News

09 Jul

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

06 Jul

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

05 Jul

Today we join with many human rights defenders to thank all those of you who donated to our Human Rights Defender Appeal. Thanks to your generosity, we will expand our support for at-risk defenders to make the world more fair, just and equal.

06 Jul

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, civil society space is shrinking, forcing human rights defenders to work in a very challenging and unsafe environment.

05 Jul

While Burundi still refuses to cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms, the Commission of Inquiry and the Universal Periodic Review working group both presented their reports during the 38th session of the Human Rights Council.

UPR of Antigua and Barbuda: notable achievements in education but concerns over LGBTI rights

07.10.2011
 

On 4 October 2011 the Working Group on the UPR considered the human rights situation in the Antigua and Barbuda. The delegation comprised of the Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mr Conrad Hunt and the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr Justin Simon who presented the report. Mr  Simon reiterated Antigua and Barbuda’s commitment to enhancing the promotion and protection of human rights of its ‘citizens and residents’, but reminded delegations that their efforts in this regard should be considered in the context of the country being a third world, developing State with limited resources.

Antigua and Barbuda’s report highlighted its work in realising human rights.  This included efforts to fight human trafficking, such as adopting the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention) Act 2010; its focus on implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child in particular addressing the situation of vulnerable and at risk children; creating a HIV/AIDS Secretariat working on prevention, education, treatment and counselling, as well establishing a human rights desk addressing discrimination against infected persons; and the Government’s extensive work on education in Antigua and Barbuda, which includes using education to address gender inequality.

In the interactive dialogue that followed, specific recommendations, questions and comments included:

  • Recommendations that Antigua and Barbuda ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its first and second protocols, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other key human rights Conventions to which the State is not party.
  • Praise for the Government‘s efforts to provide free education at both the primary and secondary levels and assisting students from under-developed areas with lunches, uniforms, textbooks and transport.
  • Criticism of the Government’s maintenance of the death penalty in its legislation, despite the fact the last execution was carried out in 1991.
  • Criticism of ongoing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and calls for Antigua and Barbuda to decriminalise homosexual relations between consenting adults.
  • Criticism of the poor prison conditions in Antigua and Barbuda, which are overcrowded and lack basic physical amenities.
  • Criticism of the detention of juvenile offenders in the same facility as adult prisoners.
  • Recommendations that the Government prohibit corporal punishment, particularly against children in schools and homes.
  • Praise on the work done to ensure the rights of elderly persons, persons with disability and persons infected with HIV/AIDS.
  • Calls that the Government raise their age of criminal responsibility, which currently stands at eight years of age, in order to comply with international standards.
  • Recommendations that the State establish a National Human Rights Institution in line with the Paris Principles (Principles Relating to the Status and Functioning of National Institutions).
  • Calls to Antigua and Barbuda to extend open invitations to the special procedures.

In his conclusion, Mr Simon assured delegations that the government would look into these recommendations. He argued that the country did not have the political mandate to abolish the death penalty or decriminalise homosexual relations, but would seek to use education and awareness raising to change public opinion on these matters. He recognised the State’s criticisms of the prison system, but argued that with their limited resources they should be forgiven for putting matters such as health and education above the construction of a new prison facility. He also said that they would follow suggestions that they seek international assistance, and would be approaching OHCHR to ask for technical assistance and capacity building.

At the adoption of the report, the delegation accepted 34 recommendations and rejected 22. The remaining 33 recommendations were to be discussed by the Government and civil society and a position decided by the 19th session of the Council in March 2012. Mr Simon reiterated the argument that it is the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda who determine the priorities of the Government in relation to human rights, but gave assurances that those recommendations that had been accepted would be implemented as soon as possible. In conclusion Mr Simon said that his Government appreciated the offers for technical assistance that had been made and that they would follow up on these offers.

Human Rights Council takes important decisions on transitional justice and reprisals

03.10.2011
 

The Human Rights Council finished its 18th Session on 30 September 2011, with the adoption of a record number of resolutions. Taking a step back from the positive record of the June and March sessions, the Council’s consideration and response to country situations, remains one of its biggest challenge including in the Middle-East & North Africa, Sri Lanka, and Belarus. 

Of note for human rights defenders are important advances in the area of transitional justice – with the creation of a Special Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence – and reprisals. On the latter theme, the Council will hold a panel discussion in September 2012 to find ways in which to address harassment and intimidation of people cooperating with the UN system.

Watch also ISHR’s wrap-up video or download our joint NGO end-of-session statement.

Human Rights Council considers the worsening situation in Somalia

30.09.2011
 

On 28 September at the 18th session of the Human Rights Council, Independent Expert, Mr Shamsul Bari, presented his report on the situation in Somalia. Mr Bari began by pointing out that in the few months since completing his report the situation has worsened. Recent droughts in the Horn of Africa have further exacerbated the famine in Somalia. In combination with the ongoing armed conflict, the result is the worst case of human deprivation in Somalia that Mr Bari has reported on in the past three years. Mr Bari said it was of crucial importance that the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia makes a strong commitment to improving conditions in Somalia, to show people the difference between life under the Government and life under Al-Shabab rule. Of course, as he also stressed, this could not be achieved without immediate, coordinated, and substantial financial and technical assistance from the international community. Mr Bari also pointed to the successful review of Somalia in its recent UPR and the signing of a roadmap by Somali leaders towards creating a strong Government and constitution.

The Somali representative, responding to the report, also highlighted their recent participation in the UPR, and the fact that Somalia accepted in full 151 recommendations and in part the remaining four. He called for financial and technical assistance from the international community, so that Somalia could begin to implement these recommendations and work towards the promotion and protection of human rights. He said that Somalia was very eager to fix the many issues facing it today, and that they had invited a number of Special Rapporteurs to visit the State to assist with this process.

All State speakers recognised the very serious situation currently facing the Somali people. Of primary importance is the need to address the immense famine facing the country. Other matters of concern included: large numbers of internally displaced persons and the lack of human rights afforded to them; the issue of refugee camps in bordering countries and the many dangers facing Somali people in the camps; the forced disappearances, torture and summary executions currently being carried out against human rights defenders and journalists; the issues of piracy, illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste; the difficulties faced by humanitarian workers trying to enter Somalia; problems of human trafficking; violations of women’s and children’s rights, including a failure to provide education for children and the use of child soldiers; and large numbers of civilian deaths in the armed conflict.

Many States commended Somalia on its acceptance, in full or in part, of all of the UPR recommendations. The potential of the roadmap as a means of securing human rights was also noted. The European Union urged those involved with implementing the roadmap to ensure that it leads to the creation of a State in which human rights can be upheld. The Czech Republic made the same point, saying that the TFG should make use of the constitution-building process to make strong laws that promote and protect human rights in Somalia. Canada highlighted the importance of a democratic government being created in this process.

Many States recognised the need for the international community to cooperate and provide further assistance to Somalia and several, including Australia and the United States, supported the Independent Expert’s call for the UN and African Union to coordinate their efforts in Somalia. Senegal, speaking on behalf of the African Group, pointed out that the current efforts being made by the international community were minimal considering the gravity of the situation in Somalia, and called on the international community to react rapidly, strongly, and in cooperation to address the many problems facing Somalia.

The various NGOs that spoke, such as Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, also noted the need for the international community to react immediately and in cooperation. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also called for an increase in the monitoring and documentation of human rights violations occurring in Somalia, so that those responsible can be held accountable in the future.

In his concluding remarks, Mr Bari stressed that the main priority of the TFG should be to ‘raise the flag’ of human rights as much as possible. He said that the people of Somalia have lived too long without a real concept of human rights, and they needed to be reminded that they do have basic rights and that the Government will work to promote and protect these. He also pointed out the need for the Government to create a national human rights institution, and for priority to be placed on rebuilding schools and hospitals, with generations of Somali children having grown up without access to education. He stressed that the Somali people need to be involved in every step of rebuilding the country and creating a constitution and a strong government if it is to succeed. Mr Bari said the current prime minister seemed committed to establishing a rule of law, to combating corruption, and to creating transparency; and that the international community should aid him to achieve this. He also highlighted the urgent need to assist the many displaced persons and refugees, and to address issues of impunity and accountability. As Mr Bari noted, it will cost the international community to assist Somalia, but there is a very real need for States to take the chance to work with the current Government and address the many issues facing Somalia.

Human Rights Council debate on the OPT focuses on bid for statehood

30.09.2011
 

On 26 September 2011 the Human Rights Council (the Council) held a general debate on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied territories. Mr Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Branch, introduced two reports under agenda item 7. The first was in response to Council Resolution 16/32 which requested the Secretary-General present a report on progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. The second report was in response to the Council’s request that the High Commissioner present a report on the implementation of resolution 16/32.

The session lacked balance as Israel, one of the concerned States, chose not to issue a statement. Few Western States spoke at the session, most notably the European Union and the US. Instead, a large number of States from the Arab Group, Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and African Group, expressed support for Palestine’s bid for statehood at the Security Council in New York. These States repeatedly condemned Israel, calling for Israel, among other things, to implement the fact-finding mission’s recommendations and to end occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory.

Palestine was the first concerned State to speak and it affirmed that it had taken appropriate action to implement the suggestions of the UN fact-finding mission. Palestine brought attention to alleged human rights violations committed against its people by Israel and called on the international community to put an end to rhetoric and take concrete action. Palestine called on Israel to negotiate a fair and amicable resolution to the dispute that would result in the parties co-existing peacefully side-by-side as two States. Palestine expressed its wishes for the end of occupation, for East Jerusalem to be the capital of the Palestinian State and for refugees to have the right to return back to Palestinian territory. Palestine concluded by saying it was not seeking to isolate Israel, but was rather seeking a multilateral solution to the dispute.

Syria, also speaking as concerned country, accused Israel of building a ‘racist’ wall that separates Israel from Syria and that Israel has committed ‘State terrorism’ that has defied the Human rights of Arabs in the region.

The Arab Group, OIC and African Group States continually highlighted Israeli human rights violations and called on the international community to endorse Palestine’s bid for statehood and for a return to the 1967 borders.1 A number of other States also expressed solidarity with the Palestinians.2 States generally called for Israeli implementation of the fact-finding mission’s recommendations, an end to Israeli occupation, the lifting of the blockade in Gaza, an end to Israeli settlement activity and for an end to Israel’s construction of a separation wall.

Switzerland, India, Spain, and Italy took more nuanced approaches. Switzerland expressed concern over Israeli expansion of settlements and Israeli discrimination of Bedouins, and also called for the Palestinian authorities to put an end of rocket fire from Gaza. India said that both sides had to sit down and shoulder the responsibility for creating a lasting peace and urged both parties, including armed Palestinian groups, to implement the recommendations made by the fact-finding mission. Spain said that it respected Israel’s security needs, and that the culture of impunity on both sides was leading to increasing human rights violations. Spain also said that the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem was illegal under international law and it was concerned with the increase of settlements on illegally occupied land. Italy said the parameters were in place for a long-lasting peace and that further delays on a peace agreement would only exacerbate the conflict.

1 Egypt (on behalf of the Arab Group), Senegal (on behalf of the African Group), Egypt (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Kuwait, Maldives, Bangladesh, Qatar, Jordan, Indonesia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Iran, Bahrain, Egypt, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, League of Arab States, South Africa, Lebanon, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Tunisia.

2 China, Russia, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Venezuela.

 

Belarus criticises politicisation of the Council during interactive dialogue on the country

27.09.2011
 

On 20 September 2011 the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue under item 4 on the High Commissioner’s oral report on the human rights situation in Belarus. The dialogue saw stark disagreement between the European Union (EU) States on the one hand, and Belarus with support from Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and China, on the other hand, about the effectiveness of country-specific resolutions in this particular case, and in general. The EU called on the Government authorities to immediately release all political prisoners and journalists, abolish the death penalty, and adhere to the provisions of resolution 17/24, which was adopted at the 17th Human Rights Council session. On the other hand, Russia, Cuba, China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe strongly opposed the adoption of such resolutions and targeted this aspect of the work of the Council as being politicised and involving double standards. States made several concrete recommendations as to how the human rights situation in Belarus could be addressed, but these were not well-received by Belarus. Belarus took the opportunity to explain its reluctance to implement resolution 17/24.

Speaking before the Council, Deputy High Commissioner, Ms Kyung-wha Kang, requested the Government authorities to accept the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) mission in Belarus and allow the investigation of the circumstances in which people were detained. Ms Kang criticised the Government for their reluctance to release all political activists, journalists, and human rights defenders, noting in particular Mr Aliaksandr Bialatski, Vice-President of the Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'Homme (FIDH), and condemned violations of freedom of expression and assembly. Additionally, Ms Kang stressed the need for the Government to abolish capital punishment and to cooperate with the special procedures, the UPR, and the Council of Europe. Ms Kang highlighted the crucial need for OHCHR to gain access to the country and provide not only technical assistance but also to assess the situation and compile the report requested for the 20th session of the Council.

In his statement to the Council, Mr Mikhail Khvostov, Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus, stated that the country-specific resolution on Belarus contradicts the principles contained in the institution-building package of the Council, including impartiality, objectivity, and non-selectivity. He described country-specific resolutions as a politicised working method. The Ambassador outlined the reasons for the reluctance to cooperate with OHCHR on resolution17/21, including the fact that Belarus perceives the EU's policy as being to present Belarus as a special case of non-compliance in the field of human rights. Additionally, Mr Khvostov claimed that the resolution is driven by the political motive of overthrowing the Government, and thus cannot serve as a basis for collaboration with the Council.

The Ambassador also concurred with criticism made of the High Commissioner's report. In particular, he indicated that although the arguments and positions of Belarus in relation to the events of 19th December 2010 were provided to OHCHR, these were not reflected in the report. Mr Khvostov expressed his further regret that OHCHR did not adhere to the official document issued by the Government of Belarus in regards to post-election events in December, and instead relied on ‘secondary sources’, resulting in the biased account of the events of 19th December 2010 contained in the report.

Moreover, the Ambassador expressed his disagreement with the EU’s definition of the concept of peaceful demonstration. In particular he noted that assaulting a government’s building is a criminal offence and not a peaceful event as claimed by the EU. The Ambassador indicated that the 19th December 2010 protests were organised by those seeking power by force, who violated the legislation of Belarus and international law. In response to the concerns about those detained, the Ambassador referred to the decision by the Prosecutor-General and the Supreme Court of Belarus, which inspected the legality of the detentions, the treatment of prisoners, and the validity of their sentences. In his closing remarks, Mr Khvostov highlighted that the Government had accepted most of the UPR recommendations made to it, and is willing to cooperate with the UN and maintain open dialogue.

During the interactive dialogue Russia, along with Cuba, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, supported Belarus’ position and criticised country specific resolutions as being often based on political motives. Cuba in particular raised its voice about the continuing politicisation of the Council and argued that the country-specific resolution perpetuates the negative stereotyping of Belarus, instead of promoting open dialogue and collaboration. This view was shared by the Russian Federation, which also highlighted Belarus’ willingness to cooperate with the Council as demonstrated by its acceptance of most of the UPR recommendations that the country received in May 2010.

The EU disagreed with these positions and emphasised the need for Belarus to cooperate fully with the special procedures and allow them to visit Belarus. France argued that no improvement had been made in Belarus since the adoption of resolution 17/24 and stressed the need for the special procedures to be able to visit the country to investigate the human rights situation. This view was shared by the Scandinavian States, in particular Norway and Sweden. These States also urged the Government to release political prisoners and abolish the death penalty, which is still in force in the country. Iran on the other hand provided suggestions for establishing independent national human rights mechanism to help implement human rights policies in Belarus and encourage dialogue between the Council and the country concerned. The majority of States agreed that it is crucial that the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners, human rights defenders, and other civil society actors should be the next step taken by the Government of Belarus. In addition to this, the Government was recommended to have a moratiorium on capital punishment. States called on Belarus to show willingness to cooperate with the Council by addressing these recommendations.

In his response, Mr Khvostov expressed his appreciation for those who objected to the adoption of a country-specific resolution on Belarus and reiterated the counter-productivity of having such resolutions at the Council. The Ambassador also stated that the Government is willing to cooperate with OHCHR and has sent invitations to eight special thematic procedures of the Council as well as having issued an invitation in August 2011 for the High Commissioner to visit Minsk. However, no response was given in regards to the release of political prisoners and the abolition of the death penalty.

The main concern for OHCHR was the need for access to Belarus to continue investigations into those detained and the human rights situation in the country, in order to compile the report requested for the 20th session of the Council. Belarus has not yet given permission for the OHCHR mission to enter the country. It did, however, state its willingness to cooperate with the Council such as through the invitations it had sent to eight special procedures, which indicates some possibility for the continuation of the dialogue between the Council and the country concerned.

States welcome the High Commissioner's report on Yemen

23.09.2011
 

On 19 September 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue with Ms Kyung-wha Kang, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the situation of human rights in the Republic of Yemen. At the June 2011 session the Council adopted procedural decision 17/117 on Yemen, requesting the High Commissioner to report on the situation in the country. In April 2011, the High Commissioner proposed a mission by a delegation from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to Yemen to assess the human rights situation. OHCHR visited Yemen from 28 June to 6 July 2011. In accordance with procedural decision 17/117, the High Commissioner was to report back to the Council on the Yemen mission.

The Deputy High Commissioner presented the report, and noted with appreciation the cooperation the mission had received from the Yemeni government, which had provided full access and enabled the mission to meet with a range of stakeholders including Government ministers, the judiciary, and civil society actors.

She highlighted the challenges in Yemen which have further complicated the human rights situation in the country. She pointed to alleged Al-Qaeda sects, a strong secessionist movement in the south of Yemen, and numerous resignations of senior officials as examples.

She also raised a number of concerns and alleged human rights violations. Of particular concern were reports of excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by Yemen against peaceful protestors. A number of specific incidents were highlighted in which security forces had killed dozens of peaceful protesters. The report suggested that security forces had not been properly trained or equipped to deal with peaceful protests. Ms Kang also noted the arbitrary arrest and torture of protesters, and withholding of medical treatment from protesters. Concern was raised over the deterioration of socioeconomic conditions and general standards of living. Basic services including electricity and water had been cut off. The Deputy High Commissioner reported that the Yemeni Government had argued that the cutting of such services was due to acts of sabotage by armed opponents, however those interviewed had stated their belief that the cutting of services was by the Government in an attempt to punish protesters. Vulnerable groups had also suffered. Women and children had been subjected to the same violence experienced by men, and children had been recruited by armed forces.

The Deputy High Commissioner also noted the report’s finding that armed opponents of the Government were partly to blame for the human rights crisis in Yemen.

The Yemeni Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Abubakr Abdullah Alqerbi, was present to respond to the presentation of the report. Overall, that response was constructive. Dr Alquerbi affirmed Yemen’s commitment to human rights and to working with OHCHR to address the current human rights situation in Yemen. Dr Alquerbi also affirmed Yemen’s belief in democracy and referred to the latest Presidential elections, which had been internationally commended, as support for this.

The Minister pointed to the fact that the President and the Government have made a number of proposals in an effort to meet the demands of protestors, including reforming the system of government from a presidential system to a parliamentary system, electoral reform, and the formation of a national accord government. These proposals have all been rejected by the opposition.

Dr Alquerbi also noted evidence presented by the Yemeni Government purporting to prove that many allegations of wrongdoing by Government security forces were false. Evidence had also been provided to show that some investigations and referrals to the judiciary regarding the security forces had taken place.

Dr Alqerbi expressed Yemen’s willingness to deal positively with the report of the mission and to implement those recommendations made in the report which are consistent with the Yemeni Government's own policies and steps towards protecting human rights.

However, the Minister rejected the recommendation of OHCHR for international, transparent and independent investigations into credible allegations of human rights abuses committed by Government security forces.i It was argued that the recommendation was inconsistent with OHCHR’s recommendation that the Yemeni political parties seek to resolve their political differences through open and transparent dialogue.ii However, the Minister proposed an alternative to the recommendation by OHCHR to launch independent investigations, and suggested the establishment of an independent and neutral national commission formed by all Yemeni political parties so as to undertake an evidence-based investigation into violations of human rights.

Dr Alquerbi requested international cooperation and assistance to support Yemen in addressing its human rights situation, including through combatting terrorism, fostering a national dialogue, bulding respect for human rights, and achieving sustainable development. This call was echoed by a number of States, including Thailand, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United Arab Emirates, who urged greater support from the international community to assist Yemen in this regard.

States commended the cooperation of Yemen with the mission and thanked the Minister for being present at the interactive dialogue. States welcomed the report of the High Commissioner and overwhelmingly supported its recommendations. A number of concerns were picked up on by States including the disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters by Government security forces and the lack of independence of the Yemeni judiciary.

In her concluding remarks Ms Kang stated that Yemen’s immediate priority should be to take action to end attacks against peaceful protestors, to implement independent domestic investigations, and to end the use of child soldiers. OHCHR would work closely with Yemen to assist with affecting these immediate priorities. Ms Kang noted that although OHCHR had no official presence in Yemen at the current time, information was continually being sourced from the ground. Accordingly, the situation in Yemen was closely being monitored, albeit via secondary information.

The UK questioned the Deputy High Commissioner on what action was needed for the strengthening of the right to freedom of expression and assembly. According to Ms Kang, it was important that all those who had been detained for exercising that right be released by the Yemeni authorities. Visits to Yemen by relevant Special Rapporteurs was also considered necessary to strengthen the right to freedom of expression and assembly, through reporting on the right and how it was being implemented.

Concerns were raised by some States that the report failed to take into consideration the comments of the Yemeni government. Ms Kangnoted that the report reflected both the position of the Government and the opposition. OHCHR had shared a draft report with the Government and revised it to ensure the Government’s position was noted.

i Report of the High Commissioner on OHCHR’s visit to Yemen, Advanced Unedited Version, [77], UN Doc. A/HRC/18/21 (2011) at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/YE/YemenAssessmentMissionReport.pdf

ii Ibid, [99].

 

Interactive dialogue with Independent Expert on Sudan sees States divided

23.09.2011
 

The interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Sudan took place over the 19th and 20th of September at the 18th session of the Human Rights Council (the Council). The dialogue began with a presentation from the Independent Expert, Mohamed Chande Othman, of his report on the human rights situations in Sudan and the newly established State of South Sudan. He began by commending Sudan and South Sudan on their successes in the field of human rights, with the successful referendum on the right to self-determination and subsequent creation of South Sudan being of greatest significance. Sudan’s successful participation in the Universal Periodic Review, a reduction in violence and tribal conflict in both Sudan and South Sudan, and the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and of the Doha Agreement were also highlighted.

However, Mr Othman’s report also drew attention to the many human rights problems facing the region. These include: an absence of any independent human rights mechanism, the cessation of the human rights forums that had been set up during the Independent Expert’s visits, censoring of the press, unlawful detention, a failure to provide freedom of speech, indiscriminate bombing, forced disappearances, large numbers of displaced persons, the failure of the referendum on the Abyei region, issues of impunity, gender and sexually based violence, and a lack of access to the region for humanitarian workers. Mr Othman called on the international community to seek ways to support Sudan and South Sudan, particularly in the provision of technical assistance and capacity building, so that the States can work towards the successful promotion and protection of human rights.

While all States welcomed the developments made by Sudan and South Sudan and also shared concern over the many human rights issues detailed in the report, they were divided on how the Council should proceed in assisting Sudan and South Sudan on their path to a stable human rights system. Many States highlighted the high concentration of human rights violations in Southern Kordofan, Abyei, and the Blue Nile region. They recognised the need for these to be addressed and for those responsible to be held accountable. However, they were divided as to how this should be achieved. States such as the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), France, Slovenia, the Republic of Korea, Belgium, and Spain called for these issues to be dealt with through the creation of an international, independent investigation into human rights violations in Sudan and South Sudan. However, Egypt (both individually and behalf of the Arab Group), the Maldives, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) all argued that there was no need for an investigation of that kind, and that Sudan and South Sudan should be left to deal with these issues on their own terms.

States were also divided as to whether or not the mandate of the Independent Expert should be extended. Sudan argued that the mandate limited its development in other areas as it presented a barrier to the provision of financial assistance from alternate sources. Both Sudan and South Sudan felt they would be better equipped to deal with their human rights issues themselves if they were provided with technical support, rather than having the presence of an Independent Expert. Qatar, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Ethiopia, China, the Syrian Arab Republic and several other States agreed that the mandate should not be extended. They agreed that, with international support, including technical assistance and capacity building, Sudan and South Sudan should be left in control of dealing with their human rights issues.

Conversely, the European Union, the US, Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland voiced their strong belief that the mandate should be extended for Sudan. They also supported the call for provision of technical support and capacity building. They argued that it was of fundamental importance that there remain a UN presence in the fight against the current human rights violations occurring both in Sudan and South Sudan. This view was supported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

In his concluding remarks, Mr Othman said that South Sudan had shown that it was open to dialogue and to improving its human rights situation, but that it faced many challenges. He called for the international community to provide assistance so that they could get their law enforcement agencies functioning, reduce human rights violations, and achieve effective, democratic governance. He also recommended the inclusion of a human rights component in resolution 1990 of the Security Council, which asks for the Secretary General to monitor the situation in South Kordofan. In their final remarks, both Sudan and South Sudan repeated their request for the international community to provide technical assistance and capacity building to assist them in their efforts to improve their human rights situations. Sudan asked to be given the autonomy to continue addressing its human rights situation without an extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert. South Sudan also asked for international support in the form of technical assistance and capacity building, but said that there is no need for a mandate for an Independent Expert in its State. This denial from South Sudan that they need an Independent Expert will make it difficult to convince other States to support a call for such a mandate. As the public negotiations on the resolution to renew the mandate get underway it remains to be seen whether the mandate will be renewed and in what form, for example, whether it will be moved from Item 4 to Item 10, with a focus on technical support and capacity building.

Libyan National Transitional Council pledges full cooperation with Commission of Inquiry

23.09.2011
 

On 19 September 2011 the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue under item 4 with Judge Philippe Kirsch, a member of the Commission of Inquiry on Libya. Despite the significant changes in Libya since June, the debate did not add much new information to what had been discussed during the 17th regular session in June. Substantive dialogue was generally avoided as most States used their allotted time to express their support for the new Libya. Several States called for Libya’s full membership rights at the Council to be reinstated.

Speaking before the Council, Mr Kirsch said that there have been significant changes on the ground in Libya since the Commission’s last report to the 17th session of the Council in June, and that most parts of the country are now under the control of the National Transitional Council (NTC). Mr Kirsch noted that the Commission’s report only contained allegations of human rights violations which have yet to be confirmed by the Commission itself due to its lack of presence in the country.

In his briefing to the Council, Mr Kirsch listed numerous alleged human rights violations committed by both pro-Gaddafi forces and by the NTC. Pro-Gaddafi forces are alleged to have arbitrarily detained, kidnapped, and killed civilians. The Commission also received reports of extra-judicial killings by both pro-Gaddafi and by NTC forces. Mr Kirsch summarised a number of allegations of NTC violations against persons of dark-skin in Libya, many of whom have been accused of being pro-Gaddafi mercenaries. According to reports, Mr Kirsch said, a large number of migrant workers from Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Sudan, as well as dark-skinned Libyans, have been arbitrarily arrested by NTC security forces in Tripoli and many have not been brought before judges to review the legality of their detention. Mr Kirsch also mentioned that troops loyal to Gaddafi as well as NTC forces ‘have besieged towns and cities such as Misrata, Tripoli, Sirte, and Bani Walid’, and cut off essential supplies, which has caused considerable hardship to the civilian population. The Commission has recently been unable to send members in to Libya due to the ongoing conflict and due to security concerns. However, Mr Kirsch said that the Commission has received a positive response from the NTC and intends on sending investigators to Tripoli towards the end of September.

Speaking on behalf of Libya, for the first time since the General Assembly’s recognition of the NTC as the country’s representation to the UN, Mohammed Al-Allagi, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Libya, expressed gratitude to the international community for assisting his nation during the ‘dark’ period in Libyan history. Mr Al-Allagi stated that ‘no sensible person can deny there have been human rights violations’ and that the NTC was willing to fully cooperate with the Commission to investigate the alleged violations. Mr Al-Allagi admitted that rebels were responsible for some of the human rights violations but noted that they did not receive orders from the NTC to carry out violations and that they were individual acts. The Minister also acknowledged the human rights violations committed against African migrant workers and dark-skinned Libyans and stated that although Gaddafi hired mercenaries to fight the rebels, this did not mean that people in Libya should be targeted based on race. Mr Al-Allagi called on the international community to continue supporting his country during its transition, and asserted that the new Libya would protect and promote all human rights. Finally, he extended an invitation to the High Commissioner for Human Rights and all special procedures to visit his country.

During the interactive dialogue, a large number of States expressed support to the Libyan people and the NTC,[1] discussing a wide range of topics.

Most of the comments focused on next steps to be taken in Libya and by the international community. The US urged the High Commissioner to send members of the Commission to Libya as soon as possible in wake of the ongoing crisis in the country. Nigeria urged the NTC to take necessary steps to prevent further human rights violations of black Africans accused of being pro-Gaddafi mercenaries. Norway said that while support from the United Nations was crucial in rebuilding the country, the Libyans themselves must ultimately lead the reform process. Several States also called for an immediate end to violence, and encouraged the NTC to begin the process of national reconciliation. Several States, including Morocco, Qatar, Algeria, Egypt, UAE, Kuwait, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Sudan explicitly or in an implied way suggested that Libya’s membership rights in the Human Rights Council should be reinstated soon.

The debate not only focused on the human rights situation in Libya, but also touched on wider political sensitivities. The Russian Federation expressed concern with the ongoing events in Libya and said that this prolonged conflict would have consequences for the entire region. Cuba (on behalf of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua) said that ‘the West’ and NATO had forced regime change in Libya, have used the UN to implement their own agenda, and that NATO had repeatedly ignored calls by the African Union for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Venezuela condemned the use of violence and did not recognise the NTC because it was propped up by foreign intervention.

NGO voices were also somewhat divided. Human Rights Watch said that the motive of the rebellion against Gaddafi was to overcome human rights abuses and the NTC must make sure it upholds this motive. Others implied that the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime by foreign powers goes against the UN Charter.

Italy, Turkey and Belgium made mention of their financial contributions to Libya. India (on behalf of Brazil and South Africa) commended Tunisia and Egypt for accepting Libyan refugees. The European Union, Norway, and the Republic of Korea welcomed the NTC’s comments on giving women a greater role in Libyan society.

In his responses, the Libyan Minister once again expressed his appreciation to those who have recognised his Government’s legitimacy and reiterated the NTC’s desire to protect and promote fundamental human rights.

Mr Kirsch said that the NTC’s commitment to human rights is encouraging. To conclude, Mr Kirsch offered several suggestions. Mr Kirsch noted that the Libyan constitution is currently suspended so he felt it would not be too difficult for the NTC to include international legislation in the domestic framework. He also stressed that the NTC needs to establish full and complete control over all groups working for it to ensure that further human rights violations are not committed. Mr Kirsch called for international assistance to help Libya put national mechanisms in place to address past violations and tackle impunity, including in particular assistance in documenting such past human rights violations. Finally, Mr Kirsch stated the issue of accountability was not studied extensively during the Commission’s first visit to Libya but was an issue to be addressed prior to the end of its mandate.


[1] Italy, Thailand, Switzerland, Japan, Czech Republic, Morocco, Jordan, Vietnam, France, Egypt (on behalf of the Arab Group), Turkey, the European Union, China, Maldives, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Austria, India (on behalf of Brazil and South Africa), the US, Nigeria, Croatia, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Qatar, Algeria, Egypt, the UAE, Portugal, Indonesia, Iraq, UK, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kuwait, Lebanon, Slovakia, Tunisia, Sudan, Botswana, Republic of Korea.

 

States call for extension of mandate of Commission of Inquiry into situation in Libya

15.06.2011
 

On 9 June 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry (the Commission), which was created under Council resolution S-15/1 adopted at the Council’s 15th special session. The Commission was mandated to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya and present a report to the Council's 17th session.

The report was based on field visits to Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia; meetings with high level officials from the Gaddafi regime and with representatives of the National Transitional Council (NTC); victims, witnesses, doctors, detainees, and refugees, amongst others. The report concludes that what started as peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations aiming at reform were met with violent opposition by the Government, escalating into what is now a civil war. The Government's excessive use of force against civilians constitute acts of murder as well as other grave violations of human rights, and are part of a systematic attack against the population. According to the report, these violations amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. The report also focuses on the violations committed by the opposition but concludes that these violations do not amount to crimes against humanity because they were not considered systematic. In his introductory statement, the Chair of the Commission, Mr Bassiouni, emphasised the need for further investigations into ongoing events in Libya, more extensive field visits, and, most importantly, the need to ensure full accountability if the goals of stability and post-conflict reconciliation were to be met.

The work of the Commission was largely welcomed by States, with some questioning its conclusions in relation to violations allegedly committed by the armed opposition forces and the NATO operations. Towards the end of the session, the Human Rights Council is expected to adopt by consensus a resolution renewing the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry, and asking it to report back to the 18th session of the Council in September. However, it is unclear if the level of importance and the significant demands for resources called for by Mr Bassiouni during the interactive dialogue will be met.

The dialogue with the Commission had been previously postponed due to a disagreement over whether Libya should be represented as the concerned country, despite its rights of membership in the Council being suspended. The President’s final decision to allow Libya (with representatives from Tripoli) to respond to the Commission's presentation of its report, was questioned by many States throughout the dialogue. Iraq questioned the UN’s recognition of the Government seated in Tripoli given the fact that many of the Council’s member States have actively supported the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the suspension of Libya from the Council. Spain pointed out that Libya is divided in two, with two authorities, and to have only one side represented is ‘not worthy’ of the Council, in particular as Spain recognises the NTC as the legitimate voice of the Libyan people. Conversely, some delegations, such as the EU, Italy, Denmark, and Australia, expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to hear the Tripoli-Government’s statement, explaining that this allowed for a more open dialogue.

Although the NTC was not represented directly, Jordan presented a statement on its behalf, in which it thanked the Commission for its work and commended the report as professional and objective. The NTC expressed its determination to implement the conclusions of the report and investigate allegations, and supported the continuation of the Commission's mandate. Jordan’s statement and its role as the representative of the NTC were met with support and agreement by many other States.

The statement made by the Libyan delegation representing the Gaddafi regime was, in contrast, widely rejected. The Gaddafi-delegation rejected all allegations made in the Commission's report, stating that international community has misunderstood the Libyan situation and this misunderstanding has been exacerbated by the media. The truth, according to the representatives from Tripoli, is that the legitimate protests only lasted for a few hours on 15 February 2011, and were dealt with appropriately, but were then used by criminals and armed rebels as a stepping stone to incite insurgency against the legitimate government. The delegation stated that Gaddafi's government has lodged an official complaint against NATO's alleged targeting of civilians. The Libyan statement was adamantly refuted by the EU, the UK, France, Mauritania, and others. The Maldives made a particularly strong statement against the Libyan regime, condemning it as illegitimate and stating that it was ‘ashamed’ to be in the same room as those who represent such a regime.

Although most States explicitly commended the Commission for its work, several expressed concerns over the credibility of some of the information in the report and questioned some of the conclusions. Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group) was concerned about the report's claim that the violations committed by the opposition do not amount to crimes against humanity. It cited alleged violations committed against African migrants workers suspected of being mercenaries, and requested further clarification of the claim that these were not widespread, systematic attacks against civilians. Both the Russian Federation and Venezuela questioned the impartiality of the report, in particular the failure to hold NATO accountable for violations. The Russian Federation questioned why the Commission had been unable to verify or otherwise information provided about NATO actions, despite the apparent presence of witnesses to the consequences of those actions.

Nevertheless, the majority of the States expressed support for the resolution extending the mandate of the Commission, although some States, such as Malaysia, requested more information on the future aims of the Commission, were its mandate to be extended.

In his concluding remarks Mr Bassiouni set out some of the future plans of action for the Commission, assuming its mandate is extended, focusing on assisting the NTC in reestablishing the rule of law, ensuring accountability and ending impunity. To achieve this, Mr Bassiouni emphasised the Commission's need for permanent observers stationed in Libya, a database of violations and the resources to analyse that data in order to assign accountability as a means of future reconciliation, increased military intelligence including to identify what is and what is not a valid military target, and financial and human resources. In remarkable frankness, Mr Bassiouni emphasised that without adequately allocated resources, the Commission's tasks will become purely bureaucratic which ‘the members of the Commission have no interest’ in carrying out.

Following the dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry, on 10 June 2011, the Council held a short interactive dialogue addressing the High Commissioner for Human Right’s report on the situation in Libya. The report was presented by the High Commissioner, Ms Pillay. Ms Pillay presented her report by reiterating her concern about the continuing human rights violations and, more specifically, the plight of migrant workers, refugees, and children. She highlighted human rights violations such as sexual abuse, torture, and enforced disappearances.

Besides Ms Pillay, the Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Mr Khalikov, also spoke. He highlighted the need for a permanent solution to the unrest to be found soon and illustrated this need by offering disconcerting statistics concerning the number of people affected by the conflict (such as those who have been displaced, forced to flee, or are in urgent need of help). Additionally, Mr Khalikov noted that the Libyan banking system has collapsed (resulting in a shortage of cash), and that there is also a severe shortage of vaccines and medicines. He too highlighted possible sexual violence. Mr El Hillo, Director of the Regional Bureau for North Africa and the Middle East for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), offered specific statistics on the situation of refugees, stating that, since the beginning of the crisis, an estimated 1 million people have fled Libya to nearby States including Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, and Chad.

During the dialogue, Argentina highlighted the importance of the Council continuing to monitor the human right situation in Libya. Palestine and Spain asked for the High Commissioner's views on the priorities with regards to dealing with the ongoing violations. Palestine specifically asked what remedies were envisioned for victims. The UK asked for more information on the impact of the conflict on children and Jordan noted the statements in the report on sexual violations committed against women and asked for more detailed information on this. Additionally, the USA, France, and the EU explicitly condemned all human rights violations against the civilian population.

In her concluding remarks, Ms Pillay emphasised in particular the need to protect and support journalists and the media, since much of the work done by OHCHR is based on their information.

Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue on Syria

22.09.2011
 

On 19 September 2011 the Human Rights Council (the Council) met for an interactive debate on the human rights situation in Syria. This debate comes on the heels of the Council’s recent 16th and 17th special sessions that established a fact-finding mission and commission of inquiry respectively to investigate human rights violations within the Arab State.

Deputy High Commissioner Kyung-wha Kang addressed the Council on several alleged human rights violations occurring in Syria by the government’s military and security forces. These include military personnel under orders of ‘shoot to kill’ on demonstrators, heavy artillery and tanks as tools for blockades against civilians gathering food and water, restrictions on freedom of assembly and movement, abductions, unlawful detainment and torture of civilians including children, and summary executions without trial. Much of the information in the High Commissioner’s report was obtained by an independent fact-finding mission set up by the 16th special session of the Council. That mission, although denied direct access to the country, verified its information from a collective of Syrian refugees, military and security force defectors, and human rights activists within the country. Ms Kyung-wha Kang continued by reiterating the High Commissioner’s support of a second mission to Syria—established by the 17th special session—this time with a larger scope that would not only gather information on human rights violations, but ‘where possible, to identify those responsible with a view of ensuring that perpetrations of violations (…) are held accountable.’ The Deputy High Commissioner concluded by stating that there is enough credible evidence to warrant an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Syrian response was not more constructive than on previous occasions, and presented no surprise. The delegation continued to hold its previous position, arguing that most of the human rights violations are being carried out by ‘armed gangs’ aimed at overthrowing the Government, with security forces bearing the brunt of the assault. It maintained that the Government’s top priority was to protect its citizens, and that false allegations of human rights violations are being spread by said gangs in order to stir up international condemnation. Ultimately, the Syrian delegation claimed, it was currently the victim of an international ‘media war’ against the Government.

Although the vast majority of States supported the High Commissioner’s report, a few states took a more critical position. Belarus was concerned with the apparent ‘one-sided’ nature of the report, claiming that it needs to give equal attention to all opinions in a conflict situation. In her closing statement the Deputy High Commissioner refuted this accusation, citing that although documents submitted by the Syrian Government were annexed to the report, it was not in the High Commissioner’s mandate to cover all positions, but rather to identify human rights violations in Syria. Belarus also noted promises by the Syrian Government to carry out political reforms, including holding a national dialogue on elections that could come as early as the end of 2011. This was part of a larger argument made by several States, including Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, China, and the Russian Federation, who all claimed that peaceful, internal dialogue between the government and demonstrators is the only way to resolve the crises and prevent further damage to the country. State sovereignty, they argued, must be upheld.

One of the more telling moves at the interactive dialogue was the changing stance of the Turkish delegation. Turkey had voiced its concern for the Syrian people during the 17th special session in August, but the State took a much sharper tone this time around; it condemned the Syrian Government for its human rights violations and extended its support for Syrian refugees – 8,000 of which currently reside in camps on the Turkey-Syria border.

Over the past few months there has been a shift from States merely condemning the actions by the Syrian Government toward claiming President Assad has lost its legitimacy. This was said explicitly by Australia, Portugal, Austria, Botswana, and the Czech Republic. Moreover, the response to those States alleging that the Council is going beyond its mandate and should avoid interfering with internal, national affairs, was best articulated by the Maldives when it averred: ‘we [the Council] are here to protect human beings, not to protect Governments.’

Along with the Deputy High Commissioner, many States and NGOs, also called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider investigating the human rights abuses occurring in Syria. In her closing statements, Ms Kyung-wha Kang reiterated this possibility, noting that the alleged human rights violations committed by the Syrian Government ‘absolutely’ fall within the scope of the ICC and that the OHCHR, if called upon to provide information to the ICC, would definitely do so.

The Council will next consider the situation in Syria in March 2012, when it will consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry composed of Yakin Erturk, Sergio Pinheiro, and Karin Abu Zeid appointed by the President earlier this session.

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Opinion:

Iceland is seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council to fill the seat left vacant by the withdrawal of the US. If elected, Iceland will use its seat to promote women's rights and LGBTI rights, to address country situations of concern, and to push for incremental reform of the Council to deliver justice to victims of violations, writes Minister for Foreign Affairs Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson.

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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