News

23 Mar

The third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review should be marked by an increased focus on the participation and protection of human rights defenders and other civil society actors, both in the process itself and through the implementation of recommendations at the national level.

23 Mar

ISHR expresses concern over the degrading situation for defenders and journalists in South Sudan and urges States to support the renewal of the UN Commission on Human Rights in the country. 

20 Mar

The UN Human Rights Council and its member and observer States should push for reform of the UN committee responsible for accrediting NGOs, ISHR said today. The dysfunctional practice of the ECOSOC NGO Committee prevents many human rights NGOs from accessing the UN and deprives the Human Rights Council and other UN mechanisms of their valuable inputs and expertise. 

17 Mar

ISHR and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights call on the Zimbabwean Government to improve the situation of human rights defenders and align domestic laws with international human rights instruments and protections guaranteed in the Constitution.

17 Mar
Photo of person protesting Anti-Homosexuality Act

The Ugandan Government must repeal domestic laws that restrict the work of human rights defenders and should refrain from criminalising their legitimate activities, say ISHR and the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.

ISHR's achievements at the Human Rights Council's 22nd session

 

The 22nd session of the Human Rights Council saw ISHR pursuing its goals to promote and protect human rights around the world by supporting human rights defenders and strengthening human rights systems.

The session was one of the most successful ever, with a landmark resolution on the protection of human rights defenders being adopted by consensus, the prevention of efforts to undermine universality of human rights through regressive appeals to ‘traditional values’, and steps towards accountability in Sri Lanka, Syria, and North Korea.

For ISHR, many of these outcomes marked the achievement of the advocacy goals we set for the session.

Supporting human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders

The adoption of a landmark text on human rights defenders, ably led through negotiations by Norway, marked many months of hard work and engagement by ISHR. Alongside working to spearhead input into the text from human rights defenders around the world, ISHR’s own expertise on the subject of human rights defenders enabled us to provide Norway with advice and support throughout the resolution negotiations.

The resulting resolution calls for an end to the use and abuse of national law to impair, restrict, and criminalise the work of human rights defenders, noting that this is in contravention of international law. All States are called upon to support the work of human rights defenders and to protect them from harassment, threats, and attacks.

Crucially, both this text and a text on the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, include reference to the specific threats faced by women human rights defenders.

One of ISHR’s advocacy goals is to ensure that human rights laws and mechanisms protect women human rights defenders, in recognition of the specific vulnerability that women human rights defenders face, something made even more apparent during events of the ‘Arab Spring’. As a result of ISHR’s championing of this issue, lead States ensured that the final texts include this important reference to the particular vulnerability of women defenders and the need for States to pay particular attention to the protection of women.

The Council adopted both resolutions by consensus.

Responding to threats of regress to the universality of human rights

ISHR continued to call for the Council to unequivocally clarify that under no circumstances can human rights be restricted to protect so called ‘traditional values’.

It became apparent at this session, however, that the push to promote a ‘traditional values’ agenda is by no means slowing down. Not least, Egypt presented a draft text on ‘protection of the family’. This text was met with grave concern by human rights defenders who felt that it represented neither the diversity of family forms nor the rights of particular individuals within the family.

Conveying our concerns to States, ISHR highlighted the dangers that such a resolution could pose if not well-framed to ensure protection of all individuals’ human rights. Following sustained advocacy by a coalition of NGOs as well as concerned States, Egypt ultimately announced its decision to postpone consideration of the text.

ISHR will continue to work to develop strategic ways to respond to this issue, both in this particular case, with Egypt likely to re-introduce the text at the June 2013 Council session, but also the general ‘traditional values’ agenda.

Conducting advocacy to develop and strengthen human rights laws and mechanisms to prevent and respond to reprisals

ISHR’s longstanding efforts to urge States to take steps to protect human rights defenders from reprisals continued as we rallied States to join their voices to a Hungarian-led statement condemning reprisals. 54 States endorsed this statement, sending a strong signal that the Council is expected to act on this issue, and that political momentum towards a stronger response is building.

ISHR campaigned to have this statement delivered, and success ensured that the issue remained high on the Council’s agenda in anticipation of the adoption of a further resolution at the September 2013 session of the Council.

ISHR has been in the lead on advocacy calling for the systematic address acts of reprisal within both the UN and regional systems. At UN level, this includes coordination within the framework of the UPR, treaty bodies, and special procedures, and for more coordination among these mechanisms, a call that was endorsed in the joint statement. States specifically called on the Council to react to, and follow up on, cases of reprisal that are brought to its attention. More broadly, ISHR has also pushed for consistent approaches of the UN and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

The statement anticipates a further resolution on reprisals, to be led by Hungary at the September session of the Council. ISHR will continue to work closely with Hungary and other States to push for a systematic response from the Council to reprisals, to prevent and protect against reprisals, and ensure accountability for defenders who suffer reprisals.

Contact: Michael Ineichen m.ineichen@ishr.ch

Council Alert: Human Rights Council action due on sexual orientation and gender identity

 

States will gather in Geneva in one month for the Human Rights Council’s 23rd session, to be held from 27 May – 14 June. High on the agenda, and likely to be the subject of considerable controversy, will be how the Council should follow up to its 2011 resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity. The issues of business and its impact on human rights, violence against women, and the freedoms of assembly, association and expression will also receive considerable attention, with experts reporting to the Council on key developments in these areas. The Council's programme of work for the session can be accessed here once available.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

In 2011 South Africa led the first resolutoin ever adopted by the Council on sexual orientation and gender identity. Two years later follow-up to this resolution is an urgent requirement, to ensure it does not fall off the Council’s agenda. With this in mind, a series of regional meetings have been held, in Kathmandu, Brasilia, Banjul and Paris, with the aim of identifying the challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons (LGBT), and to discuss what tools would be the most useful for an effective response. A meeting in Olso earlier this month brought together the findings of those regional meetings, and key among the conclusions was the need for the UN to create a mechanism to systematise attention on violations and discrimination against LGBT people.

On such a sensitive issue, the creation of an expert mechanism charged with regular reporting to the Council on developments in the area of LGBT rights would be a huge achievement. It remains to be seen whether South Africa will choose to pursue this goal at the coming session. It is noteworthy, however, that the political composition is the most favourable it has ever been on this issue. ISHR will be engaging closely around this issue, with the goal of ensuring that the UN, including its main human rights body, give sustained attention to and undertake concrete efforts to ending discrimination and violence on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and ensuring human rights for all.

Violence against women

Women’s rights will receive attention at this session, with the special rapporteur on violence against women presenting her latest report to States, a report from the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice, and a whole day discussion on women’s rights.  

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will also present for discussion a report that examines ways to link the mechanisms of the Council with other relevant intergovernmental processes on the issue of violence against women and girls. Amongst other recommendations the report notes the importance of ensuring that violence against women is adequately addressed in Council resolutions, both country specific and thematic, a goal ISHR pursues in the particular context of violence against women human rights defenders. The report also calls on the General Assembly to ensure that relevant Council experts such as the expert on violence against women, and the working group on discrimination against women in law and practice, are included in its thematic work and debates.

Threats to universality

Following on from Egypt’s aborted attempt at the last session of the Council to have a resolution on ‘protection of the family’ adopted by member States, it is likely that this issue will come up again in next month’s session. The last resolution was worryingly narrow, failing to acknowledge that, while the family is important, the rights of individual members of the family must not be subsumed to the family as a group. The resolution also did not take into account that families can take many forms, and a so-called ‘traditional family’ of husband, wife, and children excludes myriad other cases such as orphaned children being raised by guardians, or one-parent families. As at the last session, ISHR will engage around such initiatives with a view to preserving and bolstering universal human rights standards.

Business and human rights

With the endorsement, in 2011, by the Council of the ‘guiding principles on business and human rights’, attention has shifted to the implementation of these standards. At this session the working group on business and human rights (composed of five experts from different regions of the world) will present its latest update on implementation of the principles. The experts particularly recommend that States protect human rights defenders from harassment, persecution or reprisals when they seek to access remedies for human rights abuses in connection with corporate activities. The experts noted that they had received many reports of defenders being harassed and persecuted in situations of conflict between businesses and local communities, including instances of arbitrary detention, threats, violence and killings, targeting by armed groups, disappearances, and restrictions of the freedoms of assembly and expression. The experts stress that they are keen to continue to receive such information as they develop recommendations to States, businesses and other actors.

A panel will also be organised with UN programmes and agencies during the session to examine how the United Nations system can contribute towards advancing this agenda.

Since its last report the members of the working group carried out their first country visit to Mongolia, and they will update the Council on the recommendations made. The Council will also hear a report back from the 2012 forum on business and human rights, where the need to protect the human rights of defenders was also discussed. ISHR will work towards ensuring that future work of the Forum and the Working Group give meaning to the rhetoric of concern about human rights defenders working on corporate accountability by including specific focus on their work and the specific violations and threats they face.

Country situations and other issues

Other debates of interest include those on peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression, with the Council’s experts on both these issues presenting their reports, while for country situations, the experts on Belarus, Eritrea, the Occupied Palestinian territories and Cote d’Ivoire will update States on the latest situation. The mandates on Belarus, Eritrea, Cote d’Ivoire, and Somalia are all up for renewal at this session.

Contact: Michael Ineichen, m.ineichen@ishr.ch
ISHR will provide regular updates in the run-up to the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council and throughout the session on www.ishr.ch and @ISHRglobal.
Photo: ©Human RIghts Council Archive Photo

Article year: 
2013

UN Human Rights Council must act to protect human rights defenders

 

(Geneva - 27 May 2013) – The UN Human Rights Council must act to protect human rights defenders, said the International Service for Human Rights as the 23rd session of the Council starts in Geneva today.

‘The work of human rights defenders – including journalists, lawyers and advocates – is crucial to uphold human rights and the rule of law,’ said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

‘Despite this, around the world we witness an increase in attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders, together with an expansion of laws which restrict and impair the work of non-government organisations,’ Mr Lynch said.

The killing of independent journalists in Sri Lanka, the enactment of so-called ‘homosexual propaganda laws’ in the Ukraine, and restrictions on access to foreign funding for NGOs in Russia, Ethiopia and Egypt are all examples of this trend.

In addition to being alarmed by restrictions and reprisals, ISHR is concerned that selective appeals to culture, religion and ‘traditional values’ are being used to undermine the work of women human rights defenders and those working on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

ISHR’s concerns are shared by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay, who will today tell the Council that it is ‘particularly depressing to observe policy debates and legislative measures – in many countries, across all regions – which may severely undermine non-governmental organisations that are vital to the healthy functioning of democracy.’

In her statement Ms Pillay will tell assembled diplomats that, ‘civil society remains vital to advancing the human rights agenda, both at the national level and internationally, and I must speak out to warn you of the real setbacks to human rights protection that will follow if civil society is threatened or restricted.’

Welcoming Ms Pillay’s remarks Mr Lynch said, ‘In March the Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution on protecting human rights defenders. It was co-sponsored by 77 States and adopted by consensus. We must close the gap between what States commit to here in Geneva and the reality of their laws and policies on the ground.’

The resolution on human rights defenders urges States ‘to create a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders can operate free from hindrance and insecurity’ and calls on States to review and amend legislation affecting human rights defenders to ensure compliance with international human rights law.

‘If Council is to fulfil its mandate of “promoting universal respect human rights”, and if Member States are to meet the requirements of “upholding the highest standards in human rights”’ and “fully cooperating with the Council”, it is imperative that this resolution is observed and fully implemented at the national level,’ Mr Lynch said.

ISHR’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council is available here.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights, on p.lynch@ishr.ch or + 41 76 708 4738.

Syria top of the Council’s agenda at opening session

 

The situation in Syria dominated the opening session of the 23rd Human Rights Council. The UN’s human rights chief, High Commissioner Ms Navi Pillay, urged States to take ‘tangible action to stop escalating bloodshed and suffering in Syria’. Ms Pillay expressed her deepest concern at the current situation in Al Qusayr where hundreds of civilians have been injured or killed by indiscriminate shelling and aerial attacks by Government forces. Once again, she urged the Security Council to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court and reminded the international community of its responsibility to protect civilian populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Later in the session, at the request of Qatar, Turkey, and the US, an urgent debate was held on the situation in Syria, in particular in Al Qusayr. While there was general support both for Ms Pillay’s remarks and the request for an urgent debate, some States, including Venezuela, Cuba, and Syria itself, criticised the focus on this issue, with Syria claiming that there are more important issues to discuss.

Ms Pillay expressed particular distress at the fact that the violence continued unchecked in this 20th year anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA). Member States in Vienna had made ‘powerful statements about the struggle against impunity’ in the context of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. While she noted progress in this area, in the case of Syria, she said, ‘we in the international community are failing to meet our fundamental obligations to the victims’.

Ms Pillay underlined the crucial role that civil society played in developing the VDPA. She described it as ‘particularly depressing’ that today policy measures were being enacted across all regions that could severely undermine the ability of non-governmental organisations to carry out their work. She expressed concern too at continuing reports of reprisals against human rights defenders.

Her comments were echoed by many States. The US drew attention to the Russian NGO law that requires NGOs to register as ‘foreign agents’ if they receive funding from abroad, and a draft law in Egypt that would also restrict NGO operations. The US urged the Governments of Russia and Egypt to consult with civil society on this type of legislation and to guarantee the right to freedom of association.

Norway expressed particular concern about systematic discrimination and violence faced by women human rights defenders and those working on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. It called for States’ attention and guidance from the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) on how a gender perspective can be integrated into efforts to create a safe and enabling environment for the defence of human rights. Norway also noted the high number of submissions to the working group on business and human rights relating to harassment, persecution and reprisals faced by human rights defenders. In this context Norway called for the speedy implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, including by protecting human rights defenders working in this area.

Chile, adding its voice to the concerns around restrictive NGO legislation, also joined Ms Pillay in reminding States that the international community committed itself 20 years ago in Vienna to advancing a pluralist civil society and that States need to guarantee security to human rights defenders.

Ms Pillay drew attention to the work that OHCHR has done in achieving progress in societies in transition. She pointed to the now well-established country office in Tunisia, which has contributed to a national dialogue in the country involving all key elements of society. In contrast, she noted that in several other States in the region there has been a failure to include a wide range of actors from civil society in a constructive and respectful dialogue.

Ireland on behalf of the EU also commended the country office in Tunisia, but questioned why there had been no progress towards establishing an office in Egypt. It also called on Bahrain and Myanmar to establish country presences, noting in the case of the latter that a country office with full mandate could assist the Government to address its human rights challenges, including in Rakhine State. Pakistan, on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), joined the High Commissioner in strongly urging the Government of Myanmar to take resolute steps to stop violence and resolve this long-standing issue.

The US noted challenges to the independence of OHCHR and called for all States to cooperate with and facilitate visits from OHCHR, to ensure that it can continue to provide its technical assistance and expertise to States. Further, while Norway too commended the High Commissioner and her office for efforts to follow up on the mandates given to her by the Council, it also highlighted the uncertain financial situation of the office, and proposed that the 20th anniversary of the VDPA to be used as an opportunity to establish a sustainable economic based for ‘a strong and effective office, capable of facing the challenges of the next decades’.

Heather Collister is a Program Manager and Ana Kapelet is an Intern with the International Service for Human Rights

Council must denounce rape and other forms of sexual violence against women defenders

 

Sexual violence against women is pervasive in our societies. When directed against a woman human rights defender, it has a particular potency.

Women defenders are attacked for both who they are and what they do. Sexual violence against women defenders aims at intimidating and overpowering them as women. It also aims at crushing what they represent – the dismissal of traditional, subordinate roles for women, and the assertion of rights in the public and political space. Acts of sexual violence against women defenders are not isolated incidents but are facilitated by a broader social order that seeks to keep women on the margins.

Frequently the experience of women defenders foreshadows what other women may experience. Their visibility can make them vulnerable. Impunity in cases of rape against women defenders encourages sexual violence as a repressive tactic against the population more broadly. Impunity is further embedded as women defenders frequently don’t report cases of sexual assault for fear they won’t be taken seriously or because the authorities themselves were involved in the attack. Furthermore, taboos around sexual violence, create a dual stigmatisation which adversely affects women defenders’ ability to seek justice and protection.

Sexual violence, including rape, is used against women defenders in many different contexts. During demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Cairo, commemorating the second anniversary of the January 25th revolution, women defenders were sexually assaulted and raped, including with the use of metal rods. Parliamentarians were later to imply that women that attended such a demonstration were not ‘decent’ women.

The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition has documented several cases of sexual violence, including a case in Iran where a woman defender was raped by a State official, whilst being held in solitary confinement. The condition placed on her being moved from solitary confinement to the public prison was that she agree not to report the rape to the prison doctor.

Sexual attacks, and the threat of such violence, is a tactic commonly used against lesbian and bisexual defenders. Rape is supposedly designed to ‘cure’ the woman of her homosexuality. It is used to compel her back in line with both heternormative and patriarchal norms. It is an attempt to silence her activism. The Coalition documented a case in Uganda where, following a series of threats of sexual assault, a woman defender was forced to move house for her own safety.

In militarised contexts, sexual violence can be used against women as a means to assert or reassert particular social and political orders, with women defenders as visible targets. In conflict situations, rape is a common tactic against those who raise awareness about state and non-state perpetrators of sexual violence.

Important steps are being taken by international and regional human rights bodies to confirm women’s right to defend rights without fear or attack. For example, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights recently handed down its first decision confirming the duty of States to protect women from violence. The risk of experiencing sexual violence faced by women defenders has also been acknowledged by mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and by other UN bodies, including recently by the Commission on the Status of Women.

The Human Rights Council must continue to focus attention on the issue. With a resolution on violence against women led by Canada due to be considered at the current 23rd session, the Council must denounce the use of rape and all forms of sexual violence against women, including women human rights defenders, perpetrated by State and non-state actors. States must redouble efforts to prevent such violence; and to ensure appropriate redress and the provision of gender-specific medical and counseling services to victims of sexual violence.

All women have the right to claim and defend rights without fear of sexual violence. States must effectively challenge the structural discrimination and violence that facilitate these most egregious attacks against women including in their legitimate and crucial work to advance human rights in our communities.

Article year: 
2013

Human Rights Council must not ignore violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity

 

(Geneva - 3 June 2013) – The Human Rights Council must act urgently to ensure that violations suffered on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity do not fall off the Council’s agenda, ISHR told the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council.

‘It is two years since the Council passed its groundbreaking resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity’, said Dr Heather Collister, head of the LGBT rights program at the International Service for Human Rights. ‘If the Council does not act soon to follow-up on this resolution, it will be interpreted as turning its back on this issue.’

A 2012 report by the UN’s human rights chief, High Commissioner Ms Navi Pillay, followed by a series of regional meetings, revealed that the violations suffered by LGBT people are often egregious, systemic and take place in all regions of the globe.

‘The huge and shocking range of violations suffered by LGBT persons must be systematically documented’, said Dr Collister. ‘The Council must institutionalise regular research, documentation and reporting to the UN in order to build a full picture of the challenges facing LGBT people’, Dr Collister said in a statement to the Council.

Such a response from the Council would be a crucial element of a broader approach to this issue that should include ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders, as well as awareness raising of the application of the international human rights framework in this area. A response from the Council would also contribute to ensuring that LGBT rights are mainstreamed throughout other UN bodies.

‘The Human Rights Council cannot sit back and wait for more favourable conditions for moving this issue forwards. As the UN’s peak human rights body it has an obligation to be part of the response', said Dr Collister.

‘A failure to act will send the message that the Council is washing its hands of this issue. Member States must let LGBT people know that they are still listening and that they will take action.’

Read ISHR's statement to the Council.

Contact: Dr Heather Collister, International Service for Human Rights, at h.collister@ishr.ch or +41 79 920 3805

Council discusses causes of violence and discrimination against women

 

The Council has held a series of discussions on women’s rights over the course of the past week.

In the interactive dialogue with the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice, States considered challenges to women’s representation in decision-making positions, including during periods of political transition. The Chairperson of the Working Group, Ms Kamala Chandrakirana, pointed to the ‘painfully slow’ progress made towards women’s substantive participation in political and public life since the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. 

Exclusion of women in political transitions

Tunisia was one of the States visited by the Working Group in the course of the last year. While Tunisia itself stressed that the freedom following the revolution had strengthened the position of women, the experts found that this ‘freedom’ had opened up the space for highly polarised views on women’s position in society. Although Tunisia has historically been one of the more progressive States in the region, this polarised national debate has left women fearful of losing those gains.

Spain, Mexico, and Nigeria agreed that political transitions do provide an opportunity for States to move forwards on equal representation for women, but, along with Finland, shared the concern that often women are excluded from those processes, even though, as Spain noted, they have often been fully involved in the fight to establish democracy. Going through its own transition, Egypt noted the challenge of directing the positive developments in the country to enhance the role of women in the decision-making process.

Violence against women human rights defenders

The stigmatisation of women human rights defenders has added to the fear of women in Tunisia of exclusion from political participation. The Working Group pointed in general to harassment and attacks on women human rights defenders as a key obstacle to the full representation of women in decision-making positions. When women’s civil society organisations flourish, the experts said, they enable collective action by women to overcome the structural barriers they face.

The Working Group noted that national human rights institutions could potentially have a critical role to play in this respect, but that there are currently no international standards to guide NHRIs in how to integrate women’s and gender issues into their work.

The impact of stereotyping on violence and discrimination

The issue of violence against women was also addressed in the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Ms Rashida Manjoo, as well as in the annual day on women’s rights. While many States emphasised policy and legislative measures they had taken to combat violence, there was a call from panellists to move beyond this towards implementation and a focus on underlying causes, including cultural systems and stereotyping.

The Working Group on discrimination against women also noted that stereotypes of women’s capacities in politics contribute to women’s marginalisation in politics (and are therefore often responsible for the harassment and attacks women often face in political positions).

Ms Fatma Khafagy, Ombudsman for Gender Equality in Egypt, spoke of how dialogue with religious leaders had contributed to stopping the practice of female genital mutilation in Egypt. She emphasised in particular the importance of having men involved in the fight against FGM. Juan Carlos Areán, member of the Secretary-General’s Network of Men Leaders also said that it was important to stop seeing men as the problem and start involving them in the solution.

Ms Manjoo, speaking both during the presentation of her report and during the all-day discussion, stressed the need to focus on establishing standards of due diligence for States with respect to domestic violence that enable responsibility to be assigned for actions omitted, as well as those carried out. A full analysis of what constitutes due diligence on the part of a State would help also in securing accountability for violence against women. She pointed out that stereotyping often influences how cases of violence against women are handled by the judicial system and that due diligence on the part of States requires that remedies should subvert patterns of gender hierarchies, systemic marginalisation and structural inequalities.

The need for a coordinated approach

The existence of many different experts and bodies working on women’s rights, including the Working Group on discrimination against women, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Commission on the Status of Women, and UN Women, raised concern amongst some about overlap and lack of coordination. The Chair of the Working Group responded to this point, stressing the active intention of the Working Group not to duplicate, nor to undermine or contradict the work of these bodies, but to develop strong and mutually reinforcing relationships. Strengthening interactions with regional mechanisms, including the newer regional human rights bodies, is one priority in this regard.

Eleanor Openshaw leads ISHR’s work to protect women’s rights and support women human rights defenders, and Ana Kapelet and Jenna Logeais are interns at ISHR

ISHR welcomes record number of draft resolutions on protection of human rights defenders

 

(Geneva – 11 June 2013) - Building on the momentum created by its landmark resolution on protecting human rights defenders in March 2013, the UN Human Rights Council is set to adopt a record number of resolutions strengthening the recognition and protection of the work of particular groups of human rights defenders at its current session.

'The current session of the Council has heard evidence and received extensive reports of unprecedented attacks and restrictions on human rights defenders,’ said Michael Ineichen, Director of Human Rights Council Advocacy with the International Service for Human Rights.

'In the last two weeks alone, we have borne witness to the conviction of 43 civil society workers in Egypt, the passage of a draft law criminalising gay and lesbian rights organisations in Nigeria, and the prosecution of NGOs in Russia for submitting information to the UN Committee against Torture,’ Mr Ineichen said.

In this context, ISHR welcomes and supports the adoption of the following resolutions, all of which have been the subject of ISHR lobbying and advocacy:

  • A draft resolution on the elimination of discrimination against women, presented by Colombia and Mexico, which recognises that the work of women human rights defenders and women’s civil society organisations is crucial to promoting gender equality and eliminating violence against women and which calls on States to support the sustainability and growth of such organisations.
  • A draft resolution on eliminating violence against women, presented by Canada, which expresses deep concern at the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence to intimidate, harass, deter and commit reprisals against women human rights defenders and which calls on States to protect women and girls from such threats and attacks.
  • A draft resolution on women’s empowerment, presented by the US and other States, which acknowledges ‘the important role of women journalists and women human rights defenders in the exercise, promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and, in this context, expressing concern at the risks faced by these women in the exercise of their work’.
  • A draft resolution on the independence of the judiciary, presented by a coalition of States, which condemns attacks and reprisals against lawyers and judges and calls on States to protect them, to prosecute such acts and to bring perpetrators to justice.
  • A draft resolution on the human rights of migrants, presented by Mexico, which calls on States to ensure that their domestic laws and policies facilitate the work of human rights defenders who defend migrant rights, ‘including by avoiding any criminalization, stigmatization, impediments, obstructions or restrictions thereof contrary to international human rights law’.
  • A draft resolution on the human rights situation in Eritrea, presented by Djibouti, Somalia and Nigeria, which condemns ‘the severe restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of information, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association, including the detention of journalists, human rights defenders, political actors, religious leaders and practitioners in Eritrea’.
  • Finally, a draft resolution on the human rights situation in Belarus, presented by the European Union, which condemns the harassment of civil society organisations, human rights defenders and journalists, and which calls for an immediate end to the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders.

ISHR also welcomed one joint statement led by Norway calling for a resolution to combat discrimination and violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and another joint statement, again led by Norway, which recognised the important work of human rights defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability. Both of these issues are key ISHR priorities.

‘While ISHR is disappointed that this session of the Council has not taken action to address discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and to protect and support human rights defenders working on those issues, we do welcome the positive attention given to defenders in many other resolutions,’ said Mr Ineichen.

ISHR will continue to push for action by the Human Rights Council – the world’s peak human rights body – to strengthen protections for human rights defenders and also work with national and regional NGOs to promote the concrete implementation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and relevant Council resolutions on the ground.

All draft resolutions are all available on the OHCHR extranet (username: hrc extranet; password: 1session).

New Guide for Human Rights Defenders on Domestic Implementation of UN Human Rights Recommendations

(Geneva – 11 June 2013)  The International Service for Human Rights, together with the Human Rights Law Centre, has produced a new Guide for Human Rights Defenders on Domestic Implementation of UN Human Rights Recommendations.

The Guide brings together the expertise of ISHR, a leading international NGO focused on supporting human rights defenders and strengthening human rights systems, and that of the HRLC, a leading domestic human rights NGO with experience in advocating successfully for national implementation of UN human rights recommendations.

The Guide considers strategies and tactics that NGOs can use to contribute to the implementation of UN recommendations at the national level. Effective follow-up by civil society is vital to ensuring that UN recommendations lead to an improvement of the human rights situation on the ground.

The Guide is intended for a diverse audience, working in different countries and sectors, and with different areas of focus and expertise. The Guide outlines a range of strategies with a view to NGOs identifying those which are most appropriate to their domestic political, legal, economic, and social contexts and their organisation’s goals, resources, and working methods.

You can download a copy of the guide here.

 

UN flag thumbnail image by Nicolas Raymond.

ISHR Board member appointed as UN’s expert on human rights in Haiti

 

(Geneva – 14 June 2013) The International Service for Human Rights is delighted that ISHR Board member and Executive Director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, Gustavo Gallon, has been appointed as the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti.

Mr Gallon has been a Board member of the International Service for Human Rights since 2010. He has previously served as the UN’s Special Representative on Equatorial Guinea (1999 to 2002) and is Chair of the Center for Justice and International Law in Washington, DC. Mr Gallon is also a member of the International Commission of Jurists.

Welcoming the appointment, ISHR Director, Phil Lynch, said, ‘Gustavo Gallon is one of the world’s leading human rights advocates and jurists. His deep commitment to human rights, social justice and the rule of law is well known.’

‘ISHR’s proud association with Mr Gallon traces back twenty years to 1993, when he was one of three Latin American human rights NGO representatives at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna – a conference at which ISHR played a civil society leadership and coordination role,’ Mr Lynch said.

As the UN’s Independent Expert on human rights in Haiti, Mr Gallon will be responsible for working with both government and civil society to assist in promoting human rights, strengthening the rule of law and combating impunity.

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Opinion:

Human rights defenders play a key role in advancing the rule of law, yet they are often at risk because of their work. Sierra Leone has the potential to show international leadership by becoming the first anglophone country in West Africa to enact a specific human rights defender protection law, writes Irish Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Her Excellency Catherine Campbell.

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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