News

21 Feb

The Human Rights Council President has initiated a restructuring of the programme of work of the Council in order to decrease the meeting times due to budgetary restrictions for 2018. ISHR participated in informal consultations held on 12 February and 19 February and raised concerns about the lack of consultation with non-Geneva based organisations and the potential limiting of space for civil society participation. 

16 Feb

The challenges facing human rights defenders globally are exacerbated when those individuals and organisations seek to protect and promote rights of migrants and refugees and others ‘on the move’, says a new report released yesterday by a UN human rights expert.

13 Feb

The Egyptian government has trampled over even the minimum requirements for free and fair elections for the planned 26-28 March vote for president, ISHR along with 13 international and regional rights organisations said today.

14 Feb

New UN Human Rights Council President Vojislav Šuc spoke about his key objectives for the Council during the welcome reception hosted by ISHR on 31 January 2018. The President emphasised his will to ensure greater effectiveness of the Council through cooperation, dialogue and increased civil society participation. He also highlighted his intention to develop closer ties with the New-York-based Third Committee and with regional human rights organisations - for greater impact on the ground. Read the Council's President full speech below. 

31 Jan

The appalling human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been the subject of consensus UN resolutions for many years.  Cooperation from partners with expertise on the country should be invaluable to the UN, but relevant NGOs have faced multiple deferrals of their applications for accreditation.  Will the ECOSOC NGO Committee finally open the door to these NGOs?  

Human rights defenders must be able to freely interact with human rights mechanisms

13.03.2013
 

(Geneva – 13 March 2013) Human rights defenders must be able to communicate their concerns to human rights mechanisms without fear for their safety, says the International Service for Human Rights.  

‘The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is unequivocal on the point that everyone has the right to communicate with international human rights bodies’, said Heather Collister of ISHR.  

‘Unfortunately human rights defenders who expose human rights abuses at regional or UN human rights bodies face retaliation from governments intolerant of criticism’, said Ms Collister.

Ms Collister’s comments come as ISHR launches a handbook on reprisals for human rights defenders. Drawing on ISHR’s expertise at the forefront of this issue at both UN and regional levels, the handbook is a timely tool for human rights defenders who fear reprisals through their interaction with human rights mechanisms.

The handbook comes as a group of over 50 states from all regions of the world made a statement to the UN Human Rights Council condemning reprisals against human rights defenders as an attack on the UN itself.

Ms Collister added, ‘It would be extremely detrimental to the effective functioning of both regional and UN human rights systems if, as a result of the risks faced, human rights defenders were to avoid interacting with them. There is a real need for facts about on-the-ground situations so that the human rights systems can act appropriately and effectively in response to developments.’

‘Defenders need however to be aware of the risks they face through interacting with human rights mechanisms, and to be informed about the avenues available to them that could mitigate those risks.’

‘ISHR’s handbook will assist those defenders who fear reprisals as a result of their interaction with the UN or regional human rights mechanisms, and who want to learn how they could leverage those mechanisms to generate some degree of protection.’

ISHR’s handbook on reprisals is available here

Contact: Heather Collister, Human Rights Officer at the International Service for Human Rights, on + 41 79 920 3805 • h.collister@ishr.ch .

UN High Commissioner calls for end to 'brutal reprisals' against human rights defenders

14.03.2013
 

(Geneva - 14 March 2013) - Human rights defenders play a critical role in the promotion of human rights and must be protected from worsening attacks and reprisals, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

Speaking at a diplomatic reception hosted by the International Service for Human Rights, the High Commissioner said, "Human rights defenders often face brutal reprisals. Women human rights defenders in particular face specific threats, because in many parts of the world, standing up and speaking out defies gender norms that prescribe women’s passivity."

The High Commissioner also emphasised the critical role that human rights defenders and NGOs have played in advancing accountability and the rule of law, including by addressing "violence against women as a human rights violation" and by giving "new recognition to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity".

In her remarks, the High Commissioner recognised the "fundamental importance of human rights activists" and commended the International Service for Human Rights as "an organisation that provides invaluable contributions to the support of human rights defenders around the world".

Welcoming the speech, ISHR Director Phil Lynch thanked the High Commissioner and her office for their strong, principled and consistent support for human rights defenders.

"We thank the High Commissioner for standing up and speaking out for human rights defenders, particularly defenders at risk," said Mr Lynch.

"Around the world there are proliferating examples of the work of human rights defenders being unreasonably restricted and regulated, of human rights defenders being subject to intimidation and attacks, and of human rights defenders being subject to reprisal for standing up and speaking out."

"We call on all UN bodies and governments around the world to follow the High Commissioner's principled lead by supporting the critical work of human rights defenders."

The High Commissioner's speech is available here.

A new ISHR manual on preventing and redressing reprisals against human rights defenders is available here.

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

Council reviews countries that seriously violate human rights

15.03.2013
 

The Human Rights Council this week turned its attention to serious human rights violations in countries around the world. The Council has mandated experts to monitor the situations in Syria, Myanmar, Iran, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and report back at regular intervals to States. All these experts are due to have their mandates renewed through resolutions to be adopted on 21 and 22 March. The Council relies on the information received from these experts to take appropriate action in response to developments on the ground.

Lack of access for UN experts

In the cases of the commission of inquiry into the situation of Syria, and the Special Rapporteurs set up to monitor the situations in Iran and the DPRK, access to the countries concerned has never been granted by the authorities.

The lack of cooperation by these countries with the UN system came in for criticism by other States. Estonia and the US ‘deeply regretted’ the DPRK’s refusal to recognise the Special Rapporteur, while New Zealand urged cooperation with the Special Rapporteur as a means to guarantee the rights of its citizens.

Qatar and the EU denounced the Syrian regime’s denial of access to the commission of inquiry. Japan, Slovenia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland reiterated the appeal to Syrian authorities to allow the commission to enter Syria.

As for Iran, the US remained concerned that Iran refused access for the Special Rapporteur. Slovakia, France, the US, New Zealand, Belgium, and Macedonia all urged Iran to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur.

In contrast, Myanmar has granted access to the Special Rapporteur set up to monitor its own situation, and has extended an invitation to OHCHR to open an office in the country, an initiative that was supported during the dialogue by Germany, France, Demark, and the US.

Reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with the UN experts

The Special Rapporteur on the situation in Iran, Mr Ahmed Shaheed, noted that he relies on cross-checked evidence submitted to him by sources both inside and outside the country. He criticised Iran for, among other things, imprisoning people for providing him with information, including five Kurdish prisoners who have been charged with ‘contacting the office of the Special Rapporteur’.

UN experts attacked by States

Mr Shaheed was also attacked by Iran in the Human Rights Council, and his report was criticised as the product of an ‘unhealthy exercise’ initiated by the US and European allies, and as a result non-objective, unfounded, and in contradiction to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

The President of the Human Rights Council, Mr Remigiusz Henczel, intervened to reprimand Iran for its derogatory remarks. Mr Henczel stated that no personal attacks against the Rapporteur should be made, adding that everyone has the right to express his or her views about the report, but that this should remain with the accepted framework of ensuring respect.

Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, the DPRK, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Syria criticised country-specific mandates, holding that these mechanisms come about as a result of politicking. The DPRK accused the Special Rapporteur of using false material in his report, alleging that his information was fabricated and invented by hostile forces and was nothing less than a political plot to sabotage the DPRK’s socialist system under pretext of human rights protection. Syria accused the commission of inquiry of ignoring the geo-political situation in the region, and of emphasising partial information received from untrustworthy sources.

Calls for accountability

The need to ensure accountability for the violations in these countries was a common theme throughout the discussions. Mr Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the commission of inquiry into the situation in Syria, held that the initiative by the UN and the Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, stating that the UN would be willing to facilitate negotiations between the parties, was a step in the right direction. However he called urgently for a sustained diplomatic initiative and a political settlement, including referral to justice for those responsible for grave violations. The commission’s report states that the Security Council should take appropriate action to secure justice, including possible referral to the International Criminal Court.

This call was reiterated by 63 countries from all regions of the world in a statement read by Libya, which emphasised the imperative need for accountability if sustainable peace is to be secured.

Calls for accountability were also made in the case of the DPRK. The Special Rapporteur on the DPRK called on member States of the Council to set up a mechanism of inquiry with the ability to carry out more in-depth investigations into the situation in the country. In response to this call, Syria accused the Council of ‘throwing sovereignty out of the window’, and of blocking efforts to towards sincere dialogue and interactive cooperation.

The Rapporteur listed nine key patterns of violations documented by the UN: violation of right to food, torture and other cruel treatment, arbitrary detention, violation of human rights associated with prison camps, discrimination, violation of freedom of expression, violation of right to life, restrictions on freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances. Although the majority of States condemned the atrocities in the DPRK, Belarus pushed the point of view that what the DPRK required was ‘technical assistance’.

Technical assistance

In contrast to the reports on the other countries, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar commended the country’s progress, praising the release of over 800 prisoners of conscience. However, the Rapporteur stated that on-going torture needs to stop, and that vulnerable people’s situations have not improved. Thailand on behalf of ASEAN stated that they welcomed positive developments, encouraged Myanmar to seek assistance, and reaffirmed ASEAN’s commitment to extend help. Thailand also made its own statement supporting Myanmar, as did Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. China noted that the government has taken effective measures to calm down the situation.

Heather Collister is a Human Rights Officer. Carlen Zhang is an Intern with the International Service for Human Rights. To follow developments in the UPR and at the Human Rights Council as they happen, follow us on Twitter: @ISHRglobal.

Opinion: "Reprisals against human rights defenders must stop"

18.03.2013
 

By Remigiusz Achilles Henczel, President of the Human Rights Council

In my inaugural statement delivered on 10 December 2012 on the occasion of my election as the Human Rights Council’s President for 2013 I stressed the vital role played by civil society and national human rights institutions in enriching the Council’s work and exposing it to a vigilant reality check.

Indeed, civil society’s ongoing and strong engagement is of the utmost importance not only for the Council, but also for the whole UN human rights promotion and protection system. This special role is widely recognized in a number of the UN documents, including the Council’s founding resolution 60/251. As stipulated in this resolution the Council shall work in cooperation with Governments, regional organizations, national human rights institutions and civil society.

Civil society and national human rights institutions are essential in providing the Council with reliable and updated information directly from the ground. Without this information, the Council would not be as effective given its reliance on information provided by civil society. One ought not forget civil society’s engagement in the daily Council’s work through its participation in general debates, panels and informal consultations either. During my term as the Human Rights Council’s President, I will remain deeply committed to ensuring the fullest possible participation of civil society in the Council.

In that context, any instances of reprisals against persons or groups cooperating with UN mechanisms are unacceptable and must end. They not only violate human rights, but also undermine the UN human rights protection system, which in its work relies to a large extent on information provided by civil society and human rights defenders. All alleged cases of reprisals should be investigated without any delay and perpetrators should be brought to justice. It is the responsibility of the international community, particularly the Human Rights Council and the UN treaty bodies, to address this problem in a swift and effective manner. Building on the experience of my predecessor, Ambassador Laura Dupuy Lasserre from Uruguay, I will continue to speak out strongly against any cases of reprisals, particularly if they happen here in Geneva.

I shall count on civil society’s support and cooperation over the course of this year.

Human Rights Council must take an unequivocal stand against traditional values

18.03.2013
 

(Geneva - 18 March 2013) - The UN’s peak human rights body must unequivocally clarify that under no circumstances can human rights be restricted to protect so-called ‘traditional values’, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

‘Traditional values often impose patriarchal, mono-cultural norms that discriminate against minority and marginalised individuals, be they indigenous people, persons with a disability, individuals with a non-conforming gender identity, or religious minorities’, said Heather Collister of ISHR. 

‘The Human Rights Council’s own expert advisory body has clearly set out that States have a responsibility to take sustained and systematic action to eliminate stereotypes and negative, harmful and discriminatory practices justified by traditional values’, Ms Collister said.

According to Ms Collister, the traditional values agenda represents one of the biggest threats to the implementation of universal human rights standards today.

‘The traditional values agenda is often promoted as one of inclusivity – it is far from being so. Instead traditional values are used by those who want to maintain the status quo at the expense of marginalised and disenfranchised groups’, Ms Collister said.

The traditional values agenda has been gaining increased traction at the Council and elsewhere. The Commission on the Status of Women has just ended in New York with difficult negotiations towards the adoption of an outcome document, including attempts by the Holy See, Iran, and Russia to remove language asserting that religion, custom, and tradition cannot be used as an excuse by governments to avoid their human rights obligations.

Meanwhile at the Council, Egypt together with cosponsors including the Russian Federation, last week tabled a resolution on ‘the protection of the family’, a clear attempt to promote one ‘traditional’ form of the family over others. Latin American and Western States emphasised that any resolution on the family must take account of the varied forms that family can take.

Ms Collister said, ‘The Human Rights Council, as the world’s peak human rights body, has a responsibility to ensure that it does not promote an agenda that further marginalises and harms vulnerable groups. The Council must take a strong stand for the universality of human rights and make clear that the notion of ‘traditional values’ has no place within the universal human rights framework.’

ISHR’s statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council is available here

Contact: Heather Collister +41 79 920 3805 • h.collister@ishr.ch

UN adopts landmark resolution on protection of human rights defenders

21.03.2013
 

(Geneva - 21 March 2013) - The use and abuse of national law to impair, restrict and criminalise the work of human rights defenders is a contravention of international law and must end, according to a landmark resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council today.

The resolution, which was led by Norway and adopted by consensus, calls on all states to support the work of human rights defenders and to protect them from harassment, threats and attacks.

'The work of human rights defenders is essential to uphold democracy and the rule of law,' said Michael Ineichen of the International Service for Human Rights.

Introducing the resolution, Norway's Ambassador to the UN, Steffen Kongstad, said he was 'gravely concerned by the serious nature of risks faced by human rights defenders' and called on all states to 'facilitate their work' and ensure it is not 'criminalised or stigmatised'.

'A safe and enabling environment for the work of human rights defenders should be a fundamental objective of any society,' Ambassador Kongstad said.

ISHR's Michael Ineichen welcomed the resolution and praised Norway's leadership on its development. ISHR was closely involved with the development of the text, spearheading input from human rights defenders from around the world.

'The adoption of this resolution is a strong response from the world's peak human rights body to an alarming global growth in the enactment and abuse of laws to restrict human rights activism,’ said Mr Ineichen.

'The resolution is a clear affirmation that national law must conform with international human rights law. The resolution demands the amendment of national laws which target human rights defenders, including laws which restrict NGOs from receiving foreign funding, which criminalise "homosexual propaganda", or which limit freedom of expression or assembly on discriminatory grounds.'

Mr Ineichen highlighted that the resolution is consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, both of which impose legal obligations on states to protect human rights defenders and ensure that any limitations on their activities are strictly necessary, reasonable and proportionate.

Contact: Michael Ineichen, International Service for Human Rights, on m.ineichen@ishr.ch or +41 78 827 7786

Council considers effectiveness of technical assistance provided to States

25.03.2013
 

As part of the Council’s consideration of need for and effectiveness of its provision of technical assistance and capacity building support to States, the Independent Experts on Haiti and Côte d’Ivoire presented their annual reports to the Council. A report from the High Commissioner on the situation in Libya was also presented. The discussion reflected on progress made in the States, highlighted certain issues that remained outstanding, and left room for thoughts on possible ways to improve the provision of technical assistance in the future.

Progress through effective technical assistance

There was praise during the discussion for the effective way in which Libya and Côte d’Ivoire had engaged in technical cooperation, and the resulting improvements in the promotion and protection of human rights. Particularly with regard to Côte d’Ivoire several States mentioned the very effective reconciliation initiatives it had undertaken in cooperation with the Independent Expert on the situation in the country. However, despite the enthusiasm there was consensus that various challenges still had to be faced, in particular with regard to impunity for human rights violators and the fairness of the justice system. Côte d’Ivoire identified its low financial capacity as one major obstacle for further progress.

Human rights challenges still remain

While some States were praised for their progress, concerns were expressed about the fragile human rights situations in further countries considered. In this context, the case of Haiti was highlighted. The country still faces enormous problems, despite its continued engagement with the Council’s mechanisms. As in Côte d’Ivoire, the impunity enjoyed by human rights violators was identified as one major problem. The role of civil society in assisting States such as Haiti to make best use of technical assistance was raised as one possible area to explore further.

No cooperation without true efforts

The crucial importance of the will to cooperate with the Council if the technical assistance provided is to contribute to improving the human rights situation on the ground was a point made by several States. The United States in particular emphasised that while technical cooperation could provide significant benefits, if the will of the State was not engaged then these benefits would not result. Sudan, for instance, continues to undermine political freedoms and recently prohibited access of humanitarian aid to North Darfur. The United States urged the Council to provide technical support only to States that were willing to corporate, and to take actions against those who did not, stressing that genuine cooperation is fundamental if the Council is to be fully informed of the needs of the States and provide appropriate assistance.

Adoption of resolutions

The Council adopted by consensus resolutions continuing the international community’s provision of support to Haiti, Mali, and Libya. In the case of Mali, the Council established the post of an Independent Expert to provide dedicated support to the State to implement the recommendations coming from the Council. The Independent Expert will also inform the Council on progress made in the State. Particular emphasis is placed on the need to provide technical assistance to enable Mali to introduce judicial reforms through possible transitional justice mechanisms.

The Libyan resolution welcomes steps taken by Libya to address human rights concerns, including the drawing up of a national plan of action on human rights in cooperation with the High Commissioner. It draws particular attention to challenges in the areas of security, respect for the rule of law, and transitional justice. The High Commissioner is requested to continue her office’s provision of technical assistance and to report back to the Council on the progress made in this respect and needs identified. Contrary to demands made by human rights defenders from Libya, no broad human rights monitoring mandate is given to the High Commissioner.

Haiti expressed its gratitude to States who had drafted the text on its own situation, which extends the mandate of the Independent Expert for one year and encourages the mandate holder to work with NGOs and civil society organisations.

Heather Collister is a Human Rights Officer and Alena Jabarine is an Intern with the International Service for Human Rights. To follow developments at the Human Rights Council as they happen, follow us on Twitter: @ISHRglobal.

Key developments at the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council

25.03.2013
 

Resolution on peaceful protests includes reference to specific threats faced by women defenders

Important language on women human rights defenders was included in a resolution on peaceful protests adopted unanimously by the Council. During negotiations on the text, this language had been deleted by the main sponsors, Switzerland, in the face of objections from some States. However, after numerous cosponsors expressed their disappointment on this amendment, the phrase on women human rights defenders was reinserted, acknowledging that the specific threats faced by women in the context of peaceful protests.  At the vote, Switzerland stated that the resolution calls for all States to foster a safe environment for the exercise of freedom of expression by all groups, in particular by ensuring that domestic legislation is in line with international human rights obligations. The resolution also calls for a seminar to be held on best practices for the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests.

Egypt postpones its overly narrow resolution on protection of the family

Consideration of a last-minute tabled resolution on the protection of the family was ultimately postponed by the lead State, Egypt. The announcement came after Latin American and EU States gathered support amongst Council members for possible amendments to the text. Those amendments would have responded to NGOs’ concerns that the resolution did not ensure respect for the rights of all individuals in different forms of families (including one parent families, families headed by children orphaned by HIV, or war).The controversial draft text called for a panel discussion on ‘protection of the family’ with the goal of addressing the obligations of States in this regard, and despite its postponement, can be expected to resurface at future sessions of the Council.

Council calls for Sri Lanka to make good on its committment to accountability

The latest US-led resolution on Sri Lanka was adopted with 25 votes in favour, 13 against, and 8 abstentions, in the face of strongly expressed opposition from Sri Lanka to the ‘disproportionate’ and ‘unwarranted’ attention to the situation in the country. India, however, voted in favour of the resolution, urging Sri Lanka to take measures to ensure accountability to the satisfaction of the international community, while Sierra Leone said it was ‘compelled’ to vote in favour of the resolution, on the basis of its own experience with civil war and its belief that the resolution serves the purpose of meaningful accountability and reconciliation.  

Cuba continues attempts to create Council oversight of OHCHR

During voting on a resolution on the regional balance of staff within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Cuba, the lead State, dismissed claims that it is not the Council’s place to take up this subject. It also denied that the purpose of the resolution is to undermine the independence of OHCHR. The US and Ireland clearly set out that member States of the Council have no role in instructing OHCHR on its staffing. Despite such long standing concerns, the resolution was adopted with 31 votes in favour, 15 against, and 1 abstention.

Council establishes Commission of Inquiry into the situation in DPRK

The Council unanimously agreed to establish a commission of inquiry for a period of one year to investigate the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Korea, to ensure accountability including for crimes against humanity. The creation of the commission comes after the Special Rapporteur on the situation in the country, who has not been granted entry, recommended such a mechanism as a means to carry out more comprehensive investigations into the violations ongoing in the country, attribute responsibility, and make recommendations for effective action to the international community. The DPRK made clear its ‘resolute resentment’ at the ‘political’ resolution.

Syria, Iran comdemn Council's focus on their countries

The extension of the commission on inquiry into the situation in Syria for 12 months, and of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur of the situation in Iran, saw confrontational responses by the countries concerned. Iran stated that the focus on itself was selective and a result of politicised motives, while Syria described the resolution on its own situation as an ‘abuse of the Council’s authority’. These reactions were echoed by other States, including Ecuador and Venezuela. The latter describing such initiatives as an attack on sovereignty and as ‘imperialist’. Venezuela was the only State to vote against the resolution on Syrian, with Ecuador joining Kazakhstan, India, the Philippines, and Uganda in abstaining. The resolution on Iran was adopted with 26 in favour, 2 against (Venezuela and Pakistan), and 17 abstentions.

Council holds its annual discussion on technical cooperation

The Human Rights Council held its annual discussion on technical cooperation, under the theme of promoting technical cooperation for the strengthening of the judicial system and the administration of justice in order to ensure human rights and the rule of law. The United States said that the key to success is that each technical cooperation programme must be as unique as the society and people it is designed to assist. Japan and Indonesia emphasised that the provision of technical assistance and capacity building should be based on close consultation with, and the consent of, the States concerned, taking into account their needs and respecting their ownership of the process. There was no conversation about establishing indicators and benchmarks to measure the results of technical assistance efforts.

ISHR's achievements at the Human Rights Council's 22nd session

26.04.2013
 

The 22nd session of the Human Rights Council saw ISHR pursuing its goals to promote and protect human rights around the world by supporting human rights defenders and strengthening human rights systems.

The session was one of the most successful ever, with a landmark resolution on the protection of human rights defenders being adopted by consensus, the prevention of efforts to undermine universality of human rights through regressive appeals to ‘traditional values’, and steps towards accountability in Sri Lanka, Syria, and North Korea.

For ISHR, many of these outcomes marked the achievement of the advocacy goals we set for the session.

Supporting human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders

The adoption of a landmark text on human rights defenders, ably led through negotiations by Norway, marked many months of hard work and engagement by ISHR. Alongside working to spearhead input into the text from human rights defenders around the world, ISHR’s own expertise on the subject of human rights defenders enabled us to provide Norway with advice and support throughout the resolution negotiations.

The resulting resolution calls for an end to the use and abuse of national law to impair, restrict, and criminalise the work of human rights defenders, noting that this is in contravention of international law. All States are called upon to support the work of human rights defenders and to protect them from harassment, threats, and attacks.

Crucially, both this text and a text on the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, include reference to the specific threats faced by women human rights defenders.

One of ISHR’s advocacy goals is to ensure that human rights laws and mechanisms protect women human rights defenders, in recognition of the specific vulnerability that women human rights defenders face, something made even more apparent during events of the ‘Arab Spring’. As a result of ISHR’s championing of this issue, lead States ensured that the final texts include this important reference to the particular vulnerability of women defenders and the need for States to pay particular attention to the protection of women.

The Council adopted both resolutions by consensus.

Responding to threats of regress to the universality of human rights

ISHR continued to call for the Council to unequivocally clarify that under no circumstances can human rights be restricted to protect so called ‘traditional values’.

It became apparent at this session, however, that the push to promote a ‘traditional values’ agenda is by no means slowing down. Not least, Egypt presented a draft text on ‘protection of the family’. This text was met with grave concern by human rights defenders who felt that it represented neither the diversity of family forms nor the rights of particular individuals within the family.

Conveying our concerns to States, ISHR highlighted the dangers that such a resolution could pose if not well-framed to ensure protection of all individuals’ human rights. Following sustained advocacy by a coalition of NGOs as well as concerned States, Egypt ultimately announced its decision to postpone consideration of the text.

ISHR will continue to work to develop strategic ways to respond to this issue, both in this particular case, with Egypt likely to re-introduce the text at the June 2013 Council session, but also the general ‘traditional values’ agenda.

Conducting advocacy to develop and strengthen human rights laws and mechanisms to prevent and respond to reprisals

ISHR’s longstanding efforts to urge States to take steps to protect human rights defenders from reprisals continued as we rallied States to join their voices to a Hungarian-led statement condemning reprisals. 54 States endorsed this statement, sending a strong signal that the Council is expected to act on this issue, and that political momentum towards a stronger response is building.

ISHR campaigned to have this statement delivered, and success ensured that the issue remained high on the Council’s agenda in anticipation of the adoption of a further resolution at the September 2013 session of the Council.

ISHR has been in the lead on advocacy calling for the systematic address acts of reprisal within both the UN and regional systems. At UN level, this includes coordination within the framework of the UPR, treaty bodies, and special procedures, and for more coordination among these mechanisms, a call that was endorsed in the joint statement. States specifically called on the Council to react to, and follow up on, cases of reprisal that are brought to its attention. More broadly, ISHR has also pushed for consistent approaches of the UN and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

The statement anticipates a further resolution on reprisals, to be led by Hungary at the September session of the Council. ISHR will continue to work closely with Hungary and other States to push for a systematic response from the Council to reprisals, to prevent and protect against reprisals, and ensure accountability for defenders who suffer reprisals.

Contact: Michael Ineichen m.ineichen@ishr.ch

Council Alert: Human Rights Council action due on sexual orientation and gender identity

26.04.2013
 

States will gather in Geneva in one month for the Human Rights Council’s 23rd session, to be held from 27 May – 14 June. High on the agenda, and likely to be the subject of considerable controversy, will be how the Council should follow up to its 2011 resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity. The issues of business and its impact on human rights, violence against women, and the freedoms of assembly, association and expression will also receive considerable attention, with experts reporting to the Council on key developments in these areas. The Council's programme of work for the session can be accessed here once available.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

In 2011 South Africa led the first resolutoin ever adopted by the Council on sexual orientation and gender identity. Two years later follow-up to this resolution is an urgent requirement, to ensure it does not fall off the Council’s agenda. With this in mind, a series of regional meetings have been held, in Kathmandu, Brasilia, Banjul and Paris, with the aim of identifying the challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons (LGBT), and to discuss what tools would be the most useful for an effective response. A meeting in Olso earlier this month brought together the findings of those regional meetings, and key among the conclusions was the need for the UN to create a mechanism to systematise attention on violations and discrimination against LGBT people.

On such a sensitive issue, the creation of an expert mechanism charged with regular reporting to the Council on developments in the area of LGBT rights would be a huge achievement. It remains to be seen whether South Africa will choose to pursue this goal at the coming session. It is noteworthy, however, that the political composition is the most favourable it has ever been on this issue. ISHR will be engaging closely around this issue, with the goal of ensuring that the UN, including its main human rights body, give sustained attention to and undertake concrete efforts to ending discrimination and violence on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and ensuring human rights for all.

Violence against women

Women’s rights will receive attention at this session, with the special rapporteur on violence against women presenting her latest report to States, a report from the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice, and a whole day discussion on women’s rights.  

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will also present for discussion a report that examines ways to link the mechanisms of the Council with other relevant intergovernmental processes on the issue of violence against women and girls. Amongst other recommendations the report notes the importance of ensuring that violence against women is adequately addressed in Council resolutions, both country specific and thematic, a goal ISHR pursues in the particular context of violence against women human rights defenders. The report also calls on the General Assembly to ensure that relevant Council experts such as the expert on violence against women, and the working group on discrimination against women in law and practice, are included in its thematic work and debates.

Threats to universality

Following on from Egypt’s aborted attempt at the last session of the Council to have a resolution on ‘protection of the family’ adopted by member States, it is likely that this issue will come up again in next month’s session. The last resolution was worryingly narrow, failing to acknowledge that, while the family is important, the rights of individual members of the family must not be subsumed to the family as a group. The resolution also did not take into account that families can take many forms, and a so-called ‘traditional family’ of husband, wife, and children excludes myriad other cases such as orphaned children being raised by guardians, or one-parent families. As at the last session, ISHR will engage around such initiatives with a view to preserving and bolstering universal human rights standards.

Business and human rights

With the endorsement, in 2011, by the Council of the ‘guiding principles on business and human rights’, attention has shifted to the implementation of these standards. At this session the working group on business and human rights (composed of five experts from different regions of the world) will present its latest update on implementation of the principles. The experts particularly recommend that States protect human rights defenders from harassment, persecution or reprisals when they seek to access remedies for human rights abuses in connection with corporate activities. The experts noted that they had received many reports of defenders being harassed and persecuted in situations of conflict between businesses and local communities, including instances of arbitrary detention, threats, violence and killings, targeting by armed groups, disappearances, and restrictions of the freedoms of assembly and expression. The experts stress that they are keen to continue to receive such information as they develop recommendations to States, businesses and other actors.

A panel will also be organised with UN programmes and agencies during the session to examine how the United Nations system can contribute towards advancing this agenda.

Since its last report the members of the working group carried out their first country visit to Mongolia, and they will update the Council on the recommendations made. The Council will also hear a report back from the 2012 forum on business and human rights, where the need to protect the human rights of defenders was also discussed. ISHR will work towards ensuring that future work of the Forum and the Working Group give meaning to the rhetoric of concern about human rights defenders working on corporate accountability by including specific focus on their work and the specific violations and threats they face.

Country situations and other issues

Other debates of interest include those on peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression, with the Council’s experts on both these issues presenting their reports, while for country situations, the experts on Belarus, Eritrea, the Occupied Palestinian territories and Cote d’Ivoire will update States on the latest situation. The mandates on Belarus, Eritrea, Cote d’Ivoire, and Somalia are all up for renewal at this session.

Contact: Michael Ineichen, m.ineichen@ishr.ch
ISHR will provide regular updates in the run-up to the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council and throughout the session on www.ishr.ch and @ISHRglobal.
Photo: ©Human RIghts Council Archive Photo

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Opinion:

The cases of Wang Quanzhang, Gui Minhai and Liu Xia - just three cases out of dozens that ISHR and its partners are tracking on a regular basis - show the ways in which China is using detention and disappearance to intimidate activists and their families. The international community must respond to this widespread and systematisied crackdown on human rights and their defenders in China, writes Sarah Brooks. 

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Mechanism

1984

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

1988

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

1993

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

1994

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

1998

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

2000

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

2004

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

2005

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

2006

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

2007

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

2011

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

2012

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

2013

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