Archive for the 'OHCHR' Category

SHIFT’s new Chair is former High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

May 20, 2022

Shift, the centre of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, announced the appointment of HRH Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein as the new Chair of its Board of Trustees. He served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2014-2018, as well as Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, and as the first president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), among other leadership roles.

He is currently the CEO and President of the International Peace Institute and the Perry World House Professor of Practice of Law and Human Rights at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. He is also a member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights, first established by Nelson Mandela in 2007. He has been recognized globally and received 5 human rights awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/8ec8e85a-66ba-404c-b82e-720ebf044549]  

Prince Zeid succeeds Shift’s late founding Chair, Professor John Ruggie, author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/28/in-memoriam-john-ruggie-father-of-business-and-human-rights/]

On taking up the role of Shift’s Chair, Prince Zeid said:  

The unanimous endorsement of the Guiding Principles in 2011 represented a watershed moment in changing the understanding of companies’ responsibility for the negative impacts that business activities can have on people. For a decade now, Shift has worked relentlessly to embed the ethos of the UNGPs in the way business gets done, with the focus where it must always be – on delivering better outcomes for the most vulnerable workers and communities. I am delighted to take up the role of Chair of Shift’s Trustees at a time when we see so much growth in the appetite and need for the organization’s work and leadership, not least as regulators, legislators, investors and financiers become more attuned to their own roles in incentivizing rights-respecting business practices, including as an essential component of a Just Transition to carbon neutral economies. I look forward to working with the Board and the management team to seize these growing opportunities to deliver on the promise of the UN Guiding Principles.”

For the past three years, Shift has worked closely with Prince Zeid in strategic partnerships to advise global sports bodies––including the International Olympic Committee and the Féderation Internationale de l’Automobile ––on their responsibility to respect human rights under the UN Guiding Principles.

Human Rights High Commissioner Bachelet urges support for environmental defenders

March 2, 2022
United Nations
Protect the defenders of the planet, UN rights chief urges
Poyowari Piyãko, a young activist, poses in his home in the Apiwtxa village, which belongs to the Ashaninka indigenous people, in northern Brazil.

Poyowari Piyãko, a young activist, poses in his home in the Apiwtxa village, which belongs to the Ashaninka indigenous people, in northern Brazil. © UNICEF/Alécio Cézar

The world must be made a safer place for people working to protect the planet, who sometimes pay with their own lives for their activism, UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday 1 March 2022.  Protecting the environment goes hand-in-hand with protecting the rights of those who defend it, she told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which is holding its annual month-long session. 

Ms. Bachelet revealed how speaking out and standing up for environmental rights can come at enormous cost as activists have been killed or subjected to abuse, threats and harassment.   

At particular risk are people who speak out against deforestation, extractives, loss of cultural heritage or identity, or large scale-agribusinesses and development projects – including those intended to produce clean energy, such as mega dams,she said.  Many environmental human rights defenders are also indigenous peoples, or members of local communities or minority groups – or those representing them.   Berta Caceres, an environmental activist from Honduras, was assassinated in March 2016.  She was recognized posthumously as a UN Champion of the Earth laureate for her tireless campaign for the rights of indigenous people.

Berta Caceres, an environmental activist from Honduras, was assassinated in March 2016. She was recognized posthumously as a UN Champion of the Earth laureate for her tireless campaign for the rights of indigenous people. © UNEP

She said entire communities may face threats and intimidation when someone speaks out on their behalf.  Ms. Bachelet underlined that States have an obligation to respect and protect the rights of environmental human rights defenders, and the communities they represent.  Authorities must also prevent and ensure accountability for attacks.  These actions are in line with a Council resolution adopted last year which upholds the right to a healthy environment, she said.  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/26/aarhus-convention-gets-new-mechanism-to-protect-environmental-defenders/ and

“In addition, it is critical that States effectively regulate businesses and hold them accountable for human rights violations,” she said, while corporations also have a similar duty, as outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Ms. Bachelet advised that prior to undertaking any climate project, both governments and businesses must carry out human rights risk assessments.  

If indigenous peoples’ rights are at risk of being adversely affected by such projects, it is crucial that their free, prior and informed consent is obtained,” she said. 

The UN rights chief also reported on some of the global work of her staff.  “All around the world, my Office is committed to supporting States, businesses and environmental human rights defenders in all of their efforts to protect our planet,” she said. 

For example, over 200 human rights defenders in the Pacific region have been trained to help boost sustainable development, business and human rights in the context of climate change.  

In Southeast Asia, OHCHR is monitoring cases of harassment, arrest, killings and disappearances of environmental human rights defenders, while

https://yubanet.com/world/protect-the-defenders-of-the-planet-un-rights-chief-urges/working with governments towards ending punitive measures levelled against activists. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/03/1113022

Human Rights Defenders at Polish-Belarus border under pressure

February 18, 2022

Poland must probe into harassment of human rights defenders at Belarus border

Poland must investigate all allegations of harassment of human rights defenders, including media workers and interpreters, at the border with Belarus, and grant access to journalists and humanitarian workers to the border area ensuring that they can work freely and safely, UN human rights experts* said on 16 February 2022.

I am receiving several reports of harassments from human rights defenders who assist migrants and document human rights violations against them at the Polish-Belarusian border, and I am deeply concerned at this practice,” said Mary Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Jakub Sypiański, a volunteer interpreter assisting migrants and asylum-seekers, was reportedly stopped by armed soldiers when driving home in November 2021. The soldiers, who were in an unmarked vehicle, did not identify themselves nor explain their actions. They forced open the car door, took the keys out of the ignition and tried pulling him out by his legs.

“Most of the migrants at the border do not speak Polish,” said Mary Lawlor. “Interpreters play a vital role in ensuring their human rights are protected both at the border and in immigration detention centres.”

At around the same time, armed soldiers reportedly harassed journalists covering the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers. Soldiers who did not identify themselves stopped, searched and handcuffed photojournalists Maciej Moskwa and Maciej Nabrdalik outside a military camp. The soldiers searched their equipment, scrutinising their photos, and documented their phone messages and incoming calls.

Journalists Olivia Kortas and Christoph Kürbel, along with two local Polish residents, were allegedly harassed by soldiers while filming a documentary about the human rights situation of migrants at the border.

Reports that these journalists are being persecuted for documenting such human rights violations are appalling,” said Irene Khan, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. “Their work is crucial for everyone’s access to information about the situation unfolding at the border. If they are not allowed to do their job, there are very serious consequences for the human rights of migrants”.

“Interpreters and journalists, along with medics, lawyers and others who peacefully work for the protection of human rights or who provide humanitarian aid, are human rights defenders, according to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Poland should bear this in mind and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment and with full access to the border area,” said Lawlor.

The experts are in contact with the Polish authorities on the matter.

The experts’ call was endorsed by: Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and Ms. Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-Chair), Ms. Leigh Toomey, Mr. Mumba Malila, and Ms. Priya Gopalan, Working Group on arbitrary detention.

https://www.devdiscourse.com/article/law-order/1924185-poland-must-probe-into-harassment-of-human-rights-defenders-at-belarus-border

https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/02/1112032

At least 78 human rights defenders killed in Colombia in 2021

January 17, 2022

On 13 January 2022, Reuters and others reported that at least 78 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2021 according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), adding that more cases were still being verified.

Violence against human rights defenders, environmentalists and community activists – known collectively in Colombia as social leaders – has become a big challenge for President Ivan Duque’s government amid international criticism and demands that it do more to stop the killings.

The government accuses left-wing guerrillas from the National Liberation Army, ex-members of the FARC rebels who reject a 2016 peace deal, and criminal groups, some comprised of former right-wing paramilitaries, of attacking activists as they seek control of drug trafficking networks and illegal mining areas.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it received 202 reports human rights leaders killed in Colombia last year. Of these 78 were confirmed as killed, 39 cases were still being verified, and 85 were inconclusive.

The Colombian Ombudsman documented 145 murders of social leaders and human rights defenders during 2021. See: https://www.parisbeacon.com/29669/.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/about-80-rights-defenders-killed-colombia-2021-un-2022-01-13/

https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/latin-america/1642096591-un-78-human-rights-activists-killed-in-colombia-during-2021

Human Rights Day 2021

December 10, 2021

The United Nations has chosen for Human Rights Day 2021: the theme “All human, all equal” [for some action last year, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/international-human-rights-day-2020/]

At the heart of human rights lie the principles of equality and non-discrimination. Equality has the power to help break cycles of poverty; it can give young people the world over the same opportunities; it can help in advancing the right to a healthy environment; it can help tackle the root causes of conflict and crisis.

Equality “means that we embrace our diversity and demand that all be treated without any kind of discrimination,” says UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. On Human Rights Day, we are calling for a new social contract. This means addressing pervasive inequalities and structural discrimination with measures grounded in human rights. It requires renewed political commitment, the participation of all, especially the most affected, and a more just distribution of power, resources and opportunities.

Equality and non-discrimination are the key to prevention of some of the biggest global crises of our time. Human rights have the power to tackle the root causes of conflict and crisis, by addressing grievances, eliminating inequalities and exclusion and allowing people to participate in decision-making that affects their lives. Societies that protect and promote human rights for everyone are more resilient and sustainable, and stand better equipped to weather unexpected crises such as pandemics and the impacts of the climate crisis. As we continue on the path towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and countries’ commitments to leave no one behind, we must strive for a world where a life of equality in dignity and rights is a lived reality for all.

—–

Bertrand G. Ramcharan on this occasion wrote for the Universal Human Rights Group in Geneva a blog post: Human Rights Day 2021: protect the right to be as well as the right to become

..What the Universal Declaration sought to do, seventy-three years ago, was to invite all governments to pursue human rights strategies of governance. That is to say, government policies and laws should take the precepts of the Universal Declaration as their basic starting point, and governments should be held accountable against those standards.

Human Rights Day this year is being commemorated at a time when the present and the future are joined together as perhaps at no other time in the history of the UN. The world is simultaneously facing a range of critical human rights crises, including a global pandemic, a biodiversity crisis, a pollution crisis, and a climate crisis. The human rights challenges presented by these crises overlay existing discrimination and inequality.

Regarding climate change, the recent Glasgow conference witnessed the tensions between those who fervently believe that the use of fossil fuels must be halted and those who equally fervently plead that they cannot feed and take care of their peoples if they precipitously stop the use of fossil fuels.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides the reference points, the frame of principles, for thinking through, formulating, and implementing policies on challenges such as these. It is a crucial document for every country.

The fourth principle is the rule of law, enshrined, among others, in article 10 of the Universal Declaration: ‘Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.’ The rule of law must be respected everywhere. In many countries it is not.

He then describes and discusses 8 cardinal principles and ends by quoting a leading drafter of the Universal Declaration, the Lebanese Philosopher Charles Habib Malik [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/b5b948da-a4a2-45d7-9ccc-6fd4d938fb24] ‘The very essence of freedom is the right to become, not only the right to be.

In our times, both the right to be and the right to become are under serious threat. On this Human Rights Day, the eight principles of the Universal Declaration enumerated above can help humanity protect the right to be as well as the right to become.

———-

For Human Rights Day 2021, award-winning filmmaker Shred Shreedhar has planned to release his animated short Reena Ki Kahaani which talks about human trafficking. The short is made for all age groups and is based on a real-life incident. Directed by Shreedhar, animation and creative direction was done by Ashish Wagh and PS Jayahari took care of the music.

Reena Ki Kahaani is based on the true story of Reena (name changed), a survivor of human trafficking. She got sold into the market of flesh trade on grounds of false promises only to be rescued later by Vihaan, the anti human trafficking NGO,” Shred Creative Lab director Shreedhar told AnimationXpress in an email interview. 

He revealed that they chose ‘folk as an art style to connect to the region from where the story originated’. “It helped in making the story more relatable.  The former National Geographic Channel India creative VP hopes that with this film, a heinous crime like human trafficking gets talked about more in the mainstream media.

About choosing animation as a medium, Shreedhar said, “Animation as a format is visually appealing to children as well as adults. The purpose was for the film and its message to reach out to not only adults and caregivers but children as well; so a difficult topic was made palatable for all age groups through an animated film so that the dangers are understood.

According to him, there wouldn’t have been a better day to highlight this reassuring story of courage and human grit in the face of a brutal violation of human rights and spirit. “Nothing celebrates Human Rights Day as the rise and triumph of the human spirit in Reena’s story,” he concluded.

Reena Ki Kahaani, the animated short film of nearly 10 minutes will be released on Shred Creative Lab’s YouTube Channel and other social media handles. 

https://www.standup4humanrights.org/en/2021/highlights_09.html

https://www.animationxpress.com/animation/set-to-release-on-human-rights-day-animated-short-reena-ki-kahaani-aims-to-create-awareness-about-human-trafficking/

Reprisals on the agenda of the UN and the new ISHR campaign to #EndReprisals!

September 30, 2021

On 29 September 2021 took place – in the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council – the Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the Secretary-General on Cooperation with the United Nations, its Representatives and Mechanisms in the Field of Human Rights.

Allegations of reprisals and intimidation were documented against some 240 civil society members, activists and journalists, across 45 countries in the year up to 31 April, simply because they had been cooperating with the United Nations.  

That’s according to data from a new report presented on Wednesday to the Human Rights Council by the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris.  

Many cases were reported anonymously, because of fear of reprisal.  There were also around 50 individuals who experienced detention, while others were subjected to house arrest. 

Despite some push-back, Ms. Brands Kehris said the report “makes clear” that “the scope and severity of cases of intimidation and reprisal persist and in unacceptably high numbers.” 

The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, presenting the report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, drew attention to four key trends that emerged from the report. First, in close to half of the countries mentioned in the report, she said that the United Nations had received allegations of monitoring and surveillance, both online and offline, of individuals and groups who cooperated, or attempted to cooperate, with the United Nations. Numerous cases included hacking of accounts, travel bans and other movement restrictions. Second, the United Nations saw signs of a possible pattern in several countries: China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Viet Nam, as well as India, Israel, Myanmar, Philippines and Venezuela. In the first five, the United Nations had identified serious issues with the detention of victims of reprisals and intimidation.

Third, some cases concerned the use of restrictive legislation that prevented or punished cooperation with the United Nations, notably on grounds of national security, including counter-terrorism measures, or based on laws governing activities of civil society organizations. Fourth, the increasingly challenging, or even at times repressive, environments for victims, human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society actors were indicated by the fact that many were deterred from providing specific details about a case, or declined to draw the United Nations’ attention altogether.

Victims of acts of reprisal and intimidation for cooperation with the United Nations continued to be subjected to serious human rights violations – in particular, arbitrary arrests and detention, but also torture and ill-treatment and, even death in custody, killing and enforced disappearances. In the digital sphere, activists and journalists had been attacked on social media after speaking at United Nations meetings and victims had been targeted for submitting information to or communicating electronically with the United Nations. While the report noted that more women were increasingly cooperating with the United Nations, including by using on-line opportunities, the price of such interactions for some included arrests and detention, harassment and intimidation, as well as stigmatisation and vilification. The United Nations could not tolerate that those who brought critical perspectives to the United Nations were silenced. More and better needed to be done to provide safe and open spaces for interaction, where those who spoke up could be heard, and could do so without fear of any sort of retribution.

Speakers regretted that the number of reprisals remained high and that the cases mentioned reflected solely the tip of the iceberg. They were worried about the continued trend of using justifications of any kind for blocking access to the United Nations as well as measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to stifle civil society space. Concerns were expressed about cases of intimidation and reprisals committed by Human Right Council Members, since they should uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human right, especially against women. Some speakers praised the important and vital role played by civil society in promoting and advancing the global human rights agenda, including through meaningful engagement with the United Nations human rights machinery. They deplored any act of reprisal aiming to restrict or hinder the ability of individuals to access and communicate with international bodies, in particular the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights. Some speakers said that reprisals and intimidation against those who cooperated with the United Nations were an attack against the very essence and proper functioning of the United Nations system itself. They condemned any form of intimidation, harassment and reprisals, both offline and online, and called on all States to respect and protect persons cooperating with the United Nations system.

Some speakers stressed the importance of having a constructive and meaningful dialogue on any alleged cases of reprisal and called upon all to pay special attention to fulfil their responsibilities in providing credible and reliable information that should be thoroughly checked and corroborated in order to avoid reaching any false conclusions. They believed it was the mutual responsibility and duty of all stakeholders to collaborate together in order to preserve the efficiency and credibility of the United Nations human rights machinery. One speaker regretted the unfounded mentions contained in the report presented by the Assistant Secretary-General on alleged cases of reprisals. They invited the Assistant Secretary-General to address with objectivity, transparency and impartiality alleged reprisals, which could not be taken a priori as true, as they were not.

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) which is following this topic most keenly says: People who defend human rights must be able to access and communicate with the UN freely & safely. It started a campaign to Call on States at the UN to #EndReprisals!

Help us to #EndReprisals at the UN

Human rights defenders work to make a fairer, more sustainable and just world by promoting and protecting human rights. In considering human rights situations around the world, the UN system is profoundly dependent on the information and testimonies provided by human rights defenders who document situations, abuses and violations. They are essential voices from our communities that need to be part of the conversations at the United Nations.

This important role is a key reason why some States seek to systematically prevent defenders from engaging with UN bodies and mechanisms, and to reprimand and punish those who do engage. They do so through repressive tactics that range from administrative hurdles and travel restrictions to intimidation, imprisonment and killings. 

This is not right. Everyone has the right to access and safely communicate with the UN.

Human rights defenders must be able to share crucial information and perspectives with the UN, safely and unhindered.

Do you agree ? Then send a tweet to States at the UN and ask them to support a resolution to #EndReprisals.

Click to tweet!

We want human rights defenders to have a ‘seat at the UN table’ and be able to effectively and safely engage with UN human rights mechanisms and bodies. We want States and non-State actors to refrain from intimidating or carrying out reprisals against defenders when they engage or seek to engage with the UN. When intimidation and reprisals do occur, we want  the UN to effectively address these cases, support the victims and push for accountability and redress. 

How do we achieve this? 

The countries on the Human Rights Council have the opportunity to take a clear stand on reprisals and intimidation against those who engage with the UN.  During the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, between the 17 September and 4 October 2021, States will negotiate a resolution that aims to strengthen the response by the UN and States to intimidation and reprisals. The resolution invites the UN Secretary General to submit his annual report on reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly.  Until now, the report has only been presented to the Human Rights Council. The General Assembly is the main policy-making forum of the UN and all 193 States are represented there. Reprisals and intimidation related to cooperating with the UN is a serious system-wide issue and having it discussed at the General Assembly amongst all Member States is crucial to effectively preventing and addressing it. We are calling on States, through meetings, letters and on social media to support the resolution and resist any efforts to undermine and weaken it.

States must take a clear and public position at the UN against intimidation and reprisals and hold their peers to account. Every year the UN Secretary-General publishes a report on incidents of reprisals and intimidation. That report will be discussed at the Human Rights Council on 29 September 2021. We therefore also call on governments States to take a stand during the discussion, publicly condemn reprisals and intimidation against those who engage with the UN, and raise specific cases of victims. 

What you can do? 

Together we can make sure a strong resolution on reprisals is adopted and push for everyone at the UN to take this issue seriously. This is a crucial step to #EndReprisals. Click on the image below before 4 October to send a tweet to States on the Human Rights Council who have not been supportive of this issue in the past and call on them to support the resolution. 

Click to tweet!

If you prefer to write or engage directly with States representatives, here you can find an advocacy kit with a draft email, as well as their addresses and twitter contacts

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/high-commissioner-human-rights-council-has-given-disturbing-diagnosis-human-rights

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1101722

https://ishr.ch/action/campaigns/endreprisals/

NSO’s Pegasus spyware now really in the firing line

July 21, 2021

Frank Andrews in the Middle East Eye of 20 July 2021 tracks the history of the unhealthy story to which also thsi blog has regularly paid attention: see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nso-group/

Claims made this week that the Israeli company’s Pegasus spyware technology has been used to surveil 50,000 phones – belonging to heads of state, journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and more – may be the highest-profile accusations against the firm, but they are not the first.

Pegasus, which infects phones with spyware through various means, has proven to be a boon to digital authoritarians wanting to track anyone perceived as critical of their rule. It has also been the subject of numerous lawsuits and legal complaints.

It begun in August 2016, when the United Arab Emirates was found to be tracking the iPhone of Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor using Pegasus spyware, according to a report by Citizen Lab and Lookout Security. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Geneva experts on cybersecurity and digital governance tell Geneva Solutions what citizens must do to stem the erosion of our right to privacy.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in a statement, said that the revelations “are extremely alarming, and seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people’s human rights.” See statement by @UNHumanRights Chief @mbachelet: https://ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-pegasus-spyware-nso-group-history-accusations-denials

https://www.rawstory.com/as-un-human-rights-chief-urges-stricter-rules-snowden-calls-for-end-to-spyware-trade/https://www.rawstory.com/as-un-human-rights-chief-urges-stricter-rules-snowden-calls-for-end-to-spyware-trade/

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/the-making-of-pegasus-from-startup-to-spy-tech-leader-israel-invasive-spyware-7414370/

Continued harassment of Mother Nature defenders in Cambodia

June 22, 2021

The Cambodian government should immediately drop baseless conspiracy and “insulting the king” charges against four environmental activists affiliated with the Mother Nature Cambodia environmental group and release the three in pretrial detention, Human Rights Watch said today.

On June 16, 2021, the police arrested Sun Ratha, 26, Ly Chandaravuth, 22, and Seth Chhivlimeng, 25, in Phnom Penh, and Yim Leanghy, 32, in Kandal province, apparently for their documentation that raw sewage has entered the Tonle Sap River near the Royal Palace. On June 20, the court charged Ratha and Leanghy with “conspiracy” and lese majeste (“insulting the king”) under articles 453 and 437 bis of Cambodia’s penal code, and Chandaravuth with “conspiracy.” If convicted, they face between 5 and 10 years in prison, and fines of up to 10 million riels (US$2,500). The authorities also charged in absentia aSpanish national, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, the founder of Mother Nature Cambodia, who had been deported in 2015. Chhivlimeng was released without charge.

The Cambodian government has stepped up its campaign to silence activists peacefully advocating to protect the environment,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Foreign governments, the United Nations country team, and international donors should call on the Cambodian authorities to drop their absurd charges against the environmental activists and publicly condemn any further clampdown on peaceful activism.”

An Interior Ministry spokesperson alleged that the authorities had proof that “rebellious” Mother Nature Cambodia had used foreign funding to try to topple the government, but did not make any evidence public.

This case followed earlier harassment of five Mother Nature Cambodia activists. On May 5, the Phnom Penh court convicted three environmental activists – Long Kunthea, 22, Phuon Keoraksmey, 19, and Thun Ratha, 29 – of “incitement to commit a felony or disturb social order,” articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s penal code. The judge sentenced them to between 18 and 20 months in prison as well as a fine of 4 million riels ($1,000) for their peaceful activism protesting the authorities’ filling-in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Tamok lake.

All three activists had been arrested in September 2020 and spent almost eight months in pretrial detention. Gonzalez-Davidson and Chea Kunthin, another activist, were also convicted in absentia and sentenced to between 18 and 20 months in prison. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/09/cambodia-arbitrary-arrest-of-mother-nature-activists/]

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Cambodian authorities have stepped up their crackdown on youth and environmental activists engaged in peaceful activism and protest. The government has often used draconian new laws to arrest and prosecute activists in an apparent attempt to silence their voices and shut down their activism.

In March 2020 and early 2021, the authorities arrested environmental activists affiliated with the Prey Lang Community Network along with a prominent environmentalist and lawyer, Ouch Leng, to stop their efforts to document illegal logging and deforestation within the Prey Lang forest.

Human Rights Watch has documented cases of nearly 70 current political prisoners, including members of the political opposition, youth and environmental activists, trade union leaders, and journalists who are awaiting trial or are serving prison sentences. Many other activists have fled Cambodia to seek refuge abroad.

Because of the higher risks of getting Covid-19 in prison, Human Rights Watch has repeatedly appealed to the Cambodian authorities to conditionally release pretrial detainees not held for violent offenses. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and civil society groups have often criticized the government’s routine use of pretrial detention.

“Cambodia’s highly politicized courts mean that the environmental activists charged have no chance of getting a fair trial,” Robertson said. “Only international pressure on the Cambodian government holds out the possibility of saving these activists from unjust prison sentences.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/06/23/cambodia-free-environmental-activists

https://www.jurist.org/news/2021/06/cambodia-court-charges-environmental-activists-with-conspiracy-insulting-king/

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/cambodia-arbitrary-detention-and-judicial-harassment-of-mother-nature

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/06/cambodia-assault-on-environmental-defenders-escalates-as-four-more-charged-imprisonment/ 

Key issues affecting HRDs in 47th session of UN Human Rights Council (June 2021)

June 22, 2021

The 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council will take place from 21 June to 15 July 2021. The ISHR has again issued its very helpful overview of key issues and below is an extract of those affecting human rights defenders most directly. For a wrap-up of the previous session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/29/wrap-up-46th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-with-key-resolutions-on-belarus-and-myanmar-and-more/

Modalities of participation in HRC47

According to the Bureau minutes of 2 and 4 June 2021, the extraordinary modalities for the 47th session should be similar to the modalities applied during the 46th session.

Thematic areas of interest:

Sexual orientation and gender identity

The Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will present his report, followed by an interactive dialogue on 24 June. The report seeks to document how particular narratives on gender are being used to fuel violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In the report, the Expert examines how the incorporation of comprehensive gender theory enables more accurate and appropriate consideration of dynamics of negation and stigma, and the key role of law, public policy and access to justice in promoting either continuity of injustice or social change.

The report highlights the mandate’s position in relation to current narratives and constructions through which the application of gender frameworks, especially its promise for gender equality across diverse persons, is challenged; and build on gender concepts and feminist analysis to further substantiate the mandate’s understanding of root causes and dynamics of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This report will be presented in the context of high levels of violence against trans and gender nonconforming people and those defending their rights. Beyond this, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted trans and gender nonconforming people and those defending their rights worldwide, especially those most marginalised.

Systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests in the United States and globally

The High Commissioner will present the comprehensive report of Resolution 43/1 to the Council on 12 July followed by an interactive dialogue. ISHR previously joined 171 families of victims of police violence in the United States and over 270 civil society organisations from more than 40 countries in calling on the Council to establish an independent commission of inquiry into police killings of Black men and women, as well as violent law enforcement responses to protests in the United States….

The Council should ensure the establishment of robust international accountability mechanisms which would further support and complement, not undermine, efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States and globally, especially in the context of police violence against Black people.

Business and human rights

June 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of the unanimous endorsement by the Council of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The Guiding Principles have become one of the key frameworks for private business to carry out their responsibility to respect human rights, for States to discharge their obligations under international law in relation to business activities, and for civil society and human rights defenders to utilise the UNGPs to demand structural changes in the way companies operate internationally. Human rights need to be an essential element of how businesses design their operations. After 10 years, we have the chance to look back and into the future with a critical eye. In that regard, a ‘Roadmap for the Next Decade’ will be presented by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights this month. ISHR continues to work with the UN, civil society and progressive companies to protect and promote the work of human rights defenders.

In tandem with its annual report, the UN Working Group will also present in June a long-awaited guidance document on business and human rights defenders based on the UNGPs. The ‘United Nations Guidance on the role of the Guiding Principles for engaging with, safeguarding and ensuring respect for the rights of human rights defenders’ was supported and informed by ISHR and partners, and builds on the experiences gathered through the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, an initiative ISHR co-founded with the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. This document will become a key instrument for civil society, businesses and States in ensuring that human rights defenders are protected and recognised as essential actors in maintaining rule of law and a functioning shared civic space. 

The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises will present its reports, followed by an interactive dialogue, on 29 June. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/30/business-and-human-rights-updated-list-of-companies-supporting-hrds/]

Reprisals

On this topic see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/06/un-action-on-reprisals-towards-greater-impact/

During the 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 7 June, 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.

ISHR recently launched a study analysing 709 reprisals cases and situations documented by the UN Secretary-General between 2010 and 2020 and looked at trends and patterns in the kinds of cases documented by the UNSG, how these cases have been followed up on over time, and whether reprisal victims consider the UN’s response effective. Among other things, the study found that nearly half the countries serving on the Council have been cited for perpetrating reprisals. The study also found that the HRC Presidency appears to have been conspicuously inactive on intimidation and reprisals, despite the overall growing numbers of cases that are reported by the UNSG – including on individuals’ or groups’ engagement with the HRC – and despite the Presidency’s legal obligation to address such violations. The study found that the HRC Presidency took publicly reported action in only 6 percent of cases or situations where individuals or organisations had engaged with the HRC. Not only is this a particularly poor record in its own right, it also compares badly with other UN actors.

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, and insisting 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 47th session, the Council will have dedicated debates with the mandate holders and the High Commissioner, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The High Commissioner on State response to pandemics 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to housing
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health 
  • The Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to education 
  • The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights 
  • The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression 
  • The Working Group on arbitrary detention on its study on drug policies
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy 

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

  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons 
  • The Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide 
  • The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls 
  • The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences 
  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
  • The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers 
  • The Special Rapporetur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members 

Country-specific developments

China 

One year after the UN Special Procedures issued a sweeping statement  calling for the international community to take ‘decisive action’ on the human rights situation in China, much more remains to be done. Calls are growing for more clear and timely reporting from the UN, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office, on the repressive policies and practices targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. At the same time, worrying news continues about violations of cultural rights of Tibetans, while Hong Kong’s democratic institutions – and its people – have suffered a series of blows from legislative, policy and legal decision targeting pro-democracy leaders. For the first time since 1989, peaceful public demonstrations to commemorate the massacre on Tiananmen Square were prohibited. 

Against this context, ISHR urges States to speak out firmly against the lack of accountability for the Chinese government in light of substantial evidence of violations, including crimes against humanity. In so doing, it is essential to recognise the systemic and structural nature of these violations: to highlight the dire situation for Uyghurs, Tibetans and other minority groups; pro-democracy civil society leaders, lawyers and legislators in Hong Kong; and human rights defenders like lawyer and Martin Ennals Award winner Yu Wensheng [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/69fc7057-b583-40c3-b6fa-b8603531248e] and anti-discrimination activists like the Changsha 3. No matter its position or influence, China must be held to the same high standards as any other Council member. See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/18/chinas-continuing-crackdown-on-human-rights-lawyers-shocking-say-un-experts/

Egypt

At the 46th session of the Council, over 30 States led by Finland urged Egypt to end its repression of human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers under the guise of countering-terrorism. The joint State statement ended years of a lack of collective action at the Council on Egypt, despite the sharply deteriorating human rights situation in the country. Egypt must answers these calls, starting by releasing the thousands arbitrarily detained, protecting those in custody from torture and other ill-treatment, and ending the crackdown on peaceful activists. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has previously concluded that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt and the Committee against Torture has concluded that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt. To date, Egypt has failed to address all the concerns expressed by States, the High Commissioner and Special Procedures, despite repeated calls on the government, including most recently by over 60 NGOs. ISHR joined over 100 NGOs from across the world in urging the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt and will continue to do so until there is meaningful and sustained improvement in the country’s human rights situation.

Saudi Arabia

This session will mark two years since the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions presented to the Council the investigation into the unlawful death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and yet no meaningful steps towards accountability have been taken by the Saudi authorities. The Special Rapporteur called on Saudi Arabia to “demonstrate non-repetition by: releasing all individuals imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their opinion and belief; independently investigating all allegations of torture and lethal use of force in formal and informal places of detention; and independently investigating all allegations of enforced disappearances and making public the whereabouts of individuals disappeared”. To date, Saudi Arabia has refused to address these key concerns, which were also raised by over 40 States at the Council in March 2019, September 2019 and September 2020, further demonstrating its lack of political will to genuinely improve the human rights situation and to engage constructively with the Council. The sentencing and subsequent release of several women’s rights activists highlights the importance of the Council’s scrutiny which must be sustained in order to secure meaningful, concrete, and systematic gains. We recall that the Special Rapporteur also called on Member States to support resolutions that seek to ensure or strengthen accountability for the execution of Khashoggi. ISHR reiterates its call on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Colombia  

After more than a month of strikes and street protests in Colombia, which have seen protestors killed at the hands of law enforcement officers and civilians, and human rights defenders covering the events threatened and attacked, the Council session provides States with the opportunity to take action. States must call on Colombia to respect the human rights of its people – including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly – and address the underlying causes of the protests, including violations of economic, social and cultural rights, inequality and racial discrimination. This situation of violence and non-compliance with all standards of the use of force has had a particular impact on the Afro-descendant population. Specific calls from Colombian civil society include for OHCHR to investigate and report on the protests in the country including gather statistical data on the facts that threaten the human rights of Afro-Colombian people; for the High Commissioner to visit Colombia when possible; and for Colombia to open its doors to a range of Special Rapporteurs to allow for ongoing monitoring and reporting. The High Commissioner, who has made a statement on the situation in the country, will present her annual report at the start of the session and it is hoped and expected that Colombia will feature as a country of concern. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/colombia-21-january-2020-civil-society-begins-a-much-needed-patriotic-march/]

Nicaragua 

Last March, the Council renewed its resolution on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, which strengthened the High Commissioner’s office monitoring and reporting mandate, by including an interim oral update with recommendations in the context of upcoming national elections. Despite the resolution’s clear calls on the Government to repeal recently adopted laws that harshly restrict civic space, stop targeting human rights defenders and journalists, and urgently implement reforms to ensure free and credible elections, the Nicaraguan authorities have acted in the opposite direction. While UN experts ‘deplore spate of attacks and arrests of human rights defenders’, the OHCHR publicly expressed their deep concern that ‘Nicaragua’s chances of holding free and genuine elections on 7 November are diminishing as a result of measures taken by authorities against political parties, candidates and independent journalists, which further restrict the civic and democratic space’. As the High Commissioner will present her oral update on Nicaragua on 22 June, States should call on Nicaragua to urgently reverse course and implement the recommendations from resolution 46/2, in particular to guarantee the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of information, expression, association and assembly, and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs; and to swiftly put an end to the harassment (including the judicial harassment) and detention of journalists and ex-members of the Violeta Chamorro Foundation and Confidencial media outlet. 

Venezuela

Venezuela will be back on the Council’s agenda with OHCHR providing an update on the situation of human rights in the country, including in regard to UN recommendations (5 July).  Recent positive developments in the country, including the nomination to the National Electoral Council of individuals supported by a broad swathe of civil society, are offset by continuing human rights and humanitarian crises. The UN’s recommendations to Venezuela are numerous, wide-ranging and largely ignored. States must use opportunities at the Council to press home the importance of those recommendations being heeded. ISHR looks forward to making a statement during the dialogue, focusing in on levels of implementation of recommendations. Given that reprisals against Venezuelan defenders have been common over recent years – with cases cited in eight of the Secretary General’s reports on cooperation with the UN since 2010 – it is essential that States speak out in support of civil society engagement and that the UN define a preventative strategy to ensure defenders’ protection. 

Burundi

On 30 June 2020, the Supreme Court of Burundi set aside the ruling by the Appeals Court to uphold the 32-year sentence in Rukuki’s case and ordered a second appeal hearing, citing violations to his right to a fair trial. This second appeal hearing took place 8 months later on 24 March 2021 in Ngozi prison, where he is currently detained. According to the Burundian Code of Criminal Procedure, following the hearing the Court has 30 days to return a verdict on the case, but this verdict is still pending nearly 60 days later. This delay clearly demonstrates a lack of due process in the case of the internationally recognised human rights defender and political prisoner. In an open letter, a group of civil society organisations denounced the dysfunctioning of judicial proceedings in the country. After confirming the 32 years sentence of defender Germain Rukuki, Burundi continues its crackdown against civil society. Germain Rukuki has now spent nearly 4 years in prison. He has already waited an additional 30 days for this final verdict to be announced without any legal reason; he should not have to wait any longer. In addition to ensuring the continued work of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, members of the Council need to call on Burundi to demonstrate their commitment to respect the independence of the judiciary and comply fully with the fair trial obligations of Burundi under international law and announce the verdict in this case without any further delay.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/]

The Council will consider 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:

  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Eritrea
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Belarus 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the human rights situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar and Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Myanmar 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Ukraine  and interim report of the Secretary-General on human rights in Crimea 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 47th session held on 7 June the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes seven panel discussions. States also announced at least 22 proposed resolutions. Read here the reports presented this session. 

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose seven candidates for the following sevent mandates: 

  1. The Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; 
  2. The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy;
  3. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; 
  4. Two members of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (one from Asia-Pacific States and one from Eastern European States); 
  5. A member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, from Western European and other States; 
  6. The Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights 

As of 8 June, however, the recommended candidates list was only available for four of the above positions, due to challenges among the Consultative Group, the five individuals appointed from each UN region to interview and shortlist candidates. It is critical that the process overcome such delays, so as to avoid any protection gaps arising from a failure to appoint a new mandate holder.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 47th session

The following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Menstrual hygiene, human rights and gender equality (Africa Group)
  2. Elimination of harmful practices (Africa Group)
  3. Cooperation with and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights (Ukraine) 
  4. Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar (OIC) 
  5. The protection of human rights in the context of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) (Brazil, Colombia, Mozambique, Portugal, Thailand)
  6. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, on missing persons and enforced disappearances (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America)
  7. The human rights situation in Belarus, mandate renewal (EU)
  8. The human rights situation in Eritrea, mandate renewal (EU) 
  9. Negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights ( Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, Poland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  10. Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights (Azerbaijan on behalf of NAM)
  11. New and emerging digital technologies and human rights (Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Morocco, Republic of Korea, Singapore)
  12. Human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  13. Impact of arms transfers on human rights (Ecuador, Peru)
  14. Civil society space (Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone, Tunisia)
  15. Realizing the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl (UAE, UK)
  16. Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity (Colombia, New Zealand, Estonia) 
  17. The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet (Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, United States of America)
  18. Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women (Canada)
  19. Right to education (Portugal)

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Federated States of Micronesia, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Australia, Saint Lucia, Nepal, Oman, Austria, Myanmar, Rwanda, Georgia, Sao Tome and Principe and Nauru.

ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. We publish and submit 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. Seven panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. High-level panel discussion on the multisectoral prevention of and response to female genital mutilation
  2. Panel discussion on the tenth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  3. Panel discussion on the human rights of older persons in the context of climate change [accessible panel]
  4. Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women, one on violence against women and girls with disabilities, and another on gender-equal socioeconomic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic
  5. Quadrennial panel discussion on promoting human rights through sport and the Olympic ideal [accessible panel]. Theme: The potential of leveraging sport and the Olympic ideal for promoting human rights for young people
  6. ​Annual thematic panel discussion on technical cooperation and capacity-building. Theme: Technical cooperation to advance the right to education and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all

Read here the three year programme of work of the Council with supplementary information.

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

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC47 on Twitter, and look out for the Human Rights Council Monitor.

During the session, follow the live-updated programme of work on Sched

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc47-key-issues-agenda-june-2021-session

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/myanmar-debate-dominates-human-rights-council-opening-session

https://observatoryihr.org/news/47th-session-of-the-human-rights-council-opens-on-the-longest-day/

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

March 29, 2021

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

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

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

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

Environmental justice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the future:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the statement: 

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

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

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

Human Rights