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

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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.

Council fails to fully respond to gravity of country situations in Somalia and Sudan

28.09.2012
 

At its 21st session the Council held interactive dialogues with the Independent Experts on Somalia and on Sudan, and adopted resolutions on these country situations.

Somalia, following an twelve-year transitional period, has this year elected a new president, Mr Hassan Skeikh Mohamud. The country also has a new constitution as of 24 August. The country is however still unstable, and it was in the light of these developments that Mr Shamsul Bari, the Independent Expert on human rights in Somalia, gave his report to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 26 September 2012.

Mr Bari’s statement was highly optimistic. He described the new democratic steps as ‘a wonderful thing for any country’, and for Somalia, ‘a dream come true’. The transparency of the election would have been unimaginable a year ago, and the 30% female Parliament is a hard-won victory.

He described the new Parliament as significantly more representative than previous efforts, and praised the adoption of a prioritised work plan on human rights. The fact that the Somali diaspora is returning to participate in the new Somalia was also an encouraging sign.

There are, however, challenges to be overcome. The people of Somalia, said Mr Bari, have suffered too long under authorities working to their own agendas; he called for technical assistance in the development of a human rights ‘road map’ which would help the new Government to strengthen its own work plan, with the aim of winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people.

Mr Bari emphasised that the new Somalia should be built by Somalis; the UN and the international community must give greater ownership to the people.

The Independent Expert’s statement was echoed by the Somali Ambassador. While there is confidence in the changes, he acknowledged that the Government must work hard to make people believe that their welfare is a priority. He also stressed that ‘Somalia must fix Somalia’; too many initiatives are still UN-led, and only convince the people that the international community is serving its own political agenda in the country, although he did not comment further on what these agendas were.

State responses were mixed. While almost all countries congratulated Somalia on the achievement of its democratic aspirations, many also highlighted that there is still work to be done on many issues. The United Arab Emirates was optimistic about Somalia’s political will to effect change, but urged the UN to continue to provide technical assistance to strengthen the rule of law, as did Spain, Djibouti, the United Kingdom (UK), and Egypt.

Human rights violations on a massive scale continue to take place, however. The United States (US) voiced its concern over the continuing use of child soldiers, and urged Al-Shabaab to immediately cease the killing of civilians. Spain strongly articulated its worries over a number of issues, including violence against Journalists, and the state of detention centres.

The often violent repression of the media was brought out by a number of States, including Switzerland, Norway, and Djibouti. All States stressed the importance of a free press in the consolidation of a new, democratic Somalia. This issue was also highly prevalent in the interventions of NGOs.

Thailand noted the on-going sexual violence against women and girls, as did Slovakia, although Slovenia was encouraged by the steps the new Government has made to outlaw female genital mutilation.

Morocco and Greece were particularly vocal in asking how the international community can best support Somalia at this critical point in its history. Mr Bari concluded that while Somalia’s democratic transition and the aspirations of the people must be led from within, the country continues to need international support, in terms of both financial and technical assistance in capacity building. Mr Bari urged that the UN-driven peace initiatives have not sufficiently taken into account the needs of the Somali people. The new authorities should build a clearer understanding of the experiences of their citizens to create a new Somalia.

The Council itself should facilitate the cooperation between special procedures and the Somali democratic process; fifty per cent of mandate holders have some relevance to the situation in Somalia, noted Mr Bari, and their expertise should be utilised to its fullest extent. The resolution on Somalia, adopted by consensus at this session, expresses serious concern at the human rights and humanitarian situation in the country and condemns grave and systematic human rights abuses perpetrated against the Somali population. It calls for all special procedures to engage fully and coordinate with the Independent Expert. It calls on the Independent Expert to work with a view to maximising the provision and flow and technical assistance to Somalia, and to support the efforts of the Government.

Despite the secession of South Sudan in 2011 and the appearance of greater cooperation between the new State and the Sudan, the human rights situation in Sudan remains troubling. On-going conflicts in the Blue Nile and Kordofan regions, as well as in Darfur, have highlighted continuing human rights abuses; the latest Independent Expert on the country, Mr Masood Baderin, presented his first report to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 26 September.

Mr Baderin was critical of Sudan’s human rights record. He urged the government to more fully implement initiatives to strengthen the rule of law, judicial due process, political participation, and freedom of the press. He also asked the Government to allow him greater access to the more troubled regions. Sudan is still in a transitional phase, Mr Baderin stated. Technical and financial capacity building and aid are still necessary to allow the country to progress. He also emphasised that civil society organisations must be given the full support of both the Government and the international community, considering the important role they play in enabling accountability and democratic processes.

The Sudanese delegate’s response highlighted that the Government has progressively implemented a large proportion of the recommendations made during Sudan’s 2011 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), with new policies so far in 14 of the 17 provinces. However, Sudan strongly criticised civil society organisations; too many, the delegate felt, pursue agendas which are 'separate from the greater good of Sudan'. He claimed that their ‘refusal to cooperate’ with the Government should not be used as an excuse by the international community at large to ‘tarnish Sudan’s reputation’ or the positive steps that are being made.

The debate which followed highlighted several main concerns. The first was that the independent Expert should be give further access to the country to verify his information on the troubled border regions. States from all groups, including Canada, Bahrain, Slovakia, the UK, and Thailand, called both for a renewal of Mr Baderin’s mandate and for increased access for information-gathering. China, on the other hand, called for continued technical assistance for the Sudanese Government, but emphasised that the on-going conflicts must not be used to justify unwarranted interference in Sudanese domestic affairs.

Another important concern raised by Switzerland and Australia, as well as numerous NGOs, was the continued intimidation and harassment of both human rights defenders and journalists. Switzerland in particular was emphatic on this point, stating that threats to human rights defenders would not be tolerated, and questioned Mr Baderin on how these situations could best be stopped. Switzerland also took a strong stance against other human rights violations, such as reports of stoning, and strongly recommended not only the renewal but also the strengthening of the Independent Expert’s mandate.

Greece expressed concern over reports of repression of freedom of expression in civil society and the press. Spain too emphasised that the involvement of civil society actors and other stakeholders was essential to the support of the rule of law and the continuation of other peace processes. 

There was appreciation from all regions for the cooperation of the Sudanese authorities with the UPR process; the US, Morocco, Norway, and Nigeria congratulated Sudan on positive steps. However, Croatia warned that the outbreaks of violence could not be ignored; the situation in Syria, the delegate claimed, has made the international community profoundly aware of how quickly conflicts can explode, and urged both international and domestic mechanisms to take a strong stance on violations.

Mr Baderin’s concluding comments highlighted three main areas to be addressed by the Sudanese authorities: to provide greater access by the Independent Expert to areas experiencing violations; to improve cooperation with civil society organisations; and to immediately cease repression of the media to enable a space for civil society to work.

The resolution on Sudan, adopted by consensus later in the session, does call for more access by Independent Expert to all regions of the country. However it remains to be seen whether the Sudanese Government will grant that access. Austria, speaking on behalf of the EU at the adoption of the resolution, called for Sudan to ensure that the Independent Expert could carry out his mandate effectively by allowing him to have full access to all parts of the country, and to engage freely with all relevant stakeholders including civil society organisations. Sudan stated that it felt it had cooperated with the Council until now, and that it would continue to act in the same manner. The resolution was adopted by consensus, as was the resolution on South Sudan which calls for OHCHR to provide technical support and training, and to report on progress.

The Council also adopted a resolution on South Sudan, which focuses primarily on technical assistance, but also asks OHCHR to submit a report on South Sudan in June 2013 (23rd session of the Council). 

All resolutions adopted by the Council will be available shortly from the OHCHR Web site. 

Human Rights Council concludes 21st session

28.09.2012
 

The Human Rights Council has concluded its 21st session with the adoption of a series of disappointing country resolutions, including on Sudan, South Sudan, and Mali. Action on Syria again failed to include a call for the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. 

Important thematic developments at the session included the holding of a panel on reprisals, which affirmed the unacceptability of the targetting of human rights defenders who attempt to cooperate with the international human rights system. However the session also saw a continuation in the threats and harrasment faced by defenders attending the session in Geneva. Resolutions on the safety of journalists and on freedom of association and assembly were also adopted. Finally, and disappointingly, the Russian sponsored resolution on traditional values was adopted by the Council, despite significant substantive concerns with the concept, and despite the fact that the Advisory Committee has yet to submit its own mandated study to the Council. 

See a joint NGO statement delivered by ISHR on behalf of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Human Rights Watch, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, CIVICUS, International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Human Rights House Foundation, and the International Commission of Jurists at the end of the session for more details.

Special Rapporteur on Cambodia emphasises need for political will to tackle country's challenges

01.10.2012
 

Despite significant progress towards democracy in Cambodia since the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, the country still needs to make major changes to live up to its human rights obligations.  A particular issue for Cambodians and human rights defenders is the need for transparent democratic elections and the freedom for individuals to voice their political opinions. This is of particular importance because presidential elections will be held in July 2013. These issues came up particularly prominently during the interactive dialogue the Human Rights Council (the Council) held with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia on 25 September. The Special Rapporteur, Mr Surya Prasad Subedi, completed two missions in the past year as part of his mandate to assess the situation of human rights in the country. His first mission focused on the transparency of elections, while the second concerned the impact of economic land concessions on the enjoyment of human rights.

Mr Subedi expressed satisfaction with the cooperation of the Government with both of his missions and the commitment that Cambodia is showing to improve the human rights situation. He was also very pleased to find that during his reporting period, communal and local elections successfully took place. Mr Subedi believed this process is a major step forwards in order for Cambodians to exercise their right to free and democratic elections.  Mr Subedi applauded the Government’s decision, in response to concerns about the draft law on associations and non-governmental organisations, to continue consultations, even if that meant that the adoption of the law could thereby be delayed for some years.  

Mr Subedi expressed deep concern about the issue of land concessions, on which he focused during his second mission in May of this year.  Although he acknowledged the historical circumstances that have led to land concessions, he underlined the importance that these concessions should be granted in a sound legal manner. He regretted that most cases of land concession are unjustified and there are many cases of evictions as a result of land concessions.  Mr Subedi welcomed the Government’s decision, taken during his mission to the country, to temporarily suspend the granting of new economic land concessions and to review existing concession.  He called for this review to be participatory, transparent, and inclusive.  

In response, the Cambodian delegation emphasised the steps the country has taken to address the land concession issue.  Along with the suspension of new economic land concessions, it noted that the Government will revoke the economic land concession licenses of anyone breaching the existing agreements.  It has also established a programme to grant lands to those who are currently landless, particularly indigenous communities.

The interactive dialogue that followed saw many States voice their support for the advances that Cambodia has made towards becoming a democratic country.  Most of the ASEAN countries participated in the dialogue to express their full support for the efforts to ensure that the elections of July 2013 should be free and fair.

However, there were many States who were more critical of the human rights developments presented by Cambodia.  Australia expressed deep concern for the use of force against human rights defenders who peacefully protest to demand transparency in elections.  Australia highlighted the importance of allowing all voices to be heard without reprisals, which is an essential aspect of a genuine democracy.  Switzerland, France, and the European Union (EU) echoed this concern, petitioning to have stricter laws to prohibit harassment of individuals who are exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The United States (US) demonstrated the need for concrete steps to create a level electoral playing field, which provides the freedom for opposition parties to campaign.

States were also very critical on the issue of land concessions and the risks that land activists have encountered while protesting against land evictions.  The United Kingdom (UK) and the US noted that the number of land disputes has increased during the past year, highlighting the importance of establishing a mechanism that redistributes land equally and gives every citizen an equal voice.  The US recommended the creation of a dispute resolution mechanism that is independent, transparent, and fair, and treats all Cambodians equally and with respect for the rule of law.

Mr Subedi’s final remarks were in line with the support most States expressed for moves towards a stronger democracy in Cambodia that fully supports human rights. He highlighted that it is important for Cambodia to empower independent institutions to carry out the recommendations made by him in the past year.  Although he fully understands that it is a long and slow process, there are many recommendations that can be implemented immediately.  He repeated his call for Cambodia to decide on a plan of action with a concrete timeline. He added that he and OHCHR will provide any support required by the Government, but that the political will of the State is essential. 

Council renews mandate on Cambodia amidst concerns over draft NGO law

03.10.2011
 

On 28 September 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue, under agenda item 10, with Professor Surya Prasad Subedi, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. Mr Subedi was generally pleased with the efforts Cambodia has made since the country began its peace process with the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991. However, Mr Subedi expressed concern about the overall state of human rights issues, including freedom of expression, and land and housing rights. Mr Subedi also expressed his concern about a draft law that would limit the activities of NGOs within the country. States commended Cambodia for its achievements but noted that much work still needed to be done to improve the human rights situation in the country. Although there was little discussion on an extension to the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, States seemed to implicitly support such an extension as indicated by their endorsement of Mr Subedi’s reservations over the NGO draft law as well as numerous other substantive human rights issues.

Despite being pleased with the social and political progress made in Cambodia since the Paris Peace Agreements, Mr Subedi cautioned that 'the peace process cannot be regarded as complete until the democratic institutions created under the Constitution are able to work effectively and independently'. Mr Subedi continued by reflecting on land rights in the country, saying that while Cambodia had made some progress last year in protecting and promoting land rights, the recent demolition of five houses in the Boeung Kak area in the capital city of Phnom Penh was a regression. Mr Subedi called on Cambodia to resist carrying out the practice of forced evictions and displacing families without notice. Mr Subedi also highlighted the decreasing space for freedom of speech, which has seen targeting of human rights defenders and activists, and a number of individuals charged, tried, and jailed for producing and sharing materials critical of the Government.

Most troubling of all to Mr Subedi was the introduction of a draft law by the Ministry of the Interior, on 15 December 2010, on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations. While Mr Subedi stated that he was encouraged by the consultations on this draft law carried out by the Ministries of Interior and of Foreign Affairs, he warned against finalising a law that would restrict the activities of NGOs, rather than enabling them to strengthen their activities. Mr Subedi urged Cambodia not to proceed with the current draft NGO law as it may impede the legitimate work of NGOs by placing burdensome requirements on them.

Finally, Mr Subedi returned to the issue of freedom of speech, saying that while the notions of pluralism and liberalism are enshrined in Cambodia’s Constitution, individual members of Parliament are unable to fully exercise freedom of speech when questioning the executive or defending the rights of their constituents. Mr Subedi said he has offered a series of recommendations to Cambodia in hopes that State implementation of those recommendations will protect freedom of speech in Parliament.

Speaking as the concerned State, Cambodia thanked the Special Rapporteur for his work and recommendations. Cambodia said it was making efforts to improve its judiciary, combat corruption, and promote democratic development, including at the grassroots level. It stated that it had a vibrant civil society, tallying nearly 2000 NGOs and other organisations that enjoy the Government’s full cooperation and that play a key role in ensuring good governance and in facilitating the provision of social services. Cambodia underscored its pledge to individual freedoms as one of the fundamental components of democracy and emphasised that it was continuing to protect and promote all human rights, including the right to freely express one’s self.

During the interactive dialogue most States[1] praised Cambodia for the progress made. This did not, however, prevent States from also claiming that Cambodia still had a long way to go. Australia shared the Special Rapporteur’s concerns on the curtailing of basic freedoms and felt the NGO draft law could hamper freedom of association and expression, a concern that was also mentioned by Japan, the US, Ireland, the UK, France, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, and Canada. Romania encouraged Cambodia to seek a comprehensive solution to the issue of property rights, and the US referred to property right violations cited in the Special Rapporteur’s report. Indonesia said that based on its own experience, it understood the development challenges experienced in Cambodia. Indonesia called on Cambodia to improve the implementation of laws already passed that were designed to advance human rights. Norway expressed concern about forced evictions, denial of the human rights of the victims of evictions, and ‘unfounded charges’ made against individuals who protested against the evictions. France said it was worried by the intimidation used against human rights defenders as well as against victims of land right disputes.

There was suprisingly little mention during the interactive dialogue of the future of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia. Viet Nam asked the Special Rapporteur for his personal advice regarding the duration of his mandate. The Philippines expressed reservations about extending the Special Rapporteur’s mandate for an additional two years because they felt this did not comply with the Institution Building text, in resolution 5/1, which states that country mandates are generally renewable for one year at a time.  Viet Nam, Indonesia, and Myanmar made similar arguments, calling on the Council to respect resolution 5/1. Switzerland and Canada explicitly supported an extension to the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, with Canada saying it wanted to see a two-year extension to the mandate. The resolution was introduced to the Council a few days later, and the Council decided by consensus to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further two years. The Russian Federation and China, while not breaking from consensus, dissociated themselves from paragraph 9 of the resolution, which sets out the two year extension.

Overall, States were generally supportive of Cambodia and commended it for its cooperation with the Special Rapporteur as well as with the international community. The Asian States were most supportive in their comments.  Viet Nam said it was happy that Cambodia was becoming a free and democratic country. The Philippines cited Cambodia’s 6% economic growth over the last year as being impressive given the current global economic climate. Thailand welcomed Cambodia’s efforts to protect and improve the human rights of its citizens. Malaysia said the international community should appreciate Cambodia’s achievements so far and it should be afforded more space to continue its reform process. China called on States to continue providing Cambodia with technical assistance. Nepal commended Cambodia for improving the standard of living in the country. Other States noted the development challenges faced in Cambodia but also felt that more could be done to further human rights protection in the country.

Mr Subedi concluded his comments by saying he was encouraged by the steps Cambodia was taking to implement his recommendations. He said a review of the NGO draft law was currently being under-taken by the Ministry of the Interior and he hoped the Ministry would consult all relevant parties to avoid drafting a law that would prevent civil society organisations from continuing to serve the Cambodian people. Mr Subedi asked Cambodia to examine his recommendations on parliamentary participation so that all Members of Parliament could exercise freedom of speech. Regarding his future, Mr Subedi was brief, and said he intended to continue working with the Government to strengthen institutions such as Parliament, to achieve rule of law, and to conclude implementation of the Paris Peace Agreements begun in 1991.

 

[1] The following States issued comments during the Interactive Dialogue: Australia, Japan, European Union, Viet Nam, Romania, Singapore, Philippines, Ireland, United States, Czech Republic, Thailand, Algeria, United Kingdom, Malaysia, France, Indonesia, Norway, Switzerland, China, Sweden, Myanmar, Nepal, and Canada.

 

Video: developments at the Human Rights Council's 21st session

15.10.2012
 

If you missed our reporting on the Human Rights Council's 21st session, or want to refresh your memory of some of the main developments, see our video below.

The video outlines five of the most significant developments and discussions that took place at the session. You can also read more about the session from the news items listed at the bottom of this page.

If you have trouble viewing the video, try this link.

 

Call for civil society submissions for report on peaceful protests

06.11.2012
 

Civil society organisations are requested to submit information for a report being prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on 'effective measures and best practices to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests'.

The deadline for these submissions is 15 November. They should be provided in electronic format to registry@ohchr.org and a copy to rhusbands@ohchr.orgClick here to read a letter on this subject.

The report is being prepared prior to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council, in accordance with Resolution 19/35.

Open letter to candidates to the Human Rights Council on membership standards

12.11.2012
 

In advance of the elections to the Human Rights Council on 12 November 2012, thirty-five NGOs from around the world have called on candidates to 'uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights' and 'fully cooperate with the Council', in accordance with the General Assembly resolution that created the Council. 

NGOs are concerned about the failure of some candidates to comply with these criteria. Non- compliance by Council members undermines the credibility of the Council as a body that promotes and protects human rights and its authority to call for cooperation with its mechanisms. NGOs have called on the candidates to uphold these criteria, particularly with regard to cooperation with Special Procedures and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN human rights system.

Click here to read the full letter

 

Council's new President pledges support for human rights defenders at organisational session

13.12.2012
 

The incoming President of the Human Rights Council (the Council) – Polish Ambassador Mr Remigiusz Henczel – pledged to continue the efforts of his predecessors in ensuring full participation of civil society and human rights defenders in the work of the UN’s main human rights body. He added that to make human rights a reality, the work of human rights defenders must be fully supported by the work of the Council.

These positive remarks were made during the Council’s 7th organisational session (10 December) for the next cycle, which will start on 1 January 2013. The organisational session was the first meeting with the Council members newly elected by the General Assembly on 11 November 2012.

The new members are (by region):

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

The members leaving at the end of 2012 are (by region):

  • Africa: Cameroun, Djibouti, Mauritius, Nigeria, Senegal
  • Asia: Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia
  • Eastern Europe: Hungary, Russian Federation
  • Latin America and Caribbean: Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay
  • Western Europe and Others: Belgium, Norway, USA

In her closing remarks as the outgoing President, Ambassador Dupuy Lasserre of Uruguay highlighted some of the successes and challenges of her 18-month term. She underscored the need for the Council to drive important ‘unpoliticised messages’ while involving a wide range of actors to promote and protect human rights. The President also highlighted the importance of strengthening the stance taken by the Council on reprisals to prevent intimidation against human rights defenders.

In terms of institutional strengthening, she made reference to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which enjoyed 100% attendance in its 1st cycle. This was a clear reference to the President’s recent letter to Israel, inviting the country to participate in the second cycle of the UPR, which is uncertain following Israel’s decision of May 2012 to ‘suspend its relationship with the Human Rights Council’.

In addition to the incoming President, Ambassador Henczel, representing the Eastern European Group, the Council also elected its new Bureau, composed of Vice-Presidents from the other four regional groups. They are:

  • Mr. Luis Gallegos Chiriboga, Ambassador of Ecuador (Rapporteur)
  • Mr. Cheikh Ahmed Ould Zahaf, Ambassador of Mauritania
  • Ms. Iruthisham Adam, Ambassador of the Maldives
  • Mr. Alexandre Fasel , Ambassador of Switzerland

It was notable that the Deputy High Commissioner used the organisational session to congratulate President Dupuy Lasserre – the first woman President of the Council – reflecting the important contribution she made during her term.

Though many States were complimentary in their statements, Belarus expressed concern about the election of a Polish diplomat as the next President of the Council and the ‘overrepresentation’ of EU members in important mandates. This discontent was clearly influenced by Poland’s leading role in the creation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus earlier this year.

ISHR delivered a statement requesting the incoming President to build on the efforts of President Dupuy Lasserre in ensuring the Council remains a forum where all voices can be heard, and in particular, in combating reprisals against those who cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms.

The Council’s draft annual programme of work was circulated, and will be adopted on 14 January 2013 at the organizational meeting for the 15th session of the UPR. The draft programme of work of the Council’s 22nd session in March 2013 is available on the OHCHR extranet and here.

Concern surrounds Israel’s potential non-participation in UPR

17.01.2013
 

Israel’s potential non-participation in its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was the key concern at an organisational meeting held by the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 14 January 2013. The purpose of the meeting was to select the troikas (the groups of States that facilitate each review) for next week's UPR.

Last May Israel sent a letter to the President of the Council, declaring that it formally suspended its relationship with the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Since then Israel has not attended Council sessions, it has not submitted a national report for its UPR, and it did not appear for the selection of its UPR troika. The worry is that it will also not appear for its UPR, due to be held on 29 January. If it does not, it will be the first time a State has not presented itself as scheduled for its UPR, setting a dangerous precedent.

At the meeting on 14 January States discussed how to handle this situation. States agreed that the drawing of the troika could still take place even if the State under review was not present. The President proposed that the organisational meeting then be suspended until 29 January, the scheduled date of Israel’s review. If Israel’s representative is not present on 29 January, the organisational meeting will be resumed so that the Council can decide how to proceed.

The President asked States for input. All States that spoke (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Ireland on behalf of the EU, Gabon, and the United States) supported the proposal to suspend the organisational meeting until 29 January. However, Pakistan also emphasised that the Council should ensure that it has made a decision before 29 January about what to do should Israel not appear.

The 15th session of the UPR will take place from 21 January to 1 February. The timetable of reviews is available here.

Troikas for the 15th session of the UPR

France

States selected: Congo, Kuwait, Italy

Tonga

States selected: Angola, Pakistan, Costa Rica

Romania

States selected: Kenya, Qatar, Czech Republic

Mali

States selected: Angola, United Arab Emirates, Montenegro

Botswana

States selected: Uganda, Austria, Poland

Bahamas

States selected: Pakistan, Costa Rica, Gabon

Burundi

States selected: India, Benin, Republic of Moldova

Luxembourg

States selected: Japan, Peru, Romania

Montenegro

States selected: Mauritania, United States, Estonia

United Arab Emirates

States selected: Ethiopia, Thailand, Germany

Israel

States selected: Sierra Leone, Maldives, Venezuela

Barbados

States selected: Libya, Brazil, Spain

Liechtenstein

States selected: Malaysia, Cote d’Ivoire, Argentina

Serbia

States selected: Republic of Korea, Chile, Switzerland

Russia: Scrap draft “homosexual propaganda” law which would contravene human rights and target human rights defenders

01.02.2013
 

A draft law to criminalise “homosexual propaganda”, currently being considered by the Russian parliament, flagrantly violates international human rights laws and standards, says the International Service for Human Rights.

“International law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. It also enshrines the fundamental rights of freedom of association and expression,” said Heather Collister of ISHR.

ISHR is particularly concerned that the law will be used to target, intimidate or harass human rights defenders and those who speak out on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

“States have an obligation not only to respect and protect human rights, but also to respect and protect those who stand up and speak out for human rights. Russia’s draft law is manifestly incompatible with this obligation,” said Ms Collister.

“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, together with the international Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, make clear that all persons have the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to advocate the acceptance of human rights and freedoms.”

According to Ms Collister, the draft law reflects a concerning international trend towards restricting human rights in the name of protecting so-called “traditional values”.

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

ISHR’s statement comes as three United Nations Independent human rights experts have also called on Russian parliament to scrap the draft Bill.

In a joint statement issued by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, the experts said, “The draft legislation could further contribute to the already difficult environment in which these defenders operate, stigmatizing their work and making them the target of acts of intimidation and violence, as has recently happened in Moscow.”

The UN experts further urged Russian parliamentarians to “exercise leadership by scrapping the bill to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia.”

For further comment, contact Heather Collister, International Service for Human Rights, on + 41 79 920 3805 or h.collister@ishr.ch.

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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