News

08 Feb

The UN Committee on NGOs has recommended withdrawal of ECOSOC accreditation to three Turkish NGOs which were controversially deregistered in the country last year. In a letter to the UN Secretary General, Member States and the President of ECOSOC, a group of national, regional and international NGOs are urging ECOSOC to reject the Committee’s recommendations, expressing deep concern for a lack of due process and insisting on the urgent need for reform.  

16 Feb
Courtesy of @badiucao

A sustained crackdown deserves a sustained response, said global NGOs today. In a joint letter, they call on Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council to speak out about the ongoing violations against human rights defenders in the country and to hold the Government of China - recently re-elected to the Council - accountable for its failures to respect human rights.

15 Feb

Human rights defenders play a critical role in supporting accountability for human rights violations involving businesses. Yet, in doing so, they face serious restrictions and risks. Governments should see the protection of human rights defenders as an element of their work to hold companies accountable for abuses, writes ISHR’s Sarah M Brooks.

10 Feb

Governments should take urgent collective action at the forthcoming March session of the UN Human Rights Council to address a 'marked deterioration in the already poor human rights situation in Bahrain', a group of 16 leading NGOs said in an open letter to Ambassadors released today.

02 Feb

Business should heed the views of human rights defenders, and do more to protect their crucial work—which advances the rule of law that benefits business too, says Sarah Brooks of International Service for Human Rights. Sarah leads ISHR's work in Asia, and also supports defenders seeking to advance corporate accountability.

Letter Honduras

The integrity of the human rights system is at risk, warns Human Rights Council President

(New York) The Human Rights Council President, Ambassador CHOI Kyonglim, has made a forceful appeal to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee not to re-open decisions made by the Human Rights Council.

This came on the day that the African Group tabled a resolution seeking to halt the work of the Human Rights Council’s LGBT Independent Expert. Such a step would set a dangerous precedent, said the President, and ‘undermine the credibility of the Human Rights Council and of the UN system’.

This year's dialogue between the Human Rights Council President and the Third Committee was overwhelmingly focused on the question of whether the Independent Expert, created by the Human Rights Council, should continue its work. Underlying this are questions about institutional relationship between the Human Rights Council, and the Third Committee and General Assembly.  

'The Human Rights Council President was absolutely correct in representing this challenge to the Independent Expert for what it is - a serious challenge to the international rights system: a challenge that must be resisted', said ISHR's Eleanor Openshaw.

Many States spoke energetically about the legality of the Independent Expert’s mandate, the authority of the Human Rights Council, and the dangerous precedent set by seeking to defer on a Special Procedures – most particularly one that is already up and running.

The African Group resolution calls for the suspension of the activities of the Special Rapporteur ‘in order to allow time for further consultations to determine the legal basis upon which the mandate of the special procedure’.

During the debate with the Human Rights Council President, Botswana delivered a statement in name of the African Group noting that they were ‘strongly concerned by attempts to introduce and impose new notions and concepts that were not internationally agreed upon’ and that these attempts ‘seriously jeopardize the entire international human rights framework as they create divisions.’ They call for States ‘to refrain from attempting to give priority to the rights of certain individuals’.

‘The creation of this mandate came after two Council resolutions and OHCHR reports that persuaded the Council that there is a need for particular attention on the situation of violence and discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,’ said ISHR’s Pooja Patel. ‘That’s what thematic rapporteurs do - focus on issues and groups that the Council considers need particular attention.’

Denmark rejected the idea that an Independent Expert’s mandate created by a voted resolution was illegitimate, noting that several current Special Rapporteurships were created on that basis. The Human Rights President pushed back on the notion that politicisation and selectivity informs the establishment of Special Procedures. The Procedures are diverse in terms of the countries and themes they focus on, he said.

States such as Algeria and Ethiopia made spirited interventions in defence of the need to respect the decisions of the Human Rights Council.

‘It has to be seen if these States are courageous enough to defend the human rights system against other pressures and interests,’ said Ms Openshaw.

The other issue that received considerable attention during the dialogue with the President, was the importance of civil society’s contribution to the UN, and the urgent need to ensure their protection from intimidation and reprisals. The Human Rights Council President noted that civil society is ‘not just nice to have’ but ‘at the core of our work’. He said he looked to ASG Gilmour to ‘raise the profile of reprisals within the system’.

The President's dialogue with the Third Committee was run at the same time as a discussion held by the UNGA on the President’s report. Algeria expressed frustration at the scheduling of meetings, something the Chair promised to address with the President of the UNGA.

Article year: 
2016

High Commissioner asks the Third Committee: Would we have the courage to be defenders?

Restrictions on and reprisals against civil society were put under the spotlight when the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights presented his report to the Third Committee - the General Assembly's committee which considers social, humanitarian & cultural issues.

The High Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein,  highlighted the folly of such attacks - reminding the Committee that civil society can be of great support to States,  but only if they can fully exercise their fundamental freedoms. 

Furthermore, the implementation of UN's own policies such as Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development relies on such civil society support.  Mr Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein also emphasized the self-defeating nature of policies that quashed critical voices in a response to extremism. Criminalistaion of dissent will fuel extremism not quell it.

Whilst a few States spoke of the need to restrict the activities of defenders, most who spoke were supportive of the right to defend rights.

In a welcome move, Canada, on the other hand, expressed concern about reprisals. Australia welcomed the designation of the new Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour to the role of leading UN wide efforts to put an end to that practice.     

The USA spoke of the clear pattern of restrictions on civil society participation at the UN, including through the practice of the 'gatekeeper' NGO Committee - which has a track record of hindering the accreditation of organisations expected to criticise certain States. Despite this opposition, the USA representative asked, how can we foster and encourage engagement from civil society organisations and the wider comunity? In response Mr Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein noted the need for continued engagement with States, adding  that there seemed to be a greater tolerance of the involvement of civil society in Geneva than New York. 

In concluding, the High Commissioner reflected upon the courage of human rights defenders.

‘How many of us would be willing to foreit our careers and lives for the sake of speaking out?’ he asked the Third Committee diplomats.

Other issues:

Several States expressed concern about persistent non-cooperation with the UN from particular States. Palestine spoke of ‘a culture of non-cooperation’. For Qatar, the demands of implementation of Agenda 2030 makes cooperation all the more important. What are States hiding if they don’t permit access?  Latvia called for the universalization of standing invitations for Special Procedures. 

The independence of OHCHR was questioned by several States – with China going as far as to accuse the Office of supporting ‘secessionist criminals’. Russia also adopted a highly critical line stating that OHCHR oversteps its mandate, places too much emphasis on monitoring rather than providing technical assistance. For Russia, ‘we need to be in a position where the High Commissioner is seen ‘as a partner and not prosecutor’’. The High Commissioner pushed back at China’s criticism emphasizing a willingness to have an open dialogue. He rejected the claim OHCHR was partial, emphasizing the 125 nationalities represented in the Office. 

The High Commissioner reflecting on ‘a basic flaw in our system’. Foreign Ministries are overly defensive and parochial, and interpret criticism as intervention. On the other hand, other ministries and quasi-governmental institutions tend to be far more straightforward and able to acknowledge when they need assistance. 

A couple of States noted that the human rights mechanisms were overloaded, or that States couldn’t keep up with the reporting the system demands.  Belarus said that treaty body reporting was overly onerous.

Egypt expressed concern at the human rights system being used to advance issues that they consider not to enjoy broad support, citing issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity  and the death penalty as examples. 

Article year: 
2016

New Secretary General should put promotion and protection of human rights defenders at heart of UN’s agenda

 

ISHR offers a warm welcome to Antonio Guterres as the ninth Secretary General of the United Nations.

Earlier this year 80 civil society organisations from across the world called on the next Secretary General to place the promotion and protection of human rights defenders at the heart of the UN's priorities.

ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair said now that a new Secretary-General has been formally recommended by the Security Council the open letter is as relevant as ever, and said ISHR staff were looking forward to working with Mr Guterres in the pursuit of stronger protections for human rights defenders.

'The work of human rights defenders to promote the three pillars of the UN is widely acknowledged, but sadly remains under threat at so many levels,’ said Ms Sinclair.

The priorities civil society organisations highlight include:

  • Speaking out strongly and consistently against attacks on defenders and restrictions on civil society space and in support of vibrant, independent civil society at the UN and at the national level.

  • Ensuring UN staff are aware of the importance of the work of HRDs and take action to prevent and address attacks against them. 

  • Designating a civil society liaison at the most senior level at the UN.

  • Recognising that the work of human rights defenders is essential to international peace and security. Taking steps to promote prevention of systemic attacks and restrictions against HRDs which may be an early warning sign of more widespread gross and systematic violations.

The announcement earlier this week that the Assistant Secretary General, Andrew Gilmour, will be appointed to a new role to help combat reprisals against human rights defenders was a very positive initiative, but Ms Sinclair said there was plenty more the UN could do to promote the protection of human rights defenders around the world. 

A copy of the open letter can be found here.
 

 

Article year: 
2016

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Opinion:

Article disponible en français ici

The International Criminal Court is needed to ensure justice for victims and to send a clear warning to future would-be tyrants that they will be held accountable, writes ISHR’s Clément Voule.

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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