Human Rights Council extends mandate on human rights defenders – after considerable wrangling

March 24, 2017

On Thursday 23 March 2017 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in which it extended, for a period of three years, the mandate of the Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/22/un-special-rapporteur-on-human-rights-defenders-wraps-up-his-first-mandate/]

The press statement by the UN (see below) explains that there was quite a bit of wrangling on wording, but in the end the draft resolution (A/HRC/34/L.5) on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michael Forst, was adopted without a vote as orally revised, in the same terms as provided for by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 16/5. It urges again all States to cooperate with and assist the Special Rapporteur in the performance of his tasks, to provide all information and to respond to the communications transmitted to them by the Special Rapporteur without undue delay; and calls upon States to give serious consideration to responding favourably to the requests of the Special Rapporteur to visit their countries.

(here the detailed report on the failed efforts – mainly by Russia and China – to weaken the text:)
Before the Council adopted the resolution, it rejected draft amendment L.42 by a vote of 15 in favour, 28 against and four abstained; draft amendment L.43 by a vote of 12 in favour, 29 against and six abstained; draft amendment L.44 by a vote of 11 in favour, 29 against and six abstained; draft amendment L.45 by a vote of 11 in favour, 29 against and six abstained; and draft amendment L.51 by a vote of 16 in favour, 27 against and four abstained.
 
Norway, introducing the draft resolution L.5, explained that the draft resolution was a technical update of the consensus resolution 25/18 which had renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur in 2014.  The main objective was to renew the mandate.  The preamble part highlighted the serious risks that human rights defenders faced, including reprisals, intimidation, threats and attacks.  The draft resolution strongly urged States to take concrete steps to create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.  The level of support for the draft resolution signalled the appreciation that many countries had for the work of the Special Rapporteur’s work.  The last changes made to the text addressed different categories of defenders.  While it was welcome to emphasize groups of defenders under particular threat, such a listing had to be guided by some objective criteria.  Without such criteria, there would be risk to leave out important groups of defenders under serious threat and in need of protection.
 
Russian Federation, introducing amendments L.42, L.43, L.44 and L.45 to resolution L.5, said the tabling of the amendments was something that the Russian Federation had been forced to do.  The Russian Federation could not but note the role of groups and individuals who promoted and protected common human rights and fundamental freedoms, who for brevity’s sake were called human rights defenders.  The 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was a comprehensive document which covered all rights and responsibilities of all involved in human rights protection activity.  Draft L.5 despite its avowedly procedural nature contained attempts to alter the 1998 Declaration.  The authors of L.5 had introduced new definitions.  The term “human rights defenders” did not exist in international law.  Unfortunately, the authors of the document did not heed the Russian Federation, so there was no option but to submit amendments to the draft.  The Russian Federation asked that each proposal was considered separately. 
 
China introduced amendment L.51.  During consultations on L.5, a number of countries had made comments on the work and report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and expressed their views during the dialogue.  China had put forward L.51 on behalf of concerned countries.  The aim of the amendment was to reflect the views of States on the Special Rapporteur’s work and his report.  Council Members were called on to vote for the amendment.  
 
United Kingdom, in a general comment on behalf of the sponsors of the draft resolution L.5, responded to all the proposed amendments.  It expressed disappointment that the five amendments had been tabled and that they were designed to undermine the legitimacy of human rights defenders worldwide.  A clear message should be sent to human rights defenders that the Council would continue to monitor their situation and that the Special Rapporteur would continue to play a constructive role in advising States on the protection of human rights.  The sponsors urged Member States to reject all the amendments.
 
Republic of Korea, in a general comment, shared the view that human rights defenders played a constructive role in creating an environment conductive to human rights.  Increased threats and targeted killings of human rights defenders had been witnessed.  The proposed amendments aimed to delete references to the legitimacy of the term “human rights defenders”, which was a well-established term within the United Nations system.  The term was an integral part of the text and could not be removed.  If removed, it could further deteriorate the safety of human rights defenders worldwide.
 
Egypt, in a general comment, underlined its full commitment to the protection of freedom of opinion, expression, assembly and association.  Partnership with civil society was of fundamental importance in States’ efforts to promote human rights.  However, there was an attempt to abuse the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and coin terminology that was not in line with international law, attempting to create a class of “super citizens” that would enjoy impunity.  The politically driven approach in the draft resolution eroded the principles of sovereign nations and contradicted the notions of accountability and the rule of law.
 
Germany, in a general comment on behalf of the European Union, said the resolution dealt with an important issue.  The European Union appreciated the work carried out by human rights defenders who deserved the protection of the Human Rights Council.  The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was important in that regard.  It was regretted that some delegations had submitted amendments to the text.  The European Union supported draft resolution L.5 as orally revised and looked forward to its adoption by the Council. 
 
Action on draft amendment L.42
 
Albania, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, rejected the proposed amendment which tried to remove the concept of human rights defenders and replace it with a vague and confusing term.  The term human rights defenders was a well-established term and had been mainstreamed into resolutions on a wide range of topics.  The term was an established, short and familiar reference and was integral to the text and could not be removed.  Albania urged other members of the Council to also vote no on the amendment. 
 
Germany, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said it rejected amendment L.42 as it sought to reduce the legal framework protecting the work of human rights defenders, and to undermine the legitimacy of human rights defenders.  It urged Council members to vote against the amendment.
 
The Council then rejected amendment L.42 by a vote of 15 in favour, 28 against and four abstentions.
 
Action on draft amendment L.43
 
Switzerland, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said Switzerland could not support the amendment whose only aim was to remove reference to resolutions adopted both by the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.  Switzerland called on all States Members of the Human Rights Council to vote no. 
 
Hungary, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said Hungary could not support the amendment.  The resolution recalled the existence of resolutions by their documentation number.  Member States were urged to reject the amendment and vote no. 
 
The Council then rejected the amendment by a recorded vote of 12 in favour with 29 against and 6 abstentions.  
 
Action on amendment L.44
 
Latvia, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said Latvia could not support the amendment as it could not understand its rationale.  Various regional commissions on human rights used the term “human rights defenders,” which was why Latvia called on all States to reject the amendment.
 
Hungary, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, noted that the term was well-established and included in numerous Council resolutions.  It was a short and familiar reference.  The proposal to replace it with new terminology would not only be confusing, but would also send a very negative signal to those who put their lives at risk to defend human rights.  Hungary urged the Council to vote against the amendment.
 
The Council then rejected amendment L.44 by a vote of 11 in favour, 29 against and six abstentions.
 
Action on draft amendment L.45
 
Albania, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said it did not support the amendment and did not understand its rationale.  One of the key objectives of the resolution enabled the Special Rapporteur to make the needs of human rights defenders better understood.  The proposed amendments sought to take out the words “women human rights defenders” who were highly appreciated by Albania.  L.45 was not acceptable to co-sponsors as women human rights defenders were a specific focus area for the Special Rapporteur.  Albania would vote against L.45 and urged all to vote against the amendment. 
 
United Kingdom, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said the amendment sought to delete references to women human rights defenders and that was an attempt to undermine those on the front lines of defence of human rights.  It was preposterous to suggest the term did not belong in the resolution and should be replaced with new and convoluted terminology.  Human rights defenders should be called what they were.  To delete references to women was to deny the role they played and deny them the protection they deserved from the Council. 
 
Paraguay, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said preambular paragraph 9 of the resolution aimed to protect women human rights defenders.  Women human rights defenders ran risks on the ground of their gender and therefore required special protection by the Council.  As preambular paragraph 9 as originally drafted emphasized the important attention women human rights defenders merited, Paraguay would vote against the amendment.
 
The Council then rejected the amendment by a recorded vote of 11 in favour with 29 against and 6 abstentions.  
 
Action on amendment L.51
 
Latvia, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, stated that it could not support the amendment because it would only note the report and would not reflect the views of the Council.  It would fail to acknowledge the concerns raised by the Special Rapporteur, and it would dishonour credible reporting on the work of human rights defenders.  Latvia asked all States to reject the amendment.
 
Belgium, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, recalled that during formal consultations, the text had not been challenged at all.  Both the report and work of the Special Rapporteur should be noted.  The current text represented a good compromise and it should not be watered down even more.
 
The Council then rejected amendment L.51 by a vote of 16 in favour, 27 against and four abstentions.
 
Action on draft resolution L.5 as a whole, as orally revised
 
South Africa, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said it had decided to withdraw its amendments and thanked the delegation of Norway for the open consultations.  The Secretary-General had warned of the dangers of instrumentalization of human rights where human rights defenders were picked and chosen.  Therefore South Africa had chosen its approach.  The threat of loss of life did not only come from governments but also from the corporate sector.  The process of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues had highlighted important issues.  South Africa aimed to ensure all categories of human rights defenders were included, in addition to women human rights defenders whom South Africa supported. 
 
China, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said China supported non-governmental organizations playing an active role, but said their activities should be carried out within the laws.  The role of human rights defenders could be abused by organizations with an ulterior motive.  Amendments submitted showed that Human Rights Council members still had differences over the matter.  China would dissociate itself from the consensus on L.5. 
 
The Council then adopted L.5 without a vote as orally revised.  – See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21442&LangID=E#sthash.0FYTlids.dpuf

 

Source: Human Rights Council this afternoon extends on foreign debt, human rights defenders, on minority issues, and adequate housing

https://www.gov.uk/government/world-location-news/human-rights-council-34-uk-explanation-of-voting-on-the-human-rights-defenders-resolution

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