Mali | Groundbreaking new law strengthens legal protection of human rights defenders

Article disponible en français ici

ISHR, the Malian Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network welcome the adoption of a human rights defenders law in Mali. After years of efforts and a demanding legislative process, they are hailing it as an important step towards defenders' protection. The Government must now establish and resource a protection mechanism to ensure the effective implementation of this law.

News

18 Jan

ISHR urges States to use Burundi’s Universal Periodic Review happening today to call on the Burundian Government to refrain from criminalising the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and refrain from restricting their rights.

12 Jan
Protest

ISHR, Amnesty International and partners have published a checklist for the selection and appointment of a UN expert on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Candidates have until 23 January 2018 to apply for the position.

11 Jan
Yogyakarta Principles dandelion image

In a landmark Opinion, the regional human rights court of the Americas has upheld the rights of trans persons and same-sex couples. Referring to the Yogyakarta Principles and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10, the Court advised Costa Rica that it should ensure that trans persons can change their name and gender markers on identity documents, and that same-sex couples enjoy full family rights – including marriage.

04 Jan

In a year that deep cuts were made to UN budgets, resourcing for human rights activities took a hit. Concluding its main session, the UN General Assembly’s approved approximately 50% less funding for some human rights posts than requested. Funds to support the work of treaty bodies were cut, but the need to adequately fund treaty bodies was reaffirmed, establishing a mandate for future resource requests.  

29 Dec

If you’re looking to make that last minute donation, there’s still time to invest in the future of human rights by empowering their defenders.

Joint statement on NGO participation in the GA intergovernmental treaty body strengthening process

12.03.2012
 

Joint NGO Statement: Four recommendations to ensure the effective participation of NGOs in the Intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system

Twenty-four NGOs, including ISHR, have recently presented their recommendations on ensuring the effective participation of NGOs in the intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening the treaty body system.

The joint NGO submission was developed in response to a recent resolution passed by the General Assembly that mandates the President of the GA to establish an open-ended inter-governmental process to conduct open, transparent and inclusive discussions on strengthening the treaty body system. The resolution stipulates that the inter-governmental process shall be open to all Member States and Observer States of the UN, and to inter-governmental organizations and UN bodies.

It also requests the President of the GA to work out “separate informal arrangements...that would allow the open-ended inter-governmental process to benefit from the inputs and expertise of the human rights treaty bodies, national human rights institutions and relevant non-governmental organizations”. The resolution makes poor provision for engagement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with the process and it will be important that the President of the GA and his two co-facilitators ensure that arrangements are put in place to ensure effective NGO participation.

To read the joint NGO recommendations, click here for englishspanish, and french.

Joint NGO Contribution - Treaty Body Strengthening Process

23.04.2012
 

Issues for the Inter-Governmental Process on Strengthening the Effective Functioning of the Human Rights Treaty Body System, a Joint NGO Contribution

Thirty-two NGOs, including ISHR, recently presented a joint contribution on issues related to the Inter-Governmental Process on Strengthening the Effective Functioning of the Human Rights Treaty Body System.

The joint NGO contribution was developed in response to a recent resolution passed by the General Assembly. The resolution recognizes the important, valuable and unique role and contribution of the treaty bodies to the promotion and protection of human rights. It mandates the President of the GA to launch an open-ended inter-governmental process to conduct open, transparent and inclusive negotiations on how to strengthen and enhance the effective functioning of the treaty body system. The inter-governmental process shall not start earlier than April 2012 and the President of the GA is to present a report to the GA on the deliberations and recommendations of the process by the end of its 66th session (17 September 2012) for further consideration, including a possible extension of the process. The President of the General Assembly recently appointed Iceland and Indonesia as co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process.

This document has been prepared by NGOs that regularly contribute to the work of the treaty bodies and that firmly believe that the treaty body system requires strengthening to improve its effectiveness. Efforts to enhance the treaty bodies and the system should aim to improve the fulfilment of States Parties’ obligations and strengthen the capacity of rights holders to enjoy their human rights. To meet this aim, the following issues should be addressed in the inter-governmental process: 1. universal ratification of the core international human rights treaties and their optional protocols; 2. compliance with reporting obligations; 3. implementation of recommendations and views; 4. annual meetings of states parties and reports to the GA; 5. enhancing the membership of the treaty bodies; and 6. providing adequate resources to the treaty body system. Click here to read the full paper in English, French and Spanish.

An earlier paper, endorsed by 24 international and regional NGOs, outlines four recommendations to enable the effective participation of NGOs in the intergovernmental process. To read the joint NGO recommendations, click here for English, Spanish, and French.

Important civil society forum on treaty body reform: deadline for participation 20 August

17.08.2012
 

A civil society forum on strengthening and enhancing the functioning of the human rights treaty body system will take place on Tuesday 4 September. The deadline for confirming participation in this event is Monday 20 August.

Follow this link to read an invitation from the Permanent Representatives of Indonesia and Iceland, the co-facilitators of the human rights treaty body strengthening process, to the civil society forum.

The forum will take place on Tuesday 4 September, simultaneously in Geneva and New York:

  • New York - 10am to 1pm, Room 4, North Lawn Building, UN Secretariat
  • Geneva (by video conference) - 4pm to 7pm, Room XXIV, Palais des Nations

All times are local. The meeting will be conducted in English.

According to the draft agenda, the plenary discussion will cover a range of topics including the proposed 'master calendar', methods of work, reporting process, and capacity to implement. More detail regarding the agenda items, including a 'non-paper' on the themes for discussion, can be found here.

In order to participate, your organisation must complete and return the last page of the document mentioned above to civilsociety@ohchr.org. The deadline for confirming participation is 20 August.

General Assembly extends intergovernmental process on treaty body strengthening

21.09.2012
 

In the final hours of the 66th session of the General Assembly on 17 September 2012, Member States adopted a consensus resolution extending the intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system (66/295).

The intergovernmental process began with General Assembly resolution 66/254 on 23 February 2012. That Russian-led resolution and the intergovernmental process it created were marred with controversy and 66 States abstained from the vote. Click here for an earlier ISHR news story on the adoption of that resolution.

Part of the controversy stemmed from the fact that the intergovernmental process began as the OHCHR-initiated ‘Dublin process’ on treaty body strengthening was still ongoing. The Dublin process involved a series of multi-stakeholder consultations since late 2009 and was to culminate in a report by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in early 2012. The report, which was to provide a basis for decisions by all stakeholders on which proposals to implement and how, was delayed to allow for further consultations with States.[1] In the meantime, the intergovernmental process was launched, leaving its relationship with the Dublin process and the High Commissioner’s report unclear. Ultimately the High Commissioner’s report was released at the end of June, following which the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process (Iceland and Indonesia) held consultations with States on 2 July and again from 16-18 July 2012.

The July 2012 consultations

While States continued to argue about the relevance of the High Commissioner’s report,[2] the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process essentially used it as the basis for drawing up a list of issues for discussion during the State consultations. The discussions amongst States covered four broad areas: the proposal for a comprehensive reporting calendar;[3] methods of work; the reporting process; and capacity to implement.

Several states supported the idea of a comprehensive reporting calendar in principle but voiced concerns that the proposed cycle of reporting would be unsustainable and very costly. A number of states also supported the High Commissioner’s suggestions to increase the visibility and accessibility of the treaty bodies through webcasting and videoconferencing.[4] Several NGOs, including ISHR, voiced their concerns with the suggestion in the High Commissioner’s report that formal sessions between treaty bodies and NGOs be public, as this would heighten the risk of reprisals against those cooperating with the treaty bodies. In that regard, many NGOs and States[5] welcomed the focus on reprisals in the High Commissioner’s report, in particular the suggestion to establish treaty body focal points on reprisals as a first step.

Several hard-lined States also put forward negative proposals. A group of States calling themselves “the cross-regional group” or “CRG”[6] presented a unified front in the consultations. Among other things, the CRG called for a code of conduct and accountability mechanism for treaty body experts, equitable geographical representation in the treaty bodies, and increased transparency of interaction between the treaty bodies and non-state stakeholders. Though States supportive of the independence and strengthening of the system were vocal in their opposition to such measures as a code of conduct, they were in general less coordinated in their response.

NGO participation

Another troubling aspect of the intergovernmental process from the start was the inadequate provision for the participation of key non-state stakeholders, in stark contrast to the broad consultations facilitated by OHCHR in the context of the Dublin process. Resolution 66/254 requested the President of the General Assembly (PGA) to work out “separate informal arrangements, after consultation with Member States” that would allow treaty bodies, NHRIs and “relevant” non-governmental organizations to provide input and expertise, “bearing in mind the intergovernmental nature of the process”. Several states who abstained from resolution 66/254 continued throughout the consultations to call for greater participation of other stakeholders.[7]

In the end, two NGO representatives were invited by the co-facilitators to participate in panels during the State consultations in mid-July[8] and NGOs were able to observe the discussions amongst States and take the floor during side events. Separate NGO consultations were also held on 4 September 2012. NGOs without ECOSOC accreditation[9] were subjected to a procedure whereby States could object anonymously to their participation without providing a reason or any recourse to the concerned NGO.[10] This was particularly controversial as language limiting participation to ECOSOC accredited NGOs was negotiated out of resolution 66/254 and NGO engagement with the treaty bodies has never been limited in such a way.[11]Alkarama, an NGO that regularly contributes to the work of the treaty bodies, was prohibited from participating because of an objection from Algeria. During the NGO consultations, USA, Canada, Switzerland, Israel and the EU challenged the ‘non-objection’ procedure, stating that there was no agreement on its use, while China, Russia and Algeria argued that the rule is well established for non-accredited NGOs in General Assembly proceedings.

Statements at the adoption of the resolution extending the intergovernmental process indicated that States were still divided on NGO participation. Russia on behalf of the CRG called for strict compliance with resolution 66/254 and the intergovernmental nature of the process while the USA stated that NGOs must continue to be included in all aspects of the discussion.

The way forward

The co-facilitators concluded their work in the 66th session with a non-substantive progress report to the PGA that describes the State and NGO consultations. In that report, the co-facilitators’ recommend that a comprehensive cost review of the treaty system be provided by the end of 2012.

Regarding the timeline, States were divided in the negotiations about whether the resolution should prescribe a fixed end to the process within the 67th session[12] or should not be constrained.[13] Reflecting the different State positions, the resolution rather vaguely “decides to extend the intergovernmental process … with a view to identifying” concrete and sustainable measures in the next session.

As the General Assembly is now gearing up for its intense Committee work during the autumn, the intergovernmental process has been put on hold until early 2013. In the meantime, the Third Committee of the General Assembly will be confronted by requests from several treaty bodies for temporary additional funding to deal with their backlogs. Language to the effect that the continuation of the intergovernmental process would not prejudice such temporary measures was negotiated out of the resolution, leaving the prospects for those requests uncertain.


[1] OHCHR held consultations with States in New York on 2 and 3 April in an effort to satisfy those that that felt States had not been sufficiently consulted in the Dublin process.

[2] In particular, hard-lined States responsible for creating the intergovernmental process argued that the High Commissioner’s report should be just one aspect of the basis for discussions.

[3] This proposal would organize the current reporting deadlines into a single comprehensive reporting calendar, based on a periodic five-year cycle. Within this five-year period, there would be a maximum of two reports per annum due for a State that is a party to all the treaties.

[4] Canada, Costa Rica, Ireland, El Salvador, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Thailand, Switzerland, USA, Liechtenstein, Colombia, the African group and CARICOM. States in the CRG were supportive of webcasting and videoconferencing only with the consent of the State Party concerned and suggested that all meetings, including those with non-state stakeholders be webcasted.

[5] Including the EU, Australia, Israel, USA, Thailand, and the African group.

[6] Belarus, Russia, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Cuba, Pakistan, Syria, and Venezuela.

[7] Including Switzerland, USA, Mexico, Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, Canada, the EU, New Zealand, Australia.

[8] ISHR participated in a side event on “The role of the UN system and civil society in supporting Member States and their capacity to implement” and Amnesty International participated in a panel discussion on the “Capacity to Implement”.

[9] ECOSOC status provides NGOs with access to a range of fora at the UN and is granted by ECOSOC on the recommendation of the Committee on NGOs. The Committee has come under criticism in recent years as the Committee is known for excessive politicization and the balance of the Committee’s membership tends towards States that do not support a vibrant civil society at the UN. Click here for an earlier ISHR article about the ECOSOC NGO Committee.

[10] This procedure, whereby decisions to allow NGOs to participate are taken on a ‘non-objection’ basis has become prevalent in a range of meetings at UN headquarters in recent years.

[11] This also resulted in the co-facilitators having to reschedule the meeting from its original date on 31 July because the three working days’ notice they provided was insufficient for Member States to ‘vet’ the non-ECOSOC accredited NGOs wanting to participate.

[12] Including Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Canada, EU, New Zealand, USA, Australia, South Africa.

[13] Including China, the African group, Russia on behalf of the CRG, the Philippines.

 

66 States abstain on GA resolution creating treaty body strengthening process

24.02.2012
 

Following two months of negotiations, on 23 February 2012 the General Assembly passed a resolution creating the Intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body systemThe resolution was tabled by Russia and co-sponsored by Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Syria, Sudan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Venezuela, Viet Nam, and Zimbabwe.

The resolution requests the President of the General Assembly (PGA) to launch an intergovernmental process to conduct negotiations on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the treaty body system. The resolution requests the PGA to appoint two co-facilitators to assist him in that regard. The process will commence “no earlier than April 2012” and the PGA will report on the “deliberations and recommendations” by the end of the 66th session of the General Assembly,[1] with a possible extension of the process at that point.

Though the resolution was passed with 85 votes in favour, 66 States made their procedural and substantive concerns with the resolution known by abstaining from the vote. No State voted against the resolution. Regional divisions were clear, with the vast majority of votes in favour coming from the African, Asian, as well as Latin American and Caribbean (GRULAC) groups. The Western European and Others (WEOG) and Eastern European (CEIT) groups abstained for the most part. Forty-two states were absent. Click here for the voting record and a breakdown of votes by region.

The initial draft resolution called for the creation of a working group, an idea originally raised by China in the General Assembly Third Committee in November 2011. However, several States were caught off guard when a resolution calling for the creation of such a working group was circulated by Russia in late December 2011. Negotiations on the text proved difficult from the beginning, with States deeply divided on key issues such as the mandate, participation and timing of an intergovernmental process.

Many were troubled by the fact that the initial draft completely ignored the ongoing treaty body strengthening process, known as the Dublin process,[2] and the upcoming report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), which would compile the various proposals made during that process. Though the Dublin process is not Geneva-based, many States, particularly those without representation in Geneva, welcomed the opportunity an intergovernmental process in the General Assembly would provide for all States to consider the issue of treaty body strengthening. Though the resolution now decides to take into consideration the upcoming HCHR’s report (expected in June 2012), the timing of the intergovernmental process (set to start no earlier than April 2012) leaves the timing and relationship between the two processes unclear.

Other troubling aspects of the initial draft included inadequate provisions on the participation of key non-state stakeholders in the process. The paragraph on participation in the initial draft[3] left out National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and treaty body members entirely, and left the PGA to “work out arrangements” for the input of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The draft also limited the participation of NGOs to those in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), despite the fact that NGO engagement with the treaty bodies has never been limited in such a way.

Though the final language on non-state stakeholder participation was improved by the fact that NHRIs and treaty body experts were included and NGO participation is no longer limited to those with ECOSOC status, in other respects the final draft is worse. The resolution now requests the President of the General Assembly to work out “separate informal” arrangements, “after consultation with Member States” that would allow treaty bodies, NHRIs and “relevant” non-governmental organizations to provide input and expertise, “bearing in mind the intergovernmental nature of the process”. Ahead of the vote, five international human rights organizations issued a statement calling on Member States to ensure that the treaty body strengthening process continue to provide for the direct contributions of non-governmental organizations. At the adoption, several states, including some who voted in favour of the resolution, affirmed the importance of ensuring the active participation of non-state stakeholders in the intergovernmental process.[4]

In addition to the issues outlined above, the initial draft of the resolution also suffered from a lack of clarity on the mandate and scope of work to be undertaken, as well as on the respective legal competence of the General Assembly, treaty bodies and States parties to the treaties to address issues related to treaty body reform. All of the States abstaining,[5] as well as some voting in favour[6] addressed the legal competence question, underlining the role of States parties to decide matters related to the treaties themselves, the treaty bodies to decide matters related to their working methods, and the General Assembly to decide matters related to funding.

In addition to Russia, 17 states spoke at the adoption of the resolution.[7] A number of States abstaining from the resolution regretted that greater efforts had not been made to achieve consensus. Co-sponsors rejected amendments put forward by a large, cross-regional group of states[8] the day before the vote. These amendments included revisions to address the participation of non-state stakeholders and the legal competence issue.

Only China, Indonesia and Belarus spoke out unequivocally in favour of the resolution. China’s statement seemed to validate the fear on the part of NGOs and some States that the independence of the treaty body members would be at stake in the coming discussions. Indicating that it was ready with proposals, China noted that “reforms should ensure that treaty bodies comply with the principles of objectivity and fairness, carry out their work in strict observance with existing mandates, promote constructive dialogue and collaboration between treaty bodies and States parties, avoid overlapping duplicating mandates, instances of encroachment, as well as tendencies towards politicization and selectivity.” In that regard, several statements made by other States[9] specifically emphasized the need to respect the independence of the treaty body members throughout the process.

Looking ahead, it is unclear when the intergovernmental process will begin its work, as the resolution stipulates that it is due to begin “no earlier than April 2012” but the HCHR is only expected to release her report compiling the various proposals from the Dublin process in June 2012. In the meantime, OHCHR has arranged a consultation for States parties on 2-3 April 2012 in New York. The PGA is expected to appoint the two co-facilitators in the coming weeks.

[1] September 2012

[2] The Dublin process began in 2009 when the HCHR called on States parties to human rights treaties and other stakeholders to initiate a process of reflection on how to streamline and strengthen the treaty body system. The process has been open to all relevant stakeholders, including treaty body members, National Human Rights Institutions, non-governmental organizations, academics and States parties.  It has involved formal meetings, including the annual inter-committee meetings of human rights treaty bodies and meetings of chairpersons, consultations within the treaty bodies, informal meetings and consultations held around the world, and written submissions. Thus far, a non-exhaustive list of emerging proposals has been compiled and the process was designed to culminate with the report by the HCHR compiling the various proposals.

[3] “Requests also the President of the General Assembly to work out arrangements that would allow the Working Group to benefit from the input and expertise of non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council”.

[4] Switzerland, USA, Denmark, Mexico, Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina, Norway, Chile, and El Salvador.

[5] Switzerland, the USA, Denmark (for the EU), Mexico, Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, Canada, Norway, Chile and Guatemala.

[6] Uruguay, and Argentina.

[7] Switzerland, USA, Denmark, Suriname, Mexico, El Salvador, Lichtenstein, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina, Canada, Norway, Chile, Guatemala, China, Indonesia, and Belarus.

[8] Mostly from WEOG, CEIT and GRULAC

[9] Switzerland, USA, Lichtenstein, Costa Rica, Argentina

 

United Nations experts on torture gravely concerned about reprisals against Russian NGOs

07.06.2013
 

(Geneva – 7 June, 2013) – The UN Committee Against Torture, a body of independent experts tasked with holding governments to account for their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture, has voiced grave concern about alleged reprisals against two Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provided information to the Committee in November 2012.

The Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial in St Petersburg and the Public Verdict Foundation in Moscow have recently been charged by Russian prosecutors with violating controversial new legislation that requires NGOs involved in advocacy activities to register as ‘foreign agents’ if they receive foreign funding. The cases cited information submitted to the Committee Against Torture as the basis for the charges.

“Unfortunately these charges reflect a broader trend in Russia in which freedoms of assembly, association and expression are being increasingly restricted and human rights defenders targeted and harassed for their work”, said Madeleine Sinclair of the International Service for Human Rights.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch Report, human rights defenders and NGOs are facing a crackdown in Russia that is unprecedented since Soviet times.

“The charges in the present case are a clear violation of Russia’s obligation under the Convention Against Torture to ensure that witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of a complaint or any evidence given”, said Ms Sinclair.  

ISHR applauds the Committee Against Torture for addressing these allegations and seeking assurances that the NGOs will not face any reprisals as a result of their legitimate activities and cooperation with the Committee.

ISHR continues to call for the UN to consistently and effectively address reprisals.

“Human rights defenders must be able to communicate their concerns to the UN without fearing for their safety,” said Ms Sinclair “Fear of reprisal can hinder participation, depriving the UN of the information and experience it relies on to carry out its work and rendering the human rights mechanisms of the UN essentially inaccessible.”

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, Legal Counsel, International Service for Human Rights, onm.sinclair@ishr.ch or + 1 212 490 2199.

Full text of the letters from the Committee Against Torture: 17 May 2013 and 28 May 2013

ISHR statement on the global trend towards restricting access to funds for human rights advocacy.
ISHR Manual on preventing and redressing reprisals against human rights defenders.

Committee on Enforced Disappearances must protect NGOs from reprisals

16.07.2013
 

(Geneva, 15 July,  2013) - The UN's expert Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) should ensure that its working methods protect NGOs and victims from intimidation and reprisals, said the International Service for Human Rights today. In a joint submission to the CED, together with Child Rights Connect, Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), FIACAT, International Movement Against all forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), and Al-Karama, ISHR presented a series of suggestions to the Committee.

In a draft document outlining its relationship with civil society, the Committee recognised that civil society has a key role to play in assisting it in discharging its mandate effectively. 'This is a welcome acknowledgement of the importance of the contribution of civil society to the work of the treaty bodies,' said Heather Collister of the International Service for Human Rights.

The draft document identifies a series of areas in which civil society is strongly encouraged to participate in the Committee’s work, including assisting victims of enforced disappearance to submit complaints, submitting alternative reports for State reviews, translating the Committee’s documents into local languages, and organising trainings to raise awareness of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. While this range of activities demonstrates that the Committee recognises the potential of civil society to assist it in carrying out its mandate, the purpose of the document is set out as to clarify and further develop the Committee’s relationship with civil society actors and to enhance their contribution in the implementation of the Convention at the domestic level. 'Enhancing the contribution of civil society demands Committee facilitate the contribution of civil society, and protect those that engage with it ', Ms Collister said.

The draft does include some steps that the Committee plans to undertake to facilitate the participation of civil society. ISHR, Al-Karama, Child Rights Connect, FIACAT, IMADR, and CELS welcome also the Committee’s recognition of the need for civil society to have advance notice of reporting schedules, in order that it can plan its input [paragraph 9], the encouragement of the use of technology to facilitate participation [paragraph 24], and the note that Committee members are ready to consider participating in awareness-raising activities organised by civil society [paragraph 27].

The joint NGO contribution sets out additional efforts that the Committee could undertake to do to facilitate civil society’s engagement and participation, and develop a mutually reinforcing and sustainable relationship. The submission is available here.

Special Rapporteur on violence against women calls on States to address socio-cultural factors

13.07.2012
 

The annual reports submitted by the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women, and on independence of judges and lawyers, Ms Rashida Manjoo and Ms Gabriela Knaul, were presented to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 25 June, in a clustered interactive dialogue. Knaul’s report studied the professional independence of judges and lawyers - in particular prosecutors - whilst Manjoo’s report analysed the phenomenon of violence against women.[1]

Special Rapporteur Knaul opened the session by giving a brief presentation of her report. The report’s focus is on prosecutors and the safeguards required to ensure an objective and impartial functioning of prosecution services. It also examined the line between the need for accountability in the discharge of a prosecutor’s functions, which include protecting human rights, and how to ensure his or her independence and freedom from fear, pressure, threats, or favour. She highlighted the obligation of States to provide these necessary safeguards to enable prosecutors to perform their functions in an objective, impartial, and independent manner.

Ms Knaul also noted more generally her concern about reprisals against judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other actors from the judicial system who cooperate, or seek to cooperate, with UN and regional human rights mechanisms, including through their role in implementing decisions taken by those mechanisms. She offered the President of the Council her full support in calling for all acts of reprisals to be investigated, prosecuted, and perpetrators punished, in particular when those acts are aimed at actors from the judicial system.

Rashida Manjoo’s report pays special attention to the rising number of gender-related killings of women worldwide. The Special Rapporteur noted that the terms ‘femicide’ and ‘feminicide’, as opposed to more neutral words such as homicide, capture not only the killing itself, but also the impunity and institutional violence aspects of such crimes. She described femicide as ‘a State crime tolerated by public institutions and officials – due to the inability to prevent, protect, and guarantee the lives of women’. She noted several different kinds of gender-related killings, including honour-related killings dowry-related killings, and sexual orientation and gender identity-related killings. She added that it was important to disaggregate data about killings by factors including sexual orientation, race, and economic status, in order to establish systemic patterns behind the violence.

The Special Rapporteur also referred to a previous report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, on women defenders, noting that this group is perceived as challenging cultural and social norms, including about femininity and sexual orientation, as a result of which they are at risk of suffering violence and other violations. Several ways of modifying gender norms, such as increasing the number of women in education and in public institutions, were then elaborated upon by the Special Rapporteur.

The dialogue, whilst genial and constructive, tended to concentrate on States’ national strategies. There were, however, a few States that raised challenges to the mandate holders. The Egyptian delegation in particular categorically rejected the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, claiming this notion falls outside of international human rights law. The delegate warned that inclusion of this concept could create division, and hinder the creation of the consensus required to end violence against women. While the State added that combating violence against women requires challenging ‘the persisting misinterpretation of cultural, religious and societal norm and traditions which may result in sustained discrimination against women and by inference may lead to violence’ it rejected the direct link made by the Special Rapporteur between discrimination against women and girls, and killings.

Brazil, the Holy See, and the United States (US) brought up the subject of women human rights defenders. The Holy See began by stressing the ‘importance of women’s roles in the family’, and women, ‘as spouses and mothers, as fundamental to the preservation of the institution of family and therefore society’. It added, however, that women needed to be protected from violence in particular in unstable, violent situations, and noted its special concern in these contexts for women human rights defenders. Further it stated that ‘judicial impunity, cultural and social norms that tolerate discrimination and fail to address violent acts…must be addressed and rejected’. The US noted the important role that civil society organisations have to play in changing social perceptions of women. Brazil divulged its own efforts to protect women human rights defenders with its federal protection programme. Since February this year two human rights defenders had been taken into protective care.

Almost every State voiced their deep concern at the increasing trend of violence against women. Jordan, on behalf of the Arab Group, informed the Council about best practices enacted by the Arab Group’s member States. The Organisation of Arab Women and the Arab League have contrived a strategy to fight violence against women, which involves helping Arab States to establish their own national action plans. The initiative - designed to reform legal, administrative, and cultural institutions - would provide preventative protection,[2] data collection, as well as follow-up to cases and evaluation for the women involved. Jordan, also responding to the visit of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women to the country, further described its creation of both a Minister of State for Women and the establishment of a national strategy for women. These initiatives were set up in response to the nation’s culture of honour killings. On average each year 25 females are killed as a result of ‘honour’ attacks in Jordan.

Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, which had each received visits from the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, praised Knaul’s reports, before mentioning some of the recommendations which they had already implemented. Bulgaria’s creation of a special office for organised crime and Romania’s extensive judicial reform both stood out as examples of implemented recommendations.

[1] Manjoo’s report analysed the causal link between violence against women, and the killing of women. She suggests that there is a direct correlation between the two.
[2] These include shelters and free legal assistance

Council creates a Special Rapporteur on Belarus following politicised debate

13.07.2012
 

On 26 June the European Union (EU) convened an informal meeting to discuss a resolution on Belarus with the intention of creating a Special Rapporteur on the country. During the meeting Belarus walked out. Its delegates voiced their dissatisfaction at what they described as ‘the political hi-jacking’ of the Council by the EU - a point echoed by Russia, Cuba, and China . This informal meeting was held the day before the Council held an interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the situation in Belarus, and did not bode well for Belarus’ positive engagement in that dialogue.

The High Commissioner’s report on the situation in Belarus, presented the next day, was a follow-up to a preliminary oral report presented by her Office to the Council’s 18th session, and is in compliance with Council resolution 17/24. The report investigates gross human rights violations that took place on 19 December 2010 after Aliaxander Lukashenka’s controversial re-election. Mass protests turned into mass arrests, after police were reported to have used extreme brutality to suppress demonstrators. The High Commissioner’s presentation raised several important points. These issues ranged from Belarus’s use of the death penalty, to its recent censorship and arrest of human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition party members. The High Commissioner, in her presentation, appealed for the release of Belarus’s most prominent human rights defender - Ales Bialiatski. Arrested last year for tax evasion, he faces a four-year sentence. Ms Pillay then appealed for the release of all other unjustly imprisoned human rights defenders and members of the press.

Despite being written from Geneva, due to the failure of the Belarusian authorities to allow the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) access to the country, the High Commissioner’s report analysed many accounts of human rights violations from multiple independent sources - although she stated that a country visit would have been preferable. These sources highlighted several other violations, including Internet and media censorship, restriction of movement, and torture. Belarus' 2008 media law has been used to justify many of these human rights infractions. The High Commissioner finished by recommending that an urgent review of Belarusian legislation be undertaken.

Belarus maintained the position it held at the earlier informal meeting regarding the politicised nature of the discussion, before criticising Pillay’s report on the basis of its second-hand nature - claiming the information it contained was inconsistent with actual events. The delegate also mentioned that Sergei Martynov, the Belarusian Foreign Minister, had extended an invite to the High Commissioner. The Russian Federation, reiterating many of the points made by Belarus, also claimed that Belarus has shown consistent cooperation with the international human rights system, including through successful participation in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2010, actively cooperating with the treaty bodies, and by issuing invitations to special procedures.

As to be expected, the interactive dialogue then became highly divisive, with 17 of the States that spoke rejecting the need for the discussion, and 22 supporting it. Arbitrary arrests, the detention of journalists and human rights defenders, the release of Ales Bialiatski and other political prisoners, freedom of expression, and the diminished ability for civil society to operate were some of the key subjects raised by the speakers. States also demanded a moratorium on the death penalty in Belarus, and the introduction of a specific Special Rapporteur for Belarus. Regarding capital punishment, four people have been executed since 2010. In spite of convictions based on circumstantial evidence, and protests from civil society and human rights defenders - two men were executed in connection with the 2011 metro bombing, causing outrage nationally and internationally.

Despite Belarus’s condemnation, a long list of States including Armenia, Kazakhstan, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Venezuela, Uzbekistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, China, Zimbabwe, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Tajikistan, Myanmar, and Turkmenistan sought to defend its human rights record. Many of Belarus’s arguments were regurgitated by these States, however, criticism of the credibility of the EU’s draft resolution and the discussion of Belarus without the State’s consent were some of the most consistent. The politicisation of the Council and the re-establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Belarus (the original mandate on Belarus, established by the Commission on Human Rights, ended in 2007), also came up frequently. The opposing States vehemently argued that the re-introduction of a Special Rapporteur would be retrograde, much like the current sanctions imposed on Belarus. At no point was the release of Ales Bialiatski or any other political prisoner mentioned by these States.

Finally, after the divided dialogue, the High Commissioner gave her closing remarks. Pillay, who mentioned in her presentation that she did receive an invitation from the Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, added that his invitation was strictly conditional. If she visited Belarus the High Commissioner would in no way be allowed to conduct her investigation into the country’s human rights situation. On 6 June the resolution on Belarus was adopted, resulting in the creation of a Special Rapporteur on Belarus. The results of the vote were 22 States for, 5 States against and 20 abstentions.

Advisory Committee to consider latest draft of study on human rights and traditional values

31.07.2012
 

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (the Committee) will hold its 9th session from 6 to 10 August 2012 in Geneva. The Committee, composed of 18 expert members, will consider draft reports on the subjects of the traditional values of humankind, human rights and issues related to terrorist hostage-taking, human rights and international solidarity, and the right to food in relation to the urban poor and rural women.

The issue of the traditional values of humankind has been on the Committee’s agenda since it was mandated by the Human Rights Council (the Council) to produce a study on this subject by resolution 16/3 adopted in March 2011. The divisive resolution, adopted with 23 votes in favour and 22 against, was led by the Russian Federation.  

A preliminary draft study was prepared and presented at the 8th session by Mr Vladimir Kartashkin, the rapporteur of the drafting group, in February 2011. This report was very heavily criticised by States, civil society, as well as members of the Committee, and several major areas were identified for address in a redrafted version. The criticisms partly derived from differing interpretations of the Committee’s mandate amongst members.   In particular, several Committee members echoed the concerns of Mr Wolfgang Heinz that the preliminary study did not fulfil the mandate given to the Committee of looking at how traditional values could be used in the implementation of human rights.

The main criticisms that many Committee members felt needed to be addressed in a new draft touched upon the concepts of universality, dignity, responsibility, and family. The language and the approach taken in the preliminary study undermined the universality of human rights most egregiously by subordinating international law agreements to traditional values of humankind. [1] By doing so, the report not only disregarded the normative and legal status of international law, but also disregarded the fact that some traditional values may have a negative impact. Indeed, the rapporteur failed to acknowledge that traditional values can be sources of human rights violations. The preliminary study was for example not clear on the ways in which the concept of dignity has been used in particular to undermine the rights of women. Similarly, the paragraphs on the importance of families for the promotion of human rights and their assumed positive role on the individual disregard the fact that families may be sites of abuse.[2] Furthermore, the report fails to recognise that families may take several forms. Another cause for concern was the way in which the preliminary draft presented the concept of ‘responsibility’  as an obligation according to which a person’s human rights could be denied if he or she commits a crime.

The new draft of the study goes a long way towards addressing the above mentioned issues. First, the concepts of dignity, freedom, and responsibility are presented in the framework of international human rights law, while stating that these concepts are also to be found in many traditions. Contrary to the former draft, the new one includes a section on the relationship between traditional values and human rights which explores how some universal values, such as dignity, on which human rights are based, have roots in diverse traditional and cultural contexts. It also contains a subsection on the negative impact of traditional values on women and minority groups thus addressing one of the main criticisms made to the first study. Finally, the new draft addresses the question of how these values can contribute to the promotion and the protection of human rights through examining the role of human rights education and families, and exposing good practices for promoting and enhancing respect for human rights through appeal to locally familiar values.

In light of these changes and of the divergent views on the issue, the Committee’s debate on traditional values promises to be interesting and potentially animated. It is to be welcomed that the drafting group has taken the concerns of NGOs seriously, and has engaged with those concerns in this new draft.  For this ninth session NGOs can participate through both written and oral statements. The relevant information on the procedure to follow can be found here. The Advisory Committee is scheduled to finalise the study at this session and to present it for consideration to the Human Rights Council’s 21st session, in September.

[1] Paragraph 75 of the preliminary study. Document A/HRC/AC/8/4.
[2] Abuses in the family include female genital mutilation, honour killings, and forced marriages.

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Opinion:

ISHR Director Phil Lynch reflects on civil society's highs and lows at the Human Rights Council in 2017, and offers some thoughts on opportunities to strengthen the Council and make it more accessible, effective and protective for human rights defenders and victims of violations in the year ahead.

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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