Archive for the 'Human Rights Council' Category

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

March 3, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HRD issues on agenda of 46th Session of the council

February 22, 2021

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

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

Human Rights implications of COVID-19

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

#HRC46| Thematic areas of interest

Protection of human rights defenders

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

Reprisals

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

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

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

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

During its 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline.

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

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

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

Other thematic reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Country-specific developments

China 

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

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

Egypt

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

Saudi Arabia

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

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

Nicaragua 

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

Venezuela

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

Burundi

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

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

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

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

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

Appointment of mandate holders

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

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

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

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

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

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

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

Panel discussions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vitit Muntarbhorn proposed as new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia

February 11, 2021

A Thai scholar, Vitit Muntarbhorn, has been proposed for appointment as the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia by president of the United Nations Human Rights Council Nazhat Shameem Khan.

Muntarbhorn was listed in the candidates proposed for the six vacancies of special procedure mandate holders scheduled to be filled at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council, according to a letter from Shameem Khan on Monday.

If the 46th session of the Human Rights Council approves, Muntarbhorn will be appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation for Cambodia, replacing Rhona Smith, whose tenure ended in January.

Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) spokesman Chin Malin said Cambodia will welcome and work with whomever is selected as the Special Rapporteur.

Muntarbhorn was designated in September 2016 as the first UN independent expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by the Human Rights Council. He is an international law professor..

He is currently a professor emeritus of law at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, having taught international law, human rights, the law of regional organisations, migration and refugee law, child rights, international humanitarian law and European Union law. He was awarded the Unesco Human Rights Education Prize in 2004. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/DB1D6BB8-85F5-7BBA-A715-5DA728579021]

Muntarbhorn has served on many United Nations bodies. He was formally the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in South Korea. He has also been Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Sri Lanka: damning UN report deserves follow up

January 28, 2021

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) must take urgent steps to address the worsening human rights situation in Sri Lanka, said Amnesty International, on 27 January 2021 following the release of a damning UN report on the country’s efforts to ensure accountability for crimes committed during the civil conflict.

Almost twelve years on from the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, the report, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights warns that the country’s persistent failure to address historic crimes is giving way to ‘clear early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation and a significantly heightened risk of future violations.’ [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/30/sri-lanka-lawyers-human-rights-defenders-and-journalists-arrested-threatened-intimidated/]

In February 2020, the Sri Lankan government announced that it would no longer cooperate with the UNHRCs landmark resolution 30/1, which promotes reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in the country, and would instead pursue its own reconciliation and accountability process. This report lays bare Sri Lanka’s abject record on delivering justice and accountability and the decaying effect this has had on human rights in the country David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International

This report lays bare Sri Lanka’s abject record on delivering justice and accountability and the decaying effect this has had on human rights in the country. The seriousness of these findings highlights the urgent need for the UN Human Rights Council to step up its efforts in Sri Lanka,” said David Griffiths.

“For more than a decade, domestic processes have manifestly failed thousands of victims and their families. Given the government’s decision to walk away from resolution 30/1, and regression on the limited progress that had been made, the Human Rights Council must send a clear message that accountability will be pursued with or without the cooperation of the government.”

Amnesty International is calling on the UN Human Rights Council to implement the report’s key recommendations to put in place more stringent oversight on Sri Lanka, including more robust monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation, and the collection and preservation of evidence for future prosecutions. 

UN member states should learn from past experience, and this time heed the early warning indicators identified by the UN’s top human rights official.” said David Griffiths

The OHCHR report, published on 27 January 2021, is available to download here:.  The Human Rights Council will meet for its 46th session from 22 February to 23 March, during which Canada, Germany, Montenegro, North Macedonia and the UK – the current core group of states leading on Sri Lanka – are expected to present a resolution in follow-up to the OHCHR report.

Amnesty International published an assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka, setting out clear expectations for HRC action, earlier this month. The High Commissioner’s report supports the call for more robust monitoring and reporting on the situation, as well as the collection and preservation of evidence for future prosecutions.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/01/sri-lanka-damning-un-report-stresses-need-for-urgent-international-action-on-accountability/

Palestinian human rights defender Amro Issa convicted for speaking out

January 7, 2021

On Wednesday morning 6 January 2021 an Israeli military court convicted Palestinian Human Rights Defender Issa Amro for peacefully protesting and civil disobedience. The Israeli military judge announced the verdict in a hearing attended by representatives of British, European, EU and Canadian consulates. Amnesty International issued a statement calling to drop all the “politically motivated” charges.

Today Israel announced that Palestinians are not allowed to peacefully protest the Israeli occupation without a permit from the occupier,” Amro stated. “This conviction is the military system against the Palestinian nonviolent resistance. It aims to suppress my voice and end all activism against the Israeli occupation.” Amro’s Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky added that “The military court is just an organ of occupation. The [indictment for nonviolent protest] is an example of how the courts are used in order to deter the important voices of human rights defenders.”

Amro is a founder of the Youth Against Settlements group in Hebron, which organises non-violent activism against the illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron and the discriminatory restrictions placed on Palestinians by the Israeli authorities in the city. Amro first appeared in an Israeli military court in 2016 on 18 charges, ranging from “insulting a soldier” to “participating in a march without a permit”. Some of the charges dated back to 2010.

The indictment, first presented in 2016, included 18 charges related to Amro’s community organizing deemed “baseless,” “politically motivated” or “physically impossible” by Amnesty. The military judge convicted Amro on six counts: three counts of “participating in a rally without a permit,” two counts of “obstructing a soldier,” and one count of “assault.” These surround Amro’s participation in the peaceful “Open Shuhada Street” demonstration in 2016; Amro’s participation in the nonviolent “I Have a Dream” demonstration from 2013 in which participants wore masks of Obama and Martin Luther King; one count of obstruction relates to a nonviolent sit-in protest in 2012 calling to re-open the old Hebron municipality building; one count of “assault” by “shoving someone” related to a previously-closed case from 2010, an incident for which the indictment had included an obstruction charge (acquitted) for Amro yelling “I am being assaulted” in the Israeli police station prior to Amro being carried out to an ambulance on a stretcher.

In 2019, UN Special Rapporteurs called for Amro’s protection and expressed “concern” over the charges. In 2017[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/11/un-rapporteurs-intervene-again-for-palestinian-human-rights-defender-issa-amro/]; thirty-five U.S. House Representatives and four Senators including Bernie Sanders sent letters highlighting that some charges were not internationally recognizable offenses and that Amnesty would consider Amro a “prisoner of conscience” if convicted. Issa Amro is the co-founder and former coordinator of the Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements initiative. In 2010, he was declared “Human Rights Defender of the year in Palestine” by the UN OHCHR and he is formally recognized by the European Union. He won the One World Media Award in 2009 for his involvement in B’Tselem’s camera distribution project. He was a guest of the U.S. State Department in 2011 and has spoken at the UN Human Rights Council on numerous occasions. The sentencing is scheduled for 8 February.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/21/palestinian-human-rights-defenders-continue-to-be-persecuted/

Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said: “The Israeli authorities must end their campaign of persecution against Palestinian activist Issa Amro, who is a prominent voice against Israel’s regime of discrimination and systematic human rights violations against Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly in Hebron.”

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2101/S00025/israeli-military-court-convicts-un-recognized-palestinian-human-rights-defender-for-protesting-without-a-permit.htm

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/30290

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/

https://mailchi.mp/3fff66fe2a8b/military-court-convicts-human-rights-defender-issa-amro?e=51113b9c0e

New Year, New Charges against Thai Protesters – the Lese-majesty law in Thailand

January 4, 2021

Thai authorities on 1 January 2021 made their 38th arrest of a pro-democracy activist in recent weeks under the country’s tough lèse majesté law as authorities crack down on the country’s unprecedented protest movement. That law, Section 112 of the Thai criminal code, forbids defamation of the king and provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for violations.The law had been dormant since King Maha Vajiralongkorn succeeded his father, King  Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016. The Thai government, though, is now using it to try to stamp out continuing protests calling for the government to resign, a new constitution and reform of the monarchy

Thailand’s authorities must stop targeting pro-democracy protesters with draconian legal action and instead enter into dialogue, according to the UN’s special rapporteur for freedom of assembly, who warned the country risks sliding into violence. Clément Voule said he had written to the Thai government to express alarm at the use of the fierce lese-majesty law against dozens of protesters, including students as young as 16.

It is legitimate for people to start discussing where their country is going and what kind of future they want,” Voule said of the protests. “Stopping people from raising their legitimate concerns is not acceptable.

So far, 37 people face charges of insulting the monarchy for alleged offences ranging from wearing traditional dress deemed to be a parody of the royals to giving speeches arguing that the power and wealth of the king should be curbed.

Anti-government protesters flash a three-finger salute – a gesture used adopted by protesters from the Hunger Games films – as they gather in support of people detained under the lese-majesty law at a police station in Bangkok.
Anti-government protesters flash a three-finger salute – a gesture used adopted by protesters from the Hunger Games films – as they gather in support of people detained under the lese-majesty law at a police station in Bangkok. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/EPA

Prominent protest leaders face an unusually high number of charges. This includes the student activists Parit Chiwarak, also known as Penguin, (12 charges) and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul (six charges) and the human rights lawyer Anon Nampa (eight charges), who have given speeches calling for the power of the royals to be curbed.

The pro-democracy protest fundraiser Inthira Charoenpura
The pro-democracy protest fundraiser Inthira Charoenpura speaks from a stage outside Bang Khen police station in Bangkok. Photograph: Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP

Protesters – who have faced various other charges over recent months, including sedition – declined to participate in a government reconciliation panel in November, rejecting it as an attempt to buy time. The recent cases come after months of demonstrations in which protesters have made unusually frank and public calls for reform to the monarchy.

Benja Apan, 21, one of 13 people facing charges over a demonstration outside the German embassy in Bangkok, said legal action was unlikely to deter protesters from coming out in the new year. “I actually think it will bring more people out, because it is not fair,” she said.

The human rights group Amnesty International has launched a campaign calling on PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to drop charges pressed on a number of activists for their role in the pro-democracy movement and to repeal, or at least amend, Thailand’s draconian lèse majesté law. According to the campaign, at least 220 people, including minors, face criminal charges for relating to their actions in the pro-democracy movement. Activists are calling on government and monarchy reform, raising issues considered taboo and unprecedented in Thai society. Thailand must amend or repeal the repressive laws it is using to suppress peaceful assembly and the expression of critical and dissenting opinions.

Amnesty International is calling on people to take action and send a letter to the prime minister, calling on the Thai government to change their approach when handing the ongoing protests to protect human rights. Sample letter by AI’s campaign calls on Prayut to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop all criminal proceedings against protesters and others charged solely for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression
  • Cease all other measures, including harassment, aimed at dissuading public participation in peaceful gatherings or silencing voices critical of the government and social issues
  • Amend or repeal legislation in order to ensure it conforms with Thailand’s international human rights obligations on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and to train state officials to carry out their duties confirming to Thailand’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

On Saturday 19 December 2020 Maya Taylor in The Thaiger had already reported that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has expressed shock and dismay at Thailand’s use of its strict lèse majesté law against a 16 year old pro-democracy activist. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani has called on Thailand to refrain from using the law against those exercising their right to freedom of speech, as she expressed alarm that a minor was being charged under the law. “It is extremely disappointing that after a period of 2 years without any cases, we are suddenly witnessing a large number of cases, and – shockingly – now also against a minor. We also remain concerned that other serious criminal charges are being filed against protesters engaged in peaceful protests in recent months, including charges of sedition and offences under the Computer Crime Act. Again, such charges have been filed against a minor, among others.

The UN Human Rights Committee has found that detention of individuals solely for exercising the right to freedom of expression or other human rights constitutes arbitrary arrest or detention. We also urge the government to amend the lèse majesté law and bring it into line with Article 19 of the ICCPR on the right to freedom of expression.”

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry spokesman has played down the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ criticisms over the kingdom’s enforcement of the Lese Majeste law.

See also in 2019: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/23/thailand-amnesty-and-un-rapporteur-agree-on-misuse-of-lese-majeste/

https://thethaiger.com/news/national/pro-democracy-movement-making-little-headway-monarchys-powers-remain-untouched

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/27/un-thailand-protesters-royal-insult-law-lese-majesty

https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/new-year-new-charges-thai-protesters-slapped-royal-defamation-charges

China’s continuing crackdown on human rights lawyers ‘shocking’ say UN experts

December 18, 2020

The Hong Kong Free Press comes on 17 December 2020 with the AFP story that the UN Special Raporteur Mary Lawlor slammed a years-long crackdown on rights defenders and lawyers in China, highlighting the case of one attorney who disappeared after revealing he was tortured in detention.

Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, warned in a statement endorsed by seven other UN rights experts, that a clampdown that began more than five years ago aimed at courtroom critics of Communist authorities was continuing unabated.

Since the so-called 709 crackdown began on 9 July 2015, the profession of human rights lawyer has been effectively criminalised in China,” she said. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/12/china-five-years-after-major-crackdown-international-community-must-support-to-human-rights-lawyers/]

In her statement, Lawlor pointed to the recent arrest and “enforced disappearance” of activist and attorney Chang Weiping as emblematic of Beijing’s efforts to silence lawyers who speak out about the deterioration of human rights in the country.

chang weiping FLD front line defenders china rights lawyer human rights
Chang Weiping. Photo: Front Line Defenders.

The lawyer, she said, was placed by security officials in Baoji city in a form of secret extrajudicial detention typically used against dissidents, known as “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL), for 10 days last January. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/10/more-on-residential-surveillance-in-a-designated-location-rsdl-in-china/]

He was held on suspicion of “subversion of state power” and his licence was annulled, she said. Just days after he posted a video online in October describing the torture and ill-treatment he was allegedly subjected to during his detention, he was detained again and returned to RSDL in retaliation for his video. “Since then, the defender’s whereabouts remain unknown, his lawyers have been unable to contact him and no charges have been brought against him,” Wednesday’s statement said.

Fundamental human rights are not a threat to any government or society, and neither are the individuals who defend those rights,” she added. “I urge the Chinese authorities to release at once Chang Weiping and all other detained and disappeared human rights defenders.”

Not surprisingly The reaction by China was swift and tough: “By using misinformation, relevant (UN) mandate holders blatantly smear China,” Liu Yuyin, a spokesman at the Chinese mission in Geneva, said in a statement issued 16 December. As for Chang’s case, Liu insisted his “legitimate rights were fully protected.” Chang “was subject to criminal coercive measures by the public security organ in Shanxi Province on October 22, 2020, on suspicion of criminal offences.”

The remarks by Lawlor and other UN experts about the lawyer’s case, Liu warned, “seriously (violate) the spirit of the rule of law and fully exposes their bias against China.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/world/2020/12/17/china-slams-un-experts-erroneous-criticism-of-lawyer-crackdown/1932866

https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198840534.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780198840534-e-42

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/world/2020/12/21/eu-urges-china-to-free-rights-lawyers-ahead-of-investment-pact/

As Iran prepares to execute Ahmadreza Djalali, the world reacts

November 26, 2020

Around the world, shock and outrage has been the reaction to the news that Iran is preparing to execute Swedish-Iranian emergency medicine specialist Dr Ahmadreza Djalali. In a call from Evin Prison on 24 November, Ahmadreza told his wife Vida, who lives in Sweden, that he believed he may be executed in less than a week. He has been transferred into solitary confinement and it has been reported that he will shortly be sent to Rajai Shahr Prison where this draconian death sentence would be delivered.

Dr Djalali has been used as a bargaining chip as part of Iran’s hostage diplomacy. A dual national, illegally detained in solitary confinement with no access to a lawyer before being sentenced to death in October 2017. The court based their sentence for “corruption on earth” on “confessions” elicited after torture, threats to kill Ahmadreza Djalali’s wife and two young children, solitary confinement and his prolonged ill treatment.

The UN, EU, Council of Europe, European governments, worldwide academic institutions, civil society and thousands of individuals have all called for Dr Djalali’s release.

UN experts Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions issued a statement saying: “We are horrified by the reports that Mr. Djalali is soon to be executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. His torture, arbitrary detention, death sentence and now reported imminent execution are unconscionable acts that should be condemned by the international community in the strongest terms. We urge the Iranian authorities to take immediate action to reverse this decision before it is too late.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Diana Eltahawy, said:

“We call on members of the international community to immediately intervene, including through their embassies in Tehran, to save Ahmadreza Djalali’s life before it is too late.”

Valerie Peay, Director of the International Observatory of Human Rights said: “We stand in support of Dr Djalali and his family. Ahmadreza has already suffered gross injustice, pain and the cruel separation from his wife and two children. For three years he has faced a baseless death sentence while Iran has used him as a bargaining chip and sought to gain leverage with the international community by unjustly incarcerating Dr Djalali and other dual nationals. Now is the moment for the Islamic Republic to act to cease this action to execute Dr Djalali and instead, release him to return his life in Sweden with his family.

https://researchprofessionalnews.com/rr-news-europe-universities-2020-11-academic-groups-sound-alarm-over-djalali-death-sentence/embed/#?secret=xEX33rLMOr

UN human rights experts ‘alarmed’ by treatment of human rights defenders in Cambodia.

November 17, 2020

Voicing concerns over increasing restrictions on civil society in Cambodia, a group of independent UN human rights experts have called for an immediate end to the systematic detention and criminalization of human rights defenders. 

In a statement on 16 November 2020 Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said she was “alarmed” by credible reports that at least 21 human rights defenders have been subjected to threats, arbitrary arrests and detentions in the past three months. 

I have reviewed publicly available footage where excessive force has been used by the security forces to prohibit human rights defenders, many of them women, from exercising their rights to peaceful assembly. Promotion and protection of human rights through peaceful means is not a crime,” she said. 

Ms. Lawlor referred to several cases in which detention has reportedly been used to punish human rights defenders for carrying out their work.  

Rights defender Rong Chhun was arrested on 31 July after taking up the case of farmers in Tbong Khmom province who had their land taken in connection with a border demarcation between Cambodia and Viet Nam.  

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/16/even-simply-remembering-kem-ley-is-forbidden-in-cambodia/

Subsequently, several other human rights defenders who protested his detention were also arrested. Twelve remain in pre-trial detention, have been denied bail, and are facing charges punishable by up to two years in prison. 

Human rights defenders should never be criminalized for their courageous efforts to protect the rights of others … I am increasingly concerned by the circular pattern of detaining them for advocating against the detention of or violations against fellow defenders,” said Ms. Lawlor. 

There seems to be no limit to who the authorities will target, making their actions in recent months appear as a concerted attempt to erode civic space and stifle the work of human rights defenders,” she added. 

Rhona Smith, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, also voiced concerns over the restrictions, urging the authorities to end “this harmful approach to human rights defenders and facilitate freedom of expression and assembly, for the benefit of all members of society in Cambodia.” [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/11/even-landmark-un-decision-does-not-change-cambodias-treatment-of-human-rights-defenders/]

The statement was also endorsed by the special rapporteurs on the rights of peaceful assembly and association, and on the freedom of opinion and expression, and the members of Working Group on discrimination against women and girls

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/11/1077702