News

13 Nov

Since 2014, there has been an increasing number of African countries adopting or considering to adopt national legislation aimed specifically at promoting and protecting human rights defenders. Why do we need those laws? how do they concur to a better protection of defenders on the continent?

18 Oct

Human rights defenders work so everyone can be treated fairly, live safely and with dignity. In return, the Egyptian authorities are arresting, detaining, torturing and disappearing defenders, closing down their organisations, freezing their assets, and banning them from travelling.

01 Nov

ISHR is calling for applications for its flagship Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme in 2020 – the extensive training programme for human rights defenders. So if you are a human rights defender keen to use the UN to push for change at home, apply now!

04 Nov

States and multinationals must review their policies and commitments when signing contracts with extractive industries, to ensure they contribute in building development infrastructure with positive impacts on communities’ wellbeing. Revenues and gains derived from these agreements must ensure greater security and respect of the rights of the people.

25 Oct

In presenting his report to the UN Third Committee, the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity discussed strategies and recommendations to promote the social inclusion of LGBT people.

Reprisals | Submission: Reprisals against Maldives Human Rights Commission violate freedom of expression

12.06.2019

In October 2016, ISHR filed a communication with the UN’s Human Rights Committee on behalf of Ahmed Tholal and Jeehan Mahmood, former Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), to highlight the Maldives’ failure to ensure their right to share information freely with the UN without reprisal. Click here for the orginal article.

The HRCM was prosecuted in 2015 by the Supreme Court in the Maldives following a submission made by the HRCM on human rights in the Maldives to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review.

The Government of the Maldives replied to ISHR’s communication in April 2019, noting ‘the concerns and allegations’ raised by the authors and acknowledging ‘the subsequent operational adversities’ faced by the HRCM. Furthermore, the Maldives sought to assure the Committee that the effects of the Supreme Court judgment ‘will be taken into consideration’, that the Maldives have entered a ‘new era of democratic rule’, and that the new administration pledges to reform, reconstitute and transform all State institutions to, inter alia, reinstate respect for international obligations and promote operation of State institutions within the designated ambit of authority.

In its observations to the Maldives’ reply, ISHR acknowledged and welcomed the proposed legislative amendments, while also submitting that the proposed amendments do not provide an effective remedy for past violations.

‘We maintain that the Maldives breached Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by prosecuting the HRCM for the content of its communications to the UN and by limiting future communication between the HRCM and the UN,’ said Madeleine Sinclair, Legal Counsel for the International Service for Human Rights. ‘We furthermore request that the Human Rights Committee call on the State party to support, and the legislature to pass, the proposed Bill,’ said Sinclair.

 

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, New York Co-Director and Legal Counsel, ISHR, m.sinclair@ishr.ch, +1-917-544-614

Photo:  Law/Flickr

 
 

Philippines l Human rights defender protection law passes three readings in the House of Representatives

07.06.2019

183 members of the House supported the passage of the Bill on human rights defenders through three readings, with no member opposing or abstaining from the vote. While a very welcome development, the Bill will only enter into force, however, if it is also passed by the Senate and approved by the President.

The Bill was developed in consultation with civil society and is based on the Model Law for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights Defenders that articulates the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders into national law.

This is a significant step towards the recognition and protection of human rights defenders in one of the most dangerous countries in the world for activists. According to Front Line Defenders, the Philippines has the highest rate of killing of human rights advocates and activists outside of the Americas. National organisations - including Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines - report that 687 human rights defenders were killed in the country between 2001 and 2018. 

The passage of the Bill by parliamentarians comes as the President, Rodrigo Duterte, and members of his administration escalate a campaign of defamation and abuse targeting human rights defenders and institutions. Two weeks ago a group of international organisations urged the Government to respond to threats against human rights defenders by taking genuine and effective measures for their protection. The statement urged the international community to call for restrictive policies to be reversed and the UN Human Rights Council to advance accountability for human rights violations by establishing an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings in the government's 'war on drugs', and to call for attacks on human rights defenders, independent media, and democratic institutions to end. This call was strongly endorsed by a group of independent UN experts who today condemned a ‘sharp deterioration in the situation of human rights across the country, including sustained attacks on people and institutions defending human rights.’

‘Given the scale and seriousness of the reported human rights violations, we call on the Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into the human rights violations in the Philippines,’ the experts said.

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and Front Line Defenders (FLD) welcome the significant role that the Makatao, or the ‘legislators of human rights’, in the House of Representatives – formed in March 2018 and constituting 13 founding members that cross party lines – have played in this process to improve the human rights situation.

Once signed into law, the Bill will create a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee chaired by a Commissioner from the National Commission on Human Rights and six members who will be jointly nominated by concerned civil society organisations.

The law also defines a number of rights for human rights defenders, including:

  • the right to form organisations
  • the right to receive resources
  • the right to disseminate information
  • the right to communicate with international and regional bodies
  • the right to peaceful assembly.

The law further imposes a number of obligations on the State, including:

  • to respect and protect human rights defenders and facilitate their work
  • to protect and penalise intimidation or reprisals
  • refrain from derogatory labeling.  

A counterpart Bill has been pending with the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights since it was presented by Senator De Lima in February 2018.

While we welcome the passage of this Bill in the House of Representatives, we continue to urge the Government and Congress to take genuine and effective measures for the protection of human rights defenders, including calling on the Senate to approve the Senate version of the bill as one of its first actions in the 18th Congress starting in July.

A reconciliation of the Senate and House of Representatives Bills will ultimately constitute law in the Philippines. It is critical that the final law resulting from the reconciliation process of the Bicameral Conference Committee ensures the highest protections in law for human rights defenders.

While the advancement of this legislation is most welcome, ISHR and FLD insist that the Government cease its attacks and smear campaigns against human rights defenders immediately and call on the international community to remain vigilant of such attacks and supportive of Filipino civil society and human rights defenders in conducting their legitimate work.

Contact: Tess McEvoy (ISHR), t.mcevoy@ishr.ch; Adam Shapiro (FLD), adam@frontlinedefenders.org 

Photo: Denniz Futalan, pexels.com

Reprisals | NGO Committee members must say ‘not in my name’

06.06.2019

The second 2019 session of the ECOSOC NGO Committee, the body mandated to consider NGO applications for consultative status, has just ended.  Good outcomes for a small number of human rights organisations didn’t take away from the fact that a significant number of long-term deferred NGOs received yet more questions from Committee members. 

The practice of perpetual questioning of some human rights organisations – a means by which an application is generally deferred to the next session of the Committee - has been denounced multiple times by States, UN officials and experts.  

The Assistant Secretary - General and senior UN official on reprisals, Andrew Gilmour, has highlighted concern about the practice of the Committee and made specific reference to the ‘de facto rejection’ of case of the application of the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) by the Committee. 

IDSN is an NGO working for Dalit human rights and to raise awareness of Dalit issues nationally and internationally.  The Network first submitted their application in 2007 and since then have received 92 questions, all from Committee member India.  IDSN has diligently responded to all questions, in some cases multiple times.  One of the questions asked at the most recent session is almost an exact copy of a question asked of IDSN, and responded to, in 2008 and 2010. 

Committee practice dictates that questions posed by a Committee member go in name of the whole Committee.  

‘When Committee practice is tantamount to a reprisal being committed against an NGO, individual members must stand up and challenge what is happening,’ said Openshaw.  

Some attempts were made at the most recent session to challenge repeated questions or ask whether continued questioning was reasonable. 

‘Greece and Mexico spoke up about the unreasonable and time-consuming practice in a couple of cases and those interventions were very welcome,’ said Openshaw. ‘However, questions were still put forward to those NGOs.'

'Given that this case is over 12 years old, there is no justification for consideration of this application to extend beyond the next NGO Committee session,' she added.

There are several options: 

1/  The Committee could invite the organization to New York for an extended Q&A where any outstanding questions India or any other Committee member may have could be addressed once and for all, and the NGO finally recommended for accreditation. 

2/  If another deferral is imminent, individual Committee members should refuse to allow further questions to be asked of this NGO in their name.  

3/ If no other action is successful, a member of the Committee, or group of members, should call a vote on this case.  Denmark – the State where IDSN is registered – needs to work for that outcome. If Denmark continues to fail to prompt any action, a Committee member or group of Committee members must call for a vote on this case.  

‘This situation is no longer simply about one State blocking an NGO for political reasons – however egregious that is -  but about all other Committee members being complicit in that action,’ said Openshaw, ‘States must call a halt to this practice and refuse to participate in reprisals against NGOs.’ 

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

Photo: ISHR

 

NGO Committee | Members must reject reprisals by saying ‘not in my name’

06.06.2019

The second 2019 session of the ECOSOC NGO Committee, the body mandated to consider NGO applications for consultative status, has just ended.  Good outcomes for a small number of human rights organisations didn’t take away from the fact that a significant number of long-term deferred NGOs received yet more questions from Committee members. 

The practice of perpetual questioning of some human rights organisations – a means by which an application is generally deferred to the next session of the Committee - has been denounced multiple times by States, and UN officials and experts.  

The Assistant Secretary - General and senior UN official on reprisals, Andrew Gilmour, has highlighted concern about the practice of the Committee and made specific reference to the ‘de facto rejection’ of case of the application of the International Dalit Solidarity Network by the Committee. 

IDSN is an NGO working for Dalit human rights and to raise awareness of Dalit issues nationally and internationally.  The UN’s flagship policy, Agenda 2030, makes much of the notion of ‘leaving no-one behind’. 

‘No-one can speak of a commitment to ‘leaving no-one behind’ when IDSN and other Dalit organisations are repeatedly denied accreditation,’ said ISHR's Eleanor Openshaw. 

The Network first submitted their application in 2007 and since then have received 92 questions, all from Committee member India.  IDSN has diligently responded to all questions, in some cases multiple times.  One of the questions asked at the most recent session is almost an exact copy of a question asked of IDSN in 2008 and 2010. 

Committee practice dictates that questions posed by a Committee member go in name of the whole Committee.  

‘When Committee practice is tantamount to a reprisal being committed against an NGO, individual members must stand up and challenge what is happening,’ said Openshaw. 

Some attempts were made at the most recent session to challenge repeated questions or ask whether continued questioning was reasonable. 

‘Greece and Mexico spoke up about the unreasonable and time-consuming practice in a couple of cases and those interventions were very welcome,’ said Openshaw. ‘However, questions were still put forward to those NGOs.  More robust action is needed.’ 

'Given that this case is over 12 years old, there is no justification for consideration of this application to extend beyond the next NGO Committee session,'  Openshaw noted.  There are several options: 

1/  The Committee could invite the organization to New York for an extended Q&A where any outstanding questions India or any other Committee member may have could be addressed once and for all, and the NGO finally recommended for accreditation. 

2/  If another deferral is imminent, individual Committee members should refuse to allow further questions to be asked of this NGO in their name.  

3/ If no other action is successful, a member of the Committee should call a vote on this case.  Denmark – the State where IDSN is registered – needs to work for that outcome. If Denmark continues to fail to prompt any action, a Committee member or group of Committee members must call for a vote on this case.  

‘This situation is no longer simply about one State blocking an NGO for political reasons – however egregious that is -  but about all other Committee members being complicit in that action,’ said Openshaw, ‘States must call a halt to this practice and refuse to participate in reprisals against NGOs.’ 

 

 

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Opinion:

In 2019, the Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism (MICI), the independent accountability mechanism of the Inter-American Development Bank, released a new “reprisals toolkit” with hands-on, practical guidance on how to systematically assess and address risks of reprisals.

By Tove Holmström, the author of the MICI "reprisals toolkit"

Browse our articles:

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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