11 May

NGOs and human rights defenders have until the 18th of May to submit cases of reprisals to the UN Secretary-General's report, covering the period June 2017 to May 2018.

15 May

By Urgent Latin Fund for Latin America and the Caribbean UAF-LAC

As they confront not only powerful economic and political interests, but the systematic and specific violence against them, women environmental activists face particular risks, threats and attacks, such as sexual violence and other gender-related offenses. However, documentation on this issue is insufficient and lacks of a feminist and intersectional approach. 

09 May

On 24 April, ISHR organised a meeting between the African Commission's Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the defenders participating in the NGO Forum.

08 May

We're thrilled to launch ISHR's latest annual report, outlining our key impacts during 2017 and our bold vision for 2018 and the years ahead. These impacts, and the achievement of our vision, would be impossible without you – fellow defenders, decision-makers, diplomats and donors who share and promote our mission and who contribute the resources, expertise and influence necessary to make our vision a reality. Thanks for supporting ISHR and making human rights change happen! 

03 May
Image of Tashi Wangchuk

As the world recognises the importance of a free press, ISHR joins with global NGOs to urge China to release Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk. It is also a moment to highlight recommendations to China on media freedoms and freedom of expression, part of a new joint report from ISHR and the Committee on the Protection of Journalists.

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


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 The deadline for confirming participation is 20 August.

General Assembly extends intergovernmental process on treaty body strengthening


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


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


(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, 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


(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


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


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


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.

Human Rights Council Advisory Committee continues its discussion on traditional values


The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (the Committee) is currently holding its 9th session in Geneva (from 6 to 10 August).  The Committee held a debate on 6 August on the latest draft of its study on promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind (the study). The study has been extremely controversial. Indeed, many States did not vote in favour of the Russian led resolution 16/3 that gives the mandate to the Committee to prepare the study (the resolution was adopted with 24 in favour, 14 against, and 7 abstentions). The first draft of the study was presented at the 8th session by the rapporteur, Committee member Mr Vladimir Kartashkin. It was heavily criticised in several respects[1] by fellow Committee members, States, and NGOs, and it was decided that a new draft needed to be prepared for the 9th session before submission to the Human Rights Council (the Council) in its September session. Committee member Ms Chung Chinsung agreed to take the lead on redrafting the text.

The Committee’s discussion on the study relating to traditional values opened with the statement of the Chairperson of the drafting group, Mr Soofi, who presented the new study and gave an overview of the drafting process. In particular, he mentioned that the drafting group tried to take into account comments and feedback from Committee members, and thanked Ms Chung Chinsung for ‘her excellent input’ as new rapporteur of the study. He also noted that the revised draft includes a section that documents best practices in relation to the implementation of human rights through the use of ‘traditional values’.

Mr Kartashkin immediately took the floor to remind the Committee of the original mandate presented by the Council. He felt that the revised study does not answer the question asked by the Council resolution, that is, how a better understanding and appreciation of traditional values of dignity, freedom, and responsibility can contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights, and that the current version ‘is essentially dominated by one point of view’ with proposals and sentences that are ‘mistaken and erroneous’.

The focal point of the dialogue was the section of the report which discusses responsibility. Strongly opposing views were revealed between Committee members.  While Mr Kartashkin is a fervent activist for the inclusion of references to the notion of individual responsibility in promotion and protection of human rights, others were strongly against this.  Ms Boisson de Chazournes noted that individual responsibility is a subject of criminal law as opposed to human rights law, and suggested that a reference to individual responsibility could be made by mentioning the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court which provides for individual responsibility in cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and crimes of aggression.[2]

The Russian Federation backed up Mr Kartashkin’s comments by noting that article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights provides for individual responsibility as well as the Convention of the Rights of the Child which contains a reference to the responsibility of parents. The representative felt that both instruments should be included in the study to illustrate the responsibility of individuals in case of human rights violations. Ms Quisumbing indicated that she would also welcome a reference in the responsibility section to the crucial role of family and community making sure ‘they live up to their responsibilities towards the child’. Mr Seetulsingh acknowledged that States are duty bearers but ‘citizens also have a responsibility to abide by human rights principles’.

Mr Soofi took a more careful approach explaining that even though the study underlines States as primary duty bearers under international law, it does not exclude the responsibility of non-state actors and individuals.  Mr Sakamato, along with Switzerland, and the United States, and NGOs such as ISHR and ICJ, expressed their worries regarding importing the concept of individual responsibility into human rights, stating that not only would this threaten the universality of human rights, but that in any case individual responsibility is not a concept that needs further development in international human rights law.

Russia also continued to stress its opinion that a difference has to be made between traditional values that may have a positive impact and harmful practices. It restated its point that the notion of ‘negative values’ does not exist and is paradoxical.

The drafting group will now have to consider the proposals made with a view to submitting a revised draft for adoption by the Committee by the end of the session on Friday, 10 August. While Mr Kartashkin suggested that the Committee should ask for an extension from the Council of the deadline for submitting the report, other Committee members expressed a preference for finalising the study at this session. ISHR will update this news piece once the session concludes on Friday 10 August, and provide a longer analysis of the session in the October edition of the Human Rights Monitor Quarterly.

[1] See and p.7 of HRQM issue2.2012 p.7.
[2] Article 5 of the Rome Statute.

Council Alert: Human Rights Council September 2012 session


The Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 21st session from 10 to 28 September. For more information including the draft programme of work, the list of reports and the annoted agenda, use the link here. Note that the programme of work remains subject to change. Information concerning NGOs and how to participate within the Council can be found here. The orginisational meeting for the upcoming session, led by the Council President Laura Dupuy Lasserre, was held on 27 August. During the meeting States discussed the programme of work for the Council’s 21st Session and the various planned panel discussion.

Expected highlights of the session

The Council will have an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Syria on Monday 17 September. This is expected to be the final report of the COI before the Council, after which the Special Rapporteur on Syria will take over. This follows on from the two reports already presented by the COI on Syria and its ongoing civil war. The COI report does not deviate much from the previous two reports that have been presented to the Council.

In the interactive dialogue with the Council the COI is likely to reiterate its existing call for an end to gross violations and related impunity of human rights, and reinforce its recommendation for continued monitoring with a view to ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable. However, the appointment of Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi as the Joint Special Envoy following the resignation of Kofi Annan in August, and the third resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 2012, are likely to influence the nature of the discussion.

The Council will also hold interactive dialogues with three country specific mandates. The Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and the Independent Experts on Somalia and Sudan will present their reports to the Council.

This will be the first time that an Independent Expert will report on Sudan since the independence of South Sudan in July 2011. The Independent Expert’s report follows from discussion in June 2011 that focused on the serious human rights violations in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Reflecting the creation of a new State and the human right violations there will likely be calls for a stronger mandate on Sudan, and a resurgence of calls for a mandate on South Sudan.

Although not specifically on the Council’s agenda, the human rights situations in Sri Lanka and Bahrain are likely to attract significant attention. At its March session, the Council had requested OHCHR to present a report in March 2013 only. However, given the UPR of Sri Lanka planned for 1 November, debates are likely to start in September. Likewise, Bahrain was the subject of a cross regional joint statement in June 2012, and will be of continued concern during the September session, not least because the UPR report on Bahrain will be adopted.

At this session, 15 thematic special procedure mandate holders will present their reports, in a series of grouped interactive dialogues.

The Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, will present his report to the Council on Tuesday 11 September. This will be the first report on this issue since his mandate was established through a Council resolution in September 2011.

The Council will convene a panel entitled ‘Cooperation with UN Human Rights mechanisms: issues of intimidation or reprisals’. The panel, sponsored by Hungary, will be held on Thursday 13 September and is a result of Decision 18/118. The panel is part of an ongoing focus on this issue that builds on reports and resolutions made at the Council’s predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, and continued at the Council.

In a separate debate under Item 5, the Council will consider the latest report by the Secretary General and will build on material from previous reports that include information on cooperating with any part of the UN human rights system, and not just the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary bodies. The report uses stronger language than previous iterations and calls for a move to ‘go beyond reporting’. It outlines clear and solid support for the initiatives and engaged role of the Council’s President and the High Commissioner and for greater involvement on the issue by the Council. While during previous considerations of the Secretary-General’s report, concerned States were largely silent, it will be interesting to observe if the greater attention to reprisals elicits a more specific response.


NGO Opportunity: ECOSOC accredited NGOs and human rights defenders can raise examples of cases where States have failed to fulfil their expected role in handling alleged reprisals. Accredited NGOs can participate in the panel via video message or through attendance in Geneva.

The Russian Federation announced during the organisational meeting that it plans on proposing a new draft resolution on the connection between traditional values and universal human rights. The draft resolution has not been released and is not available at the time of writing. This draft resolution is being introduced despite a delay in the presentation and review of the Council’s Advisory Committee report on promoting fundamental human rights through a better understanding of traditional values of humankind. The report will now be presented at the 22nd session of the Council, in March 2013.

The delay follows a heated debate on the issue in the Advisory Committee that has proven to be a divisive issue for the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee acts as a think tank for the Council and, in addition to traditional values, discusses a number of topics mandated by the Council, including the right of people to peace, the right to food, the enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights, and international solidarity.

The announced resolution by the Russian Federation builds on previous texts on this issue, over which NGOs and States have expressed concern. Traditional values are often seen to undermine rather than promote human rights. The traditional values argument, if accepted, could limit the ability to question harmful practices occurring in many States, including in the context of consideration by other human right mechanisms such as the UPR and treaty bodies. Russia and the 28 sponsors of the original resolution in 2009 refused to reaffirm that no State has the right to invoke traditional values to counter, limit or avoid their obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Russia’s traditional values resolution continues the worrying trend of resolutions with questionable content from a human rights perspective, such as the efforts of Pakistan with its, now defunct, ‘defamation of religion’ resolutions. This trend has the potential to discredit the Council as an international moral compass.

Finally, The Council will appoint three new mandate holders for the positions of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, and Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. Interestingly, the Ambassador of Cuba has recently replaced the Ambassador of Honduras in the consultative group, a group of five representatives of the Regional Groups, serving in their personal capacities, responsible for shortlisting candidates for appointment by the President of the Council. The Cuban Ambassador, having been one of the most ardent critics of the establishment of a mandate on Belarus, will find himself in a tricky situation having to select the best-qualified mandate holder.

The Council will also elect new members of the Advisory Committee. The only current nominees for election to the Advisory Committee are Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani from Bahrain and Mario L. Coriolano from Argentina; their biographical data can be found here. In this context, during the organisational meeting, Amnesty International noted that even if there are no more candidates for election than vacancies, there should be a ballot (and not merely an acclamation as announced by the President) because a ballot is the only mechanism that exists to allow member States to give effect to paragraph 68 of the institution-building package, which provides that persons in conflict of interests shall be excluded from election to the Advisory Committee.

Universal Periodic Review

The adoption of the UPR report on Bahrain will provide an opportunity to build on the joint statement and to put pressure on the Council to consider paying attention to the situation outside of the UPR framework.

Adoption of the UPR reports of Morocco and Tunisia is also on the agenda. These reports reflect positive trends in human rights development in both countries that have accompanied their political changes in the Arab Spring. The reviews in the UPR Working Group for both of these countries have been overwhelmingly positive in their evaluation of the changes in these nations and have outlined a number of recommendations for the fledgling democracies. The adoption of the reports provides an opportunity for human rights defenders to critically reflect on the positive picture painted by the States in the UPR.


NGO Opportunity: As part of the opening of the UPR dialogue, NGOs and human rights defenders are able to participate in the dialogue by video message. This is the only time that NGOs get to formally participate in the UPR process and provides an important opportunity to highlight critical issues. Video submission can be made from anywhere in the world, as long as they satisfy the criteria.

Overall, the session will be heavier than the one held in June as there are a larger number of expected resolutions and UPR adoptions further weighing down the agenda. Senegal (on behalf of the African Group) raised this issue, noting that the very full agenda made it difficult for the small delegations to contribute effectively. June has shown that a more manageable workload during the sessions may lead to more substantive debates and better engagement by all delegations, particularly small ones, and the Council would do well to consider that lesson for the future.

Resolutions to be brought at the 21st session, as mentioned at the organisational meeting

Decision convening a Panel in March 2013 on the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (Austria)

Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity building – improvement of last year’s resolution, determining the theme of the March 2013 panel on technical cooperation, and focus on how the council can support the implementation of UPR recommendations (Thailand)

Human rights and extreme poverty – adoption of the guiding principles developed by the Special rapporteur (France)

Human rights and indigenous peoples – omnibus text bringing together all agreed language (Guatemala and Mexico)

Human rights education and training – follow up to the Global Programme on human rights education (Costa Rica)

Human rights and transitional justice – Focus on the gender perspective in transitional justice measures (Switzerland)

International solidarity and human rights (Cuba)

Maternal Mortality and Morbidity – with Colombia and New Zealand – in line with last year’s resolution, follow up to the OHCHR guidelines on maternal mortality and morbidity prevention (Burkina Faso)

Private military societies (African Group)

Promoting an equitable democratic order (Cuba)

Racism (African Group)

Right to development – capturing the latest developments in the Council’s proceedings (Egypt on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement)

Right to peaceful assembly and association – building upon the resolution establishing the SR mandate (USA)

Right to truth – based on the previously agreed texts and building upon the reports prepared by the OHCHR (Argentina)

Safety of journalists – on behalf of a group of delegations (Austria)

Use of mercenaries to violate human rights and prevent and impede the achievement of human rights (Cuba)

Traditional values of mankind – Examples and good practices to ensure a truly universal recognition of human rights. (Russia)

There are four thematic panel discussions planned for the 21stsession

These panels are all the result of resolutions adopted by the Council. The following panel discussions will be held:

Intimidation and reprisals against individuals or groups having cooperated with the UN
The panel will include a video message by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and have an opening statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem Pillay. Other panelists include Mr Hassan Shire of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, and Ms Mehr Khan Williams, Chair of the ISHR board. The panel will be convened on Thursday 13 September.

Human Rights and indigenous people: Access to justice

This panel will take place on Thursday 18 September and will focus on the conflict that arises from access to justice and equity for indigenous people.

Integration of gender perspective in the UN system

This panel will be convened on Thursday 20 September. This year the focus of the discussion is on empowerment of women through economic, social and cultural rights. As part of the panel closed captioning, sign language and wheel chair access will be provided to open up access to the debate.

International Nelson Mandela Day

This panel will be convened on Friday 21 September.


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