13 September starts the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council: reprisals high on the agenda

September 9, 2016

As usual, the Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has published a preview of the main items coming up in the next (33rd) session of the Human Rights Council‘s starting on Tuesday 13 September 2016. It will finish on 30 September. For human rights defenders the focus on the question of reprisals is of great importance.ISHR-logo-colour-high

Other thematic issues are: enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and National Human Rights Institutions.

Reprisals

A highlight this session will be the opportunity for States to respond to the Secretary-General’s latest report documenting serious cases of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders, and contribute to finding concrete solutions at panel discussion to be hosted by the core group of States on this topic (Hungary, Uruguay, Ghana, Ireland and Fiji). The Secretary General’s annual report on cooperation with the UN, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights – more frequently referred to as the “reprisals report” – will be presented at this session of the Council. The report covers the period from 1 June 2015 onwards.

Particular attention during HRC33 will be paid to Bahrain. According to allegations of travel bans against human rights defenders  documented by the President of the Human Rights Council, and communicated via the minutes of a recent meeting of the HRC Bureau [LINK], in which the President expressed concern about “the lack of appropriate action or adequate explanatory information from the concerned State” to the allegations.

The Secretary-General’s report consists of a compilation of cases of intimidation and reprisals due to cooperation with the UN organisations and its specialised agencies in the field of human rights, including cases in relation to the Council, its UPR and Special Procedures; Human Rights Treaty Bodies; the OHCHR, its field presences and Human Rights Advisers; United Nations Country Teams; human rights components of peacekeeping missions and other parts of the Secretariat or specialized agencies working in the field of human rights.

The Secretary General’s last report documented a significant number of cases in which people have been threatened, stigmatised, censored, restricted from travelling, detained, beaten, held in solitary confinement, disappeared, and tortured for their work to expose and pursue accountability for human rights violations at the UN. In many of the cases the threats and attacks have not been properly investigated nor have perpetrators been held to account. However, the report did note a range of positive developments aimed at preventing and promoting accountability for reprisals highlighting that:

In line with previous recommendations of the Secretary-General, States are encouraged to use the General Debate under Item 5 to address the cases documented. This should include in particular the States concerned, i.e. those mentioned in the report, who are expected by civil society to respond to the allegations and set out the steps taken to investigate them, hold the perpetrators to account and provide remedies to the victims.

Many of my earlier posts relate to reprisals: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/reprisals/, including: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/

Working Group on Enforced Disappearances

The Working Group on Enforced Disappearances will present its report, summarising its activities over the last year and previewing its thematic study on enforced disappearances in the context of migration. Included in this is a short discussion of ‘individuals [who] migrate due to the disappearances of their relatives or loved ones or to avoid reprisals due to their work in searching and pursuing justice… and human rights defenders who are forced to migrate due to their work fighting enforced disappearances.’ The Working Group’s report also expresses serious concern as to ‘a pattern of threats, intimidation and reprisals against victims of enforced disappearance, including family members, witnesses and human rights defenders working on such cases. It calls upon States to take specific measures to prevent such acts and re-iterates the call for the UN to appoint a high-level official to combat reprisals as a matter of urgency and priority.

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

The mandate of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will be renewed at this session. Among the likely ‘asks’ of the resolution are more resources to support their ability to respond to victims of arbitrary detention, the ability to raise awareness through reporting to the UN General Assembly and the mandate from the Council to embark on a thematic study.

National human rights institutions

National human rights institutions have a vital role to play in contributing to the national implementation of international human rights obligations. The annual report of the Secretary-General and High Commissioner sets out a range of steps and measures that both States and NHRIs should take in this regard. For States, such steps should include ensuring that the NHRI is broadly mandated (including in respect of economic, social and cultural rights), that it is adequately resourced, authorised to inspect places of detention, and protected from interference, intimidation and reprisals. For NHRIs, the report emphasises the importance of engaging and consulting closely with civil society, contributing to the protection of human rights defenders, and enhancing cooperation with international human rights mechanisms as a means of bridging the ‘implementation gap’.

Of special relevance for human rights defenders are also the country situations on the agenda of the 33rd Session:

Following the special session of the Human Rights Council on Burundi in December 2015, an interactive dialogue on the situation in Burundi is scheduled to take place on 27 September. From 13 to 17 June three human rights experts of the United Nations Independent Investigation on Burundi conducted their second visit to Burundi to address the human rights concerns raised in the special session Human Rights Council resolution. The experts will present their final report to the Human Rights Council this session. The gravity of human rights violations and the level of State responsibility in Burundi is unacceptable. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/what-is-burundi-doing-in-the-un-human-rights-council/]

Given the deteriorating situation of human rights in Cambodia, and the impunity with which intimidation and violence against human rights defenders occur, a range of national and international organisations calls on the Council to adopt a resolution on the country. This step would acknowledge the backsliding over the last year; reiterate the Council’s expectations for meaningful cooperation, with the Special Rapporteur and the OHCHR; and lay out benchmarks for the coming year, in light of the 2017 elections and the anniversary of the Paris Peace agreement, that would indicate clear progress achieved through the technical assistance and capacity-building mandate The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, scheduled for 28 September, is a chance for the international community to hear from, and respond to, Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith following her visits to the country and the communications she and other UN experts sent related to harassment and detention of NGO workers and the killing of well-known public figure Kem Ley. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/civil-society-condemns-charges-human-rights-defenders-cambodia/]

Individual interactive dialogues with mandate holders will be held in relation to Sudan, Central African Republic and Somalia. Interactive dialogues on the High Commissioner’s reports and oral updates will be held on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, and Ukraine. The High Commissioner will present his reports on Cambodia and Yemen in a General Debate under Item 10. There will also be an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

The Council will adopt the UPR reports of 14 countries.

#HRC33 / Thematic areas of interest | ISHR

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc33-country-specific-developments

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