11 Jan

Here are some of the things we are most proud of; impacts that reflect and were made possible thanks to the creativity, solidarity and resilience of our partners, our staff and the human rights defenders we collectively serve.

05 Jan

In a joint reaction coordinated by Amnesty International, NGOs welcomed the report of the co-facilitators of the 2020 review of the treaty body system, Switzerland and Morocco. It remains to be seen whether the General Assembly will take any action in follow up to their report. So far, the President of the General Assembly has not re-appointed the co-facilitators to continue the process, nor communicated anything further on the subject. 

28 Dec

On 28 December 2020, Saudi Arabia’s Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) sentenced Saudi women human rights defenders Loujain Al-Hathloul and Miyaa al-Zahrani to 5 years and 8 months in prison.

18 Dec

ISHR and ILGA World have updated their factsheets on different UN experts – check out the references to LGBTI persons and recommendations that these Special Procedures have made.

19 Dec

An updated series of factsheets by ILGA World and ISHR show that throughout 2020 the UN Special Procedures have regularly raised concerns regarding human rights related to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC).

New report on Women Human Rights Defenders is launched


A new report on the situation of women human rights defenders was launched on 5 March 2012 at a side event to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Global Report on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders has been produced by the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC).

The key speakers of the side event were Ms Sunila Abeysekera, the Executive Director of INFORM and ISHR board member; Ms Fikile Vilakazi, the Programs Director of Coalition of African Lesbians; and Ms Christina Ellazar Palabay from Tanggol Bayi, an association of women human rights defenders in the Philippines. Ms Eleanor Openshaw from ISHR was the moderator for the panel discussion.

The report analyses the challenges faced by women human rights defenders in different contexts. Through the prism of over 40 case studies, the connections between the context in which a woman human rights defenders works and the nature of the violations she experiences are explored.

 The Coalition began the project of writing the report having identified a lack of systematic coverage of the gender specific nature of violence against women human rights defenders. It started from an understanding that that the experience of women human rights defenders is frequently silenced, ignored or misrepresented.  The Coalition’s hope is that the report will become an advocacy tool for women defenders, to highlight the need for consistent documentation to surface the experiences of women defenders and build effective responses to the violations they face.

At the side event, each of the panelists stressed the importance of recognising and understanding the wider context in which violations against women human rights defenders take place, as has been done in the Global Report. Ms Abeysekera affirmed that if the context is not taken into account, effective solutions for combatting such abuses are unlikely to be found.  

The main areas of contextual analysis in the report are fundamentalisms; militarization and situations of conflict; globalization; crises of democracy or governance; and heteronormativity. According to Ms Abeysekera, all abuses of women rights defenders should be understood in relation to the overarching ideologies - patriarchy and heteronormativity, which inform all these contexts.

The panelists’ presentations also highlighted the challenge of documenting violations in a gender-sensitive manner. Ms Palabay asserted that there are often few indications in human rights documentation of the gender specific nature of a violation.  This echoed one of the Global Report’s key calls to mainstream human rights organisations that they enhance their capacity to identify and articulate issues from a gender perspective.

Panelists highlighted violations at the hands of non-state actors, including private security organisations and multinational corporations, and the absence of effective mechanisms to hold them to account. Discussion also focused on the fact that a country's economic prosperity does not mean it respects women’s human rights, as is often assumed. A final point that was addressed was the need to make existing human rights mechanisms work for women human rights defenders, rather than creating new ones.

When the floor was opened for discussion, the panelists were asked to give advice to women human rights defenders regarding bad documentation. The panelists underlined the importance for documentation to be sensitive and respectful, taking people into consideration, rather than just presenting them as a number.

 A further question was raised about how to document violations when victims are too scared to register their abuse. Ms Palabay advised finding creative ways of documenting such information whilst respecting a victim's anonymity. One example given was to film them talking about their experience in the shadows so that they could not be identified.

Other recommendations made by the panelists included the need for women human rights defenders to write their stories and make them public; and the need for further discussion on gender sensitive methods of documentation.  Ms Vilakazi noted that future reports should include a discussion of the wellbeing of women human rights defenders, which is essential to a process of documentation and to sustaining human rights movements.

Human Rights Defenders in Latin America are still at grave risk, new reports show


A special focus on human rights defenders in Latin America was the theme of an ISHR side event held during the Human Rights Council on Tuesday 6 March.

The event marked the launch of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas. The IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders, Mr José de Jesús Orozco, and the IACHR Executive Secretary, Mr Santiago A. Canton were hosted by ISHR in Geneva to present the report.

It follows up on the IACHR’s 2006 report on the same subject, and highlights an increase in assassinations, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances of human rights defenders in the region. It shows this problem to be particularly true in countries where democratic rule is interrupted, where there is internal armed conflict, or where clashes occur between defenders and organised crime groups or powerful economic actors.

Mr Orozco said the new report is structured into four parts: (1) problems faced by human rights defenders in the region; (2) human rights defenders at particular risk; (3) independence and impartiality of justice operators as a guarantee of access to justice; and (4) protection mechanisms for human rights defenders.

Mr Orozco said the protection of human rights defenders is fundamental to the protection of human rights in the continent. He pointed to problems such as legal measures that criminalise the work of human rights defenders, and other forms of arbitrary control of human rights organisations, as being among the biggest challenges faced by defenders in Latin America. He also highlighted evidence of impunity and impartiality in judicial processes, and reiterated the need for better, more transparent and more consistent investigations to counter these problems.

The ISHR side event also featured the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Ms Margaret Sekaggya, and Executive Director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, Mr Gustavo Gallon.

Ms Sekaggya and Mr Gallon spoke about a newly launched ISHR report on the situation for human rights defenders in Colombia. The findings are the result of research into whether recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur have been effectively implemented in Colombia, following her visit to the country in 2009.

Ms Sekaggya said Colombia is a very difficult environment for human rights defenders. Her report in 2009 had highlighted cases of illegal surveillance, illegal arrest and detention, judicial harassment, human rights organisations’ premises being raided and records stolen, together with violence and other threats. Many violations had been attributed to guerrillas and paramilitary groups, or the acts or neglect of the Colombian authorities.

Two years later, ISHR’s report shows that some positive steps have been taken by the Colombian Government: such as public statements by officials recognising the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders; the work of the ‘National Guarantees Roundtable’ and the issuance of new decrees aimed at reforming and strengthening the protection programme for human rights defenders.

However, Ms Sekaggya highlighted that there are still many obstacles for human rights defenders in Colombia. The ISHR report shows preventative measures have not been satisfactorily implemented, mainly due to the lack of knowledge by local authorities of official national policies in regard to human rights defenders, and the lack of appropriate action on early warnings by the Ombusman’s Office.

The report also found that the National Guarantees Roundtable process was insufficient; that illegal wiretapping of human rights defenders conversations was continuing; and that criminal investigations into violations against defenders had produced few, if any results.

Ms Sekaggya highlighted the need for the Colombian Government to increase its human and financial capacity to deal with these problems, including through the establishment of a permanent unit dedicated to this.

Mr Gallon said 55 human rights defenders in Colombia had lost their lives in 2011; 49 of them murdered, and six disappeared. This presented an increase in lives lost compared to previous years. In addition, some 140 threats against defenders had been recorded.

He added that paramilitary groups, though no longer recognised by the Government as existing, were still very much active and had grown in number since the Special Rapporteur’s 2009 report. The Government’s lack of recognition of these groups – now simply referred to by the State as ‘criminal gangs’ – means it cannot adequately address the threat they present to human rights defenders.

Mr Gallon highlighted the responsibility of the State to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, including through ensuring that protection mechanisms and justice were effectively managed.   

At the side event Ms Sekaggya also presented preliminary findings following her visit to Honduras. The discussion was also opened to the floor for additional comments and questions.

The panel discussion was moderated by ISHR Director Mr Bjorn Pettersson, who expressed satisfaction that the panelists and the reports had drawn Human Rights Council participants’ attention to the plight of defenders in the Americas, a region not sufficiently highlighted in the Human Rights Council context. 

He said transitions to democracy and the end of several conflicts in the region, coupled with the existence of an effective regional human rights system, have left the human rights situations of most Latin American countries off the priority list of concerned Human Rights Council members and observers.

At-risk human rights defenders draw attention at ISHR side event


A panel discussion on the issue of human rights defenders who are most at risk took place on Monday 5 March at PaIais des Nations in Geneva. The side event was co-hosted by ISHR and other human rights organisations, with the aim of drawing attention to the challenges experienced by the most vulnerable groups of defenders.

The discussion coincided with the presentation of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders’ report to the Human Rights Council on the same day.

The key speakers at the ISHR side event were Mr Davi Kopenawa, leader of the Yanomami indigenous group from the Amazonia, Mr João Paulo Charleaux, a Brazilian journalist from Conectas Direitos Humanos, and Mr Kim Smeby, speaking on behalf of Ms Margaret Sekaggya, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. The panel was moderated by Ms Idun Tvedt, of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The event particularly focused on the key groups of defenders highlighted in Ms Sekaggya’s report:  journalists, environmental, student and youth rights defenders, and those working on land issues. The Special Rapporteur described these defenders as being significant need of protection, and faced by risks that ‘directly affect their physical integrity and that of their family members, but also involve the abusive use of legal frameworks against them and the criminalization of their work.’

Mr Kopenawa explained at the side event that, as an environmental and indigenous human rights defender, he had faced numerous threats and attacks, the target of gold diggers and farmers who want to exploit the land. The vital role that environmental, land rights and indigenous defenders play was highlighted; one attendee of the side event recognised the significance of Mr Kopenawa’s work, as he was said to be the only person able to represent the Yanomami people due to language barriers.

Mr Charleaux emphasised that media reporting was an essential element in giving visibility to violations of human rights. The Brazilian journalist said this work remained a struggle in many Latin American countries, where the three most common risks for journalists and other human rights defenders are murders committed by criminal groups, repression by security forces, and judicial and political pressures against individuals.

Mr Charleaux recommended that journalists work in networks to support each other, so that if one journalist or newspaper received threats they could call on their colleagues to research the same topic or publish the same article. He also recommended that private media companies acknowledge their responsibility and adopt measures to better protect their journalists and media workers.

Also discussed were the importance of the new technologies such as blogs and mobile phones in exposing human rights abuses, and the great risks that youth defenders and students face in speaking out against human rights violations, such as threats, violence or being refused the opportunity to continue their studies.

Following presentations by the panellists, the discussion was opened for questions from the floor. A representative of Journalistes sans Frontières reiterated how crucial it is to protect journalists and media workers, as to kill the messenger is to kill the message. The difficulty of establishing support networks for defenders of indigenous groups was highlighted, given their sometimes remote and dispersed locations and lack of modern technology to facilitate communication. The Special Rapporteur’s secretary drew attention to the central role that youth have had in defending human rights and placing human rights issues on the agenda and the importance of protecting this vulnerable group.

The panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Human Rights House Foundation, International Service for Human Rights, and the OMCT-FIDH Observatory on the protection of human rights defenders.

Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders presents report on defenders at particular risk


On 5 March 2012, the Special Rapporteur (the SR) on human rights defenders (HRDs), Margaret Sekaggya presented her fourth annual thematic report to the Human Rights Council (the Council). The report focused on HRDs at particular risk, including journalists and media workers, defenders working on environmental and land issues, and youth and student defenders.

The interactive dialogue that followed Ms. Sekaggya’s presentation saw States divided along familiar fault lines. A large number of States welcomed the report,[1] echoing the SR’s concerns regarding the violations experienced by the highlighted groups. Others were more critical of the report,[2] with a number of States saying that the rights of HRDs need to be balanced against their responsibilities and that HRDs must act in accordance with national legislation. India, Senegal, Cuba, and Algeria went as far as to accuse the SR of overstepping her mandate by including new categories of HRDs and duplicating the work of other special procedure mandates.

During the presentation of her report, Ms. Sekaggya noted that , during the last year, the vulnerable groups highlighted in her report suffered both physical and legal harassment by State and non-State actors. “Journalists and media workers have been targeted because of their reports on human rights violations or because they were witnesses to human rights violations themselves”, said Ms. Sekaggya. Violations included killings, arrests, arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment. Furthermore, legal frameworks and tools such as censorship have been “used and abused” to restrict the work of HRDs. Stigmatization of HRDs’ work by state officials or the media can foster a climate of intimidation, harassment and violence by non-State actors. Defenders working on land and environmental issues are particularly vulnerable to violence suffered at the hands of multinational corporations and private security companies. Lastly, youth and student defenders, especially those active in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), have been attacked and abused by security forces in the context of public demonstrations. Judicial and legal harassment of young people is also frequent and tied to legislation that prohibits them from participating in public assemblies. Ms. Sekaggya said that there is a tendency to consider “young age and alleged lack of maturity […] as grounds for not giving them a say in public affairs”. This limits the perception of youth and student movements as simply ‘trouble-makers’.

The issue of what falls under the definition of a HRD once again rose to the foreground of the debate. China, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, among others, voiced their concerns about the lack of a precise definition. These States consider the definition overly broad and therefore at risk of being abused and wielded to protect individuals viewed as HRDs by some but as criminals or terrorists by others. Bangladesh noted that politically motivated actors should not be confused with ‘real’ HRDs. Similarly, Sri Lanka characterized the term HRDs as one that is very ‘amorphous’ and warned the SR “not to fall prey to those who masquerade behind the readymade cloak of HRDs creating political havoc wherever they are”. Algeria expressed concern that the lack of a specific definition can lead to a broadening of the mandate and duplication of the work of other mandates. In her reply, the SR explained that the groups covered in her report are clearly HRDs. She clarified that anyone who promotes and protects human rights in a peaceful manner is entitled to the protection accorded to HRDs.

Senegal, India, and Cuba also spoke on the question of the SR’s mandate, reminding the SR of the requirement to act in accordance with the Code of Conduct for special procedures mandate holders. India chided that the special procedures are not “special prosecutors” and should be broad and thematic rather than focused on individual incidents. Senegal, speaking on behalf of the African Group, expressed concern that the HRDs mandate might overlap with other special procedures and become “omnibus” in nature. In that respect, Senegal warned the SR to be “more vigilant” and to respect the scope of her mandate. Cuba insisted that adherence to the Code of Conduct was needed to reinforce the authority and credibility of the Council.

Negative statements also focused on the issue of national legislation. Although this issue has been raised during previous dialogues with the Special Rapporteur, detractors may have been further emboldened by the additional reference they succeeded in getting in the last General Assembly resolution on HRDs[3] regarding the requirement that HRDs operate in the framework of national legislation.[4] Senegal, Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC), Malaysia, China, Algeria, and Egypt all raised this issue in their interventions. Addressing the issue head-on in her concluding remarks, the SR clarified that while there is no disagreement that HRDs must respect national laws, those laws must in turn comply with international human rights standards.

Several NGOs present raised the issue of reprisals against those cooperating with the UN human rights system. The SR specifically addressed the issue of reprisals against those HRDs cooperating with her mandate. Specifically, the SR noted that she has “once again” been alerted that HRDs in Sri Lanka have been threatened with reprisals should they seek the protection of her mandate. Sri Lanka responded during the dialogue, saying this was “pure conjecture”. Also on the subject of reprisals, Senegal (on behalf of the African group) claimed that the risk of reprisals was increased as a result of HRDs not complying with their ‘responsibilities’. Presumably as an attempt to deflect attention from reprisals by State actors, Senegal also noted that the report highlighted reprisals by non-State actors but did not make any recommendations in that regard.  On this issue, the SR recalled that her 2010 report to the General Assembly addressed State responsibility for violations by non-State actors. She reminded States that they bear the primary responsibility for protecting HRDs under their jurisdiction against rights violations not only by State agents, but also private persons or entities.

[1] Including Belgium, Honduras, the US, the EU, Chile, Norway, the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Ireland, Uruguay, Austria, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, France, Switzerland, and Armenia.

[2] Including India, Morocco, Senegal, Pakistan, Cuba, Malaysia, China, Algeria, Egypt, and Belarus.

[4]   See ISHR stories on the 2011 session of the General Assembly here and here. The General Assembly began adopting resolutions on human rights defenders in 1998 with the adoption of the Declaration on human rights defenders. Though the Declaration included a reference to the requirement that human rights defenders should operate within the framework of national legislation, it was not until 2005 that a similar reference was made in the resolution. This was due to threats by Cuba that it would call a vote on the resolution otherwise. States opposed to civil society engagement seek to include such references in order to limit the rights of defenders to those prescribed by domestic law, which are often not in line with international human rights law.

Two references to national legislation appeared in the General Assembly resolutions on human rights defenders in 2005, 2007 and 2009. One is contained in a preambular paragraph that is based on the reference to national legislation in the Declaration. The other is contained in an operative paragraph that refers to registration requirements. In the last session of the GA in 2011, detractors such as China, Russia and Iran were able to gain an additional reference to the requirement that human rights defenders operate in the framework of national legislation, this time in a new paragraph on peaceful protests. It is worth noting  that the references to national legislation are somewhat mitigated by corresponding references to the requirement that national laws be consistent with international human rights law.


GA adopts 60-plus Third Committee resolutions, including on Iran, North Korea and Syria


Third Committee strives for relevance in context of Arab Spring

As the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ turned to summer and then to fall, the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee struggled but ultimately succeeded in giving a nod to the popular uprisings. Beyond the breakthrough resolution on the situation of human rights in Syria, which represented the first new country situation to be examined since 2007,[1] the Third Committee also referred to current events in a handful of thematic resolutions on human rights.

Despite sharp opposition, the bi-annual human rights defenders resolution[2] calls upon States to “ensure that human rights defenders can perform their important role in the context of peaceful protests” and refers between the lines to the role of social media by recognizing that “new forms of communication can serve as important tools for human rights defenders”. Though these timely references are notable achievements, it is regrettable that detractors were also able to gain additional references to the requirement that human rights defenders operate in the framework of national legislation in this year’s text. [3]  By pushing to include such limitations, these States sought to restrict  the role of defenders in peaceful protests  rather than to protect and support their work.

This year’s resolution on torture[4] mentions current events by expressing deep concern at acts that can amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment committed against “persons exercising their rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression”.

A resolution on women and political participation,[5] last seen at the General Assembly in 2003,[6] includes numerous references to situations of political transition. Despite staunch resistance from hardliners,[7] the US-sponsored resolution was adopted by consensus. Notably, the new language was supported by States currently undergoing significant transitions, including Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Finally, the bi-annual resolution on the role of the United Nations in enhancing periodic and genuine elections and the promotion of democratization included new preambular language highlighting the importance of fair, periodic and genuine elections in “new democracies and countries undergoing democratization.”[8]

General Assembly split on Human Rights Council report

Several recommendations in the Human Rights Council report[9] were addressed individually in separate resolutions by Third Committee, including the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training[10] and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the child on a communications procedure.[11] Both standard setting instruments were adopted by consensus.  In addition, the Committee considered a general resolution sponsored by the African group that generated a fair amount of controversy, as it has in previous years. The resolution (A/C.3/66/L.64/Rev.1) initially "took note” of the report of the Human Rights Council (Council) and “noted with concern some of the recommendations contained therein”. This was revised to "note the report … and some of its recommendations" and orally amended before the vote in Third Committee to "notes the report … and its recommendations." The changes reflected the African group’s decision to comply with behind-the-scenes requests from members of other regional groups that the resolution not send a negative message about the Council’s work. 

At the request of Belarus,[12] the draft general resolution on the Council report was put to a vote in the Third Committee and adopted with 94 in favour, to 3 against (Belarus, Syria and DPRK), with 62 abstentions.[13] Most states in the Western Europe and Other Group (WEOG) except Turkey abstained, with most statements expressing that the plenary—and not the Third Committee—should consider the report. Eastern European countries also abstained with the exception of Belarus, who voted against, and the Russian Federation and Armenia, who voted in favour. In addition to the African Group, overwhelming support came from the Asian Group and the Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC) countries,[14] providing a clear North versus South divide to the voting pattern. Many statements on YES votes qualified their position by citing the politicisation and double standards within the Council, particularly the issue of country specific resolutions.[15]

Ongoing debates on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) also surfaced in the discussions on the HRC report resolution in Third Committee and the General Assembly plenary. In Third Committee, Russia and Pakistan expressed concern at the Council’s request that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to commission a study and convene a panel on discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their SOGI. On the other side, Israel and the US voiced support for the initiative on SOGI taken by the Council in HRC/RES/17/19.  In the plenary, the African Group and the Holy See also registered their concern about the Council’s resolution on ‘sexual preferences’ and ‘undefined’ notions such as SOGI. 

Two resolutions threaten mandate of Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict

This session of the Third Committee saw a number of new initiatives, including a resolution put forward by Thailand on “Strengthening of the coordination of the United Nations system on child protection”.[16] This initiative was widely viewed as a rebuke of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, for mentioning Thailand in the annual report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict.[17] Framed by Thailand as an initiative to strengthen the UN child protection system, the resolution came across to many states and NGOs as a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the independence of UN mandate holders working on child protection[18] through a new evaluation mechanism and a focal role for UNICEF in coordination.

In the end, a much watered-down text was adopted by consensus. A number of states[19] expressed concern at the duplicitous intent of the resolution and clarified their interpretation that, where the resolution calls for mandate holders “to continue to exercise their functions in a fully independent manner and to act in full observation of their respective mandates”, that the "continue to" applies to the second part of the sentence as well, i.e. that mandate holders have been and will continue to observe their mandates. This reading reinforces the notion that Ms Coomaraswamy’s decision to include and scrutinize Thailand in her annual report is fully in line with her mandate.

The controversy also spilled over into the rights of the child resolution, in which the initial draft “took note with appreciation” of Coomaraswamy’s work and extended her mandate for a further four years. However, the sponsors of the resolution succumbed to pressure from Thailand and other states that objected to the mandate being extended beyond the usual three years. The draft was later revised to merely “recognize” the work of her office and to recommend that her mandate be renewed for three years only. Despite these concessions, Pakistan proposed an amendment in Third Committee to “reiterate that it is incumbent upon all mandate holders to perform their functions in strict observance of their mandates upholding the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity as well as avoiding politicization.” The amendment was defeated by a vote of 78 against to 48 in favour, with 21 abstaining. The resolution was later adopted without a vote by the General Assembly plenary.

General Assembly maintains Council gains by dropping defamation of religion text

The General Assembly did not adopt a text this year on the defamation of religions, in line with the breakthrough in the March 2011 session of the Council when the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) decided not to run its polarizing resolution on the topic. Instead, the General Assembly adopted by consensus an OIC-sponsored text[20] similar to the one put forth at the March 2011 Council session on combating intolerance and incitement to violence against persons based on their religion or belief, [21]  which has no references to the defamation of religion.

The new OIC-sponsored General Assembly resolution  requests the UN Secretary-General to submit a report at its sixty-seventh session on steps taken by States to combat intolerance. It also calls on States to consider reporting to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on their efforts to combat religious intolerance, stereotyping and violence.  

As in previous years, the General Assembly also adopted an EU-led resolution on religious intolerance.[22]

Europeans soften positions on follow up to Durban

This year’s resolution on the “Global efforts for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” prompted a significant change in the voting pattern among European states. The following states switched their votes from NO to Abstain: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and United Kingdom. Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway changed from abstaining to voting in favour. The final vote in the General Assembly was 138 in favour to 6 against (Australia, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, and United States), with 46 abstentions. This was reportedly the result of concerted engagement by South Africa and Argentina (on behalf of the G77) to work with European states on the text. The G77 took on a number of their concerns, including explicitly mentioning the primary responsibility of States in the fight against racism. However, the EU did not ultimately support the text as several operative paragraphs -- related to incitement and to the media --included restrictions on the freedom of expression not in line with international law.

Country-specific resolutions

Despite ‘in principle’ objections raised by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and others (DPRK, China, Kazakhstan) to the consideration of any country specific resolutions by the Third Committee, the General Assembly this year adopted four country-specific texts. The vote in the General Assembly plenary on the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) resolution was 123 in favour, 16 against with 51 abstaining; on Iran was 89 in favour, 30 against with 64 abstaining; and on Syria was 133 in favour, 11 against, with 43 abstaining. The text on Myanmar, which was adopted by vote in the Third Committee, was deferred pending review of its programme budget implications by the Fifth Committee. The resolution has costs associated with political missions and good offices. In all cases, the votes in favour of the resolutions increased from Third Committee.[23] ISHR published an earlier article analysing the voting patterns of the resolutions in Third Committee.[24]

Comparing this year’s General Assembly Plenary votes to last year’s, the resolution on Iran gained 11 additional YES votes and the resolution on the DPRK gained an additional 17. The margins also increased significantly for both Iran (from 33 to 59) and the DPRK (86 to 107).

NO votes continued to decrease in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in all cases, despite continued statements on its principled position against country-specific resolutions in the Third Committee.More than half (62) supported the resolution on Syria.

Only the resolution on Syria faced a no-action motion in the Third Committee, which was defeated by an overwhelming majority of 118 to 20, with 29 abstentions. Only the resolution on Iran faced a no-action motion in the General Assembly Plenary, which was defeated 100 to 35 with 42 abstaining.

The resolution on Syria passed with the largest margin of YES to NO votes (122) compared to DPRK (107), and Iran (59). The vote on Syria was marked by strong regional support with Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia cosponsoring. No Arab country voted against the resolution. Russia and China, who vetoed the earlier Security Council resolution on Syria, abstained from the vote despite voting against all other country-specific resolutions. Between the Third Committee and the General Assembly Plenary, Bolivia and Vietnam changed their votes from NO to Abstain and six countries changed their votes from Abstain to YES.[25] No country changed their votes from YES/Abstain to NO but Chad and Mauritania changed their votes from YES to Abstain.

This year’s resolution on Iran includes additional language on the continuing and systemic targeting of human rights defenders and calls on Iran to allow access to the newly appointed Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran. In addition, this year’s resolution calls on the Government to release all those arbitrarily arrested and detained for exercising their right to peaceful assembly and participating in peaceful protests. The resolution also strongly urges the Government to ensure free, fair, transparent and inclusive parliamentary elections in 2012 and calls on the Government to allow independent observers, but stops short of calling for international observation.

The resolution on Myanmar was softened this year, reflecting recent developments such as talks between the Government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of prisoners of conscience. The resolution welcomed a number of positive steps by the Government, acknowledged commitments made by the President to implement reform, and encouraged the continued cooperation of the Government with the international community. However, NGOs remained concerned that the text fell short of calling for an independent, international investigation into grave crimes that would determine the facts and hold perpetrators accountable.[26]

Mirroring the themes focused on by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK in his report and statement to the Third Committee, this year’s text on the DPRK places greater emphasis on the issues of food security, the reuniting of families, and the protection of asylum seekers. The resolution also reiterates serious concern at the refusal of the Government to articulate its position on which recommendations included in the outcome report of its universal periodic review in March 2010 enjoy its support, and regrets the continuing lack of action to implement the recommendations contained in the report.

See further analysis of the voting patterns for the DPRK, Iran and Syria.

Other developments

The General Assembly also adopted numerous other resolutions recommended by its Third Committee, including on the girl child, people with disabilities, indigenous issues, national  human rights institutions, counter terrorism and human rights, and the interdependence of human rights.

An analytical article covering this year’s General Assembly Third Committee session will be available in the January 2012 edition of the Human Rights Monitor Quarterly.

[1] The last time the Third Committee considered a new country situation was in 2007 when it passed a resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus A/RES/62/169. Since then, the Committee has only considered resolutions on Iran, Myanmar and the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.

A/C.3/66/L.44/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

[3] China, Russia, Iran.

A/C.3/66/L.28/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

A/C.3/66/L.20/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

A/RES/58/142 available at

[7] Syria, Russia, China, Cuba, Yemen, Venezuela, Pakistan, Iran, Nicaragua, Belarus, Vietnam.

A/C.3/66/L.43/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

[9] A/66/53(Supp.) This year's annual report before the General Assembly covers the 16th and 17th regular sessions as well as the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th special sessions. The addendum (A/66/53/Add.1) to the report covers the 18th regular session. The Council’s annual reporting cycle was previously 1 July to 30 June. During the Review of the Human Rights Council, concluded in June 2011, States decided that the new reporting cycle would run from 1 October to 30 September, thus ensuring that the September session is included in the report to the General Assembly.

A/C.3/66/L.65 The draft resolution is available at

A/C.3/66/L.66 The draft resolution is available at

[12] Belarus was the subject of a county-specific resolution at the Human Rights Council in June 2011.

[13] DRC and Iraq changed their respective NO and YES votes to Abstain after the vote. Last year the report was adopted by a vote of 123 in favour, to 1 against (Israel), with 55 abstentions. The report was adopted by consensus in 2009.

[14] Exceptions include Honduras and Panama, who abstained.

[15] In the General Assembly, the voting patterns across regions were similar though more states voted in favour of the resolution, and less abstained (122 in favour, to 3 against, with 59 abstentions).

A/C.3/66/L.22/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

A/65/820–S/2011/250 available at

[18] The resolution cited specifically “[t]he Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and other relevant actors”.

[19] The US, Norway on behalf of Lichtenstein and Switzerland, Poland on behalf of the EU, Costa Rica and Chile.

[20] A/C.3/65/L.32/Rev.1, available at

A/HRC/RES/16/18 available at

A/C.3/66/L.48/Rev.1 The draft resolution is available at

[23] The vote on Syria went from 122YES:13NO:41Abst in Third Committee to 133 YES:11NO:43Abst in General Assembly Plenary; The vote on Iran went from 86 YES:32NO:59Abst in Third Committee to 89YES:30NO:64Abst in General Assembly Plenary; The vote on the DPRK went from 112YES:16NO:55Abst in Third Committee to 123YES:16NO:51Abst in General Assembly Plenary.

 All country-specific draft resolutions are available at

[25] Antigua & Barbuda, Comoros, Congo, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Thailand.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council adopts resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consultation by Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers


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

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

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

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


Fax: +41 22 917 90 06

More information about the mandate is available here.

Other Regional Human Rights Systems

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

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

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



El gobierno de López Obrador ha estado utilizando selectivamente el respaldo y apoyo de ciertas agencias de la ONU para emprender proyectos e implementar políticas de manera contraria a sus obligaciones internacionales en materia de derechos humanos.

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


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


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


ISHR leads a successful campaign for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights


ISHR co-founds and supports a range of international and regional human rights coalitions, including the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network


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


ISHR leads and coordinates the development of the Yogyakarta Principles on sexual orientation and gender identity, strengthening legal recognition and protection of LGBT rights worldwide


ISHR’s sustained advocacy on the issue of reprisals and intimidation faced by human rights defenders leads to adoption of landmark UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning and strengthening protections against reprisals


Working with key NGO partners such as Amnesty International, ISHR leads civil society efforts to strengthen UN human rights treaty bodies, prevent their weakening and better connect their work with victims and human rights defenders on the ground


Working with supportive states and NGOs, ISHR advocacy leads to adoption of historic Human Rights Council resolution calling on all States to review and amend national laws to respect and protect the work of human rights defenders