News

13 Feb

A Sudanese refugee activist held in the Australian immigration detention and processing system for over five years, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, is the 2019 Martin Ennals Award Laureate. He was among three finalists, selected by a jury of ten of the world’s leading human rights organisations, together with Marino Cordoba Berrio (Colombia) and Eren Keskin (Turkey). The three of them were honoured today during a ceremony organised by the City of Geneva.

02 Feb

120 independent Venezuelan NGOs are urging the UN to ensure its agencies operating in the country keep the promotion and protection of human rights to the fore in their work.

30 Jan

ISHR joined today with over 36 organisations to launch a call on governments to adopt a resolution addressing human rights in China, with particular focus on Uyghur and other ethnic minority regions. This is the first time in over a decade that an organised effort has been made to use the Human Rights Council to seek access and lay the groundwork for accountability for violations in the country.

28 Jan

A credible, accessible and effective Human Rights Council is vital to promote and protect human rights and to hold perpetrators to account for violations, wherever they occur. ISHR presents below a blueprint for States with recommendations to some of the key issues the Human Rights Council will and should address in 2019. 

29 Jan

After over 1,200 days in incommunicado detention, Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment. Trials have been held, and sentences handed down, for other high-profile cases recently. Efforts to cross these pending cases off the list ahead of the March session of the Human Rights Council are 'not a coincidence', says ISHR. 

General Assembly grants Palestine 'Non-Member Observer State' status

02.12.2012
 

On November 29, the anniversary of the General Assembly resolution on the partition of Palestine and the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution granting Palestine the status of “non-member observer state”. In 2011, the Palestinian's bid for recognition as a full member of the United Nations stalled when it was unable to garner sufficient support in the Security Council, and faced the threat of a veto from the United States.[1] However, unlike the bid for full membership, recognition as an observer state only required a simple majority of the 193 Member States of the General Assembly.[2]

The resolution was approved with 138 states voting in favour, 9 against and 41 abstentions. Five States did not vote.[3] The United States, Canada, the Czech Republic, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Panama and Israel voted against the resolution (see full vote record here). European Union (EU) countries were almost evenly split between voting for and abstaining, with only the Czech Republic voting against. This was a significant change from the EU votes last year on Palestine’s membership in UNESCO, showing a marked increase in support.[4] The majority of African, Asian and Latin American and Caribbean States voted in favour of the resolution.[5]

Sudan introduced the draft text. In addition to Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority, and Ron Prosor, the Ambassador of Israel to the UN, 40 States spoke at the adoption of the resolution.[6] Israel expressed that the resolution will not confer statehood on the Palestinian Authority, will not enable it to join international treaties, organizations, or conferences, and cannot serve as terms of reference for peace negotiations because it says nothing about Israel’s security needs.

Mr Abbas did not make any specific reference to other international bodies or treaties that Palestine would aim to join, including the International Criminal Court (ICC). Many States have expressed concern in recent days that such action by Palestine would jeopardize the peace process. However, human rights groups are urging States that have been pressing Palestine to forgo membership in the ICC to end such pressure and support universal ratification of the ICC treaty.

Of the nine States that voted against the resolution, only Canada, the USA and the Czech Republic spoke. All shared the view that the resolution undermined the prospects for a two-state solution and that peace can only be achieved through direct negotiations. Of the 41 countries that abstained, many expressed concern that the resolution would have an adverse impact on negotiations. In addition, many States that voted in favor of the resolution affirmed that this was not a formal recognition of Palestine as a State.[7] Presumably referring to the potential for Palestine to pursue action against Israel at the ICC, many expressed concern that ‘unilateral actions’ are counter-productive and threaten the viability of the two state solution. Others, including the UK, Japan and Italy, referred more overtly to the ICC issue, with the UK stating that it abstained for lack of assurances that Palestine would forego such actions.

Though attention has been focused on the ICC, a significant development for human rights defenders is the fact that Palestine’s new status may also open the door for ratification of core human rights treaties. Human rights treaty-monitoring and reporting would be an important development towards promoting and protecting the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

 

[1] According to Article 4 of the UN Charter, full membership requires a recommendation by the Security Council. See also  XIV of the UN Rules of Procedure

[2] The granting of observer status is based purely on practice, and there are no provisions for it in the UN Charter. The practice dates from 1946, when the Secretary-General accepted the designation of the Swiss Government as a Permanent Observer to the UN. Observers were subsequently put forward by certain States that later became UN Members, including Austria, Finland, Italy, and Japan. The Holy See is currently the only other observer State.

[3] Equatorial Guinea, Kiribati, Liberia, Madagascar, and Ukraine.

[4] Compared to the UNESCO vote in 2011, five EU countries switched from abstain to yes (Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal and Georgia); three EU countries switched from no to abstain (Germany, Netherlands, and Lithuania); and one country switching from no to yes (Sweden).

[5] In Africa, only Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Rwanda and Togo abstained. Equatorial Guinea, Liberia and Madagascar did not vote. Of 54Asian States, only eight abstained (Fiji, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea, Korea, Samoa, Singapore, Tonga, Vanuatu), four voted no (Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau) and Kiribati did not vote. In GRULAC only six States abstained (Bahamas, Barbados, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, and Paraguay) and Panama voted no.

[6] Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Singapore, South Sudan, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, Tanzania, The Russian Federation, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA.

[7] Including Belgium, Germany, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and Papa New Guinea. As of November 2012, 131 States had formally recognized the State of Palestine.

 

Third Committee holds course on death penalty, makes historic gains on SOGI rights

21.12.2012
 

The 67th session of the General Assembly’s (GA) Third Committee saw the re-hashing of a number of by now predictable debates between States, including on religion, sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual and reproductive health and rights, traditional values, and the death penalty. Fragile gains were consolidated and setbacks avoided, though significant achievements were minimal.

Thematic Developments

Reference to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) survives attempted deletion in extrajudicial executions resolution

This year’s resolution on extrajudicial executions added ‘gender identity’ to the list of vulnerable groups that States were specifically urged to protect. Two attacks on the SOGI language were waged in negotiations. Some States[1] proposed deleting the entire list of vulnerable groups, in a bad faith attempt to ‘streamline’ the text with generic language referring to all of them. Other States[2] proposed to simply delete the SOGI language. In the end, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) tabled an amendment to delete the SOGI language, which was overwhelmingly defeated.[3]

Hard fought consensus prevails on violence against women resolution

As expected, negotiations on the violence against women resolution were lengthy and difficult, against the backdrop of the traditional values debate at the Human Rights Council (HRC).[4] New language on sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights was retained in the end, though only in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which, amongst other things, states that abortion should not be promoted as family planning.[5] Notably, Chile withdrew its co-sponsorship of the text this year, due to the language on sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Efforts by the co-sponsors (France and the Netherlands) to further expand the language on custom, tradition, and customary practices to include language on 'modifying social and cultural patterns of conduct' were not successful.

GA adopts new resolution on female genital mutilation (FGM)

A new resolution on FGM was passed by consensus. Though the resolution urges States to pursue education and training that incorporates a social perspective and is based on human rights and gender-equality principles, the resolution falls short of categorising FGM as a human rights violation, as some Western European and Others Group (WEOG) States and human rights defenders had hoped.

Somewhat surprisingly, discussions around several sensitive issues were relatively uncontroversial. The resolution refers to sexual and reproductive health and not the more divisive ‘reproductive rights’. In addition, though previous UN resolutions have referred inconsistently to FGM as a harmful ‘traditional’ practice, the language on traditions was not included in the initial draft, nor accepted during negotiations.[6]

Global momentum continues for abolition of the death penalty

The GA adopted its fourth resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty[7] reaffirming the UN's growing commitment towards abolition. The text was adopted by vote, with a slightly larger margin than in 2010.[8] New improved language this year includes additional safeguards for the application of the death penalty, including for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age and for pregnant women. 

The passage of the resolution was tense, though less acrimonious than in previous years. Retentionist States argued throughout the negotiations that there was no international consensus on the abolition of the death penalty, that the death penalty was not prohibited under international law, and that its application was a matter for individual States to decide.[9] Key detractors[10] proposed hostile amend­ments along these lines in the Third Committee to weaken the text but all were defeated.[11]

Third Committee grapples with potential revival of defamation of religions

It was unclear this year whether the GA would find consensus on two texts related to religious intolerance following the release of an inflammatory video "The Innocence of Muslims" prior to the GA session. An overriding concern was that the OIC might bring back a defamation of religion text. However the OIC remained committed to the cooperative approach that first prevailed in the HRC in March 2011 and GA in 2011. The GA this year adopted another consensus resolution on combating intolerance and incitement to violence against persons, based on religious beliefs that omitted any specific references to defamation of religion or blasphemy. 

As in previous years, the GA also adopted an EU-sponsored resolution on freedom of religion and belief without a vote. [12] However maintaining consensus came at a price; in exchange for the OIC dropping defamation language from its own resolution, the EU also had to make multiple concessions, including giving up new language on protection of religious minorities, and on the right to conversion.

Country Resolutions

This session saw some fairly significant developments in the country resolutions. The Third Committee again took up four country-specific resolutions on human rights:MyanmarIran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and Syria.[13]However, in a marked departure from previous years, the Third Committee adopted two of the four resolutions by consensus: Myanmar and the DPRK. This marks the first time since 2006 that the Third Committee adopted a country-specific resolution by consensus.

Consensus on the Myanmar resolution was expected, and the result of intense negotiations between the sponsors of the text (EU) and the country concerned. The resolution continues to call for reforms but also acknowledges positive steps taken in the last year. The ongoing violence against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State threatened the fragile consensus, as some OIC states (including Qatar and Iran) threatened to call a vote due to insufficient language addressing the issue. While human rights defenders were pushing for stronger wording,[14] many still see the resolution as having proven its worth as an important tool for engaging with the government of Myanmar to encourage further reforms and improve the human rights situation in the country. Whether this will in fact be the last resolution, as stated by the representative of Myanmar at the adoption, remains to be seen. Notably, the usual language referring to the continued consideration of the question at the next session of the GA has been replaced by a more vague formulation to ‘remain seized of the matter’.

Some viewed the unexpected consensus on the DPRK as a positive development, presuming that the DPRK did not call a vote for fear of an embarrassing defeat in the face of an ever greater number of States supporting the resolution. Others are concerned that the DPRK’s disassociation from the consensus after the adoption is simply indicative of a new form of rejection by the State of the resolution.

This was the first time that the DPRK resolution was adopted by consensus since it was first introduced in 2005. The resolution on Myanmar was first adopted in 1991 and was adopted by consensus until 2006 when the Human Rights Council was created — which many States regarded as the proper venue for country specific resolutions. The move to consensus of these two resolutions therefore begs several questions, including whether States are moving beyond the debate on whether it is appropriate for the GA to consider country specific resolutions. Some would point to the spate of GA resolutions this year and last on Syria as evidence of the GA’s relevance in addressing country-specific human rights situations. Some would also point to the absence of no-action motions on resolutions.[15]

Two of the four resolutions continued to be voted: Iran and Syria. The resolution on Iran was passed by 86 YES votes, 32 NO votes and 65 abstentions.[16] The resolution on Syria passed with 135 YES votes, 12 NO votes and 36 abstentions.[17]

The resolution on Syria was led by Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with strong regional co-sponsorship.[18] As was the case in the Third Committee last year, no Arab country voted against the resolution. However, in contrast to last year’s Third Committee resolution, Russia and China moved from abstentions to voting against the resolution. Several States who voted for the resolution expressed unease about the resolution’s one-sidedness insofar as it inadequately condemns human rights violations by the opposition.[19]

Votes in favour of the resolution on Iran (86) stayed constant compared to Third Committee last year (86) but unfortunately decreased compared to the 2011 GA plenary (89). Overall, the vote count in Third Committee reflects a large number of shifts in position. In terms of backsliding, changes of note include: the shifting back from abstaining to NO by Egypt and Kuwait and from YES to abstaining by Tunisia, Rwanda, Gambia, Tanzania, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Saint Lucia. There is some speculation that the backsliding is due—at least in part—to the fact that Iran is now chairing the non-aligned movement (NAM), an organisation that maintains a principled position against country-specific resolutions at the GA. More positive developments include the shift from abstaining to YES by Serbia, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, from NO to abstain by Algeria and Comoros, and from NO to being absent by Myanmar.

Institutional Developments

Three treaty bodies made requests for, and were granted, additional funding this year: the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Committee Against Torture (CAT), and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). CAT[20] again received an additional week per session in 2013 and 2014, for a total of four additional weeks.[21] CRPD[22] was granted two pre-sessional weeks plus two additional regular session weeks bringing the total number of weeks to five. CRC[23] was also granted the additional meeting time it requested.[24] However, the necessary funds for the CRPD and CRC requests were rolled into the regular budget for 2014-2015, delaying implementation.[25]

Though consensus was achieved on all three requests, these were not well received by some of the traditionally fiscally conservative States. The United States disassociated from the consensus on all three, while the UK singled out the CRC in particular for disassociation. Japan did not disassociate from consensus, but made statements after each adoption expressing its concern about the budgetary implications.

Negotiations on the OHCHR strategic framework follow smooth course despite initial concerns

The human rights component (Programme 20) of the UN’s proposed strategic framework for the period 2014-2015[26] was taken up by the Third Committee this year.[27] In past years, several States[28] have used the process to press for more oversight of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) by the Human Rights Council, while others have vigorously defended the High Commissioner and her Office's independence. Though it was anticipated that Programme 20 negotiations might centre around this divisive issue, fortunately no standoff occurred.[29] Positively, a number of attempts by Russia, Cuba, and China to significantly weaken language relating to the OHCHR's role and mandate were roundly rejected by OHCHR and supportive States,[30]including a Russian proposal to remove all references to OHCHR's cooperation with civil society or NGOs. However, some minor changes were made to the text relating to OHCHR's engagement with Member States, OHCHR's relationship with civil society, the treaty-body strengthening process, and legislative mandates.

Despite consensus on these changes, the resolution containing Programme 20 was adopted by vote because Israel, along with the US and Australia, disagreed with the emphasis on the Durban Declaration and Programme for Action (DDPA) in the text.[31]


[1] Holy See, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

[2] Russia and Syria.

[3] The vote count was 44:86:31 (for:against:abstentions).

[4] See here for more information.

[5] Egypt (on behalf of Arab Group), Holy See, Iran, Pakistan and the Russian Federation opposed these references.

[6] See here for more information on the traditional values debate at the UN.

[7] Led by Chile and Micronesia on behalf of a cross-regional task force.

[8] The vote count was 111:41:34 (for:against:abstentions). The Central African Republic (absent in 2010) voted YES this year. and did South Sudan (which did not exist in 2010). (In Third Committee the vote was 110:39:36). The resolution is a biannual one, last seen in 2010 at the 65th session. In 2010, resolution was adopted by a vote of 109:41:35 (in the GA plenary).

[9] Singapore, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Japan, Botswana, China, Egypt.

[10] Egypt, Singapore, Antigua and Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago, and Botswana.

[11] The amendments attempted to either remove new language from the resolution (the call for States to provide  specific death penalty statistics), reaffirm State sovereignty, or assert a State's right to chose its own legal justice system.

[12] The EU changed the name of the resolution this year from "elimination of all forms of intolerance and of discrimination based on religion or belief" to "freedom of religion and belief" which is consistent with HRC resolutions by the EU on the same issue. 

[14] Particularly on: freedom of expression, association and assembly; the situation of prisoners; and the National Human Rights Commission.

[15] Human rights defenders have long decried the use of no-action motions, which prevent the continuation of a debate and allow States to avoid taking a position on politically sensitive issues.

[16] The vote in the Third Committee was 83 YES votes, to 31 NO votes, with 68 abstentions.

[17] The vote in the Third Committee was 132 YES votes, to 12 NO votes, with 35 abstentions,

[18] By Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.

[19] Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Brasil, and Jamaica. As a result of the resolution's perceived one-sidedness, Nigeria moved from supporting the text to abstaining and Ecuador continued to vote against the resolution.

[20] This resolution was run by Denmark.

[21] The CAT was previously granted an additional week per session in 2010, for 2011 and 2012.

[22] This resolution was run by New Zealand, Mexico and Sweden.

[23] This resolution was run by Slovenia and Costa Rica.

[24] The request was to work in two chambers at one pre-sessional working group meeting in 2013 and at one regular session to be held in 2014.

[25] At issue with the CRC request was the fact that the budget division at the UN had included the cost of 10 common core documents in the budget implication document, while the CRC is not the only committee that would benefit from those documents.

[26] The strategic framework is the principal policy directive of the UN, which serves as the basis for programme planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation, with effect from the biennium 2014-2015.

[27] The Strategic Framework was reviewed in June by the Committee for Programme and Coordination (CPC) of the GA. However, negotiations in the CPC broke down, and consideration of the report was deferred to the GA's Third Committee.  A summary of some of the developments that led to this breakdown is available in ISHR's Alert: A forecast of the 67th GA session, p.11, here.

[28] China, Cuba, Russia, among others.

[29] Egypt and Mexico co-facilitated the negotiations.

[30] EU, Australia, US, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

[31] 161 countries voted in favour of the resolution, 3 voted against (US, Israel, Canada) and 7 abstained.

 

States should reject procedure that results in exclusion of non-government organisations from UN

01.02.2013
 

A group of leading international human rights organisations, including the International Service for Human Rights and Amnesty International, have called on the UN to ensure that non-government organisations are not excluded from key UN meetings.

The call was made in response to a resolution proposing that an NGO could be excluded from a high-level international meeting on immigration and development if any state objected to the participation of that NGO on any grounds whatsoever.

“Non-government and civil society organisations have a critical role to play at the UN, ensuring that the voices of people on the ground are heard and understood. This is particularly the case on issues such as migration, poverty alleviation and development, where NGOs are the experts,” said Madeleine Sinclair of the International Service for Human Rights.

The proposal to exclude any NGO on the basis of any objection by any state reflects a concerning trend to restrict NGO access at the UN.

“Unfortunately the 'no-objection' procedure has become prevalent in a range of meetings at UN headquarters in recent years,” said Ms Sinclair.

“The ‘no-objection’ procedure is severely flawed. Its arbitrary and ad-hoc nature not only risks excluding relevant and valuable voices, but can also lead to censorship and politically motivated exclusion of critical voices,” she said.

“Despite rhetoric supporting the vital role that civil society plays within the UN, the procedure flouts basic principles of accountability, transparency and due process.”

The International Service for Human Rights deeply regrets that, despite the NGO letter, the resolution providing for the exclusion of NGOs was passed by the UN General Assembly. “ISHR calls on all states to reflect on the valuable role of NGOs in promoting and protecting human rights and to ensure that civil society organisations can meaningfully participate in and contribute to UN General Assembly processes.”

Background

In December 2012, fifteen NGOs, including ISHR, issued a joint letter on NGO participation in the draft Migration and Development resolution of the General Assembly.

The joint NGO letter was developed in response to provisions in the draft resolution that could be used to limit the participation of NGOs in the 2013 High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development to those that are ‘relevant’, ‘in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council’ and to whose participation no State objects. The concern is that such language is open to a politically motivated exclusion of NGOs and undue censorship of these legitimate stakeholders.

This ‘no-objection’ procedure for NGO participation, whereby NGOs can be barred from participating if a single State objects, is severely flawed. The arbitrary and ad-hoc nature of the procedure poses a severe obstacle to the effective participation of NGOs, and undermines the planning of meaningful NGO contributions. By its very nature, the procedure risks excluding relevant voices in each of the fora it is applied, and we therefore object to its application. Unfortunately the 'no-objection' procedure to arbitrarily and unfairly restrict NGO access has become prevalent in a range of meetings at UN headquarters in recent years. For example, the ‘no-objection’ procedure was included in a resolution setting out modalities for a 2013 high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the realization of the MDGs for persons with disabilities. The procedure was also used to manage NGO participation in the General Assembly’s treaty body strengthening process in 2012.

The 'no-objection' procedure was included in a revised resolution issued by the drafters, though consensus could not be found. The resolution was put to a vote (by the EU). The result of the vote was: 110 for, 2 against, 46 abstaining. Click here for a breakdown of votes by region (Click here for a breakdown of votes by region). Canada and the US voted against the resolution. The rest of the Western Europe and Others Group abstained. All of Latin American and Carribean States voted for the resolution, with the notable exception of Mexico, which abstained. All of the Eastern European Group abstained except Russia and Belarus, which voted in favour of the resolution. All Asian states voted in favour of the resolution with the exception of Japan, Korea and Cyprus, which abstained.  

The US, EU, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Norway all referred to the NGO participation issue in their explanations of vote. China is the only State that spoke in support of the 'no-objection' procedure. The US specifically referred to the NGO letter, explaining that they shared our concerns that the 'no objection' procedure could be used to limit participation without transparency or due process.

It is our hope that this result will lead to further scrutiny of the use of the 'no-objection' procedure as accepted practice at the General Assembly and that States will build on this momentum to reject the procedure in future resolutions dealing with modalities for General Assembly processes.

 

General Assembly extends intergovernmental process on treaty body strengthening

21.09.2012
 

In the final hours of the 66th session of the General Assembly on 17 September 2012, Member States adopted a consensus resolution extending the intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system (66/295).

The intergovernmental process began with General Assembly resolution 66/254 on 23 February 2012. That Russian-led resolution and the intergovernmental process it created were marred with controversy and 66 States abstained from the vote. Click here for an earlier ISHR news story on the adoption of that resolution.

Part of the controversy stemmed from the fact that the intergovernmental process began as the OHCHR-initiated ‘Dublin process’ on treaty body strengthening was still ongoing. The Dublin process involved a series of multi-stakeholder consultations since late 2009 and was to culminate in a report by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in early 2012. The report, which was to provide a basis for decisions by all stakeholders on which proposals to implement and how, was delayed to allow for further consultations with States.[1] In the meantime, the intergovernmental process was launched, leaving its relationship with the Dublin process and the High Commissioner’s report unclear. Ultimately the High Commissioner’s report was released at the end of June, following which the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process (Iceland and Indonesia) held consultations with States on 2 July and again from 16-18 July 2012.

The July 2012 consultations

While States continued to argue about the relevance of the High Commissioner’s report,[2] the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process essentially used it as the basis for drawing up a list of issues for discussion during the State consultations. The discussions amongst States covered four broad areas: the proposal for a comprehensive reporting calendar;[3] methods of work; the reporting process; and capacity to implement.

Several states supported the idea of a comprehensive reporting calendar in principle but voiced concerns that the proposed cycle of reporting would be unsustainable and very costly. A number of states also supported the High Commissioner’s suggestions to increase the visibility and accessibility of the treaty bodies through webcasting and videoconferencing.[4] Several NGOs, including ISHR, voiced their concerns with the suggestion in the High Commissioner’s report that formal sessions between treaty bodies and NGOs be public, as this would heighten the risk of reprisals against those cooperating with the treaty bodies. In that regard, many NGOs and States[5] welcomed the focus on reprisals in the High Commissioner’s report, in particular the suggestion to establish treaty body focal points on reprisals as a first step.

Several hard-lined States also put forward negative proposals. A group of States calling themselves “the cross-regional group” or “CRG”[6] presented a unified front in the consultations. Among other things, the CRG called for a code of conduct and accountability mechanism for treaty body experts, equitable geographical representation in the treaty bodies, and increased transparency of interaction between the treaty bodies and non-state stakeholders. Though States supportive of the independence and strengthening of the system were vocal in their opposition to such measures as a code of conduct, they were in general less coordinated in their response.

NGO participation

Another troubling aspect of the intergovernmental process from the start was the inadequate provision for the participation of key non-state stakeholders, in stark contrast to the broad consultations facilitated by OHCHR in the context of the Dublin process. Resolution 66/254 requested the President of the General Assembly (PGA) to work out “separate informal arrangements, after consultation with Member States” that would allow treaty bodies, NHRIs and “relevant” non-governmental organizations to provide input and expertise, “bearing in mind the intergovernmental nature of the process”. Several states who abstained from resolution 66/254 continued throughout the consultations to call for greater participation of other stakeholders.[7]

In the end, two NGO representatives were invited by the co-facilitators to participate in panels during the State consultations in mid-July[8] and NGOs were able to observe the discussions amongst States and take the floor during side events. Separate NGO consultations were also held on 4 September 2012. NGOs without ECOSOC accreditation[9] were subjected to a procedure whereby States could object anonymously to their participation without providing a reason or any recourse to the concerned NGO.[10] This was particularly controversial as language limiting participation to ECOSOC accredited NGOs was negotiated out of resolution 66/254 and NGO engagement with the treaty bodies has never been limited in such a way.[11] Alkarama, an NGO that regularly contributes to the work of the treaty bodies, was prohibited from participating because of an objection from Algeria. During the NGO consultations, USA, Canada, Switzerland, Israel and the EU challenged the ‘non-objection’ procedure, stating that there was no agreement on its use, while China, Russia and Algeria argued that the rule is well established for non-accredited NGOs in General Assembly proceedings.

Statements at the adoption of the resolution extending the intergovernmental process indicated that States were still divided on NGO participation. Russia on behalf of the CRG called for strict compliance with resolution 66/254 and the intergovernmental nature of the process while the USA stated that NGOs must continue to be included in all aspects of the discussion.

The way forward

The co-facilitators concluded their work in the 66th session with a non-substantive progress report to the PGA that describes the State and NGO consultations. In that report, the co-facilitators’ recommend that a comprehensive cost review of the treaty system be provided by the end of 2012.

Regarding the timeline, States were divided in the negotiations about whether the resolution should prescribe a fixed end to the process within the 67th session[12] or should not be constrained.[13] Reflecting the different State positions, the resolution rather vaguely “decides to extend the intergovernmental process … with a view to identifying” concrete and sustainable measures in the next session.

As the General Assembly is now gearing up for its intense Committee work during the autumn, the intergovernmental process has been put on hold until early 2013. In the meantime, the Third Committee of the General Assembly will be confronted by requests from several treaty bodies for temporary additional funding to deal with their backlogs. Language to the effect that the continuation of the intergovernmental process would not prejudice such temporary measures was negotiated out of the resolution, leaving the prospects for those requests uncertain.

 


[1] OHCHR held consultations with States in New York on 2 and 3 April in an effort to satisfy those that that felt States had not been sufficiently consulted in the Dublin process.

[2] In particular, hard-lined States responsible for creating the intergovernmental process argued that the High Commissioner’s report should be just one aspect of the basis for discussions.

[3] This proposal would organize the current reporting deadlines into a single comprehensive reporting calendar, based on a periodic five-year cycle. Within this five-year period, there would be a maximum of two reports per annum due for a State that is a party to all the treaties.

[4] Canada, Costa Rica, Ireland, El Salvador, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Thailand, Switzerland, USA, Liechtenstein, Colombia, the African group and CARICOM. States in the CRG were supportive of webcasting and videoconferencing only with the consent of the State Party concerned and suggested that all meetings, including those with non-state stakeholders be webcasted.

[5] Including the EU, Australia, Israel, USA, Thailand, and the African group.

[6] Belarus, Russia, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Cuba, Pakistan, Syria, and Venezuela.

[7] Including Switzerland, USA, Mexico, Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, Canada, the EU, New Zealand, Australia.

[8] ISHR participated in a side event on “The role of the UN system and civil society in supporting Member States and their capacity to implement” and Amnesty International participated in a panel discussion on the “Capacity to Implement”.

[9] ECOSOC status provides NGOs with access to a range of fora at the UN and is granted by ECOSOC on the recommendation of the Committee on NGOs. The Committee has come under criticism in recent years as the Committee is known for excessive politicization and the balance of the Committee’s membership tends towards States that do not support a vibrant civil society at the UN. Click here for an earlier ISHR article about the ECOSOC NGO Committee.

[10] This procedure, whereby decisions to allow NGOs to participate are taken on a ‘non-objection’ basis has become prevalent in a range of meetings at UN headquarters in recent years.

[11] This also resulted in the co-facilitators having to reschedule the meeting from its original date on 31 July because the three working days’ notice they provided was insufficient for Member States to ‘vet’ the non-ECOSOC accredited NGOs wanting to participate.

[12] Including Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Canada, EU, New Zealand, USA, Australia, South Africa.

[13] Including China, the African group, Russia on behalf of the CRG, the Philippines.

 

ISHR concerned by exclusion of NGOs in civil society hearing

17.07.2013
 

(New York -17 July 2013) In a move contributing to the shrinking space for civil society at the international level, three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were barred from participating in an important civil society hearing that was organised as part of the lead up to a United Nations (UN) high-level conference on migration and development. The three NGOs, the Center for International Migration and Integration,[1] Microfy,[2] and the Institute for Human Rights and Business Limited,[3] were excluded from the meeting as a result of one or more member States objecting to their participation.

ISHR calls on General Assembly to protect right to open engagement with UN

19.07.2013

(New York - 18 July 2013) The President of the General Assembly, Mr. Vuk Jeremić, should use his office to help protect the right of independent civil society to engage openly and without restrictions in United Nations (UN) spaces, a group of leading international and regional human rights organizations, including the International Service for Human Rights, said today.

In a letter to Mr. Jeremić, the International Service for Human Rights and additional signees, address a number of key issues regarding civil society participation in the UN that Mr Jeremić needs to confront during his remaining term in office.

In particular, the group of NGOs recognize the instrumental role that the President of the General Assembly can play in ensuring that the selection of civil society is carried out in a way that is in keeping with UN values and the principle of procedural fairness. In this regard, Mr. Jeremić is encouraged to show leadership by facilitating a more open and transparent accreditation process for civil society in high-level conferences and meetings of the General Assembly.

Michelle Evans,  m.evans@ishr.ch is ISHR's New York Manager and Advocacy Coordinator, contact her on +1 212.490.2199

States must not weaken the UN’s human rights bodies

08.08.2013

(New York, 7 August 2013) – The UN General Assembly must not undermine the work of the UN’s human rights treaty bodies, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and Amnesty International said today.

Since April 2012, States in New York have been participating in an intergovernmental process established under the guise of strengthening the UN’s human rights treaty bodies. The UN treaty bodies are independent, expert committees mandated to review and promote States’ compliance with international human rights treaties. The discussions in the General Assembly are now reaching a critical juncture as states must decide whether to extend the process, potentially into 2014, or accept a package of proposals now.

However, as ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair points out, the process is far from achieving its stated goal. ‘Despite the fact that the treaty body system is facing very real and grave challenges, the process has been marked by the efforts of some States to attack and weaken these bodies.’

Those challenges include a failure by some States to prepare reports on how they are implementing their treaty obligations – in some cases these reports have been outstanding for decades; a failure to implement the recommendations of the treaty bodies; the election of treaty body members who are neither independent nor expert; and a chronic lack of funding.

In April 2012 NGOs identified seven issues for the General Assembly to address, including how to ensure good expert membership and adequate resources for the system, and how to implement more effectively the recommendations made by the treaty bodies. 

Amnesty International’s Jose-Luis Diaz expressed his disappointment with how these issues have been handled. ‘On each of these issues, without exception, States have missed the opportunity to make improvements. Their lack of ambition and in some cases deliberate obstruction has resulted in a process that threatens to achieve very little if indeed it does not seriously undermine the treaty bodies.’

Amongst some of the damaging proposals made during the process, one has been a ‘Code of Conduct’ for treaty body members, which would seriously damage the ability of the experts to carry out their work in an objective and impartial way.

Mr Diaz stated, ‘We strongly reject these initiatives. Not only do they threaten the independence of the treaty bodies but they also distract from the real issue at hand; namely improving the human rights situation on the ground.’

ISHR’s Ms Sinclair also expressed disappointment that the process has not been the open, inclusive and transparent one that was promised at its creation. ‘Far from being meaningful and effective, opportunities for NGO participation have been characterised throughout this process by unpredictability, disregard for our expertise, views and potential contributions, and above all a fundamental lack of commitment and initiative to include NGO stakeholders outside of New York and Geneva.’

‘States must refocus their efforts on the core goals of this process’, urged Mr Diaz, ‘That is, how can they, through this process, increase the protection and promotion of human rights on the ground.’

Background

Nearly four years have passed since a group of current and former Treaty Body experts adopted the ‘Dublin Statement’, catalysing the most recent attempt to strengthen the UN human rights treaty body system that would eventually become known as the Dublin Process. But before that process—which involved some 20 consultations with different stakeholders—could run its course, a group of States led by Russia decided 18 months ago that the issues were properly left to States to address and initiated the ‘Intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system’ (the Intergovernmental process).

Armed with the wealth of ideas, views, suggestions and emerging consensus of the Dublin Process, a divided General Assembly initially spent much time debating its role in treaty body strengthening, given its lack of legal competence to decide matters properly left to States parties to the treaties and the treaty bodies themselves. The result was an agreement by States, implicit in some cases, that while the GA may not be able to decide certain matters, it could recommend that certain actions beyond its competence be taken by relevant stakeholders.

Download the full statement here.

Contacts
Heather Collister, Treaty Body Advocacy Coordinator, ISHR Geneva, h.collister@ishr.ch, +41 79 920 38 05.
Jose-Luis Diaz, Representative and Head of Amnesty International’s Representative office to the United Nations in New York, JoseLuis.Diaz@amnesty.org , +1-212-867-8878

Background information

01.01.2008
 

What are the treaty bodies?

The treaty bodies are international committees of independent experts who monitor State parties’ implementation of each of the seven core human rights treaties and their optional protocols. The implementation of each of the international treaties is monitored by its own committee. At present, there are eight treaty bodies/committees monitoring the implementation of the seven core international human rights conventions. They are:

  • The Committee against Torture (CAT) and the Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT)
  • The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
  • The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
  • The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW)
  • The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
  • The Human Rights Committee (HRC)

For further information on each of the bodies, please click on the respective links on the left.

Consideration of reports by treaty bodies

When States become party to one of the international human rights treaties, they are obliged to submit an initial, followed by periodic reports to the treaty body in question. The main purpose of the periodic reports is to examine the extent of the compliance of States with their obligations under the treaties, and how these obligations have been translated into the domestic legal provisions of the particular State. Ideally, the preparation of the report should also serve as a means by which countries can assess and debate particular human rights issues in their own countries, and identify problems and areas that may require further attention. One of the primary ways through which treaty bodies monitor implementation of their respective treaty by State parties is through the consideration of these State party reports.

Further reading

ISHR monitors and reports on the Committees' examination of State reports. Please see the Treaty Body Monitor in the Publications section to access the reports.

For a comprehensive guide to the treaty bodies, see ISHR Simple Guide to the UN Treaty Bodies.

OHCHR has also produced a Handbook for NGOs that contains an instructive chapter on how to engage with the treaty bodies.

For more information, see also OHCHR.

Treaty Body Monitor

06.12.2007
 

Treaty Body Monitor: change in reporting

Focus on ‘concluding observations’

Beginning in March 2009, ISHR changed the format of its treaty body reporting.  Concluding its narrative thematic summaries of the examination of States before the treaty bodies, reports will now focus on a number of concluding observations for each State examined, and will provide an assessment of how these were addressed in the examination, including the initial views of the State, questions, comments and responses provided. Each report will address 4-5 concluding observations on the basis of time that the Committee dedicated to the issue, whether they requested follow-up on implementation, and whether the final recommendation was specific and implementable within a certain timeframe. 

A tool for advocacy

The purpose of this approach is to assist national NGOs and NHRIs in seeing how the Committees arrived at their recommendations and to be aware of the views that the State has already expressed. It is hoped that this will serve as an additional advocacy tool for pursuing implementation of these recommendations at the national level.

A smaller selection of States

In addition, ISHR will no longer report on all States being examined by the treaty bodies. Instead, it will report on certain countries on the basis of a number of criteria, including those where NGOs and NHRIs have already submitted information to the Committees and may find the new ISHR reports useful. Those States not reported on in the Treaty Body Monitor will be summarised in ISHR’s 2009 Human Rights Monitor. ISHR will continue to monitor all treaty bodies with the exception of the Committee on the Rights of Child, whose examinations are fully reported by the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In this section you will also find information related to the drafting of general comments, themtaic discussions and discussions related to the working methods of the treaty bodies.

Simply choose the treaty body you are interested in and then either:

  • Browse by country, to find the reports on the examination of a given country by the treaty body you have selected, or
  • Browse by session, to find the reports related to a given session of the treaty body you have selected

Joint NGO submission on treaty body reform

06.12.2010
 

Twenty NGOs, including ISHR, have recently presented their views and recommendations for strengthening of the treaty bodies. The joint NGO submission was developed in response to and released on the one year anniversary of the Dublin Statement on the Process of Strengthening the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Body System, which has been a catalyst for renewed reflection on how the treaty body system could be made more effective. While reform of the treaty bodies is an on-going process there is growing momentum for changes that could significantly enhance the functioning of the treaty bodies and contribute to improved human rights protection. The proposals put forward include recommendations to the treaty bodies themselves, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and States. In recognition of the important role of civil society in the work of the treaty bodies and in any reform process, the submission also contains commitments by the undersigned organisations to engagement with the treaty bodies. To read the joint NGO response to the Dublin statement, click here.

For more information on treaty body reform and relevant documents, click here.

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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