Recent wins and progress – ISHR Director’s update


ISHR Director, Phil Lynch, provides an overview of some recent wins.

Phil Lynch, ISHR Director

Dear friends,

In the struggle for human rights it often feels that much of our efforts are expended on responding to attacks and preventing the erosion of standards.

So it’s a great pleasure to share with you some significant recent wins for the advancement of human rights and their defenders.

These wins have been years in the making – each involving sustained and principled advocacy in collaboration with key civil society partners – and it’s very exciting to see our hard work together come to fruition.

Such wins are only possible because of your support, so I hope you can also savour these latest examples of systemic change that ISHR’s work delivers.

Combating reprisals

I was delighted at last week’s announcement by the UN Secretary-General that he has appointed a senior UN official, Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour, to spearhead the UN’s response to reprisals.

Acts of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders, victims and witnesses who provide information or cooperate with the UN to expose or seek accountability for violations remain persistent and widespread. They deter cooperation. They violate and undermine human rights and the rule of law. They are frequently perpetrated with impunity.

Coming after more than three years of sustained advocacy by ISHR and a broad coalition of NGO partners, this appointment has the potential to ensure that cases of reprisal are properly investigated, perpetrators exposed and held accountable, and victims provided with justice and protection.

I was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Assistant Secretary General Gilmour in Geneva earlier this week to discuss ways to ensure that this vital mandate is fulfilled.

Strengthening the legal protection of defenders of economic, social and cultural rights

Human rights defenders play a vital role in promoting, protecting and contributing to the fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights. Despite this, individuals and organisations working to promote ESC rights – whether labour rights activists, indigenous community leaders, or sexual and reproductive health rights providers – are among the most at-risk defenders in the world.

International law and the UN human rights system took a modest but important step towards addressing this vulnerability last week, explicitly recognising that States have a legal obligation under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to respect and protect defenders working towards the realisation of those rights.

This first ever statement by a UN treaty body dedicated to the issue of defenders is a significant jurisprudential development, recognising that attacks or restrictions against, for example, human rights defenders working to oppose forcible evictions may actually amount to a violation of the right to housing itself.

The statement also provides concrete guidance to States as to the steps they should take to protect ESC rights defenders in law and practice.

ISHR is proud to have contributed to this groundbreaking statement, the development and adoption of which came after coordinated advocacy and high-level briefings alongside our partners at the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Platform Against Impunity, and supported by a coalition of over 300 organisations.

Ending discrimination and violence against LGBT persons

After years of civil society advocacy calling on the UN to address the systematic violence faced by people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, former ISHR Board member Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand has been appointed as the UN’s first ever independent expert on the situation of LGBT people around the world.

Of course, Vitit’s appointment won’t end discrimination, but it a significant step to strengthen protection, document and expose violations, and identify strategies to reduce and ultimately eliminate violence and homophobia.

We look forward to working closely with Vitit in this important and timely new role.

In the service of human rights defenders

On a final note, you may have heard or read the powerful speech of UN High Commissioner Zeid at the Martin Ennals Award ceremony earlier this week in which he said, ‘although individually, none of us can save the world, all of us can serve the world. And together, we can have impact.’

I’m proud of the collective impact of the International Service for Human Rights and our many partners over recent weeks. I thank you for your contributions to these achievements and pledge that we at ISHR will continue to serve.

Best wishes

Phil Lynch
International Service for Human Rights

Twitter: @PhilALynch