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 | Civil society can help you do things better, says Bachelet to States


In her first exchange with States at the UN General Assembly's Third Committee session, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke repeatedly of the value of engagement with civil society as well as States' responsibility to ensure an environment conducive to their work. 

‘When civil society sits at the table, policies are usually more interesting and more sustainable,' she noted. 'Civil society can help you figure out how to do things better.' 

She added that threats, attacks and reprisals were not just unacceptable but self -defeating. 

 'Jailing critics does not make society safer, but rather deepens grievances,’ she noted. ‘We need to be recommitted to the protection of defenders.’

Engagement of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) with States was also a topic of debate. States repeatedly questioned OHCHR’s impartiality when it came to reviewing human rights situations.  Bachelet responded referencing the blocks put on OHCHR’s ability to monitor and report. 

‘Give OHCHR access to your country to assist you fulfil your human rights obligations,’ she added. 

Finally, how to better use the different parts of the UN system to avert human rights crisis was discussed.  In regard to OHCHR sharing information on human rights violations with the Security Council, Bachelet was clear that the early warning signs of conflict needed to be heeded and that different parts of the system needed to work together to prevent conflict. 

‘Prevention will be a core part of our work,’ she noted. 

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw

Photo: Michelle Bachelet Collection

Flyer - HRD event

GA73 | Burundi’s attempts to silence UN monitoring body rejected by GA human rights committee


Today the General Assembly’s Third Committee voted to ensure reporting by a UN monitoring body on the human rights situation in Burundi, rejecting efforts by Burundi to stop it from doing so.  By a vote 73-33, it was confirmed that the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present its report and engage in a dialogue with States later this month. 

‘Reporting by the Commission should never have been challenged – this is simply an attempt by Burundi to avoid scrutiny’, said ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair.  ‘The vote is a good outcome for all those interested in accountability in the country.’    

Following the vote, Namibia, in a powerful address, noted that ‘you cannot pick and choose those UN human rights commissions you like and those you don’t.  That said, Namibia abstained.   

Botswana was the only African State to vote in favour of the Commission reporting.  Rwanda – the only other African State that voted for the creation of the Commission of Inquiry at the Human Rights Council in 2016 -  abstained. 

This morning’s vote followed attempts made earlier in the week to put obstacles in the way of the Commission of Inquiry.  Burundi claimed there was no legal basis for the Commission to report to the General Assembly, and called for advice from the UN Office of Legal Affairs (OLA).  A subsequent vote in the Third Committee supported the request.   

This morning, that advice - confirming a legal basis for the Commission to report -  was challenged by Burundi.  Taking the floor, Burundi noted that because the advice had been drawn up and provided to the Committee in a couple of days, it must have been pre-prepared and, therefore, spoke to a ‘politicised’ process.

Joking that the Secretariat is generally criticised for being too slow rather than too speedy in its work, the Committee Secretary explained that OLA had been alerted to the fact that the Third Committee might request such advice and so had been ready to prepare it in a timely manner.

Establishing a legal basis for the Commission to report was a straightforward process of looking at recent resolutions and practice, said Sinclair. 'This wasn’t a complex legal question', she commented.

The Burundi Commission of Inquiry was first established by UN Member States in the Human Rights Council in September 2016, to monitor and report on the serious human rights violations and abuses in the country since April 2015.  The mandate was renewed in 2017, with a specific decision that it report to this General Assembly 73rd Session.  Last month the mandate was renewed for another year in recognition of the need for ongoing monitoring of the situation in Burundi.      

Burundi has not allowed the Commission into the country.  It has declared members of the Commission 'persona non grata’  and levied personal attacks against them, including during the Third Committee session last year. 

Earlier this week, ISHR and other NGOs urged States to vote in favour of the invitation to the Commission.    


Contact:  Madeleine Sinclair: 

Photo:  UN Geneva 

China l Governments should highlight deteriorating human rights situation and press for urgent action


At a panel convened today in Geneva, representatives of civil society highlighted the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in China, particularly in Uyghur and Tibetan areas. They presented recommendations that, if raised by States during the November 2018 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China’s human rights record, could help to improve the situation for all those living in China. This is a key opportunity for all States to hold China accountable for its commitments and human rights obligations.

Geneva panel presents key themes

Civil society representatives noted with concern the trends of criminalisation, arbitrary arrest, detention, enforced disappearance, ill-treatment, in some cases torture, of human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, scholars and others who express views at odds with the Party's line. Restrictions on religious freedom, cultural and religious identity, overwhelmingly targeting ethnic Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities and Tibetans, were also of concern.

NGOs pointed to the mounting number of measures gravely curtailing citizens’ rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, both in mainland China and Hong Kong, together with restrictions to freedom of movement and freedom of expression both online and off, especially within academic circles. The case of Hong Kong received particular attention, as its unique governance structure allows for the swift implementation of recommendations, thus significantly improving the lives of its residents, especially those most marginalized.

 “Hong Kong can serve as a bellwether for the broader situation of human rights in China – and in light of the disappearance of booksellers and the suppression of democratic values, it is also a reminder of the reach and influence of the Chinese government,’ said Sarah M Brooks, ISHR’s Asia Progamme Manager.

In summary, key thematic areas for recommendations include:

  • International human rights standards – Ratification of core treaties and their optional protocols is a clear and measurable target. Of particular attention is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed twenty years ago. This process is a means of creating more opportunities for scrutiny of Chinese government efforts to protect and promote human rights, and for ensuring the views of defenders from the country can be heard.
  • Criminalization of human rights defenders – A rights-respecting China would put an end to the criminalisation of lawyers, defenders and activists, and release all wrongfully-detained prisoners, including lawyer Wang Quanzhang, defenders Qin Yongmin and Hu Shigen, Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk and Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti.
  • Minority rights and freedom of religious belief – Faced with mounting evidence of the existence of ‘political re-education camps’ in Xinjiang, China should take necessary steps to close and dismantle all facilities, together with halting persecution of Tibetans and Uyghurs, as well as attacks on Uyghur culture and identity. See ISHR’s statement on the repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
  • Human rights monitoring and implementation – China had accepted in its previous UPR a recommendation to establish an independent national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles ; a recommendation that has been repeated by other parts of the UN human rights system, most recently the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in August of this year.
  • Cooperation with UN mechanisms – Granting access to international experts to all parts of China to monitor the alleged cases of human rights violations would not only be a measure of good faith and a recommitment to multilateralism, but would also signal implementation of previously accepted UPR recommendations.

The environment for defence of human rights

In its joint UPR submission with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), ISHR highlighted the need for better protection of freedom of expression, and the importance of public debate to the realisation of all human rights.

 ‘China accepted recommendations related to media freedom and the role of journalists in 2013. But sadly, the authorities have increasingly closed spaces where human rights-related speech occurs, especially online, and criminalised those trying to exercise free expression”, said Brooks.

‘The wrongful detentions of Huang Qi, Liu Feiyue and Zhen Jianghua are a stark reminder of the risks of reporting on human rights in China”, she added.

The Chinese authorities have made other technical efforts to suppress free speech and limit access to information.

Since 2015, the threat and incrimination of citizens who use unregistered VPNs to bypass the Great Firewall, China’s internet censorship infrastructure, have become increasingly common. In 2017, one provider was sentenced to more than five years in prison for distributing VPN services. Companies, who also have a responsibility to respect human rights, are often complicit in this system: for example, Apple removed all VPN apps from its AppStore, citing the need to comply with domestic legislation.

In addition to highlighting the need to amend a range of legislations, ISHR and CPJ have also urged governments to recommend that China allow unimpeded access to VPNs by internet users within the Chinese government’s jurisdiction, including in ethnic minority autonomous regions.

Despite having accepted Uruguay’s recommendation to accede to the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances and to recognise the competence of its Committee during the UPR’s second cycle, China’s revision of its Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) in 2013 effectively legalised incommunicado detention.

‘Such contradictions in commitments, on the one hand, and law and practice on the other,’ says Brooks, ‘clearly call into question the good faith of China’s engagement.’

States should call for the repeal of Article 73 of the CPL, and related legislation, codifying ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, which has been used to target human rights defenders, including journalists and media workers.

ISHR and CPJ have also recommended that China ensure a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society actors can carry out their vital work without hindrance or fear of reprisal.

Brooks concluded that ‘if China were serious about human rights reform, including in the area of development, it would put defenders into the driver’s seat for thinking of solutions to major social problems, like the environment and inequality. Instead, China puts defenders in detention’.

Contact: Sarah M. Brooks, Programme Manager and Human Rights Advocate,

Photo: Badiucao

Chad | Stop the erosion of civil society space and adopt measures to protect human rights defenders


A review of the human rights record of Chad is scheduled to take place on 13 November as part of the 31stsession of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

During its last UPR in 2013, Chad received 119 recommendations- 4 on the protection of human rights defenders and 5 on freedom of expression and protection of the press.  However, the government refused to accept any of these recommendations, reflecting the current human rights situation in Chad where human rights defenders and journalists face systematic arbitrary arrest, threats and attacks. 

A particularly worrying trend is the large-scale use of ministerial decrees to erode civil society space through bans imposed on peaceful protests and events organised by civil society actors.  Between 2015 and 2016, 65 organisations reported being banned from organising events. At a UPR pre-session on Wednesday - a platform for civil society to discuss the human rights situation of States ahead of the UPR- the Chadian League for Human Rights highlighted that a total of 74 protests have been repressed since 2015.  

Additionally, Decree no. 008/PR/2017 has enabled agents of the Chadian National Security Agency (ANS) to launch a spate of arbitrary arrests against defenders for reasons related to national security. According to article 6 of the Decree, arrests can be made to ‘detect, prevent and anticipate any subversive activity and destabilization directed against the vital interests of the State and Nation’. 

Such loose and vague terminology facilitates the arrest of any dissident voice, leaving little to no room for civil society to express fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and peaceful association. 

ISHR submitted a briefing paper in collaboration with the Observatoire de suivi des instruments internationaux des droits de l’Homme (monitoring observatory of international human rights mechanisms), on the situation of human rights defenders in Chad. The submission is intended to assist States and other stakeholders in formulating questions and making recommendations to the Chadian government during the UPR. 

Key recommendations that should be made to Chad at the UPR include: 

  • Ensure that all alleged attacks against defenders are promptly and thoroughly investigated, that perpetrators are held accountable and that victims have access to effective remedies. 

  • Make strong public statements recognising the legitimate and important role of human rights defenders, including journalists, and take steps to hold public and private actors accountable for stigmatising the legitimate work of defenders.

  • Ensure that the legislative framework as well as law enforcement guarantee and protect freedoms of expression and opinion, and refrain from intimidating and arresting journalists for their legitimate work. 

  • Operationalise and provide the necessary resources to ensure the effective functioning of the new National Human Rights Commission and support its compliance with the Paris Principles.

For further information about the Briefing Paper, please contact ISHR’s Adélaïde ETONG:

Photo: Flickr/Afcone




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