Archive for the 'OHCHR' Category

UN Office in Israel being curtailed through visa denial

October 17, 2020

Israel, which was angered in February by the UN listing companies with activities in illegal Israeli settlements, has granted no visas to UN rights staff for months, the agency said Friday. “Visa applications have not been formally refused, but the Israeli authorities have abstained from issuing or renewing any visas since June,UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told AFP in an email.

He stressed that Israel had not formally refused any of the office’s visa applications, but had simply not acted on new requests or requests for renewal. Nine international staff members (including country director James Heenan) had been forced to leave so far after their visas were not renewed. And “three newly appointed international staff have not been able to deploy because they have not received their visas,” he said. Only three international staff members of the agency still have valid visas to work in the country.

This, Colville lamented, was creating a “highly irregular situation and will negatively impact on our ability to carry out our mandate.

Israel has not provided an official explanation, but the blockage comes after the UN rights office in February released a list of over 100 companies with activities in Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. And in June, the country reiterated its decision to “freeze ties” with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and her office.

Colville stressed that the UN rights agency’s offices in Israel and the Palestinian territories remained open, with 26 national staff members and the remaining three international staff onsite. The remainder of the international staff were working remotely, he said, adding that this was not having a big impact on operations yet, since remote work had become a norm in many places anyway due to the ongoing pandemic. “We continue to hope that this situation will be resolved soon, and we are actively engaged with various relevant and concerned parties to that end,” Colville said.

Forcing [out] human right monitoring groups is part of a clear strategy that aims to muzzle documentations of Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinians,Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/06/human-rights-watch-omar-shakir-loses-his-appeal-in-israeli-supreme-court/]

Shakir, who is currently based in Amman after being expelled from Israel after claims he supported calls for a boycott, said it is part of a wider trend in which other human rights activists are being denied entry due to their criticism of Israel’s human rights record.

However, Shakir said that if Israel’s goal was to silence criticism it had failed, as human rights activists continue to do their work as “strongly” as before.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/16/israel-stops-issuing-visas-to-un-human-rights-workers

Book Launch 20 October: A Practical Anatomy of the Human Rights Council

October 10, 2020

Book Launch: A Practical Anatomy of the Human Rights Council
authored by one of the persons who knows best this institution: Eric Tistounet, Chief of the #HRC Branch at #OHCHR.
This book is the outcome of a six-month #researchfellowship at the Geneva Academy.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020 at 12:30 PM UTC+02
Online and at Villa Moynier (120B Rue de Lausanne, Geneva)

UN rights chief urges Iran to release jailed Sotoudeh and other human rights defenders, citing COVID-19 risk

October 7, 2020

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According to the UN human rights office (OHCHR), conditions in Iranian prisons, suffering from chronic overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions, have worsened during the pandemic. Shortage of water and inadequate protective equipment, testing, isolation and treatment have led to a spread of coronavirus among detainees, reportedly resulting in a number of deaths. 

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, underlined the responsibility of States to ensure health and well-being of all individuals under their care, including those in prisons. 

Under international human rights law, States are responsible for the well-being, as well as the physical and mental health, of everyone in their care, including everyone deprived of their liberty,” she said in a news release, on Tuesday 6 October 2020.  

People detained solely for their political views or other forms of activism in support of human rights should not be imprisoned at all, and such prisoners, should certainly not be treated more harshly or placed at greater risk,” she added. 

In February, the Iranian judiciary issued directives on temporary releases to reduce the prison population and avoid further spread of the virus, benefiting some 120,000 inmates, according to official figures, said OHCHR, adding that the measures appear to have been suspended, and prisoners have been required to return in large numbers.  

In addition, people sentenced to more than five years in prison for “national security” offences were excluded from the schemes. 

As a result, most of those who may have been arbitrarily detained – including human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, conservationists, and others deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or exercising other rights – have been placed at a heightened risk of contracting the virus, added the Office. 

“I am disturbed to see how measures designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have been used in a discriminatory way against this specific group of prisoners,” said High Commissioner Bachelet. 

One of the most emblematic cases is that of prominent lawyer and women’s rights defender, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was given a combined prison sentence of over 30 years on charges related to her human rights work. Her life is believed to be at considerable risk as she suffers from a heart condition, and has been weakened by a long hunger strike.  

Once again, I urge the authorities to immediately release her, and grant her the possibility of recuperating at home before undergoing the medical treatment of her choice,” said Ms. Bachelet 

Over the years, she has been a persistent and courageous advocate for the rights of her fellow Iranians, and it is time for the Government to cease violating her own rights because of the efforts she has made on behalf of others.”  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/01/four-well-known-human-rights-defenders-are-the-2020-right-livelihood-laureates/]

The High Commissioner also voiced concerns over persistent and systematic targeting of individuals who express any dissenting view, and the criminalization of the exercise of fundamental rights. 

“It is disheartening to see the use of the criminal justice system as a tool to silence civil society,” said Ms. Bachelet. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/10/1074722

Sergio Pinheiro, UN human rights veteran, speaks out

September 21, 2020

Jamil Chade in Geneva spoke with Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, 25 years with the UN, recently as Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Swissinfo published the result on 20 September 2020 under the title UN human rights veteran is a target in his native Brazil

swissinfo.ch: After 25 years of service at the UN, what role do you believe the international body can actually play to protect human rights? 

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro: If we think of the United Nations as a whole, from the very beginning human rights have been at its core, starting with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are present in decisions at the General Assembly and the Security Council. All UN agencies protect human rights around the world. But the most important body that ensures this is the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, with its special rapporteurs [in place] since 1979 examining the human rights situation in various countries, assisted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (centre) listens to an official while visiting the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, during his visit to the Asian country in November 2007 as an independent rights investigator. Keystone / Str

Have you experienced any frustrations because of the limits of the international role?

Only the victims – whom I prefer to call survivors – of human rights violations can feel frustration. Those of us who try to bring rights violations to light and seek justice are only frustrated by UN bodies that don’t function as they should. After more than 10 years of human rights violations and war crimes [in Syria, for example], the malfunctioning of the Security Council means that these crimes are not being tried at the International Criminal Court. This is not only frustrating but also inexplicable for survivors of the war.

In Burundi, in your first assignment in 1995, there was a real expectation that progress would be made. Did it work out?

The special rapporteur has no magic wand to change the situation in a particular country. But it makes a difference that there were special rapporteurs and, after 2016, a commission of inquiry. Local civil society is stronger, and the government feels empowered in the area of human rights. My best interlocutor there was the human rights minister Eugene Nindorera, who later became a UN director of human rights for missions in Ivory Coast and South Sudan.

You also spent years dealing with Myanmar and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, when she was still under house arrest. What were those meetings like?

Myanmar was an exceptional case, because it was a military government that wanted to get closer to UN human rights bodies and civil society. During the first four years, I got access to all the places and institutions I requested. But neither I nor the other UN representatives in the country responded satisfactorily to this openness. The government therefore was not able to justify our presence to the military junta [which effectively ruled the country] and was eventually ousted. I did not go back until four years later, in 2007, when there was an uprising by the [Buddhist] monks and civil society.

The war in Syria is now nearly ten years old, and the inquiry you are leading has gathered an unprecedented amount of information on the crisis. What can you do with this information? 

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic is not a court, and it doesn’t have any competence in political negotiations. The aim of these commissions is to investigate and document human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. We work to address the right to truth of the Syrian people.

Our database has been used in investigations into human rights perpetrators of the conflict that were opened in several countries. Our data has also been used by the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria, which is preparing criminal cases to be brought before the courts in the future.

2020 also marks the 75th anniversary of the UN. What is there to celebrate? 

There is more to commemorate than there is to regret. Let’s imagine that the UN did not exist. International conflicts would be much more intense, humanitarian crises would not be addressed, and there would be even fewer guarantees of economic and social rights. And the application, even if flawed, of the principles of the Universal Declaration and the human rights conventions would be even less effective. My assistant when I was working in Burundi, Brigitte Lacroix, said to me when she left: “Paulo, what really matters is what you will do for the victims. From the perspective of the survivors, we must be glad because they are at the centre of our actions.”

The UN and multilateralism are at a crossroads, and the response to the pandemic is showing that. Is there a real risk to the system?

The pandemic has clearly exposed the inequality, the concentration of income, and the racism that continue to prevail in almost all societies, both in the North and the South. No one has escaped. Those who were poor are getting poorer, the healthcare situation of the poor has gotten worse, not only in the lack of care for those affected by Covid-19, but in the right to healthcare in general.

I don’t think that after the pandemic there will automatically be greater solidarity […] or better care for the disenfranchised. For this to happen, UN member states, instead of denying resources to the system – as they did with the WHO – have to increase their political support and financial resources to the UN.

Has your Brazilian citizenship helped you in your international work over the last 25 years?

Latin America, as a former French ambassador to Brazil, Alain Rouquié, says in one of his books, is the “Far West”, a category apart from the western world. Because they are in this group, Brazilians are perceived as being independent. After the return to democracy in 1985 and until the Dilma Rousseff administration [in 2016], Brazil was considered an honest broker – a reliable negotiator. Because during this period we never denied serious human rights violations in Brazil. Every country wanted to be in the picture with Brazil – until the coup against President Dilma Rousseff took place. At the UN Human Rights Council, Brazil was always present for the most sensitive resolutions, such as on homosexuality, racism, and violence against women and children. I think that Brazil’s aura has certainly been of benefit to me.

You were included in a list [of so-called “anti-fascists”] prepared by the Ministry of Justice in Brazil this summer – a dossier of sorts of those who question the government.

It was a strange honour to have been included, when it would have been enough to open Google to see what I think, say and do in Brazil, in UN bodies and around the world. It was a regrettable initiative to resurrect the abhorrent political espionage dossiers of the military dictatorship.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court made a historic decision – in a 9-1 vote on August 21 – to prohibit the Ministry of Justice from distributing these reports on what certain citizens think and do.

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/un-human-rights-veteran-is-a-target-in-his-native-brazil/46025454

Procedural wrangling by dicatorships does not stop Human Rights Council adopting resolution in Belarus

September 19, 2020

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya speaks via video message to an urgent debate of the UN Human Rights Council / © AFP
AFP reports from Geneva on 19 September how Belarus and several allies tried Friday to block a video message from opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya at the UN Human Rights Council, where she urged “the strongest” international response to Minsk’s abuses. Her short video message, in a rare urgent debate at the council, had barely begun before Belarus Ambassador Yuri Ambrazevich demanded it be switched off. He repeatedly interrupted the screening, raising procedural objections and insisting her words had “no relevance on the substance… on the events that are taking place today.”

He was overruled by council president Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger. The debate on the rights situation in Belarus, requested by the European Union, focused on violations and the crackdown on the unprecedented demonstrations which broke out after disputed August 9 elections. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/27/16-ngos-call-on-un-to-convene-special-session-on-crackdown-in-belarus/]

Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years and on Thursday warned of a possible “war” with some neighbouring countries, has turned to Russia for support.

Tikhanovskaya’s message was repeatedly interrupted by objections from Belarus Ambassador Yuri Ambrazevich / © AFP

We have witnessed a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests,” said German ambassador Michael Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg on behalf of the EU. He raised concerns at “reports of attacks on — and torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of — peaceful protesters as well as harassment, intimidation and detentions of opposition leaders.”

Minsk’s envoy Ambrazevich meanwhile slammed the “lopsided picture of reality presented by the losers in the election,” rejecting allegations of abuse by authorities. He insisted that protesters had been violent and had injured numerous police officers. Ambrazevich and his counterparts from Russia, Venezuela and China also voiced multiple objections to statements by the UN deputy rights chief Nada Al-Nashif and Anais Marin, the UN special rapporteur on the rights situation in Belarus, saying they had no place in the debate.

Marin told the council that more than 10,000 people had been “abusively arrested for taking part in peaceful protests”, and lamented that “over 500 cases of torture, committed by state agents, have been reported to us.” “I have been informed of allegations of rape, electrocution, and other forms of physical and psychological torture,” she told the council via video link, adding that the perpetrators appeared to be acting with “impunity“.

Friday’s debate ended with a vote approving a resolution submitted by the EU insisting that the vast array of serious abuses urgently require “independent investigation.”

The voting process was slowed down by Russia, which proposed 17 amendments to the text, all of which were rejected, and in the end the resolution was adopted unchanged by the 47-member council, with 23 in favour, 22 abstentions and only Venezuela and Eritrea voting against. The text calls on Belarusian authorities to “enable independent, transparent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations in the context of the election.” It also calls on Minsk to “guarantee access to justice and redress for victims as well as full accountability of the perpetrators.” And it calls on the office of UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to closely monitor the situation in the country and to present her conclusions in a report during the next council session in March 2021.

The discussions mark only the sixth time in the council’s 14-year history that it has agreed to hold an “urgent debate” — a special debate within a regular session of the council.

https://today.rtl.lu/news/world/a/1582022.html

Exceptionally large coalition of NGOs urge more scrutiny of China

September 9, 2020

In an open letter published Wednesday 9 September 2020 the groups say they are seeking greater scrutiny of and response to violations in places like Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as beyond — such as through censorship, development that hurts the environment and the targeting of rights defenders.

The call for the creation of an “independent international mechanism” to focus on China’s rights violations adds to recent international pressure on Beijing over its handling of issues like protests in Hong Kong and detention centers — what the government calls vocational or training centers — for Uighur Muslims and others in western Xinjiang region.

China has systematically persecuted rights defenders in reprisal for their cooperation with U.N. human rights operations — torture, enforced disappearance, imprisonment, and stripping licenses from lawyers,” said Renee Xia, director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, in a statement. “The U.N. system should no longer tolerate such treatment.”

The move follows a call by independent experts who work with the United Nations for a special session of the Human Rights Council focusing on the array of issues around China’s rights record. Advocates insist that no country — no matter how large or powerful — should escape extra scrutiny of their rights records when warranted. [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/27/un-experts-address-3-big-ones-usa-china-and-india/]

The groups also want U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to “take responsibility for publicly addressing China’s sweeping rights violations,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

At a news conference Wednesday in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian sought to brush off the groups’ appeal, saying: “I think the statements made by these organizations are groundless and not worth refuting.”

The appeal comes before the start of the 47-member-state Human Rights Council’s fall session on Monday. In its summer session, the council held an urgent debate on a rise of police violence against Black people and repression of protests in the United States.

https://www.startribune.com/over-300-groups-urge-more-scrutiny-of-china-on-human-rights/572357402/?refresh=true

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/09/global-coalition-urges-un-to-address-china-human-rights-abuses/

Agnes Callamard calls overturned verdict in Khashoggi case “parody of justice”

September 9, 2020

An independent UN human rights investigator called the overturned verdict of Saudi Arabia’s prosecutor in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi a “parody of justice” that spared “high-level” plotters.  At a regular press briefing on Tuesday, Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR), quoted Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, in saying, “they came at the end of a process which was neither fair nor just, or transparent“. [for earlier posts on Khashoggi, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/jamal-khashoggi/]

In October 2018, the 59-year-old columnist for The Washington Post was killed and dismembered at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. Saudi prosecutors in Riyadh had convicted eight people for the brutal murder. However, on Monday, a Saudi court overturned five death sentences in a final ruling that jailed eight defendants for between seven and 20 years, according to Saudi State media.

The press briefing came on the heels of a series of tweets from the independent UN expert who reacted disparagingly to Monday’s verdict. “The five hitmen are sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, but the high-level officials who organized and embraced the execution of Jamal Khashoggi have walked free from the start – barely touched by the investigation and trial,” Ms. Callamard tweeted.

As for the individual responsibility of the person on top of the State”, the independent UN expert upheld, “the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, he has remained well protected against any kind of meaningful scrutiny in his country“. She stated that “the Saudi Prosecutor performed one more act today in this parody of justice”, adding “but these verdicts carry no legal or moral legitimacy”.

HRC45: key issues for human rights defenders

September 6, 2020

Based on the as usual excellent preview by the ISHR: “HRC45 | Key issues on the agenda of September 2020 session”,  I am able to provide an overview of issues that are specially relevant for human rights defenders:

Summary: The Human Rights Council’s 45th session will take place from 14 September to 6 October 2020. The Council will consider issues including reprisals, rights of indigenous peoples and people of African descent, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances, among others. It will present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Yemen, China, the United States of America, Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Philippines, Venezuela, Burundi and Myanmar, among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

If you want to stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC45 on Twitter, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

Modalities for civil society participation in HRC45

NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC, with active designations in Geneva, will be given the opportunity to deliver video-statement insofar as interactive dialogues are concerned, pending further decision from the Council at the opening of HRC45 on 14 September, and additionally for panels and the adoptions of UPR outcomes as set out in HRC decision 19/119. It won’t be possible to hold “official” side events during the 45th session (online or in-person). Any events happening on the sidelines of the session will be considered independent events and won’t be publicised in the Bulletin of Informal meetings by the Secretariat. Read here the information note by the Secretariat which is updated according to the latest information, and an additional explainer by HRC-net.

Thematic areas of interest

Reprisals

On 25 September, the new Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, will present the Secretary General’s annual report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (also known as ‘the Reprisals Report’) to the Council in her capacity as UN senior official on reprisals. The presentation of the report will be followed by a dedicated interactive dialogue, as mandated by the September 2017 resolution on reprisals.

ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who engage or seek to engage with UN bodies mechanisms. We call for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/31/ishrs-2020-report-on-reprisals-to-the-un-secretary-general/]

The dedicated dialogue provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals, and demand that Governments provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. An increasing number of States have raised concerns in recent sessions about individual cases of reprisals, including in Egypt, Nicaragua, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Yemen, Burundi, China and Venezuela.

During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends, such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, and 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.

Other thematic issues

At this 45th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates with Special Procedure mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with the:

  1. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  2. Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  3. Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes 
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences
  5. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

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

  1. Special Rapporteur  on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  2. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
  3. Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons 

Country-specific developments

China (Hong Kong and Uyghur regions)

In light of worsening restrictions in Hong Kong and ongoing repression against Uyghur, Tibetan and other ethnic groups and those defending them, ISHR welcomes the joint statement from July and urges countries to step up action at HRC45 to improve the UN’s monitoring and reporting on China. This echoes the unprecedented press release by over 50 Special Procedures experts calling for urgent and ‘decisive measures’. ISHR expects opportunities for States to increase scrutiny, and for civil society who seek to keep the UN informed, to include:

  • interventions in dialogue with the UN WGAD and UN WGEID
  • responses to the Secretary General’s reprisals report, where China is regularly a ‘top violator’
  • reactions to the findings of the UN Independent Expert on Older Persons, following her December 2019 country visit

USA

The High Commissioner will present her first oral update to the Council on the preparation of the report on systemic racism and police brutality, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and of other Africans and people of African descent, as well as government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests. The High Commissioner will also provide an update on police brutality against Africans and people of African Descent.

ISHR joined 144 families of victims of police violence and over 360 civil society organisations to endorse this letter sent on 3 August to the UN High Commissioner, detailing expectations from the report and the process for its preparation, including an “inclusive outreach to communities of colour and the creation of meaningful, safe, and accessible opportunities for consultation”. On 19 August 2020, the High Commissioner responded to the letter. Read the response here.

ISHR urges all States to support the five recommendations presented by families of victims of police violence and civil society to the High Commissioner, in their national and joint statements at the Council under General Debate Item 9.

Background information: The report was mandated by the resolution adopted following the urgent debate at the Council in June 2020 on current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests in the US and elsewhere. Though the urgent debate prompted by the African group initially called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry on the US and other countries, due to acute diplomatic pressure from the US and its allies, the Council finally decided to instead mandate the High Commissioner with preparing the report, and to include updates on police brutality against Africans and people of African descent in all her oral updates to the Council.

In June 2020, ISHR joined the calls made by the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and Michael Brown and over six hundred human rights organisations from over 60 countries in requesting the Council to mandate a commission of inquiry for the situation of racism and police brutality in the United States. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the UN Working Group on Experts on People of African Descent had also voiced their support for the international commission of inquiry. They have urged the Council to ensure the following outcomes from the debate:

  1. the creation of an international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States; and
  2. the creation of a thematic international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, with a focus on systemic racism rooted in legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

They stressed that “both measures described above are necessary and cannot be substituted for one another”. The experts “expressed serious concern that extreme pressure by certain powerful and influential countries—including countries that publicly voiced support for the need to take action in the face of systemic racism—has operated to dilute the strength of the planned consensus resolution of the Urgent Debate.”

Saudi Arabia

Women human rights defenders have been in prison for over two years, only because they demanded that women be treated equally as men. No one has been held accountable for their torture. While the Council has sustained pressure on Saudi Arabia in 2019, it is essential that this scrutiny continues as the situation on the ground has not improved. ISHR calls on all States to jointly call on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release the WHRDs and drop the charges against them; and implement the bench-marks set out in the two joint statements delivered by Iceland and Australia in 2019, underlining that should these benchmarks not be met, more formal Council action would follow.

Saudi Arabia is running for Human Rights Council elections in October 2020 and hosting the G20 in November 2020. These all provide windows of opportunity to push for the immediate and unconditional release of the women human rights defenders and all those detained for exercising their rights. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/02/vloggers-selling-their-souls-to-boost-image-of-arab-regimes/]

Venezuela

The time has come for the fact-finding mission on Venezuela, created by the Human Rights Council last September, to report to the Council. ISHR has joined 85 national, regional and international organisations calling for the renewal and strengthening of the mandate, to keep the pressure on Venezuela. National NGOs have highlighted the ongoing human rights violations in the country as evidence that the new mandate should include an exploration of the root causes of these violations; a preservation of evidence to allow for processes to hold individual perpetrators to account, and a focus on gender-based violence. Oral statements from OHCHR will also be presented this session as will – potentially – a second resolution focusing on technical cooperation. The fact-finding mission’s report is due to be published on 15 September, with the interactive dialogue with States due the following week.

Philippines

The Anti-Terrorism Law passed earlier this month complements the Duterte Administration’s arsenal of tools, giving it the ability to label, detain and eliminate government critics using a vague definition of ‘terrorism’. In the prevailing climate of impunity and attacks against human rights defenders, this law granting the government excessive and unchecked powers will further jeopardise the safety of defenders.

This law passed in the context of ongoing violations against defenders in the country, with recent instances of judicial harassment of defenders and targeting defenders with smear campaigns. It is the most recent example of the government’s worsening human rights record. The recent report of the UN High Commissioner highlights widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, silencing of independent media and critics, and stark and persistent impunity.

ISHR joined the calls by civil society and UN Special Procedures for an independent investigation mechanism into the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Burundi

ISHR joined more than 40 partners in a civil society call made public ahead of the 45th session, urging States to support the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi.

Burundi is in a period of potential transition, following the 20 May 2020 presidential, legislative and local elections resulting in the election of a new President, Évariste Ndayishimiye and after the death of former President Nkurunziza. At this moment and in this context, there are signs of promise as well as of significant concern. Despite promising remarks by President Ndayishimiyeduring at his inauguration, as well as the authorities’ new, more transparent approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, observers also raised concerns, notably over the fact that several newly appointed members of the Ndayishimiye administration are subject to international individual sanctions for their alleged responsibility in human rights violations. Nonetheless, the political transition represents an opportunity to open a new chapter for the Burundian people and for Burundi’s relationship with the UN human rights system.

As of today, the Commission of Inquiry remains the only independent mechanism mandated to monitor and document human rights violations and abuses, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi, with sufficient resources and experience to do so. At its 45th session, the Council should avoid sending the Government of Burundi signals that would disincentivise domestic human rights reforms, such as terminating the CoI’s mandate in the absence of measurable progress. It should avoid a scenario where re-establishing the CoI’s mandate would be necessary after a premature discontinuation, because of a renewed escalation of human rights violations and abuses. The Council should rather ensure continued investigations, monitoring, public reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation.

Egypt

The ‘Terrorism Circuit courts’ in Egypt are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. All of the individuals that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner have written about since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention by these courts.

ISHR urges States to call on Egypt to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their human rights, to stop using pre-trial detention as a punishment, and to take immediate measures to guarantee their rights to contact their families on a regular and continuous basis and to ease sending and receiving letters, food and medical supplies to them.

Background information: Seven UN experts have expressed concern about the collective and corrosive effects of Egypt’s counter-terrorism laws and practices on the promotion and protection of human rights. They stated that “Despite [] repeated communications by UN experts over arbitrary detention of individuals, human rights defenders and activists, the Egyptian Government has not changed its laws of practice”. The government’s response to the UPR in March 2020 demonstrated its lack of political will to address key concerns raised by States and to engage constructively with the Council. For example, the government refused to acknowledge the systematic and widespread attacks against defenders, the practice of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres, and to receive visits by Special Rapporteurs on torture and human rights defenders. The government claimed that no one is detained for exercising their rights, despite the fact that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt and could constitute a crime against humanity.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/27/egypt-15-year-term-for-human-rights-defender-bahey-el-din-hassan/]

Other country situations

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 14 September 2020. The Council will consider updates, reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Nicaragua 
  • Oral updates by the High Commissioner, and an Interactive Dialogue on the report of the independent international fact-finding mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the HC on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, including of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, an interactive dialogue on the report of on the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar, and an Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive dialogue with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the final report of the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Libya
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic 
  • Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia 

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

Appointment of mandate holders

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

  1. Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities 
  2. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, member from African States and member from Latin American and Caribbean States
  3. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, member form Latin American and Caribbean States
  4. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, member from African States
  5. Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, member from Asia-Pacific States
  6. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan (if renewed).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 45th session

At the organisational meeting on 31 August the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Special Rapporteur on hazardous waste mandate renewal (African Group)
  2. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent mandate renewal (African Group)
  3. From rhetoric to reality – a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (African Group)
  4. Technical assistance and capacity building in Sudan (African Group)
  5. Human rights and indigenous peoples (Mexico, Guatemala)
  6. Human rights and terrorism (Egypt, Mexico)
  7. The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation (Germany, Spain)
  8. Technical assistance and capacity building in Yemen ((Yemen)
  9. Local government and human rights (Chile, Egypt, South Korea, Romania)
  10. The human rights situation in Yemen (the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg)
  11. Independent expert on the human rights situation in Somalia (Somalia and the United Kingdom)
  12. Technical cooperation and capacity building in the field of human rights (Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey)
  13. Accountability for ensuring women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights in humanitarian settings (Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay, Sweden)
  14. Human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms (Ecuador, Peru)
  15. Rights of the Child (EU, GRULAC)
  16. Human rights situations in Burundi (EU)
  17. IGWG Private military and security companies mandate renewal TBC (South Africa)
  18. Elimination of discrmination against women and girls in sport (South Africa)
  19. Inequalities in and amongst States in the realization of human rights (South Africa)
  20. National human rights institutions (Australia)
  21. Contribution of Human Rights Council to prevention of human rights violations (Norway, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Uruguay)
  22. Safety of journalists (Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia)
  23. Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence mandate renewal (Switzerland, Argentina, Morocco)
  24. Enforced disappearances mandate renewal (France, Argentina, Morocco, Japan)
  25. Women, peace and security (Spain, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Namibia, Tunisia, Finland)

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Kyrgyzstan, Guinea, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Kenya, Armenia , Guinea-Bissau, Sweden, Grenada, Turkey, Kiribati and Guyana. ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR and publishes briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Turkey and Guinea to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

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. Three panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual half-day discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples. Theme: Protection of indigenous human rights defenders
  2. Biennial panel discussion on the right to development. Theme: COVID-19 and the right to development: we are all in this together
  3. Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms. Theme: Gender and diversity: strengthening the intersectional perspective in the work of the Human Rights Council

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc45-key-issues-agenda-september-2020-session

 

The killing of “Randy” Echanis and Zara Alvarez put the Philippines under more pressure

August 22, 2020

The Philippines government’s practice of ” red tagging” – i.e.  labelling HRDs as communists or terrorists – has been repeatedy criticised by human rights defenders, NGOs, government and the UN.  “We are saddened and appalled by the ongoing violence and threats against human rights defenders in the Philippines, including the killing of two human rights defenders over the past two weeks,” said Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  Randall “Randy” Echanis, an agrarian reform advocate and peace consultant, was killed in his home in Quezon City, located just outside capital Manila, on 10 August, added the OHCHR spokesperson, noting that reports indicated that he suffered brutal treatment before he died, including blunt force trauma to the head and stab wounds. On 17 August, the day that Mr. Echanis was buried, another long-standing human rights defender, Zara Alvarez, was shot dead in Bacolod City on Negros Island, some 490 kilometres south east of Manila. Investigations into both cases are underway.

According to OHCHR, both Mr. Echanis and Ms. Alvarez had been repeatedly “red-tagged” – labelled as communists or terrorists – in relation to their work. Ms. Alvarez’s name appeared, for example, on a list of 649 people that the Government sought to designate as terrorists on 28 March 2020. “While the list was later truncated, many who were removed from the list, including Ms. Alvarez, continued to report harassment and threats, as highlighted in the High Commissioner’s human rights report on the Philippines published in June this year,” added Ms. Throssell.

Ms. Alvarez’s photo also appeared in a publicly displayed poster purporting to depict terrorists. She was pictured alongside two other human rights defenders who had been killed – Benjamin Ramos Jr. and Bernardino Patigas, both of whose murder cases remain unsolved. She had also spent two years in prison on murder charges before she was acquitted in March for lack of evidence. Following the murder of Ms. Alvarez, her colleague Clarizza Singson, received a death threat on Facebook warning her that she would be next. “This is particularly worrying as Ms. Singson’s name also appeared on the abovementioned list of suspected terrorists and her photo is included in the same poster,” added Ms. Throssell.

We have raised our concerns with the Government and the Commission on Human Rights on these cases, and look forward to continuing to engage with them,” said Ms. Throssell.

Eighty-nine cases involving the deaths of human rights activists from 2017 to 2019 are now being investigated by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an official said Friday. “The data that we have from 2017 to 2019, we have a total of 89, not to include the ones happening now. We call them human rights defenders,” CHR commissioner Leah Armamento said over ABS-CBN News Channel when asked about the number of killings of activists and members of progressive groups being investigated by the commission.

‘The endless killings of activists in the Philippines have become systematic in Duterte’s regime, and demonstrate the continuing impunity in the country. The government should end these killings immediately and take genuine steps towards ensuring justice for victims and their family members,’ said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director at FORUM-ASIA.

Nobel Laureate Denis Mukwege under threat in Congo

August 5, 2020

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr Denis Mukwege, says his family has been intimidated and threatened since he denounced the recent massacre in Kipupu in Mwenga territory in South Kivu of Congo. Mukwege, who is the founder and Medical Director of Panzi Hospital and Foundations, said in a statement on Monday 3 August 2020 that since 2012 and even after two assassination attempts, he had continued to receive death threats [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/breaking-news-see-which-other-awards-the-2018-nobel-peace-prize-laureates-won-already/].

Since my tweet on Sunday, July 26 denouncing the recent massacre in Kipupu in Mwenga territory in South Kivu, I have received various hate mails, and members of my family have been intimidated and threatened,” he said.

Since then[ 22 years ago], I have not ceased to campaign for the search for truth and the application of justice, without which we cannot hope for lasting peace,” he said.

While calling for peace, the Nobel Peace Prize Laurel made a case for the examination of the mapping report carried out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, adding that the report contained a compilation of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocides detailed from 1993 to 2003. “Without analyzing these crimes-which mark the history of the Congo-and without justice being rendered for these crimes, no people involved in these conflicts will be able to recover or live in peace,” he said. He further said it seemed that advocating for the creation of a special jurisdiction to try crimes in the Congo scares some people who pour out their hatred on social media by pitting one against the other, often on the basis of lies. However, he said reconciliation between peoples and the establishment of reparations for the victims could not be achieved without our relentless search for the truth. “No intellectual malfeasance, no threat, no intimidation, will prevent me from expressing myself on the reality of the atrocities experienced by the populations of my country and the consequences of which I treat every day in my hospital in Bukavu,” he said.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/12/djimon-hounsou-set-to-play-congolese-nobel-prize-winner-denis-mukwege-in-new-film/

Read more: https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/my-family-under-threat-over-congo-massacre-tweet-peace-laureate-mukwege.html