13 Nov

A letter from UN experts to China, made public today, calls for the repeal of Xinjiang provincial regulations on 'de-extremification'. This is the latest in a series of efforts by the UN's independent experts to learn the truth about the mass incarceration of Muslim minorities in the country. 

09 Nov

Version française ici

Despite a Constitutional Court ruling that solidarity is a fundamental value in the French Constitution, a ruling from a local court last week shows that some authorities continue to view the work of migrant rights defenders as a crime. 

14 Nov

ISHR's Third Committee side event 'Protecting human rights defenders: Reflections on the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration' aimed to achieve effective dialogue and exchange between State and civil society actors regarding the situation on human rights defenders and it has done just that.

09 Nov

More than 15 governments expressed grave concern over the situation of human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers, as well as violations against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, at UN peer review of China’s human rights record on 6 November 2018. The review reiterated that sustainable development is only possible in partnership with vibrant, independent civil society, the work of whom is essential to ensure that the most marginalised and vulnerable individuals and groups benefit from poverty alleviation efforts. 

08 Nov

During this session, the Working Group on Extractive Industries (WGEI) launched its State reporting guidelines and principles on articles 21 and 24 of the African Charter.

GA73 | The work of UN experts and its potential commended by President of Human Rights Council


'Treat mandate-holders with dignity and respect', said the President of the Human Rights Council, Vojislav Suc, to States at the UN General Assembly on Friday, when he came to report on the Council's 2018 work.  

The President of the Human Rights Council's words were welcomed by ISHR's Eleanor Openshaw.

'Not only did the President clearly denounce threats against independent experts - something the President of the General Assembly and the Chair of the Third Committee have yet to do - but also called on States to make more of their work in the UN's prevention agenda', she noted.

'Very often UN independent experts have a very good sense of what is going on', added Openshaw. 'Their findings should be central to efforts to understand a human rights situation and figure out what to do about it.' 

Special Procedures - independent experts mandated to monitor and report on human rights violations - are created by the Human Rights Council - ie States. Most report annually to the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the Third Committee in New York.  Threats against the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi were made by Burundi at the Third Committee earlier this month.

Several States also spoke up in support of Special Procedures and the need to cooperate with them, including Chile, Nigeria, and the European Union member States.  Bangladesh condemned the 'abuse and denigrating views' expressed against the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

In regard to civil society actors, the President noted that their active participation was essential to the work of the Council.  Significantly, he attributed the Council's very success to the interplay between categories of stakeholders - member States, observer States and civil society. 

'The possibilities for civil society to engage at the Third Committee are more limited than at the Human Rights Council', said Openshaw. 'That the President confirms the value of civil society's contribution in Geneva should encourage New York bodies to seek greater civil society input.'  

The relationship between the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council is commonly reflected upon during the annual dialogue with the Council President. This year, the review of the status of the Human Rights Council - possible as early as 2021  - seemed to hang in the air as several States made note that the Council is subordinate to the General Assembly.

In January, the presidency of the Human Rights Council will pass from Slovenia to Senegal. 

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw, 


Photo:  UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré



UNGA73 | States must work with civil society to end violence against LGBT persons


On 25 October, the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity Victor Madrigal-Borloz presented his first report as mandate holder to the Third Committee of the General Assembly. In his report, he examines the process of declassifying ‘certain forms of gender as a pathology,’ or as a disorder or disease, and the State’s duty to respect and promote respect of gender identity.

He emphasised that States can end violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans persons (LGBT), but that to do so they must work with civil society. Noting the crackdown on LGBT communities, civil society spaces and those working in defense of the rights of LGBT persons, he urged States to defend spaces that are under attack. ‘Regressive measures should not be adopted,’ he said. 

Madrigal-Borloz added that his mandate calls for dialogue and that he is open to working with all States to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

During the dialogue, many States voiced their support for the Independent Expert and engaged with the content of his report. The United Kingdom welcomed his recommendation for States to adopt measures to protect the rights of those defending the rights of LGBT persons. Others such as Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico similarly regretted the violence against LGBT people, supporting the findings in Madrigal-Borloz’s report.

South Africa expressed support for the mandate and agreed that effective measures are necessary to eliminate the social stigma associated with gender diversity. In addition, Australia acknowledged the history of diverse gender identities in its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, such as the recognition of a third gender identity, noting that it has more to do when it comes to the protection of the rights of LGBTI persons.

Despite the overwhelming support of member States in the room, there were a number of States from the African and MENA regions not in attendance.

‘The Independent Expert’s mandate is to protect people from violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. No person should suffer violence or discrimination on any ground. All States should stand for that, support the principle of non-discrimination and support the Expert in his mandate,’ said ISHR’s programme manager and legal counsel Tess McEvoy.


Contact: Tess McEvoy

Photo Credit: United Nations WebTV

GA73 | UN expert highlights the critical role of defenders in sustainable development


Human rights defenders must be given a platform to freely and peacefully assemble so that the most vulnerable in society are protected, as Clément Nyaletsossi Voule discussed in his report, presented to the General Assembly on October 17, 2018. Voule's report focused on the links between the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the United Nations' 2030 Agenda. While presenting his report, Voule noted that the achievement of the SDGs depends on those who express their voices. ‘Contributions by civil society are vital,’ he stated.

‘It is up to States to create a safe, enabling environment for these voices,’ he added. ‘If these voices are restricted, services and goods for those most vulnerable are depleted.’

States responded to Voule's report. For example, Morocco agreed that civil society’s contributions to the SDGs were undeniable, and the United Kingdom agreed to focus more efforts on protecting human rights defenders.

However, the conversation took a turn when the United States, instead of engaging with Voule’s report, criticised Syria, Iran, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua and China for their actions that violate fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and association, including torturing, detaining and even killing individuals in response to their civil activism and for developing laws that restrict the rights of NGOs.

The US remarks led to a line of responses from those States criticised. These States similarly did not comment on Voule’s report.

‘We were disappointed by the decision taken by some States not to engage constructively in the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur. We urge States to ensure they use these spaces and dialogues to work towards actual human rights protections on the ground,’ said ISHR programme manager Tess McEvoy.

Despite the conversation’s turn, it is important to note that Voule’s report made a strong, explicit link between civil society and the SDGs. Civil society’s voice is paramount to improving people’s lives, and it is vital to protect that voice.

During the dialogue, the US also noted the resolution on freedom of association and assembly it will present during this session of the Third Committee for the first time. ‘After the US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, we query whether presenting this resolution at this session may be part of attempts by the US to establish a foothold in the human rights scene in the Third Committee,’ commented ISHR’s New York Director Eleanor Openshaw.


Contact: Tess McEvoy


Photo Credit: ISHR

AG73 l Tentatives du Burundi de faire taire un organe de contrôle de l'ONU rejetées par le comité de droits de l'Homme de l'Assemblée Générale


Un vote du Troisième Comité de l’Assemblée Générale (AG) aujourd’hui a permis de réaffirmer qu'un organe de l'ONU chargé de surveiller la situation des droits humains au Burundi, était parfaitement en droit de présenter son rapport à l'AG, rejetant les efforts du Burundi visant à l’en empêcher. Avec un vote de 73 contre 33 voix, les Etats membres ont confirmé que la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi  présentera bien son rapport à la fin du mois au Comité et établira un dialogue avec les Etats à cet effet. 

‘Que la Commission d'enquête puisse présenter son rapport n'aurait même pas du être remis en cause – le Burundi tente tout simplement d’éviter tout passage au peigne fin de sa situation nationale’, confie Madeleine Sinclair d’ISHR. ‘Le résultat du vote est très positif pour celles et ceux cherchant à ce que justice soit faite dans le pays.’ 

Suite à ce vote, la Namibie a souligné dans un discours percutant qu’il ‘n’était pas possible au sein de l’ONU de sélectionner les commissions de droits de l’Homme que l’on préfère et celle que l’on n’aime pas’. La Namibie s’est toutefois abstenue lors du vote. 

Le Botswana a été le seul Etat africain ayant voté en faveur de la Commission, alors que le Rwanda – seul autre Etat africain ayant voté pour la création de la Commission d’enquête par le Conseil des droits de l’Homme en 2016 – s’est abstenu. 

Le vote de ce matin a fait suite aux tentatives du Burundi de mettre des bâtons dans les roues de la Commission d’enquête, niant l’existence d’une base légale permettant à la Commission de présenter son rapport à l’Assemblée Générale, et demandant conseil au Bureau des affaires juridiques (OLA) de l’ONU. Cette requête a été confirmée par un vote du Troisième Comité. 

Ce matin, le Burundi en a toutefois contesté la conclusion confirmant la base légale permettant à la Commission de présenter son rapport. En prenant la parole au sein du Comité, le Burundi a souligné qu’un conseil rédigé en quelques jours n’a pu qu’être préparé au préalable, faisant référence à un processus ‘politique’. 

Plaisantant sur les critiques visant généralement la lenteur, et non pas la rapidité, du travail du Secrétariat, le Secrétaire du Comité a expliqué que l’OLA avait été averti d’une possible requête de la part du Troisième Comité, et s’était donc préparé dans les délais nécessaires. 

Etablir la base légale permettant à la Commission de présenter son rapport constituait un simple procédé d’examen des résolutions et pratiques récentes, explique Madeleine Sinclair. Pour celle-ci, ‘il ne s’agit pas d’une question juridique complexe.’ 

La Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi a été établie par les Etats membres pendant une session du Conseil des droits de l’Homme en septembre 2016, afin d’enquêter sur les graves abus et violations de droits de l’Homme commis dans le pays depuis avril 2015. Son mandat a été renouvelé en 2017, accompagné d’une décision l’enjoignant spécifiquement de rendre un rapport à la 73ème session de l’AG. Le mandat a été à nouveau renouvelé le mois dernier pour une durée d’un an en reconnaissance du besoin d’une surveillance constante de la situation au Burundi.

Le Burundi n’a pas autorisé la Commission à entrer sur son territoire, ayant désigné ses membres personae non gratae et s’en étant personnellement pris à eux/elles, notamment au sein du Troisième Comité l’année dernière. 

Plus tôt dans la semaine, ISHR et d’autres ONGs ont exhorté les Etats à voter en faveur d’une invitation de la Commission. 


Contact : Madeleine Sinclair :


Photo:  UN Geneva 

GA73 | Civil society can help you do things better, says Bachelet to States


In her first exchange with States at the UN General Assembly's Third Committee session, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke repeatedly of the value of engagement with civil society as well as States' responsibility to ensure an environment conducive to their work. 

‘When civil society sits at the table, policies are usually more interesting and more sustainable,' she noted. 'Civil society can help you figure out how to do things better.' 

She added that threats, attacks and reprisals were not just unacceptable but self -defeating. 

 'Jailing critics does not make society safer, but rather deepens grievances,’ she noted. ‘We need to be recommitted to the protection of defenders.’

Engagement of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) with States was also a topic of debate. States repeatedly questioned OHCHR’s impartiality when it came to reviewing human rights situations.  Bachelet responded referencing the blocks put on OHCHR’s ability to monitor and report. 

‘Give OHCHR access to your country to assist you fulfil your human rights obligations,’ she added. 

Finally, how to better use the different parts of the UN system to avert human rights crisis was discussed.  In regard to OHCHR sharing information on human rights violations with the Security Council, Bachelet was clear that the early warning signs of conflict needed to be heeded and that different parts of the system needed to work together to prevent conflict. 

‘Prevention will be a core part of our work,’ she noted. 

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw

Photo: Michelle Bachelet Collection

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