A preview of what to look out for at the upcoming Human Rights Council session: 27 February - 24 March 2017
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The increasing global crackdown on civil society and persistent attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) underscore the importance of guaranteeing the continuation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Regrettably, HRDs around the globe are being intimidated and harassed, arbitrarily detained, physically attacked and killed.
This session, the proposed renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate provides a key opportunity for the Council to strengthen the recognition of the crucial role HRDs play in our societies. The mandate is fundamental to continuing to provide visibility of the situation of HRDs and highlight the need for their protection and ability to work in a safe and secure environment.
The Special Rapporteur has made concrete contributions to the protection of HRDs, especially those most exposed and vulnerable, including defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights; minority rights; defenders pushing for corporate accountability; environmental defenders; defenders of LGBTI rights; women defenders; and those promoting corporate accountability. The mandate has also been vital in disseminating and promoting implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
The Special Rapporteur’s newly released report to the Council focuses on the activities his office carried out between June 2014 and March 2017. The report highlights his commitment to strengthen support for national mechanisms for the protection of defenders so they can be fully operational and effective. He also seeks to reinforce initiatives to improve and measure the implementation of recommendations and resolutions on the protection of defenders.
The Special Rapporteur stresses that more can be done under his mandate and that it is fundamental that his office continues to serve as a ‘watchdog, a warning mechanism and a crucial resource for thousands of people’. ‘We must be bolder and more creative in order to face up to threats that weigh heavily on civil society as a whole and on every individual fighting for fundamental rights and freedoms’ the Special Rapporteur emphasises.
Click here for our summary of the report.
The core group of States leading Council action to combat reprisals against those cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms will present a joint statement. The core group is composed of Fiji, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland and Uruguay.
ISHR welcomes this anticipated statement and any calls for the UN and States to prevent and ensure accountability for acts of intimidation and reprisals, a call echoed in the report prepared by ISHR for the UN Secretary-General.
The Secretary General's most recent report published in September 2016, once again documents several cases of reprisals and intimidation by Council members who are meant to uphold the highest standard of human rights promotion and protection and ‘fully cooperate with the Council’. This includes Burundi, China, Iraq, Japan, and Venezuela.
ISHR also welcomes the designation by the Secretary-General of a high-level official - Assistant Secretary General Andrew Gilmour - to receive, consider and respond to allegations of intimidation and reprisals against HRDs and other civil society actors engaging with the UN.
However, given the severity and prevalence of alleged reprisals, the Council, its President and Bureau need to do more to fulfil their moral and legal duty to prevent and promote accountability for threats and attacks against those who submit information or seek to otherwise engage with the Council.
The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights will present her annual report to the Council this session. It focuses on the threats that fundamentalism and extremism pose to human rights. More specifically, it raises concern over the wave of threats and attacks perpetrated by fundamentalists and extremists against women, minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as their impact on the enjoyment of cultural rights.
The report highlights that women human rights defenders have been leading the fight against fundamentalism by defending the right of women to take part in cultural life without discrimination. The Special Rapporteur urges States to take all measures to respect and ensure the rights of human rights defenders challenging fundamentalism and extremism, to support them, and guarantee that attacks against them are investigated and measures of protection are adopted when necessary.
During the 32nd session of the Council last June, a cross-regional group of States delivered a statement expressing their commitment to be guided by objective criteria to determine when the Council should take action in relation to a particular issue or country situation of concern. ISHR urges States to join this commitment and to take into consideration relevant and objective criteria for initiating Council action.
ISHR also reiterates the call made in a joint civil society paper published on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Council that sets out steps towards a more accessible, effective and protective Human Rights Council.
At the March 2016 session, the High Commissioner and over a dozen states, individually and jointly, raised significant concerns about human rights in China and called for the unconditional release of defenders and others arbitrarily detained for peaceful exercise of rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. However, there has been little or no change in the country, and torture, enforced disappearances and ongoing abuses of 'residential surveillance in a designated location' to target defenders continue. A group of international and regional NGOs have called for States to take China to task for failing its human rights obligations as a newly re-elected HRC member, and hope to be joined by global civil society actors in standing in solidarity with Chinese HRDs.
Given the marked deterioration of human rights situation in Bahrain, including reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces and severe restrictions on the rights to free expression, assembly and association, ISHR and other NGOs have called on States to promote and support a resolution or a joint statement on the country at this Council’s session.
The Council has not taken action on Bahrain since its 30th session. Concerns about unlawful executions and lack of investigation of torture allegations must be put on the record. Likewise, the dissolution of the main political party and the arbitrary arrest of leading human rights defenders highlight the worsening of the human rights situation in the country. Moreover, the lack of independence of the judiciary has resulted in the revocation of citizenship of those who have been critical of the government. Activists have been subjected to travel bans and prevented from engaging with the Council’s previous sessions.
The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present an oral briefing to the Council on 13 March. Last October, ISHR along with a group of other NGOs issued a joint statement calling on member States of the Council to initiate action to suspend Burundi due to its lack of cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms and the severity of human rights violations in the country.
Since then, Burundi has consistently failed to live up to commitments in General Assembly Resolution 60/251, by not cooperating with UN experts and treaty bodies. As a result, the country no longer meets basic membership standards. During the 58th session of the UN Committee against Torture, the State did not show up for the outcome of its review. Moreover, it has declared that it will no longer cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Sustained and systematic human rights violations coupled with a flagrant lack of cooperation with the human rights system are clear indications that the State has failed to uphold the highest standards in promoting and protecting human rights.
As recently as January 2017, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi called on the government to cooperate with it.
ISHR reiterates the call on members to initiate the process towards the suspension of Burundi from the Council. The Council must take immediate action to deal with cases of contempt in order to preserve its own integrity and credibility.
The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in many instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. They include:
During this session the Council will adopt the UPR reports which list the recommendations the State under review is expected to implement of the following 11 countries –Haiti, Iceland, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, South Sudan, Syrian Arabic Republic, Timor-Leste, Togo, Uganda, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Civil society has a crucial role in monitoring and pushing for implementation of recommendations at the national level.
ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. We publish and submit briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review, and advocate for the UPR to be used as mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for South Sudan, Uganda, Venezuela and Zimbabwe to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed by ISHR’s briefing papers on these countries.
During the organisational meeting for the 34th session, the President of the Human Rights Council once again stressed that delegations and organisations should contribute to a constructive working atmosphere.
He highlighted that it is in ‘the common interest of all those engaging in this Council session that a climate free from intimidation or reprisals be maintained’.
There is a heavy programme of work for the session, which includes 9 panel discussions and 76 reports and over 25 resolutions that will be presented and discussed. As it did in previous sessions, the Council has limited the overall time for its interactive dialogues with special procedures to four hours. The President urged all those speaking at the session to exercise self-restraint in the preparation of statements, and reiterated that time limits will be enforced
The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for the following seven vacancies of mandate holders to be filled at this session:
ISHR highly values the important work that the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association conducted throughout his mandate and hopes that the new mandate holder will build upon and further strengthen the initiatives carried out by Mr. Kiai.
In view of the pending appointments, it is relevant to recall that in appointing mandate holders, the President of the Council is required to give particular attention to the need to avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest. Mandate holders should also be genuinely committed to the independence and effectiveness of the special procedures system, and have a demonstrated commitment to civil society engagement and participation.
Newly appointed members of the Bureau for the 11th cycle comprises of the following Ambassadors:
During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member states and NGOs opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Nine panel discussions are scheduled for this session:
At the organisational meeting on 13 February 2017 the following resolutions were announced (States sponsoring the resolution in brackets).
ISHR, together with the permanent mission of Finland, will organise an event on Ensuring sustainable development: the role and protection of defenders: Thursday 2 March, 10:30-11:45 in room 25.
This event will explore the role and challenges faced by human rights defenders in contributing to sustainable development, and the interests and obligations of States and business should play in that regard.
ISHR will also co-sponsor the following events:
A provisional calendar of side events organised by NGOs is available here, but note it may be subject to change.