18 Sep

Governments should support the work of human rights defenders, not undermine it. Yet in Burundi, the situation of human rights defenders remains alarming and still deserves the Human Rights Council’s full attention. In Burundi, defenders are systematically criminalised in a deliberate and continuous attempt to silence civil society voices.

19 Sep

Last week in New York and Geneva, nine candidate States publically spoke to their pledges as an incoming Human Rights Council member for 2019 – 2021, they also faced questions on pressing human rights issues.

19 Sep

ISHR is pleased to launch its updated Reprisals Handbook in six languages, an essential resource for all stakeholders concerned about intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with international or regional human rights systems.

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18 Sep

Despite Chinese denials, the internment of Uyghur and Kazakh minorities in Xinjiang has been put firmly in the Human Rights Council spotlight, with statements from governments and NGOs, including ISHR, calling urgently for the closure of internment centres and the release of those detained. 

18 Sep

Without effective democratic institutions and no brake on impunity, the criminalisation of dissent in Venezuela deepens.  Describing this glaring human rights crisis, human rights defenders make an urgent call to UN experts  to keep demanding access to the country and accountability from the State.            


NGO Committee | States must put commitment to civil society into practice at upcoming elections


On 16 April, ECOSOC will vote in the full 19-member NGO Committee, for the 2019 – 2022 term.  Now is the time for States to put themselves forward as candidates and – in the case of ECOSOC members – ensure they limit their votes to States they truly believe will fulfill the mandate of the NGO Committee and consider applications for accreditation fairly. 

In a joint letter several NGOs long concerned about the practice of the Committee, call on States to use the opportunity of the elections to shake up the NGO Committee.

‘Membership of the NGO Committee matters,’ say the NGOs, including ISHR.

The NGO Committee is mandated to recommend accreditation to NGOs ‘in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations’.  However, Committee members have used their membership to interrogate and malign NGOs, and block their entry into the UN.

‘The NGO Committee is much criticised for letting political interests of its members influence how NGOs’ applications are considered,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘Not surprisingly, human rights organisations have the hardest time getting accredited.’ 

Whilst there are no formal membership standards – as there are in the case of the Human Rights Council, for example – Human Rights Council resolutions on civil society space provide highly relevant criteria.  These include whether legal frameworks at national level are in conformity with international human rights standards; and whether or not a State takes decisive steps to prevent and address reprisals. 

On Friday 16 March at 11am in New York, ISHR, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) will hold a press conference on the upcoming elections to the NGO Committee.  Join us by Facebook livestream at:

Watch the statement here: 


Read ISHR's statement delivered at the Human Rights Council here

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw


Photo:  UN

CSW62 | As visa restrictions keep defenders away, ISHR launches report on barriers to participation


On 9 December 1998, the United Nations unanimously adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which confirms the right to ‘unhindered access to and communication with international bodies’.  However, that right is not being guaranteed.  ISHR’s new report, 'The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations' documents a broad range of obstacles faced by human rights defenders, from opaque bureaucracies and secret rules to physical threats and attacks.  

The report comes at a critical moment, as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) session kicks off and concern is raised about the denial of visas to women human rights defenders travelling to NY.

‘Many African young women and girls are facing challenges in getting US visas’, said Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, the Chief Executive of Rozaria Memorial Trust quoted in the report.  The Trust is aware of four girls from three different countries who have been denied visas despite having CSW accreditation and sponsorship letters.

‘This year CSW is focusing on the empowerment of rural women.  Visa requirements are keeping these very women out of the conversation,’ said ISHR’s Tess McEvoy. 

Visas are not the only problem.  According to ISHR’s report, there are deep structural problems in the UN’s relationship with NGOs, starting with the Committee on NGOs, which reviews applications for ECOSOC accreditation.

States with poor human rights records dominate the Committee and habitually violate the spirit of their mandate, blocking applications based on their own political interests.

‘The NGO Committee has more than earned its reputation as the ‘anti-NGO Committee,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘Many well-qualified NGOs are being prevented from sharing their expertise with the UN.’

ISHR’s report also details the arbitrary treatment of NGOs without consultative status trying to participate in UN processes. At high-level events NGOs with relevant expertise can be blocked through a “no-objection” procedure. This procedure effectively allows any State to veto an NGO’s participation without providing justification or even having to be named.

‘The no-objection procedure is poorly defined, and we don’t have access to formal criteria or rules for objections,’ said ISHR’s John Indergaard. ‘It’s carte blanche to exclude legitimate NGOs for illegitimate reasons.’

In a recent high-profile case, the procedure was used by Egypt on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to block 22 LGBT and addiction-related NGOs from participating in a 2016 high-level event on AIDS.

Formal accreditation is no guarantee of participation at the UN. On one occasion, civil society members from Taiwan had their passports considered invalid identification and were denied UN ground passes, despite being registered under an accredited NGO.

Even when they make it into an actual UN building, NGO representatives have been thrown out without explanation or asked to leave while events were ongoing. At some high-level events and committee meetings, NGO representatives have been barred from giving statements and bringing in specific documents.

Human rights defenders have also been subjected to intimidation and received physical threats based on participation at the UN. In 2013, Sri Lankan defenders speaking at the Human Rights Council were accosted by State delegates in the hallways while a Government minister back home threatened to break their legs.

‘Civil society has a right to engage with the UN and the value of their input has been repeatedly acknowledged by States.’ says Openshaw. ‘It is simply appalling that defenders are being attacked, silenced and turned away.  Twenty years after the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the UN must ensure defenders' rights are guaranteed.’

ISHR hopes that the recommendations outlined in its report will assist efforts to enable the participation of human rights defenders in UN processes.   

Download the report in English, Spanish, French and Arabic.

Contact:  Eleanor Openshaw

Photo:  John Indergaard 






By Nicolas Agostini, Representative to the United Nations, DefendDefenders 

The world’s top human rights body needs members with a genuine commitment to protecting human rights. Electing States should ensure that candidates with a record of systematically violating rights and failing to cooperate with the Council receive no support in the ballot.

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After 14 years of ISHR lobbying, advocacy and negotiation, the UN General Assembly adopts the landmark Declaration on Human Rights Defenders


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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


ISHR contributes to the establishment and institution building of a new global peak body for human rights issues, the UN Human Rights Council


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


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


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


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