News

09 Dec

States have a responsibility to protect fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The international community should refuse to turn a blind eye to gross and systematic human rights violations committed against women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia. 

10 Dec

‘Women human rights defenders have flooded the streets, the airwaves, and the internet with their energy and their testimonials, bringing to light truths that are too often buried in darkness’ said a group of UN experts, recognising the important leadership role of women activists.

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.

10 Dec

The United Nations agency committed to gender equality and women's empowerment honours the work of women human rights defenders. 'Those who defend our rights in turn need our defense' stated Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. 

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

Letter HRDs HLM

GA73 | The work of UN experts and its potential commended by President of Human Rights Council

06.11.2018

'Treat mandate-holders with dignity and respect', said the President of the Human Rights Council, Vojislav Suc, to States at the UN General Assembly on Friday, when he came to report on the Council's 2018 work.  

The President of the Human Rights Council's words were welcomed by ISHR's Eleanor Openshaw.

'Not only did the President clearly denounce threats against independent experts - something the President of the General Assembly and the Chair of the Third Committee have yet to do - but also called on States to make more of their work in the UN's prevention agenda', she noted.

'Very often UN independent experts have a very good sense of what is going on', added Openshaw. 'Their findings should be central to efforts to understand a human rights situation and figure out what to do about it.' 

Special Procedures - independent experts mandated to monitor and report on human rights violations - are created by the Human Rights Council - ie States. Most report annually to the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the Third Committee in New York.  Threats against the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi were made by Burundi at the Third Committee earlier this month.

Several States also spoke up in support of Special Procedures and the need to cooperate with them, including Chile, Nigeria, and the European Union member States.  Bangladesh condemned the 'abuse and denigrating views' expressed against the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

In regard to civil society actors, the President noted that their active participation was essential to the work of the Council.  Significantly, he attributed the Council's very success to the interplay between categories of stakeholders - member States, observer States and civil society. 

'The possibilities for civil society to engage at the Third Committee are more limited than at the Human Rights Council', said Openshaw. 'That the President confirms the value of civil society's contribution in Geneva should encourage New York bodies to seek greater civil society input.'  

The relationship between the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council is commonly reflected upon during the annual dialogue with the Council President. This year, the review of the status of the Human Rights Council - possible as early as 2021  - seemed to hang in the air as several States made note that the Council is subordinate to the General Assembly.

In January, the presidency of the Human Rights Council will pass from Slovenia to Senegal. 

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw, e.openshaw@ishr.ch 

 

Photo:  UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

 

 

UNGA73 | States must work with civil society to end violence against LGBT persons

29.10.2018

On 25 October, the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Madrigal-Borloz presented his first report as mandate holder to the Third Committee of the General Assembly. In his report, he examines the process of declassifying ‘certain forms of gender as a pathology,’ or as a disorder or disease, and the State’s duty to respect and promote respect of gender identity.

He emphasised that States can end violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans persons (LGBT), but that to do so they must work with civil society. Noting the crackdown on LGBT communities, civil society spaces and those working in defense of the rights of LGBT persons, he urged States to defend spaces that are under attack. ‘Regressive measures should not be adopted,’ he said. 

Madrigal-Borloz added that his mandate calls for dialogue and that he is open to working with all States to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

During the dialogue, many States voiced their support for the Independent Expert and engaged with the content of his report. The United Kingdom welcomed his recommendation for States to adopt measures to protect the rights of those defending the rights of LGBT persons. Others such as Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico similarly regretted the violence against LGBT people, supporting the findings in Madrigal-Borloz’s report.

South Africa expressed support for the mandate and agreed that effective measures are necessary to eliminate the social stigma associated with gender diversity. In addition, Australia acknowledged the history of diverse gender identities in its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, such as the recognition of a third gender identity, noting that it has more to do when it comes to the protection of the rights of LGBTI persons.

Despite the overwhelming support of member States in the room, there were a number of States from the African and MENA regions not in attendance.

‘The Independent Expert’s mandate is to protect people from violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. No person should suffer violence or discrimination on any ground. All States should stand for that, support the principle of non-discrimination and support the Expert in his mandate,’ said ISHR’s programme manager and legal counsel Tess McEvoy.

 

Contact: Tess McEvoy t.mcevoy@ishr.ch

Photo Credit: United Nations WebTV

GA73 | UN expert highlights the critical role of defenders in sustainable development

25.10.2018

Human rights defenders must be given a platform to freely and peacefully assemble so that the most vulnerable in society are protected, as Clément Nyaletsossi Voule discussed in his report, presented to the General Assembly on October 17, 2018. Voule's report focused on the links between the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the United Nations' 2030 Agenda. While presenting his report, Voule noted that the achievement of the SDGs depends on those who express their voices. ‘Contributions by civil society are vital,’ he stated.

‘It is up to States to create a safe, enabling environment for these voices,’ he added. ‘If these voices are restricted, services and goods for those most vulnerable are depleted.’

States responded to Voule's report. For example, Morocco agreed that civil society’s contributions to the SDGs were undeniable, and the United Kingdom agreed to focus more efforts on protecting human rights defenders.

However, the conversation took a turn when the United States, instead of engaging with Voule’s report, criticised Syria, Iran, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua and China for their actions that violate fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and association, including torturing, detaining and even killing individuals in response to their civil activism and for developing laws that restrict the rights of NGOs.

The US remarks led to a line of responses from those States criticised. These States similarly did not comment on Voule’s report.

‘We were disappointed by the decision taken by some States not to engage constructively in the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur. We urge States to ensure they use these spaces and dialogues to work towards actual human rights protections on the ground,’ said ISHR programme manager Tess McEvoy.

Despite the conversation’s turn, it is important to note that Voule’s report made a strong, explicit link between civil society and the SDGs. Civil society’s voice is paramount to improving people’s lives, and it is vital to protect that voice.

During the dialogue, the US also noted the resolution on freedom of association and assembly it will present during this session of the Third Committee for the first time. ‘After the US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, we query whether presenting this resolution at this session may be part of attempts by the US to establish a foothold in the human rights scene in the Third Committee,’ commented ISHR’s New York Director Eleanor Openshaw.

 

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

 

Photo Credit: ISHR

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 

Pages

Browse our articles:

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Topic

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