Archive for the 'Human Rights Council' Category

Documentary film Arica gets attention from United Nations Human Rights Council

September 15, 2021

On 2 June 2021 Davide Abbatescianni wrote in Cineuropa about Lars Edman and William Johansson’s film which documents the devastation caused by a Swedish mining giant in a Chilean desert town

Over 30 years after Swedish mining and smelting giant Boliden shipped almost 20,000 tons of toxic mining waste to the Chilean desert city of Arica, a group of Special Rapporteurs from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) led by Dr Marcos Orellana have made allegations of ongoing human rights abuses, as exposed in Lars Edman and William Johansson’s documentary Arica [+]. The feature was presented at last year’s IDFA and is set to continue its festival run in Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy and Belgium.

Exposure to the waste led to numerous cases of cancer, birth defects and serious diseases. Currently, the Chilean government estimates that around 12,000 people were exposed to the toxins. The UNHRC has advised the Swedish government that “urgent measures should be taken to repatriate the hazardous wastes to Sweden and/or ensure the disposal of the hazardous wastes in an environmentally sound manner”.

Particular criticism is aimed at Boliden Mining, which the body accuses of “intimidating and threatening behaviour” towards human rights defenders – namely, the legal team representing the victims in Arica. They allege that such an approach, adopted by Boliden following the decision by the Swedish court of appeal not to hear the Arica case on the grounds that Boliden’s actions took place too long ago to be tried under Swedish law, was “a deliberate attempt to produce a wider, chilling effect of silencing and intimidating other lawyers and human rights defenders”. The United Nations’ action has been welcomed by victims and campaigners, including community campaigner Rodrigo Pino Vargas, who said: “For over 30 years, we have seen our families and our neighbours suffer the consequences of this Swedish waste. We have buried our children and been forced from our homes. We will not stop until our voices are heard and the damage is repaired. Even when we win in court, we find nothing but broken promises. For the first time, the intervention of the United Nations gives us hope that our human rights will be upheld. The people of Arica demand that immediate action be taken to meet our health needs and that the toxic waste be returned to where it belongs – in Sweden.”

The acclaimed documentary, shot over the course of 15 years, sheds light on a shameful case of modern colonialism. After losing their case in 2018 with a sentence that ultimately sided with Boliden, rejecting the Chilean judges’ verdict on the firm’s responsibilities and decriminalising their misdeeds, another appeal was lost in 2019. As of today, the Swedish Supreme Court has not granted Arica’s victims the right to appeal, and Boliden is threatening to sue their lawyers to make them pay the legal costs, a sum close to $5 million.

Producer Andreas Rocksén commented: “When Lars and William began filming 15 years ago, their intention was to ensure that the voices of the people in Arica, affected by the waste that came from under the soil where they grew up, would be heard. What has happened since has surpassed any expectations: their story is being heard around the world, and yet those same people in Arica are still fighting for justice. We will continue to amplify their voices as best we can and applaud all the different initiatives aimed at seeing their human rights upheld.”

Meanwhile, political pressure in Sweden is mounting as the country prepares to host the Stockholm+50 event, marking 50 years since the first-ever UN Conference on the Human Environment.

Arica was produced by Swedish independent studio Laika Film & Television, and was co-produced by Belgium’s Clin d’Oeil Films, Chile’s Aricadoc, Norway’s Relation04 Media and the UK’s Radio Film Ltd. Its world sales are entrusted to Swiss outfit Lightdox.

https://www.cineuropa.org/en/newsdetail/405513

Human Rights Defenders issues in the 48th session of he UN Human Rights Council

September 13, 2021

The International Service for Human Rights (HRC) published again it – as usual – very useful Guide to the next (48th) Session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 13 September to 8 October 2021. Here is an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda directly affecting human rights defenders. Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC48 on Twitter, and look out for their Human Rights Council Monitor and during the session. [for last year’s, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/key-issues-affecting-hrds-in-47th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-june-2021/

Thematic areas of interest

Reprisals

On 29 September, the Assistant Secretary General Ilze Brands Kehris 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. We continue to call for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation. The dedicated dialogue provides 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,  

During the 48th session, Ghana, Fiji, Hungary, Ireland and Uruguay will present a draft resolution on cooperation with the UN. The draft resolution aims to strengthen the responses by the UN and States to put an end to acts of intimidation and reprisals. ISHR urges all delegations to support the adoption of the draft resolution and resist any efforts to undermine and weaken it.

ISHR recently launched a study analysing 709 reprisals cases and situations documented by the UN Secretary-General between 2010 and 2020. The study examines trends and patterns in the kinds of cases documented by the UNSG, how these cases have been followed up on over time, and whether reprisal victims consider the UN’s response effective. Among other things, the study found that nearly half the countries serving on the Council have been cited for perpetrating reprisals. The study found that public advocacy and statements by high level actors condemning reprisals can be one of the most effective tools to prevent and promote accountability for reprisals, particularly when public pressure is sustained over time. The study also found that, overall, the HRC Presidency appears to have been conspicuously inactive on intimidation and reprisals, despite the overall growing numbers of cases that are reported by the UNSG – including in relation to retaliation against individuals or groups in connection with their engagement with the HRC – and despite the Presidency’s legal obligation to address such violations. The study found that the HRC Presidency took publicly reported action in only 6 percent of cases or situations where individuals or organisations had engaged with the HRC. Not only is this a particularly poor record in its own right, it also compares badly with other UN actors. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/06/un-action-on-reprisals-towards-greater-impact/]

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 insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Environmental Justice

It’s high time the Council responds at this session to the repeated calls by diverse States and civil society to recognize the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and establish a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. ISHR joins a broad civil society coalition in calling on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group of the resolution on human rights and environment (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland) as they work towards UN recognition of the right to environment so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, can live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment. Furthermore, ISHR also joins a broad civil society coalition in calling on States to establish a new Special Rapporteur on climate change at this session. This new mandate is essential to strengthen a human rights-based approach to climate change, engage in country visits, undertake normative work and capacity-building, and further address the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. [see also the recent Global witness report: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

Other thematic reports

At this 48th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates, including interactive dialogues with the:

  1. Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation
  2. Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights 
  3. Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences 
  5. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  6. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  7. Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes 
  8. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance

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

  1. High Commissioner on the current state of play of the mainstreaming of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations
  2. Special Rapporteur  on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  3. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent 

Country-specific developments

Afghanistan

ISHR has joined 50 civil society organisations to urge UN Member States to ensure the adoption of a robust resolution to establish a Fact-Finding Mission or similar independent investigative mechanism on Afghanistan as a matter of priority at the upcoming 48th regular session of the HRC.  We expressed profound regret at the failure of the recent HRC special session on Afghanistan to deliver a credible response to the escalating human rights crisis gripping the country, falling short of the consistent calls of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures and civil society organisations, and does not live up to the mandate of the HRC to effectively address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations. The Council must establish a Fact-Finding Mission, or similar independent investigative mechanism, with a gender-responsive and multi-year mandate and resources to monitor and regularly report on, and to collect evidence of, human rights violations and abuses committed across the country by all parties. 

China 

It has now been three years since High Commissioner Bachelet announced concerns about the treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims – including mass arbitrary detention, surveillance and discrimination – in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. During the intervening three years, further substantial and incontrovertible evidence has been presented indicating crimes against humanity in the region. ISHR joins a 300+ strong coalition of global civil society that continues to call for accountability for these and other violations, including in Tibet and Hong Kong, by the Chinese authorities. At this session, ISHR highlights that arbitrary detention is – as has been noted by the Special Procedures – a systemic issue in China. Chinese authorities are long overdue in taking any meaningful action in response to the experts’ concerns, such as ceasing the abuse of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, or RSDL. ISHR reiterates its calls from the 46th and 47th sessions for a clearly articulated plan from OHCHR to ensure public monitoring and reporting of the situation, in line with their mandate and with full engagement of civil society, regardless of the outcome of long-stalled negotiations for High Commissioner access to the country. This would be a critical first step for future, more concrete actions that would respond to demands of victims, their families and communities, and others defending human rights in the People’s Republic of China. 

Burundi

We request the Council to continue its scrutiny and pursue its work towards justice and accountability in Burundi. The Council should adopt a resolution that acknowledges that despite some improvements over the past year, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way, as all the structural issues identified by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (CoI) and other human rights actors have identified since 2015 remain in place. The Council should adopt an approach that focuses on continued independent documentation on the situation of human rights in Burundi which should be carried out by the CoI, or a similarly independent mechanism or team of experts, who are solely focused on Burundi. The Council’s approach should also ensure that there is follow up to the work and recommendations of the CoI, in particular, on justice and accountability. See joint letter released ahead of the UN Human Rights Council’s 48th session.

Egypt

Despite Egypt’s assurances during the UPR Working Group in 2019 that reprisals are unacceptable, since 2017, Egypt has been consistently cited in the UN Secretary General’s annual reprisals reports. The Assistant Secretary-General raised the patterns of intimidation and reprisal in the country in the 2020 reprisals report, as well as UN Special Procedures documenting violations including detention, torture and ill-treatment of defenders. In her latest communication to the Government, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders highlighted the arbitrary detention of 12 defenders, including three targeted for their engagement with the UN: Mohamed Al-Baqer, human rights lawyer and Director of the Adalah Centre for Rights and Freedoms, arbitrarily detained since 29 September 2019; Ibrahim Metwally, coordinator for the Association of the Families of the Disappeared in Egypt, arbitrarily detained since 10 September 2017; and Ramy Kamel, Copitic rights activist, arbitrarily detained since 23 November 2019. Both States and the HRC Presidency should publicly follow up on these cases. Furthermore, in light of Egypt’s failure to address concerns expressed by States, the High Commissioner and Special Procedures, ISHR reiterates our joint call with over 100 NGOs on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt and will continue to do so until there is meaningful and sustained improvement in the country’s human rights situation. 

Nicaragua

The human rights crisis in Nicaragua has steadily deteriorated since May 2021. Given the reported lack of implementation of resolution 46/2 and the absence of meaningful engagement with the UN and regional mechanisms by the Government, stepping up collective pressure has become vital. We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Costa Rica on behalf of a cross-regional group of 59 States on 21 June 2021. This is a positive first step in escalating multilateral pressure. Further collective action should build on this initiative and seek to demonstrate global, cross-regional concern for the human rights situation in the country. In her oral update, the High Commissioner stressed ‘as set out in [the Council’s] latest resolution, I call on this Council to urgently consider all measures within its power to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua. This includes accountability for the serious violations committed since April 2018.’ We call on all States to support a joint statement at the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, urging the Government to implement priority recommendations with a view to revert course on the ongoing human rights crisis, and indicating clear intention to escalate action should the Nicaraguan Government not take meaningful action.

Saudi Arabia

While many of the WHRDs mentioned in previous joint statements at the Council have been released from detention, severe restrictions have been imposed including travel bans, or making public statements of any kind. Most of the defenders have no social media presence. Furthermore, COVID-19 restrictions and the G20 Summit in November 2020 coincided with a slow down in prosecutions of those expressing peaceful opinions and a decline in the use of the death penalty. However, throughout 2021 the pace of violations has resumed. This has included fresh new waves of arrests of bloggers and ordinary citizens, often followed by periods of enforced disappearance, lengthy prison terms issued against human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience, and abuse in prison, including deliberate medical neglect. In addition, despite announcing the halt of the death penalty against minors, the Saudi government recently executed someone who may have been 17 at the time of the alleged offense, and the number of executions in 2021 is already more than double the total figure for 2020. Saudi Arabia has refused to address the repeated calls by UN Special Procedures and over 40 States at the Council in March 2019, September 2019 and September 2020, further demonstrating 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.

Venezuela 

With the environment becoming all the more hostile for civil society organisations in Venezuela, the Council will once again focus attention on the human rights situation in the country at the upcoming session. On 24 September, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission will provide its second report to the Council building on its findings of likely crimes against humanity committed in the country. ISHR looks forward to making an oral statement during the dialogue with the Mission. In addition, the High Commissioner will provide an oral update on the situation in the country and the work of her office in-country, on 13 September. The Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures will present her report following her in-person visit to the country in February 2021. Finally, it’s expected that the report of the Secretary General on reprisals will include cases related to Venezuela. During all these opportunities to engage, States should remind Venezuela of the need to implement UN recommendations; engage with UN human rights mechanisms, including the Mission; and organise visits for Special Rapporteurs already identified for prioritisation by OHCHR. 

Yemen

ISHR joined over 60 civil society organisations to use the upcoming session of the HRC to establish an international criminally-focused investigation body for Yemen, and simultaneously ensure the continuity of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE) through an ongoing or multi-year mandate. In their last report, “A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land”, the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE) underscored Yemen’s “acute accountability gap”, concluding that the international community “can and should” do more to “help bridge” this gap in Yemen. They recommended that the international community take measures to support criminal accountability for those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and egregious human rights abuses. In particular, they supported the “establishment of a criminally focused investigation body” (similar to the mechanisms established for Syria and Myanmar) and “stressed the need to realize victims’ rights to an effective remedy (including reparations)”.  Such a mechanism would facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, and lay the groundwork for effective redress, including reparations for victims. 

Other country situations:

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 13 September 2021. The Council will consider updates, reports 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:

  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s written update on Myanmar, including of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, an interactive dialogue on the report of on the Independent Investigative Mechanism, and an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur 
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner and enhanced interactive dialogue on the Tigray region of Ethiopia
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and oral update by OHCHR on the extent of civilian casualties
  • Oral update by OHCHR and interactive dialogue on Belarus
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the progress made in the implementation of the Council’s 30th Special Session resolution on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, and presentation of the High Commissiner’s report on allocation of water resources in Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Ukraine 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the final report of the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner on South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and presentation of the Secretary-General’s report 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Libya
  • Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia 
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the Philippines

#HRC48 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 48th session held on 30 August the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes six panel discussions. States also announced at least 20 proposed resolutions. Read here the 87 reports presented this session. 

Appointment of mandate holders

  1. The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
  2. a member of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises from Latin American and Caribbean States; 
  3. a member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, also from Latin American and Caribbean States (an unforeseen vacancy that has arisen due to the resignation of a current member).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 48th session

At the organisational meeting on 30 August the following resolutions inter alia were announced (States or groups leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Human rights situation in Burundi (EU)
  2. Human rights and environment (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland) 
  3. Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights  (Fiji, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Uruguay) 
  4. Human rights situation in Yemen (Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands) 
  5. Elimination of child, early and forced marriage (Argentina, Canada  Italy, Honduras, Montenegro, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay, Zambia, Netherlands) 
  6. Technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (African Group) 
  7. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  8. From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (African Group)
  9. Human rights and indigenous peoples (Mexico, Guatemala)
  10. Human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, UK, USA)
  11. Advisory services and technical assistance for Cambodia – mandate renewal (Japan) 
  12. Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights (Thailand, Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Turkey)
  13. Technical assistance and capacity building to Yemen (Arab Group)
  14. Equal participation in political and public affairs (Czech Republic, Botswana, indonesia, Peru, Netherlands)
  15. Right of privacy in the digital age (Germany, Brazil, Liechtenstein, Austria, Mexico) 
  16. The question of the death penalty (Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Mongolia, Moldova, Switzerland) 

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Myanmar, Namibia, the Niger, Mozambique, Estonia, Belgium, Paraguay, Denmark, Somalia, Palau, Solomon Islands, Seychelles, Latvia, Singapore and Sierra Leone.

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. Six panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Biennial panel discussion on the issue of unilateral coercive measures and human rights
  2. Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms
  3. Annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples on the theme “Situation of human rights of indigenous peoples facing the COVID-19 pandemic, with a special focus on the right to participation” (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  4. Half-day panel discussion on deepening inequalities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and their implications for the realization of human rights (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  5. High-level panel discussion on the theme “The tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training: good practices, challenges and the way forward” (accessible to persons with disabilities
  6. Panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, with a particular focus on achievements and contemporary challenges (accessible to persons with disabilities)

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.

https://ishr.ch/

Post 9/11: where did ‘human rights’ go?

September 8, 2021

LUNCH BRIEFING 9/11 Twenty Years On
Tuesday 28 September, 12:30-13:30
Auditorium A1A, Maison de la paix, Geneva, and online

Two full decades have elapsed since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. In the aftermath of these events, the world has entered a period characterised by a number of dynamics, which have persisted and shaped significantly the configuration of the global order. What is the nature of these transformations, notably the militarisation of international relations, the securitisation of social affairs, the rise of cultural and religious tensions and the crisis of democracy? Has the post-COVID-19 moment in turn ushered the end of the post-11 September world? Ultimately, what historical meaning can we ascribe to legacy of ‘9/11’?

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou is Professor of International History and Politics, and Chair of the Department of International History and Politics at the Graduate Institute. Previously the Associate Director of the Programme on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University, he is the author of a trilogy on the post-11 September era and recipient of the 2021 International Studies Association (ISA) Global South Distinguished Scholar Award.

The Lunch Briefing will be moderated by Julie Billaud, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology.

On cue Imogen Foulkes wrote on 7 September 2021 a post for Swissinfo “When the world became a ‘human rights free zone’ September 11, 2001″.

No one will forget the shock of that day. It’s hard even now, two decades later, to describe how it felt to watch something so unimaginable, so horrific. When I returned to my newsroom that evening, a colleague said to me “well, Imogen, that’s it, our world has changed forever”. I was still so focused on the immediate event that I didn’t quite understand him, and it took me a while to realise how right he was.

Our world did change forever that day; from smaller inconveniences around how we travel, to fears over how safe we are, to prejudices and intolerance towards groups perceived as a threat, to sweeping changes in security laws.

In the latest episode of our Inside Geneva podcast, we look at those changes, and the consequences, in particular for human rights. Gerald Staberock, secretary general of the World Organisation Against Torture, tells me: “I want my government to fight terrorism. I want those who did 9/11 or whatever terrorist attacks to be brought to justice.” But he also regrets the fact that the 9/11 attacks, which he describes as “a denial of the very values of human rights”, led to – in his view – “another attack on human rights, through counterterrorism”. 

Looking back now, with all the knowledge we have of extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay, waterboarding and so on, it is quite hard to remember that in the first months and even years after 9/11, none of us, not even human rights defenders, were quite aware of how the “war on terror” was being fought.

Once that war was being conducted in earnest in Afghanistan, I remember getting a hint, off the record, from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who told me that they were aware of detainees being transferred from Bagram airbase, but had no idea where they were being taken. It is the ICRC’s role, under the Geneva Conventions, to visit those detained during conflict, a role which was, for a while at least, impossible to fulfil.

Fionnuala ní Aoláin, currently UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, also joins us on the podcast. Her position, she points out, was not created until five years after 9/11, and, she says “in that absence lies the story of a human rights free zone”, during which “the United States moved to engage in practices of torture, of rendition, or the establishment of a black hole where people were held arbitrarily”. 

Governments have argued that extraordinary measures are necessary to counter extraordinary threats. Certainly no political leader wants a 9/11 type attack on his or her watch. And, many opinion polls show, the public are prepared to compromise some fundamental human rights standards in the name of defeating terrorism.

A 2016 study by the ICRC found that, among millennials in industrialised countries, many agreed that torture was justified if it led to information that could save lives. Strikingly, among young people living in conflict zones, or under repressive regimes, a large majority remained opposed to torture.

This shift in opinion is a concern for ní Aoláin, who points out that some governments have taken to justifying increasingly repressive laws in the name of the war on terror. “Right now, in…Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, we see governments saying that human rights defenders are terrorists, that eco warriors are terrorists, that women’s rights defenders are terrorists.”

Interestingly, ní Aoláin comes from Belfast. She grew up with terror attacks, and counterterrorism measures. She believes that “actually it is counterproductive to security to violate human rights”, a point of view Staberock agrees with. He remembers research done in Northern Ireland in which senior security officers admitted that preventive detention had been a disaster, not just from a human rights perspective, but from a security perspective because “it made the cause much broader, it made the problem much bigger…by victimising people, you weaken the cause”.

Both ní Aoláin and Staberock believe the term “terrorist” is too widely used, and that it can become a convenient slogan for governments to introduce all sorts of legislation which would otherwise not easily be justifiable.

Staberock argues that “the best answer to terrorism is to demask it as killings. Not allow it to hide behind ideology. Demask it in an ordinary criminal process, bring people to justice, punish them, stick to your rules”.

The first shots in the war on terror were fired, 20 years ago, in Afghanistan. Today, in that same country, we are watching a humanitarian and foreign policy disaster unfold. As western diplomats made a panicked dash for the airport, they left millions of Afghans to live, again, under the Taliban, the very “terrorist” group the US and its allies entered Afghanistan to defeat.

So have we learned anything from the last 20 years? Do listen to Inside Geneva to find out more, but I’ll leave you with these final thoughts from ní Aoláin.

“We appear not to have learnt any lessons,” she says. “What we appear to be doing is betraying civil society, leaving women, human rights defenders and girls…when we conveniently decide that we’ve had enough and it’s time for us to leave.”

But, as a human rights defender herself, she is not deterred: “If you fight for human rights you’re always pushing big rocks up mountains, and you watch them fall down, and you push the same rocks up the mountain again. I think those of who work on human rights in the context of counterterrorism are looking at an enormous big rock.”

http://view.com.graduateinstitute.ch/?qs=03593ae72d465f424c62524fcb3b0674a1400adcb8708ad99947e5c2a73185ef84f12eb7b35f47251d236364d73d73396f7f3d03e7c28892b24b62800c3fbf2a0ccfc7e543a7d5d02fcd6e2c5427714a082f2ab63c8151e4

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/response-to-9-11—counterterrorism-attack-on-human-rights/46906238

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/09/blacklisting-terrorist-groups-911-wars

UN Experts urge EU to take the lead on protecting human rights defenders in context of business

September 7, 2021

The European Union has a chance to set an example for the entire world by protecting people who risk their lives standing up for human rights in the context of business activities, said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, joined by the UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises known as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights), Mr. Surya Deva (Chairperson), Ms. Elzbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Githu Muigai, Mr. Dante Pesce, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry; and Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

The European Union legislative initiative on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence “must include safeguards for human rights defenders,” they stated on 6 September 2021.

The European Union, as the world’s largest single market, has a golden opportunity to advance the safety and security of human rights defenders who are working around the globe to build more just societies, often at great personal risk,” Lawlor said. “A robust, binding regime in the EU covering companies of all sizes would provide a powerful model for other parts of the world.”

Human rights defenders often risk their lives confronting violations along supply chains, Lawlor said. “Parent companies must carry out human rights and environmental due diligence throughout their supply chains to ensure human rights defenders are not subjected to reprisals from their subsidiaries, sub-contractors and suppliers,” she said. “The EU must ensure that where such retaliation happens, these companies can be held accountable.”

In the 10 years since the Human Rights Council adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, business compliance has remained extremely low. In the same period, increasing numbers of human rights defenders have been killed for their work. The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has recently developed guidance setting forth expectations that businesses address risks to defenders and that States address this as part of their own mandatory human rights due diligence regulations.

People who stand up for human rights related to environmental protection, community land rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, poverty, minorities and business accountability – often intertwining issues – are most at risk of being attacked or killed.

Where human rights defenders come under attack in the context of business activities it is a clear sign of other underlying human rights issues.” Lawlor said. Potential risks for human rights defenders should be seen as a key component of companies’ due diligence duty to identify and assess human rights risks connected to their projects, and must be specifically included in the expected EU proposal.

Business enterprises must also be obliged to consult with defenders under the EU initiative, and the door should be kept open for defenders to bring issues to companies’ attention at every stage within business projects,” Lawlor said. “

“Now is the time for the EU to give new life to its founding principles by delivering a strong law that could help reduce the number of lives lost in defence of human rights,” Lawlor said.

https://www.miragenews.com/golden-opportunity-for-eu-to-take-global-lead-626609/

UAE’s new human rights institute: sounds like a joke

September 3, 2021

On 2 September 2021 Deutsche Welle reports on “UAE’s new human rights institute: Real change or ‘image washing’?” State media has trumpeted the creation of a new human rights body set to work in line with global principles. But the UAE’s critics say the move is audacious and a joke.

THe UAE has been heavily criticized for the way it treats international laborers and human rights defenders [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/15/mary-lawlor-calls-again-on-uae-to-release-prominent-human-rights-defenders/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/02/vloggers-selling-their-souls-to-boost-image-of-arab-regimes/]

The United Arab Emirates announced earlier this week that it would set up an independent national human rights organization. The new institution will open an office in Abu Dhabi and, according to the UAE’s state media, “aims to promote and protect human rights and freedoms” in accordance with the local and international laws and guidelines.

The new organization — official name: UAE National Human Rights Institution — already has a hotline that anyone can call if they wish to report human rights abuses.

DW tried calling the number over two days this week. Even though local media said the hotline was active, several attempts failed. Either the calls were not answered or the connection was dropped. DW has reached out to the UAE Embassy in Berlin for further information on the new institution, but has yet to receive a response.

This is just another tactic, part of the UAE’s decade-long whitewashing campaign to make themselves look like a tolerant, respectful and open country,” said Hiba Zayadin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, who focuses on abuses in the Gulf states.

But the situation on the ground is very different,” she told DW. “In fact, there is absolutely no room for dissent in the UAE. There have been no independent civil society groups there since 2012 and so many people have been jailed. There is a lot of fear of retaliation for speaking out and a high level of censorship, even amongst UAE-based international journalists and academics.” 

Other human rights organizations and media watchdogs have come to similar conclusions.

Reporters Without Borders has highlighted the lack of independent media and the UAE’s draconian cybercrime law from 2012. It ranks the country 131st in the world for press freedom out of 180.

UAE activist Ahmed Mansoor (was arrested in 2017 [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A]

Amnesty International maintains a long list of “prisoners of conscience” in the UAE, “including well-known human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor,” who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for posts on social media about human rights violations in the UAE.

In June, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders called on the UAE to release a number of people who had been imprisoned since 2013 for speaking out against the government.

“They should have never been detained in the first place for legitimately exercising the freedoms that all people are entitled to,” said Mary Lawlor.

Social media users in the Middle East were also critical about the announcement of the human rights organization. “The UAE and human rights don’t really go together,” one Twitter user wrote.

This is the joke of the season,” UK-based researcher Fahad al-Ghofaili, quipped on the same website.

The UAE has said the new body will be set up in line with the so-called Paris Principles.

Those standards, officially adopted by the United Nations in 1993, essentially outline how a national human rights institution’s leadership should be selected, how it will be funded and staffed and how it can cooperate with both civil society organizations and the government, but also remain independent.

Alexis Thiry, a legal adviser at Geneva-based legal advocacy organization MENA Rights Group, told DW it was too early to know if the new UAE organization would be sticking to the Paris Principles, as promised. This was because the rights group had not yet been able to read a publicly available version of the law, UAE Federal Law number 12 of 2021, that enabled the creation of the institution, said Thiry.

It is difficult to have an opinion about the forthcoming independence of the [institution] and its compliance with the Paris Principles,” he explained. “At this stage, it is also too early to comment on the performance of the institution since its members have yet to be appointed, to our knowledge.”

Despite its modern outward appearance, the UAE is regularly criticized about its human rights record

When a new institution like this is formed, it often applies for accreditation with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions to see if it is adhering to the Paris Principles. The MENA Rights Group often provides assessments to the Global Alliance, which has 118 member organizations from around the world.

From the information the legal advisory group did have, it seemed that the UAE’s new law would be similar to those in neighbouring countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain. All of these countries already have national human rights institutions. But according to the Geneva-based lawyers, none of the national human rights institutions in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar or Saudi Arabia fully comply with the Paris Principles.

However, if the UAE’s attempts at creating this institution are really genuine, then organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty would welcome that, activists said. In promotional materials, UAE media said the institution “would seek to cooperate and deal with the UN and concerned international bodies.”

It will be interesting to see if the UAE are now willing to engage with external organizations,” Human Rights Watch researcher Zayadin noted.

Despite multiple attempts asking UAE authorities to respond to allegations of abuse inside the country, and to get access to prisoners there, Zayadin said her organization has never received any response from the government.

A very first step towards a genuine commitment to improving human rights in the country would be to allow international, independent monitors access to the country,” said Zayadin. “An even more important step would be to release from prison all those who have been unjustly detained simply for exercising their right to free expression and association.”

https://www.dw.com/en/uaes-new-human-rights-institute-genuine-or-joke/a-59061415

Protect cultural human rights defenders in Afghanistan, says UN rights expert

August 23, 2021

While understandably all eyes are on the risks faced by those who are in the first line of sight of the Taliban such as human rights activist and women human rights defenders, a piece in India Blooms of 19 August 2021 about the “cultural disaster”, that may follow the fall of Kabul, is worth noting. The UN Special Rapporteur Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, urged countries to provide urgent assistance to human rights defenders, including those working on women’s and cultural rights, as well as artists, trying to flee the country.

It is deplorable that the world has abandoned Afghanistan to a fundamentalist group like the Taliban whose catastrophic human rights record, including practice of gender apartheid, use of cruel punishments and systematic destruction of cultural heritage, when in power, is well documented,” she said.

The independent rights expert called for all forms of culture and cultural heritage to be protected, as well as those who defend it, and implored cultural and educational institutions everywhere to extend invitations to Afghan artists, cultural workers and students, especially women and members of minorities, to enable them to continue their work in safety.

It is not enough for foreign governments to secure the safety of their own nationals”, said Ms. Bennoune. “They have a legal and moral obligation to act to protect the rights of Afghans, including the rights to access to education and to work, without discrimination, as well as the right of everyone to take part in cultural life.”

The Special Rapporteur said she was gravely concerned at reports of gross abuses by the Taliban, including attacks on minorities, the kidnapping of a woman human rights defender, the killing of an artist, and the exclusion of women from employment and education.

Bennoune recalled that the Taliban’s own cultural officials in 2001 had attacked the country’s national museum, destroying thousands of the most important pieces, as well as banning many cultural practices, including music. 

Afghan cultural rights defenders have worked tirelessly and at great risk since then to reconstruct and protect this heritage, as well as to create new culture. Afghan cultures are rich, dynamic and syncretic and entirely at odds with the harsh worldview of the Taliban,” she said. 

Governments which think that they can live with ‘Pax Taliban’ will find that this is grave error that destroys Afghan lives, rights and cultures, and eviscerates important advances that had been made in culture and education in the last two decades with international support and through tireless local efforts.” 

Bennoune said such a policy will harm Afghans most but will also set back the struggle against fundamentalism and extremism, and their harmful effects on cultures, everywhere in the world, threatening the rights and security of all.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/27/expert-meeting-on-cultural-rights-defenders/

https://www.indiablooms.com/world-details/SA/30852/protect-human-rights-defenders-in-afghanistan-says-un-rights-expert.html

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council

August 23, 2021

Courtesy of Reliefweb, here the reference to “States in denial: the long-term detention of human rights defenders – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor” (A/76/143), posted 19 Aug 2021 Originally published 19 July 2021.

Summary

In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, analyses the situation of human rights defenders in long – term detention, serving sentences of 10 years or longer. The Special Rapporteur draws attention to underlying factors that contribute to the phenomenon of detaining human rights defenders for lengthy periods as a result of their legitimate human rights activities. The report contains examples of individual cases of human rights defenders serving long-term prison sentences. She makes recommendations to relevant stakeholders to halt and reverse these trends and suggests ways to prevent this from happening in the future. [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/20/special-rapporteur-mary-lawlor-starts-new-website/]

1. Introduction

  1. In December 2015, woman human rights defender Lodkham Thammavong was 1 of some 30 people who protested outside the Lao Embassy in Bangkok to express their concern over the Lao Government’s alleged human rights violations.
  2. Three months later, when she returned to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, she and two other human rights defenders, Soukane Chaithad and Somphone Phimmasone, were arrested by Lao police.
  3. The Special Rapporteur has received credible information that they were not informed of the charges against them and no arrest warrants were presented at the time of arrest or afterward. Ms. Thammavong and the others were reportedly forced to make false confessions, paraded on national television to apologize for being traitors and denied their rights to legal representation.
  4. A year later, in March 2017, after an unfair trial, Ms. Thammavong was found guilty of “treason to the nation, propaganda against the State, and gatherings tied at causing social disorder”. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Mr. Chaithad and Mr. Phimmasone were also convicted on the same charges, and given 16 and 20 years, respectively.
  5. At the time of writing, Ms. Thammavong is currently being held in Tan Piao Prison, located around 60 km from Vientiane, making family visits difficult. She is said to be lacking access to water and still has had no access to legal counsel.
  6. Unfortunately, such attacks on human rights defenders are not rare. Hundreds of human rights defenders across the world are serving long prison sentences after being convicted on fabricated charges following unfair trials. Many, like Ms. Thammavong, were denied adequate legal representation.
  7. The Special Rapporteur has monitored numerous cases of defenders serving more than 10 years in prison, and of many other defenders facing charges for which they could be sentenced to similarly long terms. Many, like Ms. Thammavong, have been sentenced under vague and ill-defined charges often relating to treason, subversion or terrorism.
  8. Many are held in harsh conditions, and/or have been forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. Some suffer from ill health and are deprived of adequate medical attention. Some are also denied regular access to their families. Some are at risk of being sentenced to death, and some have died in jail while serving long sentences.
  9. In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, intends to show that the issue of the long-term detention of human rights defenders is extensive, that there are many commonalities in the methods used to unjustly jail them and that many Member States – including some who are members of the Human Rights Council, or who aim at being a member – consistently deny they are holding defenders in jail. She advises States on how to prevent further such attacks on defenders and recommends that all human rights defenders be immediately and unconditionally released from jail.
  10. The full extent of this problem is not known. Human rights defenders are serving long terms in detention on every continent, but there are very likely many more cases than those featured in the present report that have not been brought to the Special Rapporteur’s attention.
  11. The cases included here are only those where consent has been obtained directly from the defenders themselves, or from their families or representatives. Many other cases are also known to the Special Rapporteur, but are not included in the report for various reasons, including where it was not possible to obtain consent or where highlighting cases would risk making the situation of the defenders worse. Some defenders were jailed so long ago that their cases have faded from public view and no longer feature in many advocacy efforts. This can also make consent and information more difficult to obtain.
  12. There is a wide range of defenders serving long terms in detention. Some are labour leaders, some are lawyers, others are journalists. Some are jailed for defending article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which outlines the right for people to vote in elections. Others are targeted for peacefully advocating for democratic reform, or for exposing deficiencies in governance. The Special Rapporteur reiterates that peacefully defending these and other rights that States have promised to safeguard is never a crime.
  13. Some defenders have been targeted and jailed in reprisal for their engagement, or intended engagement, with United Nations mechanisms. Some are famous, winners of international awards for their work, with prominent international profiles, while others are relatively unknown, even within their country. Some hold dual nationalities and are citizens of countries other than the one in which they are jailed.
  14. Some defenders have been convicted in mass trials and some have been sentenced in absentia. Some defenders sentenced to long terms in jail are living in exile, unable to return to their country for fear of arrest. Others are kept in long periods of pretrial detention, not knowing if or when they will face charges that could send them to prison for long terms.
  15. Other defenders are seized and nothing is heard from or about them for many years. Not all are held by Governments. Some, like Syrian woman human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh, are believed to have been taken by militia groups. There has been no news of her current whereabouts for years.
  16. Other human rights defenders sentenced to long terms in jail die in custody. Human rights defender Azimjan Askarov was unjustly sentenced to prison in 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, and he was still in prison 10 years later with serious medical problems. Despite appeals from the mandate holder, the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to the authorities for his release on health grounds, he died in detention in 2020.
  17. The Special Rapporteur notes there is often a flurry of attention and activity around a case when a human rights defender is arrested or convicted, sometimes accompanied by intense international media coverage and advocacy from foreign governments and United Nations mechanisms. But even with the most prominent defenders, attention typically fades over the years as fresh cases demand the attention and resources of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), independent United Nations experts and interested Governments.
  18. Many defenders serving long sentences feel forgotten or abandoned.
  19. The effect of the long-term detention of defenders can be devastating – to themselves, to their families, to their communities and to the civil societies to which they belong. Just fighting a legal case can exhaust a defenders’ resources, and that of their NGO. Indeed, this damage to them and their work is often the motivation for their being targeted.
  20. States will recall that in her first report to the General Assembly in 2020 (A/75/165), the Special Rapporteur outlined her priorities for the mandate, which included a focus on “defenders serving long terms in prison”. She believes States should have confronted this enduring problem long ago. Some States have ignored years of appeals to stop jailing human rights defenders and still refuse to release those they currently hold in detention.
  21. The Special Rapporteur is instructed under the mandate to study developments and challenges on the right to promote and protect human rights and seek, receive and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders, and to recommend effective strategies to better protect human rights defenders.
  22. One simple piece of advice for States to better protect human rights defenders is not to put them in prison for long terms for peacefully defending the rights of others.
  23. Many States sentence human rights defenders to long terms in prison because they want to, and because they can. They want to because they are unhappy with defenders exposing corruption, pointing out human rights violations or highlighting other deficiencies in governance.
  24. Jailing defenders does not always silence them, and some continue to defend rights while in detention, but States often use this method of attack against human rights defenders to crush peaceful dissent.
  25. States can do this because they ignore international treaties they have committed to, often with negligible international consequences. They enable themselves to jail human rights defenders by passing vague laws, often in the name of national security or countering terrorism, by staging sham trials that fail meet international standards, by torturing defenders into making false confessions and by lying about the work of human rights defenders.
  26. Some States contest that those jailed are not defenders but subversives, traitors or terrorists. The Special Rapporteur knows the difference, and she respectfully reminds States that her long years of experience in identifying who is a human rights defender – and who is not – is partly why she was entrusted with this mandate. The Special Rapporteur is keen to discuss individual cases with States to better explain why those in detention referred to in the present report are human rights defenders.
  27. Despite the many detailed cases regularly presented to Member States of human rights defenders currently serving long jail terms, the Special Rapporteur notes that in response to her call to Member States for submissions to the present report, not one State acknowledged holding any human rights defender in long-term detention.
  28. Many States have for many years used this method of attack against human rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur’s predecessors in this mandate have, since the mandate was established 20 years ago, repeatedly recommended that States not use unfair trials or security legislation as a pretext for jailing, or otherwise attacking, human rights defenders.
  29. In 2001, Hina Jilani, the first mandate holder on the situation of human rights defenders, in her first report to the then Commission on Human Rights, stated that: “The situation of human rights defenders … and their sentencing after unfair trials will be a matter of serious concern for the Special Representative” (E/CN.4/2001/94, para. 89 (f)).
  30. Despite regular, detailed updates to Member States from the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders over many years about this unjust practice, defenders are still routinely subjected to unfair trials, after which many are sentenced to long terms in prison.
  31. In her most recent report to the Human Rights Council, presented earlier this year (A/HRC/46/35), the Special Rapporteur focused on the killing of human rights defenders. She identified a lack of political will from Member States to hold the perpetrators accountable as a key driver of the murders. In the case of long-term detention of defenders, it is less the absence of political will to prevent this abuse, but rather the active presence of a political will in States to target defenders.
  32. Some representatives of Member States have told the Special Rapporteur, in response to her raising the case of an unfair trial, that they cannot interfere in their countries’ independent judicial process. While the Special Rapporteur respects the principle of judicial independence, she cannot be silent when a criminal justice system falls short of international standards and is used to unjustly jail human rights defenders.
  33. In 2003, Ms. Jilani told Member States: “When human rights defenders are arrested, detained and/or prosecuted under security legislation, the process should be fully transparent. The charges on which the arrest and detention are based should be made public and explained in a sufficiently complete manner that the veracity of their substance can be independently verified” (A/58/380, para. 71).
  34. Many States are still failing this test of transparency and continue to consign human rights defenders to long years of misery in prison.
  35. While those mechanisms which enable long-term, unjust detention, including torture, unfair trials and the gross misrepresentation of the work of those peacefully defending the rights of others, should be addressed, the fundamental reason that defenders are held in long-term detention is because of the political will in States to do so.
  36. Targeting human rights defenders with long jail terms is never acceptable, and it is a red line no State should cross. It is immoral, illegal, inexcusable and dishonourable. This practice exposes States’ lack of resolution to fulfil the international standards they have committed to uphold. Consigning those who peacefully defend human rights to prison raises serious questions about States’ intentions to abide by the international agreements they have signed.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/states-denial-long-term-detention-human-rights-defenders-report-special-rapporteur

UN experts demand release of human rights defender Dawit Isaak, imprisoned without trial in Eritrea since 2001

August 19, 2021

On 18 August 2021 UN experts demanded the release of journalist and human rights defender Dawit Isaak, imprisoned without trial in Eritrea since 2001, amid uncertainty about whether he is even still alive.

To this day, Dawit Isaak has never been charged with a crime, spent a day in court or spoken to his lawyer,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. “The level to which the Eritrean Government is ignoring Mr. Isaak’s basic, fundamental human rights is appalling. He must be released at once.”

In the first years of his detention, “we received information that Mr. Isaak was often taken to hospital, which was concerning in itself,” Lawlor said, “Now we receive no news, and that’s worse. We fear for his life. At an absolute minimum, Eritrea must immediately present evidence that he is alive and well.”

Dawit Isaak, 56, a dual Swedish-Eritrean national, established one of Eritrea’s first independent media outlets in the 1990s, the Setit newspaper. In May 2001, it published open letters written by a group of politicians known as the G15 urging the Government to hold open elections and implement a newly drafted Constitution. With the world’s attention diverted by the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Isaak was arrested on 23 September 2001.

According to a credible source, Mr. Isaak was alive in September 2020, the first sign of life in seven years. He is reportedly being held in Eiraeiro prison, a detention centre infamous for its conditions, where torture is allegedly common practice and where many inmates have reportedly died in custody.

The enforced disappearance of Mr. Isaak for almost two decades is extremely concerning,” said Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. “The Government of Eritrea has not confirmed his whereabouts or provided any solid evidence about his state of health in all these years. It has denied torture allegations but has not allowed anyone to visit Mr. Isaak.

Lawlor said she had rarely witnessed such disregard for human life as she documents cases of human rights defenders in long-term detention around the world.

“Locking up human rights defenders for long periods of time may feel like a guarantee against internal scrutiny,” Lawlor said. “But we have not forgotten.”

Mr. Isaak’s work has been recognised by a number of prestigious awards, including UNESCO’s Freedom of Press Award {see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/9329f937-0d8b-4543-8664-2263e968adbf] and he was a finalist for the Sakharov Award in 2017

The Special Procedures mandate holders are in contact with the Eritrean authorities on this matter.

The experts’ call is endorsed by: Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Chair), Mr. Henrikas Mickevičius (Vice Chair), Ms. Aua Balde, Ms. Gabriella Citroni and Mr. Luciano Hazan; and Mr. Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

https://www.miragenews.com/un-experts-demand-release-of-human-rights-615941/

Results of 47th session of the Human Rights Council

August 7, 2021

The ISHR and 17 other organisations (see below for their names) share reflections on the key outcomes of the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/key-issues-affecting-hrds-in-47th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-june-2021/

CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION

We deplore the systemic underfunding of the UN human rights system and the drive for so-called efficiency, including the cancellation of general debates in June, which are a vital part of the agenda by which NGOs can address the Council without restrictions. We call for the reinstatement of general debates at all sessions, with the option of civil society participation through video statements.  We welcome the focus of the civil society space resolution on the critical role played by civil society in the COVID-19 response, and the existential threats to civil society engendered or exacerbated by the pandemic. For the resolution to fulfil its goal, States must now take action to address these threats; while we welcome the broad support indicated by a consensus text, this cannot come at the cost of initiatives that will protect and support civil society.

HUMAN RIGHTS ONLINE

We welcome a resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and its thematic focus on bridging digital divides, an issue which has become ever-important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge all States to implement the resolution by taking concrete measures to enhance Internet accessibility and affordability and by ceasing Internet shutdowns and other disruptions, such as website blocking and filtering and network throttling. In future iterations of the text, we encourage the core group to go further in mentioning concrete examples that could be explored by States in adopting alternative models for expanding accessibility, such as the sharing of infrastructure and community networks.  We welcome the resolution on new and emerging digital technologies and human rights, which aims to promote a greater role for human rights in technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies, and in the policies of States and businesses. While aspects of the resolution risk perpetuating “technology solutionism”, we welcome that it places a stronger focus on the human rights impacts of new and emerging digital technologies since the previous version of the resolution, such as introducing new language reiterating the importance of respecting and promoting human rights in the conception, design, use, development, further deployment and impact assessments of such technologies.

GENDER EQUALITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION

We are concerned by the increasing number of amendments and attempts to weaken the texts. We are particularly concerned by the continued resistance of many States to previously adopted texts and States’ willful misinterpretation of key concepts related in resolutions on human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS, accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities and preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights on maternal morbidities. We deplore the instrumentalising of women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We encourage States to center the rights of people most affected and adopt strong texts on these resolutions. We welcome the resolution on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality as the first step in addressing deep-rooted stigma and discrimination. We urge all States to address the root causes for the discrimination and stigma on menstruation and its impact.

RACIAL JUSTICE AND EQUALITY

The High Commissioner’s report highlighted the long-overdue need to confront legacies of slavery, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism and to seek reparatory justice. We welcome the historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally. We deplore efforts by some Western States, particularly former colonial powers, to weaken the text and urge them to now cooperate fully with the mechanism to dismantle systemic racism, ensure accountability and reparations for past and present gross human rights violations against Black people, end impunity for racialized State violence and address the root causes, especially the legacies of enslavement, colonialism, and the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans.

MIGRANTS RIGHTS

Whilst we welcome the return of a resolution on human rights of migrants, we deplore the continued failure of the Council to respond meaningfully to the severity and global scale of human rights violations at international borders including connected to pushbacks. International borders are not and must not be treated as places outside of international human rights law. Migrants are not and must not be treated as people outside of international human rights law. Expressions of deep concern in interactive dialogues must be translated into action on independent monitoring and accountability.

ARMS TRANSFERS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

We welcome the resolution on the impact of arms transfers on human rights and its focus on children and youth. However, we note with concern the resistance of the Council to meaningfully focus on legal arms transfers beyond those diverted, unregulated or illicitly transferred. The Council should be concerned with all negative human rights impacts of arms transfers, without focusing only on those stemming from diversion and unregulated or illicit trade.

CLIMATE CHANGE

We are disappointed that the resolution on human rights and climate change fails to establish a new Special Rapporteur. However, we welcome the increasing cross regional support for a new mandate. It is a matter of urgent priority for the Council to establish it this year.

COUNTRY SPECIFIC SITUATIONS

ALGERIA

While special procedures, the OHCHR and multiple States have recognized the intensifying Algerian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of association and expression, the Council failed to act to protect Algerians striving to advance human rights and democracy.

BELARUS

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Given the ongoing human rights crisis in Belarus, the mandate complements the OHCHR Examination in ensuring continuous monitoring of the situation, and the mandate remains an accessible and safe channel for Belarusian civil society to deliver diverse and up-to-date information from within the country.

CHINA

The Council has once again failed to respond meaningfully to grave human rights violations committed by Chinese authorities. We reiterate our call on the High Commissioner and member States to take decisive action toward accountability.

COLOMBIA

We are disappointed that few States made mention of the use of excessive force against protestors in a context of serious human rights violations, including systemic racism, and urge greater resolve in support of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country and globally

ETHIOPIA

The resolution on Ethiopia’s Tigray region, albeit modest in its scope and language, ensures much-needed international scrutiny and public discussions on one of Africa’s worst human rights crises. We urge the Ethiopian government to engage ahead of HRC48.

ERITREA

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, as scrutiny for violations committed at home and in Tigray is vital.

NICARAGUA

We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Canada on behalf of 59 States, on harassment and detention of journalists, human rights defenders, and presidential pre-candidates, urging Nicaragua to engage with the international community and take meaningful steps for free and fair elections. States should closely monitor the implementation of resolution 46/2, and send a strong collective message to Nicaragua at the 48th session of the Council, as the Council should ‘urgently consider all measures within its power’ to strengthen human rights protection in the country.

PALESTINE

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report that “Israeli settlements are the engine of this forever occupation, and amount to a war crime,” emphasizing that settler colonialism infringes on “the right of the indigenous population […] to be free from racial and ethnic discrimination and apartheid.” We also reiterate his recommendation to the High Commissioner “to regularly update the database of businesses involved in settlements, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 31/36.”

THE PHILIPPINES

While acknowledging the signing of the Joint Human Rights Programme with the UN OHCHR, the Government of the Philippines fails to address the long-standing issues on law enforcement and accountability institutions, including in the context of war on drugs. We continue to urge the Council to launch the long-overdue independent and transparent investigation on the on-going human rights violations.

SYRIA

We welcome mounting recognition for the need to establish a mechanism to reveal the fate and whereabouts of the missing in Syria, including by UN member states during the interactive dialogue on Syria, and the adoption of the resolution on Syria addressing the issue of the missing and emphasizing the centrality of victim participation, building on the momentum created by the Syrian Charter for Truth and Justice.

VENEZUELA

In the context of the recent arbitrary detention of 3 defenders from NGO Fundaredes, we welcome the denunciation by several States of persistent restrictions on civil society and again for visits of Special Rapporteurs to be accepted and accelerated.

*American Civil Liberties Union, Association for Progressive Communications, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Center for Reproductive Rights, Child Rights Connect, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, FIDH, Franciscans International, Human Rights House Foundation, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, International Commission of Jurists, International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Service for Human Rights, US Human Rights Network

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc47-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

Anaïs Marin – UN Expert on Belarus: “Full-scale assault” ongoing against civil society

July 6, 2021
Protestors at the March of Peace and Independence in Minsk, Belarus (file photo).

Unsplash/Andrew KeymasterProtestors at the March of Peace and Independence in Minsk, Belarus (file photo). 5 July 2021

Belarus has witnessed an unprecedented human rights crisis over the past year, the independent expert appointed to monitor the country said on Monday 5 July 2021, calling on authorities to immediately end their policy of repression and fully respect the legitimate aspirations of their people.

Belarus has witnessed an unprecedented human rights crisis over the past year, the independent expert appointed to monitor the country said on Monday, calling on authorities to immediately end their policy of repression and fully respect the legitimate aspirations of their people.

In her annual report to the Human Rights CouncilAnaïs Marin said she had received reports of massive police violence used against protesters – since last August’s disputed presidential election brought millions onto the streets to contest the result – cases of enforced disappearance, allegations of torture and ill-treatment and the continuous intimidation and harassment of civil society actors.

Broad spectrum of abuses

“The Belarusian authorities have launched a full-scale assault against civil society, curtailing a broad spectrum of rights and freedoms, targeting people from all walks of life, while systematically persecuting human rights defenders, journalists, media workers and lawyers in particular,” Ms. Marin told the Council.

“The crackdown is such that thousands of Belarusians have been forced or otherwise compelled to leave their homeland and seek safety abroad; yet the downing of a civilian plane in Minsk on 23 May, for the apparent sole purpose of arresting a dissident who was on board, signaled that no opponent to the current Government is safe anywhere”, the expert added.

She noted that the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus started in late spring 2020 and climaxed in the aftermath of the presidential election of 9 August, the results of which were widely contested.

Malpractices were reported during the election campaign, as most opposition candidates were forced out of the race, while the vote count was marred by allegations of fraud.

Unjustified and disproportionate

“Distrust in the legitimacy of the electoral outcome triggered spontaneous and largely peaceful popular protests to which the authorities responded with unjustified, disproportionate and often arbitrary force”, said the Special Rapporteur, who reminded that over 35,000 people have been detained since then for trying to exert their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including women and children arrested for peacefully demonstrating solidarity with victims of police violence.

“Since August 2020 I received innumerable allegations of beatings and ill-treatment, including torture in detention, but also allegations of rapes, enforced disappearances and even killings – all remain to be investigated.”

She said she was also alarmed by the hundreds of cases of criminal prosecution of human rights defenders and lawyers, journalists and medical staff, which have taken place, simply for doing their job.

Abusers protected

“As the legal and judicial systems in Belarus protect the perpetrators of grave human rights violations, continuing impunity means that there is no guarantee of non-reoccurrence,” Ms. Marin said. “Hence the international community should keep on demanding the release and rehabilitation of all those still detained on political grounds, and support initiatives aiming at bringing perpetrators of the most serious crimes to account”.

The UN expert also expressed concerns about the impact the ongoing crackdown has had on the right to education, pointing to discriminatory measures that persist in Belarus against people with disabilities, ethno-linguistic minorities, people living in rural areas and those deprived of liberty.

‘Disastrous consequences’

I call on the Belarusian authorities to put an end to their policy of repression, to immediately and unconditionally release those arbitrarily detained, and to ensure full respect for the human rights and legitimate democratic aspirations of people in Belarus”, the UN expert said, warning that a further aggravation of the human rights crisis and international self-isolation could have disastrous consequences for the whole country.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/28/fidh-launches-website-tracking-systematic-human-rights-violations-in-belarus/

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/07/1095302