24 Jul

Following a request by ISHR and ACAT France, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) is urging Morocco to end reprisals against a leading Sahrawi human rights defender who submitted a complaint to the CAT.

08 Jul
Photo of participants of HRDAP18

We look back at all that the 14 dedicated human rights defenders participating in our 2018 Human Rights Defenders Advocacy Programme (HRDAP) achieved during their packed time in Geneva.

06 Jul

ISHR has published a ‘scorecard’ for Iceland that is seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council for 2018-2019.

09 Jul

In high-level dialogues around the third anniversary of China’s ‘July 9 Crackdown’, the European Union must press the Chinese government for the release of detained activists, say human rights groups. 

06 Jul

Civil society groups welcomed significant outcomes of the Human Rights Council's 38th session, including the adoption of resolutions protecting civil society space and peaceful protests. Another success worth mentioning is the adoption of resolutions protecting women and girls from violence,  in addition to Council action on a number of countries such as Eritrea, Belarus, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

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


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




By Nicolas Agostini, Representative to the United Nations, DefendDefenders 

The world’s top human rights body needs members with a genuine commitment to protecting human rights. Electing States should ensure that candidates with a record of systematically violating rights and failing to cooperate with the Council receive no support in the ballot.

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