10 Jun

The independent scrutiny of UN Treaty Bodies is particularly vital in contexts of acute crisis and in countries which fail to cooperate with the system, a group of 55 NGOs says to the Committees as they are holding their annual chairpersons meeting.

07 Jun

In an online discussion organised by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), Uyghur camp survivor Gülbahar Jalilova shared her story of long-term arbitrary detention. Her testimony echoes mounting evidence of human rights violations that call for systematic UN monitoring and public reporting.  

01 Jun

ISHR joined 64 organisations* from around the world to call on the Egyptian authorities, including President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to take immediate action to end the Egyptian authorities’ wholesale crackdown on independent organisations and peaceful dissent.

28 May

ISHR welcomes the adoption of a historic resolution during the 30th Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council establishing the first-ever ongoing commission of inquiry to address human rights violations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including by examining Israeli violations targeting the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line and root causes of Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid.

26 May

Germain Rukuki's right to a swift and fair appeal against his prison sentence must be upheld, says a coalition of 43 NGOs in a joint letter to Burundi authorities.

Version française ici

LGBTI rights | Factsheets on UN Special Procedures

Rainbow flag photo credit: Common Wikimedia Ludovic Bertron


For a Chinese version of the factsheets updated in November 2018, please click here.

ISHR and ILGA World have looked through the work of 39 UN Special Procedures over the last eight years to compile factsheets listing the references and recommendations made by these experts regarding LGBTI persons, sexual orientation, sex characteristics, gender identity and expression.

Focusing on the Special Procedures that have made the most regular and in-depth references to issues affecting LGBTI persons, the factsheets examine all thematic reports, reports arising from country visits, and communications sent to different States between January 2011 and November 2019. Find out more about the trends over the past year here.

During this period, 37 Special Procedures have made SOGIESC references in over 400 country visits, thematic reports and communications. In both 2018 and 2019, almost every second report contained some reference to SOGIESC. However, the level of detail and analysis, as well as which mandates do or do not engage with SOGIESC issues regularly, show that there are still oppportunities for LGBTI defenders to strengthen this work.

In addition, since 2016, the Independent Expert on SOGI has played a vital role in adding to the amount and analytical depth of the SOGIESC references. So far, according to the information published on the OHCHR website, the mandate holders have conducted 4 country visits, sent 46 communications and prepared 6 thematic reports exclusively centred on SOGIESC.

Explore our infographics and fact sheets below, and later this year we will also present a more detailed analysis of SOGIESC references, as well as suggestions for future improvements and LGBTI defenders’ engagement with this part of the UN system.

Read this article to find out more about the efforts of Special Procedures to push for better protection of the human rights of LGBTI persons over the last year.

The experts on leprosy and environment have not yet included any references to LGBTI persons or issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics.

Photo credit: Common Wikimedia Ludovic Bertron

Treaty Bodies | NGOs concerned with countries rejecting online reviews


The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the scrutiny of UN Treaty Bodies is creating a problematic and growing protection gap worldwide. In a welcome effort to overcome these challenges, UN Treaty Bodies started holding special online sessions to review State parties. However, consent is being sought from the State parties to be reviewed online, which has resulted in a number of States easily escaping scrutiny.

A joint NGO submission to the 33rd meeting of UN Treaty Bodies chairpersons suggests that instead of seeking the content from States parties, the UN Treaty Bodies ought to inform them about online reviews. The letter recommends the Committees to draw inspiration from the practice of regional human rights bodies, who merely inform States about reviews, rather than seeking their approval. 

"Out of 14 online reviews undertaken or planned online by the Committees since the start of the pandemic, 7 of them have been of Western States" says ISHR's Vincent Ploton. "It is hugely detrimental to the whole system that countries that most direly need to be scrutinised can so easily escape by refusing the modalities of online reviews. We hope that going forward a fair regional balance of States parties will be reviewed by the Committees," he concludes.

Illustration: ISHR

HRC46 | Principled action needed as China steps up efforts to rein in accountability



Kicking off the 46th session of the UN’s Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet underscored in her global update that in China ‘fundamental rights and civic freedoms continue to be curtailed in the name of national security and COVID-19 response’. This includes ‘arbitrary detention and unfair trials’ of human rights defenders and lawyers, as well as the investigation of ‘more than 600 people’ under Hong Kong’s National Security Law.

Setting the scene

The situation in Hong Kong, Uyghur and Tibetan regions was also on the Council’s opening agenda, raised by foreign ministers of 13 countries, including Germany, Japan, Denmark, Canada and the United States, as well as the European Union’s foreign policy head. Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu reiterated concerns at UN and civil society findings on Uyghurs, and ‘expect[s] transparency’ as it ‘continue[s] to follow developments around a visit by the High Commissioner’. Sustained international concern reflects growing evidence of atrocities committed against Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims, including serious allegations of systematic rape and sexual abuse; pervasive interference in religious life; and forced separation of children from their families, as noted by UN religious freedom expert in his report on anti-Muslim hatred presented to the Council.

Over two and a half years after publicly requesting prompt and unhindered access to Xinjiang, Bachelet still reiterates the ‘need for independent and comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation’, while remaining ‘confident’  that her dialogue with the Chinese government will result in ‘mutually agreeable parameters for [her] visit’. In response, the Chinese government regretted she had ‘launched wanton accusations against China based on unfounded information’.

‘Looking at China’s hard-line statements, one cannot but wonder what the High Commissioner considers constructive dialogue,’ said Sarah Brooks, Programme Director at the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).

‘Two and a half years since her first request, we still have no transparency over any meaningful steps taken by China or by the High Commissioner to advance a visit with unhindered access’, said Brooks. ‘She should urgently start remote monitoring and reporting, following her predecessor’s steps on Kashmir and Venezuela; otherwise, the Chinese authorities may simply run out the clock’.

Describing rights violations carried out on an ‘industrial scale’ as ‘beyond the pale’ in a strongly-worded statement, UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab pointed to States’ ‘collective duty to ensure this does not go unanswered’. From the position of a re-elected Council member, Raab urged the Council to ‘live up to its responsibilities’ by adopting a resolution to secure such ‘urgent and unfettered access’ to UN human rights experts.

Politics vs. principle

In the weeks of Council debate that followed, twenty (20) States shared concerns over China’s human rights situation in exchanges with the High Commissioner, and UN experts on human rights defenders and on torture.  Austria called attention to ‘severe human rights violations disproportionately targeting Uyghurs’, including in ‘political re-education camps’, while Czechia urged the immediate release of human rights defenders Yu Wensheng, Ilham Tohti, Tashpolat Tiyip and Li Yuhan, as well as Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam. While adopting a more careful approach, even a few Global South countries have also taken note; Ghana briefly raised concerns and ‘urge[d] the Chinese government at all times to continue to protect and uphold the human rights of all its citizens’.

Against this, China has pooled increasing diplomatic support among a loose group of countries (list below) to back two joint statements delivered by Belarus and Cuba, expressing support for actions on Hong Kong and Xinjiang respectively. Worryingly, a number of countries, such as Tunisia, Ecuador or Colombia, who have nurtured a profile of being progressive players in multilateral fora, have reportedly been pressured into supporting these statements, or echoing this ‘national sovereignty’ narrative in their bilateral addresses to the Council.

‘Transactional diplomacy, including on vaccines, flourishes in an environment where foreign policies lack principle’, stressed Raphael Viana David, ISHR’s Asia Programme Officer: ‘by not addressing the situation on its merits, those countries deliberately chose to turn a blind eye to mounting allegations of sexual violence, persecution, and mass detention’.

‘States caught up in this diplomatic deal-making are deaf to the very voices that should be steering any discussion of human rights violations, wherever they occur: that of victims and human rights defenders’, he adds.

In a dialogue with the High Commissioner, Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao urged her to stand in solidarity with independent civil society, and voices in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet and elsewhere. Click here to read the full statement, or watch the video below:

Avoiding scrutiny at any cost

Concerns expressed by the ‘Special Procedures’ mandate holders appointed by the Council  were met during the session with an equal level of intransigence, taking the shape of attacks on individual experts, and threatening assertions on the Special Procedures system itself. A statement by the Chinese delegation accusing the UN religious freedom expert of ‘serv[ing] as a political tool for anti-China forces’ prompted the Council’s Vice-President to interrupt the official for ‘derogatory and inflammatory remarks (…), not acceptable under the rules’. The mere mention of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang by the UN’s cultural rights expert, to illustrate the impact of Covid-19 measures on scientific freedom in her report, was met with a condemnation of her ‘ignorance’ for ‘speaking ill of China’, as the delegation urged her to ‘look within herself and address her mistakes and misunderstandings’.

Despite the effort to strong-arm diplomatic support, such attacks on the Council’s mechanisms and its mandate may still alienate many rights-respecting States. The core group of countries that systematically support China and repeatedly reference the UN Charter to urge avoiding ‘interfering in internal affairs’ and undermining State sovereignty remains somewhat limited – and mostly without credibility, as they often find themselves under deserved scrutiny for human rights violations. And the opportunities for garnering positive pushback continue to grow: a group of 53 countries, from Chile and Costa Rica to Georgia and South Korea, reminded the Council in a US-led statement that the UN Charter ‘also affirms that human rights are universal’, and that States have a duty to ‘ensure that human rights violations and abuses are addressing, including holding those responsible to account’. They called on all States to devote energies to protect rights everywhere ‘rather than shielding governments from criticism’.


For more information, please contact Sarah M Brooks (at or on Twitter at @sarahmcneer); or Raphael Viana David (at r.vianadavid@ishr.chT or on Twitter at @vdraphael).


States signatories (69) to joint statement on Hong Kong delivered by Belarus during the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders: Afghanistan, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Comoros, Republic of Congo, China, Cuba, DPRK, Djibouti, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Laos, Lesotho, Lebanon, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal , Nicaragua, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tonga, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, UAE, Tanzania, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

States signatories (64) to joint statement on Xinjiang delivered by Cuba during the General Debate on Item 4 (64): Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, China, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Cuba, DPRK, Djibouti, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Kiribati, Laos, Lesotho, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, UAE, Tanzania, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.


Image credits: Izabela Markova - cropped artwork (CC-BY-NC-SA)

HRC46 | Repeated calls to protect civic space and the independence of institutions in Venezuela


Following the recent renewal of the mandate of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela and with the ongoing work of OHCHR in the country, the Human Rights Council received three oral updates. The High Commissioner reported on cooperation between OHCHR and Venezuela and on the human rights situation in the country, and the Chair of the fact-finding mission spoke of  accountability efforts for past violations.

‘Oral updates provide members with the opportunity to track cooperation by Venezuela and the implementation of UN recommendations to the country,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.

The High Commissioner’s first update focused on what she considered to be advances made and indications of areas for future cooperation between OHCHR and Venezuela.

This was notable given Venezuela’s President Maduro’s statement made at the start of the Council session, in which he contrasted the cooperation and technical assistance provided by OHCHR with what he termed the ‘inquisitor’ mechanism – the fact-finding mission – which, he claimed, was established by states seeking to achieve regime change in the country.  He seemed to suggest that the drive for accountability put engagement with OHCHR at risk, noting, ‘we will not reduce our cooperation with OHCHR as a result of the ideological push by these states’.

‘The High Commissioner’s approach has commonly been to emphasize dialogue and cooperation over an enumeration of ongoing violations or weaknesses in cooperation, which can be controversial’ noted Openshaw.

‘Of course, accountability should never be sacrificed to secure (limited) cooperation’, she added.

Bachelet was clearer about the need for accountability in her update on the human rights situation in the country, something that chimed with parts of the update from the Chair of the fact-finding mission.  The Chair spoke of ongoing impunity for violations and targeting of protestors. She confirmed that there was no sign of improvement since the presentation of the mission’s report findings in October last year.

Furthermore, she noted that, despite delays in recruiting staff due to the liquidity crisis facing the UN the mission’s work has continued.  It has put out a new call for information and documentation relevant to its mandate.    

Concerns about harassment and criminalization of civil society were voiced by OHCHR and the Mission, as well as several states.

Ecuador spoke of the ‘Law on Hatred’  being used to ‘silence dissent via an non-independent judicial process’ and emphasized the need restore democracy in Venezuela.  The UK asked what the international community should do to protect Venezuelan civil society.

ISHR was pleased to join Cepaz in delivering a statement on the threats and attacks against civil society – including the detention of members of Azul Positivo – and the lack of implementation of the raft of recommendations issued by the UN to date. 

In the dialogue with states, questions were asked about cooperation with Special Procedures, as only one Special Rapporteur has so far visited the country since the Council requested 10 be allowed to visit. In addition, some states mentioned the desire for a permanent OHCHR presence in the country to be established with a full protection and prevention mandate.

OHCHR will provide the Council with a detailed assessment of the implementation of the recommendations made to Venezuela, at the Council session in June, and the fact-finding mission will provide its next report to the Council at the session in September.  

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw

Photo: image from UN WebTv.

HRC46 | Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala in focus


Each year, the Human Rights Council receives reports on the situation of human rights in countries where the Office of the High Commissioner is present. This session of the Council celebrated a dialogue on Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras. Click to watch recorded statements


Any discussion about human rights in Colombia will and must include the killings of human rights defenders. "Frontline's Defenders 2020 report shows that HRD assassinations in Colombia are seven times higher than any other country", said ISHR's Valeria Castellanos. "Defenders are not safer now than they were during the armed conflict". 

In her presentation, the High Commissioner observed a significant intensification of violence in Colombia, particularly due to the expansion of non-state armed groups. She highlighted the need to deploy civil institutions and authorities for the prevention of violence and the expansion of human rights guarantees. 

NGO Comisión Colombiana de Juristas echoed the recommendations of the High Commissioner and her calling on Colombia to double down its efforts for the implementation of all chapters of the peace agreement. 

Twitter: @Coljuristas

Colombia responded by acknowledging the danger faced by human rights defenders and stating that the source of such violence is the number of armed criminal groups involved in illegal activities, especially drug trafficking. 


The erosion of civic space in 2020, with attacks and intimidation to human rights defenders, including journalists, was one of the topics highlighted by the High Commissioner. In February, Decree 5257 was adopted, reforming regulations of non-governmental organizations for development, and - according to the High Commissioner - this decree may represent a problem for the work of human rights defenders. Regarding the issues of impunity and corruption, Guatemala's government commented that public institutions on the matter had been reinforced, particularly relevant prosecutors. 


The High Commissioner pointed out that since 2016, there has been a contraction of civic space in Honduras, with such a trend intensifying in 2020. Social protests became more common this year. Human rights defenders have been attacked and the killing of activists and journalists has obtained little to no action from the part of the judicial system. The High Commissioner underlined that national bodies for the protection of human rights in Honduras have weakened with time and are still saturated by problems of corruption and impunity. 

In response to the presentation of the High Commissioner, Honduras reaffirmed the importance of cooperative work for the protection of human rights defenders and ensured being open to future visits from Special Procedures of the Council. 

Finally, Latin American states took advantage of the opportunity during the session to express their preoccupation with the reduced financial support to the OHCHR in the region. Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and Peru solicited further aid for the protection of victims of human rights violations. 


For any further information, please contact Eleanor Openshaw by email ( or on Twitter (@eleanoropenshaw).

Foto: Flickr / UN Geneva

CDH46 | Colombia, Honduras y Guatemala bajo el foco


Cada año, el Consejo de Derechos Humanos recibe informes sobre la situación de los derechos humanos en los países donde hay presencia de oficinas de la Alta Comisionada de Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos. Esta sesión del Consejo celebró un diálogo sobre Colombia, Guatemala y Honduras.Ver declaraciones grabadas


Cualquier discusión sobre la situación de los derechos humanos en Colombia hablará y debe hablar del nivel de asesinatos de las personas defensoras. 'El informe de 2020 de Frontline Defenders muestra que los asesinatos de personas defensoras en Colombia son siete veces más altos que en cualquier otro país", dijo ISHR's Valeria Castellanos. 'Las personas defensoras no están más seguras ahora que durante los años de conflicto'.

En su presentación, la Alta Comisionada observó una significativa  intensificación de la violencia en el país, principalmente debido a la expansión de grupos armados no estatales. Destacó la necesidad del despliegue de instituciones civiles y autoridades para la prevención de violencia y la expansión de garantías de derechos humanos.

La ONG Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, hizo eco de la recomendación de la Alta y de su llamamiento a Colombia a que redoblara sus esfuerzos para la implementación de todos los capítulos del acuerdo de paz.  


Twitter: @Coljuristas

Colombia respondió para decir que se encuentre al tanto de los peligros enfrentados por personas defensoras de derechos humanos y que la fuente de esta violencia son los grupos criminales armados envueltos en actividades ilícitas, particularmente el tráfico de drogas. 


La erosión del espacio cívico durante 2020,  con ataques e intimidaciones a defensores de derechos humanos, incluyendo periodistas, fue uno de los temas resaltados por la Alta. En el mes de febrero se adoptó la Ley 5257, la cual reforma regulaciones dirigidas a organismos no-gubernamentales para el desarrollo y - según la Alta Comisionada -  puede ser problemática para la labor dirigida por personas defensoras de derechos humanos. Con respeto a cuestiones de impunidad y corrupción, el gobierno de Guatemala comentó que se habían fortalecido instancias públicas en la materia, particularmente las fiscalías correspondientes.


La Alta Comisionada resaltó que desde 2016 ha habido una contracción en el espacio cívico en Honduras, siendo esta una tendencia que se intensificó en el año 2020. Protestas sociales se hicieron más comunes en este año. Personas defensoras han sido atacadas y asesinatos de activistas y periodistas han obtenido reducidas o nulas acciones por parte del sistema judicial.  La Alta Comisionada comentó que los cuerpos nacionales para la protección de derechos humanos en Honduras se han debilitado con el paso del tiempo y siguen impregnados por problemáticas sistémicas de corrupción e impunidad. 

Respondiendo a la presentación de la Alta Comisionada, Honduras reafirmó la importancia del trabajo conjunto para la protección de defensores de derechos humanos y su apertura a visitas por parte de los Procedimientos Especiales del Consejo.

Finalmente, varios estados latinoamericanos aprovecharon la sesión para mencionar su preocupación por el reducido financiamiento de la OACNUDH en la región. Urugay, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panamá y Perú solicitaron más apoyo para la protección de víctimas de violaciones de derechos humanos.


Para cualquier información adicional, entrar en contacto con Eleanor Openshaw por email ( o en Twitter (@eleanoropenshaw).

Foto: Flickr / UN Geneva

Venezuela | Standing in solidarity with human rights defenders


Standing in solidarity with Venezuelan human rights defenders

The recent, ongoing and unwarranted detention of five members of the Venezuelan NGO ‘Azul Positivo’ is one more event in a series of threats, harassment, attacks, restrictions, reprisals and criminal proceedings against Venezuelan civil society organizations and human rights defenders, which has been intensifying since November 2020. In recent months and weeks, state agents have forcibly entered the offices of civil society organizations; public threats have been made against defenders who have been engaging with human rights mechanisms, NGO bank accounts have been frozen and arrest warrants issued for aid workers.

Venezuelan civil society operate in a context of serious legal and administrative obstacles with domestic laws used to target human rights defenders, such as the ‘Law Against Hate’, or having the effect of limiting the operations of NGOs and restricting their access to funding, essentially blocking the work of many organizations vital for Venezuelans in need.

In a public statement, a number of UN independent human rights experts and regional experts have described threats and measures taken against Venezuelan civil society since November 2020 as amounting to ‘systematic persecution and stigmatization.’

It is essential that humanitarian and human rights organizations responding to the grave humanitarian and human rights crises in the country, pushing for accountability for violations and abuses and the return of guarantees provided by democratic institutions and processes are able to do their work without fear or hindrance. 

Human rights defenders are critical, constructive and essential to democracies and the functioning of the rule of law. Attempts to silence and cow them are counterproductive and shameful. 

We urge the Venezuelan authorities to ensure that harassment and threats against Venezuelan defenders stop and for all international legal guarantees to be respected.  We call on all states and UN bodies and agencies to actively support civil society organizations, defenders and activists and to speak up loudly and consistently for the right to defend human rights in Venezuela and globally.

We are inspired by the daily commitment and courage of Venezuelan human rights defenders and humanitarian workers and stand in solidary with our Venezuelan partners and friends.

Amnesty International

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)


Civil Rights Defenders

Conectas Direitos Humanos

Freedom House

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

Human Rights Watch

International Commission of Jurists

International Service for Human Rights

People in Need

Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)


Contact:  Eleanor Openshaw

Photo: EfectoEco

UNGA75 | Country-specific mandates discuss increased persecution and detention of journalists and defenders


In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, interactive dialogues between country-specific mandate holders and member States took place in a virtual setting. While several important issues were discussed during these dialogues, technical issues posed challenges for those monitoring, as well as States participating.

Arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances and imprisonment of political prisoners were discussed in several dialogues. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea noted the lack of progress in the situation of political prisoners in the country. The Special Rapporteur lamented those languishing in prisons with no prospect of release. Concerns were also voiced by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK who called for the release of all political prisoners. A call that was supported by several States, such as the Czech Republic and the EU, while Germany expressed concern about female detainees particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. The Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi stated that freeing defenders, journalists, political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and guaranteeing the freedom of press and assembly were necessary steps to improve the human rights situation. In the run up to parliamentary elections in Somalia, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia called on the government to strengthen democratic space by protecting the right to freedom of expression and assembly, free from harassment, intimidation or arbitrary arrest.

The protection of human rights defenders was another predominant theme in the interactive dialogues. The report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran focused on intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detention, and execution of protesters, defenders, environmentalists, and women human rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur regretted that in spite of steps to temporarily release prisoners since the COVID-19 outbreak, others had not been released, resulting in death. The Special Rapporteur called for the urgent release of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, currently imprisoned under abysmal conditions, while Switzerland welcomed the release of defender Narges Mohammadi. Norway and the Czech Republic denounced the harassment and detention of defenders and called for their release, while Canada and Germany expressed concern about reprisals against defenders and their families. 

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea stated that there would be no long term change to the human rights situation unless journalists and defenders were able to carry out their work. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the Special Envoy of the Secretary General on Myanmar, the EU, UK, US and Czech Republic spoke about the deteriorating situation for journalists, defenders, and civil society, including persecution, criminalisation and attacks in a culture of impunity. The Special Rapporteur expressed gratitude to defenders for their first-person perspective and role in fulfilling her mandate.

Once again we heard certain countries voice their opposition to these integral and important mandates - including Belarus, Burundi, China, Cameroon, DPRK, Eritrea, Russia, Iran, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. We encourage all States to cooperate with these all Special procedures mandate holders.

Contact: Tess McEvoy,

Photo: Photo: Joao Araujo Pinto 

GA75 | Civil society assess outcomes of Third Committee session

Joint civil society statement on outcomes of the UNGA’s Third Committee 

As we continue to respond to  the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, civil society discuss various outcomes at this session of the Third Committee, despite additional challenges associated with the session being held mostly online. 

We welcome the joint statement on reprisals led by the United Kingdom and joined by a cross-regional group of countries, calling on all States and the UN to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for cases of intimidation and reprisals against those who engage or seek to engage with the UN. We welcome in particular the increased number of States joining this year (75 compared to 71 last year).

One highlight of this session was a powerful joint statement on China by a cross-regional group of 39 Member States. This statement represents a strong public rebuke of the Chinese government’s widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet, and is further proof that a growing number of governments are braving Beijing’s threats of retaliation and voicing alarm. The joint statement endorsed an appeal from 50 UN human rights experts for the creation of a UN mechanism for monitoring human rights in China. It also urged China to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights unfettered access to Xinjiang. We hope the Chinese government will heed the message of this statement and end the abuses, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong.

We welcome a resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age. The resolution contends with many new and emerging challenges for the right to privacy worldwide, with strong language on biometric technologies and encryption, as well as recommendations on artificial intelligence. The resolution has also crucially strengthened the link between privacy, equality and non-discrimination and once again expressed concern about threats and harassment faced by those defending human rights. We urge all States to take heed of these developments and implement the resolution to its full extent at the national level.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions by a vote. The resolution aims to uphold the right to life, liberty and security for everyone and acknowledges that impunity continues to be a major factor in the continuation of these executions. We support the additional reference to human rights defenders and the fact that this session’s resolution once again highlighted the targeting of specific groups of persons including killings of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, killings of members of indigenous communities, killings of persons related to their activities as human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists or demonstrators, or because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We welcome the successful rejection of an oral amendment proposed by a group of States attempting to remove the reference to particularly targeted groups by a vote.

We welcome support by an overwhelming majority of States for the resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty proposed by Mexico and Switzerland (on behalf of an Inter-Regional Task Force of States). A total of 120 UN Member States voted in favor of the text - including for the first time Djibouti, Lebanon and South Korea - while 39 voted against and 24 abstained. The text reiterates calls made in previous resolutions, most prominently for a halt of executions with the view to abolishing the death penalty. It also includes additions on the importance of civil society in public debate on the issue, the role of UN treaty bodies, the discriminatory application of the death penalty on women and the need to ensure that children, families and legal representatives are provided with adequate information about a pending execution. 

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on Inclusive development for and with persons with disabilities, urging non-discrimination, accessibility and inclusion in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including for women and girls with disabilities. In particular, we welcome the request for the Secretary-General to report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on persons with disabilities, and on the implementation of the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy. 

We deeply regret the 30 amendments were proposed by Russia and the United States across various resolutions relevant to gender. At the heart of these amendments were attempts to break consensus, weaken references to sexual and reproductive health, and delete references to UNFPA and WHO in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are concerned by constant attempts to limit access to sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls, particularly as access to these services have been diverted in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also disconcerting to see persistent attempts to erode progress achieved through extensive negotiations among Member States, particularly in regard to rollover resolutions. 

We welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM). The resolution included updates related to the impacts of COVID-19 and response measures on girls and root causes and efforts to end CEFM. The resolution acknowledged that adolescent girls are most affected by the CEFM and called for transformative, participatory and adequately funded COVID-19 response measures, including uninterrupted access and funding for sexual and reproductive health-care services; adolescent-centered services; and redistribution of unpaid care and domestic work. Unfortunately, the resolution did not reference multiple and intersecting forms of violence and discrimination or include survivor-centered approaches. Further, we deeply regret the presentation of 8 amendments by the US and Russia, which suggest a deprioritization of this issue, especially as we have seen a surge in cases in the context of COVID-19 and associated response measures.

We commend the support of a majority of Member States for the resolution on Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, presented by France and the Netherlands, which was adopted by a vote. Although we are encouraged by the rejection of 10 amendments presented by Russia and the US, we deeply regret the attempt to break global consensus on an issue widely recognized as a gross human rights violation and a public health issue, particularly as this year’s text addresses increased violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. While ultimately no delegation voted against the resolution, it is discouraging that the balance reached on sensitive issues following weeks of negotiations was called to a vote. 

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation presented by Burkina Faso (on behalf of African Group) and the resolution on Intensifying efforts to end obstetric fistula presented by Senegal (on behalf of African Group). These resolutions were technical rollovers (with no substantive changes to the respective 2018 texts) ultimately adopted by consensus. While we are deeply disappointed by the amendments presented by the US to delete references related to sexual and reproductive health in both texts and to delete references to UNFPA and WHO in an attempt to disregard their leadership and contributions in efforts to end obstetric fistula, we are encouraged that the majority of Member States stood behind these essential references and rejected the amendments. 

We welcome the passage of the resolution on Women and girls and the response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) presented by Spain that underscores the fundamental role of women and girls in pandemic responses, and calls for a gender responsive action to the pandemic. The text sends a powerful message to promote and protect the human rights of all women and girls and to end all forms of discrimination. While the resolution was adopted by consensus, we regret the six amendments presented by Russia and the US aimed at debilitating and reversing long-standing global agreements regarding women’s sexual and reproductive health, as well as the fundamental importance of the outcome documents and reviews related to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the ICPD. 

We note the adoption without a vote of the resolution on Strengthening national and international rapid response to the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on women and girls presented by Egypt (on behalf of Algeria, China, Saudi Arabia, and Zambia). We also commend the rejection of two amendments presented by the US to delete reference to the essential role played by the WHO and weaken the reference to sexual and reproductive health. However, we regret that the text falls short in addressing the impact of the pandemic on women and girls from a human rights perspective. The text fails to comprehensively address the sexual and reproductive health needs of all women and girls, turning a blind eye to the impact of lockdowns and quarantine measures on continued access to these essential services. We are disappointed that language from the General Assembly omnibus resolution on COVID-19 adopted by consensus barely two months ago on sexual and reproductive health in the pandemic was not included in the text.  

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on Trafficking in women and girls presented by the Philippines. While a technical rollover, we welcome additional references to COVID-19. The resolution calls on governments to establish or enhance preventive measures to address underlying causes, as well as risk factors that increase vulnerability to human trafficking - including poverty, gender inequality and stereotypes - and to allocate resources to programmes for the physical, psychological and social recovery of victims of human trafficking, including sexual and reproductive health-care services. While the resolution was adopted by consensus, we regret the attempt by the US to delete the reference to sexual and reproductive health-care services, which are essential for survivors, particularly given the same resolution in 2018 passed by consensus without any amendments presented.

We welcome the overwhelming cross-regional support to the resolution on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This resolution recognises ongoing systemic and systematic human rights violations in the country, urging the Iranian authorities to hold those responsible to account. We remain deeply concerned by impunity for deliberate use of unwarranted lethal force by security forces during the November 2019 protests, mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment and unfair trials in relation to the protests, and the intimidation and silencing of victims’ families. Other violations remain unaddressed, including the death penalty, discrimination against women and girls and ethnic and religious minorities, and the repression of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. These serious violations warrant continued scrutiny by the UN Secretary-General mandated by this resolution. We urge Member States to support the resolution when considered in the upcoming Plenary session.

The cross-regional support demonstrated by the adoption of the resolution on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic sends a strong message to the Syrian government, Russia and other parties to the conflict responsible for war crimes. The resolution underscores the essential role of cross-border aid mechanisms in bringing life saving humanitarian assistance, especially in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, urging the Security Council to reauthorize the use of border crossings of Bab al-Salam and al-Ya‘rubiyah. We welcome the condemnation of the government’s human rights violations, including use of sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals, denial of humanitarian access, arbitrary arrest of civilians, detention, torture and killing of detainees, as well as violations by anti-government groups. We welcome continued calls for accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and urge Member States to follow through on the resolution, and work within the Security Council and the General Assembly to ensure cross-border humanitarian assistance resumes.

We welcome the passage, by overwhelming support, of the resolution on the Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. The resolution highlights the urgency of addressing root causes of human rights abuses and the critical need for accountability for violations of international law against the Rohingya and ethnic minorities in Chin, Shan, and Kachin states. With strong language on humanitarian access, statelessness, systematic and institutionalized discrimination, accountability for sexual and gender-based violence, the need for credible and transparent justice processes, and the need for free and inclusive elections, the resolution sends a timely message on the need for action by the Myanmar government, the UN Secretariat and Security Council.

The resolution on Situation of human rights in the Democractic People's Republic of Korea was adopted by consensus, with Belarus, China, DPRK, Russia, Syria and Venezuela disassociating. We welcome the condemnation of ongoing widespread and systematic violations of human rights in the DPRK and the importance of following up on recommendations contained in the 2014 report of the Commission of Inquiry. The resolution urges the Security Council to engage on the situation in DPRK and consider referring it to the International Criminal Court. 

We welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on the Human rights treaty body system. We regret that States were not able to ‘welcome’ the report of the co-facilitators of the 2020 review of the treaty body system. We urge all States to follow through with their reaffirmation of the formula contained in resolution 68/268, and allocate the corresponding financial and human resources in the Fifth Committee that the treaty bodies require to function effectively.

The slender opportunities for civil society to engage with the Third Committee became even fewer during Covid-19 times as in-person restrictions did away with encounters with States delegates and UN officials at UNHQ. Given this, it was deeply disappointing that more States did not extend an invitation to civil society organisations to join online informals and defend the presence of civil society as observers. Keeping abreast of the timing of informals was also challenging as this information was not included in the UN Journal as is generally the case. These additional challenges were particularly disappointing, given that well before the start of the Third Committee session in April, 14 civil society organisations called on UN agencies, mechanisms, and bodies to ensure that, in adapting their work to social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, they not limit the meaningful inclusion of civil society voices in UN discussions.

Watch a video of an abbreviated version the joint statement read by civil society here:

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Amnesty International
Association for Progressive Communications - APC
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Global Justice Center
Human Rights in China (HRIC)
Human Rights Watch
Impact Iran
International Disability Alliance
International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region (IPPFWHR)
International Service for Human Rights
International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC)
OutRight Action International
Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (UAF)

Conact: Tess McEvoy,

Photo: Screnshot of UNTV


UNGA75 | Council has shown the fight for human rights continues despite Covid-19, says President


Covid-19 is not only a health emergency but a human rights crisis, and the Human Rights Council has shown itself to be ‘nimble and flexible’ in facing challenges - by introducing innovations to its ways of working, the President of the Human Rights Council told State delegates in a dialogue held with the UN’s Third Committee (human rights).  She also underlined the importance of the work of civil society in the work of the Council, and the coordination between the UN in New York and Geneva.

In regard to Council innovation over the last months, the President noted the use of digital tools for meetings and information apps.  Through the use of virtual meetings, many people around the world had been reached that the Council would otherwise not have, which was key to ensuring that people around the world could see that human rights were being promoted and protected despite the crises. These innovations in her view, should be retained beyond the span of the current crisis.

On the interaction between UN bodies in Geneva and New York, Tichy-Fisslberger said that ‘this is one UN system and the UN should deliver as one … in the world out there, nobody cares if it is one body or another’. Opportunities should be taken to compare analysis between delegates in different spaces, as these ‘add to the consistency, relevant and effectiveness of all our work’, she added.

In that regard, arguably the most interesting State interventions came in the form of questions on specific opportunities for greater synergy, such as Croatia’s enquiry as to how the Council should feed in to the General Assembly’s special session on Covid-19 in December.

The President spoke of civil society actors as the ‘cornerstone of the work of the Council’ making the Council’s work ‘more tangible and connected to the reality on the ground.’ Human Rights Council successes so far ‘would not be possible without the active participation of civil society’, she added.

Several States spoke of the supposed politicisation of the Council.  This the President pushed back against, requesting member States to engage with Special Procedures, for example, and voice their opinion rather than fail to engage and then accuse the mandate-holders of bias. 

Finally, Tichy-Fisslberger noted that the UN’s financial crisis has had its impact on the Council workings although Covid-19 had also allowed for savings related to conference services.  Over the next months she was keen to keep looking at means to increase Council efficiency and effectiveness. 

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw,

Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré


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