Archive for the 'OHCHR' Category

20th anniversary: UN work on human rights defenders assessed by ISHR

April 17, 2018

Since the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998), UN bodies have developed approaches to promoting the work of defenders and ensuring their protection.  However, this response has been insufficiently robust or coordinated, says the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), one of the world’s foremost observers of the UN human rights system, in a piece published on 16 April 2018. Twenty years on, the situation for defenders in many countries around the world remains grave. [For earlier posts re the 20th anniversary of the HRD Declaration see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/20th-anniversary-un-declaration-on-hrds/]

UN country missions and human rights mechanisms have developed some good practice in regard to the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) but there is still much to be done to ensure a coherent, coordinated and courageous response. ISHR submitted findings on some aspects of the UN’s work on HRDs, to the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) following its call for input. At country level, ISHR – along with partners Colombian Commission of Jurists and Ligue Tunisienne for Human Rights – found positive practice by OHCHR in encouraging the State to implement the Declaration.

In Colombia OHCHR has contributed to a collective understanding of who defenders are and what institutional changes may be needed to counter attacks against them,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘While in Tunisia OHCHR has developed a database to systematise the process of follow up on UN recommendations.’  In other contexts, guidelines to steer bodies and representatives in country are often vague, with no mention of the Declaration as a key UN standard.

UN Resident Coordinators need to have an understanding of the Declaration on HRDs so they can ensure the protection of defenders is effectively integrated into their work,’ said Openshaw. ‘There is a gap between developments in key human rights mechanisms and country responses.’

Whilst there have been some positive developments connecting different parts of the UN system – for example the new UN Environment focus on environmental defenders, developed with the Special Rapporteur on HRDs – there is a lack of an informed or coordinated response in others. This points to the need for comprehensive UN-wide policies on the protection of defenders.

Ensuring coherence and effectiveness throughout the UN system in regard to the protection of defenders requires a strong steer from the very top –  the UN Secretary General,’ said ISHR’s Tess McEvoy. ‘We hope Mr Guterres will commit this year – the 20th anniversary of the Declaration–  to providing such leadership.’  The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst has spoken of attacks against defenders ‘multiplying everywhere’.

Openshaw also stated: ‘The dangers for defenders are known. The UN system has good practice to build on – and it must – to fulfil its role in encouraging and demanding States realise their obligations to defenders.

Contacts:  Eleanor Openshaw e.openshawATishr.ch;  Theresa McEvoy t.mcevoyATishr.ch

http://www.ishr.ch/news/promising-patchy-un-work-human-rights-defenders

The assault on human rights in the UN is starting to hurt

April 1, 2018

Success in passing the “win-win resolution” in the UN Human Rights Council [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/26/chinas-win-win-resolution-gets-the-votes-in-the-un-council/], is just the visible part of a larger and more ominous assault on the human rights system as it has been built up (however incomplete and painstaking) over the last decades. Julian Borger in the Guardian of 27 March 2018 (“China and Russia accused of waging ‘war on human rights’ at UN”) describes how the two countries lobbied to cut funding for human rights monitors and for a senior post dedicated to human rights work. This all seems to fit very well with the trend started in 2016 and which I tried to describe in early 2017 in a series of posts, of which the last one was: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/24/2017-10-need-to-reset-for-human-rights-movement/.

The funding of the office of the high commissioner for human rights in Geneva has also been cut. The current high commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, has announced that he will be stepping down this year and not seeking another term in the post, explaining to his staff that the lack of global support for protecting human rights made his job untenable. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/]

Last week, Zeid was due to address the UN security council on plight of civilians in Syria but before he began, Russia called a procedural vote to stop him speaking on the grounds that the council was not the proper forum for discussing human rights. “The fifth committee has become a battleground for human rights,” Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch, was quoted in the Guardian. “Russia and China and others have launched a war on things that have human rights in their name.”

China has real political momentum at the UN now,” Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council for Foreign Relations, said. “It is now the second biggest contributor the UN budget after the US, and is increasingly confident in its efforts to roll back UN human rights activities. It is also pushing its own agenda – with an emphasis on ‘harmony’ rather than individual rights in UN forums. And a lot of countries like what they hear.”

A western diplomat at the UN conceded that human rights were losing ground at the UN, in part because China had become a more assertive voice, prepared to lead lobbying campaigns, and because Beijing is increasingly leveraging its vast and growing investments in the developing world to win votes for its agenda at the UN.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/27/china-and-russia-accused-of-waging-war-on-human-rights-at-un

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/03/a-new-low-for-the-un-security-council-as-russia-takes-syrian-human-rights-off-the-table/

Human Rights Council 2018 on the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

March 23, 2018

The Human Rights Council concluded on 22 March 2018  its general debate on the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General. The Council started the general debate on Wednesday, 21 March after hearing the presentation of reports on Burundi, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Cyprus and Iran, and a summary can be seen here.

In the general discussion, delegations noted that some progress was being made to improve the human rights situations in those countries, but much remained to be done. Speakers stressed the relevance of protecting civil society actors and human rights defenders, including in the context of implementing peace agreements and pursuing reconciliation plans. States were commended for cooperating with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other United Nations mechanisms, and were urged to prioritize efforts to combat impunity and to prosecute perpetrators of rights violations.

Speaking were the delegations of the United States; Australia; Georgia; Belgium; Israel; Norway; United Nations Children’s Fund; Canada; Denmark; Morocco; Greece; Algeria; Turkey; Ireland; and Netherlands as well as a large number of NGOs.

For those interested to know more of this General Debate on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, I refer to Reliefweb which carries regularly summaries of what happens at the Council.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-rights-council-concludes-general-debate-annual-report-high-commissioner-human

Bahrain: human rights protected but on paper only

March 12, 2018

“The use of the judiciary in Bahrain to target human rights defenders and other activists” is a side event organised by CIVICUS and FIDH in co-operation with Americans for Human Rights & Democracy in Bahrain (ADHRB), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and co-sponsored by ISHR.

It will take place on 13 March 2018 at 11:00 to 12:30 at Room XXIV. The event will address the politicisation of the judiciary to criminalise human rights defenders.

The context in which this event takes place should be well-known by now [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/bahrain/], but some recent events can be added:

On 21 February human rights defender Nabeel Rajab, BCHR President and FIDH Deputy Secretary General, was sentenced to 5 years in prison under trumped-up charges in relation to tweets denouncing the torture against detainees at Jaw prison and exposing the killing of civilians in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition. “This surrealistic verdict”, writes IFEX,  “after a trial that was by itself a mockery of justice, illustrates once again the current crackdown on any dissenting voice in Bahrain, where scores of critics are currently jailed’.

Also the Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) and BCHR reiterate their call to the Bahraini authorities to immediately release him, as well as all detained human rights defenders.

Perhaps the most damning information comes from the Bahraini Government itself (8 March 2018) when it responded to the statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights  which had been ‘negative’ in his  written review on the annual report on Bahrain. Dr. Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri, Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva, said in a statement that the review contained inaccurate information such as harassment of human rights defenders and other deleterious comments on the recent legal actions taken by Bahrain. ..They deliberately and unfairly side with malicious elements who have suspicious political agendas and sectarian tendencies and who want to inflict harm on the Kingdom of Bahrain and demean its achievements in the field of human rights, he said. “This is crystal clear from their support for the discourse of hatred and internal violence groups and for this reason, the Kingdom of Bahrain totally rejects the content of this statement with all the wrong and unacceptable descriptions it has given to the state.
Bucheeri said that Bahrain’s constitution stipulates the right to freedom of opinion and expression in an unquestionable manner and in a way that guarantees everyone’s right to express their opinion and disseminate it by word, writing or otherwise, but within the legal framework and without inciting division or sectarianism or undermining national security.
……
He called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to make concerted effort to understand the reality of human rights and the great challenges facing the Kingdom of Bahrain which faces terrorist acts aimed to destabilize its security and stability.
The kingdom, he explained, confronts a phenomenon of violent extremism and it is the duty of the Office of the High Commissioner to do its best to double check the credibility of the information it obtained and to seek such information only from neutral, objective and non-politicized sources…

https://www.ifex.org/bahrain/2018/02/22/nabeel-rajab-sentenced/

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/bahrain-fears-for-nabeel-rajab-s-life-inside-his-prison

https://www.ifex.org/middle_east_north_africa/2018/03/05/revolutionary-anniversaries/

http://www.bna.bh/portal/en/news/829935

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-nabeel-rajab

There seems to be no limit to what Duterte is willing to say – and may get away with

March 10, 2018

Most likely you have seen the reports about the UN High Commissioner of Human Right suggesting that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterteneeds to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric evaluation” over his “unacceptable” remarks about some Special Rapporteurs. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein demanded – rightly – that the Human Rights Council, of which the Philippines is a member, “must take a strong position” on the issue and that “these attacks cannot go unanswered.”

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, the rights chief referred to a court petition filed last month by Duterte’s government accusing the U.N. rapporteur on indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and others of being members of a key communist rebel group. The Filipino President had repeatedly insulted the U.N. expert on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, lashing out at her for raising alarm over the thousands of suspects killed under his anti-drug crackdown. He has also taken aim at International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who announced last month that she was opening a preliminary examination into alleged extrajudicial drug killings. In a speech Wednesday, Duterte insulted the international court’s justices as “dumb” and “evil,” and said Callamard was “thin” and “undernourished.” Using an expletive, he warned, “Don’t (mess) with me, girls.

Almost laughably “deaf’ to the language used his own President, the Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano blasted Zeid’s remarks as “irresponsible and disrespectful” and said the “unmeasured outburst” demeaned the Philippine president and should not be repeated.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, was listed as a member of the Maoist rebel group. She has denied the allegations. “The charges are entirely baseless and malicious,” Tauli-Corpuz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview. “The government sees this as an opportunity to pursue people they don’t like. I am worried for my safety and the safety of others on the list, including several rights activists.” Local and international organizations have slammed the Philippine government’s action, with New York-based Human Rights Watch calling the petition “a virtual government hit list”. Two other U.N. special rapporteurs expressed “grave concern” about Tauli-Corpuz being on the list, and said she was being punished by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for speaking out against some of his policies.

Without more extra-budgetary funding human rights work in the UN is in trouble

March 1, 2018

In a year that deep cuts were made to UN budgets, resourcing for human rights also activities took a big hit. The UN General Assembly’s approved approximately 50% less funding for some human rights posts than requested. Funds to support the work of treaty bodies were cut, but the need to adequately fund treaty bodies was reaffirmed, establishing a mandate for future resource requests.

Decisions directly affecting human rights activities were caught up in a powerful push – particularly by the US – for deep cuts to the proposed biennium budget. The approved UN regular budget for 2018 -2019 of $5.397 billion, is almost $200 million below what the Secretary General had sought, and 5% less than the budget approved for 2016-2017.

The percentage of the UN budget directed to support the human rights pillar is already tiny. To then carve off funding for posts already agreed as essential, makes no sense,’ she added. ‘The General Assembly ignores the fact that investing in human rights protection is a smart choice. ISHR’s Tess McEvoy said on 4 January 2018. (for more information on the budget cuts see https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga72-human-rights-funding-takes-hit-key-mandate-reaffirmed).

On 27 February 2018 the OHCHR announced that Norway has pledged to increase its funding for the UN Human Rights Office, giving some USD 18m dollars – a year over four years. Generally there is impressive support for human rights from Scandinavia (Denmark is doubling its funding for 2018 USD 10m, and in 2017, Sweden was the second biggest donor with some USD16m).

However, even with a record USD142.8m in voluntary contributions last year, the UN Office still fell short of the funds needed to respond to all requests for assistance. Therefore it has just launched  appeal for extra-budgetary funding for 2018 – with as most ambitious target yet, amounting to USD278.3m.

The OHCHR hopes that the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will encourage all UN Member States to make voluntary contributions. If you want to see how much individual States gave to the UN Human Rights Office in 2017, please see: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/AboutUs/FundingBudget/VoluntaryContributions2017.pdf

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22715&LangID=E

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in last Council Statement does not mince words

February 28, 2018

 “Given this is my last address as high commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt,” outgoing U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said on 26 February 2018. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/] And he was: Zeid delivered one of the strongest and clearest denunciations from a top U.N. official about the Security Council veto. He didn’t mention specific vetoes, but the context made crystal clear he referred to war in Syria, over which Russia and China have repeatedly used the veto to block efforts such as to hold war criminals to account or punish Assad’s government for alleged use of chemical weapons. Zeid instead spoke more broadly and decried “some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times“: Syria, the Ituri and Kasai regions of Congo; the embattled city of Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; and Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.  He denounced the “minimal action” taken even though his office has repeatedly exposed human rights violations that “should have served as a trigger for preventive action.“The High Commissioner stated that the five permanent, veto-wielding council members “must answer to the victims” if the veto is used to block any action that could reduce human suffering. “Second to those who are criminally responsible — those who kill and maim — the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council,” he said Still, Zeid praised France for “commendable leadership” for its recent push for a code of conduct on use of the veto, which he said Britain and more than 115 countries have supported. “It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto,” he said.

Another outspoken statement that lead to furious reactions concerned especially some eastern european states: “Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary‘s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?”  This led to Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó  urging the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to resign. “It is not acceptable for an employee of an international organization to make such disgusting accusations. The Supreme Commissioner must resign, “Szijjártó said. “We have to defend our borders and we will make every effort to clarify the full stance in the UN debate on migration“. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/250-ngos-address-letter-to-hungarian-parliament-regarding-restriction-on-the-work-of-human-rights-defenders/]

For the full text of the High Commissioner’s speech delivered on 26 February 2018 in Geneva see below:
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/united-nations-zeid-raad-al-hussein-russia-china-us-security-council-veto/
http://www.novinite.com/articles/188279/Hungary+Wants+the+Resignation+of+the+United+Nations+High+Commissioner+for+Human+Rights%2C+who+Called+Victor+Orban+%22Racist%22
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-essential-washington-updates-u-n-human-rights-chief-blasts-1519666939-htmlstory.html

——

37th session of the Human Rights Council: Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (Published on 26 Feb 2018)

Distinguished President of the General Assembly,
Distinguished Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Friends,

May I begin by welcoming the Security Council’s unanimous decision in relation to a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, which came after intense lobbying by our Secretary-General and others, and we applaud Sweden and Kuwait for their leadership in the Security Council on this. We insist on its full implementation without delay. However, we have every reason to remain cautious, as airstrikes on eastern Ghouta continue this morning. Resolution 2401 (2018) must be viewed against a backdrop of seven years of failure to stop the violence: seven years of unremitting and frightful mass killing.

Eastern Ghouta, the other besieged areas in Syria; Ituri and the Kasais in the DRC; Taiz in Yemen; Burundi; Northern Rakhine in Myanmar have become some of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times, because not enough was done, early and collectively, to prevent the rising horrors. Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action. And given this is my last address as High Commissioner at the opening of a March session, I wish to be blunt.

Second to those who are criminally responsible – those who kill and those who maim – the responsibility for the continuation of so much pain lies with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. So long as the veto is used by them to block any unity of action, when it is needed the most, when it could reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people, then it is they – the permanent members – who must answer before the victims.

France has shown commendable leadership among the P5 in championing a code of conduct on the use of veto; the United Kingdom has also joined the initiative, now backed by over 115 countries. It is time, for the love of mercy, that China, Russia and the United States, join them and end the pernicious use of the veto.

Mr. President,

A few miles away, at CERN, physicists try to understand what our planet, and the universe or universes, are made of. What matter is, at the most basic level, and how it all fits together. To understand the physical world, we humans have long realised we must tunnel deeply, beyond molecular biology and geology; and go to those sub-atomic spaces for answers.

Why do we not do the same when it comes to understanding the human world? Why, when examining the political and economic forces at work today, do we not zoom in more deeply? How can it be so hard to grasp that to understand states and societies – their health and ills; why they survive; why they collapse – we must scrutinize at the level of the individual: individual human beings and their rights. After all, the first tear in the fabric of peace often begins with a separation of the first few fibres, the serious violations of the rights of individuals – the denial of economic and social rights, civil and political rights, and most of all, in a persistent denial of freedom.

There is another parallel with physics. Gravity is a weak force, easily defied by a small child raising a finger, but there is also a strong force governing the orbits of planets and the like. So too with human rights. Some States view human rights as of secondary value – far less significant than focusing on GDP growth or geopolitics. While it is one of the three pillars of the UN, it is simply not treated as the equal of the other two. The size of the budget is telling enough, and the importance accorded to it often seems to be in the form of lip service only. Many in New York view it condescendingly as that weak, emotional, Geneva-centred, pillar — not serious enough for some of the hardcore realists in the UN Security Council.

Yet like in physics, we also know human rights to be a strong force, perhaps the strongest force. For whenever someone in New York calls a topic “too sensitive,” there’s a good chance human rights are involved. And why sensitive? Because a denial of rights hollows out a government’s legitimacy. Every time the phrase “too sensitive” is used, it therefore confirms the supreme importance of human rights, and their effect as a strong force.

For no tradition, legal or religious, calls for or supports oppression – none. Discussions about rights are avoided by those who seek deflection because of guilt, those who shy away from difficult decisions and those who profit from a more superficial, simple, and ultimately useless, analysis. Better just leave it to Geneva, they say – and the crises continue to grow.

To understand the maladies of societies, grasp the risks of conflict, and prevent or resolve them we must — like particle physicists – work ourselves into the smaller spaces of individuals and their rights, and ask the most basic questions there. The most devastating wars of the last 100 years did not come from countries needing more GDP growth. They stemmed from – and ¡ quote from the Universal Declaration – a “disregard and contempt for human rights”. They stemmed from oppression.

Today oppression is fashionable again; the security state is back, and fundamental freedoms are in retreat in every region of the world. Shame is also in retreat. Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said “we do not want our colour… to be mixed in with others”. Do they not know what happens to minorities in societies where leaders seek ethnic, national or racial purity? When an elected leader blames the Jews for having perpetrated the Holocaust, as was recently done in Poland, and we give this disgraceful calumny so little attention, the question must be asked: have we all gone completely mad?

Mr. President,

Perhaps we have gone mad, when families grieve in too many parts of the world for those lost to brutal terrorism, while others suffer because their loved ones are arrested arbitrarily, tortured or killed at a black site, and were called terrorists for simply having criticized the government; and others await execution for crimes committed when they were children. While still more can be killed by police with impunity, because they are poor; or when young girls in El Salvador are sentenced to thirty years imprisonment for miscarriages; when transgender women in Aceh are punished and humiliated in public. When Nabeel Rajab is sentenced to five years for alleging torture; or when 17 year-old Ahed Tamimi is tried on 12 counts for slapping a soldier enforcing a foreign occupation. When journalists are jailed in huge numbers in Turkey, and the Rohingya are dehumanized, deprived and slaughtered in their homes – with all these examples bedevilling us, why are we doing so little to stop them, even though we should know how dangerous all of this is?

It is accumulating unresolved human rights violations such as these, and not a lack of GDP growth, which will spark the conflicts that can break the world. While our humanitarian colleagues tend to the victims – and we salute their heroism and their selflessness – their role is not to name or single out the offenders publicly. That task falls to the human rights community, that it is our task. For it is the worst offenders’ disregard and contempt for human rights which will be the eventual undoing of all of us. This, we cannot allow to happen.

We will therefore celebrate, with passion, the 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which incarnates rights common to all the major legal and religious traditions. We will defend it, in this anniversary year, more vigorously than ever before and along with our moral leaders – the human rights defenders in every corner of the globe – we will call for everyone to stand up for the rights of others.

This is, in the end, a very human thing to do. Artificial intelligence will never fully replicate the moral courage, the self-sacrifice and, above all, the love for all human beings that sets human rights defenders apart from everyone else. As I close out my term as High Commissioner in the coming months, I wish to end this statement by saying it has been the honour of my life to have come to know many of these defenders; to have worked with them, and for them.

Thank you.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/37th-session-human-rights-council-opening-statement-un-high-commissioner-human-rights

UN Experts urge USA not to deport human rights defenders like Maru Mora Villalpando

February 14, 2018

On 14 February 2018 a group of four UN human rights experts urged the United States Government to respect the rights of human rights defenders, amid concern over action being taken against a Mexican woman who campaigns to protect migrants’ rights. Maru Mora Villalpando, who has been in the US since 1996, is facing deportation proceedings after fronting a high-profile campaign against alleged human rights violations at a US immigrants’ detention centre, operated by a private company on behalf of the US government. [Ms. Villalpando, whose 20-year-old daughter is a US citizen, is co-founder of a group which highlights human rights concerns about the Northwest Detention Centre in Tacoma, Washington.  She has raised the issue with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, alleging corporate involvement in human rights violations as well as expressing concern over hunger strikes and the deportation of migrants. The UN experts have been in contact with the Government regarding their concerns.]

Ms. Villalpando’s notice to appear at deportation proceedings, received without warning, seems to be related to her advocacy work on behalf of migrant detainees”, the experts said. “We urge the US Government to protect and ensure Ms. Villalpando’s rights as a defender and her right to family life”.

“The authorities should take all necessary measures to guarantee that no action, including detention and deportation, as means of retaliation, is taken against Ms. Villalpando for reporting cases of the detention of immigrants and alleged violations of their human rights, especially in view of the reported conditions in these centres of detention”. The experts said they were concerned that Ms. Villalpando’s case appeared to be part of a pattern. “Giving people notice of deportation proceedings appears to be a part of an increasing pattern of intimidation and retaliation against people defending migrants’ rights in the US”, the experts said.

The UN experts are: Ms. Elina Steinerte, Vice-Chair on Communications of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mr. Felipe González MoralesSpecial Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Anita Ramasastry, Chair person of UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22657&LangID=E

Another one bites the dust…the future of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

February 13, 2018

David Petrasek, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa, wrote on 8 February 2018 an interesting piece under the title: “Another one bites the dust—what future for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?” (Openglobalrights.org) and wondered whether the early departure—yet again—of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights doesn’t suggests it’s time to re-think the office’s priorities and strengthen its mandate (rather than more activism).

After the announcement in December 2017 by Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan that he would not seek a second term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I wrote that “while most high level United Nations officials serve as long as their mandate allows, no single Human Rights Commissioner has served a full four-year second term” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/].

The piece is worth reading and poses well the difficult dilemma:

Petrasek states: Zeid’s untimely departure therefore begs the question—is the job do-able? In fulfilling the mandate, must the UN’s top human rights official so annoy governments that they cut short her or his tenure? Is that a price worth paying? It would certainly strengthen the High Commissioner’s position if they were given a single six or seven-year term, getting out from under the Damoclean sword of renewal at four years.

Zeid has been a prominent and eloquent spokesperson in defense of human rights,..Clearly, this won him few friends among powerful countries, the US included. But it’s less clear that his outspokenness made much difference. It’s worth asking: should the High Commissioner prioritize speaking out even if the cost of doing so is to lose the political support necessary to fulfil her or his full mandate? The High Commissioner is not only the UN’s human rights conscience. She or he is also tasked with co-ordinating the UN’s myriad human rights activities, pursuing an active—and perhaps less public—human rights diplomacy, and leading efforts to reform often overlapping, outdated and cumbersome UN procedures.

The idea for a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was put forward by civil society in the lead up to the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. Many functions were suggested for inclusion in the High Commissioner’s mandate, but the non-negotiable core demand was simple—the High Commissioner must have an overarching duty to promote and protect human rights anywhere.The High Commissioner was, therefore, a giant leap forward—personified in the post was the UN’s general human rights mandate, grounded in the UN Charter. She or he was now able to act whenever and wherever rights were at risk.

This general protection mandate has produced real results: High Commissioners have put neglected crises on the global agenda; there’s been a much-needed shift to the field of human rights staff, and the High Commissioner has amplified the voices of local human rights defenders.

Yet, today the High Commissioner’s voice is often only one amongst many. There are almost 60 independent human rights monitors (“Special Rapporteurs”) .. in 1993, there were barely a dozen. Similarly, today UN human rights inquiries are investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes in five countries, and eight investigations have concluded in the past decade. The Council regularly meets in emergency session, there is an International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council often (if inconsistently) includes human rights concerns in its resolutions, a rare occurrence in 1993. The Security Council has also authorized the deployment of over 1,000 human rights staff to UN peacekeeping missions. They too issue reports and statements of concern, as increasingly does the UN Secretary-General.

In short, the gap identified in 1993 has narrowed considerably, at least as concerns the UN pointing a finger at human rights abusers.

But other gaps remain and widen. The growth in UN human rights mechanisms has not been accompanied by an obvious growth in their efficiency or effectiveness. Indeed, multiple and overlapping procedures are weighing down what should be a nimble and responsive system. Further, although at least since the late 1990s High Commissioners have prioritized putting staff in the field, more than half remain in Geneva and New York; in contrast, the UN Refugee Agency has 87% of its staff in the field. This imbalance seriously undermines the Office’s ability to pursue an effective human rights diplomacy. And the relative weakness and underfunding of the High Commissioner’s Office means it is hard-pressed to co-ordinate UN system-wide approaches. It has been over a decade since it has proposed any significant reforms.

The conclusion might seem obvious—the High Commissioner should spend less time speaking out and more time strengthening and reforming both his Office and the UN human rights system. A less public profile, in this view, might produce less resistance to much-needed reform—diplomacy succeeding where activism fails.

Flickr/UN Geneva (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0-Some Rights Reserved)


Of course, it’s not that simple. Many states are reluctant to see the UN’s human rights efforts strengthened, regardless of what the High Commissioner is saying or not. And though a more ‘diplomatic’ approach might suit some states, it will at the same time alarm civil society and activists who look to the High Commissioner for leadership. Even if states might ignore denunciations from Geneva or New York, an activist High Commissioner undoubtedly gives comfort and support to beleaguered human rights defenders.

There are no easy answers to the question posed. Perhaps it’s simply unfortunate but necessary that the High Commissioner’s mandate is a poisoned chalice—do the job well, and you’re unlikely to be re-appointed. However, given the many changes since 1993, it is worth reflecting more deeply on how this mandate might be credibly pursued so that High Commissioners depart when the job is done, not when states determine their time is up.

A single, lengthier term is one proposal, but others might be considered, including better co-ordination between the High Commissioner and the Council’s independent experts to leverage more diplomatic space. The current High Commissioner will depart in August and the key players are already politicking to appoint a successor. If she or he is not to meet a familiar fate, then now is the time to re-think priorities and strengthen the mandate.

 

(David Petrasek was formerly Senior Policy Director and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of Amnesty International. David has worked on human rights and conflict resolution issues with the UN, foundations and NGOs for over 25 years.)

https://www.openglobalrights.org/another-one-bites-the-dust-what-future-for-the-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights/?lang=English

First quantitative analysis of 16 years outgoing ‘communications’ by Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders

January 26, 2018

On 24 January 2018 an important study was made public about the work of the UN Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders. It concerns the study “Chasing Shadows: A Quantitative Analysis of the Scope and Impact of UN Communications on Human Rights Defenders (2000–2016)” by Janika Spannagel and published by the Global Public Policy Institute. At the bottom of this post there is link to downloading the full report. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/11/good-introduction-to-the-anniversary-of-the-un-declaration-on-hrds-in-2018/].

Each year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders receives a large number of submissions regarding individual cases of concern. Only a fraction of these cases are addressed by the rapporteur’s communications procedure. Unlike outgoing communications, incoming cases are not publicly reported or even systematically registered by the UN. Furthermore, the criteria for the selection of cases (beyond basic eligibility) remain largely undefined. The consequences of case selection, whether according to explicitly stated rules or implicitly applied criteria, are quite significant. Currently, only 550 individual cases can be addressed by the mandate each year. [there are tremendous constraints in terms of staff.] Given this reality, the case selection process defines which types of defenders under pressure receive the UN’s attention and legitimization – and which do not. Nobody can determine with certainty how many cases have fallen through the cracks over the 17 years the mandate has been in existence, or who tends to benefit from the UN’s attention and who is often overlooked.

Based on extensive empirical research, this policy paper provides the first systematic analysis of all communications sent out to date. It finds credible indications that outgoing communications have a positive impact, but also demonstrates that there is room for improvement. In particular, a more deliberate prioritization of cases is required to ensure that the mandate can serve its protective purpose more effectively under the constraints of very limited resources.

The policy paper advocates an approach that aims to maximize the potential impact on the individual defender while systematically striving for a balanced documentation of cases. It makes an evidence-based argument for a number of adjustments and offers actionable recommendations to the mandate as well as to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to states, and to civil society actors regarding how to enhance the effectiveness of UN efforts to protect threatened human rights defenders around the world.

Among others, the paper recommends that the use of joint special procedures communications should be the exception rather than the rule, that states’ replies to cases should be systematically monitored and the respective data publicly released, and that more concerted international action should be taken with regards to ‘softer’ forms of repression.

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Download PDF (679.81 KB)

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/08/news-from-the-hrc34-mandate-of-the-special-rapporteur-on-human-rights-defenders-extended/

http://www.gppi.net/publications/human-rights/article/chasing-shadows/