Archive for the 'UN' Category

Mary Lawlor calls on Bahrain to release Abdulhadi al-Khawaja on 60th birthday

April 6, 2021

A placard reads "Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, will and determination, hunger strike" during an anti-government protest on 5 September 2014 (AFP/File photo)

A placard reads “Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, will and determination, hunger strike” during an anti-government protest on 5 September 2014 (AFP/File photo)

Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, made the case for the release of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, before his 60th birthday this week. in a video message posted to Twittery.

Khawaja, who previously served as president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, has been in prison for 10 years, serving a life sentence for “organising and managing a terrorist organisation”, among other charges. “He’s serving a life sentence in prison for peacefully defending the rights of others,” Lawlor said.  

He’s been given an unfair trial and details of his torture have been corroborated by an independent commission of inquiry.”  Lawlor said she had known Khawaja “for many years” and “witnessed his committed work for human rights in the Middle East”

The UN expert also noted that Khawaja’s case had been taken up by the European Union, the United Nations and other international organisations.

I urge the Bahraini government to finally release Abdulhadi in time for his 60th birthday on the 5th of April. His family have been fragmented and dislocated and have suffered greatly over the past ten years; it would be an honourable and compassionate act to allow them to reunite,” Lawlor concluded. 

Khawaja’s was one of the first high-profile arrests following the beginning of pro-democracy protests in 2011 that sparked a widespread government crackdown in Bahrain. See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/09/12/bahrain-travails-of-a-family-of-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/un-expert-calls-bahrain-release-human-rights-defender-abdulhadi-alkhawaja

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/media-releases/5023-bahraini-human-rights-defender-abdul-hadi-al-khawaja-turns-60-on-his-10th-anniversary-in-prison

Wrap up 46th session of UN Human Rights Council with key resolutions on Belarus and Myanmar and more

March 29, 2021

UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréA general view of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in session. 24 March 2021

The UN’s top rights forum passed resolutions condemning abuses of fundamental freedoms in Belarus and Myanmar on Wednesday, in response to ongoing concerns over the human rights situation in both countries.

The ISHR and another 15 organisations (see below) produced as usual their reflections on the key outcomes of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Cameroon, China, India, Kashmir and the Philippines.

They welcome some important procedural advances such as the possibility for NGOs to make video statements, which should be maintained and expanded after the pandemic for all discussions, including in general debates. …They are concerned by the renewal for another year of the ‘efficiency’ measures piloted in 2020, despite their negative impact on civil society participation in a year also impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge States to reinstate general debates in the June sessions, to preserve their open-ended nature, and maintain the option of video intervention also in general debates.

Environmental justice:

They welcome the joint statement calling for the recognition of the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment that was delivered by the Maldives, on behalf of Costa Rica, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland and supported by 55 States. We call on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group as they continue to work towards UN recognition so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, has the right to live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment.

We welcome the joint statement that was delivered by Bangladesh, on behalf of 55 States, calling the Council to create a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. We believe this new mandate would be essential to supporting a stronger human rights-based approach to climate change, engaging in country visits, normative work and capacity-building, and further addressing the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. This mandate should be established without further delay.

Racial Justice: Over 150 States jointly welcomed that the implementation of HRC Resolution 43/1 will center victims and their families. They urge the Council to respond to the High Commissioner’s call to address root causes of racism including the “legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, and its context of colonialism”. The Council must answer to the demands of victims’ families and civil society’s, and establish – at its next session – an independent inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States and a thematic commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, especially where it is related to legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

Right to health: The resolution on ensuring equitable, affordable, timely, and universal access by all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a welcome move in highlighting the need for States not to have export and other restrictions on access to safe diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines, and essential health technologies, and their components, as well as equipment  and encouraged States to use all flexibilities within TRIPs. However, a revised version of the resolution tabled was further weakened by the deletion of one paragraph on stockpiling of vaccines and the reference to ‘unequal allocation and  distribution among countries”. The specific deletion highlights the collusion between rich States and big pharmaceuticals, their investment in furthering monopolistic intellectual property regimes resulting in grave human rights violations. The reluctance of States, predominantly WEOG States who continue to defend intellectual property regimes and States’ refusal to hold business enterprises accountable to human rights standards is very concerning during this Global crisis.

Attempts to undermine HRC mandate: They regret that once again this Council has adopted a resolution, purportedly advancing ‘mutual beneficial cooperation’ which seeks to undermine and reinterpret both the principle of universality and its mandate. Technical assistance, dialogue and cooperation must be pursued with the goal of promoting and protecting human rights, not as an end in itself or as a means of facilitating inter-State relations. We reiterate our call on all States, and especially Council members, to consider country situations in an independent manner, based on objective human rights criteria supported by credible UN and civil society information. This is an essential part of the Council’s work; reliance on cooperation alone hobbles the Council’s ability to act to support the defenders and communities that look to it for justice.

Country-specific resolutions: They welcome the new mandate for the High Commissioner focused on the human rights situation in Belarus in the context of the 2020 Presidential election. It is now essential for States to support the High Commissioner’s office, ensuring the resources and expertise are made available so that the mandate can be operationalised as quickly as possible. Immediately afterwards, on 24 March, 2021 the Human Rights House Foundation published a call by 64 Belarusian and international human rights organisations, welcoming the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council mandating the High Commissioner to create a new robust monitoring and reporting mandate focused on accountability for human rights violations in Belarus that have taken place since 1 May 2020. In so doing, the Council demonstrated its determination to hold Belarusian authorities to account. This mandate needs immediate action. We urge the international community to support this critical next step. The mandate should provide a complementary and expert international mechanism to regional accountability processes already under way. Furthermore, it should assist in the identification of those responsible for the most serious violations for future prosecution. [https://humanrightshouse.org/statements/civil-society-organisations-call-for-the-immediate-operationalisation-of-hrcs-new-mandate-on-belarus/]

They welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, and urge Council to consider further action to hold Iranian authorities accountable, in view of the systematic impunity and lack of transparency surrounding violations of human rights in the country.

They welcome the call for additional resources for the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, increased reporting by OHCHR as well as the work of the IIMM. Lack of international monitoring on, the imposition of martial law in Myanmar to prosecute civilians, including protesters, before military courts, the dangerous escalation of violence by the Tatmadaw and the widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity demand more efforts to ensure accountability.

They welcome the renewal and strengthening of the OHCHR’s monitoring and reporting mandate on Nicaragua, in a context of steady human rights deterioration marked by the Government’s refusal to cooperate constructively with the Office, over two years after its expulsion from the country. The adopted resolution lays out steps that Nicaragua should take to resume good faith cooperation and improve the situation ahead of this year’s national elections. It is also vital that this Council and its members continue to closely follow the situation in Nicaragua, and live up to the resolution’s commitments, by considering all available measures should the situation deteriorate by next year.

They welcome the increased monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka. However, in light of the High Commissioner’s report on the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation and Sri Lanka’s incapacity and unwillingness to pursue accountability for crimes under international law, the Council should have urged States to seek other avenues to advance accountability, including through extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction.

While they welcome the extension of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS), they regret the adoption of a competing resolution under the inadequate agenda item 10. This resolution sends a wrong signal as myriads of local-level conflicts and ongoing SGBV and other violations of fundamental rights continue to threaten the country’s stability. We urge South Sudan to continue cooperating with the CHRSS and to demonstrate concrete progress on key benchmarks and indicators.

They welcome the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on arbitrary imprisonment and detention and reiterate the recommendation to establish an independent mechanism “to locate the missing or their remains”, and call on States to ensure the meaningful participation of victims and adopt a victim-centered approach, including by taking into consideration the Truth and Justice Charter of Syrian associations of survivors and families of disappeared when addressing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

Country-specific State statements: They welcome States’ leadership and statements on human rights situations that merit the HRC’s attention.

They welcome the joint statement on the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and urge all actors, including the Ethiopian Federal Government, to protect civilians and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. Those responsible for crimes under international law, including Ethiopian soldiers, members of armed militias and non-State groups, and Eritrean soldiers involved in Tigray, must be held criminally accountable. The HRC should mandate an independent investigation and reporting by the High Commissioner.

For the first time in seven years, States at the HRC have united to condemn the widespread human rights violations by Egypt and its misuse of counter-terrorism measures to imprison human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers and peaceful critics. They welcome the cross-regional joint statement by 32 States and we reiterate our call supported by over 100 NGOs from across the world on the HRC to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the situation.

They welcome the joint statement by 45 States focused on the human rights situation in Russia, including the imprisonment of Alexi Navalny and the large number of arbitrary arrests of protestors across Russia. The statement rightly expresses concern for shrinking civil society space in Russia through recent legislative amendments and Russia using its “tools of State” to attack independent media and civil society.

In the context of mounting international recognition that Israel imposes an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, they welcome Namibia’s call for the “restoration of the UN Special Committee on Apartheid in order to ensure the implementation of the Apartheid Convention to the Palestinian situation.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/]

For the future:

The next session will receive a report on pushbacks from the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants. The Council must respond to the severity and scale of pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees in transit and at borders and the ongoing suppression of solidarity, including by answering the High Commissioner’s call for independent monitoring. The Council’s silence feeds impunity, it must build on the momentum of the joint statement of over 90 States reaffirming their commitment to protection of the human rights of all migrants regardless of status.

While the OHCHR expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Algeria, and called for the immediate and unconditional release of arbitrarily detained individuals, the Council has remained largely silent. As authorities are increasingly arbitrarily and violently arresting protesters – at least 1,500 since the resumption of the Hirak pro-democracy movement on 13 February, they call on the Council to address the criminalisation of public freedoms, to protect peaceful protesters, activists and the media.

Cameroon is one of the human rights crises the Council has failed to address for too long. They condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisal exercised by the Cameroonian government in response to NGOs raising concerns, including DefendDefenders. This is unacceptable behavior by a Council member. The Council should consider collective action to address the gross human rights violations and abuses occurring in the country.

They echo the calls of many governments for the Council to step up its meaningful action to ensure that concerns raised by civil society, the UN Special Procedures and the OHCHR about the human rights situation in China be properly addressed, including through an independent international investigation. We also regret that a number of States have taken an unprincipled approach of voicing support to actions, such as those by the Chinese government, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, through their national and other joint statements.

They call for the Council’s attention on the rapid deterioration of human rights in India. Violent crackdowns on recent farmers’ protests, internet shutdowns in protest areas, sedition and criminal charges against journalists reporting on these protests, and criminalisation of human rights defenders signal an ongoing dangerous trend in restrictions of fundamental freedoms in India. We call on India to ensure fundamental freedoms and allow journalists, HRDs and civil society to continue their legitimate work without intimidation and fear of reprisals. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/29/also-un-calls-on-india-to-protect-human-rights-defenders/]

We once again regret the lack of Council’s attention on the human rights crisis in Kashmir. Fundamental freedoms in the Indian-administered Kashmir remains severely curtailed since the revocation of the constitutional autonomy in August 2019. Raids in October and November 2020 on residences and offices of human rights defenders and civil society organisations by India’s anti-terrorism authorities in a clear attempt at intimidation have further exacerbated the ongoing crisis. We call on the OHCHR to continue to monitor and regularly report to the Council on the situation in both Indian and Pakistani administered  Kashmir, and on Indian and Pakistani authorities to give the OHCHR and independent observers unfettered access to the region. [See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/09/forgotten-kashmir-something-has-to-be-done/]

Nearly six months since its adoption, the Council Resolution 45/33 on technical assistance to the Philippines has proven utterly insufficient to address the widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity. Killings in the war on drugs continue, and attacks on human rights defenders and activists have escalated. The killing of nine unarmed activists on 7 March 2021 clearly demonstrates that no amount of technical assistance will end the killings as long as the President and senior officials continue to incite violence and killings as official State policy. It is imperative that the Council sets up an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity in the Philippines. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/09/philippines-killings-continue-and-de-lima-stays-in-jail/]

Watch the statement: 

*The statement was also endorsed by: Franciscans International; Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ);  International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); African Centre For Democracy And Human Rights Studies; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH); MENA Rights Group; International Lesbian and Gay Association; Impact Iran; Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM); Siamak Pourzand Foundation; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); ARTICLE 19; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

NOTE: The 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled from 21 June 2021 to 9 July 2021.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc46-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

Human Rights

UN Spotlight on Killing of South African Environmental Defender Mama Fikile

March 16, 2021

.On 15 March 2021 Katharina Rall, Senior Researcher, Environment and Human Rights at Human Rights Watch, wrote about Mama Fikile’s murder, It is almost five months since an environmental activist, Mama Fikile Ntshangase, was gunned down in her home in Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province, after raising concerns about a coal mine in the area. No arrests have been made. Mama Fikile had received threats to her life but carried on with what she perceived to be the only way to protect her community’s health and livelihood.

On March 3, the UN expert on human rights defenders used Mama Fikele’s story to begin a new report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva that highlights the risks many environmental defenders operate under, and the widespread attempts to silence their voices.

South African environmental justice groups have urged the government to carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into Mama Fikile Ntshangase’s killing and ensure that those found responsible are held to account. But her family is still waiting for justice.

Beyond the individual tragedy and injustice, there is another reason the UN expert, Mary Lawlor, highlights the South African case in her global report. Killings of activists create an environment of fear and can have a chilling effect on the people around them. Or, as the UN expert frames it, “[t]here is no more direct attack on civil society space than the killing of human rights defenders.

As a community rights defender opposing coal mining in Fuleni, a small rural village not far from the place where Mama Fikile was killed, Billy Mnqondo once heard gunshots at the gate of his house and was warned by community members that he and his family will be in trouble if he continues to oppose mining. When, in 2018, Human Rights Watch visited Somkhele, Fuleni, and other communities affected by mining, some activists confirmed they were afraid to speak out about the impact of mining in their community, especially after Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, another prominent environmental rights defender, was killed in Xolobeni in 2016.

Violence and intimidation against those who raise their voices to defend their right to a healthy environment is endemic in South Africa.  Human Rights Watch, in its 2019 report, published jointly with groundWork, the Centre for Environmental Rights, and Earthjustice,  documented how activists in mining-affected communities across the country have experienced threats, physical attacks, or property damage that they believe is retaliation for their activism. Most of these cases are not widely known and have not made headlines like the killings of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe and Mama Fikile. Yet, investigations into these killings or other attacks are moving very slowly, if at all. 

Other, less brutal ways to silence the voices of environmental rights defenders are nuisance lawsuits, known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs) – baseless cases brought forward by companies to intimidate and burden activists with the onerous costs of mounting a legal defense.

South African courts are beginning to take a stance against these tactics. In February, the High Court in Cape Town issued a ruling that strengthens the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The court held that a defamation suit brought by an Australian mining company, Mineral Commodities Ltd (MRC), and its local subsidiary against three attorneys, two activists, and a social worker in relation to their statements about its operations is an abuse of legal process. The defamation trial may still proceed, but activists can now defend themselves by arguing that the Court should assess the SLAPP nature of the case.

Following this ruling it will be harder for corporations to use South Africa’s legal system against citizens and activists to silence and intimidate them when they raise human rights concerns or seek accountability for past abuses. The government should now do its part to follow the recommendations of the UN expert by bringing those responsible for killings of environmental defenders to justice. Unless there are prompt, effective, and impartial investigations into the killings—and those responsible are brought to justice— human rights defenders will continue to live in an environment of fear.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/15/un-spotlight-killing-south-african-environmental-defender

Philippines killings continue and de Lima stays in jail

March 9, 2021

Human rights groups called on the Philippine government to investigate what they said was the use of “lethal force” during police raids on Sunday that left at least nine activists dead. The raids in four provinces south of Manila resulted in the death of an environmental activist as well as a coordinator of left-wing group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, among others, and resulted in the arrest of four others, activist groups said.

These raids appear to be part of a coordinated plan by the authorities to raid, arrest, and even kill activists in their homes and offices,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said in a statement.

These incidents, he said, were “clearly part of the government’s increasingly brutal counter-insurgency campaign“. “The fundamental problem is (that) this campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and noncombatant activists, labour leaders, and rights defenders.” The United Nations has warned in a report that “red-tagging”, or labelling people and groups as communists or terrorists, and incitement to violence have been rife in the Southeast Asian nation.

The Philippines government should act now to investigate the use of lethal force in these raids, stop the mayhem and killings that has gone hand in hand with the practice of red-tagging,” Robertson said.

Sunday’s raids, which human rights group Karapatan condemned, came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the police and military to “kill” communist rebels and “ignore human rights”.

“Nothing could be more apt than calling this day a ‘Bloody Sunday,’” Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay said.

Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, head of an anti-rebel task force, told Reuters the raids were “legitimate law enforcement operations”, and authorities acted on the basis of search warrants for possession of firearms and explosives.

“As usual these groups are so quick in assuming that the subjects were activists and that they were killed. If (the) motive was to kill them they should all be dead but there were those who did not resist arrest so they were collared,” Parlade told Reuters in a phone message. — Reuters

In the meantime on 7 March 2021 Rappler.com reported that UK lawmakers called for release of jailed Duterte critic De Lima

Senator De Lima’s prosecution appears to have set the pattern for silencing of President Duterte’s opponents,’ write 27 UK parliamentarian as she entered her 5th year in jail, her office said Sunday, March 7. https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/35cd51c0-93fb-11e8-b157-db4feecb7a6f

Signatories include Rt Hon Dame Diana Johnson, MP (chair, All Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group), Tonia Antoniazzi MP, Harriett Baldwin MP, Paul Blomfield MP, Tracy Brabin MP, Lyn Brown MP, and Dawn Butler MP, according to the Office of Senator Leila de Lima.

President Duterte’s self-styled ‘war on drugs’ has seen an estimated 30,000 extra-judicial killings – along with increased targeting of journalists and human rights defenders, and the undermining of judicial independence,” they added.

A Muntinlupa court on Friday, March 5, dismissed her second drug case appeal, even as she was earlier acquitted in another case. A third case against her is pending before another court.

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/world/rights-groups-call-for-investigation-into-killings-of-philippine-activists-221956

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/03/08/bloody-sunday-left-activists-labor-leaders-executed-philippines-after-duterte-says

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1086782

https://www.rappler.com/nation/uk-lawmakers-call-for-release-duterte-critic-leila-de-lima

Belarus an ‘absolute catastrophe” says human rights defender Ales Bialiatski

March 9, 2021

Pip Cook in Geneva Solutions of 9 March 2021 published a rich, detailed interview with Belarus human rights defender Ales Bialiatski [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6CF69C2A-4101-6782-F0AB-53A307E9F7B2]

Ales Bialiatski laying flowers at a memorial to Aliaksandr Taraikouski, a protester who was killed during a demonstration on August 10, 2020. Credit: HRC Viasna

On February 16, Ales Bialiatski’s home and the offices of his human rights organisation Viasna in Minsk were raided by police. He was targeted along with more than 40 other human rights defenders, journalists and their relative in towns across the country, with reports of officials using excessive force while seizing phones, computers and credit cards.

Bialiatski, one of Belarus’ most prominent human rights defenders, says the authorities were looking for any evidence of organisations or journalists “financing” peaceful protests against the country’s president Alexander Lukashenko. The raids are the latest development in the government’s brutal crackdown on mass protests which have been ongoing in the country since Lukashenko claimed victory in a rigged election last August. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ales-bialiatski/]

The authorities have recently opened a criminal case against Viasna and Bialiatski himself. A former political prisoner who spent nearly three years jailed in Minsk, he says that, by the time this article is published, he may once again be behind bars.

Millions of people want change, and the answer of the government is repression,” says Bialiatski, speaking to Geneva Solutions from the Right Livelihood Foundation offices in Geneva. He and Viasna received the prestigious award in 2020.

Seven months on from the election, more than 33,000 people have been detained, and there are widespread reports of police brutality, arbitrary arrests, kidnapping, and torture of detainees.

The human rights situation in Belarus is, in Bialiatski’s words, “an absolute catastrophe”. “The situation is quite horrible because it’s not only human rights defenders that suffer,” he explains. “It’s all levels of society. Anybody who can think.”

Over half a year since the first protests broke out in the capital Minsk, he says the authorities are still tightening their grip on personal freedoms and carrying out grave human rights violations, targeting activists, journalists and anyone who opposes the regime. But the people of Belarus are not giving up.

What’s going on in Belarus? The government’s crackdown in Belarus follows mass protests in the country last summer after a fraudulent election in which Lukashenko, known as “Europe’s last dictator”, claimed to have won 80 per cent of the vote. The poll is widely accepted to have been rigged to extend his 25-year rule, prompting the largest demonstrations in the country’s history.

Elections in Belarus have never been considered free and fair by many international observers. Bialiatski has been working to advocate for democratic freedoms in the country since his early twenties, when the country was still under Soviet rule.

He founded Viasna in 1996, five years after Belarus gained independence from the Soviet Union and two years after Lukashenko came to power. The organisation’s initial aim was to help thousands of protesters arrested during mass pro-democracy rallies after Lukashenko brought in sweeping constitutional reforms that consolidated his authoritarian rule.

“[My colleagues and I] thought that this work would finish in a few years because the problem would disappear,” says Bialiatski. “But it’s been 25 years and there’s still work to do. It’s never ended. Unfortunately, the human rights situation never got better.”

Accusations of rigged elections, brutal suppression of civil rights and corruption have been hallmarks of Lukashenko’s half a century in power. However, Bialiatski says last year’s poll acted as a catalyst. It was then that Belarusian society finally “woke up” and demanded change.

Breaking the silence. In the run-up to elections in Belarus in 2020, a number of opposition figures became extremely popular, including former members of Lukashenko’s government and Sergei Tikhanovskya, a well-known blogger who travelled the country interviewing former loyal supporters of the ruler about why they had turned against him.

Although Lukashenko jailed or exiled many of his opponents, he did not see Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya – who ran in the place of her husband when he was imprisoned – as a significant threat. However, Tsikhanovskaya became hugely popular, gaining the support of fellow opposition figures and attracting large crowds of supporters to her rallies.

Events in 2020 drastically impacted the Lukashenko’s loyal following and damaged his reputation. The country’s already dire economic situation was exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, which the ruler has fervently denied, refusing to bring in restrictions and joking that the virus could be fought with vodka and work in the country’s potato fields. “Lukashenko was laughing into the world’s face and denying the existence of the virus, while people all around were dying,” says Bialiatski.

Tsikhanovskaya was widely expected to win the vote in a landslide. Although independent polling is illegal in Belarus, making it difficult to measure her lead in the run up to the election, some independent exit polls conducted outside polling stations in foreign embassies on election day showed her to have received 79.69 per cent of the vote while Lukashenko received just 6.25 per cent.

When the government announced it had won 80 per cent of the vote, claiming that Tsikhanovskaya had received less than 10 per cent, Belarusians realised the election had been rigged. “It was an open lie in the face of the people,” says Bialiatski. “Of course there were rallies – nobody believed the result.”

“The very first mass protests on the street were a result of despair and disappointment and disagreement with this injustice that had happened in the country,” he adds.

Thousands of people took to the streets across the country to peacefully protest the result, but they were met with a brutal crackdown from authorities. In Minsk, which saw the worst of the violence, police and the army deployed water cannons, stun grenades and rounds of rubber bullets against protesters. Police vans were reportedly driven into crowds and hundreds were injured, with journalists and independent observers apparently targeted.

As reports circulated of extreme violence against protesters, including systematic torture of detainees by police and security forces, thousands more Belarusians rallied. Over 200,000 people took part in the largest protest in the country’s history, and there were hopes that the pressure may finally topple Lukashenko.

However, the result was an even more brutal crackdown, in which thousands were injured and arrested. “Unfortunately, the peaceful protests didn’t lead to a change of government as was hoped and expected,” says Bialiatski. “Instead, daily repressions started against different people at different layers of society, at different organisations and activists.”

Crackdown on human rights and freedom of speech. According to Viasna, over 2,300 criminal cases have been opened against human rights defenders and activists since the protests erupted in August 2020. In February alone, during the latest spate of arrests, a further 511 people were detained, 102 people received sentences and 49 people imprisoned.

There is currently a criminal case open against Viasna and Bialiatski himself for inciting “public disorder” through allegedly financing ongoing protests by paying the huge fines imposed on protesters. He says the latest raids in which police seized phones, laptops and credit cards were an attempt to collect evidence. “This is considered as financial proof against the regime,” he explains. “They are not allowing us to exercise our human rights protection work, which is our right.

“We are working all the time on the edge of the knife because [we] don’t know when this criminal case will take force and [we] will be sentenced for it,” he says.

It’s not just activists who are being targeted. According to Viasna, there are currently 258 political prisoners in the country, including journalists and bloggers. On 17 February, two journalists, Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova, both of the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel, were convicted of violating public order and sentenced to two years in prison for covering the protests.

“They are looking for ‘criminals’ among those who help political prisoners and write about the struggle of Belarusians for freedom,” wrote Tsikhanovskaya on Twitter in response to the latest raids. Tsikhanovskaya was forced to flee to Lithuania following last year’s elections.

“But in search of criminals, they should look into the offices of the riot police, the GUBOPiK (interior ministry directorate) and all those responsible for the repression.”

A number of Bialiatski’s colleagues are incarcerated in the country’s jails, imprisoned for as little as sending food parcels to jailed protesters. A former political prisoner himself who spent nearly three years behind bars from 2011-2014, Bialitksi knows all too well how terrible the conditions in Belarus’ prisons can be. With widespread reports of detainees being tortured and subjected to brutal treatment, he says he’s deeply concerned for their welfare.

“How people are treated in Belarusian jails is not a humane way to treat people,” he says. “I really hope that my colleagues and my friends can survive it and I really hope that one day they will be released.”

Pressure from the international community. Last summer’s crackdown prompted western countries to impose sanctions on Minsk, but Lukashenko has refused to resign, bolstered by diplomatic and financial support from long-standing ally Russia. Tikhanovskaya, who remains in Lithuania after the country rejected the Belarusian authority’s request for her extradition, is leading a campaign to encourage external pressure on Belarus in the hope that tougher measures against the regime may succeed in toppling Lukashenko.

Her efforts could be paying off. In December, the EU imposed a third round of economic sanctions against key individuals and companies in Belarus, while in February the Biden administration expanded the list of senior officials in the country who are no longer welcome in the United States.

Tikhanovskaya has also created a Coordination Council, effectively a government in waiting, which is headed by Bialiatski. The council is drafting a new constitution and keeps in contact with key figures in Belarus to ensure that the exiled opposition does not become detached from those who are keeping up the pressure on Lukashenko from within.

The situation in Belarus is also being closely watched by the United Nations. Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet recently presented her report on the aftermath of August’s elections to the 46th session of the Human Rights Council at the end of February. Bachelet warned of a “human rights crisis” in the country and called for an immediate end to the policy of systematic intimidation used by the Belarusian authorities against peaceful protesters and for the release of political prisoners.

Viasna has supported a number of other rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in calling on the Human Rights Council to establish a new mechanism on Belarus. Bialiatski explains that the situation in the country must be kept high up on the international agenda if there is any hope of bringing down Lukashenko’s regime.

“It is very important to continue to exercise international pressure on Belarus, pointing out that human rights have to be preserved in the country,” he says. “This help of international society is required today – not tomorrow, today. Because tomorrow it might be too late.”

Hope for the future. Bialiatski says it is impossible to predict what the coming weeks, and even days, will bring to the people of Belarus. He says the latest crackdown has had a “very, very intimating result. People are scared. ”

“One thing is for sure,” he continues. “The administrative and criminal charges, and punishments and sentences against the activists and human rights defenders will get harsher. This I can guarantee. The current power is continuing to tighten the screws.

“I ask myself often how long the people can continue to bear this pressure, and if they will continue to bear it much longer.”

There are hopes that the spring could bring another wave of protests in Belarus. Speaking during a trip to Finland last week, exiled opposition leader Tikhanovskaya said she expected mass protest against Lukashenko to start up again soon after a lull in public demonstrations due to the authorities brutal suppression.

Bialiatski shares some of her cautious optimism. “The crisis has not gone, we are not beyond it,” he says. “The disagreement, disapproval and unhappiness of the people is so strong that I think there will be another breakout soon.”

He says that it is only a matter of time before Lukashenko loses his grip on Belarus – be it a result of peaceful protests, international pressure or the deteriorating economic situation in the country, although most likely a combination of all three. “This is the first time we have clearly seen that the current regime is in the minority and this gives us a significant certainty that the regime, the current power, cannot stay much longer,” he says.

After spending most of his life tirelessly working to uphold human rights in the face of relentless persecution at the hands of the Belarusian authorities, Bialiatski has managed to retain faith that his country will one day become a free democracy. What gives him hope that this could finally be the turning point in Belarus’s history? The country’s young people, he says, who have led the movement against Lukashenko.

“These young people in Belarus who strive for a change have totally different values ​​to Lukashenko and his entourage,” he says. “And it’s difficult to change the minds of young people. They are born with it. They will keep on fighting. ”

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/belarus-human-rights-defender-says-crackdown-on-freedom-an-absolute-catastrophe

Mary Lawlor addresses Lawlessness in case of Berta Caceres and other HRDs

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021, Mary Lawlor – the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – wrote for Amnesty International “Five years after Berta Cáceres was murdered, states are still failing to protect human rights defenders". With the presentation of Mary Lawlor's report to the UN Human Rights Council coming up this week, the piece is worth reading in full:

It’s five years today since environmental human rights defender Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in Honduras. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2AD0CEE4-80CB-3234-04B4-F2ED7ACBE6C5]

She was one of hundreds of human rights defenders killed that year because of their peaceful work, and hundreds more defenders have been killed every year since. Those responsible are rarely brought to justice. Although some have been convicted of Berta Cáceres’ killing, others believed to have been involved have still not been brought to account. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/]

It’s a familiar and continuing story, in Honduras and across the world, where those responsible for the murder of a human rights defender often enjoy impunity. This week I am presenting my latest report to the United National Human Rights Council in Geneva, and it is on the killings of human rights defenders and the threats that often precede them.

At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020. Unless radical, immediate action is taken we can expect hundreds more murders again this year.

Since 2015, at least 1,323 defenders have been killed. While Latin America is consistently the most affected region, and environmental human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres often the most targeted, it is a worldwide issue. At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020

Between 2015 to 2019, human rights defenders were killed in at least 64 countries, that’s a third of all U.N. member states. Those collecting the data agree that underreporting is a common problem. The number of defenders killed is likely significantly higher than the figures we have.

We know that on every continent, in cities and the countryside, in democracies and dictatorships, governments and other forces threatened and killed human rights defenders. Many, like Berta Cáceres, are killed in the context of large business projects.

Why do so many governments and others kill human rights defenders working peacefully for the rights of others? Partly because they can, safe in the knowledge that there is unlikely to be the political will to punish the perpetrators.

While some states, particularly those with high numbers of such killings, have established dedicated protection mechanisms to prevent and respond to risks and attacks against human rights defenders, defenders often complain that the mechanisms are under-resourced.

And in too many cases, businesses are also shirking their responsibilities to prevent attacks on defenders or are even responsible for the attacks.

These murders are not random acts of violence that come out of nowhere. Many of the killings are preceded by threats. As Amnesty International noted, Berta Cáceres’ murder “was a tragedy waiting to happen,” and she had “repeatedly denounced aggression and death threats against her. They had increased as she campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people.”

And yet her government failed to protect her, as so many governments fail to protect their defenders. Since I took up this mandate in May last year I have spoken to hundreds of human rights defenders. Many have told me about their real fears of being murdered, and have shown me death threats made against them, often in public.

They tell me how some threats shouted in person, posted on social media, delivered in phone calls or text messages, or in written notes pushed under a door. Some are threatened by being included on published hit lists, receiving a message passed through an intermediary or having their houses graffitied. Others are sent pictures through the mail showing that they or their families have been under long-term surveillance, while others are told their family members will be killed. It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account

I’ve been told by defenders about a coffin being delivered to the office of an NGO; a bullet being left on a dining room table in their home; edited pictures of them being posted on Twitter, showing them having been attacked with axes or knives; and an animal head being tied to the door of their organization’s office.

Those advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights, and women and transgender human rights defenders, are often attacked with gendered threats, and targeted because of who they are as well as what they do. Women and LGBTI people demanding rights in a patriarchal, racist, or discriminatory contexts often suffer specific forms of attack, including sexual violence, smears and stigmatisation.

The murders of human rights defenders are not inevitable, many are signalled in advance, and yet governments fail, year after year, to provide enough resources to prevent them, and fail, year after year, to hold the murderers to account. In fact, states should not only end impunity but also publicly applaud the vital contribution that human rights make to societies.

This week I’ll again remind the U.N. that their members are failing in their moral and legal obligations to prevent the killings of human rights defenders. It’s no use for government officials to wring their hands and agree that the murder of Berta Cáceres and other defenders is a terrible problem and that someone should do something about it.

It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/asesinato-berta-caceres-estados-siguen-sin-proteger-defensores/

Lawlor urges UAE to free Ahmed Mansoor, Mohamed al-Roken and Nasser bin Ghaith

February 22, 2021

Having just written about a humanitarian award in the Emirates [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/22/zayed-award-for-human-fraternity-to-latifa-ibn-ziaten-and-uns-antonio-guterres/] it is appropriate to refer to UN Special rapporteur Mary Lawlor’s assessment that three human rights defenders imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates are being mistreated in conditions that may amount to torture.

Lawyer Mohamed al-Roken, jailed in 2012 in a crackdown on Islamists [https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/7B69B1D9-E359-444A-B448-02E8B9C0750C], rights campaigner Ahmed Mansoor, imprisoned in 2018 for insulting the government [https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A], and pro-democracy blogger Nasser bin Ghaith, arrested in 2015, are all serving 10-year sentences. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/31/uae-it-is-not-just-ahmed-mansoor-academic-nasser-bin-ghaith-gets-10-year-for-tweets/]

Reports … indicate that the conditions and treatment that these human rights defenders are subjected to, such as prolonged solitary confinement, are in violation of human rights standards and may constitute torture,” said Mary Lawlor,

The UAE government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. UAE authorities have previously dismissed such accusations as false and unsubstantiated.

Lawlor described the three rights defenders’ jail sentences as an attempt to silence them and “intimidate and deter others from engaging in this legitimate work“.

The statement said Mansoor went on hunger strike twice in 2019 to protest his conditions, including reportedly being held in a cell measuring four square metres with no mattress, and limited access to sunlight, a shower or portable water.

It said Bin Ghaith went on hunger strike in 2017 and 2018 to protest against being denied access to medication, as well as physical assault by prison authorities and periods in solitary confinement.

https://news.yahoo.com/u-n-rights-expert-urges-141938085.html

Zayed Award for Human Fraternity to Latifa ibn Ziaten and UN’s Antonio Guterres.

February 22, 2021

Guterres said he considers the award to be recognition of the work of the UN “to advance peace and human dignity every day and everywhere.” (AFP/File Photo)
French-Moroccan activist Latifa ibn Ziaten was a co-recipients of the this year’s Zayed Award for Human Fraternity, along with UN's Antonio Guterres. (Supplied)

Arab News of 4 February 2021 writes about the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity 2021 which recognises French-Moroccan activist Latifa ibn Ziaten and Antonio Guterres.

The Zayed Award recognizes the institutions and community of people who are spreading the work of human fraternity and coexistence around the world. It was inspired by the Document on Human Fraternity which was signed by His Eminence the Grand Imam Dr. Ahmed El-Tayeb and His Holiness Pope Francis on February 4, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The Document on Human Fraternity, alongside the inspiration of the humanitarian actions and values of the UAE’s founder, the late Sheikh Zayed, is the foundational doctrine that informs the criteria for nominees of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity (ZAHF). The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity (HCHF) is a non-governmental body, based in Abu Dhabi, and the architect of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity. Obviously not the most appropriate place for human rights award, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A and also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/05/18/uae-emirates-human-rights-defender-nasser-bin-ghaith-ngos-censorship/

HCHF’s mission is to act on the aspirations outlined in the Document on Human Fraternity by meeting with religious leaders, heads of international organizations, and others across the world, to support and spread the values of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence. In addition, the committee provides counsel on a variety of initiatives, including the Abrahamic Family House, which is being built in Abu Dhabi. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/23/emirates-at-the-upr-in-geneva-two-sides-of-the-same-medal/y.

Guterres praised fellow recipient Ibn Ziaten for “her dedicated efforts to support young people and promote mutual understanding, arising out of immense personal tragedy, (that has) won admirers at home and beyond.”[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/04/08/us-state-department-international-women-of-courage-awards-2016-yulan/
Ibn Ziaten’s son, Imad, was the first person to die at the hands of terrorist Mohamed Merah during a series of shootings in the cities of Toulouse and Montauban in southwestern France between March 11 and 22, 2012. When Ibn Ziaten visited Les Izards in Toulouse, where the Merah had lived, to find out more about the man who took her son’s life she was shocked to find young people there hailing the killer as a hero of Islam. “I had the impression they were killing my son all over again,” she said at the time. This motivated her to found the Imad ibn Ziaten Youth Association for Peace to help young people in deprived areas and promote interreligious dialogue.
Guterres reiterated that discrimination, racism and extremist violence continue to surge around the globe, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic recession, a climate emergency and continuing threats to peace and security. Unity is more important now than ever, he added. Guterres said he will donate the $500,000 prize that accompanies the award to the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees to support its work with “the most vulnerable members of the human family: the forcibly displaced.”

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1803496/world

HRD issues on agenda of 46th Session of the council

February 22, 2021

Although I have decided to focus this blog mostly on human rights defenders and their awards, I will make an exception for the regular sessions of the UN Human Rights Council of which the 46th session has started on 22 February and which will last until to 23 March 2021. This post is based on the as always excellent general overview published by the International Service for Human rights: “HRC46 | Key issues on agenda of March 2021 session”. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda which affect HRDs directly:

Modalities for NGOs this year: According to the Bureau minutes of 4 February 2021: “Concerning the participation of NGOs in the 46th session, the President clarified that under the proposed extraordinary modalities, NGOs in consultative status with the ECOSOC would be invited to submit pre-recorded video statements for a maximum of three general debates in addition to the interactive dialogues, panel discussions and UPR adoptions as they had been able to do during the 45th session. In addition, “the Bureau agreed that events organised virtually by NGOs in consultative status with the ECOSOC could be listed on the HRC Extranet for information purposes.”

Human Rights implications of COVID-19

The pandemic – and States’ response to it – has presented various new challenges and threats for those defending human rights. The pandemic has exposed and deepened existing discrimination, violence and other violations. Governments have used COVID as a pretext for further restricting fundamental rights, including through the enactment of legislation, and specific groups of defenders – including WHRDs and LGBTI rights defenders – have lost their livelihoods, access to health services have reduced and they have been excluded from participating in pandemic responses. Action to address the pandemic must be comprehensive and systemic, it must apply a feminist, human rights-based, and intersectional lens, centred on non-discrimination, participation and empowerment of vulnerable communities. Last March ISHR joined a coalition of 187 organisations to draw the Council’s attention to the situation of LGBTI persons and defenders in the context of the pandemic.

#HRC46| Thematic areas of interest

Protection of human rights defenders

On March 3rd and 4th, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on her annual report “Final warning: death threats and killings of human rights defenders”, and the country visit report of her predecessor to Peru.

Reprisals

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

The UN has taken action towards addressing this critical issue including:

  • Establishing a dedicated dialogue under item 5 to take place every September;
  • Affirmation by the Council of the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation; and
  • Appointment of the UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights as the Senior Official on addressing reprisals.

ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who try to engage with UN mechanisms, and consistent in its calls for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation.

During its 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, 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 and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline.

Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

During the organisational meeting held on 8 February, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals.

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence with States involved, and insist on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Other thematic reports

At this 46th session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders, and consider the annual report of the Secretary-General on the question of the realization in all countries of economic, social and cultural rights. The debates with mandate holders include:

  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, annual report on COVID-19, culture and culture rights and country visit to Tuvalu 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, annual report on twenty years on the right to adequate housing: taking stock – moving ahead and country visit to New Zealand 

The Council will discuss a range of civil and political rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including:

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture, annual report and country visit to Maldives
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, annual report on combating anti-Muslim hatred
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, annual report on artificial intelligence and privacy, and children’s privacy, and country visit reports to the United Kingdom, France, Germany, United States of America, Argentina, and Republic of Korea.  

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including:

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on interrelation of human rights and human rights thematic issues including:

  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, annual report on human rights and the global water crisis: water pollution, water scarcity and water-related disasters 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, annual report on human rights impact of counter-terrorism and countering (violent) extremism policies and practices on the rights of women, girls and the family

Country-specific developments

China 

A pile of evidence continues to mount, including the assessment from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, about policies of the Chinese government targeting ethnic and religious minorities, including Uyghurs, Tibetans and Mongolians. The rule of law is being further eroded in Hong Kong, as deeply-respected principles of due process and pluralistic democracy are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Human rights defenders and ordinary citizens confront ongoing crackdowns on civic freedoms, pervasive censorship and lightning-fast recourse to administrative sanction, enforced disappearance and trumped-up national security charges to silence critics.  – In the face of this, inaction has become indefensible.

The UN Special Procedures issued a sweeping statement in June 2020, calling for the international community to take ‘decisive action’ on the human rights situation in the country. At the March session, ISHR urges States to convey at the highest level the incompatibility of China’s actions domestically with its obligations as a new Council member, and to continue to press for transparency, actionable reporting and monitoring of the situation. Statements throughout the Council are key moments to show solidarity with individual defenders – by name – , their families, and communities struggling to survive. And finally, States should take every opportunity to support efforts by China that meaningfully seek to advance human rights – while resolutely refuting, at all stages of the process, initiatives that seek to distort principles of human rights and universality; upend the Council’s impressive work to hold States up to scrutiny; and weaken the effectiveness and impact of the Council for victims of violations and human rights defenders. Furthermore, other Council members should step up their commitments to the body’s mandate and purpose, and reject efforts by China and its partners and proxies. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/china/

Egypt

The Egyptian authorities continue to systematically carry out patterns of reprisals against human rights defenders for their legitimate work, including for engagement with UN Special Procedures. These have included arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearance, torture, unlawful surveillance, threats and summons for questioning by security agencies. The government’s refusal to address key concerns raised by States in its response to the UPR in March 2020 demonstrated its lack of political will to address its deep challenges and to engage constructively with the Council. ISHR reiterates its call on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Egypt. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/

Saudi Arabia

In 2020, the Council continued its scrutiny over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Yet, the Saudi government has failed the litmus test to immediately and unconditionally release the women’s rights activists and human rights defenders, instead they continued to prosecute and harshly sentence them for their peaceful activism. On 10 February 2021, it was reported that WHRDs Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Nouf Abdulaziz have been released conditionally from prison after spending over two and a half years in detention solely for advocating for women’s rights, including the right to drive and the dismantling of the male guardianship system. ALQST reported that WHRDs Nassima al-Sadah and Samar Badawi remain in detention and that “in a worrying development, the Public Prosecution has appealed the initial sentence issued on 25 November 2020 by the Criminal Court against al-Sadah of five years and eight months in prison, half of it suspended, seemingly with the aim of securing an even harsher sentence”. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/1a6d84c0-b494-11ea-b00d-9db077762c6c

The government’s refusal to address this key concern raised in the three joint statements demonstrates its lack of political will to genuinely improve the human rights situation and to engage constructively with the Council.  ISHR reiterates its call on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Nicaragua 

On 24 February, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Nicaragua. Despite the renewal of Resolution 43/2, the human rights situation in Nicaragua has steadily deteriorated over the last months. Civil society space has sharply shrank, due to new restrictive laws on foreign agents and counter-terrorism, while attacks against journalists and human rights defenders -the last remaining independent human rights observers – continue. The lack of an independent judiciary or NHRI further deprives victims of the possibility to seek justice and redress. Whilst the repression deepens, State inaction in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and the passage of hurricanes have also exacerbated the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights. In light of upcoming elections in Nicaragua, ISHR urges the Council to renew and strengthen its resolution on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, laying down a clear benchmark of key steps the State should take to demonstrate its willingness to cooperate in good faith, while clearly signaling the intention to move towards international investigation and accountability should such cooperation steps not be met within the year. States should also increase support to targeted defenders and CSOs by raising in their statements the cases of student Kevin Solís, Aníbal Toruño and Radio Darío journalists, trans activist Celia Cruz, as well as the CENIDH and seven other CSOs subject to cancellation of their legal status.

Venezuela

Venezuela will come under the spotlight several times with oral updates from OHCHR on the situation of human rights in the country (25 February, 11 March) and an update from the international fact-finding mission on Venezuela (10 March). OHCHR is mandated to report on the implementation of the recommendations made to Venezuela, including in reports (here and here) presented last June.  The fact-finding mission has started work on its renewed and strengthened 2-year mandate, despite delays in the disbursement of funds and is due to outline its plans to the Council. Intensifying threats and attacks on civil society in Venezuela since November 2020, provide a bleak context to these discussions. States should engage actively in dialogue on Venezuela, urging that recommendations be implemented – including facilitating visits from Special Rapporteurs; that the fact-finding mission be granted access to the country and that civil society be promoted and safeguarded in its essential work.

Burundi

On 2 February 2021, the Supreme Court of Burundi announced its decision allegedly adopted on 23 June 2020 to sentence 12 defenders to life in prison. The date of the adoption of this decision was announced after the Court decided to defer it further to 30 June 2020 and again after that. The Court never assigned or informed the 12 concerned of the proceedings. This case was investigated and judged in the absence of all those concerned and the sentence only made public seven months after the alleged proceedings took place. Among the victims of this arbitrary procedure are renown lawyers such as Me Armel Niyongere, Vital Nshimirimana and Dieudonné Bashirahishize, who are being targeted for their engagement in the defense of victims of the 2015 repression in Burundi and for filing complaints for victims to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.  A group of civil society organisations denounced the dysfunctioning and lack of independence of judicial proceedings in the country. After confirming the 32 years sentence of defender Germain Rukuki, Burundi continues its crackdown against civil society. In addition to ensuring the continued work of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, members of the Council need to call on Burundi to uphold its international obligations and stop reprisals against defenders for engaging with any international mechanisms. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/ The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi on 10 March.

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 25 February. The Council will consider updates, reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Oral update and interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Belarus
  • Oral update and interactive dialogue with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on ensuring accountability and justice in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine
  • Oral updates and enhanced interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • High-level Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali 

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 46th session held on 8 February, the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes seven panel discussions. States also announced at least 28 proposed resolutions. Read here the reports presented this session

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council proposed candidates for the following mandates: 

  1. Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (member from Africa) 
  2. Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (member from North America)
  3. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 
  4. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia
  5. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (member from African States)
  6. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (member from Asia-Pacific States).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 46th session

At the organisational meeting on 8 February the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  • Promotion of the enjoyment of the cultural rights of everyone and respect for cultural diversity (Cuba)
  • Human rights and the environment, mandate renewal  (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland)
  • Prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Denmark)
  • Question of the realization in all countries of economic, social and cultural rights (Portugal)
  • Guarantee of the right to the health through equitable and universal access to vaccines in response to pandemics and other health emergencies (Ecuador)
  • Negative impacts of unilateral coercive measures (Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement-NAM)
  • Human rights, democracy and the rule of law (Morocco, Norway, Peru, Romania, Republic of Korea, Tunisia)
  • Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  • Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mandate renewal (EU)
  • Situation of human rights in Myanmar, mandate renewal (EU)
  • Combating intolerance based on religion or belief (OIC)
  • Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (OIC)
  • Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination (OIC)
  • Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (OIC)
  • Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan (OIC)
  • Technical assistance and capacity-building for Mali in the field of human rights (African Group)
  • Persons with albinism (African Group)
  • Impact of non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin to countries of origin (African Group)
  •  The situation of human rights in Iran, mandate renewal (Moldova, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Iceland)
  • The right to privacy in the digital age, mandate renewal (Austria, Brazil, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico)
  • The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, mandate renewal (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  • Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka (Canada, Germany, Montenegro, North Macedonia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) 
  • Situation of human rights in South Sudan, mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, UK) 
  • Read the calendar here.

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Belarus, Liberia, Malawi, Panama, Mongolia, Maldives, Andorra, Honduras, Bulgaria, the Marshall Islands, the United States of America, Croatia, Libya and Jamaica. ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. It publishes and submits briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as a mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. 

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Panel discussions scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming. Theme: The state of play in the fight against racism and discrimination 20 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action and the exacerbating effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on these efforts
  2. Biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty. Theme: Human rights violations related to the use of the death penalty, in particular with respect to whether the use of the death penalty has a deterrent effect on crime rate
  3. Meeting on the role of poverty alleviation in promoting and protecting human rights
  4. Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child [two accessible panels]. Theme: Rights of the child and the Sustainable Development Goals
  5. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities [accessible panel]. Theme: Participation in sport under article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  6. Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent. (Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination)

Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2021.

To stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC46 on Twitter, and look out for the Human Rights Council Monitor. During the session, follow the live-updated programme of work on Sched

To compare: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/06/hrc45-key-issues-for-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc46-key-issues-agenda-march-2021-session

Large group of NGOs call on Biden administration to repeal ICC Sanctions

February 19, 2021

After the Trump administration attacks on the ICC [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/12/trump-issues-new-sanctions-on-the-icc-and-human-rights-defenders/], the question is now how the Biden administration will change course:

On 17 February 2021, more than 70 Non-Governmental Organizations, Faith-Based Groups and Academic Institutions called for the Biden Administration to Repeal ICC Sanctions:

The undersigned organizations urge the Biden Administration to engage constructively with the International Criminal Court (ICC). The U.S. government’s support for the ICC could help secure justice for victims in situations from Myanmar to Darfur, just as it helped facilitate the February 4 historic conviction of a former leader of an armed rebel group for war crimes and crimes against humanity in northern Uganda.There is an immediate need to act to reset U.S. policy regarding the ICC. Most urgently, we are alarmed by recent calls for the U.S. government to maintain or even expand the sanctions put into place by the Trump administration in June 2020 currently targeting the court’s work.These actions were an unprecedented attack on the court’s mandate to deliver justice and the rule of law globally, an abuse of the U.S. government’s financial powers, and a betrayal of the U.S. legacy in establishing institutions of international justice. They were also an attack on those who engage with the court, including human rights defenders and victims. These extraordinary measures have put the U.S. at odds with many of its closest allies. They also have been challenged on constitutional grounds domestically. Keeping in place the executive order authorizing sanctions would be inconsistent with the new administration’s laudable commitments to respecting the rule of law and pursuing multilateral cooperation in support of U.S. interests. It would also transform a shameful but temporary action into a standing license for other governments to attack multilateral institutions when they disagreewith those bodies’ actions. We call upon the U.S. government to rescind Executive Order 13928 and all sanctions measures against ICC officials at the earliest possible opportunity. We appeal for constructive engagement with the ICC and we urge the Biden administration and members of Congress to support that approach.

This statement was coordinated by the Washington Working Group for the International Criminal Court (WICC), an informal and nonpartisan coalition of diverse NGOs, including human rights organizations, faith based groups, professional associations, and others.

The Advocates for Human Rights, Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Jewish World Service (AJWS), Amnesty International USA, Anti-Torture Initiative, American University Washington College of Law, Associazione Luca Coscioni, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)Center for Justice and Accountability Center for the Study of Law & Genocide, Loyola Law School, Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, US, Provinces Darfur Women, Action Group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), Eumans European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Fortify Rights, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Global Justice Center, Global Justice Clinic, New York University School of Law, Guernica 37, Chambers and Centre for International Justice, Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, City University of New York School of Law, Human Rights FirstHuman Rights Institute, Georgetown University Law Center, Human Rights Watch, Institute for Policy Studies, Drug Policy Project, Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), International Criminal Court Alliance (ICCA), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Human Rights Clinic, Boston University School of Law, International Human Rights Clinic, Harvard Law School, InterReligious Task Force on Central AmericaJ . StreetJustice for Muslims Collective. Leitner Center for International Law and Justice, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Never Again Coalition, No Peace Without Justice, Open Society Foundations, Operation Broken Silence, Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), Partners in Justice International, Pax Christi USA, Physicians for Human Rights, Presbyterian Church (USA), Office of Public Witness, Project Blueprint,The Promise Institute for Human Rights, UCLA School of Law REDRESS, The Rendition Project