News

19 Oct

The 63rd ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights will be held in Banjul, The Gambia from 24 October to 7 November 2018. The African Commission session will be preceded by the NGO Forum and 37th African Human Rights Book Fair  from 20 to 22 October 2018.

19 Oct

In her first dialogue with the General Assembly’s human rights committee, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet placed the importance of civil society and their protection front and center. 

17 Oct

The freedom to share our views without fear of punishment is crucial to the safety, development and prosperity of any society. States should call on Saudi Arabia to immediately release all detained defenders and reform its legislative framework to ensure that civil society can carry out their work without any hindrance. 

16 Oct

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Burundi’s protracted efforts to prevent a UN body mandated to monitor the human rights situation in the country from reporting, were thwarted today by a vote in the General Assembly’s human rights committee.

15 Oct

Everyone should be able to express their opinion freely without any prosecution. China’s upcoming Universal Periodic Review is a key opportunity for all States to call on China to ensure a safe and enabling environment for defenders and to uphold its human rights obligations.  

AG73 l Tentatives du Burundi de faire taire un organe de contrôle de l'ONU rejetées par le comité de droits de l'Homme de l'Assemblée Générale

16.10.2018

Un vote du Troisième Comité de l’Assemblée Générale (AG) aujourd’hui a permis de réaffirmer qu'un organe de l'ONU chargé de surveiller la situation des droits humains au Burundi, était parfaitement en droit de présenter son rapport à l'AG, rejetant les efforts du Burundi visant à l’en empêcher. Avec un vote de 73 contre 33 voix, les Etats membres ont confirmé que la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi  présentera bien son rapport à la fin du mois au Comité et établira un dialogue avec les Etats à cet effet. 

‘Que la Commission d'enquête puisse présenter son rapport n'aurait même pas du être remis en cause – le Burundi tente tout simplement d’éviter tout passage au peigne fin de sa situation nationale’, confie Madeleine Sinclair d’ISHR. ‘Le résultat du vote est très positif pour celles et ceux cherchant à ce que justice soit faite dans le pays.’ 

Suite à ce vote, la Namibie a souligné dans un discours percutant qu’il ‘n’était pas possible au sein de l’ONU de sélectionner les commissions de droits de l’Homme que l’on préfère et celle que l’on n’aime pas’. La Namibie s’est toutefois abstenue lors du vote. 

Le Botswana a été le seul Etat africain ayant voté en faveur de la Commission, alors que le Rwanda – seul autre Etat africain ayant voté pour la création de la Commission d’enquête par le Conseil des droits de l’Homme en 2016 – s’est abstenu. 

Le vote de ce matin a fait suite aux tentatives du Burundi de mettre des bâtons dans les roues de la Commission d’enquête, niant l’existence d’une base légale permettant à la Commission de présenter son rapport à l’Assemblée Générale, et demandant conseil au Bureau des affaires juridiques (OLA) de l’ONU. Cette requête a été confirmée par un vote du Troisième Comité. 

Ce matin, le Burundi en a toutefois contesté la conclusion confirmant la base légale permettant à la Commission de présenter son rapport. En prenant la parole au sein du Comité, le Burundi a souligné qu’un conseil rédigé en quelques jours n’a pu qu’être préparé au préalable, faisant référence à un processus ‘politique’. 

Plaisantant sur les critiques visant généralement la lenteur, et non pas la rapidité, du travail du Secrétariat, le Secrétaire du Comité a expliqué que l’OLA avait été averti d’une possible requête de la part du Troisième Comité, et s’était donc préparé dans les délais nécessaires. 

Etablir la base légale permettant à la Commission de présenter son rapport constituait un simple procédé d’examen des résolutions et pratiques récentes, explique Madeleine Sinclair. Pour celle-ci, ‘il ne s’agit pas d’une question juridique complexe.’ 

La Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi a été établie par les Etats membres pendant une session du Conseil des droits de l’Homme en septembre 2016, afin d’enquêter sur les graves abus et violations de droits de l’Homme commis dans le pays depuis avril 2015. Son mandat a été renouvelé en 2017, accompagné d’une décision l’enjoignant spécifiquement de rendre un rapport à la 73ème session de l’AG. Le mandat a été à nouveau renouvelé le mois dernier pour une durée d’un an en reconnaissance du besoin d’une surveillance constante de la situation au Burundi.

Le Burundi n’a pas autorisé la Commission à entrer sur son territoire, ayant désigné ses membres personae non gratae et s’en étant personnellement pris à eux/elles, notamment au sein du Troisième Comité l’année dernière. 

Plus tôt dans la semaine, ISHR et d’autres ONGs ont exhorté les Etats à voter en faveur d’une invitation de la Commission. 

 

Contact : Madeleine Sinclair : m.sinclair@ishr.ch

 

Photo:  UN Geneva 

GA73 | Civil society can help you do things better, says Bachelet to States

19.10.2018

In her first exchange with States at the UN General Assembly's Third Committee session, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke repeatedly of the value of engagement with civil society as well as States' responsibility to ensure an environment conducive to their work. 

‘When civil society sits at the table, policies are usually more interesting and more sustainable,' she noted. 'Civil society can help you figure out how to do things better.' 

She added that threats, attacks and reprisals were not just unacceptable but self -defeating. 

 ‘Jailing critics does not make society safer, but rather deepens grievances,’ she noted. ‘We need to be recommitted to the protection of defenders.’

Engagement of OHCHR with States was also a topic of debate. 

States repeatedly questioned OHCHR’s impartiality when it came to reviewing human rights situations.  Bachelet responded referencing the blocks put on OHCHR’s ability to monitor and report. 

‘Give OHCHR access to your country to assist you fulfil your human rights obligations,’ she added. 

Finally, how to better use the different parts of the UN system to avert human rights crisis was discussed.  In regard to OHCHR sharing information on human rights violations with the Security Council, Bachelet was clear that the early warning  signs of conflict needed to be heeded and different parts of the system work together to prevent conflict. 

‘Prevention will be a core part of our work,’ she noted.

‘When civil society sits at the table, policies are usually more interesting and more sustainable,’ noted Bachelet to members of the Third Committee. 

‘Bachelet made repeated references to the value of engagement with civil society as well as States’ responsibility to ensure an environment conducive to civil society’s work,’ said ISHR’s Adela Hurtado.  

Threats, attacks and reprisals were not just unacceptable but self -defeating, said Bachelet. 

 ‘Jailing critics does not make society safer, but rather deepens grievances,’ she noted.  ‘We need to be recommitted to the protection of defenders.’

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw e.openshaw@ishr.ch

Photo: Michelle Bachelet Collection

Flyer - HRD event

GA73 | Burundi’s attempts to silence UN monitoring body rejected by GA human rights committee

16.10.2018

Today the General Assembly’s Third Committee voted to ensure reporting by a UN monitoring body on the human rights situation in Burundi, rejecting efforts by Burundi to stop it from doing so.  By a vote 73-33, it was confirmed that the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present its report and engage in a dialogue with States later this month. 

‘Reporting by the Commission should never have been challenged – this is simply an attempt by Burundi to avoid scrutiny’, said ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair.  ‘The vote is a good outcome for all those interested in accountability in the country.’    

Following the vote, Namibia, in a powerful address, noted that ‘you cannot pick and choose those UN human rights commissions you like and those you don’t.  That said, Namibia abstained.   

Botswana was the only African State to vote in favour of the Commission reporting.  Rwanda – the only other African State that voted for the creation of the Commission of Inquiry at the Human Rights Council in 2016 -  abstained. 

This morning’s vote followed attempts made earlier in the week to put obstacles in the way of the Commission of Inquiry.  Burundi claimed there was no legal basis for the Commission to report to the General Assembly, and called for advice from the UN Office of Legal Affairs (OLA).  A subsequent vote in the Third Committee supported the request.   

This morning, that advice - confirming a legal basis for the Commission to report -  was challenged by Burundi.  Taking the floor, Burundi noted that because the advice had been drawn up and provided to the Committee in a couple of days, it must have been pre-prepared and, therefore, spoke to a ‘politicised’ process.

Joking that the Secretariat is generally criticised for being too slow rather than too speedy in its work, the Committee Secretary explained that OLA had been alerted to the fact that the Third Committee might request such advice and so had been ready to prepare it in a timely manner.

Establishing a legal basis for the Commission to report was a straightforward process of looking at recent resolutions and practice, said Sinclair. 'This wasn’t a complex legal question', she commented.

The Burundi Commission of Inquiry was first established by UN Member States in the Human Rights Council in September 2016, to monitor and report on the serious human rights violations and abuses in the country since April 2015.  The mandate was renewed in 2017, with a specific decision that it report to this General Assembly 73rd Session.  Last month the mandate was renewed for another year in recognition of the need for ongoing monitoring of the situation in Burundi.      

Burundi has not allowed the Commission into the country.  It has declared members of the Commission 'persona non grata’  and levied personal attacks against them, including during the Third Committee session last year. 

Earlier this week, ISHR and other NGOs urged States to vote in favour of the invitation to the Commission.    

 

Contact:  Madeleine Sinclair:  m.sinclair@ishr.ch 

Photo:  UN Geneva 

China l Governments should highlight deteriorating human rights situation and press for urgent action

15.10.2018

At a panel convened today in Geneva, representatives of civil society highlighted the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in China, particularly in Uyghur and Tibetan areas. They presented recommendations that, if raised by States during the November 2018 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China’s human rights record, could help to improve the situation for all those living in China. This is a key opportunity for all States to hold China accountable for its commitments and human rights obligations.

Geneva panel presents key themes

Civil society representatives noted with concern the trends of criminalisation, arbitrary arrest, detention, enforced disappearance, ill-treatment, in some cases torture, of human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, scholars and others who express views at odds with the Party's line. Restrictions on religious freedom, cultural and religious identity, overwhelmingly targeting ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities and Tibetans, were also of concern.

NGOs pointed to the mounting number of measures gravely curtailing citizens’ rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, both in mainland China and Hong Kong, together with restrictions to freedom of movement and freedom of expression both online and off, especially within academic circles. The case of Hong Kong received particular attention, as its unique governance structure allows for the swift implementation of recommendations, thus significantly improving the lives of its residents, especially those most marginalized.

 “Hong Kong can serve as a bellwether for the broader situation of human rights in China – and in light of the disappearance of booksellers and the suppression of democratic values, it is also a reminder of the reach and influence of the Chinese government,’ said Sarah M Brooks, ISHR’s Asia Progamme Manager.

In summary, key thematic areas for recommendations include:

  • International human rights standards – Ratification of core treaties and their optional protocols is a clear and measurable target. Of particular attention is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed twenty years ago. This process is a means of creating more opportunities for scrutiny of Chinese government efforts to protect and promote human rights, and for ensuring the views of defenders from the country can be heard.
  • Criminalization of human rights defenders – A rights-respecting China would put an end to the criminalisation of lawyers, defenders and activists, and release all wrongfully-detained prisoners, including lawyer Wang Quanzhang, defenders Qin Yongmin and Hu Shigen, Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk and Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti.
  • Minority rights and freedom of religious belief – Faced with mounting evidence of the existence of ‘political re-education camps’ in Xinjiang, China should take necessary steps to close and dismantle all facilities, together with halting persecution of Tibetans and Uyghurs, as well as attacks on Uyghur culture and identity. See ISHR’s statement on the repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
  • Human rights monitoring and implementation – China had accepted in its previous UPR a recommendation to establish an independent national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles ; a recommendation that has been repeated by other parts of the UN human rights system, most recently the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August of this year.
  • Cooperation with UN mechanisms – Granting access to international experts to all parts of China to monitor the alleged cases of human rights violations would not only be a measure of good faith and a recommitment to multilateralism, but would also signal implementation of previously accepted UPR recommendations.

The environment for defence of human rights

In its joint UPR submission with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), ISHR highlighted the need for better protection of freedom of expression, and the importance of public debate to the realisation of all human rights.

 ‘China accepted recommendations related to media freedom and the role of journalists in 2013. But sadly, the authorities have increasingly closed spaces where human rights-related speech occurs, especially online, and criminalised those trying to exercise free expression”, said Brooks.

‘The wrongful detentions of Huang Qi, Liu Feiyue and Zhen Jianghua are a stark reminder of the risks of reporting on human rights in China”, she added.

The Chinese authorities have made other technical efforts to suppress free speech and limit access to information.

Since 2015, the threat and incrimination of citizens who use unregistered VPNs to bypass the Great Firewall, China’s internet censorship infrastructure, have become increasingly common. In 2017, one provider was sentenced to more than five years in prison for distributing VPN services. Companies, who also have a responsibility to respect human rights, are often complicit in this system: for example, Apple removed all VPN apps from its AppStore, citing the need to comply with domestic legislation.

In addition to highlighting the need to amend a range of legislations, ISHR and CPJ have also urged governments to recommend that China allow unimpeded access to VPNs by internet users within the Chinese government’s jurisdiction, including in ethnic minority autonomous regions.

Despite having accepted Uruguay’s recommendation to accede to the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances and to recognise the competence of its Committee during the UPR’s second cycle, China’s revision of its Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) in 2013 effectively legalised incommunicado detention.

‘Such contradictions in commitments, on the one hand, and law and practice on the other,’ says Brooks, ‘clearly call into question the good faith of China’s engagement.’

States should call for the repeal of Article 73 of the CPL, and related legislation, codifying ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, which has been used to target human rights defenders, including journalists and media workers.

ISHR and CPJ have also recommended that China ensure a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society actors can carry out their vital work without hindrance or fear of reprisal.

Brooks concluded that ‘if China were serious about human rights reform, including in the area of development, it would put defenders into the driver’s seat for thinking of solutions to major social problems, like the environment and inequality. Instead, China puts defenders in detention’.

Contact: Sarah M. Brooks, Programme Manager and Human Rights Advocate, s.brooks@ishr.ch

Photo: Badiucao

Chad | Stop the erosion of civil society space and adopt measures to protect human rights defenders

11.10.2018

A review of the human rights record of Chad is scheduled to take place on 13 November as part of the 31stsession of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

During its last UPR in 2013, Chad received 119 recommendations- 4 on the protection of human rights defenders and 5 on freedom of expression and protection of the press.  However, the government refused to accept any of these recommendations, reflecting the current human rights situation in Chad where human rights defenders and journalists face systematic arbitrary arrest, threats and attacks. 

A particularly worrying trend is the large-scale use of ministerial decrees to erode civil society space through bans imposed on peaceful protests and events organised by civil society actors.  Between 2015 and 2016, 65 organisations reported being banned from organising events. At a UPR pre-session on Wednesday - a platform for civil society to discuss the human rights situation of States ahead of the UPR- the Chadian League for Human Rights highlighted that a total of 74 protests have been repressed since 2015.  

Additionally, Decree no. 008/PR/2017 has enabled agents of the Chadian National Security Agency (ANS) to launch a spate of arbitrary arrests against defenders for reasons related to national security. According to article 6 of the Decree, arrests can be made to ‘detect, prevent and anticipate any subversive activity and destabilization directed against the vital interests of the State and Nation’. 

Such loose and vague terminology facilitates the arrest of any dissident voice, leaving little to no room for civil society to express fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and peaceful association. 

ISHR submitted a briefing paper in collaboration with the Observatoire de suivi des instruments internationaux des droits de l’Homme (monitoring observatory of international human rights mechanisms), on the situation of human rights defenders in Chad. The submission is intended to assist States and other stakeholders in formulating questions and making recommendations to the Chadian government during the UPR. 

Key recommendations that should be made to Chad at the UPR include: 

  • Ensure that all alleged attacks against defenders are promptly and thoroughly investigated, that perpetrators are held accountable and that victims have access to effective remedies. 

  • Make strong public statements recognising the legitimate and important role of human rights defenders, including journalists, and take steps to hold public and private actors accountable for stigmatising the legitimate work of defenders.

  • Ensure that the legislative framework as well as law enforcement guarantee and protect freedoms of expression and opinion, and refrain from intimidating and arresting journalists for their legitimate work. 

  • Operationalise and provide the necessary resources to ensure the effective functioning of the new National Human Rights Commission and support its compliance with the Paris Principles.

For further information about the Briefing Paper, please contact ISHR’s Adélaïde ETONG: a.etong@ishr.ch

Photo: Flickr/Afcone

 

 

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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