News

19 Apr

Just last week, child rights advocate Dora L Mesa’s planned travel out of Cuba to attend the pre-session associated with the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Cuba was halted due to a travel ban imposed on her. This is not the first time Mesa has been restricted from travelling on account of her human rights work. We urge the government of Cuba to stop restricting the legitimate work of human rights defenders.

19 Apr

Authoritative new UN Principles and Guidelines on the protection of migrants in vulnerable situations provide clear and concrete guidance to States on implementation of the duty to respect, protect and support human rights defenders working in the field of migrant rights. 

16 Apr

More than twenty civil society organisations express their outrage at the latest death threats targeting the Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Bahey el-Din Hassan, as a result of his human rights work on Egypt. European States and the US must take measures to protect Egyptian human rights defenders, both at home and abroad.

16 Apr

Since the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, UN bodies have developed approaches to promoting the work of defenders and ensuring their protection.  However, this response has been insufficiently robust or coordinated. Twenty years on, the situation for defenders in many countries around the world remains grave. 

11 Apr

Human rights defenders in Bangladesh live in fear of attacks and reprisals that are often conducted with impunity. As part of the upcoming Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh, ISHR and the Center for Social Activism call on the Bangladeshi Government to protect defenders and repeal legislation restricting their right to freedom of expression.

Annual Report 2018

NGO Committee | Stand for election to stamp out reprisals

28.03.2018

Update 16 April:  At the ECOSOC elections held today for the NGO Committee 2019-2022 term, only two regions ran competitive slates- the Latin American and Caribbean region (GRULAC) and the Asia-Pacific region.  In GRULAC the new members are Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and Nicaragua.  Venezuela was voted off.  Uruguay stepped down.  For Asia Pacific the new members are Bahrain, China, India and Pakistan.  Iran was voted off.  Africa: Burundi, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan and Swaziland; Eastern Europe: Estonia and Russia; WEOG: Greece, Israel, Turkey and the USA.  

Where the NGO Committee should be providing a gateway into the UN for NGOs working in line with the UN Charter, too often Committee members block entry for NGOs and malign or harass them.   Preventing individuals from cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN is unjustified.  The UN and Member States are legally obliged to prevent and counter such practice.  

At a press briefing organised by ISHR, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists to highlight concerns about the practice of the Committee, Andrew Gilmour, the UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights and the lead on UN efforts to put an end to intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights, stated,

‘The NGO Committee (..) and its accreditation process have sometimes been linked to the issue of reprisals. Indeed, this has been mentioned in successive annual reports of the Secretary-General in this context.’

‘Some Member States have attempted to block the accreditation of NGOs, especially human rights NGOs, through legal, political and procedural maneuvers in an attempt to silence critics,’ he added.

Through such practices, NGOs can find their applications deferred by the Committee for years.  The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) has had their application for accreditation deferred for over 10 years.  

Such practice has been repeatedly criticised by some States, including Chile and Mexico.  These and other ECOSOC members have repeatedly called for urgent improvements in Committee practice, as shown in the below video:

 

 

 

In addition, on more than one occasion, the Committee has allowed the suggestion that an NGO has terrorist sympathies or affiliations to inform a decision to close an application or withdraw accreditation.  Despite the gravity of such accusations, these NGOs were not informed of the decisions taken nor provided an opportunity to defend themselves.  

‘Denying an NGO the right to contest an accusation of terrorist connections, is simply unconscionable.  The potential effect of such an accusation on an NGO is not difficult to imagine’, said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.  

Reprisals at the hands of members of the NGO Committee are not the sole instance of such practice.  As Gilmour noted, instances of intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN are increasing. He ended his intervention at the press briefing by stating, 

‘The UN is an intergovernmental body, of course, but “we the peoples” – the first three words of the UN Charter – was not just a rhetorical flourish, or a joke. We mean it, which is why we feel strongly that UN processes should not serve to undermine the important work of civil society.’ 

Gilmour outlined steps his office would be taking in regard to alleged reprisals at the hands of the Committee.  

 ‘We will continue to address individual cases as they come up, in the context of the NGO Committee’s work, and I look forward to engaging constructively with the membership of the Committee and its distinguished chairperson to address these concerns,’ he noted.  

The ECOSOC elections to the NGO Committee – for which any UN Member State can stand – will be held on 16 April.  Several NGOs have called on States committed to NGO access to and participation in UN processes, to stand as candidates. ISHR raised these calls in a statement delivered at the the 37th session of the Human Rights Council

‘Standing for the elections and voting with integrity are means for States to put into practice a commitment to eradicate reprisals and – more generally-  to promote the rights of civil society to engage with UN bodies and processes,’ said Openshaw.  

 

Contact:  Eleanor Openshaw e.openshaw@ishr.ch 

See footage of the full ISHR / HRW / CPJ press conference of 16 March here  

For more on the NGO Committee, see ISHR video ‘The Anti-NGO Committee’ 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Photo:  ISHR

 

UN Sec-Gen | New High Commissioner should be strong, capable, independent and deeply committed to human rights

28.03.2018

As the search begins by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres (UNSG) for the next High Commissioner for Human Rights, a group of leading regional and international NGOs sent an open letter to the UNSG emphasising the high expectations the organisations have for the successor to this office, urging him to vigorously defend the office’s ability to operate without interference and to select a new High Commissioner capable of ensuring its independence.

'Appointing a capable, strong and qualified High Commissioner is crucial at this time when fundamental principles of human rights are being challenged, and the integrity and independence of the United Nations human rights system is under attack,' said the organisations.

The organisations urged the UNSG to select an exceptionally qualified candidate capable of meeting the demands of this important post from the outset. They highlighted key criteria and qualifications for the new High Commissioner, who should be a human rights champion ready to be independent and outspoken in fulfilling the mandate, a strong leader with a clear vision for the promotion and protection of all human rights, and bring energy, courage and commitment to the position.  She or he should especially highlight human rights issues that have fallen beneath the radar, and be ready to hold States accountable without fear of repercussions.

'Most importantly, the High Commissioner should be accessible to victims and others directly affected by human rights violations,' added the organisations.

The organisations stressed that a transparent selection process, based on accountability and professionalism, was essential to identify and appoint the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

'A robust and transparent selection process is key to ensuring the credibility of the appointment, and to identifying the most qualified candidate for the job, and should also include wide consultation with all stakeholders, including civil society,' said the organisations.  

Human rights are one of the pillars of the United Nations. The High Commissioner position needs a strong leader for human rights within the United Nations system and throughout the world. As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UNSG should put in place a process that reflects the seriousness and significance of this appointment to human rights victims and defenders worldwide.

Read the full letter here

Input requested on the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

28.03.2018

The 20th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders sets the scene for an assessment of its implementation: where challenges lie, as well as good practices.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has put out a call for analyses and recommendations in regard to measures taken by States, the value of technical support to States, and an audit of the UN’s own work on defenders. 

‘This is an opportunity for civil society analyses and recommendations from across the globe to contribute to increasing pressure on States to fulfil their obligations to human rights defenders,’ said ISHR’s Tess McEvoy.

OHCHR’s call for input: 

OHCHR is requesting input on three main areas:   

  • An evaluation of the UN’s work on human rights defenders, including in providing advice to States

  • An assessment of the impact of technical assistance and capacity building provided to States in regard to fulfilling their obligations to HRDs.

  • Recommendations (to any relevant stakeholder) on how best to promote the Declaration and ensure its implementation 

The full calls for input by OHCHR are here:  

English:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lrXHkdkDaE-Yrti4oZvgBJ3ogZXx01wW/view

French: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1r92FB9kL9_eae7yU2hosDnCNZPRJivg0/view

 

OHCHR have indicated that they will receive input in English and French.  The deadline for input is: 15 April 

‘The audit of the UN’s work on protection of human rights defenders is unique', noted McEvoy. 'We hope that this process of reviewing the UN’s work and – more generally – driving forward implementation of the Declaration will get active support from the highest levels in the UN.’ 

What happens after the OHCHR reports are written?

A high-level event will be held in New York at the end of the year, during the 73rd session of the General Assembly, where good practice, challenges and recommendations related to implementation will be shared. Civil society participation in that event has yet to defined.

‘Meaningful participation by human rights defenders in an UN event on human rights defenders is a no brainer,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘We urge the current President of the General Assembly to work with the upcoming President to ensure such participation is enabled.’

Contacts:

Tess McEvoy:  t.mcevoy@ishr.ch

Eleanor Openshaw:  e.openshaw@ishr.ch

Photo:  Flicker 

 

Input requested on the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

28.03.2018

The 20th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders sets the scene for an assessment of its implementation - where challenges lie as well as good practices.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has put out a call for analyses and recommendations in regard to measures taken by States, the value of technical support to States, and an audit of the UN’s own work on defenders.  This is a follow up to the UN General Assembly 72nd sesssion resolution on human rights defenders.  

‘This is an opportunity for civil society analyses and recommendations from across the globe to contribute to increasing pressure on States to fulfil their obligations to human rights defenders,’ said ISHR’s Tess McEvoy.

OHCHR’s call for input: 

OHCHR is requesting input on three main areas:   

  • Evaluating the UN’s work on human rights defenders, including in providing advice to States

  • Assessing the impact of technical assistance and capacity building provided to States in regard to fulfilling their obligations to human rights defenders

  • Making recommendations (to any relevant stakeholder) on how best to promote the Declaration and ensure its implementation 

The full calls for input by OHCHR are here:  

English:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lrXHkdkDaE-Yrti4oZvgBJ3ogZXx01wW/view

French: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1r92FB9kL9_eae7yU2hosDnCNZPRJivg0/view

OHCHR have indicated that they will receive input in English and French.  The deadline is: 15 April 

‘The audit of the UN’s work on protection of human rights defenders is unique', noted McEvoy. 'We hope that this process of reviewing the UN’s work and – more generally – driving forward implementation of the Declaration will get active support from the highest levels in the UN.’ 

What happens after the OHCHR reports are written?

A high-level event will be held in New York at the end of the year, during the 73rd session of the General Assembly, where good practice, challenges and recommendations related to implementation will be shared. Civil society participation in that event has yet to be defined.

‘Meaningful participation by human rights defenders in a UN event on human rights defenders is a no brainer,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘We urge the current President of the General Assembly to work with the upcoming President to ensure such participation is enabled.’

Contacts:

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

For more on the content of the Declaration on HRDs, see: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/Declaration.aspx

Photo: Flickr

HRC37 | Civil society presents key takeaways from Human Rights Council

27.03.2018
 

Civil society groups welcomed significant outcomes of the Human Rights Council's 37th session, but regretted the Council's continued failure to address serious human rights violations in a number of countries, such as Cambodia, Philippines, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and China.

In delivering a joint statement, ISHR, DefendDefenders, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, CIVICUS, International Commission of Jurists, FIDH, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Human Rights House Foundation, Amnesty International, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Human Rights Watch, and FORUM-ASIA, welcomed the adoption of the resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly in reaffirming that all approaches to development must comply with the State’s international human rights obligations.

The organisations highlighted that “cooperation and dialogue” are important for the promotion and protection of human rights and that States should fully cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms, and ensure that all stakeholders are able to cooperate and engage with them without fear of reprisals.

“We must now be vigilant to ensure that the resolution on Mutually Beneficial Cooperation, which is lacking in balance, does not undermine other important parts of the Council’s mandate: to address human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies in specific countries” stressed Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council Advocate.

The organisations, having long supported the resolution on “protection of human rights while countering terrorism", expressed their appreciation to the efforts that led to the end of the separate and deeply flawed initiative on "the effects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights". They called on the Council to ensure that future versions of the "terrorism and human rights" resolution address the relevant issues exclusively and comprehensively from the perspective of the effective protection of human rights. 

The organisations welcomed the joint statement on Cambodia by over 40 States calling for further action if the situation does not improve in the lead up to the elections and for a briefing by the High Commissioner before the next Council session. However, they expressed their regret over the failure of the Council to take meaningful action to address the alarming situation on the ground.

The organisations also expressed their regret at the Council’s failure to establish a dedicated monitoring and reporting mechanism on Libya, given the gravity of the human rights situation on the ground and the lack of accountability for crimes under international law.

The 37th session demonstrated that the Council can respond in an agile manner to crises when it adopted a resolution after convening an urgent debate on Eastern Ghouta.

The session also presented steps forward towards accountability with the renewal of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, allowing it to continue its vital investigations and identification of perpetrators. The organisations also welcomed the co-sponsorship of the Myanmar resolution by groups of States from all regions, making a joint commitment to address the continuing human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the country and support for the Special Rapporteur and Fact-Finding Mission to fulfill its mandate to establish truth and ensure accountability for perpetrators.

"These developments acknowledge the importance of accountability for serious human rights violations and crimes under international law, which cannot be understated" added El Hosseiny. 

The adoption of the resolution on drugs and human rights was welcomed by the organisations as the OHCHR report will provide human rights indicators related to the drug issue that would help in future policies.

The organisations also welcomed the Dutch-led joint statement on strengthening the Council, emphasising the importance of substantive civil society participation in any initiative or process and that the Council must be accessible, effective and protective for human rights defenders and rights holders on the ground. They further called on the Bureau co-facilitators on improving the efficiency and strengthening the Council to closely engage with all Members and Observers of the Council, human rights defenders and civil society organisations not based in Geneva. 

Read the full statement here

Contact: Salma El Hosseiny, Human Rights Council Advocate, on s.hosseiny@ishr.ch or +41 (0)22 919 71 02 

 
 
Photo: UN/Jean-Marc Ferré

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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