News

10 Dec
Rainbow flag photo credit: Common Wikimedia Ludovic Bertron

ISHR and ILGA have updated their factsheets on different UN experts – check out the references to LGBTI persons and recommendations that these Special Procedures have made.

14 May

In light of a further smear campaign targeting human rights defenders in the Philippines, a joint NGO statement calls for an international investigation into extrajudicial killings in the 'war on drugs', and for an end to attacks on human rights defenders, independent media, and democratic institutions.

06 May

Defenders bring crucial information and perspectives regarding human rights situations on the ground and international and regional mechanisms depend on that knowledge and input to make informed decisions. However, many defenders still face unacceptable risks and are unable to cooperate safely with the UN and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms.

10 May

During the 64th session of the African Commission, ISHR delivered a statement highlighting the difficult environment in which defenders of people on the move work in Africa and shed a light on the violations committed by the Egyptian government against national defenders, as well as those who dared to engage with the African Commission.

09 May

On 22 April, ISHR, in collaboration with the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network, organised a panel during the NGO Forum. The panel aimed at giving an overview of the situation of defenders working on the rights of people on the move in Africa, the restrictions they faced and the correlation with the current tendency of states to restrict civic space. 

Joint Statement China

Strategic litigation

ISHR's legal team is made up of two passionate human rights lawyers. Our strategic litigation at international, regional and national levels aims at ensuring human rights defenders have the freedom to effectively and safely protect and promote human rights; that perpetrators are held accountable and victims are provided with adequate remedies when human rights violations occur. With pro bono support of leading international law firms, we file and manage cases and amicus briefs with international, regional and national courts and bodies. 

Our strategic advocacy and interventions pursue several objectives: 

  • at the international level: strengthen the recognition of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders and other international human rights instruments as reaffirming binding international law or as relevant to the interpretation and application of binding obligations as they apply to defenders. 
  • at the regional and national levels: ensure that national and regional instruments are interpreted, applied and developed, in conformity with the Declaration on human rights defenders; and ensure that the Declaration is judicially incorporated into regional and national laws.

CEDAW | ISHR files unprecedented legal submission on women survivors of enforced disappearances

10.01.2019

On 30 December 2018, ISHR and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) submitted a communication to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on behalf of Angkhana Neelapaijit, regarding her situation following the enforced disappearance of her husband, Somchai Neelapaijit, a lawyer in Thailand. Somchai Neelapaijit disappeared on 12 March 2004, following his extensive work promoting the rights of those accused of terrorism and publically speaking out against actions taken by the Thailand government, especially regarding the treatment of Malay-Muslims in the Southern Provinces. 

The authorities took inadequate action to investigate the case, and significantly, no suspects were ultimately convicted for the disappearance. Despite Angkhana Neelapaijit’s numerous efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, the investigation was repeatedly delayed, forensic evidence never tested, and suspects were finally only charged with minor offences such as coercion. 

ISHR’s communication to CEDAW argues that Thailand has violated Articles 2(b)(c)(f), 5(a)(b), 15(1) and 16(1)(c)(d) of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. These articles center on the right of women to equality in marriage and family and the rights to effective remedies. Specifically, Articles 16(1)(c) and (d) address the State’s obligation to ensure equality between spouses and that they have the same rights and responsibilities regarding their children. 

‘This communication provides CEDAW with a rare opportunity to address a significant issue affecting women defenders and victims of enforced disappearances,’ said Pooja Patel, ISHR’s Programme Director on women human rights defenders. ‘CEDAW has the opportunity to strengthen its focus on those who are left behind,’ she added.

The communication highlights the impact that enforced disappearances have on relatives of the disappeared. In Thailand, most victims of enforced disappearances are male. Thus, the aftermath of the enforced disappearance disproportionally impacts the spouses and relatives, especially the women survivors. 

These women are left to pick up the pieces, not only completely shouldering the financial and caretaking burdens of the family, but also to seek justice. Seeking justice often brings with it additional challenges. Angkhana Neelapaijit and her family were subject to threats, harassment, smear campaigns and increased isolation from their community—all while trying to bring justice to those who disappeared her husband. 

‘We call on CEDAW to find that Thailand is in violation of the Convention; recommend that the investigation into the disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit is resumed; and call on the State to ensure the perpetrators identified are prosecuted and subject to impartial judicial proceedings,’ said Tess McEvoy, ISHR’s Legal Counsel and Programme Manager. ‘CEDAW’s determination in this case will have a significant impact on women defenders, relatives of the disappeared, as well as those who seek justice for the disappeared.’ 

Contact: Tess McEvoy t.mcevoy@ishr.ch.  

Photo: iLaw TH 

GA73 | First ever High Level Event on Human Rights Defenders

27.12.2018

At the first UN General Assembly High Level Event on human rights defenders, speakers from the UN Secretary General through to the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Defenders addressed the plenary. For the first time a civil society speaker addressed the GA at high level event -  an important precedent – but no civil society interventions were permitted from the floor.  Such restrictions – a point of contention amongst States during the organisation of the event – point, once again, to the powerful pushback against human rights defenders globally.

‘We were very disappointed that at an event to recognize the vital role of defenders, their contribution was so limited,’ said ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair. ‘We are grateful to those States that pointed out the paradox and fought for greater participation before and during the event itself’. 

The voice of civil society was represented at the event by human rights lawyer and ISHR Board member, Alice Mogwe, who brought to the plenary the Action Plan prepared at the recent Human Rights Defenders World Summit in Paris. 

‘I am proud to be a human rights defender.  I am proud of the efforts made by my colleagues, every single day, in communities across the globe,’ she said. ‘Human rights defenders work to make the world a fairer, more just, and more peaceful place.’

UN figureheads and officials spoke positively about the role of defenders and of concern about attacks against them.  The Secretary General spoke of ‘a growth of intolerance and shrinking space for civil society’. The High Commissioner on Human Rights noted that defenders lend ‘their voices to groups that otherwise are not heard’ thereby making ‘their societies more inclusive.’

‘If we do not protect those who are caring for our rights, injustice will come knocking at our door,’ said the President of the General Assembly, 

State representatives also spoke about the essential work of defenders. Tunisia noted that ‘human rights defenders are primary partners with States in upholding rights’, and were instrumental in defining policies and programmes for ‘building democracy and achieving inclusive and sustainable development’ - 'a multi-stakeholder' project.   

Others highlighted the ways States must step up to ensure defenders' work is promoted and protected. 

‘As member States we all have to question our roles and approaches. Attacks against human rights defenders are attacks against everyone’s rights,’ said Canada.    

Norway noted, ‘only weak leaders fear being corrected.’ 

Several speakers noted the numbers of deaths of human rights defenders. In 2017, 312 Human Rights Defenders in 27 countries were killed for their peaceful work. They were mostly engaged in defending land, environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights – often within the context of mega projects and extractive industries.

‘States spoke of the vital importance of the work of defenders, and yet the fact is that attacks against them escalate,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. 

‘UN resolutions and expert reports have long indicated the importance of unequivocal statements recognizing the importance of the work of defenders and the right to defend rights.  It is welcome these are made at the General Assembly, but they also  need to be made on a regular basis at every level of State as a means to promote the work of defenders and fight impunity in case of threat and attack,’ she added. 

In regard to approaches on how to better promote and protect human rights defenders,  the EU spoke of the need for ‘global partnerships’ to address the ‘tremendous pressure’ civil society faces in many countries and ‘even here at the UN’. 

Former Special Representative of the Secretary General, Hina Jilani, noted that defenders continued to face difficulties gaining access to UN personnel at country level and ‘a disturbing lack of response to human rights concerns that they encountered’ which needed to be addressed. 

Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders proposed that human rights defenders should be a focus integrated into all UN strategies.  'Why not draw up UN guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders, like the EU guidelines?’ he asked. 

The high level event was called for in the 2017 General Assembly resolution on human rights defenders, the first to focus  on the implementation of obligations regarding defenders. 

'The high level event has shown how much more needs to be done to encourage people to defend rights and protect those who do,' said Openshaw. 'The GA must redouble its efforts to that end.' 

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair: m.sinclair@ishr.ch;  Eleanor Openshaw: e.openshaw@ishr.ch 

Photo: ISHR 

 

Special Rapporteur documents a global war against human rights defenders

26.12.2018

 

IThe UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, has just launched what could be the most far-reaching global and country-level analysis of the situation for human rights defenders in over a decade.  With a focus on legal and administrative protections – or the absence of them – and State policy and practice, the World Report examines the situation for defenders in 140 countries and provides States with recommendations on how to better implement the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Forst concludes that across the globe, States are not only failing to implement the Declaration but actually go out of their way to frustrate its ambitions.  By restricting and attacking defenders, the States are wrecking their own chances of dealing with major global challenges, such as ensuring sustainable development, dealing with migration and climate change.

‘The Special Rapporteur makes the point that human rights defenders are essential partners to States. They should not be seen as the enemy,’ said ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair.

In the decade since the 2006 Global Survey of Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders to the UN Secretary General, Hina Jilani, Forst notes that there have been positive advances.   The 2017 decree implementing a law on the protection of defenders in Cote d’Ivoire, for example, is said to have produced ‘a positive impact on several countries in the region where engagement from civil society or government institutions has resulted in similar legislation in other countries of the region.’ 

The development of laws and policies to support defenders, and the use of legal and administrative frameworks to both protect and persecute defenders are two of the major findings in the report.  The third attempts to revile and target human rights defenders, including through State sanctioned campaigned. Forst notes that even where States officials are not actively targeting defenders, they often fail to challenge criticism defenders advanced by powerful social, policial and economic interests.

The situation for defenders in many locations is bleak.  

‘The World Report documents the much discussed closing of civic space and suggests that it has become, in too many locations, a war on human rights defenders,' noted Forst.  

The findings draw from human rights reports of civil society organisations and individual defenders, as well as input from States and national human rights organisations.  

The Special Rapporteur was speaking to the report conclusions at the High Level Event on human rights defenders held at the UN General Assembly on 18th December 2018.  

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair m.sinclair@ishr.ch;  Eleanor Openshaw e.openshaw@ishr.ch

Photo: UN Geneva, Flickr

IACHR | Settlement in case of murder of Honduran Environmental Defender Carlos Escaleras

26.12.2018

On 20 November 2018, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (‘the Court’) approved the settlement in the case Escaleras Mejía et al. v. Honduras. The case concerned the 1997 killing of Carlos Escaleras, a mayoral candidate who was a proponent of the movement fighting for the environment. Escaleras had also led protests against government decisions that would have impacted the environment negatively. Before his death, Escaleras was threatened, pressured and offered bribes to withdraw his candidacy.

The Court found the State responsible for Escaleras’ death as well as for ongoing impunity in regard to the crime (despite the conviction of two people in relation to the case). The Court found that the State had not exhausted all methods of investigation and that the investigation itself was unreasonably delayed.  In addition, the Court places the death of Escaleras in a context of violence experienced by environmental defenders in the country, which continues to this day.

‘The Escaleras settlement and ruling are a positive step forward for human rights defenders everywhere,’ said Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation on Human Rights Defenders. ‘The Court took the context in which defenders work into account and issued a ruling addressing many of the pressing issues for defenders, including physical attacks and stigmatisation.’ 

Forst had filed an amicus brief to the Court. His amicus brief reiterated the standards contained in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. In addition, the amicus brief cited his reports related to the situation of human rights defenders.

The Honduran government recognised its role in Escaleras’ death and related human rights violations and agreed to take the following steps, amongst others:

  1. To disseminate a documentary about the life and work of Carlos Escaleras as a human rights defender
  2. To continue providing a course on environmental issues to secondary school teachers;
  3. To guarantee the secondary and university education of Escaleras’ children 
  4. To pursue investigations to define responsibilities, clarify the facts completely and, where appropriate, judge and punish the material and intellectual responsible. Honduras must remove the obstacles that maintain impunity, allow the participation of the victims and provide them with a report on the progress of the investigations
  5. To approve and implement a protocol of due diligence for the investigation of crimes committed against human rights defenders and provide update on steps taken for the implementation of the protocol and its compliance status

‘This settlement is welcome in requiring the State to take steps in regard to challenging impunity in this particular case and more generally, as well as taking measures to promote the work of defenders,’ said ISHR’s Helen Nolan.

‘Disappointingly, however, in the settlement the Court still characterises the right to defend human rights as a set of rights the State must uphold, rather than a stand-alone right. We'd like to see the Court to acknowledge the right to defend human rights as a stand-alone right, as a means to deepen the guarantees for defenders,’ she noted. 

Contact: 

Helen Nolan,  h.nolan@ishr.ch 

Photo credit:  Eli NW

Pages

Opinion:

Après les performances décevantes des leaders européen.nes ces dernières semaines, y compris lors de la 40ème session du Conseil des droits de l'Homme, à Genève, le dialogue Union Européenne(UE)-Chine sur les droits de l'Homme qui aura lieu le 1er avril, sera la dernière chance pour l’UE de mettre l’accent sur les droits humains en Chine et d'assurer la transmission de ce message lors du sommet de Bruxelles du 9 avril.

Browse our articles:

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Mechanism

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