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.

Burkina Faso | Implement the law on human rights defenders and ensure a safe working environment


Burkina Faso is scheduled to be reviewed at the 30th session of the Universal Periodic Review on 5th May. During its last review, Burkina Faso accepted two recommendations calling on the State to promote and encourage the work of civil society in the country and pursue a regular dialogue with civil society to promote the importance of equality between women and men. Despite accepting these recommendations, human rights defenders still have to work in a hostile environment.

In 2015, the coup d’état had a disastrous impact on fundamental freedoms, by imposing unnecessary restrictions, in particular to the right to freedom of expression. During that time, journalists covering the events or publishing dissident opinions have been victims of threats, intimidation, physical attacks and their offices have been ransacked.

Further, while the National Transition Council adopted three consecutive laws decriminalising some press offences and eliminating prison sentences for some other offences, it also considerably increased fines for defamation, slander and insult which could seriously impede the rights to freedom of expression and the press with the risk that media professionals and civil society organisations are forced out of business.

A law for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders has been voted by the National Assembly on 27 June 2017 but we still note that this law fails to acknowledge the specific risks faced by women human rights defenders in their work.  In addition, Burkina Faso has not yet created its protection mechanism, which would aim at monitoring the implementation of the law, because its National Human Rights Commission is still not functional.

This Briefing Paper on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Burkina Faso - developed by ISHR, and our national partners the Burkinabe Coalition for Human Rights Defenders - is intended to assist States and other stakeholders to formulate questions and recommendations regarding the protection of human rights defenders during the UPR.

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

  • Ensure that all alleged attacks against human rights defenders are promptly and thoroughly investigated, that perpetrators are held accountable, and that victims have access to effective remedies.
  • Amend the law for the protection of human rights defenders to ensure the establishment and resourcing of a national protection mechanism for defenders, to include protections for women and disabled human rights defenders and repeal or reform article 16, which provides the power to expel defenders considered threats to national security.
  • Review the composition of the High Council of Communication to ensure a higher number of members of professional media groups.
  • Support the compliance of the newly established National Human Rights Institution with the Paris principles, including through guarantees of independence, expertise and adequate funding.

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

Photo: Flickr_RFI

Annual Report 2018

NGO Committee | Stand for election to stamp out reprisals


Update 16 April:  At the ECOSOC elections held today for the NGO Committee 2019-2022 term, only two regions ran competitive slates- the Latin American and Caribbean region (GRULAC) and the Asia-Pacific region.  In GRULAC the new members are Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and Nicaragua.  Venezuela was voted off.  Uruguay stepped down.  For Asia Pacific the new members are Bahrain, China, India and Pakistan.  Iran was voted off.  Africa: Burundi, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan and Swaziland; Eastern Europe: Estonia and Russia; WEOG: Greece, Israel, Turkey and the USA.  

Where the NGO Committee should be providing a gateway into the UN for NGOs working in line with the UN Charter, too often Committee members block entry for NGOs and malign or harass them.   Preventing individuals from cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN is unjustified.  The UN and Member States are legally obliged to prevent and counter such practice.  

At a press briefing organised by ISHR, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists to highlight concerns about the practice of the Committee, Andrew Gilmour, the UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights and the lead on UN efforts to put an end to intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights, stated,

‘The NGO Committee (..) and its accreditation process have sometimes been linked to the issue of reprisals. Indeed, this has been mentioned in successive annual reports of the Secretary-General in this context.’

‘Some Member States have attempted to block the accreditation of NGOs, especially human rights NGOs, through legal, political and procedural maneuvers in an attempt to silence critics,’ he added.

Through such practices, NGOs can find their applications deferred by the Committee for years.  The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) has had their application for accreditation deferred for over 10 years.  

Such practice has been repeatedly criticised by some States, including Chile and Mexico.  These and other ECOSOC members have repeatedly called for urgent improvements in Committee practice, as shown in the below video:




In addition, on more than one occasion, the Committee has allowed the suggestion that an NGO has terrorist sympathies or affiliations to inform a decision to close an application or withdraw accreditation.  Despite the gravity of such accusations, these NGOs were not informed of the decisions taken nor provided an opportunity to defend themselves.  

‘Denying an NGO the right to contest an accusation of terrorist connections, is simply unconscionable.  The potential effect of such an accusation on an NGO is not difficult to imagine’, said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.  

Reprisals at the hands of members of the NGO Committee are not the sole instance of such practice.  As Gilmour noted, instances of intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN are increasing. He ended his intervention at the press briefing by stating, 

‘The UN is an intergovernmental body, of course, but “we the peoples” – the first three words of the UN Charter – was not just a rhetorical flourish, or a joke. We mean it, which is why we feel strongly that UN processes should not serve to undermine the important work of civil society.’ 

Gilmour outlined steps his office would be taking in regard to alleged reprisals at the hands of the Committee.  

 ‘We will continue to address individual cases as they come up, in the context of the NGO Committee’s work, and I look forward to engaging constructively with the membership of the Committee and its distinguished chairperson to address these concerns,’ he noted.  

The ECOSOC elections to the NGO Committee – for which any UN Member State can stand – will be held on 16 April.  Several NGOs have called on States committed to NGO access to and participation in UN processes, to stand as candidates. ISHR raised these calls in a statement delivered at the the 37th session of the Human Rights Council

‘Standing for the elections and voting with integrity are means for States to put into practice a commitment to eradicate reprisals and – more generally-  to promote the rights of civil society to engage with UN bodies and processes,’ said Openshaw.  


Contact:  Eleanor Openshaw 

See footage of the full ISHR / HRW / CPJ press conference of 16 March here  

For more on the NGO Committee, see ISHR video ‘The Anti-NGO Committee’ 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Photo:  ISHR


UN Sec-Gen | New High Commissioner should be strong, capable, independent and deeply committed to human rights


As the search begins by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres (UNSG) for the next High Commissioner for Human Rights, a group of leading regional and international NGOs sent an open letter to the UNSG emphasising the high expectations the organisations have for the successor to this office, urging him to vigorously defend the office’s ability to operate without interference and to select a new High Commissioner capable of ensuring its independence.

'Appointing a capable, strong and qualified High Commissioner is crucial at this time when fundamental principles of human rights are being challenged, and the integrity and independence of the United Nations human rights system is under attack,' said the organisations.

The organisations urged the UNSG to select an exceptionally qualified candidate capable of meeting the demands of this important post from the outset. They highlighted key criteria and qualifications for the new High Commissioner, who should be a human rights champion ready to be independent and outspoken in fulfilling the mandate, a strong leader with a clear vision for the promotion and protection of all human rights, and bring energy, courage and commitment to the position.  She or he should especially highlight human rights issues that have fallen beneath the radar, and be ready to hold States accountable without fear of repercussions.

'Most importantly, the High Commissioner should be accessible to victims and others directly affected by human rights violations,' added the organisations.

The organisations stressed that a transparent selection process, based on accountability and professionalism, was essential to identify and appoint the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

'A robust and transparent selection process is key to ensuring the credibility of the appointment, and to identifying the most qualified candidate for the job, and should also include wide consultation with all stakeholders, including civil society,' said the organisations.  

Human rights are one of the pillars of the United Nations. The High Commissioner position needs a strong leader for human rights within the United Nations system and throughout the world. As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UNSG should put in place a process that reflects the seriousness and significance of this appointment to human rights victims and defenders worldwide.

Read the full letter here

Input requested on the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders


The 20th Anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders sets the scene for an assessment of its implementation: where challenges lie, as well as good practices.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has put out a call for analyses and recommendations in regard to measures taken by States, the value of technical support to States, and an audit of the UN’s own work on defenders. 

‘This is an opportunity for civil society analyses and recommendations from across the globe to contribute to increasing pressure on States to fulfil their obligations to human rights defenders,’ said ISHR’s Tess McEvoy.

OHCHR’s call for input: 

OHCHR is requesting input on three main areas:   

  • An evaluation of the UN’s work on human rights defenders, including in providing advice to States

  • An assessment of the impact of technical assistance and capacity building provided to States in regard to fulfilling their obligations to HRDs.

  • Recommendations (to any relevant stakeholder) on how best to promote the Declaration and ensure its implementation 

The full calls for input by OHCHR are here:  




OHCHR have indicated that they will receive input in English and French.  The deadline for input is: 15 April 

‘The audit of the UN’s work on protection of human rights defenders is unique', noted McEvoy. 'We hope that this process of reviewing the UN’s work and – more generally – driving forward implementation of the Declaration will get active support from the highest levels in the UN.’ 

What happens after the OHCHR reports are written?

A high-level event will be held in New York at the end of the year, during the 73rd session of the General Assembly, where good practice, challenges and recommendations related to implementation will be shared. Civil society participation in that event has yet to defined.

‘Meaningful participation by human rights defenders in an UN event on human rights defenders is a no brainer,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘We urge the current President of the General Assembly to work with the upcoming President to ensure such participation is enabled.’


Tess McEvoy:

Eleanor Openshaw:

Photo:  Flicker 




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.

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