19 Jun

ISHR has published ‘scorecards’ for each of the States seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council for 2020- 2022.

20 Jun

Today is World Refugee Day. Let’s celebrate those who, like Abdul Aziz Muhamat, raise their voices so people on the move are treated with dignity and humanity.

18 Jun

It’s Pride Month! As June kicks in, marches, festivals and debates are happening in many countries with lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people proudly showing they exist and are part of our communities.

12 Jun

The 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 24 June to 12 July 2019, will consider issues including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, migrants rights, freedoms of association, assembly, expression, women’s rights among many other issues. It will also present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Belarus, Eritrea, Burundi, Myanmar, Venezuela, Nicaragua among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

13 Jun

ISHR's flagship Human Rights Defenders Advocacy Programme begins on Monday 17 June, with 18 inspiring human rights defenders from around the globe travelling to Geneva to learn how to use the UN mechanisms for even greater impact on the ground.

Videos: the highs and lows of the 19th session of the Human Rights Council


We are pleased to provide you with these short videos summarising some of the key country-specific and thematic developments at the 19th session of the Human Rights Council. A written summary is also available here.

The first clip focuses on country-specific developments, including on the situations in Sri Lanka, Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Myanmar, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and others.

The second clip focuses on many of the session's main thematic developments. These include the UN's first panel discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity; resolutions on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, and human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Freedom of expression on the internet and the issue of reprisals are also discussed.

A reinvigorated Human Rights Council ends its 19th session


On 23 March the Human Rights Council concluded its 19th session. The four weeks of meetings in Geneva were marked by a series of positive developments, particularly with regard to the Council’s response to country situations. After the Council’s 18th session, when momentum appeared to have stalled following the body’s initial engagement with and follow-up to the events of the ‘Arab Spring’, this session saw the Council respond to various situations with renewed vigour.

Perhaps foremost amongst the initiatives taken at this session was the adoption of a resolution on Sri Lanka. At the last session of the Council, Canada withdrew its attempted resolution on the situation, to the great disappointment of human rights defenders who have been urging action on the serious situation in the country for several years now. The adoption of a resolution at this session is therefore a breakthrough. While most Asian member States of the Council voted against the resolution, India remarkably voted in favour. This is a significant shift from a State that until now had been an uncritical ally of Sri Lanka’s, although India made clear that it still held to its position that Sri Lanka’s sovereignty should be fully respected, and that the role of the international community should be to support Sri Lanka’s own efforts.

The moderate resolution was led by the US, and simply urges the Sri Lankan Government to implement the recommendations from its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and ensure accountability for all Sri Lankans. Sri Lanka expressed fierce opposition to the initiative, accusing States of using the small country as a scapegoat. One very concerning result of Sri Lanka’s trenchant attitude were several reported incidents of human rights defenders attending the session being intimidated by members of the Sri Lankan delegation. This was coupled with a vicious campaign in State-controlled Sri Lankan media against what it described as ‘traitors’ in Geneva.

The President of the Council, Uruguayan Ambassador Ms Laura Dupuy Lasserre, responded swiftly to these allegations by issuing a Presidential Statement in which she called on States to immediately put an end to harassment and individuals of groups and individuals attending the session, and announced that all allegations would be investigated. However an outburst from a Sri Lankan minister on the last day of the session in which he threatened to ‘break the limbs’ of human rights defenders, means that the situation is far from reassuring.

The Council’s renewed energy on country situations was marked early on in the session by the holding of an urgent debate on Syria. At the conclusion of the debate a resolution was adopted condemning the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and expressing concern at the humanitarian situation. A second resolution on Syria was adopted later in the session in follow-up to the report of the Commission of Inquiry. This resolution is the strongest adopted by the Council to date, calling for international accountability for potential crimes against humanity and referencing the High Commissioner’s call for the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. The resolution also extends the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry for a further six-months.

While Syria’s non-cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms is blatant, there were disappointing signs that other States who had passed through the upheavals of last spring with minimal confrontation at the international level, had not undergone a change of position in Geneva. For example, both Libya and Yemen presented rather weak resolutions on the situations in their own countries. The adoption of a resolution on Libya saw the Russian Federation and Uganda present a series of last-minute amendments, which called for, amongst other things, the High Commissioner to be given a mandate to report on the human rights situation in the country. With Libya rejecting these amendments, many EU States and the US also voted against them. This clearly shows the drawbacks of attempting to proceed through cooperation and consensus.

Egypt too showed no signs of having changed its position in the Council after its own internal upheaval last year. During negotiations on the resolution on ‘Promoting and Protecting Human Rights in the Context of Peaceful Protests’, the delegation attempted to insert language that would give governments greater power to crack down on protestors. The resolution was ultimately adopted by consensus, and tasks the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the assistance of relevant special procedures including freedom of assembly and association, freedom of expression, and human rights defenders, to report on effective measures and best practices to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests. The report will be presented next March, at the 22nd session of the Council.

This session also saw the long-anticipated and first ever panel on sexual orientation and gender identity at the Council, created by the South African led resolution at last year’s June session. The panel was to discuss the report of the High Commissioner, commissioned by the South African resolution, on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It was unfortunate that almost all OIC States chose not to engage in the debate, staging a walkout as the panel began. Pakistan delivered a statement on behalf of those boycotting the debate, in which it put forth its unique interpretation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, according to which culture and religion must be taken into account when implementing human rights standards, and ignoring the further reference to State obligations to promote and protect all human rights regardless of political, economic, or cultural systems.  

The discussion, as a result of the almost complete lack of negative voices, sent a clear message that violence and discrimination directed against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity will not be tolerated by the international community. Further developments on the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity can be expected at the 20th session of the Council in June.

You can read an end of session statement presented by ISHR on behalf of nine NGOs here. A full list of resolutions adopted during the 19th session of the Human Rights Council can be found here.

Special Rapporteur on Myanmar looks ahead to upcoming elections in his dialogue with the Council


In his dialogue with the Human Rights Council (the Council), on 12 March, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Mr Tomás Ojea Quintana, commended the newly formed Government for the number of reforms it has undertaken. Following his recent visit to the country in February 2012, he stated his belief that positive developments in the human rights situation have taken place. Nonetheless, he declared that there is also ‘a real risk of backtracking on the progress achieved’.

Mr Quintana, along with several States that took the floor, welcomed new legislation, including the new Labour Organisations Law;1 the upcoming by-elections on 1st April; the newly created National Human Rights Institution; and the release of prisoners of conscience. However, they underlined that there remain challenges if these developments are to be fully realised.

At the conclusion of its 19th session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further year by consensus, with Thailand and Indonesia joining that consensus. Indonesia stated, however, that the draft did not sufficiently recognise the progress made in Myanmar. It also called for the situation in Myanmar to be considered under Item 10 (on technical assistance and cooperation, rather than the generally more politicised Item 4). China, Cuba, India, the Philippines, and the Russian Federation all dissociated from the consensus position, claiming that the resolution was not constructive and does not acknowledge the progress made in Myanmar. During the interactive dialogue several States including the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela voiced their opposition to the principle of country specific mandates and stressed that they believe that the UPR can achieve the same goals in a more objective and non-selective manner. 

The interactive dialogue saw concerns raised regarding remaining restrictive laws, insufficient implementation of new legislation as well as a lack of an independent and impartial judiciary. The Special Rapporteur drew attention to the apparent unwillingness of the judiciary to acknowledge gaps in the capacity or functioning of the system and to implement past recommendations from the Special Rapporteur. Several States, along with Mr Quintana, urged Myanmar to seek technical assistance on this matter.

Particular attention was given to the upcoming by-elections, repeatedly heralded by many States as a key test for the ongoing reform process. Hopes for fair, free, inclusive, and transparent elections were reiterated. The Special Rapporteur also stressed that allegations of campaign irregularities should be immediately addressed and that the credibility of the elections will be assessed on the basis of the entire election process. In the same vein, several States recommended the use of independent election monitors.

The creation of the new National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) this past September was welcomed by the Special Rapporteur. Germany, in particular, pointed out that the NHRI has a big role to play in the national reconciliation process. Nonetheless, its limitations were pointed out by several States, centrally its lack of independence. Myanmar was encouraged to seek assistance from the international community in enabling it to conform to the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles).2

The release of hundreds of prisoners of conscience was commended by the EU, Mexico, and Canada among others. However, concerns for the remaining prisoners and prison conditions in general were raised. Furthermore, it was pointed out that some released prisoners were subsequently monitored and followed. Myanmar was urged to immediately and unconditionally release the remaining prisoners and to ensure that no restrictions were placed on the released prisoners’ rights, including their right to participate in the upcoming elections.

Another pressing issue put forth by most States were the ongoing conflicts in the country, notably the worsening situation in the Kachin state. While the conclusion of peace agreements with nine ethnic armed groups was welcomed by the US, among others, Myanmar was repeatedly requested to allow humanitarian access to the conflict zones and to refrain from using anti-personnel mines. Attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, internal displacement, land confiscations, the recruitment of child soldiers, and forced labour and portering committed by both State and non-State actors were also condemned.

Myanmar, speaking as the concerned State, claimed that it is committed to the irreversibility of the current reform process. It highlighted positive developments taking place in the State. In addition to those listed by the speakers, Myanmar mentioned the restructuring of the administration, the introduction of universal health insurance, and an increase on health and education budgets. It also underlined the participation of civil service organisations, some newly created, in the current reforms.

Finally, Cambodia on behalf of the ASEAN group, called for the lift of economic sanctions placed on Myanmar. 

1 Effective from 9 March 2012.

2 The Paris Principles lists requirements that should be met by national human rights institutions to effectively fulfill their role.


Right to food dominates annual dialogue with Special Rapporteur on DPRK


On 12 March, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

In his opening statement, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Mr Marzuki Darusman stated that he was becoming increasingly concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in the DPRK and that requests made by him for visits to the country had failed to even receive a response.  

The right to food was a key issue raised by Mr Darusman and speakers in the room with an estimated six million people requiring international food assistance. States were concerned at the effect food shortages are having on the vulnerable such as children and lactating mothers. Kyrgyzstan and Thailand welcomed the DPRK’s cooperation with visits made by UN Agencies such as the World Food Programme in October 2011. Ecuador raised concerns about the effects economic sanctions were having on the food situation and requested the Special Rapporteur carry out an assessment on this for his next report. It was emphasised that food should never be used as an instrument of political and economic pressure. 

The Human Rights Council is expected to adopt a resolution on the DPRK expressing its 'very serious concern' about the human rights violations in the country, and renewing the mandate of ths Special Rapporteur for another year towards the end of the session (follow @ISHRglobal for timely updates).

States also raised concerns about the protection of persons seeking asylum in neighbouring countries, as people being returned to DPRK are likely to face harsh punishment. The UK reported that it was disturbed to hear reports of border controls operating a shoot to kill policy against asylum seekers. As a result of comments made by the Special Rapporteur, the EU and the USA, China expressed its dissatisfaction and argued that it believes those entering China are economic migrants whose behaviour is violating Chinese law.

Other issues discussed included the cases of 12 abducted Japanese nationals with States urging DPRK to urgently reinvestigate these cases. In addition, States were keen to see family visits reinstated for those families separated by the Korean War due to the advancing ages of those affected.

Speaking as the concerned country, DPRK strongly stated that it did not recognise the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and held the view that the report on the situation of human rights in DPRK was the ‘product of a political plot’ led by the US, Japan, the EU and other western countries. The delegation rejected the report and stated that this item should be removed from the agenda of the Council.

This view was endorsed by seven additional States[1] who all held strong views that the special procedure mandate was unnecessarily ‘politicising’ the work of the Council and thereby compromising its integrity. The same States argued that the UPR was the only way to achieve a debate with active participation and without politicisation. Many States however welcomed the report and pledged their support to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. [2]

[1] Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, Belarus, Laos and Myanmar.

[2] UK, Slovakia, Spain, Canada, Australia, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand.


Council's discussion of country-specific situations draws criticism from some States


The Human Rights Council (the Council) held its general debate on human rights situations that require the attention of the Council (Item 4), on 13 March 2012. The debate saw the participation of many States and NGOs.

There was obvious disagreement between States on the issues discussed. Those States exercising the right of reply towards the end strongly refuted the allegations or human rights violations made against them, with some accusing Western States of hypocrisy. It was noticeable that the majority of States on the speakers list were from the Western European and Others Group. Major situtaitons discussed included Syria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Belarus, and Eritrea.

The situation in Syria was brought up by the vast majority of States. States such as Denmark and the UK expressed their support for the Council’s action so far, and France said it was crucial that the Council continue these efforts to show solidarity with the Syrian population and condemn the barbaric actions of its Government. Canada emphasised the crucial role of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation, and called for President Assad to step down. NGO speakers included a student from Syria who described his arrest and ill-treatment at the hands of authorities. However the Union of Arab Jurists criticised international involvement in the crisis, saying that foreign interference has ‘marred the noble cause of the opposition’.

Comments on the human rights situation in Iran largely echoed the concerns raised in the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the country. The US, Belgium, and the Czech Republic made specific reference to the worrying levels of detention of journalists, lawyers, and human rights defenders in the country, and Reporters Sans Frontières made a statement that Iran holds more journalists in its prisons than any other country in the world. The organisation condemned the ‘deplorable’ conditions of detention and said that renewal of the mandate on Iran’s human rights situation is essential. As in the dialogue, the other concerns were extensive use of the death penalty, including against minors, and discrimination against women and religious minorities.

A large number of States spoke about the issue of impunity in Sri Lanka, of particular importance at this Council session considering the US’s proposed resolution on the subject. Norway, France, UK, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, and the International Commission of Jurists voiced support for a resolution on the situation, whilst Belgium and Denmark simply called for Sri Lanka to engage constructively with the Council on the implementation of the recommendations from the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report. Australia and Canada’s statements revealed a lack of faith in the impartiality and comprehensiveness of the LLRC report, and called for fuller investigations into human rights violations committed by both sides during the hot war ended in 2009. Japan’s statement focused on the importance of dialogue, stating that it had been working quietly and constructively with Sri Lanka on this issue. Sri Lanka responded that it had already briefed the Council on the steps it was taking towards implementation, which it believed to be sufficient. Faced with the possibility of a resolution on the issue, it warned that this would ‘undermine international law’ and turn the Council into a tribunal. It also took the position of the many States opposed to country specific discussions in saying that the UPR is the only appropriate forum to address human rights issues in all countries.

The humanitarian situation in Sudan was raised by several States and NGO Rencontre Africaine Pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme. However, the State itself refuted claims of a deteriorating situation, claiming there are positive developments and stability in many areas. Its response had an accusatory tone, and referred to the recent massacre of Afghan civilians by a US military officer as a similar situation of human rights violations that needs addressed.

Almost all European countries speaking in the general debate, as well as the US and Canada, made statements calling for the release of political prisoners in Belarus, and expressed concern at the deteriorating human rights situation in the country following the 2010 elections. However Belarus denied these allegations and sought to deflect attention by referring to the ‘harsh repression’ of protestors in the US and EU, and raising other issues in relation to the countries that had addressed it.

Eritrea’s ‘systematic’ human rights abuses (as stated by the Czech Republic) were a concern for many States. Notably, Somalia made a statement on behalf of 44 other States to ‘bring the situation to the attention of the Council’. It spoke of the lack of independent media, serious restrictions on freedom of religion and belief, and a shoot to kill border policy; and called on the State to grant access to the Council's special procedures. Eritrea responded to the joint statement calling it ‘regrettable, confrontational, and unproductive’, adding that the State is a party to all the core human rights instruments and is currently working on implementing its UPR recommendations.

The responses of States in the right to reply section of the debate were defensive, and whilst some explanations were made in response to allegations of human rights violations, responses mostly attacked the ‘political’ character of statements. Zimbabwe in particular launched a strong verbal attack on the UK calling it a ‘systematic violator of human rights’, and saying it was spreading lies in the Council due to colonial ‘bitterness’. The idea that States condemning violations should ‘look in their own backyards’ first was a common sentiment, and formed a part of several States’ denials of allegations of abuses. Interestingly, though, several States used their rights of reply to raise their concerns about the human rights situations in the countries they responded to, instead of simply using the general debate for that purpose.

Majority of States support extension of mandate of Commission of Inquiry on Syria


On 12 and 13 March the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria (the Commission), which reported on the escalating violence in the country. The President of the Commission, Mr Paulo Pinheiro, stressed that a military intervention would not solve the crisis. He invited the Council to support the mediatory role played by former Secretary General Kofi Annan, appointed by the United Nations (UN) and the Arab League as joint special envoy to Syria. Mr Pinheiro emphasised that only an inclusive mediation process supported by an immediate ceasefire from all parts could help start the reconciliation process, but it needed to be preceded by the delivery of humanitarian relief to the population in distress. Member and observer States of the Council thanked Mr Pinheiro and the work of the Commission, but were divided on the role that the international community can play in the Syrian crisis. Some States called for the President of Syria Bashad al-Assad to step aside. Most expressed support for the delivery of humanitarian relief. Yet others, including Russia, China, Cuba, and Venezuela questioned the objectivity of the report and suggested that Syria should be allowed to deal with the situation on its own, in full respect of its right to self-determination.

Mr Pinheiro summarised the situation after one year of violence, stating that armed confrontations have intensified and resulted in over 17,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and thousands of refugees fleeing into neighbouring States. While the Syrian Government has given very limited access to humanitarian organisations, the international community is still concerned for the suffering of women and children. The Assad regime, claiming terrorist organisations are operating in Syria, has been committing systematic and gross violations of human rights that may amount to crimes against humanity, he said. These include arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary execution, and disregard for the Convention on the Rights of the Child by treating children as adults. Many States called for the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and requested background information in order to establish accountability for the atrocities being committed by both regime and opposition forces. The delegations that called for an involvement of the ICC included, among others, Austria,[1] Botswana, the European Union (EU), Norway and Chile.  States speaking in the interactive dialogue agreed with the Commission that both sides are committing human rights violations, although not to an equal degree.

As a concerned country, Syria responded to the report of the Commission agreeing on the need for a comprehensive national dialogue to end hostilities and to find those responsible of crimes against humanity. Yet Syria objected to the need for economic sanctions, which would harm the civilian population, and stated that reconciliation could not occur without external parties refraining from interfering. Syria accused the Commission to having reached ‘hasty conclusions’, not supported by facts, and of being used for ‘political reasons’. As a result, Syria rejected the report and stated its belief that interference by external political forces would cause a civil war.

The Russian Federation, China, Cuba, and Venezuela were among those who accused the report of being based on distorted facts. These delegations also emphasised that Syria needed to be allowed time and space to deal with the crisis in full respect of its national sovereignty. Furthermore, an intervention by external forces would simply be an attempt to establish a puppet regime and would be seen as a repetition of the interventions in Libya and Afghanistan.

Syria stated its expectation that the Commission's mandate should not be extended, as according to the delegation the Commission has become politicised and has lost its legal credibility. Other States, including the United States, the Czech Republic, and the EU supported the extension of the mandate to allow the Commission to continue its work and in particular to ensure accountability for the human rights violations that have been committed.

On 13 March, the EU held an informal consultation on a draft resolution on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Syria complained that the draft made no reference to the efforts made by the Government to ‘democratise’ the country. Furthermore, Syria claimed that the international media is manipulating and distorting facts to support a military intervention. States were divided on a number of issues, including the reference of the meeting of the Friends of Syria group and the effects that sanctions could have on the civilian population. There were also diverging opinions on how to make reference to human rights violations committed by non-State militias. While it is clear that both Government and opposition forces are committing atrocities, the Commission report stated that they are not comparable in scale.

[1] Austria spoke on behalf of a cross-regional group of 13 States: Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Ireland, Lichtenstein, the Maldives, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, and Switzerland.


First report from the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran draws heated response


The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Mr Ahmed Shaheed, appeared before the Human Rights Council (the Council) for the first time on 12 March 2012 to present his report. The main issues raised were imprisonment and torture of journalists and human rights defenders, the excessive use of the death penalty, and the repression of religious/ethnic/linguistic minorities and women. In his presentation, the Special Rapporteur expressed regret at the failure of Iran to allow him to visit the country, despite numerous requests, and stated that this only heightened concern at the human rights situation in the country. He called on the country to cooperate and view the mandate not as a penalty but as an opportunity to address human rights challenges.

As is usually the case with country specific mandates, States on the speakers list were divided between those who support the mandate and those who see it as an instrument of bias, and therefore do not offer constructive engagement on the issues discussed.

Among States in support of the mandate, the issue of imprisonment and torture of journalists and human rights defenders was of high priority, with Austria stating that Iran has detained more journalists than any other country in the world. The USA, Slovakia, Germany, and Canada also highlighted this issue, and reiterated the Special Rapporteur’s call for the release and reassessment of several specific cases. The case of human rights lawyer Abdulfattah Sultani, who has been sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for ‘colluding against the regime’ and banned from practicing law, was mentioned several times. States and the Special Rapporteur called for his release, as well as that of political opposition leaders who are currently under house arrest.

Another important issue was the persecution and repression of religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities, in particular the Baha’i community, many of whom have been imprisoned for their beliefs. Switzerland and the Czech Republic, among others, made specific reference to this, and an NGO statement was made by the Baha’i International Community asking how the international community could respond when the Iranian Government continues to ‘deny the community’s right to exist’.

Increasing use of capital punishment in Iran, including for juveniles, was raised by the Special Rapporteur and subsequently described as ‘deplorable’ and ‘alarming’ by Austria and Switzerland. The Special Rapporteur and many States including Spain, Brazil, and France urged a moratorium on the death penalty in the country, which France said is now used at the highest rate per person in the world.

States who voiced their disagreement with the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, and with country specific mandates in general, did not offer any comments on the issues raised in the report. This was with the exception of Ecuador, who asked Iran to consider a moratorium on the death penalty, but extended this request to all States that still use capital punishment.

Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, and Belarus stated their preference for the UPR as a mechanism of addressing human rights issues within countries due to its ‘non-politicised’ nature. Belarus and Venezuela in fact described the success of Iran’s UPR as it accepted 123 recommendations. In general, the States in opposition to the mandate1 considered such mandates to be politically motivated (with Syria describing it as ‘the height of political blackmail’), selective, and overly focused on developing countries.

Iran’s response to the report was heated, to the point where the US made a point of order requesting it to use language appropriate to the forum. The State angrily rejected the report, blaming the US, France, UK, and other ‘morally failed states’ for the killings of Iranian scientists, and stating that the report ‘in no way meets the minimum standards of equality’ of the Council. Iran described the report as ‘biased’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘unprofessional’, stating that repetition of lies (referring to the allegations collected from various sources in the compilation of the report) doesn’t make them true. It briefly gave an explanation of the case of the pastor allegedly sentenced to death for apostasy, stating this was not the basis of his sentence. It said that no person has ever been sentenced or pursued for changing their religion, and made the point that it is easier to build a church in Iran than it is to build a mosque in Geneva, Paris, or London. It concluded by saying such reports change the council into a ‘theatre of war’ between the US and European states, and Islamic states and culture.

A resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran is currently being negotiated at the Council, and is expected to be passed by a vote towards the end of the session.

1 Iran, Pakistan, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Syria, Belarus


Council hears from Commission of Inquiry on Libya in follow-up to its 15th special session


The Human Rights Council held its interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Libya on 9th March 2012.

Philippe Kirsch, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry opened the dialogue with his presentation of the Commission’s report. Mr Kirsch confirmed in his opening statement that the human rights violations perpetrated by Qadhafi forces amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. In addition, he stated that the Thuwar (anti-Qadhafi forces) had also committed serious human rights violations that constituted war crimes and breaches of international human rights law were continuing.

He confirmed that NATO had taken extensive precautions in its operations to ensure civilians were not endangered. However, there were limited civilian casualties, and the Commission of Inquiry had been unable to conclude whether all necessary precautions had been taken to protect civilians. During the interactive dialogue Cuba, Venezuela and the Russian Federation strongly condemned the NATO intervention, suggesting that it was in fact a campaign to ‘overthrow the regime’.

The Commission of Inquiry recognised the challenges that lie ahead for the new Libyan government in rebuilding its infrastructure after 40 years of serious human rights violations. Mr Kirsch emphasised that the interim Government must concentrate on restoring the judicial system and hold those to account, irrespective of the perpetrator, for human rights violations committed. In addition, Mr Kirsch highlighted to the Council the considerable support that the transitional government will need from the international community and the United Nations.

Speaking as the concerned country, the Deputy Minister of Justice for Libya said that the Libyan authorities had 'worked around the clock' to support the Commission of Inquiry and had responded positively to the requests of the Commission. However, he hinted that there had not been enough time to study the final report, commenting that the report is very long and only available in English. In addition, he pointed to failings in the report such as a failure to 'shed light on the attacks of those that committed the most heinous crimes on the Libyan people' and that 'placing the acts of the executioner on an even footing with the reactions of the victims was not logical'. He also emphasised that the root cause behind disputes between the people of Misrata and Tawerghar had not been explained in the report and said that the old regime 'had tricked them into hating each other'. In his concluding statement, Mr Kirsch responded to Libya's concerns that the report was placing ‘victim’ actions on an equal footing with the crimes of the ousted regime by explaining that this report was a supplement to an earlier report that had dealt more fully with the actions of the Qadhafi regime.

He went on to say that the Government of Libya will hold every person accountable for their crimes, that the Government condemns acts of revenge and that it is committed to fair and effective justice.

Key issues that were raised time and again during the interactive dialogue were those of accountability and restoring a functioning judiciary. Participating States were keen to see a commitment to hold all perpetrators to account for human rights violations committed, to see the interim Government bring an end to continued human rights violations and to see an end to arbitrary detention by bringing all detainees under a central governmental control.[1]

The involvement of NATO came under fire with strong condemnation by Cuba, Venezuela and the Russian Federation. In its condemnation, Cuba accused NATO of ‘criminal aggression’ and stated that the real motivation was to gain control of the oil and water reserves in Libya. Venezuela accused NATO action of leading to the deaths of thousands of people in Libya and suggested that the main goal was that of the ‘assassination’ of Muammar Qadhafi. The Russian Federation criticised the Commission of Inquiry for not investigating further the deaths of Muammar Qadhafi and Mutasssim Qadhafi. In addition, the delegation accused NATO of supporting a campaign to overthrow the regime. In contrast, the United Kingdom, Canada and the USA welcomed the Commission of Inquiry’s conclusions that NATO had conducted a highly precise campaign with a determination to avoid civilian casualties. Others, including Malaysia, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called for further investigations into the deaths of civilians.

States generally acknowledged the enormous challenges ahead and extended support to the Libyan government. States such as Indonesia, UK, Czech Republic and the European Union asked how the international community could effectively give assistance to Libya. Responding, Mr Kirsch stated that there is much Libya could do by itself, however external assistance would be useful in the reconstruction of the judicial system and that governmental ministers of Libya were requesting assistance with training in various areas. He added that once the government decided on the support it requires, the whole of the UN system would be available to enter into a dialogue.

[1] European Union, France, Belgium, Italy, Maldives, Uruguay, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Chile, Australia, United States of America, Russian Federation


Council debates report of first special procedure to visit China since 2006


The Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr Olivier De Schutter on 6 March.  The Special Rapporteur’s visit to China was his first visit to the country, and the first mission by a Council special procedure to China since the 2006 visit of the Special Rapporteur on torture.

In his report, Mr De Schutter praised the efforts and remarkable progress made by China in reducing poverty and food insecurity but cautioned that more still needed to be done. Other issues raised included achievements made in combating malnutrition, but with obesity in children on the rise there is a need to ensure the adequacy and diversity of diets. In addition, the Special Rapporteur warned that climate change remains a grave threat with land degradation and water scarcity a huge problem. He recommended that agricultural systems focus on becoming more resilient to climate related shocks. China stated that on the whole the Special Rapporteur’s report was generally balanced In concluding comments, Mr De Schutter criticised the policy of forcibly resettling nomadic herders and said that this policy, in relation to herders in Tibet (officially known as TARC) in particular, raised ‘legitimate and important concerns’. Both Cuba and China objected to the Special Rapporteur’s concluding comments. Cuba raised a point of order that Mr De Schutter was ‘exceeding the limits of his mandate’, to which China concurred, accusing the Special Rapporteur of serving ‘his own personal and political’ interests.

Mr De Schutter’s concluding comments on the policy of forcibly resettling nomadic herders followed statements made by Human Rights Watch and the Helsinki Foundation in which they called for an end to the non-voluntary relocation of nomads until consultations could take place with the parties as the nomads were finding themselves often ‘worse off’ in relation to access to food.  Mr De Schutter also drew to the Council’s attention that since March 2011, there had been 25 self immolations in Tibet (officially known as TARC) against the land resettlement policies of which 18 had been herders forcibly resettled in collective villages.

In its right of reply, China stated that it ‘categorically rejected’ the ‘groundless’ allegations made by the non-governmental organisations. It complained to the Council that some NGOs were repeatedly being given the floor whilst others were not being given the chance to speak, perhaps indicating that it wished to see other NGOs less critical of its human rights record taking the floor. Furthermore, China expressed its disappointment with the Special Rapporteur’s remarks, which it believed were outside of his mandate. 

Aside from comments on NGO participation and discontent with Mr De Schutter’s mention of Tibet (officially known as TARC), China engaged with the report in a broadly constructive spirit. China stated that generally speaking Mr De Schutter’s visit enabled him to gain in depth knowledge of the real China. It acknowledged that the report notes the challenges China faces in the enjoyment of the right to adequate food and it recognised the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations in that regard. The delegation added that China is happy to continue to work with the special procedures to improve the implementation of the right to food and other issues.

Council holds panel debate on freedom of expression on the internet


The Human Rights Council (the Council) held a panel discussion on the right to freedom of expression on the internet on 29 February 2012. The panel was moderated by Mr Riz Kahn of Al Jazeera English. Panellists included Mr Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden; Mr Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Mr William Echikson, Head of Free Expression, External Relations, Communications and Public Affairs, Google.

There were several disruptive procedural points of order concerning the format of the panel, from Cuba and the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation made a pointed comment that this was a formal Council meeting and not a ‘TV talk show’ in reference to the panel's moderation by Mr Kahn. Similar procedural points have been raised during other panels at this session of the Council. As the Austrian vice-President made clear, the concept note for this and other panels had been available for some time, and States had therefore had sufficient opportunity to raise objections prior to the panel taking place.

There was a high demand for places on the speakers list. However, time constraints meant that only 26 States were able to speak, while 16 States, plus one NGO, were unable to take the floor. The Philippines took the floor at the end of the meeting to complain that it had not been able to speak, and implied that the Secretariat had not been entirely objective in compiling the speakers list.

The format of the panel, which may represent an emerging practice at the Council, saw panellists make several short interventions in immediate response to comments and questions raised by States. Again, however, the problem of time constraints meant that towards the end of the discussion the panellists' responses had to be placed on hold to allow as many States as possible to speak. As a result panellists were eventually limited to a final round of one-line concluding comments. These issues point to teething problems with this particular panel format, but overall it does allow for a more interactive exchange.

The discussion, which was the first on the issue at the Council, raised a number of interesting and relevant points on how States’ approaches to the internet and its regulation must focus on protecting human rights. Although the discussion was aimed specifically at the right to freedom of expression, States such as Honduras, as well as Ms Esterhuysen and Mr La Rue raised the role of the internet in promoting economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education, and the right to development. Panellist Carl Bildt stated that States who see only the potential evils of the internet are in fact restricitng their own society’s development.

In her opening adress the High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Navanethem Pillay highlighed the particular risks faced by journalists. States such as Canada, the United States (US), and the Netherlands spoke of their concern at the harassment of bloggers and online journalists by some governments, and the need to provide them with training to allow them to work safely online. Recent events in Syria have thrown into sharp relief the risks faced by journalists in covering conflict situations. This was referred to by the Press Emblem Campaign in its statement on the importance of the internet in facilitating reports when borders are closed to journalists. The NGO voiced its support for the idea of a convention on the protection of journalists.

The Arab Spring was a repeated theme in the discussion, unsurprisingly, as an example of the power of the internet in documenting human rights abuses, and mobilising social movements. Egypt in particular spoke of the ’pivotal role’ of the internet in its own revolution, as a tool for organising peaceful protests, despite the attempt by the government at the time to impose constraints. The point brought in the issue of the right to freedom of assembly in relation to the internet, and shows this medium’s increasingly broad human rights role in modern society.

China made a statement on behalf of large group of States,1 stating that freedom of expression is not absolute, and advocating strengthening law enforcement in this area to prevent use of the internet to 'corrupt minds’ with pornography and violent content, decrease stability, and promote violence. These States placed emphasis on increasing efforts to ensure the internet is crime-free and ’social safety and stability’ are maintained, as a priority above ensuring free expression.

A recurring theme throughout the discussion was the idea that human rights, and their protection, should be the same in the online world as they are in the offline world. This view was endorsed by the United States and European Union. Mr La Rue placed particular emphasis on the importance of the phrase 'through any media’ in the right to freedom of expression as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The relevance of private companies in the debate was signified by the presence of a panellist from Google, and the problem of transparency from these companies was referred to numerous times by states, panellists and NGOs. Mr Echikson stated Google’s concern at sometimes being expected to censor, by itself, the information it provides, and likened its role to that of a postman who cannot be held responsible for the content of the letters delivered. He expressed the company’s willingness to comply with legitimate court orders for the removal of material, requests which it then publishes,2 but not to be held responsible to act as the censor themselves. This statement brought an interesting private sector perspective to the discussion, and Mr Echikson concluded by calling for other private companies to join in similar transparency initiatives. On a different side of private company involvement, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies described worrying evidence of the complicity of some companies in selling monitoring and blocking software to ’repressive regimes’, and expressed concern at their lack of accountability, with the private sector operating in a ’human rights vacuum’.

A number of important questions were posed by States during the debate, such as Norway’s question on how governments, the UN, private companies, and civil society can work together in this area. However, the problem of time constraints meant the panel was unable to offer any suggestions, and the discussion lacked any practical and constructive results other than to raise the many potential issues involved in human rights on the internet. This shows the need for further discussion of this issue at the Council. Mr La Rue expressed the hope that a debate could be held at some point resulting in a resolution on this issue.

1 Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burundi, Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Ethiopia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe and People's Republic of China





Après les performances décevantes des leaders européen.nes ces dernières semaines, y compris lors de la 40ème session du Conseil des droits de l'Homme, à Genève, le dialogue Union Européenne(UE)-Chine sur les droits de l'Homme qui aura lieu le 1er avril, sera la dernière chance pour l’UE de mettre l’accent sur les droits humains en Chine et d'assurer la transmission de ce message lors du sommet de Bruxelles du 9 avril.

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