News

10 Oct

… Mohamed Zaree from Egypt. Zaree’s brave and dedicated work to promote and protect human rights was honoured with his recognition as the Laureate at the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in Geneva tonight.

03 Oct

The General Assembly's Third Committee is now in session. Below is our outline of what to look out for. 

06 Oct
Bagua Case protests

Defending human rights can be a tough and dangerous work in Peru, in particular for environmental and land defenders. ISHR, together with the National Coordinator for Human Rights (CNDDHH), urges the government of Peru to take all necessary measures to eradicate reprisals and acts of violence against human rights defenders.

03 Oct

Despite human rights defenders’ critical role as ‘justice enablers’ for the victims of corporate human rights abuses, it can be dangerous and even deadly work to defend human rights over ‘profits, privilege and prejudice,’ two new reports by UN experts conclude. 

02 Oct

The Human Rights Council will hold a dedicated dialogue to address acts of intimidation and reprisals following the adoption of a significant resolution at its 36th session. The Council has also affirmed the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for such acts.

Special Rapporteur renews request for access to Iran

06.11.2012
 

On October 24, 2012 the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Mr Ahmed Shaheed, appeared before the Third committee of the General Assembly to present his second report since he took up the mandate in August 2011. Overall, Mr Shaheed painted a disturbing picture of the human rights situation in Iran. The main areas of concern were the imprisonment of journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders, high frequency of executions, restrictions on freedom of expression and information, in particular as regards the internet, and the new Islamic Penal Code. The majority of the States that engaged in the dialogue echoed these concerns.

In his presentation, Mr Shaheed stated that Iran has one of the highest number of imprisoned journalists, with over 40 journalists serving sentences from six months to more than 19 years. The infamous ‘Cyber-crimes’ and ‘cybercafe laws’ allow the government to persecute and imprison those who use the media to criticize the government. Mr Shaheed also expressed concern over the situation of human rights defenders in Iran, stating that thirty two lawyers and human rights defenders are currently detained, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, Abdolfattah Soltani, Narges Mohammadi and Mohammad Ali Dadkhah.

On the subject of Iran's adoption of a new Islamic Penal Code, Mr Shaheed pointed out that it compelled judges to defer to either fatwas or Sharia where the law is silent on criminal matters and could serve as a loophole for the use of stoning and prosecution for apostasy. The Code also broadens the scope of national security crimes under the vague heading of “corruption of earth” and undermines gender equality. The Special Rapporteur expressed concern at the lack of due process revealed through recent interviews conducted with ex-detainees, including solitary confinement, beatings during interrogation and insufficient access to lawyers.

Furthermore, Iran accused the Special Rapporteur of violating articles 8 and 13 of the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate-Holders ,[1] by not adequately considering the comments and observations forwarded by the Iranian government to his assessment and allegations, nor annexing a copy or summary of the government’s comments to his final report. Iran pointed to the 57 pages of comments it submitted on the draft report of the Special Rapporteur, regretting that these were not reflected in the final version. In response, Mr Shaheed stated that the 10,000 word limit precluded him from taking on the lengthy comments but that he had endeavoured to summarize these in a few paragraphs at the outset of the report.

All of the countries that spoke, with the exception of China and the Maldives, expressed regret over the fact that the Special Rapporteur has been denied access to Iran and called once again on the Iranian government to allow the Special Rapporteur into the country. China supported the statements made by Iran, stating that the Iranian people had the right to determine their own path to protect human rights. In its intervention, Brazil acknowledged the positive achievements in the realm of economic and social rights.

Several States including Norway, the EU, the UK, Brazil and the Czech Republic voiced their concerns about the situation of human rights defenders in Iran, alarmed by their frequent detention without charges, torture, executions in absence of fair trials, and reports of subjecting family members and friends to interrogations. The US deplored the continued blocking of domestic and foreign news sources, attempts to filter media and online content, bans on personal email accounts, as well as torture and executions of 'netizens'.

Several States, including Canada, the US and the Czech Republic also expressed concern about the upcoming presidential elections in 2013, and whether these could be free and fair under the circumstances. Mr Shaheed said that there were a number of serious concerns, including limiting women from running for office and the prosecution of journalists. It was difficult to speak about free and fair elections when there is no free press in the country, seriously limiting the space for political activity. He stressed that transparency, rule of law and some systemic indicators would be the mark of free and fair elections.

Canada emphasised the lack of freedom of religion, highlighting Iran's discriminatory laws against its religious minorities (Christians, Zoroastrians, Baha’i and Jewish), and expressing particular concern that members of the Bahai faith were imprisoned based on their faith and prevented from pursuing education.

In response to a question from the Maldives, the Special Rapporteur expressed deep concern about the impact of sanctions on human rights in Iran, noting that this would be considered in his future work. However, he mentioned that he could not accurately assess the situation due to the lack of access to the country. While he relies on witness testimonies for information, corroborated by various sources, he noted that it was more difficult to rely purely on witness testimony when examining the effects of sanctions.


[1] Art. 8(d) of the Code of Conduct states that, in their information-gathering activities, mandate holders shall give representatives of the concerned State the opportunity of commenting on mandate-holders’ assessment and of responding to the allegations made against this States, and annex the State’s written summary responses to their reports.

Art 13(a) states that mandate-holders shall while expressing their considered views, particularly in their public statements concerning allegations of human rights violations, also indicate fairly what responses were given by the concerned State.

 

Special Rapporteur underscores the need to address violence against women with disabilities

07.11.2012
 

The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms Rashida Manjoo, presented her second annual report to the General Assembly on 24 October 2012. The report focused on violence against women with disabilities. Ms Manjoo stressed the need to recognise that violence against women takes a unique form when gender and disability intersect. She further stressed that despite normative frameworks concerning both the human rights of women and of persons with disabilities, violence against women with disabilities remains largely unaddressed. All States that participated in the dialogue expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Special Rapporteur in combating violence against women and shared their deep concern over the pervasiveness of violence against women with disabilities.

During the interactive dialogue, several States attempted to link the discussion to recent events by acknowledging that women with disabilities face additional challenges during periods of transition. The UK, EU and Liechtenstein in particular emphasised that women with disabilities in post-conflict situations are often not included in the reconstruction process and requested the Special Rapporteur to advice on how the national and international community can ensure that these women are better included. Ms Manjoo noted that women with disabilities in conflict or post-conflict regions are at a greater risk of violence, stressing that narrow conceptions of citizenship understand ‘accommodation’ as merely physical accommodation, resulting in further isolation and invisibility of women with disabilities. She further stated that when conflict is a cause of disabilities, the major challenge in addressing violence against women with disabilities is in terms of humanitarian assistance.

Switzerland raised the issue of sexual and reproductive health, drawing attention to the  practice of forced sterilisation of women with disabilities in some countries and the need for all women and girls to have full access to sexual and reproductive health. Ms Manjoo emphasized that women with disabilities are often treated as if they have no control, or should have no control over their sexual and reproductive health. She underscored the need to counter this through awareness programmes and legal protection.

In addition to the focus on women with disabilities, the Special Rapporteur’s report also summarised her activities in the past year, including the thematic report (A/HRC/20/16) she presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2012, which focused on the issue of gender related killings of women, and her country visits to Jordan, Somalia and Italy. Jordan critiqued the assertion that refugees were denied access to healthcare and public education in Jordan and argued that the report ignored that citizenship of Palestinians should be considered within the Middle East peace process. Jordan further rejected the claim that its constitutional amendments encouraged a traditional view of women as people in need of protection. Ms Manjoo responded by offering to meet with Jordan one-on-one to address these concerns.

Four of five regional groups run 'closed slates' in Human Rights Council elections

12.11.2012
 

On 12 November 2012, the General Assembly elected 18 members to the Human Rights Council (Council). The new members will take up their seats on the 47-member body on 1 January 2013. They are (by region):

  • Africa: Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Sierra Leone [1]
  • Asia: Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates [2]
  • Eastern Europe: Estonia, Montenegro [3]
  • Latin America and Caribbean: Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela [4]
  • Western Europe and Others: USA, Germany, Ireland [5]

Only the Western Europe and Others group ran an open slate, that is, they presented more candidates than there were vacant seats available. Five candidates competed for three seats. The USA, Germany and Ireland defeated Greece and Sweden.

Four of the five geographic regions that are allocated seats on the council (African group, Asian group, Eastern European group, and Latin America and Caribbean group) ran ‘closed slates’, where the number of candidates matched the number of available seats. Running closed slates continues to be criticized by human rights NGOs since it can all but guarantee victories for the candidates, regardless of their human rights records. The lack of competition not only opens the Council’s door to ‘abuser’ States, but it also goes against the spirit and the letter of the resolution that established the Council.  Resolution 60/251 requires not only that members of the Council uphold the ‘highest standards’ of human rights and 'fully cooperate' with the Council, but also that members of the General Assembly consider the voluntary pledges States submit with their candidacy to show how they will improve the promotion and protection of human rights domestically and internationally.

Due to the practice of running closed or so-called 'clean' slates, this year saw the possibility of a particularly shameful spectacle for the UN. Sudan, a country whose head of State has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, came close to winning a seat on the Council. Sudan was originally one of five candidates for five seats in the closed African slate. The slate was rearranged ten weeks before the election, after a campaign by human rights organizations and States culminated in a decision by Kenya to contest the Sudanese nomination. This led Sudan to drop its bid and the African group to present another closed slate with Kenya instead of Sudan as the fifth candidate alongside Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, and Sierra Leone. Unfortunately similar efforts to dissuade the African group from including Ethiopia in a closed slate were not successful.

Unfortunately proposals made by human rights NGOs and like-minded governments during the review of the Human Rights Council in 2011 to prohibit ‘closed slates’, and to establish a public ‘pledge review’ mechanism to improve Council members’ accountability for fulfilling pledges and the standards in Resolution 60/251 were not successful. Though the proposals only reflected an attempt to operationalize the commitments in Resolution 60/251, and not to add any new elements, detractors refused to consider including them during the review.  The result of their intransigence has led to business as usual in the Council elections, with vote-trading and uncontested slates the norm.

A backdrop to this year’s elections is the ongoing work of the Third Committee of the General Assembly, responsible for humanitarian and human rights issues, which takes place in New York from early October through the end of November. Before the Human Rights Council Review in 2011, the elections were held in May. One of the consequences of the change to November elections is that the campaigns are run and the elections held while a number of divisive issues are being considered by the Third Committee. States and NGOs have questioned what effect this has had on Third Committee negotiations and on the elections, particularly given the reality of vote trading at the UN.


[1] The votes were: Gabon (187), Cote d’Ivoire (183), Sierra Leone (182), Kenya (180), and Ethiopia (178). Three States that did not run also received votes: Sudan (4), Tanzania (1), and Rwanda (1).

[2] The votes were: United Arab Emirates (184), Kazakhstan (183), Japan (182), Korea (176), Pakistan (171)

[3] The votes were: Estonia (184), Montenegro (182)

[4] The votes were: Brazil (184), Argentina (176), and Venezuela (154). Two States that did not run also received votes: Bolivia (2), Panama (1).

[5] The votes were: USA (131), Germany (127), Ireland (124), Greece (78) and Sweden (75)

 

Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions focuses on death penalty in General Assembly report

13.11.2012
 

On 24 October, 2012 Mr Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, presented his annual report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly, which focused this year on the death penalty. The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment also focused his report to the Third Committee this year on the death penalty. This would seem strategic as the Third Committee is currently in the midst of negotiating its biannual resolution on the death penalty.

The Special Rapporteur’s report and presentation mainly focused on restrictions relating to the imposition of the death penalty, which generated much debate amongst member States during the interactive dialogue. While the Special Rapporteur cited a growing trend among States toward the abolition of the death penalty, he was gravely concerned by the several cases in which domestic law and practice defied international standards. Equally problematic was the fact that information on the use of the death penalty is often kept secret, precluding assessment of the State’s level of compliance with international standards. Mr Heyns reminded States that the death penalty may only be imposed for the most serious crimes, namely those involving intentional killing, and specifically excluded other offences such as drug-related activities, economic crimes, apostasy, and homosexual acts, among others.

A secondary theme of his address related to the issue of fair trial, specifically the inappropriateness of military tribunals imposing the death penalty, and the problem of error in capital proceedings. The Special Rapporteur highlighted the emerging evidence that innocent people have been sentenced to death as a critical concern. Mr Heyns urged States to ensure transparency in all cases of capital punishment, including prosecutions, sentences and executions, noting that the absence of transparency on the imposition or implementation of the death penalty by consequence violates the right to life.

Concluding, Mr Heyns called on all States to ensure that countries that still administered capital punishment apply it under very strict observance of international standards. In particular, he noted that abolitionist States have an obligation not to assist in the imposition of the death penalty in any way, whether or not the State that actually imposed it is in compliance of international standards.

Nine States participated in the interactive dialogue that followed.[1] In response to a question from Switzerland on whether a Special Procedure on the death penalty should be created, Mr Heyns said he supported special attention being given to the issue of the death penalty, but noted that the level of resources for mandates needed to be kept in mind. He also noted that he plans to continue his engagement with the issue, as 20-25 per cent of his communications relate to the death penalty.

Singapore and Vietnam argued that the death penalty is outside the scope of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, noting that that there is no international consensus for, or against, capital punishment when imposed according with due process. In response, Mr Heyns stressed that unlawful killings in the context of the death penalty do indeed directly fall within his mandate, and cited in particular the GA resolution on the mandate. That resolution calls on all States in order to prevent extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to comply with their obligations under relevant provisions of international human rights instruments, and further calls upon States that retain the death penalty to pay particular regard to the provisions contained in articles 6, 14 and 15 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and articles 37 and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Also noting its reservations was Kenya, which observed with less conviction that addressing the death penalty probably encroached on an area outside of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. Kenya also asked the Special Rapporteur on how to move from a moratorium to full abolition, to which Mr Heyns responded that a moratorium is a useful “halfway house” until the political will is strong enough to repeal the death penalty. The US engaged constructively, sharing its concern about the death penalty being carried out in violation of international law and asked the Special Rapporteur what States and civil society could do to increase transparency where it is lacking.

Presumably taking aim at the US, Russia inquired if the Special Rapporteur intended to do a study on drones or remote controlled vehicles. Mr. Heyns said he does plan to investigate the use of robotic technology and remote controlled aerial vehicles within the international human rights framework, and its implications for protection of the right to life.


[1] Switzerland, Norway, the EU, the US, Kenya, Russia, Brazil, and Viet Nam.

 

Special Rapporteur says death penalty may amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment

09.11.2012
 

On 23 October 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr Juan Mendez, presented his report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly. The Special Rapporteur’s report focused on the death penalty and the prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. He argued that a new approach was needed to frame the debate over the legality of the death penalty in the context of human dignity and the ban on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.  The timing seemed strategic as the Third Committee is currently in the process of negotiating its contentious bi-annual resolution on the death penalty.[1]

While Mr Mendez was clear that capital punishment is not a per se violation of the right to life, he argued that it can violate the prohibition on torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in practice, because the death row phenomenon[2] or methods of execution involve unnecessary suffering and indignity.  Linking the discussion back to his report to the General Assembly last year, Mr Mendez noted that solitary confinement, a common practice on death row, combined with knowledge of impending death, contributes to irreparable mental and physical harm.  He said that while it may be theoretically possible to carry out the death penalty without violating the ban on torture, the necessary conditions make the retention of the death penalty costly and ‘not worth the effort’.

Mr Mendez also noted that, while international human rights bodies have yet to hold that the death penalty per se violates the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, there is ‘clearly a trend in this direction at the regional and national levels’. Mr Mendez noted that, even if the emergence of a customary norm holding the death penalty as contravening the prohibition on torture was still underway, most conditions under which it is actually applied render it tantamount to torture. In that regard, he recommended a more comprehensive legal study on the emergence of a customary norm prohibiting use of the death penalty under all circumstances. 

Nine countries intervened in the dialogue, with an evident split between those who viewed the death penalty as incompatible with the prohibition on torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and those who argued that there is no a necessary link.

To varying extents, Singapore, the US and Egypt rejected the Special Rapporteur’s link between the death penalty and torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The US disagreed with Mr Mendez on the evolution of a customary norm towards abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances. Singapore voiced ‘strong reservations’ on the report generally, and argued that State conduct in the report points to a lack of consensus on a customary norm. Egypt echoed Singapore’s reservations about the customary norm and argued that the attempt to draw a link to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment was an attempt to “de-legalize” the death penalty. The Special Rapporteur pushed back against Egypt and Singapore, clarifying that the fact that persistent objectors[3] remain doesn’t imply the absence of a customary norm.

The EU, Norway, Switzerland and Lichtenstein welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s report, reiterating their hope for a worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Norway and Switzerland supported the Special Rapporteur’s call for a comprehensive legal study on the emergence of a customary norm prohibiting use of the death penalty under all circumstances. In that regard, Norway reminded the Third Committee about the call by the previous Special Rapporteur, Manfred Nowak, for a comprehensive legal study on the compatibility of the death penalty with the right to personal integrity and human dignity. Mr Mendez welcomed Switzerland’s question on establishing a special procedure on capital punishment, noting that such a mandate holder could carry out the study.

In light of current events and presumably taking aim at the US, the Russian delegate called for a study on the use of torture during military operations outside national jurisdiction.  Reflecting recent events around the world, Egypt urged Mr Mendez to study the use and effects of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as a tool to discourage and prevent peaceful assembly and protest. Mr Mendez assured the Russian delegation that many of his communications dealt with torture in the context of war, and that he frequently communicated with the Special Rapporteur on human rights while countering terrorism.  Responding to the Egyptian delegation, Mr Mendez stated he was concerned and committed to engaging in circumstances of excessive use of force to curb the right to freedom of expression and assembly.

The Special Rapporteur noted that he had a number of visits planned for 2013, including to Bahrain and Guatemala, and was in discussions with Thailand and Iraq.  He also stated that he remains engaged with the US on the situation of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and hoped to visit in the near future.

[1] Click here for an overview of the General Assembly’s 64th session, including coverage of the last death penalty resolution

[2] Mr Mendez explained in his presentation that the ‘death row phenomenon’ consists of “a combination of circumstances that produce severe mental trauma and physical deterioration in prisoners under sentence of death. Those circumstances include the lengthy and anxiety-ridden wait for uncertain outcomes, isolation, drastically reduced human contact and physical conditions and regime restrictions which are often worse than those for the rest of the prison population.”

[3] Under international law, a State may avoid being bound by a rule of customary international law if it has been a "persistent objector" to the norm or rule.  Objection to the norm must be consistent.

 

Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion says converts may face death penalty in some States

14.11.2012
 

On 25 October 2012, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mr Heiner Bielefeldt, presented his report,[1] to the  Third Committee of the General Assembly.[2]  

In his statement, the Special Rapporteur said his thematic report focused on the right to conversion in order to clarify the rights of converts and those trying to convert others non-coercively. In his study of the issue, which was based on research gathered from country visits, the Special Rapporteur found a pattern of abuses of the right to conversion perpetrated in the name of religion or ideology, including under the pretext of promoting national identity or preserving political security. He also reported that converts, in some States, may face criminal prosecution, including the death penalty for such offenses as ‘apostasy,’ ‘heresy,’ ‘blasphemy,’ or ‘insult’ in respect of a religion or the country’s dominant traditional and values.

In attempting to clarify the rights of converts and those trying to convert others non-coercively, the Special Rapporteur distinguished four sub-categories of the right to conversion:

  • the right to conversion, in the sense of changing one’s own religion or belief;
  • the right not to be forced to convert;
  • the right to try and convert others via means of non-coercive persuasion, and,
  • the rights of the child and of his or her parents.

These dimensions illustrate that the freedom of religion or belief is not confined to the individual internally, or the forum internum. It also relates to one’s freedom to manifest one’s beliefs in acts, in the forum externum, through prayer, worship and teaching. Unlike the forum internum, aspects of the rights that exist forum externumare not absolute. The Special Rapporteur did make clear, however, that the burden of proof falls upon those intending to restrict this freedom, not those defending it. Subsequently, any restriction must be clearly and narrowly defined, and in a non-discriminatory manner, in accordance with Article 18 (3) of the ICCPR.

The Special Rapporteur urged all States to respect, promote and protect the right of freedom or belief in the context of the right to convert. He underlined that, “the right of conversion and the right not to be forced to convert or reconvert belong to the internal dimension of a person’s religious or belief-related conviction, which is unconditionally protected under international human rights law.”

The Special Rapporteur expressed concern that he had encountered numerous violations of the right to conversion by State and non-state actors. In particular, he was concerned that converts are not only victimized by social pressures, public contempt and systematic discrimination, but often also face administrative obstacles when trying to live in conformity with their convictions.

Commenting on the gender dimension of the right to conversion, the Special Rapportuer noted the pressures and threats experienced by women in the context of marriage, or from a husband or prospective husband expecting her conversion. He also described repressive activities faced by children of converts in schools and said that such measures were used to coerce parents to reconvert to a 'socially appropriate' or accepted religion.

Lastly, the Special Rapporteur indicated that many States impose restrictions on outreach practices, which unduly limit the right to persuade people to convert via non-coercive means. These discriminatory limitations can strengthen the official or dominant religion of the country while further marginalising minorities.   

Twelve countries participated in the interactive dialogue, which proved to be largely supportive and non-controversial.

Canada, the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) expressed appreciation for the Special Rapporteur's attention to the rights of converts, and asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on best practices to ensure the protection of a person's right to conversion.  The EU, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany welcomed the discussion of the gender dimension of the right to conversion, and of the relationship between the rights of the parents and the rights of the child. Canada and the Netherlands echoed the Special Rapporteur's view that international human rights law apply a broad scope in consideration of the freedom of religion or belief, including theistic, non-theistic and atheistic convictions. 

The UK  questioned the report’s finding that the existence of an official religion would inevitably adversely affect religious minorities. The UK suggested that the Special Rapportuer stress non-discrimination before the law as the overarching principle and not whether the country has an official religion.

Russia and China contended that the State has a right and a responsibility to intervene if a group's outreach activities are not in line with international law. In response to remarks by Canada, China defended its treatment of Falun Gong, calling the group a cult and not a religion.

Several comments alluded to the ongoing tensions and discussions around 'defamation of religion'. Canada, the Netherlands, the US and Austria all emphasized the need for interfaith dialogue because of the connection between the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion.  Iran, more directly, asked whether the issue of insult to the sanctity of religion would be taken up in the Special Rapporteur's next report. The Special Rapportuer emphasised the importance of communication between religions, and responded to Iran's question by discussing the threshold for “hate speech” set out in Article 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

 

[1] See the interim report (A/67/303) of the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of religion or belief at:http://www.un.org/en/ga/third/67/documentslist.shtml

[2] See a webcast of this interactive dialogue that took place during the 25th meeting of the Third Committee at http://bit.ly/YthnYh

 

Top human rights expert says human rights is treated as the 'Cinderella' of three UN pillars

15.11.2012
 

On 24 October 2012, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, presented her report to the 67th session of the General Assembly’s Third Committee.  Ms Pillay's statement focused on the crisis in Syria, the treaty body strengthening process and the  lack of funding for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  She also summarized the work and activities of the OHCHR worldwide.  In the interactive dialogue, Member States discussed these issues as well as the protection of human rights defenders, discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, and recent tensions surrounding freedom of expression.

OHCHR’s role in the treaty body strengthening process proved to be the most controversial topic discussed during the dialogue. Ms Pillay reminded States that  strengthening of the treaty body system was necessary for the effective functioning of the human rights system, and noted that her report on the treaty body strengthening process was a culmination of discussions with all relevant stakeholders.  

Pakistan, Switzerland, South Africa, Bangladesh and Angola welcomed OHCHR’s role in the treaty body strengthening process.  A key concern for some States was OHCHR’s decision to move the New York meetings of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Human Rights Committee to Geneva. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the African Group, Russia and Bangladesh expressed discontent about this decision. Some States questioned the financial benefits of the move, while others noted that the committee experts were not consulted. Ms Pillay countered that consultations had taken place, however, the move was essential for budgetary reasons.  The Office had overspent extra budgetary funds by $40 million, so she had asked her staff to make a 7.85 percent cut.  The decision to move the meetings from New York to Geneva was part of this cut.

Some States also expressed concern about an OHCHR letter that requests States to disclose their standing national reporting practices and coordinating mechanisms.  CARICOM and Liechtenstein questioned whether the request would place an additional undue burden on Member States. Russia and China vehemently argued that the request was a violation of General Assembly resolution 66/254 (2012), which established the intergovernmental consultative process on reform of the treaty bodies.  Ms Pillay clarified that the intention was for Member States to share best practices, leading to a fruitful discussion that would ultimately benefit States.

Ms Pillay and various Member States expressed much concern over the limited resources available to OHCHR. OHCHR is under financial constraints, due in part to the support the Office provides to the Human Rights Council, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and an ever-growing number of special procedures. Liechtenstein, Algeria, Chile, Malaysia, Morocco Norway, and Switzerland questioned how OHCHR would address underfunding. Ms Pillay responded that OHCHR was looking to Member States for financial support as less than 5 percent of the regular budget covers all human rights mechanisms.  She noted that although human rights is one of the three pillars of the UN, it is often ignored. “This tradition of keeping human rights as the Cinderella of the three pillars must be addressed,” she said.

Voicing her concern about the protracted violence and escalating bloodshed in Syria, Ms Pillay noted that protection of human rights,  while a daunting challenge, is the raison d'etre of the UN.  She had briefed the General Assembly and the Security Council on Syria, reiterating to States that outright disrespect for human rights cannot be tolerated, and that the UN must act as a protector of these rights. While taking into account important political concerns, it was urgent to find ways to avert massive loss of civilians and human rights violations.  International law obliged States to protect their people, and where a State manifestly failed to carry out that obligation, the international community should take urgent measures to protect the Syrian people. The European Union (EU), Liechtenstein, Malaysia, and United Kingdom (UK) expressed support for OHCHR’s work in addressing human rights violations in Syria.  Syria continued to question Ms Pillay’s evaluation of the conflict, arguing she relentlessly criticized the Syrian government while ignoring offenses of the opposition.

Both Chile and the UK expressed concern about human rights defenders. Chile declared the UN must guarantee security for those who defend human rights. Echoing Chile, the UK referred to the disturbing trend of reprisals, questioning what the international community could do in order to end reprisals. An attack on human rights defenders for cooperating with the UN is an attack on UN principles.  Ms Pillay expressed disappointment that defenders continued to be threatened, harassed, and killed for engaging with the UN system.  She reminded Member States of their obligation to conduct investigations and provide effective remedies for victims of reprisals.

Ms Pillay highlighted that OHCHR had conducted a study of LGBT rights, and she hoped it would encourage further dialogue between the States on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.  Pakistan noted  that Member States remain divided on the issue, and Iran encouraged the High Commissioner to avoid reports on controversial issues that fall, in its view, outside internationally recognised norms.  The United States (US) was fully supportive of OHCHR’s advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community.

Highlighting recent tensions between freedom of expression and respect for religion, Ms Pillay stressed that international human rights law provides a framework to protect freedom of speech while sanctioning incitement to hatred. She discussed the various workshops held by her office to try to reconcile the tension between freedom of speech and incitement to hatred.  Malaysia, Algeria, Bangladesh and Iran condemned religious hatred, arguing that with freedom comes responsibility.

Numerous member States expressed alarm about Israel’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council. Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Pakistan, Morocco and UK were concerned that Israel’s rejection of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) threatened the universality of the system. Ms Pillay assured delegations that she was making every effort to ensure universal participation. OHCHR had asked Israel to reconsider its disengagement. Ms Pillay stressed that the UN was set up for all by all and there was a fundamental obligation to participate in the world body.

Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism calls for improved due process in Al Qaida sanctions regime

16.11.2012
 

On 2 November 2012, the Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Mr Ben Emmerson, presented his second report (A/67/396) to the General Assembly’s Third Committee.[1]

The Special Rapporteur's statement focused on the need for the Security Council to align its Al Qaida sanctions regime with international human rights law norms, most notably minimum standards of due process. In particular, he recommended amending the mandate of the Office of the Ombudsperson,[2] which investigates removal requests regarding individuals and entities from the sanctions list. Though the Ombudsman role was created in 2009 to enhance due process protections, it continues to have many weaknesses. These include that States are under no obligation to disclose information to the Ombudsperson, and that the Ombudsperson has had significant difficulty in obtaining sensitive information. In addition, adverse judicial rulings, in particular by the European Court of Human Rights, have undercut the perceived legitimacy of the sanctions regime and its ability to enforce its decisions.

In the Special Rapporteur's view, the Council should, under Chapter VII powers, establish an independent adjudicator with jurisdiction to review and overturn a designation by the Committee.  Such a regime would be different from the former one as it would require the Security Council to abide by the recommendations of the Ombudsperson.

Eight countries contributed to the dialogue, which centered on the effectiveness of the sanctions regime since its inception in 1999.

Mexico and Pakistan inquired whether some of the recommendations could be applied to other sanction cases and regimes. The Special Rapportuer noted that he had focused on the Al-Qaida regime as it had been  the target of sustained legal challenges. 

The European Union (EU), Liechtenstein, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) all praised the improvements in the sanctions regime since 1998. However, they questioned the Special Rapporteur’s assessment that current due process procedures fall short of international human rights law. In their view,  the Ombudsperson process is robust, and operates with respect to the fundamental aspects of due process.

Iran raised the issue of targeted killings, and asked if the Special Rapporteur would take the topic up in future studies.  The Special Rapportuer said his next report to the Human Rights Council would review the minimum international standards related to the accountability of public officials who had collaborated with a torture-rendering State.  He also mentioned that he had begun a study on the use of drones, which he would present to the General Assembly in 2013.

 

[1] The report is available here.

[2] The Office of the Ombudsperson was established by Security Council resolution 1904 (2009) and amended by resolution 1989 (2011). It was created to aid the Al Qaida Sanctions Committee by investigating de-listing requests, and making recommendations on them. The regime requires States to impose measures such as asset freezes, international travel bans and arms embargoes on individuals and entities designated by its own sanctions committee to be associated with Al Qaida.

 

New UN expert on transitional justice presents first report to General Assembly

22.11.2012
 

On 2 November 2012, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr Pablo de Greiff, presented his first report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee.[1]

In his statement, the Special Rapporteur laid out the foundations of his mandate and called on States to translate into practice their commitments to the idea that redressing past violations is vital for the rule of law.

The Special Rapporteur commended the creation of his mandate by the Human Rights Council. He also praised Member States for having recently adopted a Declaration which expresses the international community’s strong commitment to the rule of law that goes beyond a purely beyond legal formalism - which has proven greatly ineffective - and includes protection of human rights. He referred to apartheid South Africa and Pinochet's Chile to highlight that a formal understanding of the rule of law does not offer guarantees against gross human rights violations, and in some cases can be used to strengthen abusive power.

The Special Rapporteur also elaborated on how the promotion of transitional justice measures can contribute to the rule of law through the implementation of the four pillars of the mandate: truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence.  He underscored how certain measures, such as truth commissions, criminal prosecutions, reparations for victims and institutional reform can enhance the rule of law at the domestic level. However he also regretted that some governments remain reluctant to adopt these measures, or try to  trade off one measure against another.

Five countries participated in the dialogue. All the participants expressed appreciation for the victim-centred approach endorsed by the Special Rapporteur. Several States, including Switzerland, were interested in the next steps of the Special Rapporteur, and how he intended to reinforce links among the four pillars.  Chile, Morocco, and Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the gender-dimension of his work, and Norway inquired about marginalized minorities.

In his responses, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern about how few transitional measures had served women and marginalized communities, In regards to moving forward, he planned to hold a  series of consultations at the regional level to explore how countries had redressed massive violations.  He would also carry out country visits, and in due course, provide advisory and technical services.

Lastly, he reiterated the importance of appropriate redress. The fundamental challenge for the effective strengthening of the rule of law, he stated, is that transitional justice must integrate the four pillars, and that it must be designed and operated with acknowledgement of the past.

 

[1] The report (A/67/368) is available at http://www.un.org/en/ga/third/67/documentslist.shtml

 

Governments Condemn Extrajudicial Executions in Seminal UN Vote

22.11.2012
 

(Joint press release)

(New York) An international coalition of organizations dedicated to human rights celebrated the historic vote in the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, on November 20, to pass resolution A/C.3/67/L.36 condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.  The vote reversed the events of 2010 when the same body voted to strip the resolution of reference to “sexual orientation.” The UNGA also expanded upon its commitment to the universality of human rights by including “gender identity” for the first time in the resolution’s history. 

The resolution, which is introduced biennially in the Third Committee, urges States to protect the right to life of all people, including by calling upon states to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds. It was introduced by the Government of Sweden and co-sponsored by 34 states from around the world.

For the past 12 years, this resolution has urged States "to investigate promptly and thoroughly all killings, including... all killings committed for any discriminatory reason, including sexual orientation."  Apart from Human Rights Council resolution 17/19 it is the only UN resolution to make specific reference to sexual orientation.  This year, the term “gender identity” was added to the list of categories vulnerable to extrajudicial killings.

At Tuesday’s session, the United Arab Emirates, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, presented an amendment that would have stripped the resolution of reference to “sexual orientation and gender identity” and substituted “or for any other reason.”  The UAE proposal was rejected in a vote with 44 votes in favor, 86 against, and 31 abstentions and 32 absent.  Another failed effort, led by the Holy See, would have stripped all specific references to groups at high risk for execution; however it was never formally introduced. 

The Third Committee also retained language expressing “deep concern” over the continuing instances of arbitrary killing resulting from the use of capital punishment in a manner that violates international law, which some States led by Singapore attempted to have deleted. The Singapore proposal was rejected in a vote with 50 votes in favor, 78 against, and 37 abstentions and 30 absent. 

The full resolution passed with 108 votes in favor, 1 against, 65 abstentions, and 19 absent.

Many governments, including Brazil, the United States and South Africa, among others, spoke out to condemn the proposed amendment to remove reference to sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Government of Japan ended the silence that has often characterized the Asian Group’s participation on LGBT rights at the UNGA by stating, “We cannot tolerate any killings of persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our delegation voted against the proposed amendment to this paragraph because we think it is meaningful to mention such killings from the perspective of protecting the rights of LGBT people.”  

Some governments condemned the reference to sexual orientation and gender identity, including Sudan on behalf of the Arab Group, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Trinidad and Tobago stated that specific reference to “gender identity” presented a “particular challenge” for the country.  Speaking frequently, the Government of Egypt stated that it was “gravely alarmed at the attempt to legitimate undetermined concepts like gender identity” by equating them with other forms of discrimination such as that based on race, color, sex, religion, and language.  In reference to sexual orientation and gender identity, Egypt stated, “We are alarmed at the attempts to make new rights or new standards.” 

The vote affirms the resolution’s dramatic conclusion in 2010. At that time, the Third Committee removed the reference to “sexual orientation” by a vote of 79 in favor, 70 opposed, with 17 abstaining and 26 not voting and was silent on “gender identity.” However, in a remarkable turn of events, the resolution was later introduced before the full General Assembly, which voted to reinstate the language by passing it 93 to 55, with 27 abstentions and 17 absent or not voting.

The states’ decision on Tuesday to support the inclusion of “sexual orientation” and introduce “gender identity” into the resolution is one more in a series of positive developments the UN and in regional human rights systems where there is increasingly recognition of the need for protection from discrimination regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The successful expansion of the resolution to include “gender identity” on Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day dedicated to those murdered as a result of their gender identity or expression, was particularly significant.

THE VOTE

  • For a full vote on the Singapore Amendment click here.  For a photograph of the vote click here.
  • For a full vote on the United Arab Emirates Amendment to remove sexual orientation and gender identity click here.  For a photograph of the vote click here.
  • For a full vote on the passage of the Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Resolutions click here.  For a photograph of the vote click here.

Joint news release by:

Action Canada for Population and Development, Canada

Anjaree Thailand, Thailand

Amnesty International

Arc International

COC Nederland, Netherlands

FARUG, Uganda

For-SOGI, Thailand

GAYa NUSANTARA, Indonesia

GATE: Global Action for Trans* Equality

Human Rights Watch

International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia (IDAHO)

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

International Commission of Jurists

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Kaos Gay Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association, Turkey

The Norwegian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organisation (LLH), Norway

Organización de Transexuales por la Dignidad de la Diversidad (OTD), Chile

RFSL The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, Sweden

Russian LGBT Network, Russia

SAYONI, Singapore

SPECTRUM, Uganda

SPoD, Social Policies, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association, Turkey

TLF Share, Philippines

Transgender Europe (TGEU)

Women for Women's Human Rights (WWHR), Turkey

Pages

Opinion:

A conducive legal framework is a necessary, although by no means sufficient, element of a safe and enabling environment for the work of human rights defenders (HRDs). This requires both the absence of laws and policies which restrict or, even, criminalise the work of HRDs, and the enactment and effective implementation of laws and policies which support and protect their work, writes ISHR director Phil Lynch.

Browse our articles:

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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