Mali | Groundbreaking new law strengthens legal protection of human rights defenders

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ISHR, the Malian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network welcome the adoption of a human rights defenders law in Mali. After years of efforts and a demanding legislative process, they are hailing it as an important step towards defenders' protection. The Government must now establish and resource a protection mechanism to ensure the effective implementation of this law.

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ISHR urges States to use Burundi’s Universal Periodic Review happening today to call on the Burundian Government to refrain from criminalising the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and refrain from restricting their rights.

12 Jan
Protest

ISHR, Amnesty International and partners have published a checklist for the selection and appointment of a UN expert on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Candidates have until 23 January 2018 to apply for the position.

11 Jan
Yogyakarta Principles dandelion image

In a landmark Opinion, the regional human rights court of the Americas has upheld the rights of trans persons and same-sex couples. Referring to the Yogyakarta Principles and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10, the Court advised Costa Rica that it should ensure that trans persons can change their name and gender markers on identity documents, and that same-sex couples enjoy full family rights – including marriage.

04 Jan

In a year that deep cuts were made to UN budgets, resourcing for human rights activities took a hit. Concluding its main session, the UN General Assembly’s approved approximately 50% less funding for some human rights posts than requested. Funds to support the work of treaty bodies were cut, but the need to adequately fund treaty bodies was reaffirmed, establishing a mandate for future resource requests.  

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If you’re looking to make that last minute donation, there’s still time to invest in the future of human rights by empowering their defenders.

UNGA72 | ‘Peace cannot be obtained in the absence of human rights protection’

31.10.2017

In the presentation of his report to the UN’s Third Committee, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, spoke passionately about the purpose of his Office and outlined some of its key work over the last year. This includes:

  • the development of a model protocol of the investigation of gender-related deaths of women in El Salvador
  • monitoring missions related to the situations of migrants in the EU and Central America
  • the publication of a report on the ‘shocking abuses’ on migrants in Libya
  • a fact-finding delegation in Myanmar, where he promised essential and timely updates on the situation of the Rohingya despite the ongoing refusal of the Myanmar government to grant the international community access to the region
  • a mapping report on the alleged human rights violations in Mali
  • the support of his Office to the Commission of Inquiry into Syria

During the interactive dialogue with States, several questioned why the High Commissioner had not presented a separate report to the General Assembly, as in previous years. The High Commissioner responded that this was due to timing and an attempt to save costs but that his Office would revert back to previous practice if States so desired.

The High Commissioner ended the dialogue with States by noting, ‘in a context of rising turmoil, I am proud that my Office - my colleagues - have made a real difference in many countries, assisting national authorities, democratic institutions, and civil society to uphold human dignity and rights.’

This could be the last year in which the High Commissioner reports to the General Assembly – his first term, which could be renewed, ends in August 2018.

The webcast of his presentation can be found on UN Web TV.

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw, Head of ISHR's New York Office, e.openshaw@ishr.ch, +1 929 426 7679

Photo: Jean-Marc Ferré via UN Photos

UNGA72| Age of secrecy ended long ago - International organisations must ensure access to information

31.10.2017

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, presented his most recent report to the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly. The report reviews access-to-information policies of international organisations, including the UN. It is the product of a year’s worth of research and consultations with a variety of stakeholders, to which ISHR contributed through interviews and a written submission.

The UN should interact regularly with the public

Explaining that the UN doesn’t have a policy that applies to every department and specialised agency, Kaye emphasised that the organisation does not even have ad hoc standards to provide a response to access-to-information requests.

‘For a central global political institution, one that serves the public interest across a range of subject matters, this is intolerable,’ Kaye stated.

Discussing how the UN should go about public disclosure, Kaye echoes ISHR’s insistence that the institutions themselves should engage regularly with the public, typically through civil society organisations, to ensure they make public all relevant and valuable information.

ISHR’s contribution to the report

‘ISHR’s written contribution to the report focused on Special Procedures, Treaty Bodies and reprisals,’ said ISHR’s Training and Advocacy Support Manager Helen Nolan.

‘In fact, as Kaye’s report exposes, we could have pointed to any number of challenges, including failure to translate documents, websites being difficult to navigate, and the lack of information available on elections of Human Rights Council members’, Nolan continued.

Protection for human rights defenders and whistle-blowers

Kaye highlighted that access to information policies may have exceptions – such as in circumstances posing risks - for example where necessary to protect the rights and reputations of human rights defenders.

‘We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s calls for proactive information-sharing by the UN, while ensuring robust protection of human rights defenders and whistle-blowers from reprisals and other negative consequences,’ said ISHR’s Legal Counsel Tess McEvoy. ‘Brave individuals who dare to speak up must not be put at risk.’

Commenting on protections for whistle-blowers within the UN system, Kaye highlighted four principles necessary for effective promotion and protection of these individuals:

  1. Sanctions for those who retaliate against whistle-blowers
  2. Existence of an independent office to advocate whistle-blower protections
  3. Irrelevance of any motivations beyond the wish to disclose fraud, abuse, waste or some other illegal conduct.
  4. Awareness among UN staff of appropriate channels for reporting such illegal conduct

During the interactive dialogue, many countries echoed the importance of transparency within the UN system. However only few States responded to concerns Kaye raised about ‘disinformation’ and ‘fake news.’

Read the full report here and ISHR’s written submission here.

Contact: Tess McEvoy, t.mcevoy@ishr.ch

Photos: Jean-Marc Ferré via UN Photos and Twitter

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Opinion:

ISHR Director Phil Lynch reflects on civil society's highs and lows at the Human Rights Council in 2017, and offers some thoughts on opportunities to strengthen the Council and make it more accessible, effective and protective for human rights defenders and victims of violations in the year ahead.

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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