34th Human Rights Council: ISHR guide to key issues for human rights defenders

February 24, 2017

A preview of what to look out for at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council from 27 February – 24 March 2017. This selection of what is most relevant to human rights defenders is based on the excellent overview provided by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR):

Highlight of the session’s thematic discussions:

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Number one is the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/22/un-special-rapporteur-on-human-rights-defenders-wraps-up-his-first-mandate/] 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 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.

Reprisals [a key issue, see many earlier posts on this: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

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. (The ISHR had a 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 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.

Cultural rights defenders

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.

Country-specific developments


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. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/china/]


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. It is critical that the international community take immediate steps to address this situation and strongly condemn these acts which require urgent attention. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/11/10/travel-bans-against-human-rights-defenders-remain-popular-in-the-middle-east/ ]


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. 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. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/26/enough-is-enough-ngos-call-for-burundi-suspension-from-un-human-rights-council/]

Other country situations: Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Myanmar and others

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:

The Council will also conduct interactive dialogues with these experts, providing an opportunity for local human rights defenders to highlight violations.

Universal Periodic Review (UPR): States to be reviewed

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. ISHR publishes and submits briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review, and advocates 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 SudanUgandaVenezuela and Zimbabwe to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed by ISHR’s briefing papers on these countries.

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

At this upcoming session, nine expert panel discussions will be held, seven vacancies of mandate holders will be filled and over 25 resolutions will be discussed. 

Organisational meeting

During the organisational meeting for the 34th session, the President of the Human Rights Council 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

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council  has proposed candidates for the following vacancies of mandate holders to be filled at this session:

  • Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, member from Latin American and Caribbean States
  • members for the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP).
Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 34th session

At the organisational meeting on 13 February 2017 some of the following resolutions were announced (States sponsoring the resolution in brackets).

  • Resolution on the effects of terrorism on all human rights (Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt)
  • Resolution on transnational business corporations and human rights (Ecuador)
  • Resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age (Austria, Brazil, Germany, Lichtenstein and Switzerland)
  • Resolution on realisation of social, cultural and economic rights (Portugal)
  • Resolution on freedom of religion and belief (European Union)
  • Resolution on persons who belong to minorities (Austria, Slovenia and Senegal)
  • Resolution on human rights, democracy and the rule of law (Rumania)
  • Resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran (Sweden)
  • Resolution on human rights situation in Syria (United Kingdom)
  • Resolution on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka (United Kingdom)
  • Resolution on human rights situation in South Sudan (United Kingdom)
  • Resolution for mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (Norway)
  • Resolution for mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Denmark).

There will be of course many side events by NGOs but I will keep that for a separate post.

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC34 on Twitter.

Source: Human Rights Council | Key issues on agenda at 34th session in March | ISHR

2 Responses to “34th Human Rights Council: ISHR guide to key issues for human rights defenders”

  1. […] For the the guide to the 34th session see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/34th-human-rights-council-ishr-guide-to-key-issues-for-… […]

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