Archive for the 'OHCHR' Category

UN seeking out civil society:  on-line consultations from 13 -24 January 2020. 

December 30, 2019

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is inviting civil society globally to assist them in defining guidelines on how the UN can best contribute to promoting and safeguarding civil society space.  The aim is to define guidelines to encourage an effective and consistent approach across UN agencies and inform the methods of work of mechanisms.  This initiative was given a boost by the UN Secretary General who, in a recent audit of the work of the UN in regard to human rights defenders, called for the definition of ‘a system-wide approach to strengthen civil society space’ and ‘guidance on United Nations engagement with and support for human rights defenders.’ The consultation process will be held online from the 13-24 January 2020 on the Global Dev Hub platform.

This is a moment for all civil society players who see the value of greater and more effective engagement with UN agencies and bodies, to provide input on how best this should be done,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.There are no national-level consultations being held to our knowledge, but a full week of online consultations will, hopefully, provide many of us with the opportunity to participate,‘ she added.  The UN is seeking thoughts on a series of questions related to three key areas:  partnership and participation, the protection of civil society actors, and the promotion of and advoacy for civic space.

For further information and the key questions, see the UN consultation invitations in  English

Expert Meeting on “Cultural Rights Defenders”

December 27, 2019

In the hard-to-define area of cultural rights, the following is an interesting contribution: On 22 October, 2019, the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) hosted a meeting alongside the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights, Karima Bennoune, at the Bahá’í International Community’s UN Offices in New York City. The aim of the meeting was to gain expert insight in support of the Special Rapporteur’s next report, on cultural rights defenders (CRDs), which will be presented in March 2020 to the UN Human Rights Council.

Cultural rights, including the right to take part in cultural life, the right to freedom of artistic expression, the right to scientific freedom, and the right to access and enjoy cultural heritage, are being increasingly recognized and mainstreamed internationally, and at the same time are regularly violated by states and other actors. Cultural rights defenders (CRDs) – those human rights defenders who act in defense of cultural rights – need much greater recognition and support to be able to carry out their critical work defending this part of the universal human rights framework. The meeting invited experts and actors working across the field of human rights and cultural rights, including artistic freedom, to share their knowledge on the state of cultural rights and those working to defend them. Participants included UN experts and representatives of UN bodies, representatives from NGOs, frontline cultural rights defenders, experts in cultural heritage work and scientific freedom, as well as those working on the cultural rights of specific categories of persons, including women, persons with disabilities, LGBTI people, minorities, indigenous peoples, artists, and cultural heritage defenders.

The meeting engendered a thought-provoking discussion on topics such as:

  • An intersectional approach to CRDs that is cognizant of gender, indigeneity, fundamentalism, LGBTQI identity, religion, cultural diversity, climate change, and disability.

  • The nature of the risks faced by CRDs, how they vary contextually across the Global North and South, and the recourse that such a term offers (or fails to offer) to actors in varied contexts.

  • What the term “Cultural Rights Defender (CRD)” entails, its use (or not) by human rights defenders and relevant actors across the field of culture, and the potential for its use as a means of redress for cultural activists at risk.

  • Strategies to better support the work of CRDs, including legal frameworks, the role of the internet, the role of national governments, and systems of censorship.

Inputs from the meeting will be included in the Special Rapporteur’s next report, which will be made public in March 2020. To keep abreast of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of Cultural Rights, you can follow their statements, reports, and feature stories here.

https://artistsatriskconnection.org/story/cultural-rights-defenders-experts-meeting

Thailand: Amnesty and UN Rapporteur agree on misuse of lese-majeste

December 23, 2019

Thailand: Amnesty International published a special 30-page report “They Cannot Keep Us Quiet” on Wednesday 11 December 2019. It is sub-titled “The criminalization of activists, human rights defenders and others in Thailand.” It was released hours after David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, after meetings on Tuesday launched a scathing attack on what he called misuse of laws prohibiting defamation of the monarchy. “Thai authorities are waging a campaign to criminalise and punish dissent by targeting civil society and political activists who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” the Amnesty report said.

Mr Kaye said at a media briefing: “Lese-majeste provisions have no place in a democratic country. I urge the authorities of Thailand to take steps to revise the country’s Criminal Code and to repeal the law that establishes a justification for criminal prosecution.

And both singled out the refusal of the regime to back bail for dissident Jatupat Boonpatararaksa, better known as Pai Daodin.

https://wellstonjournal.com/un-envoy-amnesty-denounce-regime-ways.html

UN envoy, Amnesty denounce regime ways

How to work with the UN and its Rapporteurs: new ISHR guidance for human rights defenders

December 18, 2019

On 18 November 2019 the ISHR launched its new guide to the UN Special Procedures, an essential tool for human rights defenders seeking to engage more strategically with these experts, for greater impact on the ground.

ISHR’s Practical Guide to the UN Special Procedures provides an overview of the system of independent human rights experts known as the Special Procedures, and the different ways human rights defenders can make use of it to further their human rights causes. Often their independence allows them to discuss issues deemed too politically ‘sensitive’ at the international level. It also enables them to act swiftly and react publicly against human rights violations. This handbook is intended to be a practical aid to working with the Special Procedures for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights defenders. O

Read the Practical Guide to the UN Special Procedures here

You can find more tips and examples of how to engage with Special Procedures in the ISHR Academy, ISHR’s e-learning space for human rights defenders looking to strengthen their advocacy skills with the UN for greater impact on the ground. Helping human rights defenders strengthen their advocacy skills with the UN

Navigating the UN

An overview of the international human rights system and the importance of civil society engagement

Watch the video

Test your knowledge

Learning Modules

Build your advocacy skills

Hand holding a globe in a light bulb

ISHR Academy Introduction

A quick start guide to getting the most out of the learning modules developed by ISHR

People sat around the council debating chamber

UN Human Rights Council

Understand the structure, purpose and mandate of the Human Rights Council and the opportunities for effective engagement

A team of experts

Special Procedures

Explore the purpose and mandates of the Special Procedures and how you can work with them to strengthen your advocacy. For more see: https://academy.ishr.ch/

First High Note Global Prize goes to Cyndi Lauper for her work with LGBTQ youth

November 28, 2019

Cyndi Lauper
Cyndi Lauper will receive the inaugural High Note Global Prize from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the High Note Global Initiative.

For her decades of activism with LGBTQ youth, Cyndi Lauper will be awarded the inaugural High Note Global Prize presented by the United Nations Human Rights and the High Note Global Initiative at her annual Home for the Holidays concert December 10, according to Rolling Stone. For more on this award: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/high-note-global-prize

The High Note Global Initiative stated: “In 2008, Lauper co-founded True Colors United after learning that while 10% of American youth identify themselves as LGBTQ, up to 40% of American youth experiencing homelessness do so. The organization works to prevent and end youth homelessness, focusing on the unique experiences of LGBTQ youth. In 2008, Cyndi Lauper co-founded True Colors United, a nonprofit organization that implements innovative solutions to youth homelessness that focus on the unique experiences of LGBTQ young people, who make up to 40% of the youth homelessness population in America.

The 2019 High Note Global Prize will be presented during the High Note Honors segment of Cyndi Lauper & Friends: Home for the Holidays at the Novo Theater at LA Live on December 10th. The award will be presented to Lauper by Kesha during the concert in Los Angeles. In 2008, Lauper cofounded True Colors United (named for her smash hit song about celebrating otherness), which “implements innovative solutions to youth homelessness that focus on the unique experiences of LGBTQ young people,” according to its website.  In addition to Kesha, additional celebrities supporting Cyndi at the Novo Theater on UN Human Rights Day include, Billy Porter, Brandi Carlile, Belinda Carlisle, King Princess, Charlie Musselwhite, Henry Rollins, Perry Farrell with Etty Lau Farrell, Justin Tranter, K. Flay, Emily Estefan, Shawn Wasabi, comics Carol Leifer and Lily Tomlin, U.K. comedian Gina Yashere, Margaret Cho, and Carson Kressley. Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Mariah Carey, Dolly Parton, Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Dua Lipa, Kacey Musgraves, RuPaul, and Tegan and Sara are among the artists who have donated items and experiences for a charity auction with 100% proceeds supporting True Colors.

The prize was created by David Clark, founder of the High Note Global Initiative, which celebrates artists whose work intersects with human rights issues. The award was announced in 2017: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/08/new-human-rights-award-music-to-our-ears/

Cyndi Lauper to Be Honored with Inaugural UN Human Rights Award for Work Helping LGBTQ Youth

https://www.advocate.com/music/2019/11/26/cyndi-lauper-awarded-1st-human-rights-prize-work-lgbtq-youth

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N. independent expert on sexual orientation, speaks out

October 31, 2019

Victor Madrigal-Borloz
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N. independent expert, is now in residence at Harvard Law School. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Costa Rican magistrate Victor Madrigal-Borloz has served for the past 21 months as the U.N. independent experton protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Gazette interviewed Madrigal-Borloz, who is the Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher with the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School, to talk about his work and his hopes for the future:

GAZETTE: Why did you decide to take on this role?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: I have been working in the field of human rights for over 20 years and I saw the possibility to bring about substantial change. The topic bears a lot of significance to me, as a gay man myself. I have been working on these issues for over a decade, first at the Inter-American Commission [on Human Rights] and now at the global level. I have seen many people suffer as a result of stigma and discrimination, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something about it and put my skills at the service of a cause.

GAZETTE: What did your report find in terms of the root causes of violence and discrimination against LGBT people?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:There are primary and secondary root cases. First, there is the notion that societies are structured around certain power relations, which have been designed in relation to a person’s sex. Your role in society is determined by your genital configuration. That’s a very basic construction, and all forms of violence and discrimination come from a defense of those power relations. The other factors come from mechanisms that aim to protect those power relations, such as the idea that gay, lesbian, or trans people don’t exist, and the stigma around them, which is enabled through the message that gay, trans, bisexual, and lesbian people are sick or mentally ill. The other aspect is criminalization. Same-sex relations are still criminalized in 69 countries, which means that, as of today, over 2 billion people live in countries where being gay or lesbian is illegal. Another factor is demonization expressed in the notion that somehow LGBT lives are sinful, immoral; that gays or lesbians cannot be good citizens. The idea is that at the end of the day, there’s something immoral about our existence, and that’s what all of us need to fight against.

GAZETTE: Of your findings, which ones struck you the most?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:What disturbs me is that in 2019 there are countries that are considering bringing back the death penalty for same-sex relations. There was a discussion in Uganda about it, and early this year Brunei Darussalam enacted legislation allowing the stoning of gay men. That, to me, is shocking. What I also find surprising is that there are environments that are actually extremely progressive when it comes to gender identity, but can be very restrictive when it comes to sexual orientation and vice versa. In Pakistan, for example, there is an extremely forward legislation on the recognition of gender identity, but sexual orientation is very much criminalized. Sexual orientation has always been a more challenging notion for societies, which in general have used the notion of a traditional binary, hetero-parental family as the nucleus of society, and this has been recognized in public discourse and in the law. But what we also know is that homosexuals, lesbians, and bisexuals have existed and sought happiness all throughout history.

GAZETTE: What policies or practices have been the most successful in the protection of LGBT rights?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ: Anti-discrimination legislation with the words sexual orientation and gender identity is very important because it allows for all actors in the system to understand that a red line has been drawn and that shouldn’t be crossed. This creates the belief that lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, or gender-diverse people are entitled to protection. Other good practices are policies aiming at promoting integration of LGBT people in society and campaigns to change hearts and minds.

Let me give you an example. About a year ago, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an advisory opinion, OC-24, which determined that Costa Rica and other countries in the continent must implement same-sex marriage, and it gave a time frame for that. Despite the fact that this created great polarization in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican state has now put together a campaign called “Yes, I do,” or in Spanish, “Si, Acepto,” which focuses on the parents of gay and lesbian children and their reasons why they support gay marriage and why their children are entitled to happiness.

Another good measure is access to justice, and this means that judges have to actively seek to implement the principle of nondiscrimination when it comes to LGBT rights. That’s what the Supreme Court of India, the Supreme Court in Botswana, and the High Court in Trinidad and Tobago did when they voted to decriminalize gay sex in their respective countries.

GAZETTE:How do you explain the dramatic advances in the protection of LGBT rights in regions such as Latin America, where same-sex marriage is now legal in five countries?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:It’s the work of civil society and human-rights defenders and advocates who have fought relentlessly for their rights. I began working on these issues over a decade ago, and at that time the trans movement in South America was strong. An extraordinary trans activist in Argentina, Lohana Berkins, used to say that trans women must expose the audacity of their bodies to the society that fails to understand the fragility of their lives. The average life expectancy of a trans woman in Latin America is 35 years, and that’s what Berkins was talking about. It was her voice and those of other great fighters in the LGBT movement that forced people to see their humanity, and ensured that Argentina, Uruguay, and other countries in the continent have the most advanced legislation on legal recognition of gender identity.

GAZETTE:Which countries are the worst and best performers in terms of LGTB rights?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:I have a lot of resistance to ranking countries, because things change very fast. Most of these rights are not necessarily enshrined or written in stone; there are forces in societies that are quite keen on seeing them taken back. We live in times in which rising populism uses certain categories of people, such as LGBT communities, as pawns for their political objectives. But I can say that the most problems arise in the countries where gay sex is criminalized, and they are roughly distributed along the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, some regions of Asia, and the Middle East. It’s not a small part of the world. Criminalization forces people to live underground, and often the situation of those whose existence is considered criminal is devastating. The killing of trans women, for example, has been invisible from public records because they are classified as men. And the levels of violence against lesbian women and gay men all over the world is worrisome.

GAZETTE: Why have there been more gains in protection of sexual orientation than gender identity, and what does it say about the possibility of social change?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:There is a certain concentration of power and influence within gay and lesbian, or cisgender, urban populations. They have been able to represent their valid agendas in the political debate. On issues of concern for the gay and lesbian urban upper and middle class, there has been more progress than on those concerning trans women or trans men coming from the countryside. But those gains show that social change is possible within one generation. Those of us who were born in the ’60s have seen the world change from a majority of countries criminalizing and pathologizing LGBT identities to a majority of countries embracing the richness that comes from diversity.

Social change is possible when the prime minister of Luxembourg speaks at the General Assembly last week, and declares “I was never hoping to be the gay prime minister. I just happen to be the gay prime minister.” When political leaders take part in a pride parade, they are changing the views that people have about LGBT people. I’ve had the honor of marching alongside Justin Trudeau in Vancouver, and the first lady of Costa Rica in pride parades. That makes me hopeful, but also the fact that the new generations have changed their paradigm of thinking; they embrace the notion that their existence is not determined by rigid notions of gender. That is a great source of inspiration.

But I worry that for some, the change will not come fast enough. Elderly LGBT people are suffering enormous health disparities, and after living their lives in inclusive environments, they are being forced to go back into the closet as they move to retirement communities that are not prepared to cater for their needs. They deserve happiness now.

GAZETTE: What would you like to see happening before your tenure as the U.N. independent expert ends in 2020?

MADRIGAL-BORLOZ:My dream is to see a world free of criminalization of same-sex relations by 2030. Given the fact that international human rights law considers criminalization of same-sex relations a violation of human rights, I see no reason why states would actually get away with continuing this practice past 2030. That’s what I like to dream about.

U.N. report takes global look at LGBT violence and bias

Egypt: all you can think of: widespread arrests, torture allegations, cyber attacks

October 19, 2019

On 18 October 2019 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Egypt to immediately release scores of citizens who have been arrested in connection with recent anti-government demonstrations in several cities. Civil society groups report more than 2,000 people were detained before, during and after the protests on 20 September, which prompted the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to express concern about reports of lack of due process. On Friday her office reported that the arrests are continuing, with a number of well-known and respected civil society figures affected, some of whom have been accused of terrorism. “Once again, we remind the Egyptian Government that under international law people have a right to protest peacefully, and a right to express their opinions, including on social media. They should never be arrested, detained – let alone charged with serious offences such as terrorism – simply for exercising those rights”, spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told journalists in Geneva.

The abduction, arbitrary detention and torture of human rights defender and journalist Esraa Abdelfattah is another indication that Egyptian authorities are stepping up brutality against human rights defenders in a bid to ‘terrorize’ critics and opponents, said Amnesty International today. Esraa Abdelfattah was assaulted and abducted by security forces in plainclothes on 12 October. The next day she described to the Supreme State Security Prosecution how she was tortured by officers who beat her, attempted to strangle her and forced her to stand for nearly eight hours. “Esraa Abdelfattah’s account of torture, coming just days after the prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah described a similar ordeal in custody, is an alarming indication that Egypt’s authorities are stepping up their use of brutal tactics to crack down on human rights defenders,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.

Prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah as well as his lawyer, Mohammed El-Baqer are currently being held at the Tora Maximum Security Prison, south of Cairo. Both have been accused of belonging to a terrorist group, funding terrorism, spreading false news that undermines national security and “using social media to commit publishing offices”, the UN human rights office said. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/08/bloggers-and-technologists-who-were-forced-offline-in-2018/]

On 28 September the High Commissioner had already urged the “authorities to radically change their approach to any future protests’.

More than 2,000 people were detained, including lawyers, human rights defenders, political activists, university professors and journalists on 20-21 September, she said. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson stressed that there no citizen in Egypt is arrested or prosecuted for carrying out legitimate activities or criticizing the Egyptian government, but for violating the law. He added that the right to peaceful demonstration is guaranteed in accordance with the Constitution and the law. Hafez stressed that the OHCHR report was based on undocumented information, which only leads to falsehoods as the allegations contained in it are based on wrong ideas, and this hasty judgment reflects a lack of professionalism. He added that any actions taken against any person is done in accordance with the law and through sound legal procedures, all carried out with transparency and clarity.

In addition on 3 October 2019 it was reported in the New York Times that a series of sophisticated cyberattacks targeting Egyptian journalists, academics, lawyers, opposition politicians and human rights activists has been traced to Egyptian government offices, a cybersecurity firm has found. The attackers installed software on the targets’ phones that enabled them to read the victims’ files and emails, track their locations, identify who they contacted and when, according to a report to be published Thursday by Check Point Software Technologies, one of the biggest cybersecurity companies in the world, with headquarters just south of San Francisco and in Tel Aviv.

The cyberattack began in 2016, according to the Check Point report. The number of victims is unknown but Check Point identified 33 people, mostly well-known civil society and opposition figures, who had been targeted in one part of the operation. “We discovered a list of victims that included handpicked political and social activists, high-profile journalists and members of nonprofit organizations in Egypt,” said Aseel Kayal, a Check Point analyst.

CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

Bachelet and UN Rapporteurs at GA’s Third Committee 2019

October 18, 2019

In the Third Committee of the General Assembly this week UN experts and HC Bachelet said that freedom of peaceful assembly, global refugee protection, women’s civil liberties and the well-being of human-rights defenders are values under siege. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/13/third-committee-of-the-ga-also-has-a-lot-to-do-with-human-rights-defenders/]

We are witnessing an increase in xenophobia, hate speech, push-backs on women’s equality and the rights of minorities,” warned Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also highlighting the ever-widening gaps in global wealth and access to resources. Moreover, underfunding has hampered the growing workload of the entire treaty body system, she said. Committees do not have adequate resources to carry out inquiries into grave or systematic violations. This results in a “credibility crisis” for all treaty bodies — and a denial of justice for the victims of human-rights violations.

Among the day’s three other briefers was Obiora Chinedu Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, who focused on the issue of human-rights based solidarity in global refugee protection. The current refugee “crisis” was not caused by large numbers of refugees, but rather by States’ unwillingness to accept refugees into their countries — evading their responsibilities. Moreover, the rise of extremist political parties is complicating the issue, he said, as the “alternative right” and other racist civil society groups target any kind of solidarity with refugees. Echoing those words, the Russian Federation’s delegate noted that certain extremist political parties are impeding the entry of refugees into the European Union, and that the Independent Expert’s report lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of foreign interference in internal State affairs.

In his presentation, Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human-rights defenders, highlighted that 431 defenders were killed in 2017 and 2018. With that in mind, combating impunity is not only a legal obligation of States, but also a moral one. He further noted that “98 per cent of the killings of rights defenders remain unpunished” and that unless impunity is ended, the violence against them will continue. A zero-tolerance policy towards such attacks must be adopted, and the lack of political will — and of State recognition of rights defenders — addressed. Reacting to those comments, several delegates raised questions about digital attacks on human-rights defenders, with Germany’s representative underscoring that female defenders of human rights often face particular threats, such as the publication of private information. Mr. Forst responded that he has found research by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of association and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression helpful in this context, with a particular focus on advocating for social network businesses to provide better protections. To concerns raised by an observer for the State of Palestine and the representative of Georgia, he noted that his subsequent report will make specific proposals to assist defenders living in fragile States, as well as those living in conflict or post-conflict situations. On defenders who live in isolated areas, he said they are often not given sufficient attention by the international community. Ambassadors should leave their capitals and go into these far-flung areas to see where these defenders work, he said. Those who work on sexual and reproductive health and rights often bear the brunt of attacks, while those working on gender identity are harassed and threatened

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voulé, also presented his report.

View Original

Opening statement by UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet focuses very much on climate change

September 11, 2019

The Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, at the 42nd Session of the UN human Rights Council in Geneva on 9 September 2019 was widely reported in the media as having an exceptionally strong focus on climate change and human rights.

The crucial paragraph on environmental human rights defenders is quoted below:

Read the rest of this entry »

22 August: the day to remember victims of religion-based violence

August 23, 2019

On the occasion of first International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief – 22 August – a large group of UN independent experts (see names below) issued a statement saying that States have an important role to play in promoting religious tolerance and cultural diversity by promoting and protecting human rights, including freedom of religion or belief. The experts urged States to step up their efforts to combat intolerance, discrimination and violence against people based on religion or belief, including against members of religious minorities and people who are not religious.

Any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief which has the effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis would amount to religious intolerance and discrimination. This was made clear in the 1981 General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

We have observed violence in the name of religion around the world perpetrated by States and non-state groups leading to discrimination, persecution, arbitrary arrests or detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence and killings of many people based on their religion or belief. Victims have included religious minorities, individuals who are not religious, LGBTI persons, children and women who face many forms of discrimination and gender-based violence. Such violence threatens the hard-fought progress in securing women’s equality and the rights of LGBTI persons.

“We stress that religion or belief should never be used to justify discrimination. When faced with religious persecution or discrimination, victims are often also deprived of their right to participate fully in political, economic and cultural life, as well as their rights to education and to health. This can include the desecration and destruction of numerous cultural heritage sites of rich historic and religious value, such as places of worship and cemeteries.

As populism has become a trend in the political and social arena, it has fostered many forms of hatred against those who are viewed as foreign or simply different. Often, States and religious institutions resort to the instrumentalisation of religions or beliefs in order to retain their influence or control and achieve other political agendas. Fundamentalism is on the rise across the world’s major religious traditions, posing a threat to many human rights. Moreover, critical views of religions or beliefs are sometimes mischaracterised as ‘hate speech’ or labelled an offence to the religious feelings of others both by governments and non-state groups. Too often this is used as a pretext to silence those with critical voices and punish others for not believing.

The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief is misunderstood as protecting religions and beliefs instead of the people with the beliefs and those without. It is incumbent on States to ensure that religions or beliefs are not used to violate human rights, and to combat religious extremism – which are a threat to many human rights, while adhering to international norms.

States have resorted to the securitisation of religion or belief, or viewing them through a lens of national security, in their fight against violent extremism. But an overly securitised approach has proven to be counterproductive and has led to xenophobia, increasing ‘religious profiling’ and discrimination, particularly towards religious minorities….

We urge States and all individuals and groups to work together to enhance the implementation of international human rights standards that protect individuals against discrimination and hate crimes, and to increase interreligious, interfaith and intercultural initiatives, and expand human rights education in an inclusive manner as a key catalyst for change.”

The experts are: Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (The Maldives), Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Ms Karima Bennoune (Algeria/USA), Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Mr. Fernand de Varennes (Canada), Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Ms Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia), Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Mr. David Kaye (USA), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ms Meskerem Geset Techane, (Ethiopia) , Chair of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Mr. Michel Forst (France), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Mexico), Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Ms Agnes Callamard (France), Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms Maud de Boer-Buquicchio (The Netherlands), Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material; Ms Koumbou Boly Barry (Burkina Faso), Special Rapporteur on the right to education; Mr. Dainius Pῡras (Lithuania), Special Rapporteur on the right to health; Ms Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Ireland), Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz (Costa Rica), Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Mr. Bernard Duhaime (Canada),  Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances