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.


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:

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.   


Contact:  Eleanor Openshaw

Photo:  John Indergaard 





Browse our articles:






ISHR commences work to develop an international Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders


ISHR publishes first Human Rights Monitor, connecting human rights defenders on the ground with international human rights systems and developments


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


ISHR provides training, technical assistance and support to its 1000th human rights defender


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


UN Secretary-General appoints Hina Jilani as inaugural UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, strengthening protection of human rights advocates at risk worldwide.


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


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