News

19 Sep

In the face of mounting evidence of crimes against humanity committed with impunity by Burundian authorities, the Human Rights Council should push for investigation and prosecution by the International Criminal Court and for Burundi's Council membership to be suspended, says a group of 35 African and international NGOs. 

12 Sep

This week, in sister events in New York and Geneva, 15 candidate States presented their vision for Human Rights Council membership for the period 2018 – 2020. They also responded to questions on how they would realise their pledges and commitments.

18 Sep
President of the Human Rights Council

Reacting to a report by UN experts exposing ongoing threats and attacks against human rights defenders across the globe, ISHR calls on States to work together and cooperate with the UN to protect civil society.

15 Sep
Palais Wilson where Committee meets

The UN watchdog body on the rights of migrant workers and their families has reviewed the records of Ecuador, Indonesia and Mexico, drawing particular attention to the important role of defenders, and the challenging environment they face.  

12 Sep

Arbitrary detention is a tool governments use to target defenders and rights activism, said ISHR today. Highlighting the case of China, ISHR emphasised that the outstanding cases of defenders languishing in detention, despite the efforts of the international community, are a call to action for Council members and UN officials alike.

Council Alert: Human Rights Council to negotiate landmark resolution on laws affecting human rights defenders

12.02.2013
 

The UN Human Rights Council’s 22nd session will be held from 25 February to 22 March 2013 and consider a range of significant thematic and country-specific human rights issues and actions.

The purpose of this Alert is to provide timely and expert information as to some of the issues and actions likely to arise during the course of the Session.

Human rights defenders

For human rights defenders there are several relevant initiatives. Norway will lead negotiations on a resolution focusing on legislation that affects human rights defenders with the goal of improving the protection of human rights defenders and eliminating laws which impair their work. ISHR has watched the development of this resolution closely and will continue to engage in line with our mandate to support and strengthen human rights defenders. The resolution will build on the report of the Special Rapporteur, Ms Margaret Sekaggya, to the UN General Assembly in 2012. This report considered the issue of the ‘criminalisation’ of human rights defenders through laws which are used or misused to hinder, obstruct or render unlawful actions to promote and protect human rights.

ISHR will organise a side event with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on 5 March (from 12pm – 2pm) which will provide an interactive space for further discussion of the issue of criminalisation and the specific impacts this has on human rights defenders around the world.

The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders will also present her latest report to the Human Rights Council, the subject of which is the role of national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights. She will also report on country visits made to HondurasTunisia, and Ireland (report not yet available).

Based on the thematic calendar of resolutions, a resolution on peaceful protests is also likely to be negotiated at this session.

Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Another relevant and significant initiative will be the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA).

The VDPA reaffirmed many of the tenets that underlie the work of human rights defenders including the universality, interdependence, and indivisibility of human rights, as well as recognising the crucial and legitimate role played by NGOs in protecting human rights, and their need for ‘protection in national law.’ Austria is organising a panel discussion to commemorate this anniversary, giving space for States and civil society to offer their own perspectives on the main achievements of the VDPA and the challenges ahead for implementation. ISHR board member Mr Gustavo Gallon from the Colombian Commission of Jurists will be amongst the panellists. The panel discussion will take place on 25 February.

Panel discussions

There will also be panels held on the following themes during the session:

  • Human rights mainstreaming, with the aim of promoting a human rights based approach to the post-2015 development agenda, and in particular ensuring that human rights education is integrated into that agenda
  • Human rights and persons with disabilities, focusing on work and employment
  • Rights of the child, discussing the challenges to the realisation the right of children to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health
  • Impact of corruption on human rights, with a view to producing recommendations on how to protect human rights in the fight against corruption, and how to strengthen anti-corruption efforts through a human rights-based approach
  • Promoting technical cooperation, including sharing best practices and challenges, to strengthen the judiciary and the administration of justice in order to ensure human rights and the rule of law

Provisional dates for all these discussions are included in the programme of work for the session.

High-level segment

The session is particularly busy with 17 special procedures presenting reports to the session. The four-week session also includes the ‘high-level segment’ where dignitaries from States will address the Council. The general segment of this part of the Council’s programme gives space to four representatives from civil society to address the Council, to highlight concerns of victims of human rights violations and offer their own perspective on what the Council could bring to the promotion and protection of human rights.

While the high level segment does not offer space for dialogue and does not contribute directly to the debates ongoing at the Council, it provides an opportunity, on the sidelines, for discussion of human rights issues between States at the highest level. The readiness of States to send dignitaries to address the Council also attests to the significance that States attach to the Council. This year Germany’s President will address the Council, the first time a sitting president has done so.

Country situations

Other potential highlights of the session include a resolution on Sri Lanka, announced by the United States. The resolution will focus on the promotion of reconciliation and accountability in the country. Sri Lanka was reviewed by fellow States on its human rights record last September, at the 14th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The outcome of that review will be considered for adoption by the Human Rights Council at this session, along with the outcomes of the reviews of the 13 other countries considered at the 14th session of the UPR. 

The Commission of Inquiry into the situation in Syria will present its latest report for discussion at this session. The Chair of the Commission, Mr Pablo de Grieff will participate in an interactive dialogue with States on the findings of the report. The report is not yet available. The fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements will also report to the session.

Human rights and ‘traditional values’

The Advisory Committee will submit its report on traditional values to this session of the Council. The report emphasises the universality of human rights and notes that traditional values can play a role in the promotion and protection of international human rights standards through human rights education and training. At the same time, the report concludes that States also have a responsibility to take action against stereotypes and negative, harmful and discriminatory practices justified by traditional values. The presentation of the report to the Council is an opportunity for States and civil society to reflect on these conclusions and to reach an understanding as to where traditional values fit within the universal human rights framework that was reaffirmed in the VDPA.

Renewal of special procedure mandates

The following special procedure mandates also need to be renewed by States at this session, through the negotiation and adoption of a resolution:

  • Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism
  • Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
  • Special Rapporteur on the right to food

Useful documents for the session

List of resolutions to be introduced at the 22nd session as announced by States during the organisational meeting

Armenia

  • Prevention of genocide

Austria

  • Rights of persons belonging to minorities

Belgium

  • Rights of children whose parents have been sentenced to death, calling for a panel on the 24th session of the Council

Brazil

  • Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, with focus on education as a tool to address this problem

Cuba

  • Right to food, including extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food
  • Composition of the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Denmark

  • Torture and other cruel and degrading treatment and punishment, focusing on rehabilitation and redress

Ecuador

  • Synergies between the Human Rights Council and the Universal Periodic Review, and the role of parliamentarians, requesting a panel at a later session of the Council

EU

  • Freedom of religion and belief, including extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

Iran (NAM)

  • Enhancement of international cooperation and human rights

Mexico

  • Protection of human rights in the fight against terrorism, including extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on promoting and protecting human rights while countering terrorism

New Zealand, Mexico

  • Right to work and employment of persons with disabilities

Norway

  • Protection of human rights defenders

Pakistan (OIC)

  • The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
  • Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance

Portugal

  • Education as a tool to prevent racism

Sweden

  • Iran, extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation in the country

Turkey

  • Birth registration and the right of everyone to recognition as a person before the law

Uruguay (GRULAC), EU

  • Right of the child to enjoy the highest possible level of health

Uruguay

  • Human rights and humanitarian activities post-conflict and post-natural disaster, requesting a study from the Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee

United States

  • Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka

UN must protect human rights defenders and ensure accountability for human rights violations

25.02.2013
 

The UN Human Rights Council must act to protect human rights defenders and ensure accountability for human rights violations, the International Service for Human Rights will tell a high-level meeting of senior officials from around the world today.

The officials are gathered in Geneva to reflect on achievements in the protection of human rights since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) in 1993 and to commit to actions in the years ahead.

‘Twenty years ago the VDPA set out that the “promotion and protection of human rights is a matter of priority for the international community” and that the realisation of human rights must be “the first responsibility of governments”,’ said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

‘This session of the Human Rights Council the strength of the international community’s action on country situations such as those in Sri Lanka, Syria, North Korea, Mali, Burma and Iran will help determine whether, two decades on, this statement remains rhetoric or becomes reality.’

‘The Council must support the UN High Commissioner’s call for “an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of human rights and humanitarian law” in Sri Lanka.’

According to Mr Lynch, the Human Rights Council will also be called on to take action on a number of thematic priorities identified by the VDPA.

‘The VDPA made a crucial contribution to the development of human rights laws and institutions. It affirmed that human rights are universal and highlighted the links between human rights, democracy and development. It also re-affirmed the rights of equality and non-discrimination, and the inalienable rights of women and girls.’

Mr Lynch said that, in accordance with these principles, the Human Rights Council should be careful to ensure that human rights – particularly women’s rights and LGBT rights – are not restricted in the name of protecting so-called ‘traditional values’.

‘The notion of “traditional values” is completely illegitimate so far as it is invoked to restrict the enjoyment of rights guaranteed under international human rights law, or to criminalise or impede activities in defense of them,’ said Mr Lynch.

ISHR will also call on the Council to take concrete steps and measures to support non-government organisations and protect human rights defenders from attacks, intimidation and reprisals

‘Twenty years ago, the VDPA recognised the “important role of non-governmental organizations in the promotion of all human rights.” Two decades on it is imperative that the Council and other UN human rights mechanisms ensure that they are open and accessible to non-government voices. They must also hold states accountable for all forms of harassment and attacks against human rights defenders.’

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

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights, on p.lynch@ishr.ch

UN must act to strengthen human rights treaty body system

26.02.2013
 

(New York) – The UN must act to strengthen the human rights treaty body system and ensure that reforms lead to greater human rights protection on the ground, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

The UN General Assembly is meeting this session to discuss ways to strengthen the UN human rights treaty body system. The process is a crucial one, as reform is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of a system that is continually growing in size and complexity and is in many ways the victim of its own success.

The UN treaty bodies - such as the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture - are made up of leading independent human rights experts from around the world. Their mandate is to hold governments to account for their international human rights obligations. They do this by periodically conducting expert reviews of states' human rights records and also by hearing complaints from individuals who have been subject to human rights violations.

Several issues are on the agenda for discussion – including the accessibility and visibility of the treaty bodies to all stakeholders, the nomination and election of treaty body experts, and measures to increase the effectiveness of the reporting processes.

Regrettably, some States have sought to shut out crucial stakeholders from the process – including non-governmental organizations (NGOs). “As rights holders and representatives of rights holders, NGOs are key stakeholders in the treaty bodies’ work and must therefore remain part of the discussions on treaty body strengthening”, said Madeleine Sinclair of the International Service for Human Rights. The treaty body experts are another group of key stakeholders who have been marginalized in the process. “This is highly problematic as treaty bodies are actually self-governed institutions with the sole competence to deal with issues relating to their working methods”, said Ms. Sinclair.

At a hearing on February 26, NGOs, including ISHR will make a series of joint statements calling for reforms that would help develop the treaty body system into one capable of enabling individuals to better enjoy their rights under the international human rights treaties.

These calls for reform include asking States to make modest, yet significant, changes to encourage the selection of treaty body members who are truly independent and expert. “The need to improve the membership of the treaty bodies has been a recurring theme of past reform discussions and must remain central, given how integral the quality of the membership is to the credibility of the system,” said Ms. Sinclair.

NGOs are also calling for increased accessibility and visibility of the treaty bodies, including through the use of modern technology such as webcasting and videoconferencing. “Proper communication with, and visibility of, the treaty bodies is crucial to ensuring that their work goes beyond a technical discussion in Geneva and has real impact in the countries under review”, said Ms. Sinclair.

NGOs also note the need to address reprisals against human rights defenders who engage with the treaty bodies, stating that “[f]ear of reprisal can hinder participation, effectively rendering the treaty bodies inaccessible, and depriving treaty body experts of the knowledge and experience they depend on to carry out their mandates effectively”.

The joint NGO Statements are available here:

 

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, Human Rights Officer, International Service for Human Rights, on m.sinclair@ishr.ch.

UN Human Rights Council must act against discrimination and homophobia

28.02.2013
 

(Geneva, 28 February 2013) – The UN Human Rights Council should take a strong stand against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

A report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to be debated by the Council today found that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity remains widespread and persistent throughout the world.

‘The time has come for the Human Rights Council to take a strong and principled stand in favour of equality and against homophobia and intolerance,’ said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

Mr Lynch said that the timing of the High Commissioner’s report is opportune, with Russia’s parliament considering legislation to criminalise ‘homosexual propaganda’, and a bill to make homosexual activity an offence punishable by death – the so-called ‘Kill the Gays’ bill – back on the agenda in Uganda. ‘Such laws flagrantly violate international human rights standards,’ said Mr Lynch.

While Russia and Uganda may be extreme examples, they are far from isolated. ‘Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people remains widespread in both law and practice,’ said Mr Lynch.

‘Around the world, laws continue to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, from laws which criminalise homosexual activity to those which fail to recognise marriage equality. ISHR strongly supports the High Commissioner’s call for states to ensure the “repeal of discriminatory laws, the prohibition of discriminatory practices and action to counter violence”.’

In its statement to the Human Rights Council, ISHR also said that the UN and all member states should take action to support human rights defenders and protect them from intimidation, attacks and reprisals.

‘ISHR warmly welcomes Norway’s announcement that it will propose a landmark resolution to the Human Rights Council this session, calling for the elimination of laws which restrict the work of human rights defenders and the passage of laws which ensure that they are able to fully exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and peaceful protest,’ said Mr Lynch. ‘The Council should show its support for human rights defenders by adopting this important resolution by consensus’.

ISHR also welcomed the High Commissioner’s appeal to all states to commit additional resources to sustain and strengthen the UN human rights system. ‘Respecting and protecting human rights is never more important than in times of austerity. Increased investment in human rights promotes security, peace and prosperity, making it not only the right thing morally and economically, but a wise exercise of enlightened self-interest,’ said Mr Lynch.

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

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights, on p.lynch@ishr.ch

High Commissioner attacked by States in carrying out her mandate

01.03.2013
 

On Thursday, the High Commissioner presented her annual report, outlining a number of thematic priorities, including tackling discrimination on all grounds, ensuring accountability for human rights violations, and strengthening human rights mechanisms. 

Following the presentation of the report a number of States took the floor to respond. The High Commissioner faced criticism from States unhappy with her highlighting of particular country and thematic situations of concern during her annual update to the Human Rights Council.

Her call on States to ensure that no individual faces discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, was met once again with categorical denial by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that any such responsibility exists in international human rights law.  The OIC reproached the High Commissioner for promoting a notion that is ‘outside the framework of international human rights law’. The OIC has expressed this position many times previously, but it is increasingly anachronistic given the mounting acceptance at the Council that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as shown by its adoption of a resolution on this subject in June 2011 and subsequent holding of a panel discussion.

In its statement, Botswana acknowledged that violence against women remains one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world and that such violence is rooted in negative cultural values and practices. Botswana further acknowledged that ‘traditional values must never be relied on to undermine universal human rights’.

Germany reacted strongly to what it described as ‘unjustified criticism’ of the High Commissioner, disapproving in particular of a statement made earlier in the session, by the Sri Lanka Special Envoy on Human Rights, that attacked the High Commissioner’s report on the situation in the country as ‘based on unsubstantiated evidence founded on conjecture’ and as ‘counter to the detachment, objectivity, and impartiality expected from the holder of such an exalted office’. Similar criticism was made by Syria, which described the approach of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to the situation in the country as partial and selective.

Also during the discussion, 44 states joined together to express concern on the situation in Bahrain, urging the country to improve its cooperation with OHCHR, and criticising in particular the continuing imprisonment of human rights defenders. Support for the statement increased from the 27 States that signed on at the 20thsession last June, with new backing from States including the United States, the United Kingdom, Botswana, Uruguay, and the Republic of Korea. While this is the strongest response yet from the Council, it still falls far short of reflecting the situation on the ground.

The financial constraints facing OHCHR’s activities are another threat to the ability of the Office to do its work effectively and independently.  Cuba took the opportunity to call yet again for the Council hold a debate on the High Commissioner’s programme and budgetary priorities. Cuba has for many years been attempting to establish the Council in an oversight position over the High Commissioner and her Office:  a move that would likely politicise and substantially diminish the independence of the High Commissioner.

The High Commissioner noted that she would hold an informal dialogue on her Office’s next two-year strategic plan, in the spirit of transparency.

Countering Cuba’s position, 41 States from all regions came together to affirm the fundamental need to maintain the independence of OHCHR in the face of these financial constraints, answerable only to the General Assembly and UN Secretary General. These States committed to continuing to support the High Commissioner’s office through providing voluntary contributions, with Germany pledging a 5 million euro contribution for 2013 to match its 2012 donation.

A number of States spoke to the process of treaty body reform. While some States, including Sri Lanka, emphasised that treaty body reviews should be ‘intergovernmental’ (in other words that there should be no, or substantially reduced, input from NGOs), other States, including the UK and Australia emphasised the need to strengthen the independence, accessibility, visibility, and effectiveness of treaty bodies.

World’s peak human rights body should act to protect women human rights defenders

08.03.2013
 

(Geneva – 8 March 2013) The world's peak human rights body should take action to protect women human rights defenders and those working on women's rights or gender issues, the International Service for Human Rights said on International Women's Day.

‘Violence and discrimination against women remain among the most widespread and invidious human rights violations in the world,’ said Eleanor Openshaw of ISHR.

‘Women human rights defenders are particularly vulnerable to such violations, with a recent UN report finding that people working on women's rights and gender issues are often subject to harassment, stigmatisation, and sexual violence or abuse.’

‘Women defenders challenge societal notions about the status of women. It is because of their work to challenge these very attitudes that women human rights defenders can find themselves the target of human rights violations,’ Ms Openshaw said.

According to Ms Openshaw, attacks against women defenders are often state-sanctioned or involve the state taking inadequate or no action to protect those working on women's rights or gender issues. Moreover, such attacks persist in all corners of the world.

‘Legislation to criminalise “homosexual propaganda” in Russia or the Ukraine or to restrict the provision of abortion services in Mississippi are two sides of the same coin,’ said Ms Openshaw. ‘Both laws discriminate on the grounds of gender or sexuality and both laws target those who stand up for women's rights or gender or sexuality issues.’

The UN Human Rights Council - the world's peak multilateral human rights body - is currently considering a draft resolution on legislation affecting human rights defenders. ISHR is calling on the Council and all member states to ensure that the text recognises the systemic and structural discrimination and violence faced by women human rights defenders. ISHR is also calling on the Council to reaffirm the legal obligation of all states to protect women from violence and discrimination and to ensure that women human rights defenders and those working on women's rights and gender issues are not subject to attacks, intimidation or reprisals.

A number of states from different regions, including Norway, Argentina, the Netherlands, Mexico, Slovenia and Australia, have pledged their support for the resolution and publicly outlined their commitment to protect those working to promote human rights and end discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

‘International Women's Day is a day to celebrate the leadership role that women human rights defenders have played in advancing human rights and social justice globally,’ said Ms Openshaw.

‘But it is also a day to act to ensure that those working to challenge inequality are free from violence and discrimination. We call on all states to ensure that, at the international level, the Human Rights Council adopts a strong resolution and, at the national level, governments enact effective laws and policies to protect women's rights and women human rights defenders.’

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw, International Service for Human Rights, on e.openshaw@ishr.ch or + 41 76 793 1408

Positive dialogue on human rights defenders in Council plenary and progress on landmark negotiations

08.03.2013
 

‘Human rights defenders play a vital role in the improvement of human rights around the world and must be protected’ – Statement of the Netherlands in response to the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.

The Human Rights Council this week held both a plenary dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, which focused on the role of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in promoting human rights. In an informal process, the Council has also commenced negotiations on a landmark resolution, which seeks to protect human rights defenders from laws that restrict their work, and to prevent harassment and criminalisation of defenders through the judicial system.

Presentation of the Report

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms Margaret Sekaggya, presented her report to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council on 4 March 2013, followed by an interactive dialogue with States and NGOs. Ms Sekaggya’s report examines the NHRIs in the promotion of human rights and the protection of human rights defenders, and concludes that national human rights institutions that operate independently from government, in compliance with the Paris Principles, are themselves human rights defenders. In addition to her thematic report, Ms Sekaggya presented reports related to her country visits to HondurasTunisia, and Ireland.

Interactive dialogue in the Council

Many States agreed that NHRIs that operate in compliance with the Paris Principles can play a substantive role in the protection of human rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur recommended that such institutions establish a focal point for human rights defenders with the responsibility of ensuring their protection and carrying out investigations into any attacks or reprisals. Norway said that NHRIs could also play an important role as bridge builders between civil society organisations and governments. France supported the notion that national institutions have an important role to play with respect to the protection of human rights defenders, while stressing that nevertheless it is primarily the responsibility of States to protect their citizens.

The Special Rapporteur’s report also notes that NHRIs face frequent challenges while performing their work, often being victims of threats and attacks. She expressed concern that these challenges and constraints can undermine the independence and efficiency of NHRIs, and their ability to carry out their role to protect human rights defenders. Germany referred to reprisals against NHRIs and defenders who cooperate with the UN as ‘particularly reprehensible’.

To strengthen the capacity of NHRIs in this role, the Special Rapporteur called on State authorities to publicly acknowledge the role of NHRIs, and to ensure that their staff are protected in accordance with standards in international law. The Special Rapporteur’s conclusion that the staff of NHRIs should have immunity in cases where they are carrying out their official functions ‘in good faith’ met with some opposition. The Russian Federation described this as ‘preferential treatment’ and ‘unjustifiable’, while the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) stressed that staff of these institutions should always act within the law and should not be above the legislation of the country in which they operate.

The Special Rapporteur also urged governments to be responsive to NHRI’s recommendations and guarantee adequate follow-up, as a means of giving credibility to their work. The International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of NHRIs called upon States to refrain from unduly interfering with the independence and autonomy of NHRIs and ensure that any instances of intimidation are promptly investigated, with perpetrators brought to justice and a remedy provided to victims.

States also addressed comments to the Special Rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly on criminalisation of human rights defenders, with the European Union noting that ‘the criminalisation of human rights defenders is a direct attack on human rights themselves’.

In connection with this issue, Slovenia said that one could not ignore the challenges that human rights defenders, particularly those working with women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) persons, face in carrying out their work. The International Service for Human Rights said that recent months have underscored the urgency to putting a stop to efforts by States to use legislative and judicial measures to undermine the work of defenders. The proposed ‘homosexual propaganda’ bill in Russia and Ukraine could be used to harass human rights defenders and target those who speak on behalf of LBGT people.

Negotiation of the Resolution

Norway is leading negotiations on a resolution on this issue, reflecting the increasing use of national legislation to constrain the activities of human rights defenders, and violate human rights. One of the issues drawing opposition relates to the funding of NGOs. Several States argue that for the resolution to rule out restrictions on potential sources of funding, is a too large an intrusion into national legislation and the sovereignty of a country, without however pointing out ways to avoid the severe restrictions on civil societies’ right to access funds required to operate suffered by human rights defenders in many contexts.

Some States are also referring to existing national legislation and the differences in legal systems to argue against the inclusion of text that states that penalties for defamation should derive from civil law only. Many of the same States believe that the text should include reference to the ‘obligations’ of human rights defenders, arguing that the current text, which refers only to the obligations of States, is imbalanced.

Women human rights defenders face particular challenges in carrying out their work, both as a result of their identities and as a result of their work to promote human rights. It is because of this dual targeting that the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders has affirmed that women human rights defenders include both those who work to promote women’s human rights and women who are human rights defenders. Accordingly, the present and previous resolutions – including the mandate of the Special Rapporteur – pay specific attention to the situation of women human rights defenders. However, based on this definition, the inclusion of a specific focus on women human rights defenders has seen some opposition during the negotiations.

ISHR organised a discussion with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to delve deeper into the issue of criminalisation. The event brought together defenders working in Latin America and those working on sexual and reproductive rights. An issue of particular concern to women human rights defenders is that of imposing restrictions on activities on the basis of so-called ‘public morals’. As the Special Rapporteur emphasised, international standards must remain the guide when defining restrictions, noting that the concept of public morality is vague and subjective. The Special Rapporteur further noted that any restrictions on the work of human rights defenders must conform with the principle of legality and must be non-discriminatory, strictly necessary, reasonable and proportionate.

Heather Collister is a Human Rights Officer. Ana Kapelet, Sandra Van der Velde, and Carlen Zhang are Interns with the International Service for Human Rights. To follow developments in the UPR and at the Human Rights Council as they happen, follow us on Twitter: @ISHRglobal.

UN top rights body must demand end to criminal persecution of human rights activists

04.03.2013
 

The UN Human Rights Council must act to reverse a global trend towards using the law to restrict and criminalise the work of human rights defenders, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

‘Around the world there is an alarming growth in the enactment and abuse of laws to restrict human rights activism,’ said Michael Ineichen of ISHR.

‘In the last months alone, Russia and the Ukraine have moved laws to criminalise so-called “homosexual propaganda”, Egypt has approved a law severely restricting public demonstrations, and Indonesia has proposed a bill curtailing the legitimate activities of non-government organisations,’ Mr Ineichen said.

According to Mr Ineichen a recent report by the UN expert on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekkaggya, further demonstrated that many governments use the legal system to restrict, intimidate and harass human rights defenders and undermine their work.

‘The UN expert’s report shows that the legal system is used and abused in a wide range of ways to target human rights defenders. This ranges from laws which restrict NGOs from receiving foreign funding, to a reliance on vague notions of “public morals” to curtail advocacy on issues such as sexual and reproductive health rights.’

‘This is despite the fact that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders impose legal obligations on states to protect human rights defenders and ensure that any limitations on their activities are strictly necessary, reasonable and proportionate.’

In response to this report, the UN Human Rights Council – the world’s peak human rights body which is currently meeting in Geneva – is considering a resolution calling for the elimination of laws which restrict the work of human rights defenders and the passage of laws which ensure that they are able to fully exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and peaceful protest.

‘The Council should prove its value as the UN’s top human rights body and its support for human rights defenders by adopting this important resolution by consensus,’ said Mr Ineichen.

The resolution, being negotiated over the coming 10 days, is expected to be adopted on 21 March 2013. Unsurprisingly, initial consultations have shown that states with the most restrictive laws on their books are lobbying to oppose the resolution.

‘The diversity of situations in which governments misuse the legislative or judicial system to crush criticism as part of a more widespread campaign against human rights defenders underscores the need for concerted action by the international community’, Mr Ineichen concluded.

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

Contact: Michael Ineichen, Programme Manager, International Service for Human Rights, on  m.ineichen@ishr.ch / @ineichenM or +41 78 827 77 86.

Opinion: Ambassador Gerard Corr, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations

08.03.2013
 

During this Human Rights Council Session we might remember and draw inspiration from human rights defenders in countries around the world who act to defend the voiceless and, in so doing, themselves become voices for their communities.  Many of them work tirelessly for the realisation of those words affirmed almost 65 years ago in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ They go about their work not because they will receive admiration or even recognition for it, but because of their conviction that human rights are not bestowed upon us as a matter of privilege, but are inherent in each and every person simply by being human.  The protection of human rights defenders and ensuring an enabling environment for their work is fundamental to ensuring the promotion and protection of all human rights.

This has been a long standing priority for Ireland, as we firmly believe their important and legitimate work enables civil society to grow and flourish.  Human rights defenders are a critical dynamic in helping to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights. The challenge for governments is to realise their potential as facilitators and advocates of empowerment of people and communities. 

Ireland has a long tradition of supporting and funding the protection of human rights defenders.  We actively promote the EU 2004 Guidelines on human rights defenders and have also developed complementary guidelines for our embassies and diplomatic missions on human rights defenders. These guidelines describe practical steps that diplomatic missions can take to support human rights defenders and to seek to ensure that embassies properly monitor the situation of defenders abroad.  Through our overseas development policy, we promote the participation of human rights defenders in developing countries in the planning, implementation and monitoring of their country’s national development and poverty reduction strategies.

Governments have a key responsibility for creating the conditions that enable civil society to grow and flourish and ensure the protection of human rights defenders.  This includes the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to freedom of expression.  In addition, the state can create positive conditions through legislation and regulation that support the role of civil society and encourage citizens’ participation. However, the introduction of legal, administrative and other restrictions in many countries undermines the work of human rights defenders and restricts the space for civil society.  Legislation inconsistent with international norms and the misapplication of legislation and misuse of the legal process has often had the effect of criminalizing the work of human rights defenders.  

Ensuring access to resources, including financial resources in order to carry out their important and legitimate work is vital to the work of human rights defenders.  Freedom of association is central to this work and legal, administrative and funding restrictions placed on individuals and associations working for the purpose of defending human rights violate that right. 

Restrictions on funding in particular undermines the credibility and value of the UN human rights structures and system - treaty-bodies, Special Procedures, Universal Periodic Review, the Human Rights Council itself - which are underpinned by the participation of civil society actors and human rights defenders through their contributions of expertise, awareness-raising, monitoring and reporting, development of new standards, mechanisms, and institutions as well as mobilisation of public support.

In order to face the challenges which lie before us, it is important for Government and human rights defenders to work together. This session presents us with an opportunity to send a strong message through the resolution led by Norway on protecting human rights defenders; that the Council will not stand for the intimidation, harassment and persecution of human rights defenders or accept undue restriction of their activities through legal, administrative or any other measures.

Ambassador Gerard Corr, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations

International community must speak out on human rights abuses and reprisals in Sri Lanka

11.03.2013
 

(Geneva - 11 March 2013) - The world's peak human rights body should unequivocally condemn the latest effort by the government of Sri Lanka to silence dissent and intimidate human rights defenders, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

The UN Human Rights Council is currently meeting in Geneva and high on its agenda is a US-led push for credible and independent investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by both government and Tamil Tiger forces in the closing months of the civil war in 2009. A UN panel of experts estimates that over 40,000 civilians died during the final stages of that brutal conflict.

In articles published in the Sri Lankan press yesterday, a senior Sri Lankan government minister is reported to have said that plans are in place to arrest opposition parliamentarians and human rights advocates who are currently in Geneva lobbying for international support for the US-led accountability resolution. The reports cite the Minister as saying that the advocates are being closely surveilled by Sri Lankan intelligence forces and that they will be arrested on their return from Geneva if they "have made statements detrimental to the unitary character of the state".

According to ISHR Director Phil Lynch, "This latest attempt to intimidate human rights defenders is a continuation of a disturbing pattern, which has included targeting journalists and even impeaching a chief justice."

"Since the end of the war in 2009 the Sri Lankan government has systematically sought to silence dissent and the voices of human rights defenders calling for proper investigations and an end to impunity," Mr Lynch said.

According to Mr Lynch, Sri Lanka's systematic intimidation of human rights defenders at home is reflected in the government's conduct at the UN. "Last time human rights defenders from Sri Lanka came to the UN to support calls for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes a cabinet Minister personally threatened to 'break their limbs'." 

At the current session of the Council Sri Lanka has called for the UN accreditation of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to be suspended or withdrawn for deigning to screen a film, No Fire Zone, which graphically documents human rights atrocities in the north of the country.

"The time has come for the international community to loudly and unequivocally condemn this pattern of reprisals against human rights defenders," said Mr Lynch.

"As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has himself said, 'States have a responsibility to respect human rights and protect those who advocate for fundamental rights. When they fail to do so, the United Nations must stand up and speak out.' As the UN’s peak human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council must stand up and speak out."

"Speaking out in defence of human rights, democracy and the rule of law is itself a fundamental human right," said Mr Lynch. "When a state moves to systematically deny and violate this right the international community – both collectively and individually – has a responsibility to act. In the case of Sri Lanka, that time has come."

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

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Opinion:

Imagine being killed for defending your land, your livelihood or the environment. Worse still – if worse exists: imagine that the murderer won’t be prosecuted. This sounds totally absurd and yet, as a new report by Global Witness shows, this is happening more often than ever. Read on. 

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Mechanism

1984

ISHR commences work to develop an international Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders

1988

ISHR publishes first Human Rights Monitor, connecting human rights defenders on the ground with international human rights systems and developments

1993

ISHR facilitates global civil society engagement with the Second World Conference on Human Rights, which leads to the strengthening of women’s rights, the affirmation of universal rights, the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

1994

ISHR provides training, technical assistance and support to its 1000th human rights defender

1998

After 14 years of ISHR lobbying, advocacy and negotiation, the UN General Assembly adopts the landmark Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

2000

UN Secretary-General appoints Hina Jilani as inaugural UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, strengthening protection of human rights advocates at risk worldwide.

2004

ISHR leads a successful campaign for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

2005

ISHR co-founds and supports a range of international and regional human rights coalitions, including the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network

2006

ISHR contributes to the establishment and institution building of a new global peak body for human rights issues, the UN Human Rights Council

2007

ISHR leads and coordinates the development of the Yogyakarta Principles on sexual orientation and gender identity, strengthening legal recognition and protection of LGBT rights worldwide

2011

ISHR’s sustained advocacy on the issue of reprisals and intimidation faced by human rights defenders leads to adoption of landmark UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning and strengthening protections against reprisals

2012

Working with key NGO partners such as Amnesty International, ISHR leads civil society efforts to strengthen UN human rights treaty bodies, prevent their weakening and better connect their work with victims and human rights defenders on the ground

2013

Working with supportive states and NGOs, ISHR advocacy leads to adoption of historic Human Rights Council resolution calling on all States to review and amend national laws to respect and protect the work of human rights defenders