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.

CSW62 | As visa restrictions keep defenders away, ISHR launches report on barriers to participation


On 9 December 1998, the United Nations unanimously adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which confirms the right to ‘unhindered access to and communication with international bodies’.  However, that right is not being guaranteed.  ISHR’s new report, 'The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations' documents a broad range of obstacles faced by human rights defenders, from opaque bureaucracies and secret rules to physical threats and attacks.  

The report comes at a critical moment, as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) session kicks off and concern is raised about the denial of visas to women human rights defenders travelling to NY.

‘Many African young women and girls are facing challenges in getting US visas’, said Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, the Chief Executive of Rozaria Memorial Trust quoted in the report.  The Trust is aware of four girls from three different countries who have been denied visas despite having CSW accreditation and sponsorship letters.

‘This year CSW is focusing on the empowerment of rural women.  Visa requirements are keeping these very women out of the conversation,’ said ISHR’s Tess McEvoy. 

Visas are not the only problem.  According to ISHR’s report, there are deep structural problems in the UN’s relationship with NGOs, starting with the Committee on NGOs, which reviews applications for ECOSOC accreditation.

States with poor human rights records dominate the Committee and habitually violate the spirit of their mandate, blocking applications based on their own political interests.

‘The NGO Committee has more than earned its reputation as the ‘anti-NGO Committee,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘Many well-qualified NGOs are being prevented from sharing their expertise with the UN.’

ISHR’s report also details the arbitrary treatment of NGOs without consultative status trying to participate in UN processes. At high-level events NGOs with relevant expertise can be blocked through a “no-objection” procedure. This procedure effectively allows any State to veto an NGO’s participation without providing justification or even having to be named.

‘The no-objection procedure is poorly defined, and we don’t have access to formal criteria or rules for objections,’ said ISHR’s John Indergaard. ‘It’s carte blanche to exclude legitimate NGOs for illegitimate reasons.’

In a recent high-profile case, the procedure was used by Egypt on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to block 22 LGBT and addiction-related NGOs from participating in a 2016 high-level event on AIDS.

Formal accreditation is no guarantee of participation at the UN. On one occasion, civil society members from Taiwan had their passports considered invalid identification and were denied UN ground passes, despite being registered under an accredited NGO.

Even when they make it into an actual UN building, NGO representatives have been thrown out without explanation or asked to leave while events were ongoing. At some high-level events and committee meetings, NGO representatives have been barred from giving statements and bringing in specific documents.

Human rights defenders have also been subjected to intimidation and received physical threats based on participation at the UN. In 2013, Sri Lankan defenders speaking at the Human Rights Council were accosted by State delegates in the hallways while a Government minister back home threatened to break their legs.

‘Civil society has a right to engage with the UN and the value of their input has been repeatedly acknowledged by States.’ says Openshaw. ‘It is simply appalling that defenders are being attacked, silenced and turned away.  Twenty years after the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the UN must ensure defenders' rights are guaranteed.’

ISHR hopes that the recommendations outlined in its report will assist efforts to enable the participation of human rights defenders in UN processes.   

Download the report in English, Spanish, French and Arabic.

Contact:  Eleanor Openshaw

Photo:  John Indergaard 







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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