Archive for the 'human rights' Category

Report on the 51st session of the Human Rights Council

October 14, 2022

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and 12 other NGOs gave a joint assessment of the 51st session of the Human Rights Council which was held from Monday 12 September to Friday 7 October 2022. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/20/human-rights-defenders-at-the-51st-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/]

We welcome that for the first time, the Council heard from two representatives of directly impacted communities from the podium in the enhanced interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner and the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement: Collette Flanagan of Mothers against Police Brutality (MAPB) whose son was killed by United States‘ police in 2013; and Jurema Werneck, director of Amnesty International in Brazil. As highlighted in the HC’s report, States are continuing to deny the existence and impact of systemic racism, especially institutional racism. Our view is that States actively protect the interests of police institutions in order to maintain the status quo which is designed to oppress Africans and people of African descent.  We call on States to fully implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), to fully cooperate with the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement including accepting country visits, implement the recommendations from their report and the High Commissioner’s Agenda towards Transformative Change for Racial justice and Equality.

We welcome the ‘from rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance’ resolution. The resolution, interalia,  strongly condemns the discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent, including refugees and asylum-seekers, at the hands of law enforcement officials engaged in migration and border governance. It calls on States to ensure accountability and reparations for human rights violations at borders and to adopt a racial justice approach, including by adopting policies to address structural racism in the management of international migration. It reiterates that the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans and colonialism were grave violations of international law that require States to make reparations proportionate to the harms committed and to ensure that structures in the society that are perpetuating the injustices of the past are transformed, including law enforcement and administration of justice and to dispense reparatory justice to remedy historical racial injustices…..

We welcome the resolution on the “human rights implications of new and emerging technologies in the military domain” and its request for a study examining these implications. The adoption of the resolution adds to the growing attention that UN human rights mechanisms are paying to the negative human rights impacts of arms, including new technologies that can be weaponised.  It is undoubtable that concerns relating to the military domain should not be seen as only relevant to disarmament fora. In response to comments from some States on whether international humanitarian law (IHL) falls within the remit of HRC, we recall that international human rights law and IHL are complementary and mutually reinforcing, as the HRC itself has reiterated on several occasions in past resolutions. We welcome the inclusion of paragraph on the responsibility to respect human rights of business enterprises, and in this regard, we recall the Information Note by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights on the Arms Industry (“Responsible business conduct in the arms sector: Ensuring business practice in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”) published in August 2022. While we welcome the reference in the resolution to the role of human rights defenders and civil society organisations in raising awareness about the human rights impacts of the use of new and emerging technologies in the military domain, we regret that it does not include a specific mention of the risks that the use of these technologies can pose for human rights defenders and civil society organisations.

We welcome the resolution on arbitrary detention and especially the inclusion of a new paragraph on the necessity to fully implement the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The resolution recognises the role of HRDs, peaceful protesters, journalists and media workers in safeguarding the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of liberty and calls upon States to make sure that they are not arbitrarily detained as a result of their activities. We further commend the main sponsor, France, for having rejected any language that could have weakened the resolution, especially on the right to legal assistance.

We welcome the adoption of the safety of journalists resolution. It has now been a decade since the first resolution on this topic, and the HRC has since created an elaborate and robust set of international standards to protect journalists. This iteration of the resolution adds new strong commitments on multiple new and emerging issues affecting journalists, from strategic lawsuits against public participation to extraterritorial attacks. It also strengthens language on investigations into attacks against journalists, calling on authorities to exhaust lines of enquiry that determine whether such attacks are linked to their journalistic work. We now urge States to implement these commitments to their full extent.

We welcome the approval by consensus by the Council of the resolution on terrorism and human rights, that has been updated with important paragraphs related to the centrality of the rule of law and human rights to counter terrorism, international human rights obligations in transfers of terrorist suspects, profiling of individuals, detention, the right to a fair trial and other due process guarantees, the right to privacy and freedom of expression, and in relation to children rights and civil society. We regret that paragraphs stemming from security based concerns have increased even though they are unrelated to the competence of the Council to promote human rights.

We warmly welcome the adoption of the resolution on the human rights situation in the Russian Federation, mandating a Special Rapporteur on Russia for the first time. …The Russian Federation’s growing repressive policies, combined with the country’s exclusion from the Council of Europe – victims of new human rights violations committed by the Russian Federation from 17 September lost protection under the European Convention on Human Rights– and its diplomatic isolation from those States which have been supportive of human rights and civil society in Russia, have made it increasingly difficult for Russian human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organisations to engage with the international community. Russian civil society had been vocal in calling for a Special Rapporteur’s mandate, strongly believing it will help to create a bridge between the United Nations and Russian civil society and the wider general public in Russia at an acute moment of widespread domestic human rights violations, both ensuring their voice is heard at an international level, and that the United Nations can further develop its understanding and analysis of the deterioration in Russia’s domestic human rights situation and the implications that has had – and continues to have – for Russia’s foreign policy decisions.

We welcome the extension and strengthening of the OHCHR capacity to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve evidence and information and to develop strategies for future accountability, as well as to extend the mandate for enhanced monitoring and reporting by the OHCHR on Sri Lanka. Given the complete lack of any credible avenues for accountability at the national level, the OHCHR’s Sri Lanka Accountability Project remains the only hope of justice, more than thirteen years after the war, for thousands of victims of war time atrocities and their families.

We welcome the UN Secretary General’s report on missing people in Syria; and urge States to support and implement the report’s findings, in line with resolution A/HRC/51/L.18 which underscored “the report’s finding that any measure towards addressing the continuing tragedy of missing persons in the Syrian Arab Republic requires a coherent and holistic approach going beyond current efforts, which must be inclusive and centered on victims”. Addressing the issue of missing persons in Syria requires a “new international institution” mandated to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons, to “work in cooperation and complementarity with existing mechanisms”, the body having “a structural element that ensures that victims, survivors and their families […] may participate in a full and meaningful manner in its operationalization and work” as recommended in the study of the Secretary General.

The Council has taken a vitally important step in renewing the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela and of the reporting mandate of OHCHR for a further two years. In its most recent report, A/HRC/51/43, the Fact-Finding Mission deepened its investigation of alleged crimes against humanity, making clear that alleged perpetrators remain in power. The ongoing accountability drive through the work of the Mission allied with the work of OHCHR, is key to providing victims of violations with hope for justice. It is also key to the prevention of ongoing violations, particularly in the context of upcoming elections, and of encouraging political processes that respect human rights.

We regret that the Council failed to respond adequately to several human rights situations including Afghanistan, China, Philippines, and Yemen.

We welcome the extension and strengthening of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan. However, this in no way makes up for the Council’s repeated failure to respond to the calls from Afghan human rights defenders, especially women human rights defenders, and civil society for an independent accountability mechanism with a mandate and resources to investigate the full scope of violations abuses that continue to be committed in Afghanistan by all parties and to preserve evidence of these violations for future accountability. It is particularly concerning that despite the overwhelming evidence of gross violations and abuses in Afghanistan that the Council failed to muster consensus on even the bare minimum.

We deplore that this Council was unable to endorse the proposal for a debate on Xinjiang, after the UN identified possible crimes against humanity committed by the Chinese government against Uyghurs and Turkic peoples. Dialogue is a pillar of multilateralism, and is fundamental, even on the hardest issues. Despite the leadership of the core group and all 18 States who voted in favour, this Council looked the other way. We strongly condemn the 19 countries who blocked this proposal, and regret all the abstentions that enabled it. We particularly regret that leading OIC States Indonesia and Qatar, as well as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, the UAE, Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Sudan, Gabon, Cameroon and Eritrea, decided to abandon Uyghurs and Muslim minorities in China. We command Somalia for being the only Muslim Council member to stand up for Muslim minorities. Uyghur and international human rights groups won’t give up efforts to hold China accountable. We urgently call on current and future Council members to support efforts to prevent the continuation of atrocity crimes in Xinjiang, and uphold this Council’s credibility and moral authority. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/10/05/uyghur-issue-at-the-un-human-rights-council-will-there-be-even-a-debate/]

We are deeply disappointed that despite the High Commissioner’s clear recommendation and demands by victims and their families as well as civil society from the Philippines, the Council has failed to put forward a resolution mandating the High Commissioner to continue monitoring and reporting on the situation, allowing the Philippines to use the rhetoric of cooperation and the UN Joint Programme for Human Rights to window-dress its appalling human rights record without any tangible progress or scrutiny.

We are dismayed by an Item 10 resolution that will not allow for reporting to the HRC on the human rights situation in Yemen.   Despite a truce that now looks in danger of collapsing, the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Yemen has not ended.  …Lasting peace in Yemen requires a sustained commitment by the international community to ensure accountability and redress for the millions of victims in Yemen. We call on UN member states to give meaning to the pledges they have made and begin to work toward the establishment of an international independent investigative mechanism on Yemen.

On 10 October 2022 a Blog post of the Universal Rights NGO gave the following quick summary of this session of the Human Rights Council

With Ms. Michelle Bachelet’s mandate as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights having come to an end on 31 August 2022, and the incoming UN High Commissioner, Mr. Volker Türk, not taking up his official functions until 17 October 2022, Ms. Nada Al-Nashif, opened, as Acting High Commissioner, by presenting a global update on the situation of human rights around the world.

Four new Special Procedures mandate-holders were appointed to the following mandates: the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (India), the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (Colombia), the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers (United States of America), and one member of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (from Eastern European States).

9 expert members were elected to the Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee (from Algeria, Angola, China, Qatar, Slovenia, Spain, Uruguay, Bahamas, Brazil).

42 texts (39 resolutions, one decision, and one statement by the President) were considered by the Council. This represents a 52% increase in the number of adopted texts compared to one-year prior (HRC48). Of the 41 adopted texts, 30 were adopted by consensus (73%), and 11 by a recorded vote (27%).

The Council rejected a draft decision to hold a debate on the situation of human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China by vote (17 votes in favour, 19 against, and 11 abstentions).

Following the adoption by vote of a draft resolution on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation (17 votes in favour, 6 against, and 24 abstentions), the Council created a new Special Procedure mandate on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation for a period of one year, and requested the mandate holder to make recommendations and to present a comprehensive report to the Council at its 54th session and to the General Assembly at its 78th session, while calling upon the Russian authorities to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur.

The Council further extended the mandates of 8 thematic Special Procedures (i.e., the Independent Expert on older persons; the Special Rapporteurs on the right to development, on contemporary forms of slavery, on the rights to water and sanitation, on Indigenous Peoples, and on the right to health, as well as the Working Groups on arbitrary detention, and on mercenaries), and 7 country-specific mechanisms (i.e., the Special Rapporteurs on Afghanistan, and on Burundi; the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia; the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the International Team of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic; and the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia).

25 written amendments were tabled by States ahead of the consideration of texts by the Council but 14 were withdrawn by the main sponsor prior to voting. The remaining 11 amendments were rejected by a vote. Additionally, one oral amendment was brought forward by China during voting proceedings.

31 of the texts adopted by the Council (79%) had Programme Budget Implications (PBI) and required new appropriations not included in previous Programme Budgets. 

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc51-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

https://www.universal-rights.org/urg-human-rights-council-reports/report-on-the-51st-session-of-the-human-rights-council/

The 2022 “Human Rights Defenders Movement at a Crossroad” video report published

October 11, 2022

In September 2022, more than thirty human rights defenders from all over the world took the floor in a moment of a global backlash against the grass-roots movement for human rights and democracy. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/20/2021-protectdefenders-eu-annual-report/

The conference “The Human Rights Defenders’ Movement at a Crossroad“ featured the testimonies and experiences of a great diversity of grassroots activists coming from all backgrounds, including Yvette Mushigo (Synergie des Femmes pour la Paix et la Réconciliation des Peuples des Grands Lacs d’Afrique, DRC); Ukei Muratalieva (Nazik Kyz, Kyrgyzstan); Rocío Walkiria Santos Reyes (CEHPRODEC, Honduras); Yasmine Shurbaji (Families for Freedom, Syria); and Monika Maritjie Kailey (Komunitas Masyarakat Adat Marafenfen, Aru Islands, Indonesia).

With the participation of the United Nations Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor; the French Ambassador at Large for Human Rights, Delphine Borione; the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rapporteur on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders and Justice Operators, Commissioner Joel Hernández García; the Human Development, Migration, Governance, and Peace Unit Acting Director at the European Commission, Chiara Adamo.

“We call on the EU and the Member States to ensure the effective, timely, relevant and comprehensive implementation of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders”.

Read the keynote by Cristina Palabay (KARAPATAN Alliance, The Philippines)

Look around this room and you will see so many different nationalities full of patient, committed, resilient people working to defend human rights. That is hope” – UNSR on HRDs, Mary Lawlor.

You can see all the photos of the conference “The Human Rights Defenders Movement at a Crossroad” in the gallery here.

https://mailchi.mp/protectdefenders/bulletin-pdeu-conference-2022?e=ccacd47b1a

Angela Merkel wins UNHCR’s Nansen Award for protecting refugees at height of Syria crisis

October 11, 2022

Angela Merkel, the former Federal Chancellor of Germany, accepted the 2022 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award at a special ceremony in Geneva on Monday night, 10 October, saying the prize was in honour of “the countless people who lent a hand” when large numbers of refugees arrived in Europe in 2015 and 2016.  

She has won several other human rights awards: see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/582C2D4E-FDD9-9C1D-40F3-64DE01C2F46E

Merkel had been selected as the latest recipient of the Nansen Refugee Award for her efforts to welcome more than 1.2 million refugees and asylum seekers into Germany between 2015 and 2016, at the height of the conflict in Syria and amid deadly violence in countries around the world. The selection committee hailed Merkel’s “leadership, courage and compassion in ensuring the protection of hundreds of thousands of desperate people” as well as her efforts to find “viable long-term solutions” for those seeking safety.

By helping more than a million refugees to survive and rebuild, Angela Merkel displayed great moral and political courage,” Grandi the UN high commissioner for refugees, said. Presenting the award to Angela Merkel, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the former Chancellor: “You demonstrated indeed vision, courage and fortitude. And you demonstrated a moral compass which not only guided your work and the actions of your country, but it showed the way for so many of us in Europe and in the world.”

Speaking at the time, the then chancellor said it was a situation “which put our European values to the test as seldom before. It was no more and no less than a humanitarian imperative.”

For more the Nansen Refugee Award and similar awards for refugee work see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/CC584D13-474F-4BB3-A585-B448A42BB673

Also honoured during the ceremony in Geneva’s Haute école d’art et de design (HEAD) were the four regional winners for 2022. For Africa, the leader of the Mbera Fire Brigade in Mauritania, Ahmedou Ag Albohary, accepted the award in recognition of the refugee volunteers’ bravery in fighting bushfires and protecting the local environment, while former midwife Vicenta González was honoured for nearly 50 years of service to displaced and vulnerable people in Costa Rica.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2022/10/6345384a4/merkel-says-nansen-prize-honours-welcome-refugees.html

Uyghur issue at the UN Human Rights Council: will there be even a debate?

October 5, 2022

The controversial issue of the treatment of Uyghurs is continuing to play out at the UN Human Rights Council. A resolution is being considered this week to discuss the report’s findings awhich is being strongly resisted by China who is leaning heavily on smaller states to oppose it. If these efforts are successful, they could deal a severe blow to the legitimacy of the UN Human Rights Council. Groups such as CIVICUS, Human Rights Watch have been following this issue closely and are urging Member States to support a decision to AT LEAST discuss the report in the interests of transparency and accountability. But then the big disappointment: on Thursday 6 October at the Human Rights Council the motion was rejected in a tight vote of 19 states against, 17 in favour and 11 abstentions.

On 3 October 2022 CIVICUS is urging UN Human Rights Council member States to do the right thing by voting in support of a resolution to debate the human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The resolution follows the release of a major UN report which affirms that the rights of Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslim population are being violated through an industrial-level programme of mass incarceration, systemic torture and sexual violence. The report attracted intense criticism from the Chinese government before it was released on 31 August 2022, minutes before the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet ended her term. SEE: See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/01/finally-the-long-awaited-un-report-on-china/.

The report concludes that the actions of the Chinese government in XUAR including arbitrary detention, cultural persecution and forced labour may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity. Recommendations include the taking of prompt steps to release all individuals arbitrarily imprisoned in XUAR, a full legal review of national security and counter-terrorism policies, and an official investigation into allegations of human rights violations in camps and detention facilities.  

China’s government has rejected the findings and called into question the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Office of the High Commissioner has asserted that the report is based on a rigorous review of documentary evidence with its credibility assessed in accordance with standard human rights methodology.

A proposed resolution to hold a debate on the report’s findings at the next session of the UN Human Rights Council is being resisted by China which is also said to be pressuring states that make up the 47-member Human Rights Council not to support the resolution.

The UN report affirms testimonies of victims belonging to the Uyghur community who have endured extreme forms of oppression. Human rights researchers and civil society groups have for years documented abuses and sounded the alarm to the international community about the situation in Xinjiang,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS Chief Programmes Officer. “Yet the Chinese state is going to extraordinary lengths to suppress the findings and cover up its actions.

In June 2020, 50 UN Special Rapporteurs and human rights experts issued a joint statement, that catalogued concerns over the treatment of ethnic minorities in XUAR and Tibet, alleging excessive force against protesters, as well as in Hong Kong, and reports of retaliation against people voicing their concerns publicly over COVID-19 pandemic policies.  The experts urged the Human Rights Council to convene a special session on China; consider the creation of a Special Procedures mandate; and appoint a UN Special Envoy or a panel of experts to closely monitor, analyse and report annually on the human rights situation in China. 

Sophie Richardson of HRW stated: ‘This week the credibility of the United Nations Human Rights Council is on the line over an extraordinarily modest request: to hold a debate on a recent report from the UN high commissioner for human rights on abuses in the Xinjiang region of China. Member states would not be obliged to take a position on the issues at hand, the government in question, or even seek a particular outcome. But the debate is an opportunity to stand together to ensure the council fulfils its bare minimum mandate.

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/6070-global-civil-society-alliance-urges-human-rights-council-members-to-support-debate-on-uyghur-abuses-report

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/op-eds/6072-uyghur-violations-a-litmus-test-for-global-governance-and-rules-based-international-order

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/03/un-rights-body-should-debate-xinjiang-report

25 Years EuroMed Rights

October 1, 2022

Wadih Al-Asmar, President, and Rasmus Alenius Boserup, Executive Director of EuroMed Rights write about the 25th anniversary of EuroMed Rights: Since its inception, EuroMed Rights has become one of the most prominent and most active actors in the Euro-Mediterranean region on human rights protection and democracy promotion. To mark this milestone, we asked members from North and South to tell us what EuroMed Rights meant to them and their organisation. Read the interviews below There is also a dedicated 25th anniversary webpage

What a journey it has been since the network was founded in 1997. “After the establishment of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, the initiators of EuroMed Rights felt that creating some sort of platform to monitor the Barcelona Process would enhance human rights work significantly.
Kamel Jendoubi, Tunisia

Sharing our experience gives us energy, it keeps us up and running!
“I think the greatest benefit of being a member is the exchange of experience with other human rights activists, including from the North. Being a human rights defender is tough and we may find solace in sharing our experience and our highs and lows, it gives us energy, it keeps us up and running!”

Eva Abu Halaweh, Jordan

It is fundamental to make the voice of the network heard! “We always tried to bring a certain dimension on European issues, to analyse them from a different perspective. It worked and that shows how important and impactful the work of the EuroMed Rights network can be!”

Catherine Teule, France

EuroMed Rights is more than a talking shop, it’s a practice shop!
“This is a network of people and not just a network of good intentions. It’s about understanding and feeling what a denial of human rights means in people’s lives, so we can do something about it together. Very few networks in the world offer this kind of activities.”
Tony Daly, Ireland
See what current and past members have to say in this video.

https://mailchi.mp/euromedrights/a-milestone-anniversary-lets-celebrate?e=1209ebd6d8

Call for an EU Visa framework for At-Risk Human Rights Defenders

September 24, 2022

ProtectDefenders.eu and the great many undersigned NGOs are convinced that with political will and clear guidelines, the EU can and should return to its political mandate in favour of human rights and human rights defenders, and lead on the implementation of concrete initiatives, good practises, and policy changes to ensure that at-risk human rights defenders can access European Union visas with guarantees, security, and predictability.

More specifically, they call on the EU stakeholders to:
i) propose a specific facilitated procedure for human rights defenders within the EU Visa Code, setting common criteria and defining the elements of a facilitated procedure;
ii) include instructions in the EU Visa Handbook on granting facilitations to HRDs and their family members,
iii) work towards amending the legal instruments on visas, particularly the Visa Code, and
iv) introduce amendments to the Temporary Protection Directive that allow temporary protection status in the EU to be granted to defenders at risk.


Furthermore, they call on the EU Member States to implement consistent policies and guidelines to recognise the right of human rights defenders to access visas; as well as to promote the exhaustive use of their current prerogatives to urgently guarantee access to visas for those facing severe threats and risks.


ProtectDefenders.eu is the European
Union Human Rights Defenders
mechanism, led by a Consortium of 12
NGOs active in the field of Human Rights:
• Asian Forum for Human Rights and
Development (FORUM-ASIA)
• DefendDefenders – East and Horn of Africa
Human Rights Defenders Project
• Euro-Mediterranean Foundation Of
Support To Human Rights Defenders
(EMHRF)
• ESCR-Net
• Front Line Defenders
• ILGA World
• Peace Brigades International
• Protection International
• Reporters Without Borders
• The International Federation for Human
Rights (FIDH)
• The World Organisation Against Torture
(OMCT)
• Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human
Rights (UAF)
This initiative is supported by:
• AfricanDefenders
• Amnesty International
• Araminta
• Artist Protection Fund
• Artists at Risk (AR)
• Asociación Zehar-Errefuxiatuekin
• Brot für die Welt
• Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
• Center for Applied Human Rights (CAHR),
University of York
• Civil Rights Defenders
• Comissió Catalana d’Ajuda al Refugiat
(CCAR)
• Defenders in Dordrecht (DiD)
• Docip (Indigenous Peoples’ Center for
Documentation, Research and Information)
• European Center for Press and Media
Freedom (ECPMF)
• Fédération internationale des ACAT /
International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT)
• Freedom House
• Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
• Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
• Hamburg Foundation for politically
persecuted persons
• Heinrich-Boell-Stiftung (hbs)
• Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
• Human Rights House Tbilisi
• Humanists International
• Iniciativa Mesoamericana de Mujeres
Defensoras de Derechos Humanos
• International Arts Rights Advisors (IARA)
• International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN)
• International Partnership for Human
Rights (IPHR)
• International Service for Human Rights
(ISHR)
• Justice & Peace
• Mundubat
• Open Society Foundations (OSF)
• PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC)
• Pen International
• Réseau de Défenseurs des Droits Humains
de l’Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
• Scholars at Risk
• Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders
Network
• Tbilisi Shelter City
• Un Ponte Per
• Unit for the Protection of Human Rights
Defenders of Guatemala

Report on the 50th Session of the UN HRC

September 20, 2022

The following NGOs made a joint statement on the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council:  International Service for Human Rights; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); ARTICLE 19; DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project); CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI); International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI); The Global Interfaith Network (GIN SSOGIE NPC); World Uyghur Congress; Gulf Centre for Human Rights; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Child Rights Connect; Access Now; Association for Progressive Communications (APC); IFEX; Human Rights House Foundation; FIDH.

We welcome the resolution on discrimination against women and girls which focused on girls’ activism. This strong text regrettably faced a series of amendments which challenged the very notion of children, especially of girls and adolescents as rights holders, and sought to deny women and girls their agency.  The amendments are a continuation of a trend of hostile arguments and rhetoric on issues of gender, autonomy of women and girls and participation, which is coalescing and increasing in an alarming fashion. We are deeply concerned by the coordinated and targeted attacks against the rights of women, girls, LGBTIQ+ people and marginalized communities which aim at undermining sexual and reproductive rights and the right to bodily autonomy.  We are also concerned by recurrent attacks against children’s rights, which specifically question their right to participate and express their views freely and their rights as human rights defenders. We urge this Council to abide by its mandate to uphold the strongest human rights standards for all and to resist any retrogression that would have deep and harmful impact on those affected. 

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for the second time, and the successful opposition of 12 out of 13 hostile amendments presented. 1,256 non-governmental organisations from 149 States and territories in all regions supported a campaign to renew the mandate. This was the first time this Council explicitly condemned legislation that criminalises consensual same-sex conducts and diverse gender identities, and called on States to amend discriminatory legislation and combat violence on the grounds on SOGI. This renewal once again reaffirms this Council’s commitment to combating discrimination and violence on the grounds of SOGI.

We welcome the resolution on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. At a time when civic space urgently needs to be protected and defended, we welcome that the resolution addressed substantive concerns, including access to funding, which is increasingly an existential threat to civil society worldwide.

We welcome that the resolution on peaceful protest reiterates that protests are a fundamental aspect of participation in public affairs, and highlights that people from marginalized communities can be particularly vulnerable to unlawful use of force. We regret that language urging a landmark moratorium on surveillance technology that could be used to violate human rights during protests was lost during negotiations. Hostile amendments calling for obligations to be imposed on protest organisers were overwhelmingly rejected. We now call on states to ensure accountability for excessive use of force which has been all too prevalent in protests worldwide, and urge future resolutions to strengthen this core issue.

We welcome the new resolution on freedom of opinion of expression, which reiterates that this vital right is one of the essential foundations of democratic societies and an important indicator of the level of protection of other human rights and freedoms. We particularly welcome new guidance related to the theme of digital, media and information literacy, which enables the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression. However, we strongly encourage the core group to ensure that future iterations of the resolution address core challenges to the right to freedom of expression which have been overlooked, including criminal defamation laws and strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).

We welcome the approval of the resolution on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers, its focus on participation of women in the administration of justice, and the enhanced gender approach. This is a timely and crucial focus for this Council.

We welcome the Council’s approval of the resolution on the  importance of casualty recording for the promotion and protection of human rights that reaffirms the importance of the right to truth and takes note of key international standards for accountability, such as the updated set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity[1] and the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, and the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death.

We welcome the resolution on human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms’ focus on business and human rights – which we hope will contribute to ensuring that States and manufacturers and dealers of firearms undertake participatory, gender-responsive human rights impacts assessments, and ensuring mandatory human rights due diligence (HRDD) requirements for the arms sector based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We regret that important notions of patterns of structural discrimination have been reduced to discrimination rooted in negative stereotypes.

We welcome  the urgent debate on women and girls in Afghanistan and urge the Council to ensure that it remains accessible and responds adequately to the demands and needs of women human rights defenders from the country. It is imperative that this Council continues to ensure access and engagement of women human rights defenders, women political leaders and survivors and takes all necessary measures to address and ensure accountability for gender apartheid in Afghanistan. While welcoming the resolution, we regret the lack of inclusion of NGO suggestions for more specific investigation and reporting operational language that would have mandated the High Commissioner to look into the specific situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. We strongly encourage that future resolutions regarding the situation address the core issue of accountability, which has been overlooked in resolutions passed by the Council to date.

We welcome the latest resolution on Belarus, which extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Since the previous version of this resolution was passed at HRC47, the human rights situation in Belarus has significantly deteriorated, with all independent human rights organisations in Belarus forcibly liquidated, and many human rights defenders indefinitely detained or imprisoned.

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, who plays an essential role in documenting violations Eritrean authorities commit at home and abroad. We stress the need for the HRC to adopt resolutions that fully reflect the situation in the country and fully describe and condemn violations.

The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Libya (FFM)  presented their latest report to the UN Human Rights Council only  days after protestors in Libya stormed the countries parliament and other government buildings.   Their report details gross human rights violations committed by armed groups and government forces throughout the country, including allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes.   Despite these findings the UN Human Rights Council has  adopted a resolution drafted by Libya that only allows the investigation to continue for a  “final, non-extendable period of nine months.” NGOs have called on states to ensure that UN monitoring is maintained as long as gross human rights violations and abuses continue to be carried out in Libya with impunity.  By creating an abbreviated operational time frame and pre-emptively dismissing the possibility of renewing the FFMs mandate – the resolution adopted by this Council sends a dangerous message to armed groups in the country that the international community lacks the will to ensure a  sustained and serious accountability process. For these reasons, and in light of recent events in Libya,  we urge member states of the Human Rights Council to  work to ensure the  FFM is preserved or an alternative mechanism is created that will sufficiently respond to the long-standing and urgent need to protect victims and end impunity in Libya beyond March 2023. Failure to do so will only encourage more violence and hamper efforts to ensure a sustainable peace.

We note the approval of the resolution on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. Rohingyas and other minorities in Myanmar continue to be victims of gross human rights violations, including crimes under international law, and it is important their plight  remains at the centre of this Council’s attention. We regret however that the resolution fails to recognise the gravity of the situation on the ground and calls for the immediate “voluntary” return of Rohingya to Myanmar despite the complete absence of the conditions for safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return in the country, as confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.

We welcome the report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) which emphasized Israel’s systematic discrimination, and stressed its strategic geographic, social and political fragmentation of the Palestinian people. The report addressed the lack of accountability and compliance with recommendations made by previous UN bodies, including commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions, addressing the failure of third States to uphold their obligations under international law. In the interactive dialogue, the CoI responded to the joint statement by the United States of America questioning the validity of the CoI mandate, by exposing the double standards when it comes to holding Israel accountable. Commissioners also reiterated the overwhelming support for the mandate, including during the interactive dialogue. We call on States to continue to support this important accountability mechanism and ensure the CoI has sufficient resources to discharge its mandate.

The outcome on Sudan that was achieved at this session is the best possible outcome that could be achieved by consensus. As the de facto authorities and security forces continue to kill protesters peacefully demanding civilian rule, however, consensus cannot be the Council’s only guide. We stress the need for long-term scrutiny of Sudan, beyond what resolution 50/L.14/Rev.1 has requested. The Council should keep all options on the table to expose and respond to the situation.

We regret that the Council failed to respond to several human rights situations.

In Cameroon, as the crisis in the North-West and South-West regions continues, with violations committed by all sides, including recently unspeakable atrocities committed by armed separatists, and grave violations continue to be reported in the Far North and in the rest of the country, particularly against independent and opposition voices, it is essential for the Council to follow up on its joint statement of March 2019. This is all the more important since both the African Union and the UN Security Council have been silent on what remains one of the most serious human rights crises on the African continent.

We welcome the joint statement by 47 States expressing serious concern at the human rights situation in China, including in the Uyghur region (Xinjiang), Hong Kong and Tibet, and echo the call for the prompt release of the High Commissioner’s long-overdue report on the serious violations in Xinjiang. The High Commissioner, or her successor, should present her report upon release in an intersessional briefing to the Human Rights Council. 42 Special Procedures experts have also reiterated their call for the creation of a UN-mandated mechanism to ‘monitor, analyse and report annually on the human rights situation in China’, underlining the importance for the credibility of the UN system to ‘ensure a consistent UN approach to all States.’ In its September session, the Council should take action on the basis of objective information from the UN system – namely the OHCHR Xinjiang report, Special Procedures concerns, and the upcoming Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee’s ongoing review of Hong Kong – with a view to establish a space for formal discussion of the human rights situation in China. 

The continued silence of this Council on the critical human rights situation in Egypt is of great concern.  As Egypt prepares to host COP 27 it continues to carry out  widespread and systematic violations of human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. Almost all independent media has been forced to shut down or threatened into silence.  100s of websites continue to be banned.  Thousands of civil society and media representatives have been and continue to be  disappeared, tortured and/or arbitrarily detained under the pretence of counter-terrorism and national security. This includes well known blogger and democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah – recently  sentenced to an additional 5 years in prison by an exceptional court.  His crime?  Advocating for democracy and rights.  He is currently approaching day 100 of a hunger strike. We urge this Council and its Special Procedures to take action to protect and ensure the release of Mr. Fattah and the thousands of others like him in Egypt.  

There have been strong calls from international and Russian civil society for Russia to be on the formal agenda of the Human Rights Council since the beginning of 2021.  A recent further intensification of human rights violations in Russia has led to calls for the HRC to mandate a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation. While the joint statement signed by nearly 50 delegations at HRC50 was important, the situation now demands stronger action and we will be looking for the HRC to take action at the next session.

See also: July 11, 2022 Blog, Blog, Uncategorized, URG Human Rights Council Reports

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc50-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

#EndReprisals campaign continues throughout HRC 51

September 20, 2022

Human rights defenders promote dignity, fairness, peace and justice in their homes, workplaces, communities and countries. They challenge governments that fail to respect and protect their people, corporations that degrade and destroy the environment, and institutions that perpetuate privilege and patriarchy. For many, the United Nations (UN) is the last arena in which they can confront abuses. 

Human rights defenders must be able to share crucial information and perspectives with the UN safely and unhindered. Yet some States try to escape international scrutiny by raising obstacles – such as intimidation and reprisals – aimed at creating fear and systematically hindering defenders’ access to and cooperation with human rights mechanisms. See my post of today: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/20/human-rights-defenders-at-the-51st-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

This needs to change! Join the campaign of the International Service for Human Rights today so human rights defenders have a seat at the UN table.

What can you do? ISHR and partners have worked to support individual defenders and organisations that have endured multiple forms of reprisals and intimidation. Take action for them now and help #EndReprisals!

Here are two quick, impactful actions you can take:

Write to State representatives at the UN and urge them to take up cases from Belarus, Burundi, China, Egypt, and Venezuela
Click to tweet a message in solidarity with the individuals or groups described in a specific case:

 Tweet for Viasna in Belarus

Tweet for human rights lawyers in Burundi

Tweet for Jiang Tianyong in China

Tweet for Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy in Egypt

Tweet for NGOs in Venezuela

Join the campaign

Human rights defenders at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council

September 20, 2022

The 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council has started well and good on 12 September and will last until 7 October. I am awfully delayed in extracting from the – as always excellent – guide – produced by the team of the ISHR – the issues most directly affecting human rights defenders. Apologies.

Readthe full Alert to the session online here and to stay up-to-date, follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC51 on Twitter. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/15/new-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-volker-turk-the-man-for-an-impossible-job/

Throughout the session ISHR is calling on States to #EndReprisals against human rights defenders and civil society groups who engage with the United Nations!

Some Thematic areas

Reprisals On 29 September, Ilze Brands Kehris, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights will present the Secretary-General’s annual report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (also known as ‘the Reprisals Report’) to the Council in her capacity as UN senior official on reprisals. The presentation of the report will be followed by a dedicated interactive dialogue, as mandated by the September 2017 resolution on reprisals. ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who engage or seek to engage with UN bodies mechanisms. The dedicated dialogue is a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals and demand that Governments provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. An increasing number of States have raised concerns in recent sessions about individual cases of reprisals, including in Egypt, Nicaragua, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Yemen, Burundi, China and Venezuela, Egypt, Burundi, Lao and China, Belarus, Iran, Turkmenistan, and the Philippines. During its 48th session, the Council adopted a resolution on reprisals. The text, which was adopted by consensus, invited the UN Secretary-General to submit an annual report on reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly. Once again, the resolution listed key trends including that acts of intimidation and reprisals can signal patterns, increasing self-censorship, and the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and ensuring accountability for all acts of intimidation or reprisal, both online and offline, by condemning all such acts publicly, providing access to effective remedies for victims, and preventing any recurrence.

Other thematic reports At this 51st session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates, including

Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence

Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences 

Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.

Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes 

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including with the: Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Council will also consider various other reports, see the full list here.  

Country-specific developments
Afghanistan The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan and enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights situation of women and girls in Afghanistan on 12 September. While a Special Rapporteur mandate is necessary to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, the dire situation in the country and the atrocities affecting women and girls warrant a more robust and systematic response. ISHR together with other NGOs call on the Council to establish in parallel an ongoing accountability mechanism with the specific mandate: To investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights law amounting to crimes under international law in Afghanistan, in particular against women and girls, To collect, consolidate and analyse evidence of such violations and abuses, including their gender dimension, and to systematically record and preserve all information, documentation and evidence, including interviews, witness testimony and forensic material, consistent with international law standards, in view of any future legal proceedings; To document and verify relevant information and evidence, including through field engagement, and to cooperate with judicial and other entities, national and international, as appropriate; To identify, where possible, those individuals and entities responsible for all alleged violations and abuses of human rights law amounting to crimes under international law in Afghanistan, in particular against women and girls, with a view to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable.

China  Despite significant pressure, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) has published its human rights assessment on the Uyghur region (Xinjiang). The report highlights ‘serious human rights violations’, including torture and sexual and gender-based violence, stressing that existing ‘highly securitised and discriminatory’ re-education camps ‘provide fertile ground for such violations to take place on a broad scale.’ The OHCHR found that the ‘arbitrary and discriminatory detention of members of Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim group […] may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.’ It also warns that ‘conditions remain in place for serious violations to continue and recur’, calling for ‘urgent attention’ by the international community.  The Human Rights Council, and all governments that are genuinely committed to rights protection globally, cannot turn a blind eye to the severity and scale of evidence verified by the UN.  In line with ‘objective criteria’ for Human Rights Council action, ISHR calls on:  The Council to hold a formal discussion on China’s human rights crisis, including the human rights situations in the Uyghur region (Xinjiang), the Tibetan region, Hong Kong, and on human rights defenders;  States to initiate and support efforts to establish an independent international mechanism to monitor and report on the human rights situation in China, in line with the call by 50 UN Special Procedures experts. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/01/finally-the-long-awaited-un-report-on-china/

Burundi The Council will hold an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Burundi on 22 September.  Since the Special Rapporteur’s mandate was operationalised, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way. The limited improvements since President Évariste Ndayishimiye was sworn in, in June 2020, as well as the positive signals he sent, particularly with regard to freedom of the press and promises of justice, have not materialised into long-term reforms. All the structural issues the CoI and other human rights actors identified remain in place. These include arbitrary arrests of political opponents or those perceived as such, acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, sexual and genderbased violence, undue restrictions to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and violations of economic, social and cultural rights that are intertwined with the economic underpinnings of the State. In the absence of structural improvements and as grave human rights violations and abuses continue to be committed with impunity, the Council should adopt a resolution that reflects realities on the ground and ensures continued monitoring, reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation. It should grant the Special Rapporteur the time he needs to fulfill his mandate and urge Burundi to cooperate with him, including by granting him access to the country. At its 51st session, the Council should adopt a resolution that extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Burundi for a further year.

Egypt The continued silence of the Council on the critical human rights situation in Egypt is of great concern. As Egypt prepares to host COP27, it continues to carry out widespread and systematic violations of human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association against Egyptian and foreign nationals.

Egyptian authorities have for years employed draconian laws, including laws on counterterrorism, cybercrimes, and civil society in order to subdue the civilian populations and stifle all forms of peaceful dissent and mobilization. Under the current government, Egypt has become among the worst three countries in the world in the numbers of jailed journalists and almost all independent media has been forced to shut down or threatened into silence. Hundreds of websites continue to be banned. Scores of civil society and media representatives have been and continue to be disappeared, tortured and/or arbitrarily detained under the pretense of counter-terrorism and national security.

While the release of a few select arbitrarily-detained activists is a sign that international pressure works, the number of releases pales in comparison to the vast numbers of individuals newly detained by the National Security Prosecution, or whose arbitrary detention has been renewed in 2022. Amongst those still in prison is well known Egyptian-British human rights defender Alaa Abdel Fattah – recently sentenced to an additional 5 years in prison by an exceptional court.  He is on hunger strike for over 150 days. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/07/07/mona-seifs-letter-a-cry-for-help-for-alaa/]We urge the Council and its Special Procedures to take action to protect and ensure the release of all those arbitrarily detained in Egypt.

Russia  Together with Russian and international human rights organisations, ISHR continues to call on the Human Rights Council to establish a dedicated international mechanism to monitor and report on the dire human rights situation in Russia. As recognised by UN human rights experts, this situation includes: the stigmatisation and criminalisation of independent civil society; the persecution of human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and political activists, including through arbitrary arrest, detention, ill-treatment and torture; the banning of independent media and the silencing of journalists; attacks against women and LGBTI persons and activists; the propagation of massive disinformation; and the systematic erosion of any semblance of the rule of law or accountability mechanisms.  As further recognised by independent UN experts, by undermining and attacking independent civil society, persecuting human rights defenders, activists, and opposition and dissenting voices, banning independent media, silencing journalists, and effectively outlawing any form of peaceful protest, the Russian authorities have created an environment that, at least in part, facilitates its war in Ukraine. The war has led to an enormous loss of civilian life, displacement of millions of Ukrainian civilians, and contributed to a global food security and energy crisis, among other developments. A dedicated Special Rapporteur mandate would independently collect, analyse and present information on the human rights situation in Russia and make recommendations to the Council and the authorities on how to address it. It would serve as a crucial lifeline between Russian human rights defenders and the international community at a time when other bridges have been cut. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/26/lev-ponomarev-human-rights-defender-leaves-russia/] Finally, a Special Rapporteur could speak up authoritatively against the deepening restrictions on human rights in Russia and on behalf of those facing intimidation, harassment and reprisal for their human rights work.

Israel and oPT ISHR joined over 150 organisations from all world regions demand that the international community condemns and takes action to protect seven Palestinian civil society organisations that have been subject to illegal threats, raids and closure by Israeli authorities.

On the morning of 18 August 2022, the Israeli occupying forces (IOF) raided and sealed the doorways into the offices of the seven Palestinian organisations: Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Al-Haq Law in the Service of Man (Al-Haq), Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), Health Work Committees (HWC), the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC). We urge States to unequivocally condemn Israel’s targeting of Palestinian civil society and tactics to further repress of freedom of expression, and to take all necessary action to support and protect Palestinian human rights defenders and ensure the continuation of their invaluable work.

We call upon States to demand that Israel immediately revoke its designations of Palestinian human rights and civil society organisations as ‘terrorist organisations’, reverse the military orders designating the organisations and closing their offices, and repeal its Anti-Terrorism Law (2016) as it does not meet basic human rights standards. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/15/human-rights-defenders-targeted-by-israel-launch-new-joint-website/

Venezuela The HRC’s fact-finding mission on Venezuela will present its final report under its current mandate to the Human Rights Council on 26 September, followed by an interactive dialogue with States. All eyes are on Latin American states, in particular, to see whether or not they will present a resolution to renew the mission’s mandate.  While there have been significant human rights changes in Venezuela – including a reduction in extrajudicial executions between 2020 and 2021 – the human rights situation in the country remains grim, with clear retrogression in some cases. This is not the time for States to end the work of the Mission, a key accountability mechanism which during its work to date has produced evidence of likely crimes against humanity.  Not only is its work on past violations far from over, but it could play a key role in the prevention of further violations, particularly at times of instability such as is possible during upcoming Presidential elections.   ISHR has worked as part of a Coalition of Venezuelan, regional and international organisations calling for the continuation of the mandate of the Mission. These demands were recently made in a letter to States, signed by 125 other Venezuelan and international organisations. The continuation of the Mission should be a key part of foreign policy aims of states of the region, and ISHR hopes to see States step up on this front in the coming days and weeks.

Yemen ISHR joined NGOs in urging States to work toward the establishment of an independent international criminally focused investigative mechanism on Yemen in the coming period, including at HRC51. While a Yemen truce hangs in the balance, little to no progress has been made by parties to the conflict to  address ongoing and widespread violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law or remedy the harms they have inflicted on civilians throughout the conflict. The humanitarian situation in Yemen remains desperate, and, in recent weeks, armed clashes have once again increased. Civilians continue to fall victim to shelling, drone strikes and other attacks.These factors attest to the urgent and critical need to reinvigorate international accountability efforts on Yemen through the establishment of an independent international investigation. After its mandate ended in October 2021, members of the GEE called on the international community to take specific initiatives at the international level in pursuit of accountability.  Continued impunity will only increase the likelihood that more children will starve, more rights defenders and journalists will be imprisoned or executed, more homes and schools will be bombed, and the cycle of violence and suffering will continue. In this context, an international independent criminal accountability mechanism for Yemen can play a critical role to deter violence, protect civilians and promote a genuine and lasting peace.  In December 2021, nearly 90 civil society organisations called on member states of the UN to move quickly and establish such a mechanism in order to  investigate and publicly report on the most serious violations and abuses of international law committed in Yemen.

Other country situations These include: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan and Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the human rights situation of women and girls in Afghanistan Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Nicaragua Interactive Dialogue on the report of the OHCHR on Sri Lanka Interactive Dialogue on the report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, Interactive Dialogue with the SR on Myanmar, Interactive Dialogue on the OHCHR report on Myanmar, Acting High Commissioner oral update on the human rights situation in Myanmar Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia Interactive Dialogue on the oral update of OHCHR on technical assistance and capacity-building for South Sudan Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic  Interactive Dialogue on the interim oral update of the Acting High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Belarus  Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine and Interactive Dialogue on the Acting High Commissioner oral update on Ukraine Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner and experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and presentation of the Secretary-General’s report  Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic  Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia  Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the Philippines

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

States announced at least 29 proposed resolutions. Read here the reports presented this session. Appointment of mandate holders: The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for:  Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, member from Eastern European States; Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Read here the three year programme of work of the Council with supplementary information. Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2022.

Concerning side events, the Secretariat informed the Bureau that it had developed a way to organise the time slots for the three meeting rooms in order to allow for side events to take place in the Palais des Nations during the 51st session of the Council. The time slots for side events will be allocated according to availability and on a first-come, first-served basis. In order to accommodate as many requests as possible, only one side event per requesting organiser will be accommodated and each side event would be limited to one hour in duration. Organisers are requested to strictly respect the allotted time and to leave the room on time in order to ensure the smooth organisation of the following side event. NGOs will find additional information on the modalities and the criteria at the OHCHR NGO participation web page. The Secretariat underscored that these measures will be implemented during the 51st session on a pilot basis.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/09/20/report-on-the-50th-session-of-the-un-hrc/

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc51-key-issues-on-agenda-of-september-2022-session/

New High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk – the man for an impossible job?

September 15, 2022

On 23 June 2022 Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group posted a Blog: “Time to ask again: is being the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights an impossible job?”

In February 2018, he published a blog on the early departure of the previous High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The blog responded to David Petrasek’s article in OpenGlobaRights, entitled ‘Another one bites the dust’ (8 February 2018).

Limon argues that the High Commissioner position is, in fact, several jobs rolled into one. The mandate of the High Commissioner and his/her Office comprises inter alia:

  • Monitoring and speaking out about human rights violations around the world – ‘preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world,’ (OP4f of GA resolution 48/141 of 7 January 1994).
  • Acting as the Secretariat to the ‘competent bodies of the United Nations system in the field of human rights and [making] recommendations to them,’ (OP4b of GA res. 48/141).
  • Providing capacity building, advisory services and technical assistance, at the request of the State concerned, ‘with a view to supporting actions and programs in the field of human rights,’ (OP4d, GA res. 48/141).
  • Engaging in human rights diplomacy (‘dialogue’) with governments and ‘enhanc[ing] international cooperation,’ in order to promote the implementation of international human rights obligations and commitments, and respect for human rights, (OP4g, OP5h, GA res. 48/141).
  • Coordinating human rights mainstreaming across the UN system, (OP4i, GA res. 48/141).
  • Making recommendations and driving efforts to ‘rationalize, adapt, strengthen and streamline the United Nations machinery in the field of human rights with a view to improving its efficiency and effectiveness,’ (OP4j, GA res. 48/141).

It is clear that, when held in the hands of a single human being, these different parts of the High Commissioner’s overall mandate operate in tension and are, perhaps, even mutually incompatible…

Is it possible for one person to wear all these hats at the same time? Can a single person publicly criticise States in one breath, then in the next reach out to them to forge agreement on reform of the UN human rights system or to provide human rights technical assistance?

Petrasek has made no secret of his belief (apparently shared by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres) that Zeid over-prioritised human rights monitoring and public advocacy, to the detriment of almost all other parts of his mandate. Yet for many other civil society representatives in Geneva and for many Western diplomats, this singlemindedness (together with Zeid’s natural eloquence) made the former High Commissioner something of a cult hero and the perfect High Commissioner,

Fast forward four and a half years and Zeid replacement as High Commissioner, the former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, has also fallen on her sword – yet for precisely the opposite reasons as Zeid.

Bachelet was handpicked by Guterres to mark a clear break from Zeid by pursuing a more holistic and balanced approach to the role and mandate of the High Commissioner. In addition to public advocacy Bachelet tried to emphasise human rights diplomacy, international cooperation, support for the international human rights machinery, a focus on emerging thematic human rights concerns (e.g., climate change, the right to a healthy environment, prevention, digital technology), and the on-the-ground delivery of technical assistance and capacity-building support.

See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/06/09/disappointment-with-un-high-commissioners-visit-to-xinjiang-boils-over/ and

In truth, the world needs a High Commissioner Zeid and a High Commissioner Bachelet. The question is: is that possible? Maybe other solutions might be considered? Might, perhaps, the High Commissioner focus on public advocacy, and the Deputy High Commissioner on the more cooperation-orientated aspects of the mandate? Maybe different Deputies could be appointed for each of the main ‘baskets’ of the High Commissioner’s overall mandate? Or maybe the parts of the mandate related to the human rights machinery could be ‘spun off’ – for example, into a new position of secretary-general of the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and of the Treaty Bodies?

These are difficult and sensitive questions, and yet it is surely important that they be asked and considered now rather than later. Perhaps today, as the Secretary-General ponders the appointment of the next High Commissioner, is an opportune moment to do so?

On September 7, 2022, the UN announced Secretary-General António Guterres’ decision to appoint Volker Türk, an Austrian national, to replace Michelle Bachelet.

Reactions were swift, most of them expressing the need for action, e.g. “The new UN high commissioner for human rights should neither seek nor expect a honeymoon period from UN member states,” said Tirana Hassan, interim executive director of Human Rights Watch on 8 September “What’s needed by the millions of people around the world whose rights are being violated every day is an advocate in their corner who will take on abusive governments large and small without fear and without hesitation.”

Yoni Ish-Hurwitz, Executive Director of Human Rights Likeminded Office was invited by the Universal Human Rights Group on 12 September, 2022, to contribute a Blog `’Who is Volker Türk?’:

Opinions have already begun forming about Volker Türk in the short time since the announcement of his appointment last week as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. However, in the absence of a public competition, there was little opportunity to learn about Türk. He is also not well-known outside of the UN (and had few followers on twitter until last week). Therefore, in the absence of personal familiarity, it may be useful to focus on his biography, body of work and statements. This would lead to a better understanding of why he was selected for this role. [DISCLAIMER; I happen to know him personally from my days in UNHCR. He has always struck me as an honest and dedicated person with a pronounced interest in the human rights side of refugee work.]

Central to Türk’s biography is his long professional relationship with the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. They worked together at UNHCR when Guterres led the agency as High Commissioner for Refugees. When Guterres became UN Secretary-General, Türk joined him in New York, to serve as Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination in the Executive Office. Guterres promoted him in January, to the rank of Under-Secretary-General for Policy, also in the Executive Office, perhaps setting him up to take the role of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Having a close confidant as the High Commissioner may be especially important for the Secretary-General at present, considering the significant current political challenges he faces. This is especially the case in the aftermath of the release of the long-awaited report on Xinjiang by the former High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet. She spared Türk the need to continue holding this hot potato. However, China won’t let Türk off the hook, and will likely exert pressure on him, as it has done with Bachelet, to carefully weigh his words and the way he manages his Office’s work on China. In the meantime, Chen Xu, the Permanent Representative of China in Geneva, announced that ‘the Office closed the door of cooperation by releasing the so-called assessment.’ This means that this is one political crisis that will not end with Bachelet’s departure.

One key question is whether the new High Commissioner will prioritise engagement over speaking truth to power. Bachelet was criticised of doing just that following her recent statements on China, until she released her report at the 11th hour on the job. .. On the face of it, it may appear that Guterres selected a diplomat, rather than an advocate. Türk is a UN career officer through and through, and as such he is in a better position to offer ‘good offices,’ as the UN does, compared to any former Head of State that could have taken the High Commissioner’s post. Among his predecessors were two presidents, two supreme court judges, one foreign minister and one permanent representative to the UN headquarters. However, every day before walking into his new office, the face that Türk will see first is that of his predecessor Sérgio Vieira de Mello, who also spent most of his career in UNHCR. He was commemorated in a bust at the entrance to Palais Wilson, four years after his death in a bombing at UN headquarters in Iraq.

Türk worked in the UN refugee agency for over 30 years, including in the field. Coming from within the UN system is an asset for navigating organisational politics, fostering collaboration with other parts of the UN, enhancing the contribution of OHCHR to all relevant UN fora, and understanding how to engage with Member States to address the situation of the most vulnerable people. His intimate understanding of the UN system is manifested in two major initiatives he stewarded – the Secretary-General’s flagship report, Our Common Agenda, as well as the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights. This may not be the place to analyse their successes or shortcomings, but it can be said that they were both well-received. Our Common Agenda offered a vision for mobilising the UN to address global challenges. OHCHR needs a manager with this kind of foresight to grasp the organisation’s structure, programmes and needs. The second initiative, the Call to Action for Human Rights, identified areas for action to advance human rights. As High Commissioner, perhaps Türk will be in a better position to support the implementation of the Call to Action.

This work demonstrates deep engagement on human rights. His legal background, holding a doctorate in international law, will support his role as an advocate. He can substantively articulate concerns and uphold norms based in international human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law. He certainly appears as an advocate on twitter (@volker_turk). His tweets show his compassion, as he mostly addresses human rights concerns, with people at the centre.

Civil society was concerned about the selection process. Phil Lynch, Executive Director of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), said: ‘The lack of transparency and meaningful consultation with independent civil society in the selection process meant that the Secretary-General missed a key opportunity to build the legitimacy and authority of the next High Commissioner.’ The appointment of the Secretary-General’s confidant may have reaffirmed worries that the High Commissioner would prioritise diplomacy and engagement over advocacy for human rights. However, Türk appears to have the appropriate biography and a heart in the right place to fulfil both of the High Commissioner’s roles as an advocate and a diplomat. Hopefully he will be attentive to civil society and rights-holders, in line with his advice during his time as Assistant High Commissioner for Protection at UNHCR: ‘Listen to what refugees are telling us.’

After being appointed at the last minute as the next UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Turk is not expected to be at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council, held from 12 September to 7 October. When he does, Turk will have to grapple among other challenges with his predecessor’s report on Xinjiang, but for the moment deputy high commissioner Nada Al Nashif is in charge of the UN rights office and will have to answer any questions about China that might come up during the first days of debate..

https://www.universal-rights.org/uncategorized/time-to-ask-again-is-being-the-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-an-impossible-job/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/09/08/un-new-rights-chief-should-speak-out-all-victims