News

27 Oct

Navigating the UN human rights mechanisms takes some skill. That’s why ISHR has been running its flagship Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme since 2014 – 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 for the 2018 edition!

29 Nov

On International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, we invite you to reflect and pay tribute to the brave people who stand up to defend women’s rights and the rights to gender equality. 

05 Dec

'Human rights should come before everything else - before public policy. The States have a duty to guarantee, promote, and protect human rights', said Ana María Vidal Carrasco in her Interview with ISHR. We had the honour to talk to her, when she was in Geneva for Peru's Universal Periodic Review.

22 Nov

After 10 years as Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders and 12 year as a Commissioner, Ms Reine Alapini-Gansou bid goodbye to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) at its 61st session. ISHR took this opportunity to thank the Special Rapporteur for the achievements during her mandate as well as pointing out emerging threats and challenges in some countries. 

21 Nov

Rwanda, Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo) were all present and up to date for their examination by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission).  An examination that went from 'mildly OK' to 'pretty bad' given the preoccupying human rights situation in all three countries. 

UNGA72 | Key messages from Special Rapporteurs

31.10.2017
Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz presented her report on 12 October 2017, this year focusing on the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, citing that there has been limited progress. The Special Rapporteur called on States to review how their laws and policies might discriminate against indigenous peoples. She reminded States of the importance of protecting the land rights of indigenous peoples, because this enables them to protect natural resources and the environment. Several States, including Canada, Norway, and Lithuania, expressed concern over retaliation against human rights defenders and civil society activists working on indigenous rights, and asked how to better protect these defenders.

Full Session

Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

Ahmed Shaheed presented his report on 24 October 2017, focusing on religious intolerance and national practices. He reported that over 70 States have anti-blasphemy laws, which enable intolerance and contribute to the persecution of groups and individuals, hindering their right to freedom of religion or belief. The Special Rapporteur called on States to refrain from politicising religion, to promote religious literacy, and to implement transparent policies at local and national levels. During interactive dialogues, States asked how civil society can participate in protecting religious minorities, and which policy measures could most effectively protect religious minorities and safeguard the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Presentation
Full Session

Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights

Karima Bennoune presented her report on 25 October 2017, focusing on fundamentalism and extremism as threats to cultural rights, particularly the cultural rights of women. The Special Rapporteur stated that some governments and movements seek to ‘penalise and stigmatise’ women human rights defenders who promote cultural rights and oppose fundamentalism and extremism. Many countries asked about measures to promote women’s cultural rights and gender equality. However, Russia maintained that the Special Rapporteur adopted a Western approach to the mandate and rejected principles of cultural and religious heritage. The Special Rapporteur reaffirmed that the issue is a universal human rights issue, and she took a universal human rights approach.

Presentation
Full Session

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

Yanghee Lee presented her report on 25 October 2017, stating that several laws in Myanmar are in contravention of international human rights standards and allow for the criminalisation of legitimate expression. The Special Rapporteur is gravely concerned over land confiscation, violence between groups, incidents against Christians and Muslims, the Rohingya refugee crisis, and the treatment of Rohingya in the Rakhine State. She calls on Myanmar to take measures to protect the Rohingya, allow humanitarian access, and ensure equality among different groups. Countries expressed serious concern over the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar and across the border.

Presentation
Full Session

A resolution, to be introduced by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, is expected on Myanmar with a focus on the Rakhine people.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Asma Jahangir presented her report on 25 October 2017, noting some progress in the country’s legal framework and the participatory democratic process in the 2016 presidential elections. However, the Special Rapporteur was gravely concerned over the high rate of executions in Iran. She also reported on the detention or sentencing of 12 journalists, persecutions against human rights defenders and attacks against women human rights defenders through smear campaigns. Activists are arrested, tortured, and detained, and organised human rights activities are curbed to repress human rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur was also concerned that journalists who reported to her mandate did so fearing possible consequences from the Iranian government. Some countries, including Eritrea, Pakistan, and Syria, presented challenges to the basis for the mandate.

Presentation
Full Session

A resolution on the human rights situation on Iran is being negotiated at the Third Committee by Canada.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Tomas Ojea Quintana presented his report on 26 October 2017, focusing on political and security developments. The Special Rapporteur expresses concern over the recent sanctions on DPRK because they may lead to a negative impact on human rights.  Additionally, women in detention centres repatriated by China to DPRK are vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence within a culture of impunity. The Special Rapporteur calls on the international community to continue insisting on human rights principles because it has made DPRK more open to engaging with human rights mechanisms. Many countries expressed extreme concern and supported the work of Quintana. The DPRK was not present at the interactive dialogue.

Presentation
Full Session

A resolution on DPRK is being negotiated by the European Union and Japan.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea

Sheila B. Keetharuth presented her report on 26 October 2017, remarking on the situation of Eritreans fleeing the country and Eritrea’s engagement with the international community. The Special Rapporteur noted that cases she has received on enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, rape, torture, and murder amount to crimes against humanity. The Special Rapporteur also reported cases of extrajudicial killings of those attempting to cross the border out of the country, including children. The Special Rapporteur called for the implementation of human rights norms while avoiding reprisals against those that exercise freedom of expression and opinion. Venezuela, Egypt, Nicaragua, and Russia, among other countries, stated that the Universal Periodic Review and other human rights mechanisms at the Human Rights Council are more appropriate platforms for addressing a country-specific issue.

Presentation
Full Session

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus

Miklós Haraszti presented his report on 26 October 2017, focusing largely on the concentration of power in the Belarus government and its impact on civil and political rights. ‘Belarus has returned to mass and violent oppression of those who dared to criticise public policy,’ said Haraszti. He reported that Treaty Body recommendations to Belarus were omitted from its human rights action plan;  it’s parliament is ineffective;  political opposition is silenced and arrested; independent media is harassed and intimidated, and the claim that civic activism is dangerous has been reinforced. Haraszti said that for human rights to improve, there needs to be a long period of development involving civil society. Countries like Venezuela, Eritrea, Syria, Cuba, and Pakistan challenged the need for a country-specific mandate.

Presentation
Full Session

ISHR is supportive of the important work of Special Rapporteurs in raising awareness of human rights situations in specific countries and across a range of issues. 

Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré via UN Photos

UNGA72 | ‘Peace cannot be obtained in the absence of human rights protection’

31.10.2017

In the presentation of his report to the UN’s Third Committee, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, spoke passionately about the purpose of his Office and outlined some of its key work over the last year. This includes:

  • the development of a model protocol of the investigation of gender-related deaths of women in El Salvador
  • monitoring missions related to the situations of migrants in the EU and Central America
  • the publication of a report on the ‘shocking abuses’ on migrants in Libya
  • a fact-finding delegation in Myanmar, where he promised essential and timely updates on the situation of the Rohingya despite the ongoing refusal of the Myanmar government to grant the international community access to the region
  • a mapping report on the alleged human rights violations in Mali
  • the support of his Office to the Commission of Inquiry into Syria

During the interactive dialogue with States, several questioned why the High Commissioner had not presented a separate report to the General Assembly, as in previous years. The High Commissioner responded that this was due to timing and an attempt to save costs but that his Office would revert back to previous practice if States so desired.

The High Commissioner ended the dialogue with States by noting, ‘in a context of rising turmoil, I am proud that my Office - my colleagues - have made a real difference in many countries, assisting national authorities, democratic institutions, and civil society to uphold human dignity and rights.’

This could be the last year in which the High Commissioner reports to the General Assembly – his first term, which could be renewed, ends in August 2018.

The webcast of his presentation can be found on UN Web TV.

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw, Head of ISHR's New York Office, e.openshaw@ishr.ch, +1 929 426 7679

Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré via UN Photos

UNGA72| Age of secrecy ended long ago - International organisations must ensure access to information

31.10.2017

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, presented his most recent report to the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly. The report reviews access-to-information policies of international organisations, including the UN. It is the product of a year’s worth of research and consultations with a variety of stakeholders, to which ISHR contributed through interviews and a written submission.

The UN should interact regularly with the public

Explaining that the UN doesn’t have a policy that applies to every department and specialised agency, Kaye emphasised that the organisation does not even have ad hoc standards to provide a response to access-to-information requests.

‘For a central global political institution, one that serves the public interest across a range of subject matters, this is intolerable,’ Kaye stated.

Discussing how the UN should go about public disclosure, Kaye echoes ISHR’s insistence that the institutions themselves should engage regularly with the public, typically through civil society organisations, to ensure they make public all relevant and valuable information.

ISHR’s contribution to the report

‘ISHR’s written contribution to the report focused on Special Procedures, Treaty Bodies and reprisals,’ said ISHR’s Training and Advocacy Support Manager Helen Nolan.

‘In fact, as Kaye’s report exposes, we could have pointed to any number of challenges, including failure to translate documents, websites being difficult to navigate, and the lack of information available on elections of Human Rights Council members’, Nolan continued.

Protection for human rights defenders and whistle-blowers

Kaye highlighted that access to information policies may have exceptions – such as in circumstances posing risks - for example where necessary to protect the rights and reputations of human rights defenders.

‘We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s calls for proactive information-sharing by the UN, while ensuring robust protection of human rights defenders and whistle-blowers from reprisals and other negative consequences,’ said ISHR’s Legal Counsel Tess McEvoy. ‘Brave individuals who dare to speak up must not be put at risk.’

Commenting on protections for whistle-blowers within the UN system, Kaye highlighted four principles necessary for effective promotion and protection of these individuals:

  1. Sanctions for those who retaliate against whistle-blowers
  2. Existence of an independent office to advocate whistle-blower protections
  3. Irrelevance of any motivations beyond the wish to disclose fraud, abuse, waste or some other illegal conduct.
  4. Awareness among UN staff of appropriate channels for reporting such illegal conduct

During the interactive dialogue, many countries echoed the importance of transparency within the UN system. However only few States responded to concerns Kaye raised about ‘disinformation’ and ‘fake news.’

Read the full report here and ISHR’s written submission here.

Contact: Tess McEvoy, t.mcevoy@ishr.ch

Photos: Jean-Marc Ferré via UN Photos and Twitter

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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