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. 

Reprisals | UN should act on intimidation and threat of reprisal by US National Security Adviser John Bolton


In a letter to UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights , Andrew Gilmour, NGOs call on the UN to address a clear case of intimidation and threat of reprisal by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton.

In a 10 September 2018 speech to the Federalist Society, Bolton explicitly threatened International Criminal Court (the ICC) judges, prosecutors, and personnel if they proceed with an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by U.S. military and intelligence forces in Afghanistan, as well as any company or state that assists the ICC.

The ASG is mandated to lead efforts within the UN system to end all intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights. In keeping with this mandate, eight leading human rights groups from different continents call on the ASG to take urgent action, including by publicly denouncing the comments, and urging U.S. representatives to refrain from adopting any legislation, policy or practice that has the effect of undermining unhindered access to and communication with the ICC and other international bodies.

A similar communication has also been sent to three UN experts - the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, on the independence of judges and lawyers, and on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. The experts are similarly called on to publicly denounce the comments and send a formal communication to the U.S.

‘Bolton’s dangerous remarks are part and parcel of a concerning attack by the current U.S. administration on multilateralism, international rule of law, and global and regional bodies mandated to monitor and investigate human rights violations and fight impunity’, said Sam Zarifi, Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists.  

The U.S. attack on the ICC comes on the heels of its withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council in June 2018, the U.S. being the only country to have left the Human Rights Council voluntarily. ‘This latest attack on multilateral institutions puts the US squarely in the company of some of the worst human rights abusers such as Burundi, and provides support to others intent on undermining the court and ignoring its authority’, said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program.

While the ICC is far from perfect, it makes a significant contribution to fighting impunity, providing justice to victims, and holding perpetrators accountable especially when countries fail to genuinely investigate and prosecute crimes within its jurisdiction’, said Dakwar 

The letter cites Human Rights Council Resolution 36/21 and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which reaffirm the right of everyone, individually and in association with others, to unhindered access to and communication with international bodies. ‘Bolton’s threats hinder or restrict the ability of individuals and organizations to cooperate with the ICC violate this right, undermine the ICC’s effectiveness and credibility, and amount to an attack on the international system itself’, said Madeleine Sinclair, Legal Counsel and New York Director of the International Service for Human Rights.

For inquiries, please contact:

Madeleine Sinclair, International Service for Human Rights,, +1-917-544-6148

Sam Zarifi, International Commission of Jurists,, +41 (0)22 979 38 00



The Assistant Secretary-General primarily fulfills this work through outreach and engagement with victims and those who may be in a position to prevent and address reprisals. He also raises awareness about the need to prevent reprisals more generally during speeches and statements and encourages other UN agencies to adopt a zero tolerance policy against reprisals. When the Assistant Secretary-General receives allegations, he sends confidential letters to, and meets bilaterally with, high-level government officials, and occasionally makes public statements. The letters to, and meetings with, government officials have the objective of engaging the government on an alleged case or patterns, and governments are encouraged to investigate and respond to the allegations.In October 2016, then Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon designated the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, to lead efforts within the UN system to end all intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

CSW62 | Cases of US visa denials must be addressed


The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women and meets annually in New York for two weeks every March.

CSW sessions are an opportunity for women’s rights advocates from around the world to contribute to the work of the CSW, hear from other advocates and share their experiences. However, due to the visa denials, many women invited to attend and contribute to the CSW’s work were barred from this opportunity.

Despite the 62nd session’s focus on “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”, many of the visa denials were to poor, unmarried, childless, rural women. “It was precisely the voices of those that the 62nd session of the Commission was aimed at empowering that were silenced,” stated ISHR’s New York Director and Legal Counsel Madeleine Sinclair. “It appears, based on the line of questioning in the visa interviews, that the bases for refusal were the economic status, marital status, nationality and gender of the applicants. Overwhelmingly, the women to whom visas were denied were poor, unmarried, childless, living in rural areas, and from developing and Least Developed Countries—this is disturbing considering the 62nd session’s focus on rural women and girls,” Sinclair stated.

ISHR’s communication claims that the visa denials run contrary to the obligations of the U.S. as host country of the United Nations, violate the right to access and communicate with international bodies, and limit the meaningful participation of women in the human rights system.

As the host country, the U.S. entered into an agreement with the UN that prohibits the U.S. from imposing impediments to NGOs and persons invited by the UN to transit to or from UN headquarters in New York. “These women were invited by the UN to attend the CSW and the U.S. has a clear obligation not to impede their travel. The U.S. is in clear contravention of the Agreement regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations (the Headquarters Agreement)", Sinclair added.

In addition to the protections granted by the Headquarters Agreement, the right to access and communicate with international bodies is firmly grounded in international law. “As the host country of the United Nations in New York, the United States authorities should ensure that the laws, policies, and practices of the United States—including its embassies and consulates abroad––uphold the right of individuals to access and communicate with international bodies,” said Sinclair.

“There is good reason for this—the views and experiences of civil society have been a crucial source of knowledge and expertise for the UN since its creation. Such views and experiences have been central to enhancing decision-making, increasing ownership of decisions, improving accountability and transparency, and enriching outcomes,” she stated.

The right to access and communicate with the UN is pivotal for the advancement of human rights. It is integral that CSW take steps to address these cases, and ensure this situation does not recur in the future. 

Madeleine Sinclair, New York director and legal counsel,, 917-544-6148

Tess McEvoy, Programme manager and legal counsel,, 929-323-9962

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Anonymous

About the CSW Communications Procedure

Any individual, NGO, group or network may submit communications (complaints/appeals/petitions) to the CSW containing information relating to alleged violations of human rights that affect the status of women in any country in the world. The CSW considers such communications as part of its annual programme of work in order to identify emerging trends and patterns of injustice and discriminatory practices against women for purposes of policy formulation and development of strategies for the promotion of gender equality. The CSW does not take decisions on the merit of communications that are submitted to it and, therefore, the communications procedure does not provide an avenue for the redress of individual grievances. 


Elections | Human Rights Council Pledging Events 2018


Dialogue between civil society and States is instrumental for the advancement of human rights. The Pledging Events, organised each year by ISHR and Amnesty International, provide a critical opportunity for civil society to directly and constructively engage with candidate States for the Human Rights Council, the chief UN body addressing human rights violations.

The events aim to enhance transparency and accountability in Human Rights Council elections and improve adherence to Council membership standards. Toward these goals, candidate States were asked questions from the audience and Twitter using the hashtag #HRCPledging.

States committed to transparency and dialogue

Eight candidate States participated in both events—Austria, Argentina, Bahamas, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy and Uruguay, while Fiji participated in the Geneva event. In participating these States demonstrated their commitment to civil society’s voice in the Council’s work.

Unfortunately, nine candidates States—Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Eritrea, India, Philippines, Somalia and Togo—either declined to participate or did not respond to the invitation. It is worth acknowledging that Burkina Faso did attend, but declined to participate in, the event in Geneva. The decision not to participate is particularly disappointing, and suggests a lack of willingness on the part of these States to prioritize transparency and dialogue.

During the event, audience members expressed concern about the absence of these States, and indicated that if they had attended they would have asked them pertinent questions, including –

  • Why do Bahrain’s voluntary pledges include addressing ‘incitement of anti-nationalism’, essentially committing to continue violating freedom of expression as a Council member?
  • Will Eritrea commit to cooperating with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea established by the Human Rights Council, considering that cooperation with Council mechanisms is required of Council members?
  • What India would respond regarding the request to visit the country from the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, David Kaye?
  • How would the Philippines ensure its compliance to the obligation to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms, including a possible future UN led independent international investigation?

Discussion on human rights issues

Despite the absence of some States, key human rights issues were addressed in a fruitful discussion. Civil society’s voice in the Council’s work was supported across the board. Argentina, Italy, Bulgaria and others highlighted their commitment to cooperate with civil society organisations. The Czech Republic added, ‘Civil society organisations are one of the main stakeholders in making our work better in the Council,’ noting that defenders are a top priority and that special attention must be paid to women defenders.

Protection of the rights of LGBTI persons were also at the forefront of the discussion. States, including the Bahamas, the Czech Republic and Denmark, indicated they would support the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Reprisals, attacks against defenders for engaging with the United Nations, were addressed. In positive news for defenders, all States condemned attacks against them. More specifically, Italy noted that it created focal points at every Italian embassy to assist human rights defenders. Austria added, ‘We will continue to condemn any act of reprisal and take necessary follow up with the UN bodies when actions against reprisals are taken by them, to make sure all are accountable.’

In addition, all participating States expressed their commitment to improving the Human Rights Council itself. Candidate States pledged to work with other States to improve efficiency within the Council.

The candidate States also made the following comments:

  • Austria stated it is important to see Human Rights Council as credible, legitimate, and as taking action, and will work to improve the Council’s responses for pressing problems.
  • Argentina pledged to empower Human Rights Council to act effectively in urgent situations involving serious violations of human rights and give absolute liberty to mandate holders.
  • Bahamas intends to advocate for human rights standards compliance within its subregion and commits to sharing its experiences at the United Nations at the regional level.
  • Bulgaria indicated that allocation of funds to the Council should be increased.
  • Czech Republic promised to work to ensure United Nations mechanisms are respected.
  • Denmark pledged to support renewal of the sexual orientation and gender identity expert mandate and to ensuring civil society’s voice in the Council.
  • Fiji committed to giving the South Pacific region a voice in the Council.
  • Italy pledged to work as a Council member to combat international crimes and impunity.
  • Uruguay committed to encourage cooperation among States regarding discussion around issues related to human rights, even those that are sensitive and difficult to address.

The events had the generous sponsorship of Albania, Australia, Chile, Mongolia, Nepal and Senegal, and were moderated by Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, in New York, and Peggy Hicks, Director of Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Geneva.

For more information concerning the upcoming Human Rights Council election and to view our scorecards, which offer a quick, objective comparison of the human rights situation of candidate States, click here.

You can watch the Geneva parallel event on the ISHR YouTube channel.

Photos of the discussions can be found on our Facebook page.

Contacts: Tess McEvoy, and Salma El Hosseiny,

Photo Credit: ISHR




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