20 Jun

Support ISHR's June fundraising appeal to help human rights defenders pursue their work across the globe. 

19 Jun

The practice of censorship in the twenty-first century is changing, but is no less effective at closing down dissent. A new report by the UN expert on freedom of expression speaks to a range of developments, and makes pointed recommendations, on how to move forward. But ISHR asks: what does this look like with respect to China?

19 Jun

In 1998 the world made a commitment to promote and protect the rights of defenders.  Twenty years on, what real difference has the UN Declaration - and subsequent UN resolutions and recommendations - made to the lives of human rights defenders in Colombia and Tunisia?  A new report by ISHR and partners provides insights and proposals for change.

19 Jun

Respect for human rights – and a commitment to uphold these rights through multilateralism and the rule of law – is the only pathway to peace, security and sustainable development.

13 Jun

The 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 18 June to 6 July 2018, will consider issues including sexual orientation and gender identiy, freedom of association, assembly, expression and women's rights. It will also present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Burundi, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Belarus among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

Reprisals | UN and States must do more to prevent and address reprisals


The report, intended to inform the Secretary-General's annual report on cooperation with the UN, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights, (aka the ‘Reprisals Report’), documents a disturbing pattern of intimidation and reprisals. It includes alleged cases of travel bans in Cuba in the context of the Universal Period Review this May; disappearances and detention of defenders and lawyers, as well as intimidation of their families in China; and the detention of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia following engagement with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. 

The report also cites several cases of threats and attacks made against UN experts, which, beyond the impact on these individuals themselves, constitute an attack on the Human Rights Council and the UN human rights system more broadly.

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States—who must do more to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for reprisals. For the first time this September, States will have an opportunity, to engage in an interactive dialogue when the Secretary-General’s report is presented. ‘States should use the interactive dialogue to ensure adequate attention to the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals and to share good practices, challenges and lessons learned and effectively hold States accountable’, said Madeleine Sinclair. 

The UN itself also has a duty to step up. ‘Where States fail to adequately investigate and ensure accountability, the UN must step in to ensure defenders can cooperate safely. That means UN bodies and mechanism must recognise and act in conformity with their legal obligation to respect and protect the right of all persons to communicate with them and take all necessary steps to prevent, protect against, and promote accountability for any alleged acts of intimidation or reprisals’, said Sinclair 

‘Furthermore, prominent UN experts being attacked without consequence may deter civil society from engaging with the mechanisms and is likely to increase fear in those seeking the protection of the UN,’ said Sinclair. 

In the report ISHR called on UN bodies to take a more proactive role in combating reprisals and intimidation, and among other things, urged:
•    The Human Rights Council President and Bureau to clearly outlines steps the Council will take on receipt of information about credible risks of reprisals, and to adequately monitor the very concerning pattern of attacks of a personal nature against mandate holders and Commissions of Inquiries and make clear that attacks of this kind will not be tolerated. 
•    Treaty bodies to fully adopt and implement the San Jose guidelines.
•    The Assistant Secretary-General to adopt a clear, public-facing policy on how he addresses cases of reprisals and to ensure that rights holders and victims are kept regularly appraised of the status of their case.

Access the full report here

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, Co-Director of ISHR’s New York Office & Legal Counsel,  


Photo: Wikipedia Commons


Lettre test

Israel | Enough is Enough: Council should urgently launch investigations into violence against protesters in Palestine


There are currently over seven million Palestinian refugees spread across the globe, including 1.3 million refugees in the Gaza Strip.[1] As the result of decades of dispossession, oppression and violations of international law, including 11 years of unlawful closure and blockade of the Gaza Strip, Palestinians therein and elsewhere in occupied Palestine have embarked on a six week campaign of largely peaceful protests, starting on 30 March 2018. The actions by the Israeli forces in response to the demonstrations, particularly those taking place in the eastern parts of the Gaza Strip, amount to excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of lethal force. They may also amount to widespread wilful killings and may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. On 28 April 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that, “[i]n the context of an occupation such as Gaza, killings resulting from the unlawful use of force may also constitute wilful killings which are a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”[2]

Since the start of these large-scale protests, approximately 111 Palestinians have been killed, including 12 children, two journalists, and four persons with disabilities. During the same period, approximately 7,000 were injured, including 1,244 children, 253 women, 42 paramedics, and 60 journalists – at least 3,615 of whom were hit by live fire.[3] In response to the demonstrations, the Israeli military has allegedly been using live ammunition intentionally with the aim of killing and seriously injuring civilians, as demonstrated by the use of high-velocity, military-grade weapons that cause devastating, and in some cases life-changing injuries.

A video distributed by an Israeli soldier shows Israeli snipers celebrating the killing of Palestinians, illustrating a culture of impunity that is enjoyed by members of Israeli forces and emboldened by policy-level decisions. Further, the Israeli judicial system has demonstrated that it is unable and unwilling to ensure accountability for such serious crimes according to international standards.

In response to these events, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for independent investigations[4] into the killings, while the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Bin Ra’ad, echoed this call and highlighted that “[e]very week, we witness instances of use of lethal force against unarmed demonstrators” while noting that “[w]arnings by the United Nations and others have seemingly gone unheeded, as the approach of the security forces from week to week does not seem to have changed.”[5] 

The Israeli government continues to disregard the numerous recommendations by UN officials to exercise restraint in its response to the protests in the Gaza Strip and elsewhere in occupied Palestine. In fact, the Israeli military has increased the use of force against the civilian population in violation of its obligations under international law to ensure the welfare and respect of the fundamental rights of the occupied population under its control. 

The escalating protests over the last six months intensified following the announcement of 6 December 2017 by US President Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in blatant disregard for international law. On Monday, 14 May 2018, the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem entrenched and endorsed Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem, in violation of Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations on the prohibition of annexation - a general principle of international law - and in breach of Israel’s obligations as an Occupying Power under Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which concerns the protection of the occupied Palestinian population from any measures of “annexation by the latter of the whole or part of the occupied territory.”

The undersigned organisations join the UN Secretary General and High Commissioner for Human Rights’ calls for action, and specifically demand that the UN Human Rights Council urgently establish a Commission of Inquiry with a view to: (i) ensuring legal accountability for perpetrators of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including for individual and command responsibility, and (ii) facilitating and expediting existing international investigations and examinations. The Human Rights Council should also encourage the International Criminal Court to urgently open a full investigation into alleged international crimes committed by the Occupying Power. Finally, the undersigned organizations call for an end to the 51 years- of occupation of Palestinian territory, including the immediate lifting of the closure and blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the words of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “enough is enough.” [6]


Photo:Sebastian Baryli/Flicker 


Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT)

ActionAid International

ADDAMEER Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association

Al Mezan Center For Human Rights Rights

Aldameer Association for Human Rights

Algemene Centrale-ABVV /La Centrale Générale-FGTB 



Article 1 Collective

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)

Association ADALA pour le droit a un process equitable (ADALA)

Association AMAL pour La Femme et le Développement

Association Belgo-Palestinienne WB

Association France Palestine Solidarité (AFPS)

BADIL - Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights

Broederlijk Delen

Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organisation (BIRUDO)

Bytes For All, Pakistan

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)

Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights - Hurryyat

Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales - CELS

Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice

Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation


Coalition for Accountability and Integrity - AMAN


Collectif Interuniversitaire pour la Coopération avec les Universités Palestiniennes

Comités pour le Développement et le patrimoine

Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)

Community Action Center – Al-Quds University

Conectas Direitos Humanos

Corporate Accountability Lab

Defence for Children International - Palestine


EuroMed Rights

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine

Fédération des Associations Marocaines en France

Filastiniyat Association

Geneeskunde voor de Derde Wereld

Gents Actieplatform Palestina (GAPP)

Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Human Rights Law Network, India

Immigration Developpement Democratie – France

Institut de recherche en droits humains (IRDH)

International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center

Kvinna till Kvinna

L’Association Marocaine des Droits Humains

L'Association Marocaine des Droits Humains

Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR)

Le Comité pour le Respect des Libertés et des Droits de l’Homme – Tunisie

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)


MOC- Mouvement Ouvrier Chrétien

Moroccan Forum for Young Journalists (MFYJ)

Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l'amitié entre les peuples (MRAP)

Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD)

New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee

Norwegian People's Aid


Otros Mundos AC/Chiapas, México

Palestina Solidariteit

Palestinian Bar Association

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

Palestinian Coalition For Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Palestinian Journalist Syndicate

Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network

Pax Christi Flanders

Pax Christi International

Platform of French NGOs for Palestine (Plateforme des ONG Françaises pour la Palestine)

Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies

REF – Réseau Euromed France

Sahara Observatory for Peace and Democracy for Human Rights

Society of St. Yves

Solidarité Socialiste 

The Civil Commission for independence of the judiciary and rule of law (ISTIQLAL)

The Independent Commission for Human Rights (Ombudsman Office)

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)

The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH)

The Rights Forum

The WoMin African Alliance

ToBe Foundation for rights and Freedoms


US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

Vrede vzw

Women in Black (Vienna)

Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) 

Youth for sexual and reproductive rights (WAAI)



HRC | Council must be strengthened from ground up to enhance impact


The report, “Strengthening the UN Human Rights Council from the Ground Up,” outlines the discussions and key recommendations during a dialogue convened by the organisations in February. The dialogue brought together a broad range of human rights defenders from various regions working at the national, regional, and international levels with representatives of national human rights institutions, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The focus was on making concrete and implementable recommendations that do not require institutional reform.

Tawanda Mutasah, Senior Director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International, said: “To be credible, any discussion of Council strengthening should focus primarily on enhancing its contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights – its impact on the ground. As the Council’s Bureau launches discussions this year on enhancing the efficiency of the Council, we reiterate that measures to strengthen the Council’s efficiency should not, and cannot, be separated from efforts to enhance its effectiveness.”

Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council Advocate, added: “It is therefore imperative that discussions on strengthening the Council – and making it more efficient – be informed by the experience and expertise of national and regional level actors, including rights-holders, human rights defenders and other civil society actors, victims, survivors (and their representatives), national human rights institutions and UN country teams.”

Many participants at the February dialogue affirmed the value and relevance of the Council in responding to human rights crises and in encouraging a broad range of human rights reforms and commitments by individual countries.  At the same time, they shared concerns about issues that limit the Council’s ability to effectively deliver on its mandate.

“The Human Rights Council plays a vital role in addressing many human rights concerns, but its impact is limited and credibility eroded when it fails to address grave human rights violations for primarily political reasons,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “Individual countries should strengthen the Council’s ability to promote and protect human rights on the ground, particularly through prevention, implementation and accountability.”

Maryam Al Khawaja, Special Advisor on Advocacy at the Gulf Center for Human Rights and ISHR board member, said: “The selectivity and politicisation of the Council’s response to country situations allow some governments to escape scrutiny for serious human rights violations.”

Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders, said: “Having States that commit gross and systematic human rights violations sitting on the Council negatively impacts its credibility in the eyes of people around the world.”

Gustavo Huppes, Officer for Democratic Space at Conectas said: “To have impact on the ground, follow-up and implementation are key, though often neglected priorities of the Council”.

Yashasvi Nain, Program Officer at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, said: “An effective Council is one that is accessible and visible to a broad range of actors, including victims, rights-holders, civil society, and human rights defenders.”

Read the full report here.

Update: On 24 May 2018, ISHR, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International convened a panel in New York City on the topic of strengthening the Human Rights Council, along with Venezuelan defender Ligia Bolivar, OHCHR representative Craig Mokhiber, and Cynthia Soohoo, a CUNY Law School professor and member of the U.S. Human Rights Network.

After discussing the report, the panel turned to specific opportunities to enhance the Council’s work, zeroing in on improvements that could be made without broad structural reforms. Several panelists brought up the issue of Council membership and its effect on the body’s credibility, with Ms Bolivar stressing the importance of having competitive elections and screening candidates on their human rights records.

Panelists also discussed implementation and how the work of the Human Rights Council could be made more relevant to activists and defenders. Mr Mokhiber urged a renewed focus on protection and an annual Council report on the state of human rights globally. Louis Charbonneau from Human Rights Watch suggested a mandate for UN country teams to report to the Council, which would require resident coordinators and country teams to be aware of the human rights developments in their countries of work.

Photo: Anne Laure Lechat- UN Photo




By Gigi Alford, Coordinator, Sport and Rights Alliance, Head of Sport and Human Rights, World Players Association, UNI Global Union

Human rights are universal, and sport is no exception. Next week in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid will host a public dialogue with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach to discuss sport’s potential positive impacts and how to hold this sector accountable when it fails to live by its ideals.

Browse our articles:






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


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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