09 Dec

States have a responsibility to protect fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The international community should refuse to turn a blind eye to gross and systematic human rights violations committed against women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia. 

10 Dec

‘Women human rights defenders have flooded the streets, the airwaves, and the internet with their energy and their testimonials, bringing to light truths that are too often buried in darkness’ said a group of UN experts, recognising the important leadership role of women activists.

10 Dec

Today is Human Rights Day. Today is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s a day to say thanks and contribute to a better world through ISHR.

10 Dec

Major businesses have issued first ever call to protect civic freedoms, human rights defenders and rule of law in a landmark joint statement.

10 Dec

The United Nations agency committed to gender equality and women's empowerment honours the work of women human rights defenders. 'Those who defend our rights in turn need our defense' stated Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. 

Historic decision: Council passes first-ever resolution on sexual orientation & gender identity


Joint NGO News Release 

(Geneva, June 17, 2011) In a groundbreaking achievement for upholding the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the United Nations Human Rights Council has passed a resolution on human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity (L9/rev1).

The resolution,presented by South Africa along with Brasil and 39 additional co-sponsors from all regions of the world, was passed by a vote of 23 in favour, 19 against, and 3 abstentions.  A list of how States voted is below.

In its presentation to the Council, South Africa recalled the UDHR noting that “everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind” and Brasil called on the Council to “open the long closed doors of dialogue”.

Today’s resolution is the first UN resolution ever to bring specific focus to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and follows a joint statement on these issues delivered at the March session of the council. It affirms the universality of human rights, and notes concern about acts of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This commitment of the Human Rights Council sends an important signal of support to human rights defenders working on these issues, and recognises the legitimacy of their work.

“The South African government has now offered progressive leadership, after years of troubling and inconsistent positions on the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity. Simultaneously, the government has set a standard for themselves in international spaces. We look forward to contributing to and supporting sustained progressive leadership by this government and seeing the end of the violations we face daily”. (Dawn Cavanagh, Coalition of African Lesbians)

The resolution requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a study on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and calls for a panel discussion to be held at the Human Rights Council to discuss the findings of the study in a constructive and transparent manner, and to consider appropriate follow-up.

“That we are celebrating the passage of a UN resolution about human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation is remarkable, however the fact that gender identity is explicitly named truly makes this pivotal moment one to rejoice in,” added Justus Eisfeld, Co-Director of GATE.  “The Human Rights Council has taken a step forward in history by acknowledging that both sexual and gender non-conformity make lesbian, gay, trans* and bi people among those most vulnerable and indicated decisively that States have an obligation to protect us from violence.”

"As treaty bodies, UN special procedures, and national courts have repeatedly recognised, international human rights law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.” (Alli Jernow, International Commission of Jurists)

The resolution is consistent with other regional and national jurisprudence, and just this week, the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS recognised the need to address the human rights of men who have sex with men, and the Organization of American States adopted by consensus a resolution condemning violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Earlier in this 17th session of the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo, reported to the Council that: “[Contributory factors for risk of violence include individual aspects of women’s bodily attributes such as race, skin colour, intellectual and physical abilities, age, language skills and fluency, ethnic identity and sexual orientation.”

The report also detailed a number of violations committed against lesbian, bisexual and trans women, including cases of rape, attacks and murders.  It is therefore regrettable that a reference to "women who face sexuality-related violence" was removed from the final version of another resolution focused on the elimination of violence against women during the same session.  

"Despite this inconsistency, we trust the UN resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity will facilitate the integration of the full range of sexual rights throughout the work of the UN." (Meghan Doherty, Sexual Rights Initiative)

A powerful civil society statement was delivered at the end of the session, welcoming the resolution and affirming civil society’s commitment to continuing to engage with the United Nations with a view to ensuring that all persons are treated as free and equal in dignity and rights, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Now, our work is just beginning”, said Kim Vance of ARC International. “We look forward to the High Commissioner’s report and the plenary panel next March, as well as to further dialogue with, and support from, those States which did not yet feel able to support the resolution, but which share the concern of the international community at these systemic human rights abuses.” 

ARC International

Amnesty International

CAL – Coalition of African Lesbians

COC Nederland

Council for Global Equality

GATE - Global Action for Trans* Equality

Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights

Human Rights Watch

IDAHO - International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

IGLHRC - International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

ILGA- the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

International Campaign Stop Trans Pathologization STP 2012

International Commission of Jurists

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Sexual Rights Initiative

Thailand's Sexual Diversity Network

Transgender Europe (TGEU)

Records of Vote and Co-Sponsorship

States supporting the resolution: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Hungary, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, Thailand, UK, USA, Uruguay

States against the resolution: Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Jordan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Moldova, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Uganda.

Abstentions: Burkina Faso, China, Zambia

Absent: Kyrgyzstan, Libya (suspended)

Co-Sponsors of the resolution: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania,  Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, and Uruguay.

Human Rights Council creates Special Rapporteur on Syria at special session on the ongoing crisis


On 2 December 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held its 18th special session and third successive special session on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic. The special session had been requested by the European Union, with the support of 28 member states of the Council, to respond to  the report of the Commission of Inquiry (the Commission), which found that members of the Syrian military and security forces have committed ‘crimes against humanity’ in 2011.

The special session, supported by fellow Arab States Qatar, Kuwait, Libya, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, was also backed by 40 observer States. It concluded with the adoption of resolution A/HRC/S-18/L.1 entitled ‘the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic’. The resolution was adopted by majority, with 37 votes in favour, 4 against, and 6 abstentions. Of the Arab States, all voted in favour. The resolution, which condemns the increasingly grave human rights violations in Syria, includes the decision to establish the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Syria. The mandate holder will be appointed at the March 2012 session of the Council, coinciding with the end of the mandate of the Commission.  The mandate holder is requested to monitor the implementation of the recommendations from the Commission and of the Council’s resolutions.

As expected, Syria expressed strong opposition during the session both to the findings in the Commission’s report and to the draft resolution. Its main point of concern was that the resolution was policitised and that it therefore breached both the UN Charter, particularly with respect to the goal of strengthening constructive dialogue and international cooperation, and the Council’s mandate to address situations non-selectively and objectively. Moreover, the text of the resolution was described as ‘not objective’ and as based on the same misjudgement and ignorance towards ongoing reforms in the country that the Commission had allegedly displayed in its report.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem Pillay, along with most of the States on the speakers' list, showed dissatisfaction with Syria's lack of cooperation with the international community and expressed concern over the increasingly violent situation in Syria as well as the continuous violations of human rights, not only against protesters. Violence against children was one of the main areas of concern mentioned by many States. Additionally, sexual violence against detainees and enforced disappearance were repeatedly mentioned. Syria was asked to cooperate with the international community and with the League of Arab States and frequently criticised for its refusal to stop the violence. Many States emphasised the urgency of the matter referring to the findings of the Commission that many acts of violence amounted to 'crimes against humanity' (Romania, the Maldives, Germany, Denmark, Luxembourg, Slovakia, and the Netherlands). However, India stated that the Commission's report went beyond its mandate by using this description and by calling for referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Reference to 'crimes against humanity' was removed from the final draft of the resolution, and there is no call for referral to the ICC. This is despite those calls being reiterated by Ms Pillay and endorsed in a joint statement by special procedures, which was delivered through videolink, by Ms Farida Shaheed, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures.

Opposition to the resolution was voiced by a number of States for various reasons. Although the Russian Federation called upon Syria to end the violence, it agreed that the report was one-sided and strongly opposed any outside intervention in Syria. It also stated that the crisis was instigated from the outside and served foreign interests. China too expressed deep concern with the situation but believed that the resolution went too far and paved the way for intervention. Furthermore, the Chinese delegation insisted on peaceful political dialogue as the only way to solve the issue and warned of using human rights abuses as a pretext to undermine territorial integrity. Cuba’s main criticism was linked to the report and the alleged manipulations which led to the ‘fragmented and inaccurate’ conclusions of the Commission. It feared that further intervention would lead to an escalation of the situation and reiterated its confidence in the Syrian Government and people to solve the issues on their own. Finally, Ecuador urged all parties involved to find a peaceful solution but criticised the alleged selectivity tolerated by the international community (illustrated by the Council’s failure to take action on the situations of impunity in Iraq and Afghanistan). Its refusal to vote in favour of the resolution was based on its assumption that the resolution was a politicised attack on Syria and therefore a breach of the Council’s mandate of non-selectivity. The States which abstained from the vote were Angola, Bangladesh, Cameroon, India, the Philippines, and Uganda.

With the adoption of the resolution, a Special Rapporteur will be established. Earlier calls for the situation to be referred to the General Assembly and Security Council were replaced by a more vague recommendation that 'the main bodies of the UN' should urgently consider the report of the Commission and take appropriate action.

Human Rights Council to hold third successive special session on Syria


On 2 December 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 18th special session on ‘The situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic in the light of the report of the Commission of Inquiry’. Despite two previous special sessions on the situation in Syria the violence has continued. , The request for the special session, submitted by the European Union (the EU), was signed by 28 member States of the Council, including fellow Arab States Qatar, Kuwait, Libya, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and 40 observer States.

The call for this special session follows the release, on 28 November, of the report of the Commission of Inquiry (the Commission), which found that members of the Syrian military and security forces have committed ‘crimes against humanity’ in 2011. The Commission of Inquiry was set up through a resolution adopted by the Council at its 17th special session in August, to investigate all allegations of human rights violations committed by Syrian authorities. The Commission was to be dispatched to Syria but was refused permission to enter the country by the Syrian authorities. As a result, the Commission was not able to base its report on direct observation. However, it concluded that gross human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity had indeed been committed by the Syrian military and police and called upon the Syrian Government to immediately stop the violence against protesters and to allow independent investigation into all allegations. In addition, it regretted that the Government had repeatedly refused to cooperate with the Commission.

At the time of submission of the request for the special session, the EU also submitted a draft resolution. Informal negotiations were held on 30 November to discuss the draft, and are continuing at present. As expected, there was strong opposition both to the calling of the special session and to the draft resolution, not only from Syria, but also from China, Cuba, and the Russian Federation. Opposition centred around the timing of the special session, which these States considered is premature, arguing that there has not yet been time to study the Commission’s report; and around the draft resolution, which was described as ‘biased’ and ‘aggressive’. Particular criticism was directed towards the resolution’s lack of condemnation of attacks by opposition groups, the perceived failure to balance the call to the Government to end the violence with a call to the opposition groups to do likewise,   and the omission of reference to the positive steps that Syria had been.  The Russian Federation added that the draft should explicitly rule out military intervention and include reference to principles of State sovereignty and integrity.

The special session will be held on 2 December from 10am in room XX of the Palais des Nations. ISHR will provide a report on its website. You can also follow the special session on Twitter.

UPR of Moldova: discrimination faced by ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities


The Working Group on the UPR met on 12 October 2011 to review the human rights situation in Moldova.  The Moldovan delegation, comprising 7 members, was headed by Mr Vladimir Grosu, Deputy Minister for Justice.  In its opening statement, Moldova described itself as a country in transition, with an ambitious reform program underway, motivated by the prospect of EU integration.  It stated its commitment to the UPR process, as a tool for creating a real link between the country’s human rights obligations and the benefits felt in the daily lives of its people.

Some changes since the submission of Moldova’s report were highlighted, including the legal recognition last month of the Islamic League, a key step towards protecting freedom of religion for the country’s Muslim minority, and progress on a draft anti-discrimination law, which was put before parliament but subsequently withdrawn for further consideration due to ‘sensitivities’ in society regarding the particular issue of homosexuality.  The draft law was said to have been submitted to civil society groups in recent days for consultation, as part of the process towards the enactment of legislation.

All 37 of the (mostly European) states scheduled to speak were able to do so, and the following recommendations, comments and questions were made by states:

  • Recommendations to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers, the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, and the Convention on Enforced Disappearances; and to make a declaration recognising the competence of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to receive individual communications under Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.
  • Welcoming of the decision to extend a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures.
  • Recommendations to reform the judicial system, to improve access to courts and combat corruption; and to improve prison conditions.
  • Concern over allegations of torture by security forces and ill treatment of detainees (as reported by Amnesty International), particularly in the aftermath of the electoral unrest in April 2009; concern over the failure to investigate, prosecute and punish the officers responsible; recommendations to end the ‘climate of impunity’ on this issue, implement the formal prohibition on torture, make evidence obtained through torture inadmissible in courts and punish all those responsible.
  • Concern about the restriction of the rights of LGBT[1] groups to freedom of assembly and expression, and their subjection to threats and abuse; ‘disappointment’ that the Moldovan government ‘appears to have reversed its stance’ on this issue; recommendations to ensure the protection of LGBT rights and the prosecution of crimes against members of these groups.
  • Welcoming the registration of the Islamic League in March 2011.
  • Recommendations to take steps to improve inter-ethnic and religious relations, and particularly improve the social and economic problems facing the Roma.
  • Concern about the delays in passing the extremely important anti-discrimination law; recommendations to ensure its adoption as soon as possible.
  • Concern about the suppression of ethnic languages, particularly Russian; recommendations to ensure the provision of education in ethnic minority languages is maintained, and to improve efforts to protect the languages and cultural heritage of minorities.
  • Noting of efforts to combat human trafficking; concern at the alleged use of bribery by perpetrators to escape tough sentences; recommendations to strengthen efforts in this area, in particular through prosecution of traffickers and education of vulnerable persons.
  • Recommendations for further measures towards gender equality, including combatting domestic violence, reducing the wage gap and creating quotas for women’s representation in public authorities.
  • Welcoming the creation of an ombudsman for children’s rights; recommendations of further measures to protect children’s rights, especially those of disabled and street children.
  • Concern over the human rights situation in Transnistria and the regional authority’s excessive control over the media and civil society; recommendations to seek a peaceful resolution to the problems.

The Moldovan delegation responded only once, before its closing comments, however the response was extensive and addressed most of the issues raised.  Regarding torture and ill-treatment following 2009 electoral unrest, the delegation stated that in fact investigations had taken place and 27 cases had been brought to justice, and that of the three deaths in custody at the time, only one was directly related to the events.  It also stated that a strategy for judicial reform had been adopted in the past few weeks to combat judicial corruption.  On the issue of human trafficking, it stated that Moldova is no longer a major source of human trafficking, and efforts to combat the problem have been made through education and training of vulnerable persons and personnel, and increased monitoring of particularly vulnerable children in Government institutions.  There was some clear tension in the delegation’s response to Russia’s allegations of suppression of the Russian language and the problems in Transnistria, with a rejection of claims regarding Russian language school closures; and a statement that they would continue to raise the human rights issue in the region with Russia and seek a peaceful settlement.

At the adoption of the review, Moldova accepted 107 of 122 recommendations, stating that the remaining 15 would be considered with the input of other stakeholders. The delegation described the review as an important milestone in the reform of the human rights system in Moldova, and pledged to submit a mid-term progress report to the Human Rights Committee.

[1] Most delegations raising this issue used the term ‘LGBT’ as opposed to ‘LGBTI’.


UPR of Iceland: Concerns over prisons, and discrimination against migrant workers and refugees


On 10 October 2011, the Working Group on the UPR examined the human rights situation in Iceland. The delegation, numbering six, was led by Ogmundur Jonasson, Minister of the Interior. In his introductory statement the Minister highlighted several key concerns, including significant overcrowding in Icelandic prisons and the necessity of overhauling the detention system, the need to combat domestic violence via judicial reform, and working to close the gender-payment gap in the labour force. Regarding prisons, the Minister touted Iceland's recent proposal to develop new, ‘state-of-the-art’ detention complex to house male, female, and juvenile inmates. The minster explained that although each group will be entirely separated from one another - in line with international standards - keeping them together will maximise both efficiency and safety for the public.

Specific recommendations, questions, and comments focused on the following issues:

  • The need to sign and ratify three international treaties: the International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED).
  • Urging Iceland to establish a credible National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) with a broad mandate in accordance with the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles).
  • Reiterating Iceland's concern for safety in their prison system, along with suggesting a shift in focus to rehabilitation and reintegration.
  • Continued pressure on security forces to target human trafficking, particularly child trafficking.
  • Praising Iceland's high global ranking on gender wage equality, though sharing Iceland's concern over the recent stagnation of progress in this area.
  • Concern for the protection of freedom of religion, particularly in relation to discrimination against citizens who do not subscribe to Lutheranism, Iceland's State religion.
  • Applauding Iceland's recent financial reform, citing strong restrictions that will better insulate the State from future financial crises.
  • Request for greater protection and assistance for migrant workers, as well as developing more comprehensive anti-discrimination laws.

The delegation of Iceland responded to several of the States' comments. Mr Jonasson acknowledged the high number of recommendations on establishing an NHRI and explicitly told States that he will press his government to begin taking steps towards creating such an institution. On the topic of religion, the delegation adamantly rejected any direct connection between church and state. Religious freedom, the Minister declared, is central to Iceland's human rights agenda. Moreover, the delegation highlighted a survey citing that while over 50% of Icelandic’s believe there is discrimination based on race of immigration status, only 26% of those polled had personally witnessed such an occurrence. This suggests that any significant problems with discrimination might be more the result of perception than actual fact.

Nevertheless, the delegation conceded that there were a number of important steps for Iceland to take to improve its human rights situation. Of the 84 recommendations made, 52 were immediately accepted and 32 will be examined with final responses to be given prior to the 19th Human Rights Council in March 2012. No recommendations were rejected.

UPR of Uganda: allegations of torture by security forces, and criminalisation of same-sex relations


On 10 October 2011, the Working Group on the UPR reviewed the human rights record of Uganda, and criticised the Government for the criminalisation of the LGBTI community, the use of the death penalty, and the alleged use of torture by the police.  The Ugandan head of delegation Mr Henry Okello-Oryem, Minister of State for International Affairs, stated that the culture and traditions of the country legitimise the existence of provisions criminalising same-sex relations and allowing capital punishment.

Mr Okello-Oryem opened the session with a review of the national report. He outlined the rights guaranteed to all of the minorities protected by the Constitution: women, children, and the elderly, all viewed as a priority by the Government. Uganda currently has 112 female members of Parliament, 6063 registered civil society organisations, and has had free and regular multiparty elections every five years since 1996. The Minister also addressed the controversies surrounding the death penalty and sexual orientation in Uganda. On the matter of sexual orientation, Mr Okello-Oryem stated that same-sex couples are criminalised to protect and respect the social and cultural context of the country. Same-sex relations are considered to be damaging national culture and obstructing the correct education of  children. The death penalty, on the other hand, is recommended as punishment only for the most serious offences, but has not been implemented since 1999. Yet, it is used only at the discretion of judge. According to the Minister, a popular referendum supported the existence of the death penalty in the Constitution.

African states present commended Uganda for the improvements in maternal health, the support provided to HIV/AIDS patients, the outlining of free and basic compulsory education as a developmental priority, and the general efforts made in promoting and protecting human rights. China and other developing nations invited the international community to continue supporting these efforts. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh recommended to protect children and youth from ‘anti-cultural practices’, referring to same-sex relations. Specific recommendations, made mostly by European states, the Russian Federation, Canada, and the USA, included:

  • Calls to sign and ratify the Convention Against Torture, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.
  • Calls to establish an independent central mechanism to review and implement human rights recommendations coming from international bodies.
  • Recommendation to work towards a moratorium as a step towards the ultimate abolition of the death penalty.
  • Calls to criminalise the use of torture by security forces, and begin judicial investigations on the abuse of force and arbitrary arrest by the police.
  • Calls to repeal legislation criminalising same-sex relations.
  • Requests that the State begin an educational campaign against female genital mutilations and ritual killings of children.

In his response to the delegates, Mr Okello-Oryem addressed the US directly on the alleged use of ‘safe houses’ to torture prisoners and on the registration of NGOs. In relation to the first point, he stated that there is no such thing as ‘safe houses’, but that on the other hand Guantanamo Bay exists. As far as NGO registration is concerned, he responded that this is a matter of procedure, not a means to control NGO activity.

Of the 171 recommendations made, Uganda accepted 110, rejected 19, and left 42 pending for review by the 19th session of the Human Rights Council. The delegation stated that those recommendations it was not immediately able to accept, or that it has rejected, have economic implications or conflict with the national policy. Furthermore, Uganda made the following voluntary pledges:

  • Develop a national action plan on human rights.
  • Carry out an annual review of its human rights situation and report to the Parliament as appropriate.
  • Mainstream human rights issues and all aspects of good governance.
  • Establish a human rights desk under the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to coordinate human rights issues at a national level.
  • Incorporate human rights education in the school curriculum.

UPR of Timor Leste: infrastructure-building a priority as education, domestic violence cause concern


On 12 October 2011, Timor Leste presented its first national report to the UPR working group.  The small delegation was headed by Ms Lucia Maria Brandao F Lobato, the Timor Leste Minister of Justice, who addressed all the comments and questions raised during the review. 

Ms Lobato expressed her appreciation to be appearing in the Human Rights Council to submit Timor Leste’s first report.   Ms Lobato gave an overview of Timor Leste’s historical circumstances, noting that in 2012 it was celebrating 10 years of independence after more than 400 years of Portuguese rule and Indonesian occupation.  Timor Leste recognises that it faces a number of problems, including in the areas of education and health, however it noted that all challenges will take some time to address due to financial constraints.  Further, it is important for infrastructure to be further developed to allow for progress in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Ms Lobato noted a number of areas which Timor Leste recognised as challenges, many of which were also commented on by several States during the interactive dialogue:

  • Judicial system – inexperience of some judicial actors, including public prosecutors, and delays in courts;
  • Education – insufficient numbers of teachers, insufficient infrastructure including school buildings, low levels of student enrollments and high levels of drop outs, particularly among girls;
  • Health – insufficient numbers of doctors, high rates of malaria; and
  • Domestic violence.

Efforts were being made to address human rights problems in Timor Leste and several achievements and initiatives have been implemented.  The Government has established a legal framework for the promotion and protection of human rights, including the creation of a national human rights institution, the Provedoria for Human Rights and Justice, which is afforded an “A” level status under the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles).  The Law on the Use of Force was also created to provide guidelines to security forces on the use of force and preventing excessive use of force.

Education initiatives have included the establishment of Inclusive Education Units, which provide support to schools, and the launching of campaigns to promote the importance of education.   School meal programmes to encourage enrollment, and provision of scholarships for higher education have also been established.

Efforts have also been made to reduce the rates of domestic violence against women.  Training materials are provided to the public and incarcerated individuals, and more specialised materials are disseminated to legal professionals.  Shelters and self-help groups for victims of domestic violence have also been established.

States made the following comments and recommendations:

  • Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, the first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • Extend a standing invitation to UN special procedure mandate holders.
  • Consider drawing up a national human rights plan of action.
  • Increase human and financial resources for the Provedoria for Human Rights and Justice.
  • Seek technical assistance from international donor agencies to increase training for public officials.
  • Intensify efforts to improve the legislature.
  • Repeal provisions in legislation which are discriminatory against women, particularly regarding inheritance, land ownership rights, and legal capacity.
  • Provide law enforcement officials with training on sexual violence.
  • Strengthen response to incidences of violence against minority religious groups.
  • Increase efforts through the legal training center to better train legal professionals.
  • Provide adequate training to the national police force, particularly in the area of human rights.
  • Strengthen judicial institutions by providing adequate staffing and legal materials.
  • Broaden access to justice, particularly in rural communities.
  • Continue to implement socioeconomic plans to ensure the Millennium Development Goals are met by 2015.
  • Continue to implement national health policies with the support of the international community.
  • Improve the system of birth registrations.
  • Adopt a minimum age requirement for labour.
  • Improve employment opportunities in rural areas.
  • Numerous states, including Japan, the Philippines, and Australia expressed their commitment to providing technical and other assistance to Timor Leste.

During the adoption of the report, the delegation accepted 46 recommendations from a total of 125 recommendations.  A further 42 recommendations were considered to have already been implemented or in the process of being implemented. Only two recommendations were rejected and the remaining 35 recommendations will be considered and responded to by the 19th session of the Human Rights Council.

UPR of Lithuania: progress on gender equality but concerns over prison conditions


On 11th October 2011, Lithuania presented its report on its human rights situation to the UPR Working Group.  The delegation of nine was headed by the Minister of Justice of Lithuania, Mr Remigius Simasius who provided most of the comments, with input also from Vice-Minister of Culture, Mr Stanislav Vidtmann.

In his opening statement, Mr Simasius noted a range of stakeholders including the Minister of Health, the Minister of Education and Science, and human rights NGOs contributed to the preparation of the Lithuania report.  He particularly highlighted Lithuania’s achievements in human rights, placing them within the context of Lithuania gaining independence in 1990 and its challenges in modernising the legal system and establishing a number of institutions to counter the legacy of the Soviet regime in denying basic rights and freedoms.  Mr Simasius drew particular attention to the establishment of three independent ombudsmen to protect human rights, including an Ombudsman for Children’s Rights and an Ombudsman for Equal Opportunities, and the progress made in ensuring gender equality.  In 2008 Provisions on non-discrimination based on gender were added into the Law on Equal Opportunities and according to Mr Simasius women now hold two of the top three administration posts (President, and Seimas [parliament] Spokesperson), and account for 40% of all managerial staff. Mr Simasius also acknowledged the need for improvements in prison conditions, especially modernising prisons and reducing overcrowding.  

States made the following comments and recommendations:

  • Calls to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and of their Families, the Convention Against Torture, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearance.
  • Recommendations to establish a national human rights institution in accordance with the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles).
  • Calls to intensify efforts to reduce human trafficking by renewing the invitation to the Special Rapporteur on Trafficking of Persons to visit Lithuania.
  • Recommendations to renew its invitation to the Human Rights Council special procedures to visit Lithuania.
  • Acknowledgement of Lithuanian efforts in the areas of gender equality, human trafficking, violence against women, and support for human rights defenders and activists who take refuge in Lithuania.
  • Recommendations to ease the naturalisation procedure by reducing the language requirement.
  • Calls to intensify the fight against social stereotyping that cultivate prejudices against national minorities.
  • Requests to support and develop education programs and institutions for national minorities.
  • Requests to continue to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.
  • Calls to increase enforcement measures of child protection.
  • Calls to cooperate closer with civil society on human rights issues.
  • Requests to expand competences and role of human rights offices.
  • Calls to take action to avoid discrimination based on sexual preference and gender identity.
  • Calls to improve prison conditions.

Mr Simasius regretted that he was not able to answer all questions posed by States.  Responding to numerous concerns, Mr Simasius observed that Article 4(1)(14) of the Law on the Protection of Minors Against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information, which prohibits the dissemination of information promoting homosexual, bisexual, or polygamous relations on the grounds of having a ‘detrimental effect on the development of minors’, had been removed in the recently revised version of the law. In response to concerns about discrimination of Roma in Lithuania, Mr Vidtmann (Vice Minister of Culture) noted the complexities of integrating the 2,500 Roma in Lithuania and drew attention to the draft Inter-institutional Action Plan for Roma Integration into the Lithuanian Society currently awaiting approval.  Mr Simasius further denied the Russian Federation’s allegation that Lithuania was falsifying history and rejected its recommendation to Lithuania to stop attempts to revise interpretations of the outcomes of the Second World War and its persecutions of anti-fascist veterans. 

During the adoption of the report, 43 recommendations out of a total of 120 were accepted by Lithuania, with a further 53 recommendations already considered as being implemented or in the process of being implemented. Only one recommendation was rejected and the remaining 23 recommendations were pending further consideration and would be decided upon prior to the 19th session of the Human Rights Council. Mr Tomas Vaitkevicius, Lithuania’s Vice Minister of Justice, provided the concluding remarks and stipulated that the UPR can only be a meaningful process if it is conducted in a transparent, non-confrontational, and non-politicised manner.

UPR of Haiti: country still struggles to recover from effects of 2010 earthquake


On 13 October 2011, the Working Group on the UPR examined the human rights situation in Haiti. Haiti’s review was originally scheduled for May 2010, but had been postponed on request of the delegation following the devastating earthquake of January 2010. The State was represented only by Mr Jean-Claude Pierre, Chargé d’Affaires at the Permanent Mission of Haiti to the United Nations at Geneva, who stated that it had been planned to send a larger delegation for the original review, but that half of the members had been killed by the natural catastrophe and it was not possible to spare the others from the country’s rebuilding efforts. Mr Pierre also stated that original report had been lost in the earthquake. In his introductory statement Mr Pierre stated that Haiti is still suffering from the earthquake’s repercussion and thus lacked the infrastructure and resources to develop and protect human rights. The country was asked to immediately improve the situation of children sold into domestic servitude and tackle violence against women. In addition, the dialogue covered issues such as human trafficking, the situation in prisons, and the lack of international commitment to promises made to help Haiti after the earthquake. 

Specific recommendations, questions, and comments focused on the following issues:

  • Calls to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees , the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Recommendations to work with ‘available UN systems’ to improve the situation in the country.
  • Asked to conduct investigations in all cases of alleged police violence.
  • Recommendations to reduce poverty, although no specific suggestions were made.
  • Asked to implement free education.
  • Recommendations to put more effort into eradication of violence against women and enable victims to more easily access the legal system.
  • Address situation of street children and end the practice of putting them into domestic servitude.
  • Calls to review conditions in prisons.
  • Recommendations to improve the health care, social security, and educational systems, in particular to provide easier access for vulnerable groups.

Mr Pierre responded to some of the recommendations during the session. He acknowledged the criticism made in regards of the health care and educational system. He referred to measures being taken to combat violence against women and ensure their participation in public life. However, these measures have not been very successful due to the lack of necessary funds. Furthermore, the Government is looking into measures to combat human trafficking and the lack of general child protection. He also referred to the serious issue of malnutrition and called upon the international community to step up to their promises and help Haiti. Finally, Mr Pierre stated that the country was unable to protect human rights because of the underdevelopment prior to the earthquake and the worsened situation caused by it.

Haiti has yet to respond to any of the recommendations made and is planning to do so at the 19th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2012. The delegation expressed their enthusiasm at being able to participate in the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council.

UPR of Zimbabwe: concerns over Public Order and Security Act


On 10 October 2011, the Working Group on the UPR examined the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. The delegation was led by Mr Patrick A. Chinamasa, Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs. In his introductory statement Mr Chinamasa stated that Zimbabwe’s lack of development was caused by the sanctions implemented on the country by the European Union (EU), the United States (US) and the Commonwealth. This view was shared by eight other countries (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Namibia, Venezuela, Cuba, China, Chad, and Malaysia). States suggested that Zimbabwe should implement its reformed educational and health care policies. Additionally, the country was asked to review the Public Order and Security Act due to the restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly caused by this law. The dialogue also covered issues such as the alleged forced evictions of land-owners, the lack of investigations undertaken into police violence, and the situation of workers in the diamond fields of the Marange region. 

Specific recommendations, questions, and comments focused on the following issues:

  • Calls to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Recommendations to review the Public Order and Security Act and its consequences for freedom of expression and assembly.
  • Calls to persevere with and improve the plan for national appeasement and reconciliation.
  • Requests to conduct investigations into all cases of alleged police violence.
  • Requests to respect standing invitations issued to all UN special rapporteurs (especially the UN Rapporteur on Torture) and make them operational.
  • Recommendations to put more effort into achieving the goals of the Global Political Agreement (Zimbabwean reform agreement to prevent a recurrence of the violence that broke out during the last elections).
  • Calls to abolish the death penalty.
  • Calls to review conditions in prisons.
  • Recommendations to address domestic violence.
  • Calls to provide the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission with adequate funds and authority to work properly and bring it in line with the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles).
  • Recommendations to review the role of the military in the diamond fields.
  • Recommendations to increase the living standards of workers in the diamond fields.
  • Requests to seek more international assistance to combat HIV/AIDS.
  • Recommendations to improve the health care, social security, and education systems, in particular to provide easier access for vulnerable groups.
  • Requests to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate work in safety, without repercussions for themselves or their families.

The delegation from Zimbabwe responded to some of the recommendations during the session. Concerning the problems with the Public Order and Security Act, the delegation stated that the Act was needed to adequately respond to protests incited by NGOs and protesters paid for by ‘Western countries’. The delegation also said that human rights defenders were allowed to conduct their work as long as they did not breach the law. The restrictions that many States assumed to exist on freedom of speech and assembly  were in fact not in evidence, and the new Constitution, Mr Chinamasa said, would protect all these rights. With respect to the concerns raised about the living conditions of workers in the diamond fields, the delegation stated that new barracks were being built, and that the military was only present to supervise this situation. Finally, the delegation was convinced that their legislation is fair and based on the interests of the population.

Of recommendations made, Zimbabwe accepted 81, rejected 67, and 31 left pending for consideration in time for the 19th session of the Council in March 2012. The delegation stated that they were rejecting the recommendations made by ‘Western’ States due to their alleged colonialist attitude and because they are based on allegations of human rights violations in Zimbabwe which the delegation refused to accept as true. Finally, the delegation demanded the lifting of sanctions if Zimbabwe was to be able to develop further.


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