21 Feb

The Human Rights Council President has initiated a restructuring of the programme of work of the Council in order to decrease the meeting times due to budgetary restrictions for 2018. ISHR participated in informal consultations held on 12 February and 19 February and raised concerns about the lack of consultation with non-Geneva based organisations and the potential limiting of space for civil society participation. 

16 Feb

The challenges facing human rights defenders globally are exacerbated when those individuals and organisations seek to protect and promote rights of migrants and refugees and others ‘on the move’, says a new report released yesterday by a UN human rights expert.

13 Feb

The Egyptian government has trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections for the planned 26-28 March vote for president, ISHR along with 13 international and regional rights organisations said today.

14 Feb

New UN Human Rights Council President Vojislav Šuc spoke about his key objectives for the Council during the welcome reception hosted by ISHR on 31 January 2018. The President emphasised his will to ensure greater effectiveness of the Council through cooperation, dialogue and increased civil society participation. He also highlighted his intention to develop closer ties with the New-York-based Third Committee and with regional human rights organisations - for greater impact on the ground. Read the Council's President full speech below. 

31 Jan

The appalling human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been the subject of consensus UN resolutions for many years.  Cooperation from partners with expertise on the country should be invaluable to the UN, but relevant NGOs have faced multiple deferrals of their applications for accreditation.  Will the ECOSOC NGO Committee finally open the door to these NGOs?  

GA adopts 60-plus Third Committee resolutions, including on Iran, North Korea and Syria


Third Committee strives for relevance in context of Arab Spring

As the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ turned to summer and then to fall, the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee struggled but ultimately succeeded in giving a nod to the popular uprisings. Beyond the breakthrough resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria, which represented the first new country situation to be examined since 2007,[1] the Third Committee also referred to current events in a handful of thematic resolutions on human rights.

Despite sharp opposition, the bi-annual human rights defenders resolution[2] calls upon States to “ensure that human rights defenders can perform their important role in the context of peaceful protests” and refers between the lines to the role of social media by recognizing that “new forms of communication can serve as important tools for human rights defenders”. Though these timely references are notable achievements, it is regrettable that detractors were also able to gain additional references to the requirement that human rights defenders operate in the framework of national legislation in this year’s text. [3]  By pushing to include such limitations, these States sought to restrict  the role of defenders in peaceful protests  rather than to protect and support their work.

This year’s resolution on torture[4] mentions current events by expressing deep concern at acts that can amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment committed against “persons exercising their rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression”.

A resolution on women and political participation,[5] last seen at the General Assembly in 2003,[6] includes numerous references to situations of political transition. Despite staunch resistance from hardliners,[7] the US-sponsored resolution was adopted by consensus. Notably, the new language was supported by States currently undergoing significant transitions, including Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Finally, the bi-annual resolution on the role of the United Nations in enhancing periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization included new preambular language highlighting the importance of fair, periodic and genuine elections in “new democracies and countries undergoing democratization.”[8]

General Assembly split on Human Rights Council report

Several recommendations in the Human Rights Council report[9] were addressed individually in separate resolutions by Third Committee, including the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training[10] and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the child on a communications procedure.[11] Both standard setting instruments were adopted by consensus.  In addition, the Committee considered a general resolution sponsored by the African group that generated a fair amount of controversy, as it has in previous years. The resolution (A/C.3/66/L.64/Rev.1) initially "took note” of the report of the Human Rights Council (Council) and “noted with concern some of the recommendations contained therein”. This was revised to "note the report … and some of its recommendations" and orally amended before the vote in Third Committee to "notes the report … and its recommendations." The changes reflected the African group’s decision to comply with behind-the-scenes requests from members of other regional groups that the resolution not send a negative message about the Council’s work. 

At the request of Belarus,[12] the draft general resolution on the Council report was put to a vote in the Third Committee and adopted with 94 in favour, to 3 against (Belarus, Syria and DPRK), with 62 abstentions.[13] Most states in the Western Europe and Other Group (WEOG) except Turkey abstained, with most statements expressing that the plenary—and not the Third Committee—should consider the report. Eastern European countries also abstained with the exception of Belarus, who voted against, and the Russian Federation and Armenia, who voted in favour. In addition to the African Group, overwhelming support came from the Asian Group and the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) countries,[14] providing a clear North versus South divide to the voting pattern. Many statements on YES votes qualified their position by citing the politicisation and double standards within the Council, particularly the issue of country specific resolutions.[15]

Ongoing debates on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) also surfaced in the discussions on the HRC report resolution in Third Committee and the General Assembly plenary. In Third Committee, Russia and Pakistan expressed concern at the Council’s request that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to commission a study and convene a panel on discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their SOGI. On the other side, Israel and the US voiced support for the initiative on SOGI taken by the Council in HRC/RES/17/19.  In the plenary, the African Group and the Holy See also registered their concern about the Council’s resolution on ‘sexual preferences’ and ‘undefined’ notions such as SOGI. 

Two resolutions threaten mandate of Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict

This session of the Third Committee saw a number of new initiatives, including a resolution put forward by Thailand on “Strengthening of the coordination of the United Nations system on child protection”.[16] This initiative was widely viewed as a rebuke of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, for mentioning Thailand in the annual report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.[17] Framed by Thailand as an initiative to strengthen the UN child protection system, the resolution came across to many states and NGOs as a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the independence of UN mandate holders working on child protection[18] through a new evaluation mechanism and a focal role for UNICEF in coordination.

In the end, a much watered-down text was adopted by consensus. A number of states[19] expressed concern at the duplicitous intent of the resolution and clarified their interpretation that, where the resolution calls for mandate holders “to continue to exercise their functions in a fully independent manner and to act in full observation of their respective mandates”, that the "continue to" applies to the second part of the sentence as well, i.e. that mandate holders have been and will continue to observe their mandates. This reading reinforces the notion that Ms Coomaraswamy’s decision to include and scrutinize Thailand in her annual report is fully in line with her mandate.

The controversy also spilled over into the rights of the child resolution, in which the initial draft “took note with appreciation” of Coomaraswamy’s work and extended her mandate for a further four years. However, the sponsors of the resolution succumbed to pressure from Thailand and other states that objected to the mandate being extended beyond the usual three years. The draft was later revised to merely “recognize” the work of her office and to recommend that her mandate be renewed for three years only. Despite these concessions, Pakistan proposed an amendment in Third Committee to “reiterate that it is incumbent upon all mandate holders to perform their functions in strict observance of their mandates upholding the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity as well as avoiding politicization.” The amendment was defeated by a vote of 78 against to 48 in favour, with 21 abstaining. The resolution was later adopted without a vote by the General Assembly plenary.

General Assembly maintains Council gains by dropping defamation of religion text

The General Assembly did not adopt a text this year on the defamation of religions, in line with the breakthrough in the March 2011 session of the Council when the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) decided not to run its polarizing resolution on the topic. Instead, the General Assembly adopted by consensus an OIC-sponsored text[20] similar to the one put forth at the March 2011 Council session on combating intolerance and incitement to violence against persons based on their religion or belief, [21]  which has no references to the defamation of religion.

The new OIC-sponsored General Assembly resolution  requests the UN Secretary-General to submit a report at its sixty-seventh session on steps taken by States to combat intolerance. It also calls on States to consider reporting to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on their efforts to combat religious intolerance, stereotyping and violence.  

As in previous years, the General Assembly also adopted an EU-led resolution on religious intolerance.[22]

Europeans soften positions on follow up to Durban

This year’s resolution on the “Global efforts for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” prompted a significant change in the voting pattern among European states. The following states switched their votes from NO to Abstain: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and United Kingdom. Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway changed from abstaining to voting in favour. The final vote in the General Assembly was 138 in favour to 6 against (Australia, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, and United States), with 46 abstentions. This was reportedly the result of concerted engagement by South Africa and Argentina (on behalf of the G77) to work with European states on the text. The G77 took on a number of their concerns, including explicitly mentioning the primary responsibility of States in the fight against racism. However, the EU did not ultimately support the text as several operative paragraphs -- related to incitement and to the media --included restrictions on the freedom of expression not in line with international law.

Country-specific resolutions

Despite ‘in principle’ objections raised by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and others (DPRK, China, Kazakhstan) to the consideration of any country specific resolutions by the Third Committee, the General Assembly this year adopted four country-specific texts. The vote in the General Assembly plenary on the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) resolution was 123 in favour, 16 against with 51 abstaining; on Iran was 89 in favour, 30 against with 64 abstaining; and on Syria was 133 in favour, 11 against, with 43 abstaining. The text on Myanmar, which was adopted by vote in the Third Committee, was deferred pending review of its programme budget implications by the Fifth Committee. The resolution has costs associated with political missions and good offices. In all cases, the votes in favour of the resolutions increased from Third Committee.[23] ISHR published an earlier article analysing the voting patterns of the resolutions in Third Committee.[24]

Comparing this year’s General Assembly Plenary votes to last year’s, the resolution on Iran gained 11 additional YES votes and the resolution on the DPRK gained an additional 17. The margins also increased significantly for both Iran (from 33 to 59) and the DPRK (86 to 107).

NO votes continued to decrease in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in all cases, despite continued statements on its principled position against country-specific resolutions in the Third Committee.More than half (62) supported the resolution on Syria.

Only the resolution on Syria faced a no-action motion in the Third Committee, which was defeated by an overwhelming majority of 118 to 20, with 29 abstentions. Only the resolution on Iran faced a no-action motion in the General Assembly Plenary, which was defeated 100 to 35 with 42 abstaining.

The resolution on Syria passed with the largest margin of YES to NO votes (122) compared to DPRK (107), and Iran (59). The vote on Syria was marked by strong regional support with Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia cosponsoring. No Arab country voted against the resolution. Russia and China, who vetoed the earlier Security Council resolution on Syria, abstained from the vote despite voting against all other country-specific resolutions. Between the Third Committee and the General Assembly Plenary, Bolivia and Vietnam changed their votes from NO to Abstain and six countries changed their votes from Abstain to YES.[25] No country changed their votes from YES/Abstain to NO but Chad and Mauritania changed their votes from YES to Abstain.

This year’s resolution on Iran includes additional language on the continuing and systemic targeting of human rights defenders and calls on Iran to allow access to the newly appointed Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran. In addition, this year’s resolution calls on the Government to release all those arbitrarily arrested and detained for exercising their right to peaceful assembly and participating in peaceful protests. The resolution also strongly urges the Government to ensure free, fair, transparent and inclusive parliamentary elections in 2012 and calls on the Government to allow independent observers, but stops short of calling for international observation.

The resolution on Myanmar was softened this year, reflecting recent developments such as talks between the Government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of prisoners of conscience. The resolution welcomed a number of positive steps by the Government, acknowledged commitments made by the President to implement reform, and encouraged the continued cooperation of the Government with the international community. However, NGOs remained concerned that the text fell short of calling for an independent, international investigation into grave crimes that would determine the facts and hold perpetrators accountable.[26]

Mirroring the themes focused on by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK in his report and statement to the Third Committee, this year’s text on the DPRK places greater emphasis on the issues of food security, the reuniting of families, and the protection of asylum seekers. The resolution also reiterates serious concern at the refusal of the Government to articulate its position on which recommendations included in the outcome report of its universal periodic review in March 2010 enjoy its support, and regrets the continuing lack of action to implement the recommendations contained in the report.

See further analysis of the voting patterns for the DPRK, Iran and Syria.

Other developments

The General Assembly also adopted numerous other resolutions recommended by its Third Committee, including on the girl child, people with disabilities, indigenous issues, national  human rights institutions, counter terrorism and human rights, and the interdependence of human rights.

An analytical article covering this year’s General Assembly Third Committee session will be available in the January 2012 edition of the Human Rights Monitor Quarterly.

[1] The last time the Third Committee considered a new country situation was in 2007 when it passed a resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus A/RES/62/169. Since then, the Committee has only considered resolutions on Iran, Myanmar and the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.

A/C.3/66/L.44/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

[3] China, Russia, Iran.

A/C.3/66/L.28/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

A/C.3/66/L.20/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

A/RES/58/142 available at

[7] Syria, Russia, China, Cuba, Yemen, Venezuela, Pakistan, Iran, Nicaragua, Belarus, Vietnam.

A/C.3/66/L.43/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

[9] A/66/53(Supp.) This year's annual report before the General Assembly covers the 16th and 17th regular sessions as well as the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th special sessions. The addendum (A/66/53/Add.1) to the report covers the 18th regular session. The Council’s annual reporting cycle was previously 1 July to 30 June. During the Review of the Human Rights Council, concluded in June 2011, States decided that the new reporting cycle would run from 1 October to 30 September, thus ensuring that the September session is included in the report to the General Assembly.

A/C.3/66/L.65 The draft resolution is available at

A/C.3/66/L.66 The draft resolution is available at

[12] Belarus was the subject of a county-specific resolution at the Human Rights Council in June 2011.

[13] DRC and Iraq changed their respective NO and YES votes to Abstain after the vote. Last year the report was adopted by a vote of 123 in favour, to 1 against (Israel), with 55 abstentions. The report was adopted by consensus in 2009.

[14] Exceptions include Honduras and Panama, who abstained.

[15] In the General Assembly, the voting patterns across regions were similar though more states voted in favour of the resolution, and less abstained (122 in favour, to 3 against, with 59 abstentions).

A/C.3/66/L.22/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

A/65/820–S/2011/250 available at

[18] The resolution cited specifically “[t]he Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and other relevant actors”.

[19] The US, Norway on behalf of Lichtenstein and Switzerland, Poland on behalf of the EU, Costa Rica and Chile.

[20] A/C.3/65/L.32/Rev.1, available at

A/HRC/RES/16/18 available at

A/C.3/66/L.48/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

[23] The vote on Syria went from 122YES:13NO:41Abst in Third Committee to 133 YES:11NO:43Abst in General Assembly Plenary; The vote on Iran went from 86 YES:32NO:59Abst in Third Committee to 89YES:30NO:64Abst in General Assembly Plenary; The vote on the DPRK went from 112YES:16NO:55Abst in Third Committee to 123YES:16NO:51Abst in General Assembly Plenary.

 All country-specific draft resolutions are available at

[25] Antigua & Barbuda, Comoros, Congo, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Thailand.


“Reprisals must stop,” urge top international experts on human rights defenders


A group of international experts on the situation of human rights defenders has urged world governments to halt reprisals against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the United Nations and regional human rights systems.* They also called on States to ease, rather than hinder, civil society’s access to the UN and regional human rights institutions.

'Reprisals have to cease immediately and credible investigations into pending cases of reprisals have to be carried out,' said the Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders from the United Nations (UN), Ms Margaret Sekaggya; the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Ms Reine Alapini-Gansou; and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Mr José de Jesús Orozco.

'These reprisals against individuals and/or groups engaging directly with the UN, the ACHPR and the IACHR, or otherwise providing information on particular countries’ human rights situations, take the form of smear campaigns, harassment, intimidation, direct threats, physical attacks and killings,' they said.

In an effort to safeguard the vital collaboration between civil society and the UN and regional human rights mechanisms, the three Rapporteurs appealed for enhanced monitoring and action to respect the UN, ACHPR and IACHR normative agreements and rules of procedure explicitly prohibiting acts of reprisals by States and non-State actors.

'Such steps towards full accountability for reprisals are an important preventive measure that should be combined with those that facilitate, rather than deter, civil society’s safe and unimpeded access to the UN and the regional human rights institutions,' stressed Ms Sekaggya, Ms Alapini-Gansou and Mr Orozco.

The three international Rapporteurs also supported the recent initiative by the President of the UN Human Rights Council, Ms Laura Dupuy Lasserre, calling on Governments to immediately put an end to harassment and intimidation of individuals and groups attending the on-going session of the Human Rights Council, taking place in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ms Dupuy Lasserre expressed her concern about reports of State and other representatives using aggressive and/or insulting language against civil society representatives, and photographing and filming them without their consent on UN premisses, including in the main Council’s chamber, with a view to intimidate and harass them.  She announced that those accusations will be investigated.

ISHR facilitated a meeting between the Rapporteurs on human rights defenders of the UN and the IACHR, on common efforts to address acts of reprisals against those collaborating with the UN and the regional systems. As an outcome of the meeting, the Rapporteurs decided to produce the issued statement on reprisals. The Rapporteur on human rights defenders of the ACHPR also chose to support the initiative.

ISHR made its own statement to the Human Rights Council today on reprisals against those that cooperate with the UN, its representatives, and mechanisms in the field of human rights. The statement acknowledged efforts to date to try and address the issue of reprisals, and highlighted the need for such efforts to be continued and enhanced.

(*) Check the official joint statement, available in English (original), French and Spanish.

Council holds first ever panel debate on sexual orientation and gender identity


On 7 March the Human Rights Council (the Council) held its first dedicated discussion on the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity. The holding of the panel discussion polarised Council proceedings prior to its start. The panel was boycotted by the OIC, almost all of whose members staged a walkout from the Council as the debate got underway. Burkina Faso was one of the few OIC States to remain in the room. However, given that most 'hostile' States had chosen to remain silent, the panel itself sent a strong signal that the international community will no longer accept discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The debate opened with a recorded video address from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay, made a strong statement against 'bigotry and intolerance' and clearly affirmed the primacy of international human rights law.  

The divisive discussion saw Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC), Senegal (which noted that it was speaking on behalf of 'almost all' the African Group), Mauritania (on behalf of the Arab Group), and the Russian Federation, deny that there is any legal foundation in international law for 'controversial concepts' such as sexual orientation and gender identity.

As panellist, Mr Laurence Helfer, of the Center for International and Comparative Law at Duke University in the United States (US) made eminently clear, however, the default position of international law is that it applies without distinction of any kind, and that nowhere in international human rights law is there any exclusion stated that these standards do not apply to individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This position was echoed by States including Argentina (on behalf of MERCOSUR), Austria, Australia, Cuba, Ecuador, the European Union, Greece, Honduras, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, the United States, and Uruguay.

The OIC's decision not to participate in the debate, aside from through the statement delivered by Pakistan, was openly criticised by some States. Austria commented that States that do not address violence and discrimination against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity are in breach of their legal obligations and that those obligations will not be changed by marching out of UN meetings. Switzerland regretted the decision, and pointed to the importance of dialogue on sensitive issues, a position echoed by Ireland.

The session also saw the delivery of a joint statement by A-status NHRIs, supporting the call for dialogue and reaffirming that the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is integrated into the existing international legal framework that States have committed to protecting. A joint statement on behalf of 284 NGOs from 90 countries from all regions set out clearly that they were not calling for rights, which already exist as a birthright, but for States to implement their legal obligations and for the Council to fulfil its role in that regard.

Specific attention was paid to the rights of transgender persons during the discussion, with Finland drawing particular attention to this issue. Panellist Ms Irina Karla Bacci, noting that discrimination against LGBTI persons was a problem in countries across the world, pointed to the sterilisation requirement that transgender individuals face in many European countries. As an example of positive progress in this regard, Ms Hina Jilani, formerly the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, pointed out that Pakistan has national legislation to protect the rights of transgender persons after a Supreme Court ruling that mandated that hijras be officially recognised as a third gender on national identity cards.

Other key issues raised included the need to protect human rights defenders who work on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, an issue raised by Mr Hans Ytterberg, from the Council of Europe, and Ms Hina Jilani.

In terms of follow-up to the panel, Mr Helfer and Mr Ytterberg called on the Council to continue respectful dialogue on this issue on a regular basis, and called on special procedure mandate holders to give attention to the issue as appropriate within their mandates and to be supported by States in doing so. Mr Ytterberg spoke out against a suggestion that there should be a separate mandate holder on this issue, stating that this would propagate the idea that there is a call for separate rights.

Echoing this sentiment, the Ambassador of Brazil, making concluding remarks, stated that the panel should not be seen as an historic moment, but rather 'business as usual' for the Council, as it fulfils its role of promoting and protecting the human rights of all.

Council adopts resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria


On 28 February and 1 March the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an urgent debate on the escalating grave human rights violations and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. At the end of the debate the Council adopted a resolution (37 votes in favour, 3 against, and 3 abstentions) condemning the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and expressing concern at the humanitarian situation. The resolution calls for the Council to remain seized of the matter and to take further action, including after the forthcoming interactive dialogue with the commission of inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Both the legitimacy of the debate and the outcome text were rejected by Syria, whose delegation walked out of the debate, dismissing the discussions as 'sterile'. It strongly criticised the Council, describing it as a toy in the hands of some countries whose aim is to 'fuel the flames of terrorism' and 'prolong the crisis in the country by expressing support to armed groups'. While Syria admitted the human rights situation in the country is not 'perfect', it claimed that this is due to armed groups using residential areas as bases, and targeting the infrastructure of the State, including hospitals. The delegation also criticised the economic sanctions imposed on Syria, describing their impact on civilians as the worst form of human rights violation.

The Syrian delegation found support from several other States. The need for an urgent debate had been questioned by both Cuba and the Russian Federation, who saw the resolution that emerged from that debate as an unnecessary duplication of the Council's work, in the light of the fact that the Council will consider the report of the commission of inquiry into the situation in Syria later in the session. During negotiations on the draft text, Turkey, who led the initiative, stated that the added element of the humanitarian aspect to the crisis ensured that the debate and resulting text added value to the process being pursued by the Council. This point was endorsed during the negotiations by Denmark speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU).

During the urgent debate the Russian Federation focused on the humanitarian aspects of the situation, calling on Syria, and the 'armed groupings', to ensure that the situation does not deteriorate in this respect. China supported the position taken by Arab countries, that violence be stopped immediately, that civilians be protected 'in earnest', that humanitarian assistance be provided, and external intervention avoided. It expressed hope that the issue will be resolved through the framework of the League of Arab States.

Many other States (Belarus, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Korea, Ecuador, India, Iran, Jordan, Mauritania (on behalf of the Arab Group), Morocco, Nicaragua, and Venezuela) endorsed the position expressed by China that the situation should not be used as a basis for foreign intervention. During the negotiations on the text, Cuba, Egypt, India, Lebanon, and the Russian Federation had called for a reference to territorial integrity and sovereignty to be included in the draft. This reference was included in the final resolution. Mexico, however, stated clearly during the debate that the principle of non-interference cannot be invoked when serious crimes against humanity are taking place.

Cuba criticised what it saw as the failure of some countries to acknowledge the efforts being made by Syria. During the informals on the draft text held prior to the urgent debate, China, Cuba, and the Russian Federation had called for the text to make positive reference to the recent referendum held in Syria on a revised constitution.

Most States echoed the condemnation by both the President of the General Assembly (PGA) and the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the escalating levels of violence in Syria. Both the PGA and the High Commissioner noted that the Syrian authorities had 'manifestly failed' to meet their responsibilities to their people. The High Commissioner added that crimes against humanity had been committed with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State. While she acknowledged that anti-government groups had also committed abuses, she noted that these were not comparable in scale or organisation to those committed by the State.

In a particularly strong statement, the US censured the actions of President Assad and his 'criminal cohort', which it described as waging a brutal and murderous campaign. The US, together with Portugal (on behalf of the EU), Norway (on behalf of the Nordic Group), and Slovenia, called for Assad to step aside. Other States (Austria, Botswana, Chile, the Netherlands, and Slovakia) echoed the call, made here again by the High Commissioner, to refer the situation the the International Criminal Court (ICC). Botswana, Chile, the Czech Republic, Gabon, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, the United States (US) criticised the Security Council's failure to fulfil its role following the veto from China and the Russian Federation on a draft resolution that would have given the Security Council power to take further action. Botswana made a direct plea to the Russian Federation and China to review their positions, with Saudi Arabia described them as 'short circuiting' the international community. The final text adopted, however, contains no mention of either the Security Council or the ICC. A paragraph was added, at the request of the US and the EU, stressing 'the importance of accountability' and the need to 'hold to account those responsible for human rights violations, including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity'. 

During the adoption of the resolution the Russian Federation stated that the text was an example of the one-sided approach to Syria, and called for a vote. Cuba stated that it would vote against the resolution as it promotes foreign intervention. These views were endorsed by China. Ecuador stated that while it supported the urgent debate, it did not feel that the resolution is balanced and expressed its belief that action should only follow the interactive dialogue with the commission of inquiry. It stated that it would abstain on the resolution. India and the Philippines also abstained. Thailand expressed its disappointment that the resolution does not reflect the violations committed by the opposition groups, even if those violations are of a lesser scale, but stated that it would vote in favour of the resolution.

The resolution was adopted with 37 votes in favour, 3 against, and 3 abstentions, with China, Cuba, and the Russian Federation voting against, and India, the Philippines and Ecuador abstaining). Angola, Burkina Faso, Kyrgyzstan, and Uganda did not vote. Burkina Faso, after the vote, stated that had it been present it would have voted in favour. Bangaldesh voted in favour of the resolution, stating that while it usually abstained on resolutions on country situations on principle, it had made an exception in this case based on the deteriorating situation and the merit it saw in a resolution coming from the Council at this time. It expressed its concerns however that the resolution was unbalanced.

The Council will hold the interactive dialogue with the commission of inquiry into the situation in Syria on 12 March.

Consultation by Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers


The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers is inviting stakeholders to share information on the practices of human rights education and continuing training of judges, prosecutors, public defenders and lawyers.

A questionnaire is available to be completed by 17 February 2010.

The consultation is part of a study mandated by Human Rights Council resolution 15/3, which requested the Special Rapporteur "[t]o carry out... a global thematic study to assess the human rights education and continuing training of judges, prosecutors, public defenders and lawyers, with recommendations for appropriate follow-up, and to present it to the Council at its twentieth session," (paragraph 3).

The questionnaire can be completed online. Alternatively, you can download, complete and email/fax the questionnaire:


Fax: +41 22 917 90 06

More information about the mandate is available here.

Other Regional Human Rights Systems

Regional human rights mechanisms are an essential piece in the creation of a global system for promoting and protecting human rights. They provide a layer of monitoring of and reporting on local human rights realities, and define solutions most relevant to these challenges.

By facilitating regular conversation and collaboration between international and regional human rights mechanisms, such as the African Commission and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, ISHR works to strengthen the effectiveness of the overall global system. ISHR maintains a close eye over developments regionally and at the level of national human rights institutions, and conducts research and  advocacy to ensure that these bodies are accessible to human rights defenders and effective in promoting and protecting human rights.

ISHR is also engaged with efforts to establish regional human rights mechanisms in regions where they are evolving or do not yet exist, including Asia and the Pacific. 

The findings of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria


Source: UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria presented its long-awaited report, as requested by the UN Human Rights Council. At a press conference in Geneva (Monday, 28 November), the authors of the report, Paulo Pinheiro (Chairperson), Yakin Ertürk and Karen Koning AbuZayd, shared their observations and recommendations with the media.

The Report Summary

“The deteriorating situation in the Syrian Arab Republic prompted The Human Rights Council to establish an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged violations of human rights since March 2011. From the end of September until mid- November 2011, the commission held meetings with Member States from all regional groups, regional organizations, including the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders, journalists and experts. It interviewed 223 victims and witnesses of alleged human rights violations, including civilians and defectors from the military and the security forces. In the present report, the commission documents patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, including sexual violence, as well as violations of children’s rights.

The substantial body of evidence gathered by the commission indicates that these gross violations of human rights have been committed by Syrian military and security forces since the beginning of the protests in March 2011. The commission is gravely concerned that crimes against humanity have been committed in different locations in the Syrian Arab Republic during the period under review. It calls upon the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic to put an immediate end to the ongoing gross human rights violations, to initiate independent and impartial investigations of these violations and to bring perpetrators to justice. The commission also addresses specific recommendations to opposition groups, the Human Rights Council, regional organizations and States Members of the United Nations.

The commission deeply regrets that, despite many requests, the Government failed to engage in dialogue and to grant the commission access to the country. The Government informed the commission that it would examine the possibility of cooperating with the commission once the work of its own independent special legal commission was completed. The commission reiterates its call for immediate and unhindered access to the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Read the full report here.

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights is Africa’s main human rights body, holding public sessions twice a year at which States’ compliance under the African Charter on Human & Peoples’ Rights is reviewed.

Preceding these sessions, human rights defenders gather at the NGO Forum to discuss human rights concerns and urge the Commission to take action. Such engagement is key to strengthening the African human rights system.

For over a decade ISHR has engaged actively with the Commission. Through lobbying, support to Special Rapporteurs, membership of Commission working groups and the NGO Forum Steering Committee, and by the publication of biannual reports and periodic Monitors on the NGO Forum and Commission sessions, ISHR contributes to building this human rights system.

ECOSOC and the NGO Committee

The Committee on NGOs oversees the implementation of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, which is the legal framework governing civil society participation in the work of the UN. The Committee is tasked with considering the applications of NGOs for consultative status with the UN, and makes recommendations to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which can accept or overturn a decision.

Consultative status provides NGOs with access to a range of fora at the UN, including the Human Rights Council, ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, UN conferences, and events organised by the President of the General Assembly.

ISHR works to facilitate the accreditation of human rights NGOs, in particular those dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity, women’s rights, reproductive rights, minority issues, and freedom of expression and association.

ISHR runs campaigns advocating for improvement in the functioning and membership of the Committee and for the accountability of its members to the principles of the UN Charter and ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31. We also provide strategic advice and support to NGOs seeking accreditation by the Committee on NGOs, and to NGOs subject to disciplinary sanctions by the Committee.

UN General Assembly

The General Assembly is the main deliberative organ of the United Nations. It is composed of representatives of all member States and has a general mandate to discuss and make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN Charter. Under Article 13 of the Charter, the General Assembly is specifically mandated to ‘initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of assisting in the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion’.

The plenary regular session of the General Assembly runs from September to December, but can reconvene at any time during the year. Each year the General Assembly addresses over 150 agenda items, which are considered either in the plenary or in one of its six committees.

The Third Committee (Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian) addresses most agenda items relevant to human rights defenders, including women's rights, children’s rights, indigenous peoples' rights, and the elimination of racism.

Numerous special procedures also report to the Third Committee on a number of these issues and engage in an interactive dialogue with States. After completing its work, the Third Committee submits draft resolutions to the General Assembly for final adoption.



The cases of Wang Quanzhang, Gui Minhai and Liu Xia - just three cases out of dozens that ISHR and its partners are tracking on a regular basis - show the ways in which China is using detention and disappearance to intimidate activists and their families. The international community must respond to this widespread and systematisied crackdown on human rights and their defenders in China, writes Sarah Brooks. 

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