Archive for the 'Human Rights Council' Category

No naming and shaming on reprisals at 39th Human Right Council session

October 5, 2018

On my ‘favorite’ topic of reprisals [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/ ] the ISHR reported that for the first time, the Human Rights Council had a chance to have a dialogue on the Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals on 20 September 2018. Civil society had hoped States would seize this opportunity to denounce States carrying out reprisals against defenders engaging with the UN. Regrettably only one State, Germany, made explicit reference to a case of reprisal in the report. ‘We welcome in particular Germany’s intervention in the dialogue, citing the case of Egyptian lawyer Ibrahim Metwally, detained since October 2017 by the Egyptian authorities’, said Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR Human Rights Council Advocate. ‘This is precisely what we need more of—States having the courage and conviction to stand up for defenders and call out countries that attack and intimidate them. What we see now is defenders dissuaded from engaging because the cost is too high. What we need is for States to turn away from repression and attacks, because the cost to them is too high’.

The senior official on reprisals, Andrew Gilmour [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/andrew-gilmour/], presented the Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals during the first ever interactive dialogue with the Human Rights Council. The report catalogues 45 new cases of reprisals, ranging from travel bans and smear campaigns to arbitrary arrests and detention, inhuman treatment, torture, and killing. The ASG made it clear in his presentation that reported cases are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and spoke of three significant trends:

(1) the systematic denigration of human rights defenders and civil society organizations as “terrorists”;

(2) reprisals often being disguised as legal, political and administrative measures; and

(3) the use of accreditation and security procedures to hinder people from speaking out at UN headquarters and elsewhere.

ISHR delivered a statement during the session citing cases of reprisals against Chinese defenders not included in the report—Wang Qiaoling, Li Wenzu, Cao Shunli, and Uyghur activist Dolkun Isa—and calling for systematic follow-up by the Council on cases in the report.

We are especially concerned, once again, about the high number of Council Members or candidates for Council membership cited in the report, including: Bahrain, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Hungary, India, Iraq, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela,’ said El Hosseiny.

Half of the States cited in the report intervened during the dialogue to deny the allegations against them. While a significant number of States engaging in the dialogue supported the mandate to varying degrees and asked the ASG what could be taken to strengthen it, another group questioned the ASG’s methodology. Still others firmly opposed the work of the ASG on reprisals, including China and Cuba. China said it ‘regrets and objects’ to the report and the mechanism, and its use of ‘unproven information’, which it deems an interference with its sovereignty.

A side event organised by ISHR following the dialogue highlighted the urgent need to improve both the physical and digital security of defenders at risk of reprisals, and for States and the OHCHR to take a stronger position on this issue at a time when powerful States are threatening the UN system and its core values. ISHR in particular noted its disappointment with the low number of States in the dialogue that took due note of the allegations in the report, as opposed to attacking the methodology of the report and the reliability of the information.

Watch the statement here: 

Read ISHR’s full statement to the Council here.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc39-l-states-largely-decline-cite-specific-cases-during-councils-first-discussion-reprisals

In spite of or because of the US’ absence, the 39th Human Rights Council considered a relative success

September 29, 2018

Civil society organisations welcomed significant outcomes of the Human Rights Council’s 39th session, including the creation of independent investigative mechanism on Myanmar, the renewal of the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen and the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, and a dedicated space on the Council’s agenda in 2019 to discuss the human rights situation in Venezuela. [see alsohttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/08/many-hrd-issues-at-the-39th-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/]

In a joint statement, several NGOs (ISHR The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), Amnesty International, Article 19, Center for Reproductive Rights. CIVICUS, DefendDefenders, FIDH, Forum Asia, Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists) welcomed the Council’s adoption of landmark resolutions on several country situations:

On Myanmar, the creation of the independent investigative mechanism is an important step towards accountability for the horrific crimes committed in Myanmar, as elaborated in the Fact Finding Mission’s report to this session. The overwhelming support for the resolution, notwithstanding China’s shameful blocking of consensus, was a clear message to victims and survivors that the international community stands with them in their fight for justice. 

On Yemen, the Council demonstrated that principled action is possible, and has sent a strong message to victims of human rights violations in Yemen that accountability is a priority for the international community, by voting in favor of renewing the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts to continue international investigations into violations committed by all parties to the conflict. 

Furthermore, the leadership by a group of States, including Latin American countries, on the landmark resolution on Venezuela, was as an important step for the Council applying objective criteria to address country situations that warrant its attention. The resolution, adopted with support from all regions, sends a strong message of support to the Venezuelan people. By opening up a space for dialogue at the Council, the resolution brings scrutiny to the tragic human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country.  

The renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi will enable it to continue its critical investigation and work towards accountability. However, the Council failed to respond more strongly to Burundi’s record of non-cooperation and attacks against the UN human rights system. [see alsohttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/26/enough-is-enough-ngos-call-for-burundi-suspension-from-un-human-rights-council/]

The Council also adopted a resolution on Syria, which among other things condemns all violations and abuses of international human rights law and all violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict.

However, on other country situations including China, Sudan, Cambodia and the Philippines, the Council failed to take appropriate action. 

On Sudan, the Council adopted a weak resolution that envisions an end to the Independent Expert’s mandate once an OHCHR office is set up; a “deal” Sudan has already indicated it does not feel bound by, and which is an abdication of the Council’s responsibility to human rights victims in Sudan while grave violations are ongoing. At a minimum, States should ensure the planned country office monitors and publicly reports on the human rights situation across Sudan, and that the High Commissioner is mandated to report to the Council on the Office’s findings.  

The Council failed to take action on the Philippines, in spite of the need to establish independent international and national investigations into extrajudicial killings in the government’s ‘war on drugs’, and to monitor and respond to the government’s moves toward authoritarianism. 

In addition, the Council continued with its weak response to the deepening human rights and the rule of law crisis in Cambodia, failing to change its approach even when faced with clear findings by the Special Rapporteur demonstrating that the exclusive focus on technical assistance and capacity building in the country, is failing.

Many States, NGOs and the High Commissioner, raised concerns about China’s human rights record, specifically noting serious violations of the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province. It is regrettable that States did not make a concrete and collective call for action by China to cease the internment of estimates ranging up to 1 million individuals from these communities. 

On thematic resolutions, the Council adopted by consensus a resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs, as well as a resolution on the safety of journalists. The latter sets out a clear roadmap of practical actions to end impunity for attacks.  

The Council also adopted by consensus a resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights in humanitarian settings. Women and girls affected by conflict have been denied accountability for too long. The implementation of this resolution will ensure that their rights, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights, are respected, protected and fulfilled. 

Finally, the Council’s first interactive dialogue on acts of reprisals and intimidation was an important step to ensure accountability for this shameful practice. More States need to have the courage and conviction to stand up for human rights defenders and call out countries that attack and intimidate them. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

Read the full statement here.

Attack on human rights defenders in India are an attack on the very idea of India

September 22, 2018

When India was named as a major sinner in this year’s report on reprisals against human rights defenders, there was understandable shock. Many NGOs and newspapers reported on this (a small selection below).

ARUNA ROY published on 21 September a piece called: “Attack on the conscience keepers; Attempt to silence the messenger”, which is an excellent overview of the issues at stake:

There have been a set of simultaneous raids and arrests of eminent social activists and public intellectuals over which the BJP government in Maharashtra and the Centre, and many human rights organizations have been locked in a sharp polarized debate. The arrest of Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Arun Ferreira, in the Bhima Koregaon is a case that has all the elements of an attempt to use an FIR to target a particular kind of dissenting voice, and use undefined terms like “urban naxal” to divert from the main issue itself. This is not just baffling for the ordinary reader – but is a new kind of threat to the democratic practices in India. 

The attack on human rights workers is an attempt to silence the messenger. Given the very high credibility of the people concerned, an orchestrated campaign with the media has been used. News has itself become a strange brew of half-truths, rhetorical statements and deliberate mis-communication. In addition, the state and corporate interests exercise huge commercial control over the media, and many of the causes of tribal communities that are espoused by these activists are in direct conflict with the commercial interests of the media ownership. Users of “social media” advocate causes, make twisted statistical representations, and generate propaganda –all under the credibility that “media” enjoys in large part. The citizen is caught in a web of cross cutting information, where truth is elusive, and it is difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction.

Let’s try and examine some of the facts of this FIR. The Elgar Parishad was an event organized by Dalits in celebration of an old tradition- a historic defeat of the Peshwas at the hands of the Mahars in the 1800s. Two ex judges, Justice Patil and Justice Sawant, former Supreme Court judge and former Chair of the Press Council, were part of the organizing team. On January 1, 2018, there was a clash between the Dalits and the upper castes. FIRs were lodged by the Dalits and a cross case later by the others. The accusations now added to the list, were not in the FIR and none of those arrested were present either at the Elgar Parishad, or on the of January 1. The first claim made by the Pune police was, that these were Maoists responsible for planning and fomenting the violence that took place on January 1. The claim that the arrested activists were a threat to the state and national security has been added subsequently.

There is no doubt that rising inequalities in India are the leading marginalized communities – particularly Dalits and Tribals– to organize to fight for survival and reclaiming citizenship. The citizen’s exercise of sovereignty, ie asking questions about land and natural resources, non-delivery of services, justice and dignity, especially for the most marginalized and discriminated, is branded as anti- national to escape scrutiny. Their advocates suffer the same fate and are hounded to prevent the amplification of the voices against corruption and injustice. The categorization of “anti-national” has now a twin in “urban naxal”. Vague and subjective and incomprehensible; and yet they are used to prosecute and silence people.

The governments, normally riddled with corruption and arbitrary use of power, are afraid of disclosures, accountability and the rule of and by law. When they are confronted by public scrutiny into the exercise of unconstitutional power, they take refuge in accusations of terrorism, sedition etc. to suppress all questioning. The suffering communities and individuals are often the victims of the privileged elite. The RTI has legitimized questioning and the corrupt system is feeling threatened by it, as the attempts to amend and the killing of RTI users amply prove.

Branding of opposition as “Maoists or terrorists”, and “urban naxalites” has enabled governments to build public acceptability, supporting arbitrary decisions made in camera. Rationality falls victim to the fear of government vendetta and silence prevails.

The system protects its charges with dossiers and secret files created to indict activists. The use of the RTI has proven quite clearly that the sovereign citizen is often in ignorance of acts done in her/his name. Therefore any claim of “evidence” is suspect unless it is allowed public scrutiny. There are few tools besides the RTI to test sources of the evidence and the veracity of the testimonies.

This attack on civil rights defenders is in some ways worse than the declaration of the Emergency in 1975, where the motivation was to cling to political power. This is not just about political power, but to change the ideas of justice and equity. Like then, civic space is being narrowed down and an atmosphere of fear is created. But today, people who have dedicated their lives to and speak for constitutional rights are branded as criminals and terrorists and there is a vicious attempt to destroy their credibility. An attack on the rights of civil society by gagging its spokespersons will destroy the idea of India. This idea was crafted carefully by the constituent assembly to give legitimate space for the peaceful and just co-existence of disparate cultures, ideologies and thought, to enable a steady, though difficult journey towards a more just and equitable India.

For some of my earlier posts on India: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/india/

—–

http://www.catchnews.com/politics-news/attack-on-the-conscience-keepers-attempt-to-silence-the-messenger-133682.html

https://www.newsx.com/world/india-human-rights-un

https://thewire.in/external-affairs/india-a-history-sheeter-in-un-records-for-reprisals-against-human-rights-activists

https://www.counterview.net/2018/09/suspend-all-agreements-with-india-till.html

http://www.asianews.it/news-en/India,-five-Modi-critics-arrested.-Attempt-to-%27create-a-culture-of-silence%27-44800.html

List of side events re HRDs at the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council

September 19, 2018

A bit late, here the promised selection of side events at the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/08/many-hrd-issues-at-the-39th-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/]. I only list those that are most relevant to human rights defenders. With apologies for those that have already taken place but it allows you to contact the organizers for any reports:

  • Shared Space under Pressure launch of guidance document on business support for civic freedoms and human rights defenders is an event organised by ISHR and took place on 17 September from 13:30 to 14:30 in Room XXVII. The panelists will present and discuss a new publication by the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, which provides concrete advice to companies on how to protect human rights defenders.
  • Ending reprisals: Discussion with human rights defenders and experts. The event will highlight the nature and extent of reprisals and intimidation for those cooperating with the UN, discuss and expand on the Secretary General’s report on cooperation with the UN and consider efforts to date to address reprisals as well as ways to further develop and strengthen policies to prevent and address reprisals. It will take place on 20 September from 10:00 to 11:00 in Room XXV.
  • Accountability and the need to end impunity for human rights violations in Yemen: Human rights defenders including bloggers, Internet activists and journalists at extreme risk of persecution is an event organised by the Gulf Center for Human Rights and co-sponsored by ISHR, CIVICUS and FIDH. It took place on 10 September from 12:00 to 13:00 in Room XXIV.
  • Saudi Arabia’s 3rd Cycle UPR: a Refusal to Reform is an event organised by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain. It will review the Kingdom’s human rights record over the past five years, taking a look at some of the recommendations offered during the previous cycle in October 2013 that have gone unfulfilled, from women’s rights to capital punishment, torture to the lack of a written penal code, and human rights defenders and civil society. It took place on 11 September from 12:00 to 13:00 in Room XXIII.
  • Gross human rights violations in Myanmar: options for international criminal accountability is an event organised by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and took place on 13 September at 12:00 in  Room XXVII. The discussion will focus on means of documenting violations, possible evidence-gathering mechanisms and the role of the International Criminal Court.
  • Burundi: ending the crisis and paving the way for accountability is an event organised by DefendDefenders in collaboration with a range of Burundian and international partners including ISHR. It will highlight ongoing grave violations in Burundi, lack of domestic accountability, and the need to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi to avoid a monitoring and reporting gap and to prepare for accountability at the international level took place on Thursday 13 September from 13:00-14:00 in Room XXIV.
  • Bridging the gap: HRC resolutions and the human rights situation in Sudan will examine Sudan’s human rights and humanitarian situation and the last UN Human Rights Council resolutions, which have failed to adequately reflect it. During this side event organised by DefendDefenders, panelists will discuss Sudan’s record, ongoing violations and abuses, and what the HRC needs to do to fulfil its mandate and prioritize the rights of all Sudanese. It took place on Friday 14 September from 14:00-15:00 in Room XXIV.
  • Women’s Access to Justice is an event organised by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and took place on 17 September at 14:00 in  Room XXIV. The discussion will focus on how to implement a women-centred approach in strengthening access to justice, considering ways to ensure that gender issues are robustly integrated into human rights investigations and judicial mechanisms and implemented by the actors operating within these areas. The discussion will draw on themes relevant to the annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective taking place on 24 September.
  • Human Rights in Myanmar is an event organised by Forum Asia on 17 September from 10:00 to 11:00 in Room XXV. Human rights defenders from Myanmar presented their perspectives on the findings of the report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, and key recommendations for the UN Human Rights Council.
  • From Documenting Violations to Preparing for Prosecutions: How can the UN respond effectively to crimes under international law in situations of crisis? is an event organised by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands and will take place on 18 September at  15:30 in Room XXII. The discussion will focus on why the Council and other international bodies need to move quickly to preserve evidence of crimes under international law, and options for doing so, with the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria, and the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, as examples to inform possible future mechanisms or a permanent standing mechanism.
  • Crisis in the DRC: a country-wide perspective is an event organised by CIVICUS that will take place on 18 September. The exact time and room will be announced soon.
  • Human Rights in Cambodia is an event organised by Forum Asia on 19 September from 10:00 to 11:00 in Room XXV. Civil society will discuss the closure of civic space in Cambodia following the July 2018 national elections, which have been widely condemned as neither free nor fair, as well as what the UN Human Rights Council should do to respond to attacks on civil society and the degradation of democratic freedoms.

States and NGOs are holding a lot more side events. You can download the list of State events here and NGO events here.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc39-key-issues-agenda-september-2018-session

 

Many HRD issues at the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council

September 8, 2018

The 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council is held from coming Monday to 28 September 2018. Human Rights Defenders issues abound. Thanks to the excellent overview of the ISHR I can provide a short summary. To stay up-to-date, follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC39 on Twitter.

Reprisals

On 19 September, the Council will hold its first dedicated interactive dialogue on reprisals. It will engage with the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights (Andrew Gilmour) who as UN senior official on reprisals will present the Secretary General’s annual report on the United Nations’ “the reprisals report”. The dedicated dialogue to address acts of intimidation and reprisals was mandated by the resolution on reprisals in September 2017 and provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and demand that Governments involved in existing cases provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. [for some of my earlier posts on reprisals: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

Other key thematic reports relevant to HRDs

The Council will hold interactive dialogues and consider the reports of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including on their country visits to Argentina and Sri Lanka, as well as the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance including on their country visit to Gambia.

The Council will consider the human rights of indigenous peoples on several occasions: it will hold a panel on the issue (see further below), the annual reports by the High Commissioner,  the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, including on her visits to Mexico and Guatemala, and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence will also present his annual report, followed by an interactive dialogue, in addition to discussing the Secretary General report on the prevention of genocide.

The Council will discuss the report of the Secretary-General on capital punishment and the implementation of the safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty.

The Council will also discuss the report of the High Commissioner on mechanisms concerned with ensuring the safety of journalists and the Council will consider a resolution on the issue. The first informal consultation is scheduled for 11 September at 15:30.

The Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes will present a set of principles for States, businesses and other actors to protect workers, including the need to protect worker representatives and human rights defenders from reprisal.

Country-specific developments

Burundi. During its 36th session, the Council passed two resolutions on Burundi (read here ISHR’s analysis of these two resolutions). At the 39th session, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on his final report on Burundi on 11 September from 15:00 to 18:00. The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on 17 September between 09:00 and 12:00. ISHR continues to remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, which clearly warrant an invitation to the General Assembly to consider the suspension of Burundi as a member of the Council. ISHR joined a group of NGOs in calling for the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. [for earlier posts on Burundi: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/burundi/]

Yemen. Last September, the Council appointed a Group of Eminent Experts to carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations of international human rights law committed by all parties to the conflict since September 2014. They will present their report followed by an interactive dialogue on 26 September from 09:00 to 12:00. The Council will also consider a report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Yemen and on the implementation of the technical assistance. The Group of Eminent Experts’ report strongly suggests that parties to the armed conflict have perpetrated, and continue to perpetrate, violations and crimes under international law. Over 50 civil society organisations have called on the Council to renew and strengthen the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts through the enhancement of its reporting structure and strengthening language on accountability.

China. The 39th session is the final session before China’s Universal Periodic Review. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/15/remember-2nd-anniversary-of-the-death-of-cao-shunli/; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/26/chinas-win-win-resolution-gets-the-votes-in-the-un-council/ and many more]

Other country situations where HRD issues are relevant

The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates.

They include:

  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on Syria
  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Myanmar
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Ukraine
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Libya
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Sudan
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Turkmenistan, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Tuvalu, Germany, Djibouti, Canada, Bangladesh, Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, and Cuba.

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for the following two vacancies of mandate holders to be filled at this session:

  1. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus
  2. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 39th session

At the organisational meeting the following resolutions relevant to HRDs were announced (States sponsoring the resolution in brackets):

  1. The human rights situation in Yemen (Yemen and a group of countries)
  2. The protection of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Togo on behalf of the African group)
  3. The protection of human rights in the Sudan (Togo on behalf of the African group)
  4. World Programme for Human Rights Education (Brazil, Costa Rica, Italy, Morocco, Slovenia, Senegal,  Philippines, Thailand)
  5. The human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Kingdom)
  6. The human rights situation in Somalia (the UK and a group of countries)
  7. The safety of journalists (Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar and Tunisia)
  8. The human rights of indigenous peoples (Guatemala and Mexico)
  9. The promotion and protection of the human rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas (Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, South Africa)
  10. The human rights situation in Burundi (the European Union)
  11. The human rights situation in Myanmar (the European Union)
  12. Equal participation in political and public affairs (Botswana, Czech Republic, Indonesia, Netherlands, Peru)
  13. The situation of Rohingya muslims and other minorities in Myanmar (Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation)

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. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Three panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  • The high-level panel discussion to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide will take place on 13 September from 10:00 to 12:00.
  • The annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples will take place on 19 September from 9:00 to 11:00. The theme will be the participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in the development and implementation of strategies and projects in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • The annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms will take place on 24 September from 16:00 to 18:00. The theme will be gender integration and human rights investigations: strengthening a victim-centred approach.

Side events. As always there will be many side events concerning HRDs to which I will refer in the future.

——

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc39-key-issues-agenda-september-2018-session

China, Russia and Pakistan in UN fail at attempt to muzzle human rights defenders (for now)

July 7, 2018

On 6 July 2018 Stephanie Nebehay reported for Reuters that China, Russia and Pakistan lost their bid on Friday to weaken a U.N. resolution upholding the crucial rule of human rights defenders. The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on all states to protect civil society groups from threats and intimidation, and prosecute reprisals against them. Chile presented the resolution text on behalf of more than 50 countries on the final day of a three-week session. Amendments proposed by China, Pakistan and Russia – declaring that civil society groups must respect “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states” and that their funding must be “legal and transparent” – were soundly defeated. So, in spite of increasing retaliation against human right defenders and pressure on civil society in many countries [see recently: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/08/ishr-new-report-on-reprisals-and-restrictions-against-ngo-participation-in-the-un/ ], the UN is still able to resist some of the more blatant attempt to silence critics.

China and Russia are often the least tolerant of civil society at home. They are now seeking to introduce similar restrictions at the international level,” John Fisher of Human Rights Watch told Reuters. Their attempts to place national sovereignty above international human rights law “would turn guarantees of peaceful assembly and association on their heads”.

“These amendments were a swing and a miss for China and its allies on the Council,” Sarah Brooks of the International Service for Human Rights told Reuters, using an American baseball term. “Their efforts to limit civil society’s independence and shut down civil society voices were rebuffed by a strong message – from member states across the globe – about the importance of keeping defenders’ voices at the table”.

[At the current session, China tried unsuccessfully to block the accreditation of Uighur activist Dolkun Isa, U.N. sources said. China’s delegation publicly challenged activists speaking on behalf of Uighur and Tibetan ethnic minorities. Council president Vojislav Suc, Slovenia’s ambassador, said allegations of intimidation and reprisals had emerged during the session and urged “all necessary measures” to prevent such acts.]

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-un-rights/china-russia-fail-to-curb-activists-role-at-u-n-rights-forum-campaigners-idUSKBN1JW2EM

Inventivity of evil: how states restrict HRDs access to the UN in 10 case studies

June 27, 2018

In a new report entitled “The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations” the ISHR outlines the many different ways States employ to keep critical voices out of multilateral spaces. ISHR’s new report provides a road map for States and UN representatives to prevent and counter restrictions on civil society participation in UN processes.

Civil society has the right to ‘unhindered access to and communication with international bodies. However, that right is not being respected.  ISHR’s new report documents a broad range of obstacles faced by human rights defenders, from opaque bureaucracies and procedures to reprisals, physical threats and attacks. ‘States decide who gets through the door,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.  ‘States that fear calls for accountability and justice do what they can to prevent civil society access to and participation in UN spaces’.

Click on the video below to get an insight into the report:

Opaque practices and procedures provide covers for States seeking to block NGO entry.  An NGO seeking to participate in a UN high-level event can be a victim of the ‘no-objection’ procedure.  This is the means by which any State can veto their participation without being named or providing any justification. ‘The no-objection procedure is poorly defined, and provides no formal criteria for objections to NGO participation,’ said ISHR’s John Indergaard. ‘It’s carte blanche to exclude legitimate NGOs for illegitimate reasons.’

Even when civil society representatives make it into an actual UN building, they have been thrown out without explanation or asked to leave while events were ongoing. At some high-level events and committee meetings, NGO representatives have been barred from giving statements or bringing in documents related to their work. Physical attacks and intimidation against those seeking to cooperate with the UN are well documented.  ‘These restrictions and reprisals are all aimed at dissuading civil society participation,’ said Openshaw. ‘They need to be challenged in each and every case.’

For some of my earlier posts on reprisals: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

US withdraws from UN Human Rights Council: NGOs make clear their position

June 26, 2018

A group of 18 NGOs sent a joint letter to US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in response to a letter sent by Haley to the organisations after the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council. On 17 May 2018, 18 NGOs had sent private letters to Member States urging them to not support the US proposal to reopen the Council’s institutional framework at the General Assembly.  Read the joint letter below.

Dear Ambassador Haley,

We write in response to your letter of 20 June 2018, in which you suggest that NGOs are somehow responsible for your decision to withdraw from the Human Rights Council. The decision to resign from the Council was that of the US administration alone. We had legitimate concerns that the US’s proposal to reopen the Council’s institutional framework at the General Assembly would do more harm than good. We see it as our responsibility to express those concerns and would do so again.

Although the Human Rights Council is not perfect, it does play an essential role. It makes a significant contribution to strengthening human rights standards, providing protection and justice to victims, and promoting accountability for perpetrators. The Council and its mechanisms have played a key role in securing the freedom of detained human rights defenders, and investigating rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, South Sudan, Sri Lanka and North Korea, to name but a few. It continues to address thematic issues of global concern including non-discrimination, freedom of expression online and offline, freedom of assembly, housing, migration, counterterrorism, and the protection of the rights of women, rights of LGBTI people, and rights of people with disabilities.

As you know, we are independent organizations that do not work on behalf of any government. We focus on building support for policies we believe will better the lives of those most affected by abuse –  which does mean we are sometimes opposed to proposals laid out by certain governments, or the proposed means of pursuing them, especially when we believe such an initiative could be more harmful than not.  With regard to the Council, our goal continues to be strengthening and supporting reform efforts that are ongoing in Geneva to ensure that they are informed by the experience and expertise of national and regional level actors, including rights-holders, human rights defenders and other civil society actors, victims, survivors (and their representatives).

We are committed to the international system, including the Human Rights Council, and to ensuring the system is fit for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights. We will continue to work towards those goals.

Signatories:

  1. Amnesty International
  2. ARTICLE 19
  3. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)
  4. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
  5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  6. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
  7. Child Rights Connect
  8. Conectas Direitos Humanos
  9. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  10. Human Rights Watch
  11. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  12. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  13. International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
  14. International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)
  15. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  16. International Women’s Health Coalition
  17. OutRight Action International
  18. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights

More about the Geneva Human Rights Platform (Geneva HRP)

June 22, 2018

Expert meeting at the Geneva Academy

The Geneva Human Rights Platform (Geneva HRP), hosted by the Geneva Academy and supported by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, provides a dynamic forum in Geneva for all stakeholders in the field of human rights – experts, practitioners, diplomats and civil society – to discuss and debate topical issues and challenges. Relying on academic research and findings, the Geneva HRP aims at enabling various actors to become better connected, break down silos and, hence, advance human rights.

The objective is to foster interactions and discussions on topical issues and challenges through regular events, conferences, expert roundtables and private meetings’ stresses Felix Kirchmeier, Director of Policy Studies at the Geneva Academy. ‘The Geneva HRP aims to increase sharing, exchange and collaboration among different actors by means of its independent, neutral and academic status’ adds Robert Roth, Director of the Geneva Academy.

Specifically, the Geneva HRP concentrates on the current challenges to human rights and the way the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) and other Geneva-based mechanisms address or should address them, as well as on the work of UN treaty bodies. ‘We currently focus on two human rights challenges: use of force and the specific use of less lethal weapons for law enforcement purposes, and human rights and freedoms in the digital age’ underlines Kamelia Kemileva, Executive Manager at the Geneva Academy. ‘We accompany the work of UN treaty bodies via two projects, or sub-platforms, our Academic Platform on Treaty Body Review 2020 which just released its final report, and the Treaty Body Members Platform which connects experts in UN treaty bodies with each other as well as with Geneva-based practitioners, academics and diplomats’ underlines Felix Kirchmeier. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/09/academic-want-un-treaty-bodies-to-become-fit-for-purpose/]

The Geneva HRP is up and running since the beginning of the year, but now has a dedicated online presence, on the Geneva Academy website, which provides information about activities, events and related research.

https://www.geneva-academy.ch/news/detail/134-the-geneva-human-rights-platform-a-dynamic-forum-to-discuss-and-debate-topical-human-rights-issues-and-challenges

Guide to HRD issues at the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council

June 15, 2018

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 38th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 18 June to 6 July 2018. The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has – as usual – published an excellent alert full of substantive issues (see link at the bottom of this post). Here I just highlight some of the session’s features that are of special interest to human rights defenders;

Sexual orientation and gender identity. The first interactive dialogue with the new Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will be held between 9:00 and 12:00 on Monday 18 June. The Council will consider the new report of the mandate holder as well as the report of the country visit to Argentina.
In a joint written submission to the Independent Expert submitted in the lead-up to the presentation of his report to the Council, a group of 12 NGOs detail State obligations that if  implemented, would work towards ensuring that LGBTI defenders’ rights are protected (based in existing international human rights law and articulated in the Yogyakarta Principles (YP) and Yogyakarta Principles plus 10, (YP +10). ISHR and ILGA will organise a side-event that will build on this submission and discuss in more detail State obligations set out in the YP +10. The event will take place on 21 June 2018 from 15:00 to 16:30 in Room XXIII.

Reprisals. Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow.  Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out. [see recent: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/06/08/ishr-new-report-on-reprisals-and-restrictions-against-ngo-participation-in-the-un/]

Women human rights defenders and women’s rights. The Annual Full Day Discussion on the human rights of women will take place on Thursday 21 June from 16:00 to 18:00. It will focus on the specific impact of online violence on the work of women human rights defenders. It is crucial that the Council’s discussions and resolutions recognise the critical role of women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and organisations led by women and girls as rights holders and agents of change. The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on 20 June between 09:00 and 12:00 and will consider her report including the report of her visit to Australia. The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice and will consider their reports including a report on the country visit to Samoa and Chad.

Business and human rights. The Council consider the report of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and business. It examines the duty of States to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises to whom they provide support for trade and investment promotion. It will also consider the Working Group’s report on its mission to CanadaPeru, and on the sixth session of the Forum on Business and Human Rights. Both country reports contain specific sections analysing the situation of human rights defenders, with the report on Peru raising serious concerns about the high level of threats, attacks and violence against local leaders and human rights defenders. The interactive dialogue will be an opportunity for States to follow-up to recommendations made in the UPR in that regard. The core group on the resolution on business and human rights (Argentina, Norway, Ghana and Russia) have announced that they will present a resolution at this Council session to request the OHCHR to continue with the accountability and remedy report with a focus on non-State based remedy mechanisms. The first informal consultation on the draft resolution will be held on 18 June at 16:30 in Room XXIV.

Other thematic reports

The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue and consider the report of the new Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Switzerland with Costa Rica also announced that they will be running the resolution on the protection and promotion of human rights in the context of peaceful protests. The first informal consultations will be held on 19 June from 11:30 to 12:30 in Room V.

The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue and consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which examines regulation of user-generated content online. The Council will consider the report of the High Commissioner on procedures and practices in respect of civil society engagement with international and regional organisations. The core group on the civil society space resolution (Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone and Tunisia) announced that they will present a resolution this session.

The Council will also consider the reports of and hold interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, including the report of his mission to Poland, and with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, including reports of her missions to Iraq and El Salvador.

Country specific developments

Burundi During its 36th session, the Council passed two resolutions on Burundi. One resolution was led by the European Union and extended the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry. The second resolution was led by the African Group and requested OHCHR to urgently dispatch a team of three experts to engage with the Burundian authorities and all other stakeholders to “collect and preserve information, to determine the facts and circumstances in accordance with international standards and to forward to the judicial authorities of Burundi such information”. The aim was to establish the truth and ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable. Read here ISHR’s analysis of the two resolutions. At the 38th session, the Council will hear the oral briefing by the High Commissioner on the mission of OHCHR on 4 July between 15:00 and 18:00. The Council will also hear an oral briefing by the Commission of Inquiry on 27 June between 09:00 and 12:00. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/26/enough-is-enough-ngos-call-for-burundi-suspension-from-un-human-rights-council/]

China. By any measure, the Chinese government is not living up to the commitments to protect and promote human rights inherent in its Human Rights Council membership. Since the twelve-country joint statement on the human rights situation in China in March 2016, there has been no concerted effort to use the Council space creatively to call for accountability and transparency related to violations in China. This, despite the fact that in July 2017, Chinese security authorities presided over the death in custody of Liu Xiaobo, the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to die in detention since Carl von Ossietzky died in Nazi Germany in 1938… In this context NGOs , incl. the iSHR, continue to call for the release of individuals arbitrarily detained and/or held incommunicado, including Wang Quanzhang, Gui Minhai, Tashi Wangchuk, Lee Ming-che, and Yu Wensheng. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/07/china-and-the-un-human-rights-council-really-win-win/]

Eritrea. The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with and consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea on 25 June. A cross-re­gional group of non-governmental organisations urged the Council to support and co-sponsor at the 38th session a streamlined resolution that accurately reflects the gravity of the situation on the ground, renews the mandate of the Special Rapporteur under the Council’s agenda item 4, and sets out a framework for needed reforms to improve the human rights situation in the country and advance accountability.

Other country situations include: 

  • An interactive dialogue on the oral update by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights of the minority Rohingya Muslim population and other minorities in Rakhine State of Myanmar, and the oral report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
  • An enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the findings of the team of international experts on the situation in the Kasai regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and on the oral update by OHCHR on the situation of human rights in the DRC
  • An oral update by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine
  • An oral update by the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic
  • An interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria (oral update) and consideration of the summary report of OHCHR on the high-level panel discussion on violations of the human rights of children in Syria
  • An interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus on his report
  • During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports as part of the 29th session of the UPR. These reports list recommendations the following States under review are expected to implement: France, Tonga, Romania, Mali, Botswana, the Bahamas, Burundi, Luxembourg, Barbados, Montenegro, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Liechtenstein, and Serbia.

This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for BurundiMali and the United Arab Emirates to to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers on those countries.

The Council appointed new Bureau members due to the departure of the Ambassadors of Chile and Germany. The members of the Bureau for 2018 now comprises of the following Ambassadors:

  • Vojislav ŠUC (Slovenia), President of the Human Rights Council
  • Evan P. GARCIA (Philippines), Vice President
  • Cristobal Gonzalez-Aller Jurado (Spain), Vice President
  • Juan Eduardo EGUIGUREN (Chile), Vice President and Rapporteur
  • François Xavier NGARAMBÉ (Rwanda), Vice President

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. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Four panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  • The Annual Full Day Discussion on the human rights of women will be held in two sessions. First, on 21 June from 16:00 to 18:00, the panel will focus on the impact of violence against women human rights defenders and women’s organisations in digital spaces. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • The second panel will be held on 22 June from 10:00 to 12:00 and will focus on advancing women’s rights through access and participation in information and communication technologies (ICTs). The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • A panel discussion will be held on 26 June from 16:00 to 18:00 on the human rights of internally displaced persons in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • The Annual Thematic Panel Discussion on technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights will be held on 4 July from 10:00 to 12:00. The topic will be “Human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals: enhancing human rights technical cooperation and capacity-building to contribute to the effective and inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. The concept note of the panel is available here.

The ISHR and other NGOs will again organize quite a few side events on which I will report separately.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc38-key-issues-agenda-june-2018-session