18 Dec

In the last six months, upwards of a hundred individuals have been harassed, detained or disappeared for supporting workers to exercise their basic rights, and calling on the Chinese government to enforce their own laws. Twenty-nine remain in custody as of today. A solidarity letter signed by ISHR and more than a dozen civil society groups around the globe calls for their release, and an end to the crackdown on rights defence in China. 

11 Dec

The United Nations should ensure an urgent and robust system-wide response to credible reports that the Egyptian authorities have attacked people who engaged with the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, said six* human rights organisations.

17 Dec

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) held its 63rd ordinary session from 24 October to 13 November 2018. This session was marked by the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 20 years of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders.

12 Dec

Five years after the kidnapping of human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues, 15 NGOs* stand in solidarity to remember them and call on the UN and international and regional actors to actively facilitate an investigation into what happened to the four human rights defenders. Join the world in acknowledging Zaitouneh’s outstanding contribution to human rights by visiting and sharing a website documenting her work. 

11 Dec

ISHR joins dozens of organisations and individuals today, ahead of a key U.S. congressional hearing, to call on Google CEO Sundar Pichai to respond meaningfully to broadly-held human rights concerns and cancel Project Dragonfly, Google's censored search app project.

“Reprisals must stop,” urge top international experts on human rights defenders


A group of international experts on the situation of human rights defenders has urged world governments to halt reprisals against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the United Nations and regional human rights systems.* They also called on States to ease, rather than hinder, civil society’s access to the UN and regional human rights institutions.

'Reprisals have to cease immediately and credible investigations into pending cases of reprisals have to be carried out,' said the Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders from the United Nations (UN), Ms Margaret Sekaggya; the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Ms Reine Alapini-Gansou; and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Mr José de Jesús Orozco.

'These reprisals against individuals and/or groups engaging directly with the UN, the ACHPR and the IACHR, or otherwise providing information on particular countries’ human rights situations, take the form of smear campaigns, harassment, intimidation, direct threats, physical attacks and killings,' they said.

In an effort to safeguard the vital collaboration between civil society and the UN and regional human rights mechanisms, the three Rapporteurs appealed for enhanced monitoring and action to respect the UN, ACHPR and IACHR normative agreements and rules of procedure explicitly prohibiting acts of reprisals by States and non-State actors.

'Such steps towards full accountability for reprisals are an important preventive measure that should be combined with those that facilitate, rather than deter, civil society’s safe and unimpeded access to the UN and the regional human rights institutions,' stressed Ms Sekaggya, Ms Alapini-Gansou and Mr Orozco.

The three international Rapporteurs also supported the recent initiative by the President of the UN Human Rights Council, Ms Laura Dupuy Lasserre, calling on Governments to immediately put an end to harassment and intimidation of individuals and groups attending the on-going session of the Human Rights Council, taking place in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ms Dupuy Lasserre expressed her concern about reports of State and other representatives using aggressive and/or insulting language against civil society representatives, and photographing and filming them without their consent on UN premisses, including in the main Council’s chamber, with a view to intimidate and harass them.  She announced that those accusations will be investigated.

ISHR facilitated a meeting between the Rapporteurs on human rights defenders of the UN and the IACHR, on common efforts to address acts of reprisals against those collaborating with the UN and the regional systems. As an outcome of the meeting, the Rapporteurs decided to produce the issued statement on reprisals. The Rapporteur on human rights defenders of the ACHPR also chose to support the initiative.

ISHR made its own statement to the Human Rights Council today on reprisals against those that cooperate with the UN, its representatives, and mechanisms in the field of human rights. The statement acknowledged efforts to date to try and address the issue of reprisals, and highlighted the need for such efforts to be continued and enhanced.

(*) Check the official joint statement, available in English (original), French and Spanish.

Council holds first ever panel debate on sexual orientation and gender identity


On 7 March the Human Rights Council (the Council) held its first dedicated discussion on the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity. The holding of the panel discussion polarised Council proceedings prior to its start. The panel was boycotted by the OIC, almost all of whose members staged a walkout from the Council as the debate got underway. Burkina Faso was one of the few OIC States to remain in the room. However, given that most 'hostile' States had chosen to remain silent, the panel itself sent a strong signal that the international community will no longer accept discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The debate opened with a recorded video address from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay, made a strong statement against 'bigotry and intolerance' and clearly affirmed the primacy of international human rights law.  

The divisive discussion saw Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC), Senegal (which noted that it was speaking on behalf of 'almost all' the African Group), Mauritania (on behalf of the Arab Group), and the Russian Federation, deny that there is any legal foundation in international law for 'controversial concepts' such as sexual orientation and gender identity.

As panellist, Mr Laurence Helfer, of the Center for International and Comparative Law at Duke University in the United States (US) made eminently clear, however, the default position of international law is that it applies without distinction of any kind, and that nowhere in international human rights law is there any exclusion stated that these standards do not apply to individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This position was echoed by States including Argentina (on behalf of MERCOSUR), Austria, Australia, Cuba, Ecuador, the European Union, Greece, Honduras, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, the United States, and Uruguay.

The OIC's decision not to participate in the debate, aside from through the statement delivered by Pakistan, was openly criticised by some States. Austria commented that States that do not address violence and discrimination against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity are in breach of their legal obligations and that those obligations will not be changed by marching out of UN meetings. Switzerland regretted the decision, and pointed to the importance of dialogue on sensitive issues, a position echoed by Ireland.

The session also saw the delivery of a joint statement by A-status NHRIs, supporting the call for dialogue and reaffirming that the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is integrated into the existing international legal framework that States have committed to protecting. A joint statement on behalf of 284 NGOs from 90 countries from all regions set out clearly that they were not calling for rights, which already exist as a birthright, but for States to implement their legal obligations and for the Council to fulfil its role in that regard.

Specific attention was paid to the rights of transgender persons during the discussion, with Finland drawing particular attention to this issue. Panellist Ms Irina Karla Bacci, noting that discrimination against LGBTI persons was a problem in countries across the world, pointed to the sterilisation requirement that transgender individuals face in many European countries. As an example of positive progress in this regard, Ms Hina Jilani, formerly the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, pointed out that Pakistan has national legislation to protect the rights of transgender persons after a Supreme Court ruling that mandated that hijras be officially recognised as a third gender on national identity cards.

Other key issues raised included the need to protect human rights defenders who work on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, an issue raised by Mr Hans Ytterberg, from the Council of Europe, and Ms Hina Jilani.

In terms of follow-up to the panel, Mr Helfer and Mr Ytterberg called on the Council to continue respectful dialogue on this issue on a regular basis, and called on special procedure mandate holders to give attention to the issue as appropriate within their mandates and to be supported by States in doing so. Mr Ytterberg spoke out against a suggestion that there should be a separate mandate holder on this issue, stating that this would propagate the idea that there is a call for separate rights.

Echoing this sentiment, the Ambassador of Brazil, making concluding remarks, stated that the panel should not be seen as an historic moment, but rather 'business as usual' for the Council, as it fulfils its role of promoting and protecting the human rights of all.

Council adopts resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria


On 28 February and 1 March the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an urgent debate on the escalating grave human rights violations and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Syrian Arab Republic. At the end of the debate the Council adopted a resolution (37 votes in favour, 3 against, and 3 abstentions) condemning the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and expressing concern at the humanitarian situation. The resolution calls for the Council to remain seized of the matter and to take further action, including after the forthcoming interactive dialogue with the commission of inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic.

Both the legitimacy of the debate and the outcome text were rejected by Syria, whose delegation walked out of the debate, dismissing the discussions as 'sterile'. It strongly criticised the Council, describing it as a toy in the hands of some countries whose aim is to 'fuel the flames of terrorism' and 'prolong the crisis in the country by expressing support to armed groups'. While Syria admitted the human rights situation in the country is not 'perfect', it claimed that this is due to armed groups using residential areas as bases, and targeting the infrastructure of the State, including hospitals. The delegation also criticised the economic sanctions imposed on Syria, describing their impact on civilians as the worst form of human rights violation.

The Syrian delegation found support from several other States. The need for an urgent debate had been questioned by both Cuba and the Russian Federation, who saw the resolution that emerged from that debate as an unnecessary duplication of the Council's work, in the light of the fact that the Council will consider the report of the commission of inquiry into the situation in Syria later in the session. During negotiations on the draft text, Turkey, who led the initiative, stated that the added element of the humanitarian aspect to the crisis ensured that the debate and resulting text added value to the process being pursued by the Council. This point was endorsed during the negotiations by Denmark speaking on behalf of the European Union (EU).

During the urgent debate the Russian Federation focused on the humanitarian aspects of the situation, calling on Syria, and the 'armed groupings', to ensure that the situation does not deteriorate in this respect. China supported the position taken by Arab countries, that violence be stopped immediately, that civilians be protected 'in earnest', that humanitarian assistance be provided, and external intervention avoided. It expressed hope that the issue will be resolved through the framework of the League of Arab States.

Many other States (Belarus, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Korea, Ecuador, India, Iran, Jordan, Mauritania (on behalf of the Arab Group), Morocco, Nicaragua, and Venezuela) endorsed the position expressed by China that the situation should not be used as a basis for foreign intervention. During the negotiations on the text, Cuba, Egypt, India, Lebanon, and the Russian Federation had called for a reference to territorial integrity and sovereignty to be included in the draft. This reference was included in the final resolution. Mexico, however, stated clearly during the debate that the principle of non-interference cannot be invoked when serious crimes against humanity are taking place.

Cuba criticised what it saw as the failure of some countries to acknowledge the efforts being made by Syria. During the informals on the draft text held prior to the urgent debate, China, Cuba, and the Russian Federation had called for the text to make positive reference to the recent referendum held in Syria on a revised constitution.

Most States echoed the condemnation by both the President of the General Assembly (PGA) and the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the escalating levels of violence in Syria. Both the PGA and the High Commissioner noted that the Syrian authorities had 'manifestly failed' to meet their responsibilities to their people. The High Commissioner added that crimes against humanity had been committed with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State. While she acknowledged that anti-government groups had also committed abuses, she noted that these were not comparable in scale or organisation to those committed by the State.

In a particularly strong statement, the US censured the actions of President Assad and his 'criminal cohort', which it described as waging a brutal and murderous campaign. The US, together with Portugal (on behalf of the EU), Norway (on behalf of the Nordic Group), and Slovenia, called for Assad to step aside. Other States (Austria, Botswana, Chile, the Netherlands, and Slovakia) echoed the call, made here again by the High Commissioner, to refer the situation the the International Criminal Court (ICC). Botswana, Chile, the Czech Republic, Gabon, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, the United States (US) criticised the Security Council's failure to fulfil its role following the veto from China and the Russian Federation on a draft resolution that would have given the Security Council power to take further action. Botswana made a direct plea to the Russian Federation and China to review their positions, with Saudi Arabia described them as 'short circuiting' the international community. The final text adopted, however, contains no mention of either the Security Council or the ICC. A paragraph was added, at the request of the US and the EU, stressing 'the importance of accountability' and the need to 'hold to account those responsible for human rights violations, including those violations that may amount to crimes against humanity'. 

During the adoption of the resolution the Russian Federation stated that the text was an example of the one-sided approach to Syria, and called for a vote. Cuba stated that it would vote against the resolution as it promotes foreign intervention. These views were endorsed by China. Ecuador stated that while it supported the urgent debate, it did not feel that the resolution is balanced and expressed its belief that action should only follow the interactive dialogue with the commission of inquiry. It stated that it would abstain on the resolution. India and the Philippines also abstained. Thailand expressed its disappointment that the resolution does not reflect the violations committed by the opposition groups, even if those violations are of a lesser scale, but stated that it would vote in favour of the resolution.

The resolution was adopted with 37 votes in favour, 3 against, and 3 abstentions, with China, Cuba, and the Russian Federation voting against, and India, the Philippines and Ecuador abstaining). Angola, Burkina Faso, Kyrgyzstan, and Uganda did not vote. Burkina Faso, after the vote, stated that had it been present it would have voted in favour. Bangaldesh voted in favour of the resolution, stating that while it usually abstained on resolutions on country situations on principle, it had made an exception in this case based on the deteriorating situation and the merit it saw in a resolution coming from the Council at this time. It expressed its concerns however that the resolution was unbalanced.

The Council will hold the interactive dialogue with the commission of inquiry into the situation in Syria on 12 March.

Consultation by Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers


The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers is inviting stakeholders to share information on the practices of human rights education and continuing training of judges, prosecutors, public defenders and lawyers.

A questionnaire is available to be completed by 17 February 2010.

The consultation is part of a study mandated by Human Rights Council resolution 15/3, which requested the Special Rapporteur "[t]o carry out... a global thematic study to assess the human rights education and continuing training of judges, prosecutors, public defenders and lawyers, with recommendations for appropriate follow-up, and to present it to the Council at its twentieth session," (paragraph 3).

The questionnaire can be completed online. Alternatively, you can download, complete and email/fax the questionnaire:


Fax: +41 22 917 90 06

More information about the mandate is available here.

Other Regional Human Rights Systems

Regional human rights mechanisms are an essential piece in the creation of a global system for promoting and protecting human rights. They provide a layer of monitoring of and reporting on local human rights realities, and define solutions most relevant to these challenges.

By facilitating regular conversation and collaboration between international and regional human rights mechanisms, such as the African Commission and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, ISHR works to strengthen the effectiveness of the overall global system. ISHR maintains a close eye over developments regionally and at the level of national human rights institutions, and conducts research and  advocacy to ensure that these bodies are accessible to human rights defenders and effective in promoting and protecting human rights.

ISHR is also engaged with efforts to establish regional human rights mechanisms in regions where they are evolving or do not yet exist, including Asia and the Pacific. 

The findings of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria


Source: UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria presented its long-awaited report, as requested by the UN Human Rights Council. At a press conference in Geneva (Monday, 28 November), the authors of the report, Paulo Pinheiro (Chairperson), Yakin Ertürk and Karen Koning AbuZayd, shared their observations and recommendations with the media.

The Report Summary

“The deteriorating situation in the Syrian Arab Republic prompted The Human Rights Council to establish an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged violations of human rights since March 2011. From the end of September until mid- November 2011, the commission held meetings with Member States from all regional groups, regional organizations, including the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders, journalists and experts. It interviewed 223 victims and witnesses of alleged human rights violations, including civilians and defectors from the military and the security forces. In the present report, the commission documents patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, including sexual violence, as well as violations of children’s rights.

The substantial body of evidence gathered by the commission indicates that these gross violations of human rights have been committed by Syrian military and security forces since the beginning of the protests in March 2011. The commission is gravely concerned that crimes against humanity have been committed in different locations in the Syrian Arab Republic during the period under review. It calls upon the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic to put an immediate end to the ongoing gross human rights violations, to initiate independent and impartial investigations of these violations and to bring perpetrators to justice. The commission also addresses specific recommendations to opposition groups, the Human Rights Council, regional organizations and States Members of the United Nations.

The commission deeply regrets that, despite many requests, the Government failed to engage in dialogue and to grant the commission access to the country. The Government informed the commission that it would examine the possibility of cooperating with the commission once the work of its own independent special legal commission was completed. The commission reiterates its call for immediate and unhindered access to the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Read the full report here.

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights is Africa’s main human rights body, holding public sessions twice a year at which States’ compliance under the African Charter on Human & Peoples’ Rights is reviewed.

Preceding these sessions, human rights defenders gather at the NGO Forum to discuss human rights concerns and urge the Commission to take action. Such engagement is key to strengthening the African human rights system.

For over a decade ISHR has engaged actively with the Commission. Through lobbying, support to Special Rapporteurs, membership of Commission working groups and the NGO Forum Steering Committee, and by the publication of biannual reports and periodic Monitors on the NGO Forum and Commission sessions, ISHR contributes to building this human rights system.

ECOSOC and the NGO Committee

The Committee on NGOs oversees the implementation of ECOSOC resolution 1996/31, which is the legal framework governing civil society participation in the work of the UN. The Committee is tasked with considering the applications of NGOs for consultative status with the UN, and makes recommendations to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which can accept or overturn a decision.

Consultative status provides NGOs with access to a range of fora at the UN, including the Human Rights Council, ECOSOC and its subsidiary bodies, UN conferences, and events organised by the President of the General Assembly.

ISHR works to facilitate the accreditation of human rights NGOs, in particular those dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity, women’s rights, reproductive rights, minority issues, and freedom of expression and association.

ISHR runs campaigns advocating for improvement in the functioning and membership of the Committee and for the accountability of its members to the principles of the UN Charter and ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31. We also provide strategic advice and support to NGOs seeking accreditation by the Committee on NGOs, and to NGOs subject to disciplinary sanctions by the Committee.

UN General Assembly

The General Assembly is the main deliberative organ of the United Nations. It is composed of representatives of all member States and has a general mandate to discuss and make recommendations on any matters within the scope of the UN Charter. Under Article 13 of the Charter, the General Assembly is specifically mandated to ‘initiate studies and make recommendations for the purpose of assisting in the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion’.

The plenary regular session of the General Assembly runs from September to December, but can reconvene at any time during the year. Each year the General Assembly addresses over 150 agenda items, which are considered either in the plenary or in one of its six committees.

The Third Committee (Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian) addresses most agenda items relevant to human rights defenders, including women's rights, children’s rights, indigenous peoples' rights, and the elimination of racism.

Numerous special procedures also report to the Third Committee on a number of these issues and engage in an interactive dialogue with States. After completing its work, the Third Committee submits draft resolutions to the General Assembly for final adoption.

Treaty Bodies

The treaty bodies are international committees of independent experts that monitor State parties’ implementation of the core international human rights treaties and their optional protocols.

The treaty bodies' functions include considering State parties' periodic reports, adjudicating individual complaints, conducting country inquiries, adopting general comments interpreting treaty provisions, and organising thematic discussions related to the treaties.

In carrying out their work, treaty bodies consider information provided by the State parties but also from other actors including UN agencies, national human rights institutions and NGOs. For further information on working with the treaty bodies, see ISHR’s Simple Guide to the UN Treaty Bodies.

ISHR supports human rights defenders and NGOs to access and leverage the treaty bodies to contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground. We also monitor and report on the treaty bodies’ examination of State reports and provide case notes on recent decisions on individual communications. ISHR is actively involved in advocacy around the ongoing treaty body strengthening process to ensure that the system is enhanced for the benefits of rights holders.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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