Procedures have made.

30 Nov

The General Assembly's human rights committee - the Third Committee - has concluded its seven week session by adopting 57 resolutions, several of which focus on critical human rights challenges and reassert the importance of fundamental freedoms.  Below ISHR provides an account of key highlights and outlines how these texts will finally be signed off on by the General Assembly Plenary. 

LGBTI rights | Factsheets on UN Special Procedures

10.12.2018
Rainbow flag photo credit: Common Wikimedia Ludovic Bertron

ISHR and ILGA have looked through the work of 39 UN Special Procedures over the last seven years to compile factsheets listing the references and recommendations made by these experts regarding LGBTI persons, sexual orientation, sex characteristics, gender identity and expression.

Focusing on the Special Procedures that have made the most regular and in-depth references to issues affecting LGBTI persons, the factsheets examine all thematic reports, reports arising from country visits, and communications sent to different States between January 2011 and November 2018.

The experts on leprosy, albinism, mercenaries, environment, and right to food, have not yet included any references to LGBTI persons or issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics.

Photo credit: Common Wikimedia Ludovic Bertron

Business | Major companies say human rights defenders and civic freedoms are essential for profitable business

10.12.2018

From the murder of Jamal Khashoggi to politically-motivated charges against Cambodian trade unionists, attacks on human rights defenders and civic freedoms across the world increasingly worry the business community.

The statement is the first of its kind, with supporters ranging across the mining, apparel, banking, jewellery and footwear sectors, and stresses that when human rights defenders are under attack, so is sustainable and profitable business.

On the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the statement sends a clear message that the current wave of attacks is unacceptable for leading companies and investors.

Unilever, adidas, Primark, ABN AMRO, Anglo American, Leber Jeweler, Domini and the Investors Alliance on Human Rights are among the supporters.

These business and investors “affirm the crucial role of human rights defenders and [their] firm commitment to the protection of civic freedoms” and recognise the responsibility of businesses and investors to respect human rights defenders. Supporters of the statement commit “to find effective ways business can positively contribute to situations where civic freedoms and human rights defenders are under threat”.

As Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever & chair of The B Team, said: “Given the increasing vulnerability of human rights defenders and shrinking space where they can operate safely, business has a role and a responsibility to defend and promote fundamental rights and freedoms.”

We stand firmly behind these principles, which are aligned with our own published approach to safeguarding human rights defenders and our longstanding belief in free, fair and open societies, where freedom of expression and assembly is the norm, not the exception”, said William Anderson, vice president social and environmental affairs Asia Pacific at the Adidas Group, the first company in the world to issue a stand-alone policy on human rights defenders.

''ABN AMRO is very happy to receive positive signals from clients after sharing our support for this statement. Many of our clients - especially NGOs - experience restrictions on their civic freedoms as well as access to financial services. This problem can only be effectively addressed in collaboration between governments, civil society and business”, said Maria Anne van Dijk, global head of environmental, social and ethical risk and policy at ABN AMRO.

Nearly six in ten countries are seriously restricting people’s fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, while only 3% of people on the planet live in countries with truly ‘open civic space’, according to research by CIVICUS.

The work of civil society and human rights defenders to protect fundamental freedoms continues to be undermined by governments and actors in the private sector through a range of tactics, including threats and physical attacks, judicial harassment, burdensome administrative requirements, and limitations on the receipt of funding, among others.

Today’s statement stresses the crucial role of human rights defenders in identifying risks or problems in business activities, encouraging due diligence and in the provision of remedy.

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), said: "Hats off to these ground-breaking companies and investors. In a context of worsening attacks on civic freedoms worldwide, this international group of companies speaks up to protect civic freedoms, human rights defenders, and rule of law. This is vital to workers and communities and wider society. It is also crucial to stable, profitable, and sustainable business. Other responsible businesses and investors should follow rapidly. There is no time to lose.”

Michael Ineichen, Programme Director of the International Service for Human Rights, said: “Human rights defenders work to ensure that every person has access to quality education, a decent job, secure housing, a healthy environment and a doctor when we’re sick. By standing alongside human rights defenders, leading companies protect this critical contribution to a more positive future.”

A recent report from The B Team found clear evidence that limits on important civic freedoms are linked to negative economic outcomes. Countries with higher degrees of respect for civic rights experience higher economic growth rates as well as higher levels of human development.

These ideas are further explored in a recent guidance document released by BHRRC and the International Service for Human Rights. It sets out the normative, business, and moral cases for action, and proposes a decision framework to guide companies on how to support civic freedoms and defenders.

Contact: Michael Ineichen, Programme Director, m.ineichen@ishr.ch, +41 78 827 77 86 

BIznet statement

LGBTI l New report highlights challenges faced by LGBTI defenders deprived of liberty

04.12.2018

ISHR welcomes the new monitoring guide published by The Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT): ‘Towards The Effective Protection Of LGBTI Persons Deprived of Their Liberty: A Monitoring Guide’ It is designed for any institution or organisation that carries out visits and inspections to places of deprivation of liberty, such as prisons, police custody and immigration detention facilities.  

‘ISHR is happy to have contributed to the development of this important tool, which highlights the situation of human rights defenders working to protect the rights of LGBTI persons,’ says Pooja Patel of ISHR.

This guide intends to strengthen the capacities of detention monitoring bodies – including National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs), National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), international and regional bodies, and civil society organisations – to identify and address risk factors contributing to torture and other ill-treatment of LGBTI persons deprived of liberty. It raises awareness of specific risks of abuse and discrimination these individuals face.

Specific risks for LGBTI defenders

The guide makes references to the Yogyakarta Principles and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10 throughout the text, and underlines the aggravated forms of violence and discrimination faced by human rights defenders working on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. It discusses LGBTI defenders in three particular contexts:

  • the impact of criminalisation of LGBT persons,
  • discriminatory profiling and violence during arrest or apprehension, and
  • the role of law enforcement during public demonstrations involving LGBTI persons.

ISHR’s Helen Nolan explains that the guide emphasises the fact that threats and risks faced by LGBTI defenders are exacerbated in countries that criminalise same-sex relations and non-conforming gender identities or expression, as defenders may face harassment, prosecution and imprisonment only because of their work and activism.

‘Human rights defenders who are LGBTI themselves are doubly exposed, as they are not only targeted because of their work, but also because of who they are,’ says Nolan.

The new guide stresses that LGBTI individuals are at greater risk of being arbitrarily arrested, harassed, extorted, and subjected to excessive use of force by police, than the general population. Risks are further magnified for LGBTI human rights defenders.

Patel also highlights the guide’s discussion of the role and duties of law enforcement during public demonstrations involving LGBTI persons.

‘We are pleased to see that the guide underlines the duty of law enforcement officers to take appropriate measures to ensure the protection of persons participating in LGBTI demonstrations, such as pride events,’ says Patel.  

Read the full report here.

History and impact 2017

Facilitated by ISHR and Arc International, a group of 33 international experts release the Yogyakarta Principles Plus 10, an authoritative set of new principles on international human rights law relating to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics, including in relation to LGBTI rights defenders.

History and impact 2018

Parliament of Mali adopts national law on the protection of defenders, following two-year advocacy campaign and provision of substantial technical assistance by ISHR and our local partner, the Coalition Malienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains.

Donate | It's time to give back to human rights defenders

27.11.2018

They work to ensure every person has access to quality education, a decent job, secure housing, a healthy environment and a doctor when we’re sick.

They work to ensure that none of us is harassed, imprisoned or even killed because of what we say or believe, who we love, or the colour of our skin.

Supporting these defenders for greater impact on the ground – and protecting them against those governments, corporations and fundamentalists whose currency is prejudice, profit or privilege – is what ISHR does best. We consult closely with defenders. We speak out and pursue accountability when they are attacked. We push for laws and mechanisms to protect them at the national level. And we ensure that the UN human rights system is safe, accessible and effective for them.

Watch the video below to learn more about our mission and impact!

All this work servicing defenders worldwide is only possible with the support of people like you, who are passionate about human rights. On Giving Tuesday, what better way to contribute to a better world than making a donation to help fund our training and mentorship programme?

Making human rights a reality for all depends on the work of defenders. With freedom and dignity under attack, the work of ISHR and your invaluable support have never been more important. 

It’s time to #GiveBack.

GA73 | The Third Committee human rights wrap up

30.11.2018

Overview

The UN General Assembly's human rights committee - the Third Committee - provides an opportunity once a year in New York for member States to promote the respect of human rights through the adoption of declarations and resolutions that speak to obligations, outline policy approaches and cite good practice in implementation.  The Third Committee has just concluded its 2018 session.  ISHR has monitored the session closely, advocating for positive references to the right to defend rights and for human rights systems to be made more effective.  

'This has been an intense session, where sovereignty has been much cited in clashes between States; where divergences in traditional State groupings have been exposed, and important statements and resolutions have been passed reaffirming fundamental freedoms,' said ISHR's Eleanor Openshaw. 

Member States heard from 54 independent experts and adopted 57 resolutions, including one on freedom of peaceful assembly and association - a first for the Third Committee.  It also considered the work of the Human Rights Council over the last year. Several key resolution negotiations and outcomes are outlined below. 

This is not the end of the road for these resolutions, however.  Costs of any activities and staffing included in these resolutions will now be considered by the General Assembly's finance committee - the Fifth Committee -  before all resolutions are finally signed off by the General Assembly Plenary in the third week of December.  

States have the opportunity to change their mind on resolutions ahead of final decision-making by the Plenary.  Now is the time to push for increased support for outcomes you seek. 

Thematic Resolutions

Freedom of peaceful assembly and associationIntroduced by the US as a one off, this Third Committee resolution is essentially an 'omnibus' text, drawing on language agreed in relevant General Assembly and Human Rights resolutions - including those related to  human rights defenders and the safety of journalists.  The new resolution speaks of the need to protect journalists and media workers, including when covering demonstrations, both online and offline.  It condems violations and abuses against peaceful protestors on the basis of their political opinion or affiliation.  The resolution does not specifically reference the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association - a given in most such thematic resolutions. This, in the context of the US' withdrawal from the Human Rights Council - the body that creates such rapporteurships.  

During negotiations, the US withstood pressure to include a greater number of references to sovereignty and the importance of national laws, amongst other suggestions.  A vote was called on the draft resolution by China, Russia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Iran, Belarus, Nicaragua and Syria.  The text received strong cross- regional support however, with a final tally of 140 in favour, 0 against and 38 abstentions. 

  • Call on States: 

ISHR calls on States that voted against the resolution on freedom of peaceful assembly and association or abstained, to give this key resolution its support at the GA Plenary stage.  Whilst the negotiation process during the Third Committee session could have allowed for greater input from interested parties, the final resolution is strong, and the thematic focus is an important one, in particular in an era of undue restrictions on the exercise and defence of the freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Extrajudicial and arbitrary executions A listing of those most vulnerable to extrajudicial and arbitrary execution in this resolution, became the focus of heated exchanges between States.  This year, divisions between members of a State grouping resulted in a fracturing of the group position. 

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) introduced an amendment to delete the listing. When Albania - an OIC member - made clear the amendment was not being presented in their name and, therefore, there was no group position, other States were able to break rank.  This included Tunisia, Lebanon and Turkey.  The amendment was defeated by a vote of 86 -50 with 25 abstentions.

ISHR's Tess McEvoy welcomed the defence of the inclusion of the listing, which references people targetted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and human rights defenders.  

'By listing those most targeted by extrajudicial executions, you increase attention on the need for their protection,' said McEvoy. 'You also hope that impunity - all too common in regard to attacks against particular groups - is effectively challenged.''  

A vote was then called on the overall text, to the dismay of lead negotiator Finland.  'This resolution is about the right to life,' said the Finnish Ambassador.  The resolution was adopted, with the listing of those most vulnerable to extrajudicial executions included, 111-0 with 66 abstentions.

Right to privacy Consensus was reached on this resolution calling on States to ensure their national legislation, procedure, practice is in line with international standards in the realm of digital privacy. It also emphasises the need to prevent businesses from inappropriately collecting data from internet users, ensuring that these users are made aware of such activity “in an intelligible and easily accessible" manner.  

Death Penalty -  For over ten years, the Third Committee has debated a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Recently this has become a battleground between those pushing for further references to the primacy of sovereignty and those arguing that the progression toward common standards of human rights respect should be foregrounded.  Ultimately, a 'sovereignty' amendment, introduced by Singapore, was adopted.  The whole resolution was then adopted by a larger majority than in previous years - with 123 votes in favour.    

  • Gender and sexual and reproductive rights 

Challlenges to references to gender, and sexual and reproductive health and rights were rife at last year's Third Committee session. This year was no different. The US introduced amendments to paragraphs which - when defeated - the US 'disassociated' from. 

Protecting children from bullying -  Bullying 'includes a gender dimension' and is 'associated with gender-based violence and stereotyping',  concluded the Third Committee through this consensus text.  The resolution includes strong language on the need to protect all children from and includes agreed language of the most recent CSW on the family.

Violence against women and girls -  With a focus on the experience of women human rights defenders, States are called on to prevent violations and abuses against all women defenders with specific condemnation of gender-based violence, harassment and threats (both online and offline).  US amendments related to the references to sexual and reproductive health and sexual education were defeated on the basis that these would change agreed language. The US ultimately disassociated itself with those paragraphs.

Child, early and forced marriage - Last-minute amendments to include sovereignty language into a resolution focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights, introduced by the US, were voted down.  

Rights of the child -  Pressure on lead negotiators EU and Uruguay led the latter to introduce a series of oral revisions, including a revision to remove sexual and reproductive health in one paragraph. In response, Mexico withdrew as a cosponsor and brought an oral amendment reinstating the language.  This was on principle rather than any expectation of success, noted Mexican Ambassador Camacho: 'We will defend the rights of the child without limits.'  Several States abstained citing the desire to preserve consensus and preserve the negotiation process, even when they agreed with the substance.  States supporting Mexico included Argentina, Norway, Australia, Lebanon, Marshall Islands, Tunisia, Suriname, Switzerland and South Africa.

Country-specific resolutions

Myanmar -  Key decisions by the Human Rights Council are echoed by the Third Committee in their resolution, including in regard to the establishment of an investigative mechanism to facilitate criminal proceedings in regard to allegations of violations of international law. This said, several elements are missing in the Third Committee text, including references to the ICC and to journalists detained by the Myanmar government.  This year's resolution gained 20 more votes than last year, passing 142 - 10 with 26 abstentions.  

Critics included Russia, China and Laos, who spoke to what they considered the 'illegitimacy' or 'irrelevance' of country resolutions. Japan explained its abstention on the basis that Myanmar should carry out its own investigations (albeit with international community support).  

Myanmar noted that it was the most scrutinised country-  citing ‘at least seven mechanisms’ with a monitoring role- at a cost of 28.6 million USD per year to the UN. Myanmar is a ‘struggling democracy facing many challenges’, noted the representative, comparing Myanmar’s treatment to that of Yemen which, it claimed, didn’t receive the attention it should.  

Iran -  In this resolution introduced by Canada, Iran is urged to end its harassment, intimidation and persecution of human rights defenders, including minority, students' rights and environmental defenders as well as journalists, lawyers, bloggers, media workers and social media users, and to halt reprisals against them. ISHR, along with several national, regional and international NGOs called on States to vote for these (and other) calls.  

Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine -  Ensuring and maintaining a safe and enabling environment for journalists, media workers, human rights defenders and defence lawyers in Crimea, is a key call in this resolution which passed 67-26, with 82 abstentions.  

Syria   Recalling resolutions adopted by key mechanisms and bodies across the UN system from 2011 onwards, this latest Third Committee resolutions references concern about a range of issues including chemical weapons attacks, rapes, enforced disappearances, the crackdown on journalists and media and other human rights violations. The resolution, introduced by Saudi Arabia, passed with much support with 106 votes in favour, 16 votes against and 58 abstentions. 

Report of the Human Rights Council

The Human  Rights Council in Geneva sends a report to the General Assembly outlining decisions taken in the previous twelve months.  Controversially, this report is considered first by the Third Committee and a resolution on the report drawn up by the African Group.  This year a vote was called on the resolution by Israel to signal their opposition to the standing item on the Council agenda on Israel.  Ultimately, the resolution passed by 111 - 3, with 65 abstentions.

 

Attacks against the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

Burundi made several attempts to stop the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi from presenting its report to the Third Committee. When these were foiled, in a repeat of what happened last year, the Burundian Ambassador took the floor to abuse Commission members.  Too few States defended the Commission from these attacks, and the Chair of the Third Committee said nothing.  Swift in condemning the verbal attacks, however, was the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who called on Burundi ‘to issue an immediate retraction of this inflammatory statement’.  The President of the Human Rights Council also spoke up for UN independent experts and denounced the vilification.  

'The defence of UN experts from any attack or intimidation must be swift and unambiguous,' said Openshaw. 'The lack of response from the heads of key UN bodies in NY - including the President of the General Assembly and Chair of the Third Committee - is really regretful.'  

ISHR Third Committee side event

ISHR hosted a Third Committee side event in coordination with Amnesty International on Tuesday, 23 October titled 'Protecting human rights defenders: Reflections on the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration.' Featured on the panel were Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; Julia Cruz, a lawyer from the NGO Conectas Human Rights, Brazil and Eleanor Openshaw, New York Director at ISHR. Coming directly from presenting his annual report to the Third Committee, the Special Rapporteur and other panel members addressed contextual questions from electoral violence to good practices in protection policies and legislation as well as implementation of the UN Declaration more broadly. During the event, Forst spoke of the importance of the UN Declaration, which he calls ‘a manifesto for the human rights movement’.  It speaks of the ‘central role of everyone within society in the realisation of human rights for all,’ Forst noted.

Conclusion: dynamics at the Third Committee

1/  The tactic of disassociation from paragraphs of resolutions that a particular State dislikes, has continued this session.  The US called a vote on a paragraph in the draft resolution on violence against women and then - when the vote went against them - disassociated themselves from the paragraph anyway. 

It could be argued that this approach avoids calls for votes on entire texts, instead isolating areas of contention from those around which consensus has been reached.  However, it does undermine the value of the text and overall efforts to move human rights consensus forward. It is highly dispiriting to see this tactic being increasingly employed.

2/  The confirmation that draft resolutions can only be introduced in the name of individual States rather than a grouping - as emerged during the back and forth on the text on extrajudicial executions - should provide dissenters within a State grouping with more leeway to resist pressure to conform with positions they disagree with.  

3/   Sovereignty arguments were presented by several States during the negotiations of a fair number of draft resolutions. These were successful in some negotiations, such as in regard to the death penalty, and were successfully rejected in others. The drive to foreground and repeatedly reference sovereignty in texts is likely to continue, and efforts to contest it need to be well-coordinated and arguments refined.  

 

Contact:  Tess McEvoy - t.mcevoy@ishr.ch;  Eleanor Openshaw - e.openshaw@ishr.ch

Photo credit: Katie Krahulik, Adela Hurtado, UN Web TV

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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