News

23 Jun

At the close of HRC35, leading civil society groups welcome commitments by States to strengthen membership and outcomes of the Human Rights Council. Welcoming the dispatch of a team of experts to the DRC's Kasai region, the groups called for full access to the country as a step towards accountability. 

24 Jun
Inauguration of 47th General Assembly of OAS

ISHR joins CEJIL and over 100 civil society organisations in welcoming the decision taken at the Organisation of American States (OAS) to improve the financial stability, capacity, autonomy and independence of the Inter-American System for the protection of Human Rights.

22 Jun

The UN and States must take visible and sustained action against acts of intimidation and reprisal against those engaging or seeking to engage with the UN, says ISHR in a new report.

22 Jun

In a Statement to the 35th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR called for a stronger focus on the implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations and the development of processes to ensure that civil society can freely engage without fear of intimidation and reprisal.

20 Jun

The Martin Ennals Foundation and the ten human rights organisations that make up the jury of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA), today renewed their appeal to the government of the United Arab Emirates to release immediately and unconditionally Ahmed Mansoor, the last remaining human rights defender in the UAE who had previously been able to criticise the authorities publicly.

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ISHR submission to CERD

Attempt to stop debate on country situations rejected by UN committee

22.11.2016

(New York) In an unprecedented step at a session of the UN General Assembly's Third Committee - which is tasked with considering social, humanitarian and cultural matters, Belarus introduced a no-action motion on an entire agenda item – relating to country situations on Iran, DPRK (North Korea), Syria and Crimea – in a move to stop discussion and action on these resolutions.  This attempt was roundly rejected and the Committee went on to adopt resolutions on all these country situations.

‘The Third Committee has reasserted the value of debate on country situations by rejecting this no-action motion, and by adopting a new country resolution on the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol,’ said ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair. 

Introducing the no-action motion, Belarus argued that country resolutions were ‘an arbitrary instrument of coercion’ and a ‘haughty voice of reprimand and intimidation’.  Furthermore, country resolutions were useless if the country in question wasn’t on board. The Belarus Ambassador noted that either the world was in ‘utter denial’ of the counterproductivity of country resolutions, or simply didn’t care.  Other States supported Belarus noting that they were in favour of ‘cooperation and dialogue’ which they claimed only the Universal Periodic Review ensured.

These positions were strongly rejected by other States, including Saudi Arabia who noted that the no-action motion deprived Member States of the ‘important opportunity’ to decide the merits of an individual resolution.  To remove all four resolutions under discussion, which had collected over 160 sponsors, would be an ‘unconscionable decision’, the Ambassador noted.

Days earlier NGOs had expressed concern at the use of the no-action motion noting that, if successful, it would signal that the UN was not a place where freedom of expression is respected, nor open debate encouraged. 

With the no-action motion rejected (101 to 32, with 37 abstentions) the Third Committee considered country resolutions.  On the resolution on their own country Iran noted that ‘our imperfection is no greater than any other country’ and didn’t merit a country resolution.  Both Brazil and Mexico abstained noting that they felt that a focus on technical assistance in the resolution would have been more helpful.

In regard to the resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the DPRK described the resolution an ‘illegal document’ on which they saw no need to call a vote.  They did not consider there to be consensus on the text and called on all States to disassociate themselves from it.  No vote was called so the resolution was adopted by consensus.  

All other resolutions – on Crimea, Iran and Syria  were put to a vote and adopted.  The adoption of the new resolution on Crimea was met with elation by supporters in the room. 

Vote records on country resolutions:

  • Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol: 73 – 23 (76 abstentions)

  • DPRK: consensus

  • Iran: 85 – 35 (63 abstentions)

  • Syria:  116 – 15 (49 abstentions) 

Letter Honduras

The integrity of the human rights system is at risk, warns Human Rights Council President

04.11.2016

(New York) The Human Rights Council President, Ambassador CHOI Kyonglim, has made a forceful appeal to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee not to re-open decisions made by the Human Rights Council.

This came on the day that the African Group tabled a resolution seeking to halt the work of the Human Rights Council’s LGBT Independent Expert. Such a step would set a dangerous precedent, said the President, and ‘undermine the credibility of the Human Rights Council and of the UN system’.

This year's dialogue between the Human Rights Council President and the Third Committee was overwhelmingly focused on the question of whether the Independent Expert, created by the Human Rights Council, should continue its work. Underlying this are questions about institutional relationship between the Human Rights Council, and the Third Committee and General Assembly.  

'The Human Rights Council President was absolutely correct in representing this challenge to the Independent Expert for what it is - a serious challenge to the international rights system: a challenge that must be resisted', said ISHR's Eleanor Openshaw.

Many States spoke energetically about the legality of the Independent Expert’s mandate, the authority of the Human Rights Council, and the dangerous precedent set by seeking to defer on a Special Procedures – most particularly one that is already up and running.

The African Group resolution calls for the suspension of the activities of the Special Rapporteur ‘in order to allow time for further consultations to determine the legal basis upon which the mandate of the special procedure’.

During the debate with the Human Rights Council President, Botswana delivered a statement in name of the African Group noting that they were ‘strongly concerned by attempts to introduce and impose new notions and concepts that were not internationally agreed upon’ and that these attempts ‘seriously jeopardize the entire international human rights framework as they create divisions.’ They call for States ‘to refrain from attempting to give priority to the rights of certain individuals’.

‘The creation of this mandate came after two Council resolutions and OHCHR reports that persuaded the Council that there is a need for particular attention on the situation of violence and discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,’ said ISHR’s Pooja Patel. ‘That’s what thematic rapporteurs do - focus on issues and groups that the Council considers need particular attention.’

Denmark rejected the idea that an Independent Expert’s mandate created by a voted resolution was illegitimate, noting that several current Special Rapporteurships were created on that basis. The Human Rights President pushed back on the notion that politicisation and selectivity informs the establishment of Special Procedures. The Procedures are diverse in terms of the countries and themes they focus on, he said.

States such as Algeria and Ethiopia made spirited interventions in defence of the need to respect the decisions of the Human Rights Council.

‘It has to be seen if these States are courageous enough to defend the human rights system against other pressures and interests,’ said Ms Openshaw.

The other issue that received considerable attention during the dialogue with the President, was the importance of civil society’s contribution to the UN, and the urgent need to ensure their protection from intimidation and reprisals. The Human Rights Council President noted that civil society is ‘not just nice to have’ but ‘at the core of our work’. He said he looked to ASG Gilmour to ‘raise the profile of reprisals within the system’.

The President's dialogue with the Third Committee was run at the same time as a discussion held by the UNGA on the President’s report. Algeria expressed frustration at the scheduling of meetings, something the Chair promised to address with the President of the UNGA.

High Commissioner asks the Third Committee: Would we have the courage to be defenders?

22.10.2016

Restrictions on and reprisals against civil society were put under the spotlight when the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights presented his report to the Third Committee - the General Assembly's committee which considers social, humanitarian & cultural issues.

The High Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein,  highlighted the folly of such attacks - reminding the Committee that civil society can be of great support to States,  but only if they can fully exercise their fundamental freedoms. 

Furthermore, the implementation of UN's own policies such as Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development relies on such civil society support.  Mr Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein also emphasized the self-defeating nature of policies that quashed critical voices in a response to extremism. Criminalistaion of dissent will fuel extremism not quell it.

Whilst a few States spoke of the need to restrict the activities of defenders, most who spoke were supportive of the right to defend rights.

In a welcome move, Canada, on the other hand, expressed concern about reprisals. Australia welcomed the designation of the new Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour to the role of leading UN wide efforts to put an end to that practice.     

The USA spoke of the clear pattern of restrictions on civil society participation at the UN, including through the practice of the 'gatekeeper' NGO Committee - which has a track record of hindering the accreditation of organisations expected to criticise certain States. Despite this opposition, the USA representative asked, how can we foster and encourage engagement from civil society organisations and the wider comunity? In response Mr Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein noted the need for continued engagement with States, adding  that there seemed to be a greater tolerance of the involvement of civil society in Geneva than New York. 

In concluding, the High Commissioner reflected upon the courage of human rights defenders.

‘How many of us would be willing to foreit our careers and lives for the sake of speaking out?’ he asked the Third Committee diplomats.

Other issues:

Several States expressed concern about persistent non-cooperation with the UN from particular States. Palestine spoke of ‘a culture of non-cooperation’. For Qatar, the demands of implementation of Agenda 2030 makes cooperation all the more important. What are States hiding if they don’t permit access?  Latvia called for the universalization of standing invitations for Special Procedures. 

The independence of OHCHR was questioned by several States – with China going as far as to accuse the Office of supporting ‘secessionist criminals’. Russia also adopted a highly critical line stating that OHCHR oversteps its mandate, places too much emphasis on monitoring rather than providing technical assistance. For Russia, ‘we need to be in a position where the High Commissioner is seen ‘as a partner and not prosecutor’’. The High Commissioner pushed back at China’s criticism emphasizing a willingness to have an open dialogue. He rejected the claim OHCHR was partial, emphasizing the 125 nationalities represented in the Office. 

The High Commissioner reflecting on ‘a basic flaw in our system’. Foreign Ministries are overly defensive and parochial, and interpret criticism as intervention. On the other hand, other ministries and quasi-governmental institutions tend to be far more straightforward and able to acknowledge when they need assistance. 

A couple of States noted that the human rights mechanisms were overloaded, or that States couldn’t keep up with the reporting the system demands.  Belarus said that treaty body reporting was overly onerous.

Egypt expressed concern at the human rights system being used to advance issues that they consider not to enjoy broad support, citing issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity  and the death penalty as examples. 

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Opinion:

Webcasting sessions of the NGO Committee is an important exercise in transparency, accountability and accessibility at the UN, write the Permanent Representatives of Chile, Mexico and Uruguay to the UN in New York.

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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