Archive for the 'Human Rights Council' Category

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N. independent expert on sexual orientation, speaks out

October 31, 2019

Victor Madrigal-Borloz
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N. independent expert, is now in residence at Harvard Law School. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Costa Rican magistrate Victor Madrigal-Borloz has served for the past 21 months as the U.N. independent experton protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Gazette interviewed Madrigal-Borloz, who is the Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher with the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, to talk about his work and his hopes for the future:

GAZETTE: Why did you decide to take on this role?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: I have been working in the field of human rights for over 20 years and I saw the possibility to bring about substantial change. The topic bears a lot of significance to me, as a gay man myself. I have been working on these issues for over a decade, first at the Inter-American Commission [on Human Rights] and now at the global level. I have seen many people suffer as a result of stigma and discrimination, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something about it and put my skills at the service of a cause.

GAZETTE: What did your report find in terms of the root causes of violence and discrimination against LGBT people?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:There are primary and secondary root cases. First, there is the notion that societies are structured around certain power relations, which have been designed in relation to a person’s sex. Your role in society is determined by your genital configuration. That’s a very basic construction, and all forms of violence and discrimination come from a defense of those power relations. The other factors come from mechanisms that aim to protect those power relations, such as the idea that gay, lesbian, or trans people don’t exist, and the stigma around them, which is enabled through the message that gay, trans, bisexual, and lesbian people are sick or mentally ill. The other aspect is criminalization. Same-sex relations are still criminalized in 69 countries, which means that, as of today, over 2 billion people live in countries where being gay or lesbian is illegal. Another factor is demonization expressed in the notion that somehow LGBT lives are sinful, immoral; that gays or lesbians cannot be good citizens. The idea is that at the end of the day, there’s something immoral about our existence, and that’s what all of us need to fight against.

GAZETTE: Of your findings, which ones struck you the most?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:What disturbs me is that in 2019 there are countries that are considering bringing back the death penalty for same-sex relations. There was a discussion in Uganda about it, and early this year Brunei Darussalam enacted legislation allowing the stoning of gay men. That, to me, is shocking. What I also find surprising is that there are environments that are actually extremely progressive when it comes to gender identity, but can be very restrictive when it comes to sexual orientation and vice versa. In Pakistan, for example, there is an extremely forward legislation on the recognition of gender identity, but sexual orientation is very much criminalized. Sexual orientation has always been a more challenging notion for societies, which in general have used the notion of a traditional binary, hetero-parental family as the nucleus of society, and this has been recognized in public discourse and in the law. But what we also know is that homosexuals, lesbians, and bisexuals have existed and sought happiness all throughout history.

GAZETTE: What policies or practices have been the most successful in the protection of LGBT rights?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: Anti-discrimination legislation with the words sexual orientation and gender identity is very important because it allows for all actors in the system to understand that a red line has been drawn and that shouldn’t be crossed. This creates the belief that lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, or gender-diverse people are entitled to protection. Other good practices are policies aiming at promoting integration of LGBT people in society and campaigns to change hearts and minds.

Let me give you an example. About a year ago, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an advisory opinion, OC-24, which determined that Costa Rica and other countries in the continent must implement same-sex marriage, and it gave a time frame for that. Despite the fact that this created great polarization in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican state has now put together a campaign called “Yes, I do,” or in Spanish, “Si, Acepto,” which focuses on the parents of gay and lesbian children and their reasons why they support gay marriage and why their children are entitled to happiness.

Another good measure is access to justice, and this means that judges have to actively seek to implement the principle of nondiscrimination when it comes to LGBT rights. That’s what the Supreme Court of India, the Supreme Court in Botswana, and the High Court in Trinidad and Tobago did when they voted to decriminalize gay sex in their respective countries.

GAZETTE:How do you explain the dramatic advances in the protection of LGBT rights in regions such as Latin America, where same-sex marriage is now legal in five countries?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:It’s the work of civil society and human-rights defenders and advocates who have fought relentlessly for their rights. I began working on these issues over a decade ago, and at that time the trans movement in South America was strong. An extraordinary trans activist in Argentina, Lohana Berkins, used to say that trans women must expose the audacity of their bodies to the society that fails to understand the fragility of their lives. The average life expectancy of a trans woman in Latin America is 35 years, and that’s what Berkins was talking about. It was her voice and those of other great fighters in the LGBT movement that forced people to see their humanity, and ensured that Argentina, Uruguay, and other countries in the continent have the most advanced legislation on legal recognition of gender identity.

GAZETTE:Which countries are the worst and best performers in terms of LGTB rights?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:I have a lot of resistance to ranking countries, because things change very fast. Most of these rights are not necessarily enshrined or written in stone; there are forces in societies that are quite keen on seeing them taken back. We live in times in which rising populism uses certain categories of people, such as LGBT communities, as pawns for their political objectives. But I can say that the most problems arise in the countries where gay sex is criminalized, and they are roughly distributed along the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, some regions of Asia, and the Middle East. It’s not a small part of the world. Criminalization forces people to live underground, and often the situation of those whose existence is considered criminal is devastating. The killing of trans women, for example, has been invisible from public records because they are classified as men. And the levels of violence against lesbian women and gay men all over the world is worrisome.

GAZETTE: Why have there been more gains in protection of sexual orientation than gender identity, and what does it say about the possibility of social change?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:There is a certain concentration of power and influence within gay and lesbian, or cisgender, urban populations. They have been able to represent their valid agendas in the political debate. On issues of concern for the gay and lesbian urban upper and middle class, there has been more progress than on those concerning trans women or trans men coming from the countryside. But those gains show that social change is possible within one generation. Those of us who were born in the ’60s have seen the world change from a majority of countries criminalizing and pathologizing LGBT identities to a majority of countries embracing the richness that comes from diversity.

Social change is possible when the prime minister of Luxembourg speaks at the General Assembly last week, and declares “I was never hoping to be the gay prime minister. I just happen to be the gay prime minister.” When political leaders take part in a pride parade, they are changing the views that people have about LGBT people. I’ve had the honor of marching alongside Justin Trudeau in Vancouver, and the first lady of Costa Rica in pride parades. That makes me hopeful, but also the fact that the new generations have changed their paradigm of thinking; they embrace the notion that their existence is not determined by rigid notions of gender. That is a great source of inspiration.

But I worry that for some, the change will not come fast enough. Elderly LGBT people are suffering enormous health disparities, and after living their lives in inclusive environments, they are being forced to go back into the closet as they move to retirement communities that are not prepared to cater for their needs. They deserve happiness now.

GAZETTE: What would you like to see happening before your tenure as the U.N. independent expert ends in 2020?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:My dream is to see a world free of criminalization of same-sex relations by 2030. Given the fact that international human rights law considers criminalization of same-sex relations a violation of human rights, I see no reason why states would actually get away with continuing this practice past 2030. That’s what I like to dream about.

U.N. report takes global look at LGBT violence and bias

Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism issues at the UN

October 31, 2019

and in JustSecurity of 30 October 2019 publilshed a long article on the travails of the mandate “Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism” in the United Nations.

The authors then try to explain why other countires went along with Egypt’s intention to divert attention and resources from addressing human rights violations. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/19/egypt-all-you-can-think-of-widespread-arrests-torture-allegations-cyber-attacks/]

..

For states to treat Egypt as a reliable partner by allowing it joint leadership on the UN resolutions on human rights and terrorism only helps to provide cover for and perpetuate this egregious pattern, with serious consequences for the lives and dignity of Egyptians seeking to exercise their fundamental rights. The 74th session of the UN General Assembly Third Committee is an important opportunity for states to not only end their misguided acquiescence in Egyptian efforts to undermine UN work on terrorism and human rights, but also to restore the long legacy of Mexican leadership on the resolutions. In addition to the reasons identified in Saul’s Lawfare piece (which we won’t repeat here), several factors make this particular General Assembly resolution potentially an even more impactful moment.

In this moment, member states should recognize that a continuation of a Mexico-Egypt merged resolution on “terrorism and human rights” holds no promise of positive results for human rights. Now is the time for UN members to turn the tables and take a principled and strategic position: if Egypt will not agree to restoring key normative provisions previously lost, vigorously reinforcing rather than eroding support for the existing focus of the Special Rapporteur mandate, and laying the appropriate groundwork for a strong GCTS review in 2020, then states should insist that the merger be brought to an end and go back to the consensus text of resolution A/72/180.

Keeping Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism in Focus at the UN

Another setback for the credibilty of the UN Human Rights Council: Venezuela wins seat

October 18, 2019

There was some hope [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/06/why-costa-rica-should-be-in-the-un-human-rights-council-rather-than-venezuela/] but in the end Venezuela won its UN human rights council seat despite being a serial violator. To make matters worse the other seat for Latin America went to Brazil, whose far-right leader has expressed contempt for the concept of human rights.

Activists have responded with outrage after Venezuela won a fiercely contested vote for a seat on the UN’s human rights council on Thursday, despite its well-documented record of human rights abuses.

Opposition activists, journalists and human rights defenders are often jailed, while security forces loyal to Maduro commit abuses with impunity. “The inclusion of Venezuela and Brazil to the human rights council marks a backwards step in the advancement of human rights in the region,” said Rodolfo Montes de Oca, a lawyer at Provea, a Venezuelan rights group.

Maduro’s regime will probably be emboldened by his country’s new post at the UN. “They can say they were elected to the human rights council and from there have a voice to push back on their critics,” said David Smilde, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a thinktank. “It’s shameful, a travesty,” said Vanessa Neumann, Guaidó’s ambassador to the UK, who added that the vote will do little to silence Maduro’s critics. “Ultimately the march of history’s harsh judgment on Maduro and his regime will not be stopped by this.”

Earlier this year, the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, issued a scathing report on Venezuela, which described widespread cases of torture, extrajudicial killings and withholding food and medicines from civilians.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/17/venezuela-un-human-rights-council-activists-outraged

Why Costa Rica should be in the UN Human Rights Council rather than Venezuela

October 6, 2019

Venezuela’s abusive government is unfit to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Council, and UN member states should defeat its candidacy, Human Rights Watch said on 4 October 2019. For years, Venezuela’s authorities have led a vicious crackdown on dissent and failed to address a self-inflicted humanitarian emergency that has sent more than 4.3 million Venezuelans fleeing the country.

Result of the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council

October 2, 2019

On 27 September 2019 a group of civil society organisations welcomed significant outcomes of the HRC’s 42nd session, including reaffirming its condemnation of reprisals and extending its scrutiny over Yemen, Venezuela, Cambodia, Burundi, Myanmar, and Sudan. This session witnessed heightened scrutiny of Council members by shedding light on the situation in Saudi Arabia, but it missed an opportunity to ensure scrutiny over situations in China, Kashmir and Egypt. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/05/human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/]

The 42nd session also advanced standards on several issues including the right to privacy, administration of justice and the death penalty, but failed to defend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism against attempts to dilute and distract its focus. The High Commissioner failed again to present the database on companies facilitating Israel’s illegal settlements.

The Council reaffirmed that reprisals can never be justified. Council members rejected attempts to weaken the text including deleting the references to the roles of the Assistant Secretary-General and the Human Rights Council Presidents. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/23/andrew-gilmours-2019-report-on-reprisals-it-gets-worse-but-response-remains-mostly-rhetoric/] The resolution 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, acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalized 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.

They welcome the creation of a Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela as an important step towards accountability for the grave human rights violations documented by the High Commissioner.

They welcome the renewal and strengthening of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, sending a clear message to parties to the conflict – and to victims – that accountability is at the center of the mandate, and providing a crucial and much-needed deterrent to further violations and abuses. States should support the recommendations made by the GEE in their recent report, including prohibiting the authorization of transfers of, and refraining from providing, arms that could be used in the conflict to such parties; and clarifying the GEE’s role to collect and preserve evidence of abuses.

They welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, but regret that calls to strengthen the mandate of the OHCHR to monitor and report on the situation have been ignored. We regret that the resolution fails to accurately depict the continuing crackdowns on civil society and the severity and scale of recent attacks on the political opposition.

They welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi. Its work is vital as the country heads towards elections in 2020. The Burundian Government should desist from denial and insults, and should cooperate with the Commission and other UN bodies and mechanisms.

They welcome that the EU and OIC have jointly presented a resolution on Myanmar requesting the High Commissioner to report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Fact-Finding Mission at HRC 45. However, the international community needs to take stronger action to ensure accountability for and cessation of grave international crimes, in particular by referring Myanmar to the ICC and imposing a global arms embargo – and by acting on the FFM’s reports, including those on economic interests of the military and on sexual and gender-based violence in Myanmar and the gendered impact of its ethnic conflicts.

On terrorism and human rights, they are deeply disappointed that Mexico and other States have partially acquiesced in attempts by Egypt to dilute or distract the work of the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism away from its appropriate focus on human rights violations while countering terrorism and human rights of victims of terrorism. We regret that States have asked the Special Rapporteur to spend the limited time and resources of the mandate, to comment on the overbroad concept of the “effects” of terrorism, by which Egypt and some other States seem primarily to mean macroeconomic, industrial, and investment impacts, rather than the human rights of individual victims. The length to which States seem willing to put the existing Special Rapporteur’s mandate at risk, in the name of protecting it, while failing even to incorporate stronger consensus text on human rights issues included in the most recent merged parallel resolution at the General Assembly, suggests that the merger of the previous Mexican and Egyptian thematic resolutions no longer holds any real promise of positive results for human rights.

They welcome the Council’s renewed attention to the protection of the right to privacy in the digital age: fully integrating human rights into the design, development and deployment of Artificial Intelligence, machine learning technologies, automated decision-making, and biometric systems, is essential to safeguard not only the right to privacy, but also to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and economic social and cultural rights.

On human rights in the administration of justice, we welcome the focus in this year’s resolution on concrete measures to prevent and respond to violence, death and serious injury in situations of deprivation of liberty, which illustrates the potential of thematic resolutions to set out specific practical, legal and policy steps that can be drawn on by governments, civil society, and other stakeholders to have real positive impact at the national level.

They commend Australia for its leadership on Saudi Arabia, as well as the other States who stood up for women’s rights activists and accountability. They urge more States to live up to their commitment to defend civil society and sign the statement in the coming 2 weeks.

For five years since the last joint statement in March 2014, the Council has failed to hold Egypt accountable for continuing systematic and widespread gross human rights violations. In the latest crackdown on peaceful protests, reports indicate that more than 2000 people have been arrested in the past week. When will the Council break its silence and convene a Special Session to address the grave and deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt?

Signatories:

  • International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  • DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  • Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • Asian Legal Resource Centre
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  • Amnesty International
  • Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)

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Below the fulll list of 38 texts adopted:

Resolutions

Action on Text under Agenda Item 1 on Organizational and Procedural Matters

In a Presidential Statement (A/HRC/42/L.32) on the reports of the Advisory Committee, adopted without a vote, the Human Rights Council takes note of the reports of the Advisory Committee on its twenty-second and twenty-third sessions.

Action on Texts under Agenda Item 2 on the Report of the High Commissioner and Reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.6) on the composition of staff of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, adopted by a vote of 30 in favour, 13 against and four abstentions, the Council requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue her efforts with a view to redress the current imbalance in the geographical composition of the staff of her Office and requests her to submit a report at the Council’s forty-fifth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.16) on the human rights situation in Yemen, adopted by a vote of 22 in favour, 12 against and 11 abstentions, the Council decides to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts for a further period of one year to, inter alia, monitor and report on the situation of human rights and carry out comprehensive investigations into all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and all alleged violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict since September 2014. The Council requests the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts to present a comprehensive written report to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth session.

In a resolution ( A/HRC/42/L.21/Rev.1 ) on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, adopted by a vote of 37 in favour, two against and seven abstentions, the Council requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to follow up on the implementation of the recommendations made by the independent international fact-finding mission, including those on accountability, and to continue to track progress in the situation of human rights in Myanmar, including of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, and to present a written report thereon to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.38/Rev.1) on strengthening cooperation and technical assistance in the field of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, adopted by a vote of 18 in favour, six against and 23 abstentions, the Council welcomes the permanent presence of the Office of the High Commissioner in Venezuela under the terms established in the memorandum of understanding signed on 20 September 2019, including unlimited access to all region and detention centres, and requests the High Commissioner to present to the Council, at its forty-third and forty-fifth sessions, as well as before the end of 2019, an oral update on the situation of human rights in Venezuela. The Council also requests the High Commissioner to submit a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in Venezuela at its forty-fourth session, including the outcome of the investigation on the ground into allegations of possible human rights violations to ensure the accountability of perpetrators and redress for victims.

Action on Texts under Agenda Item 3 on the Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, including the Right to Development

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.1) on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, adopted without a vote, the Council decides to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation for a period of three years and requests the Special Rapporteur to compile good practices at the local, national, regional and international levels in order to promote the progressive realization of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, and to report thereon to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.2) on the role of prevention in the promotion and protection of human rights, adopted without a vote, the Council affirms the importance of effective preventive measures as a part of overall strategies for the promotion and protection of all human rights, and requests the Office of the High Commissioner to prepare a study, to be presented to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth session, on the contribution of the special procedures in assisting States and other stakeholders in the prevention of human rights violations and abuses.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.5) on the World Programme for Human Rights Education: adoption of the plan of action for the fourth phase, adopted without a vote, the Council adopts the plan of action for the fourth phase (2020–2024) of the World Programme for Human Rights Education and decides to convene at its forty-eighth session a high-level panel discussion to mark the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, on the theme “The tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training: good practices, challenges and the way forward”.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.7) on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, adopted by a vote of 25 in favour, 14 against and eight abstentions, the Council invites the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order to examine the impact of financial and economic policies pursued by international financial institutions on a democratic and equitable international order, in particular those of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and to submit the report to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.8) on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, adopted by a vote of 29 in favour, 14 against and four abstentions, the Council renews for a period of three years the mandate of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, and requests the Working Group to report its findings to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth session and to the General Assembly at its seventy-fifth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.9) on the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, adopted without a vote, the Council renews the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, for a period of three years, and requests the Special Rapporteur to submit reports on the implementation of the mandate to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly in accordance with their annual programmes of work.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.11) on human rights in the administration of justice, including juvenile justice, adopted without a vote, the Council invites States to take into consideration the issue of human rights in the administration of justice in the context of the Universal Periodic Review and requests the High Commissioner to submit to the Human Rights Council, at its forty-seventh session, an analytical report on human rights in the administration of justice, in particular on current and emerging challenges in the protection of persons deprived of their liberty, including judicial oversight.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.13) on the human rights of older persons, adopted without a vote, the Council decides to extend the mandate of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons for a period of three years, and requests the Secretary-General to ensure that the reports of the Independent Expert are brought to the attention of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.14) on the right to social security, adopted without a vote, the Council decides to convene, before its forty-fifth session, an intersessional full-day panel discussion on the right to social security in the changing world of work with a view of identifying challenges and best practices. It also requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a summary report on the panel discussion and to submit it to the Human Rights Council at its forty-sixth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.17) on marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted without a vote, the Council decides to convene, during the high-level segment at its forty-third session, a high-level panel discussion to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, with a particular focus on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcome documents of its review conferences, as well as on achievements, best practices and challenges in this regard.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.18) on the right to privacy in the digital age, adopted without a vote, the Council requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to organize, before its forty-fourth session, a one-day expert seminar to discuss how artificial intelligence, including profiling, automated decision-making and machine-learning technologies may, without proper safeguards, impact the enjoyment of the right to privacy, to prepare a thematic report on the issue, and to submit it to the Council at its forty-fifth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.19) on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, adopted without a vote, the Council decides to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as established by the Human Rights Council in paragraph 1 of its resolution 6/29, for a further period of three years.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.20) on human rights and transitional justice, adopted without a vote, the Council requests the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to examine in a report how addressing a legacy of gross violations and abuses of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law through transitional justice measures can contribute to sustaining peace and the realization of Sustainable Development Goal 16, and to present the report to the Human Rights Council at its forty-sixth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.23) on terrorism and human rights, adopted without a vote, the Council strongly condemns terrorist acts and all acts of violence committed by terrorist groups and the continued systematic and widespread abuses of human rights perpetrated by such groups, and requests States to refrain from providing support to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts, including support in establishing propaganda platforms advocating hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, including through the Internet and other media.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.24) on human rights and indigenous peoples, adopted without a vote, the Council decides to hold an intersessional round table on possible steps to be taken to enhance the participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions in meetings of the Human Rights Council on issues affecting them, with the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples’ representatives and institutions from the seven indigenous sociocultural regions represented at the thirteenth session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.25) on human rights and indigenous peoples: mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, adopted without a vote, the Council decides to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples for a period of three years to, inter alia, examine ways and means of overcoming existing obstacles to the full and effective protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, to pay special attention to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous children and women, and to take into account a gender perspective in the performance of the mandate.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.27) on the protection of the rights of workers exposed to hazardous substances and wastes, adopted without a vote, the Council encourages States, business enterprises and other actors to implement the 15 principles presented by the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes through their respective legal and policy frameworks, as well as through initiatives and programmes to strengthen the coherence between human rights and occupational health and safety standards with regard to the exposure of workers to toxic substances.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.34/Rev.1) on arbitrary detention, adopted without a vote, the Council decides to extend the mandate of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for a further period of three years, and requests the Working Group to prepare a study on arbitrary detention related to drug policies to ensure that upholding the prohibition thereon is included as part of an effective criminal justice response to drug-related crimes, and that such a response also encompasses legal guarantees and due process safeguards, and to submit to the Council at its forty-seventh session a report thereon, and to bring the report to the attention of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs as the policymaking body of the United Nations with prime responsibility for drug-control matters.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.36) on the right to development, adopted by a vote of 27 in favour, 13 against and 7 abstentions as orally revised, the Council decides that, at its twenty-first session, the Working Group on the Right to Development will commence the elaboration of a draft legally binding instrument on the right to development on the basis of the draft prepared by the Chair-Rapporteur. The Council further decides to extend for a period of three years the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, and to organize a biennial panel discussion on the right to development, starting at its forty-fifth session. It also decides to establish a subsidiary expert mechanism to provide the Council with thematic expertise on the right to development that shall consist of five independent experts who shall serve for a three-year period. The expert mechanism shall report annually to the Human Rights Council on its work and shall meet once annually for three days in Geneva and once annually for three days in New York.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.37) on the question of the death penalty, adopted by a vote of 26 in favour, 14 against and 6 abstentions, the Council decides that the upcoming biennial high-level panel discussion to be held at the forty-sixth session of the Human Rights Council will address the 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, and requests the Office of the High Commissioner to prepare a summary report on the panel discussion and to submit it to the Human Rights Council at its forty-eighth session.

Action on Resolutions under Agenda Item 4 on Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.4/Rev.1) on the situation of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, adopted by a vote of 19 in favour, seven against and 21 abstentions, the Council requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in Venezuela and to present the report to the Council at its forty-fourth session. The Council decides to establish, for a period of one year, an independent international fact-finding mission and to dispatch that mission urgently to Venezuela to investigate extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment since 2014, with a view to ensuring full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims. The Council requests the mission to present a report on its findings during an interactive dialogue at its forty-fifth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.10/Rev.1) on the situation of human rights in Burundi, adopted by a vote of 23 in favour, 11 against and 13 abstentions, the Council decides to extend the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi in order for it to deepen its investigations, including into respect for and observance of political, civil, economic and social rights in the electoral context, until it presents a final report to the Human Rights Council during an interactive dialogue at its forty-fifth session and to the General Assembly at its seventy-fifth session. The Council requests the Commission to present an oral briefing to the Council at its forty-third and forty-fourth sessions during an interactive dialogue.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.22) on the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, adopted by a vote of 27 in favour, six against and 13 abstentions, the Council deplores the fact that the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic continues in its ninth year with its devastating impact on the civilian population, and urges all parties to the conflict to abstain immediately from any actions that may contribute to the further deterioration of the human rights, security and humanitarian situations. The Council demands that the Syrian authorities cooperate fully with the Human Rights Council and the Commission of Inquiry by granting the Commission immediate, full and unfettered access throughout the Syrian Arab Republic, and expresses deep concern about the grave humanitarian situation in the country and at the plight of the 11.7 million people in need of full, timely, immediate, unhindered and safe humanitarian assistance.

The Council welcomes the work of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 and its close cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry and Syrian civil society, and invites Member States to actively support the Mechanism and to provide adequate financial means for its functioning. The Council further welcomes the steps taken by Member States to prosecute the most serious crimes under international law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic in national courts under the principles of universal jurisdiction and extraterritorial jurisdiction as an important contribution to end impunity and ensure justice for victims.

Action on Resolution under Agenda Item 5 on Human Rights Bodies and Mechanisms

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.33/Rev.1) on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, adopted by a vote of 36 in favour and 11 against, with no abstentions, as orally revised, the Council calls upon States to combat impunity by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and pursuing accountability for all acts of intimidation or reprisal by State and non-State actors against any individual or group who seeks to cooperate, cooperates or has cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, and by condemning publicly all such acts, underlining that these can never be justified.

Action on Resolution under Agenda Item 9 on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.28/Rev.1) From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, adopted without a vote as orally revised, the Council requests the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to organize, before the eleventh session of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a two-day expert seminar to consider the elements of a draft additional protocol to the Convention. It further requests the Group of Independent Eminent Experts on the Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action to convene its seventh session for five working days during 2020 and to submit a report to the General Assembly at its seventy-fifth session.

Action on Resolutions under Agenda Item 10 on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.3) on promoting international cooperation to support national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up, adopted without a vote, the Council requests the Office of the High Commissioner to organize five regional consultations to exchange experiences and good practices relating to the establishment and development of national mechanisms for implementation, reporting and follow-up, and their impact on effective implementation of human rights obligations and commitments.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.12) on technical assistance and capacity-building for Yemen in the field of human rights, adopted without a vote, the Council requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue to provide substantive capacity-building and technical assistance to the Government of Yemen and technical support to the National Commission of Inquiry to ensure that it continues to investigate allegations of violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, and requests the High Commissioner to present a written report on the implementation of technical assistance at the Council’s forty-fifth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.15) on the enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights, adopted without a vote, the Council decides that the theme of the annual thematic panel discussion under agenda item 10, to be held during its forty-fourth session, will be “Upholding the human rights of prisoners, including women prisoners and offenders: enhancing technical cooperation and capacity-building in the implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules and the Bangkok Rules”.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.26/Rev.1) on assistance to Somalia in the field of human rights, adopted without a vote as orally revised, the Council decides to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia for a period of one year and requests the Independent Expert to report to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth session and to the General Assembly at its seventy-fifth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.29/Rev.1) on technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, adopted without a vote, the Council requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to present an oral update on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at its forty-third session and a comprehensive report at its forty-fifth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.30) on technical assistance and capacity-building to further improve human rights in the Sudan, adopted without a vote as orally revised, the Council decides to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan for period of one year recognising the intention to phase out the mandate and requests the Independent Expert to present a report on the implementation of his mandate to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth session. The Council requests the Government of the Sudan and the Office of the High Commissioner to present their oral reports on progress towards the opening of a country office during an enhanced interactive dialogue at the Council’s forty-forth session.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.31) on technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights in the Central African Republic, adopted without a vote, the Council decides to renew, for one year, the mandate of the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic and to organize, at its forty-third session, a high-level interactive dialogue to assess the evolution of the human rights situation on the ground, placing special emphasis on preventing the recruitment and use of children in the armed conflict and protecting their rights through their demobilization and reintegration.

In a resolution (A/HRC/42/L.35/Rev.1) on the advisory services and technical assistance for Cambodia, adopted without a vote, the Council decides to extend for two years the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, and requests the Special Rapporteur to report on the implementation of her mandate to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fifth and forty-eighth sessions.

http://ishr.ch/news/hrc42-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

https://reliefweb.int/report/venezuela-bolivarian-republic/human-rights-council-closes-forty-second-regular-session-adopts

Flight from Manus: the inside story of an exceptional case

September 30, 2019

The journalist Michael Green produced for Earshot a fascinating story on the long trip of Abdul Aziz Muhamat from Manus Island to Geneva. Green followed Aziz closely for years and came to Geneva with him for the Martin Ennals Award ceremony where I met them both. Now the story is complete with beautiful pictures, insights and sound tracks. Flight from Manus cannot really be summarised and the best is to see the whole story for yourself (link below).

One day, he’s in a detention centre. The next he’s in Geneva, where his face is on billboards and he’s celebrated as a champion of human rights. Aziz was in an incongruous situation, burdened with a heavy choice….

…..With some delays and complications, he made it to Switzerland, but he was only given permission to stay for two weeks. Then, he’d have to return to Manus Island — back to the situation he was being celebrated for campaigning against.

After he accepted the award, a meeting frenzy ensued. Over the following days, Aziz met with a slew of diplomats, dignitaries, politicians and UN bodies. He made speeches at universities and at the United Nations Human Rights Council….[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/02/mea-laureate-abdul-aziz-addresses-un-human-rights-council-on-off-shore-refugee-policy/]

One day, when he arrived for an event at a university, I noticed he was sporting a brand new navy blue overcoat. That morning, someone who had attended the awards ceremony recognised Aziz at the train station. The man said he’d been following Aziz on Twitter and noticed that he was always wearing the same flimsy, zip-up top. He wanted to buy Aziz a proper winter coat — and took him into a nearby store to do just that. Aziz never even got his name.

And yet, despite the all interest and adulation, he still wasn’t free…

..Aziz started getting headaches every day. In his meetings, people were telling him he should not go back to Manus Island. His friends back there were saying it wasn’t safe to return. Despite his doubts, and a crushing sense of guilt and duty towards the people he left behind, Aziz decided he would be a more effective advocate if he could remain in Europe. On the day he was due to leave Switzerland, in early March, Aziz instead sought asylum. He submitted himself to a new detention centre — and to a new uncertain, indefinite future…

…The months went by. ……Finally, in June, Aziz received a phone call from his lawyer that changed everything. Switzerland granted him asylum and permanent residency. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/10/aziz-mea-laureate-2019-recognised-as-refugee-in-switzerland-from-where-he-promises-to-continue-the-sttuggle/]

———–

The sound bites were turned into a podcast, The Messenger, co-produced by Behind the Wire and The Wheeler Centre.

———————————–

For those in Geneva on Wednesday 2 October 2019 (18:15 – 19:30) in Auditorium A2 of the Maison de la paix, Geneva, Abdul Aziz Muhamat will be speaking about “Surviving Manus Island detention Centre:  A testimony” Moderator: Vincent Chetail  A staunch defender of human rights and dignity, Abdul Aziz Muhamat will share his experience and offer his insight into what lies ahead.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2720741894616336/

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https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-30/refugee-abdul-aziz-muhamat-manus-to-geneva/11539314

see also: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-09/un-bachelet-criticises-australia-asylum-seeker-policies/11588084

Saudi Arabia in the spotlight at the 42nd Sesstion of the Council – hits back wildly

September 25, 2019

The ISHR published a media release on 23 September 2019 about Australia delivering a joint statement on behalf of a cross-regional group of States expressing their concern over the persecution and intimidation of activists, including women human rights defenders, reports of torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, unfair trials, arbitrary detention and impunity. It calls on the Saudi government to end impunity including for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, accept visits by UN experts, end the death penalty and ratify international human rights treaties.  [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/]

During the same debate, the sister of woman human rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul, Lina Al-Hathloul called on the UN Human Rights Council to help her hold those who tortured her sister accountable, and secure her immediate and unconditional release.  Since March 2019, the Council has increased its scrutiny of Saudi Arabia, when Iceland delivered the first ever joint statement on the country. In June 2019, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and summary executions Dr. Agnes Callamard presented to the Council her investigation which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018. The UN expert urged States to act immediately to ensure accountability for Khashoggi’s murder and guarantee non-repetition.

Australia, leading a cross-regional group of States, has stood up today for human rights despite the political and economic costs’, said Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council advocate. ‘The international community sent a strong and clear message to the government of Saudi Arabia that its crimes won’t go unanswered and that as a Council member, it will be held to heightened scrunity’. [The States who signed on the joint statement are: Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, The United Kingdom].

ISHR, as part of the Coalition of Free Saudi Women Human Rights Defenders has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women’s rights activists. The statement has set out a list of measures that Saudi Arabia should take to demonstrate its political will to engage in good faith with the Council and improve its human rights record. They include:

  • ending the persecution and intimidation of activists, journalists, dissents and their family members;
  • ending impunity for torture and extrajudicial killings, including establishing the truth and accountability for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi;
  • ending its use of the death penalty;
  • accepting visits by relevant UN Special Procedures;
  • ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/16/rsfs-press-freedom-award-2019-goes-to-three-women-journalists/]

If Saudi Arabia does not meet any of the benchmarks, the Council should follow up with a resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights situation in the country in the upcoming session in March 2020′, concluded El Hosseiny.  Read the joint statement here and watch Lina Al-Hathloul’s statement here.

In response the Saudi delegation has accused the Australian government of racism and of supporting anti-Islamic terrorists like the alleged Christchurch shooter.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/25/saudi-arabia-accuses-australia-of-racism-in-extraordinary-un-broadside

https://mailchi.mp/ishr/alert-to-the-human-rights-councils-35th-session-32317?e=d1945ebb90

Andrew Gilmour’s 2019 report on reprisals: it gets worse but response remains mostly rhetoric

September 23, 2019

UN Human Rights Office). The study documents incidents from nearly 50 countries, such as the detention and imprisonment of activists, and the filming of participants at meetings, including on UN premises, without their consent.  Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said there are also cases of authorities threatening and harassing relatives of activists. “Some governments seem prepared to go to almost any lengths to punish people who cooperate with us.  This may actually underscore the justice of the victims’ causes,” he said. The report covers the period from 1 June 2018 to 31 May of this year.  It also notes misuse of online spaces to promote hate speech, cyberbullying and smear campaigns, particularly against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Mr. Gilmour expressed concern over the continued trend in the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies as justification for blocking access to the United Nations. “Reported cases include individuals or organizations being charged with terrorism, blamed for cooperation with foreign entities or accused of damaging the reputation or security of the State. These have also been used to justify restrictions on foreign funding,” he wrote in the report’s conclusions and recommendations. “A disproportionate number of cases of enforced disappearance or detention, many which have been deemed arbitrary by United Nations experts, relate to these national security arguments. This is a worrisome trend that I have addressed publicly, including in my previous report, and, regrettably, it continues.” He said the UN will continue to strengthen its response to these developments, including through improved reporting on allegations.  However, he added, the onus remains on countries as “Member States must be accountable for their own actions and practices, and provide remedy when reprisals occur. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/intimidation-and-reprisals-on-un-premises-ngos-ask-for-more-action/%5D

However, the ISHR – which has followed the phenomenon much more systematically, made a more detailed and sombre assessment on 19 September: “Beyond rhetoric – States should step up efforts to prevent reprisals”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/] and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/intimidation-and-reprisals-on-un-premises-ngos-ask-for-more-action/]

It notes that during the second interactive dialogue on reprisals with the Assistant Secretary-General, only Germany and Costa Rica raised specific cases of reprisals in Egypt and Nicaragua, respectively. The Bahamas and the Maldives shared good practices. Other States condemned reprisals rhetorically, expressing particular concern about reprisals and intimidation against women human rights defenders and LGBTIQ defenders, as well as by Council members.

During the dialogue Germany followed up again on the case of Egyptian lawyer Ebrahim Metwally who was arrested on his way to Geneva to attend a meeting with the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. He was tortured and has been detained since September 2017. During the first interactive dialogue in September 2018, Germany was the only country to raise concern over an individual victim of reprisals. Costa Rica was the only other country to raise a specific situation of reprisals this year: it expressed particular concern about acts of intimidation and reprisals in Nicaragua.

The Bahamas responded to the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against woman human rights defender Alicia Wallace after she engaged with the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She and her colleagues were subjected to hate speech by a well-known radio personality, the effect of which was to create an unsafe environment for Ms. Wallace and other women human rights defenders. The Bahamas affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can engage freely with the UN. The delegation told the Council that authorities proactively provided assistance to Ms. Wallace to guarantee her safety.

The Maldives also told the Council that it is investigating the deaths of human rights defender Yameen Rashid and journalist Ahmed Rilwan to bring the perpetrators to justice; that the defamation law providing imprisonment sentences for journalists was repealed in November 2018; and that an amendment to the Human Rights Commission Act is currently considered in parliament, which would guarantee that the Commission can communicate with international organizations. The Maldives agreed with the Assistant Secretary-General that the powerful impact of prevention is through a zero tolerance policy for reprisals and committed to condemn all reprisals as a matter of urgency. The Maldives admitted that that they ‘have seen it first hand and do not want to bear witness to it again!’.

In its statement during the interactive dialogue, ISHR asked the Assistant Secretary-General what steps should be taken to ensure a more comprehensive report to the Council. This came in response to notably missing cases that ISHR submitted implicating Brazil, Russia and the United States.  The Assistant Secretary-General acknowledged ISHR’s leading role in efforts to end reprisals, expressed his concern regarding the situations mentioned, but disagreed with ISHR’s statement that Secretary-General Guterres is pandering to certain States, ignoring victims’ legitimate claims and undermining efforts to protect victims from reprisals. He explained that the particular case raised by ISHR concerning remarks made by the then U.S. National Security Adviser, Mr. John R. Bolton, and the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo did not fall under the reporting mandate of the Secretary-General as the intimidation related to the International Criminal Court. However, ISHR recalls that the Secretary General’s 2018 reprisals report stated that ‘while recognising the independent judicial character of the International Criminal Court, the Court is regarded as a related organisation in the United Nations’ and cases related to the ICC have been included several times previously, for example:

  • The 2018 reprisals report documented that two defenders in Iraq faced reprisals after attending a preparation meeting for a conference aimed at calling on Iraq to join the Court (para 29).
  • The 2017 reprisals report included Israel in the reprisals report regarding incidents of reprisals and intimidation of defenders engaging with or promoting engagement with the International Criminal Court (para 39).

Read ISHR’s full statement at the interactive dialogue here.

UN human rights report shows rise in reprisals against activists, victims

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc42-beyond-rhetoric-states-should-step-efforts-prevent-reprisals

 

 

Intimidation and Reprisals on UN premises – NGOs ask for more action

September 17, 2019

On 23 August 2019, 23 NGOs wrote to the United Nations to raise concerns over the alarming pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society during sessions of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Bodies. The letter calls on the ASG to raise this issue during his speech before the HRC on 19 September 2019, and urges the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of reprisals are not repeated in the future. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/05/human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

Below is the original text of the letter, as sent to the UN representatives in question:

To: Mr Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights; H.E. Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal and President of the Human Rights Council; Mr Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Mr Gilmour, 

We, the undersigned organisations, write to raise deep concerns about a consistent pattern of intimidation and reprisals faced by members of civil society from around the world during sessions of the Human Rights Council (HRC) and the Treaty Bodies. We are particularly concerned by acts of intimidation perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. 

During the 41st session of the HRC, staff of Permanent Missions and individuals wearing non-diplomatic badges, who were later verified as working with UN Member and Observer States, attended our side-events, and blatantly eavesdropped on our conversations, recorded our comments, took photos and videos of the audience, and made threatening gestures and remarks. 

We are all the more concerned as this is not the first time that human rights defenders and other individuals engaging with the HRC have faced acts of harassment and intimidation. Rather, these tactics are part of a consistent and systematic pattern of behaviour that we have unfortunately come to anticipate and expect at every session of the HRC. 

Furthermore, HRDs engaging with the Treaty Bodies also face intimidation and reprisals perpetrated by representatives of and individuals affiliated with government parties. There have been multiple instances of so-called “GONGOs” – governmental non-governmental organisations – registering for confidential and closed briefings with Treaty Bodies’ members. This allows them to know exactly who among civil society is present during these briefings. There has also been cases of briefings that have been filmed without the permission of NGOs. 

What is more, governments’ support given to GONGOs means that they are often granted consultative status with the UN. On the contrary, independent NGOs continue to be denied the ECOSOC status, demonstrating that reprisals against HRDs also occur within the UN system. In addition, the proliferation of GONGOs both at the HRC and Treaty Bodies, allows them to influence the discourse about human rights in a particular state or region, thus minimising the real issues at stake. 

The aforementioned acts of harassment and intimidation are concerning not only because they create an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, but also because numerous human rights defenders who have travelled to Geneva to participate in HRC or Treaty Body sessions have faced reprisals upon their return to their countries as a direct result of this. As such, we take these acts of intimidation very seriously and submit that they may result in further acts of retaliation.

We note with appreciation that the current president of the HRC, his Excellency Mr Coly Seck, Permanent Representative of Senegal, addressed some of the issues raised in this letter during the final meeting of the 41st session of the HRC. He expressed his concern that “civil society organisations continue to face intimidation and reprisals” and pointed out that a number of cases had been reported to him, including of verbal harassment and unauthorised photographs taken during side-events. He emphasised that “any acts of intimidation against any individual or group that attempts to cooperate with the Human Rights Council is unacceptable”, and reminded Member and Observer States of their responsibility to ensure that civil society operate in a safe space. 

In addition, in July 2019, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, working in conjunction with the University of Oxford, Tibet Justice Centre and the Economic and Social Research Council launched the report “Compromised Space for Unrepresented Peoples at the United Nations”. Based on interviews and testimonies from 77 HRDs working on behalf of minorities, indigenous communities and other unrepresented peoples, it identifies a systematic attack on the UN human rights system by certain governments. This is characterised by “blocking tactics […] including deferring ECOSOC status decisions, and intervening in plenary statements, to more overt instances of harassment, intimidation and outright violence, which constitute state reprisals”. Such challenges are compounded for HRDs from minority, indigenous and marginalised groups.

While we acknowledge that HRC presidents, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) reprisals team, the Treaty Bodies’ focal points for reprisals and yourself have all previously raised awareness on this issue, we strongly believe that there is a need to draw further attention to such acts of intimidation and harassment. We further note that to date, the OHCHR has not developed a systematic and practical response to the practices outlined in this letter. 

It is our contention that failure to sanction reprisals on UN premises will only embolden such acts elsewhere. Therefore, we call on you to raise this grave pattern during the presentation of the UNSG annual report on reprisals during the 42nd session of the HRC. We also call on you to urge the OHCHR to take measures to ensure that such acts of intimidation do not happen in the future. 

Yours sincerely, 

  1. Access Now 
  2. ALQST 
  3. Association for Victims of Torture in the UAE 
  4. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 
  5. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy
  6. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  7. CCPR Centre 
  8. Committee for Justice 
  9. European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights 
  10. Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights
  11. MENA Rights Group 
  12. The Omani Centre for Human Rights
  13. OMCT
  14. Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion 
  15. International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE 
  16. International Centre for Justice and Human Rights 
  17. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism 
  18. Right Livelihood Foundation 
  19. Rights Realization Centre 
  20. Salam for Democracy and Human Rights
  21. Statelessness Network Asia Pacific 
  22. Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
  23. World Uyghur Congress 

https://unpo.org/article/21663

 

Opening statement by UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet focuses very much on climate change

September 11, 2019

The Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, at the 42nd Session of the UN human Rights Council in Geneva on 9 September 2019 was widely reported in the media as having an exceptionally strong focus on climate change and human rights.

The crucial paragraph on environmental human rights defenders is quoted below:

Read the rest of this entry »