Posts Tagged ‘civil society organisations’

Report on the 50th Session of the UN HRC

September 20, 2022

The following NGOs made a joint statement on the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council:  International Service for Human Rights; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); ARTICLE 19; DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project); CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI); International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI); The Global Interfaith Network (GIN SSOGIE NPC); World Uyghur Congress; Gulf Centre for Human Rights; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Child Rights Connect; Access Now; Association for Progressive Communications (APC); IFEX; Human Rights House Foundation; FIDH.

We welcome the resolution on discrimination against women and girls which focused on girls’ activism. This strong text regrettably faced a series of amendments which challenged the very notion of children, especially of girls and adolescents as rights holders, and sought to deny women and girls their agency.  The amendments are a continuation of a trend of hostile arguments and rhetoric on issues of gender, autonomy of women and girls and participation, which is coalescing and increasing in an alarming fashion. We are deeply concerned by the coordinated and targeted attacks against the rights of women, girls, LGBTIQ+ people and marginalized communities which aim at undermining sexual and reproductive rights and the right to bodily autonomy.  We are also concerned by recurrent attacks against children’s rights, which specifically question their right to participate and express their views freely and their rights as human rights defenders. We urge this Council to abide by its mandate to uphold the strongest human rights standards for all and to resist any retrogression that would have deep and harmful impact on those affected. 

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for the second time, and the successful opposition of 12 out of 13 hostile amendments presented. 1,256 non-governmental organisations from 149 States and territories in all regions supported a campaign to renew the mandate. This was the first time this Council explicitly condemned legislation that criminalises consensual same-sex conducts and diverse gender identities, and called on States to amend discriminatory legislation and combat violence on the grounds on SOGI. This renewal once again reaffirms this Council’s commitment to combating discrimination and violence on the grounds of SOGI.

We welcome the resolution on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. At a time when civic space urgently needs to be protected and defended, we welcome that the resolution addressed substantive concerns, including access to funding, which is increasingly an existential threat to civil society worldwide.

We welcome that the resolution on peaceful protest reiterates that protests are a fundamental aspect of participation in public affairs, and highlights that people from marginalized communities can be particularly vulnerable to unlawful use of force. We regret that language urging a landmark moratorium on surveillance technology that could be used to violate human rights during protests was lost during negotiations. Hostile amendments calling for obligations to be imposed on protest organisers were overwhelmingly rejected. We now call on states to ensure accountability for excessive use of force which has been all too prevalent in protests worldwide, and urge future resolutions to strengthen this core issue.

We welcome the new resolution on freedom of opinion of expression, which reiterates that this vital right is one of the essential foundations of democratic societies and an important indicator of the level of protection of other human rights and freedoms. We particularly welcome new guidance related to the theme of digital, media and information literacy, which enables the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression. However, we strongly encourage the core group to ensure that future iterations of the resolution address core challenges to the right to freedom of expression which have been overlooked, including criminal defamation laws and strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).

We welcome the approval of the resolution on the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers, its focus on participation of women in the administration of justice, and the enhanced gender approach. This is a timely and crucial focus for this Council.

We welcome the Council’s approval of the resolution on the  importance of casualty recording for the promotion and protection of human rights that reaffirms the importance of the right to truth and takes note of key international standards for accountability, such as the updated set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity[1] and the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, and the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death.

We welcome the resolution on human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms’ focus on business and human rights – which we hope will contribute to ensuring that States and manufacturers and dealers of firearms undertake participatory, gender-responsive human rights impacts assessments, and ensuring mandatory human rights due diligence (HRDD) requirements for the arms sector based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We regret that important notions of patterns of structural discrimination have been reduced to discrimination rooted in negative stereotypes.

We welcome  the urgent debate on women and girls in Afghanistan and urge the Council to ensure that it remains accessible and responds adequately to the demands and needs of women human rights defenders from the country. It is imperative that this Council continues to ensure access and engagement of women human rights defenders, women political leaders and survivors and takes all necessary measures to address and ensure accountability for gender apartheid in Afghanistan. While welcoming the resolution, we regret the lack of inclusion of NGO suggestions for more specific investigation and reporting operational language that would have mandated the High Commissioner to look into the specific situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. We strongly encourage that future resolutions regarding the situation address the core issue of accountability, which has been overlooked in resolutions passed by the Council to date.

We welcome the latest resolution on Belarus, which extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Since the previous version of this resolution was passed at HRC47, the human rights situation in Belarus has significantly deteriorated, with all independent human rights organisations in Belarus forcibly liquidated, and many human rights defenders indefinitely detained or imprisoned.

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, who plays an essential role in documenting violations Eritrean authorities commit at home and abroad. We stress the need for the HRC to adopt resolutions that fully reflect the situation in the country and fully describe and condemn violations.

The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Libya (FFM)  presented their latest report to the UN Human Rights Council only  days after protestors in Libya stormed the countries parliament and other government buildings.   Their report details gross human rights violations committed by armed groups and government forces throughout the country, including allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes.   Despite these findings the UN Human Rights Council has  adopted a resolution drafted by Libya that only allows the investigation to continue for a  “final, non-extendable period of nine months.” NGOs have called on states to ensure that UN monitoring is maintained as long as gross human rights violations and abuses continue to be carried out in Libya with impunity.  By creating an abbreviated operational time frame and pre-emptively dismissing the possibility of renewing the FFMs mandate – the resolution adopted by this Council sends a dangerous message to armed groups in the country that the international community lacks the will to ensure a  sustained and serious accountability process. For these reasons, and in light of recent events in Libya,  we urge member states of the Human Rights Council to  work to ensure the  FFM is preserved or an alternative mechanism is created that will sufficiently respond to the long-standing and urgent need to protect victims and end impunity in Libya beyond March 2023. Failure to do so will only encourage more violence and hamper efforts to ensure a sustainable peace.

We note the approval of the resolution on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. Rohingyas and other minorities in Myanmar continue to be victims of gross human rights violations, including crimes under international law, and it is important their plight  remains at the centre of this Council’s attention. We regret however that the resolution fails to recognise the gravity of the situation on the ground and calls for the immediate “voluntary” return of Rohingya to Myanmar despite the complete absence of the conditions for safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return in the country, as confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.

We welcome the report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) which emphasized Israel’s systematic discrimination, and stressed its strategic geographic, social and political fragmentation of the Palestinian people. The report addressed the lack of accountability and compliance with recommendations made by previous UN bodies, including commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions, addressing the failure of third States to uphold their obligations under international law. In the interactive dialogue, the CoI responded to the joint statement by the United States of America questioning the validity of the CoI mandate, by exposing the double standards when it comes to holding Israel accountable. Commissioners also reiterated the overwhelming support for the mandate, including during the interactive dialogue. We call on States to continue to support this important accountability mechanism and ensure the CoI has sufficient resources to discharge its mandate.

The outcome on Sudan that was achieved at this session is the best possible outcome that could be achieved by consensus. As the de facto authorities and security forces continue to kill protesters peacefully demanding civilian rule, however, consensus cannot be the Council’s only guide. We stress the need for long-term scrutiny of Sudan, beyond what resolution 50/L.14/Rev.1 has requested. The Council should keep all options on the table to expose and respond to the situation.

We regret that the Council failed to respond to several human rights situations.

In Cameroon, as the crisis in the North-West and South-West regions continues, with violations committed by all sides, including recently unspeakable atrocities committed by armed separatists, and grave violations continue to be reported in the Far North and in the rest of the country, particularly against independent and opposition voices, it is essential for the Council to follow up on its joint statement of March 2019. This is all the more important since both the African Union and the UN Security Council have been silent on what remains one of the most serious human rights crises on the African continent.

We welcome the joint statement by 47 States expressing serious concern at the human rights situation in China, including in the Uyghur region (Xinjiang), Hong Kong and Tibet, and echo the call for the prompt release of the High Commissioner’s long-overdue report on the serious violations in Xinjiang. The High Commissioner, or her successor, should present her report upon release in an intersessional briefing to the Human Rights Council. 42 Special Procedures experts have also reiterated their call for the creation of a UN-mandated mechanism to ‘monitor, analyse and report annually on the human rights situation in China’, underlining the importance for the credibility of the UN system to ‘ensure a consistent UN approach to all States.’ In its September session, the Council should take action on the basis of objective information from the UN system – namely the OHCHR Xinjiang report, Special Procedures concerns, and the upcoming Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee’s ongoing review of Hong Kong – with a view to establish a space for formal discussion of the human rights situation in China. 

The continued silence of this Council on the critical human rights situation in Egypt is of great concern.  As Egypt prepares to host COP 27 it continues to carry out  widespread and systematic violations of human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. Almost all independent media has been forced to shut down or threatened into silence.  100s of websites continue to be banned.  Thousands of civil society and media representatives have been and continue to be  disappeared, tortured and/or arbitrarily detained under the pretence of counter-terrorism and national security. This includes well known blogger and democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah – recently  sentenced to an additional 5 years in prison by an exceptional court.  His crime?  Advocating for democracy and rights.  He is currently approaching day 100 of a hunger strike. We urge this Council and its Special Procedures to take action to protect and ensure the release of Mr. Fattah and the thousands of others like him in Egypt.  

There have been strong calls from international and Russian civil society for Russia to be on the formal agenda of the Human Rights Council since the beginning of 2021.  A recent further intensification of human rights violations in Russia has led to calls for the HRC to mandate a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation. While the joint statement signed by nearly 50 delegations at HRC50 was important, the situation now demands stronger action and we will be looking for the HRC to take action at the next session.

See also: July 11, 2022 Blog, Blog, Uncategorized, URG Human Rights Council Reports

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc50-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

Monitoring and documenting violations in Ukraine

April 22, 2022

HURIDOCS has been working with urgency to meet the needs of our Ukrainian partners to enable effective, comprehensive and safe documentation of human rights violations. The HURIDOCS Team on 19 April 2022 tells how:

A maternity ward and children’s hospital are hit by an airstrike. Schools and apartment blocks are shelled. A psychiatric facility is attacked. Residential areas are targeted by cluster bombs. Critical infrastructure is struck by missiles. Mass civilian graves are discovered.

These horrendous attacks on civilians in Ukraine, some of them on healthcare facilities, are labelled by the United Nations as ‘acts of unconscionable cruelty’. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on 24 February 2022, is unfolding as a series of atrocities committed against civilians.

Indiscriminate attacks using missiles, heavy artillery shells, rockets and airstrikes on civilians and non-combatants are in contravention of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes. Apart from attacks on civilians, Russia is reported to be shelling agreed-upon humanitarian corridors from conflict zones and therefore halting mass evacuations. 

Borodyanka, a Ukrainian commuter town near Kyiv, was among the first places to be hit by Russian airstrikes.

Kyiv Declaration calls for support to groups actively documenting violations

Leaders of more than 100 Ukrainian civil society organisations have published the Kyiv Declaration, which defines the invasion as “a war against the fundamental principles of democracy”. The #KyivDeclaration asks for solidarity and immediate action, and outlines six urgent appeals to the international community. The organisations are collectively calling for the creation of safe zones in Ukraine, military aid, sanctions against Russia, humanitarian aid, freezing assets and revoking visas of prominent Russian families, and providing equipment to track war crimes. This includes technology and support to groups who are actively documenting the events in Ukraine, as well as human rights groups and lawyers who will be supporting accountability efforts in the long run.

An appeal from 100 Ukrainian civil society leaders

HURIDOCS has been working with urgency to meet the needs of our Ukrainian partners to enable effective, comprehensive and safe documentation of human rights violations. 

“When Russia started its full-scale invasion in February this year, we revived the work of EuromaidanSOS. We are faced with a large number of war crimes that need to be documented. Among these are indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, deliberate killings, torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, enforced disappearances and other crimes listed in the Rome Statute. Such acts are not justified by any circumstances of the war. Russia is simply using war crimes as a way of waging war.

Our volunteers from EuromaidanSOS are based in different parts of the country, and some of them work directly in hot spots, where they face constant connectivity issues. This is why usable technical solutions are indispensable. As this work is undertaken in the context of war, it is important to have qualified technology support. We are very grateful to the organisations, such as HURIDOCS, providing it in this difficult time for us.”– Oleksandra Matviychuk, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties and Board Member of HURIDOCS

Documenting violations is vital for accountability

Four days into the Russian invasion, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor opened an investigation into war crimes being committed in Ukraine. In conjunction with the investigation, the ICC launched a contact portal and anyone with relevant information is urged to come forward and share the details with the ICC. The United Nations Human Rights Council expressed that it is gravely concerned about the escalating human rights and humanitarian crisis and passed a resolution to establish a Commission of Inquiry. The Commission will first and foremost collect evidence of violations and those responsible, and subsequently submit reports to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Germany has launched an investigation by collecting evidence of suspected crimes on civilians and critical infrastructure. Germany’s probe is based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to prosecute crimes against international law outside of its borders.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement where she expressed horror by the images of civilian bodies on the streets and in improvised graves in the town of Bucha. She stated that reports of egregious crimes raise serious questions about possible war crimes and grave breaches of international and humanitarian law. She urged that “it is vital that all efforts are made to ensure there are independent and effective investigations into what happened in Bucha to ensure truth, justice and accountability, as well as reparations and remedy for victims and their families”.

In addition to these and other measures already underway to investigate possible war crimes and breaches of international and humanitarian law, some of the most authoritative civil society organisations in Ukraine have established a global initiative to seek justice and hold perpetrators accountable. The ‘Breaking the Vicious Circle of Russia’s Impunity for Its War Crimes’  initiative was jointly established by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and the Center for Civil Liberties, and is also known as the ‘Tribunal for Putin’.

The Tribunal for Putin aims to document events which can be classified as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Tribunal for Putin will also collect evidence and facts on the crimes committed and will work with existing international mechanisms of the United Nations, Council of Europe, OSCE, EU and the International Criminal Court. The initiative has called for support from various actors such as international organisations, networks, government agencies, public associations, volunteer initiatives and groups who all share the common goal of restoring peace in Ukraine and ensuring that justice will prevail.

Civil society plays a crucial role in seeking justice

In this context, it is clear that the systematic documentation of human rights violations, irrespective of who is committing the transgression, is critical to achieving justice and accountability. Documentation should not only be undertaken to assist future justice and accountability mechanisms but also to support the process of reckoning and healing.

Civil society plays a key role in efforts to document and monitor violations, and to build and strengthen cases for accountability. Civil society actors are usually the first to respond to crises, have the deepest community reach and can mobilise the people who are living through these experiences. Documenting human rights violations as they happen is imperative in the process of restoring justice. To effectively and safely assist the community there is a need for strong digital tools to gather, process, preserve, manage, protect and analyse the rapidly growing bodies of potential evidence, including large amounts of storage-intensive video. In addition, deterrence against the worst violations can also be established through credible documentation strategies.

HURIDOCS is a longtime supporter of civil society organisations and human rights defenders who use human rights documentation strategies and tools as a means to strengthen accountability and advocate for justice. We are already supporting a number of groups working on documenting human rights violations in Ukraine and HURIDOCS invites other initiatives who need support with their documentation efforts to contact us. We value diverse approaches to documenting violations, as it may strengthen accountability measures and aid in articulating narratives during the process of memorialisation. 

Support for documenting violations in Ukraine

With the increased need for support to document violations in Ukraine to strengthen accountability, the Alfred Landecker Foundation has partnered with HURIDOCS to increase our capacity to support civil society-led initiatives where our expertise can be helpful. HURIDOCS is grateful to the Foundation for the support, as it comes at a time when documenting threats to peace, justice and democracy is critical. The support from the Alfred Landecker Foundation will be used to assist groups who are already participating in documentation efforts, and to aid other initiatives related to documenting violations in Ukraine. 

HURIDOCS is currently supporting our partners in the following ways:

  • Training and consultation on information collection, protection and management techniques and associated tools, such as Uwazi;
  • Setting up digital information repositories to securely store sensitive data;
  • Refinement and integration of existing technology solutions to document, protect and analyse evidence of human rights violations; and
  • Hardening and scaling infrastructure to preserve and protect large amounts of information.

There is a significant and growing need to support organisations with their efforts to gather, process, preserve, manage, protect and analyse information on abuses. Reliable documentation of violations is essential for the restoration of justice in the pursuit of upholding democracy and human rights.

Towards a fairer selection of NGOs to participate in the UN human rights debate

February 14, 2022
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is international-un-ecosoc-ngos-committee-participation-getty.jpg
A plenary meeting at the 76th Session of the General Assembly, at the UN Headquarters, in New York, USA, 21 January 2022, Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

NGOs that seek to participate fully at the UN – making statements and organising events to highlight injustice and provide recommendations – have to get accredited.  The “Committee on NGOs” manages the process – as  the gateway for NGOs into the United Nations. If you’re a State with a mind to block NGOs, membership of the Committee is perfect. This is where you can sit and control who comes in. By asking questions of NGO applicants, members of the Committee can push their accreditation for many years.  For more on this see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/09/the-saga-of-the-anti-ngo-committee-in-the-un-continues/

Currently there are 70 organisations that have faced over four years of deferrals.  Two human rights organisations have been deferred for over ten years.  Some  NGOs  have also been accused by Committee members of having terrorist sympathies: baseless accusations against which the NGOs have been denied appeal.  

In four short months there’s  a chance to change things. Elections to the Committee on NGOs will be held in April 2022. The 54 members of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) vote to fill the 19 seats on the Committee across all regional groups. 

A joint letter by a massive number of NGOs of 10 February 2022 makes the point:

To: Member States of the UN General Assembly

Excellencies:

We are five months out from elections to the ECOSOC Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations for the 2023-2026 term. These are key elections for all those who value the expertise of civil society and seek to ensure the UN can benefit from it.

The Secretary General has called civil society the UN’s ‘indispensable partners”. Member States recently committed to boosting partnerships ‘to ensure an effective response to our common challenges’. In recommending approval of the participation of non-governmental organisations in a range of UN bodies and processes, the Committee on NGOs plays a key role in facilitating such partnerships. It is essential that the members of the Committee are committed to fulfilling such a task fairly and judiciously.

With this in mind, we would like to request the following, that:

1/ States with an interest in facilitating and safeguarding civil society access to and participation in UN processes stand for election to the Committee.

2/ Candidates make public the reasons for their candidacy and their commitment to fulfil their responsibilities as members of the Committee, as per ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31.

3/ All regions put up competitive slates, as the Asia-Pacific and GRULAC regions did in the last elections for the Committee in 2018. Competitive elections are important to create buy-in to the process and encourage states to be accountable for their commitments.

4/ All regions make public candidacies at least two months before the elections to allow for proper consideration of candidates.

5/ All ECOSOC members vote (and be encouraged to vote) only for candidates with positive track records in regard to civil society access and participation. Candidates could be assessed in regard to indicators such as support for relevant UN resolutions, such as those on civil society space and human rights defenders; on responses to cases of intimidation and reprisals; and on national level initiatives to safeguard civic space, press freedom – online as offline – and the right to defend human rights.

6/ ECOSOC members should consider introducing term limits for membership of the Committee on NGOs, among other reforms encouraging openness and accountability. As with other UN bodies, states should be required to leave the Committee for a specific interval of time after serving for a maximum agreed period. Term limits would encourage greater diversity in membership over time and encourage states to step up as candidates.

The Committee on NGOs is entrusted with the task of facilitating civil society access so that the expertise and experience of civil society partners can enrich and inform UN debates. It needs members that are committed to fulfilling the Committee’s mandate in a fair, transparent, non-discriminatory, expeditious and apolitical manner. It falls on all member states – as potential candidates and / or electors – to ensure that the Committee membership is fit for purpose.

Please elect to stand up for civil society!

Yours sincerely,

In addition to the letter, individuals can undertake additional steps. You can engage with States on all the campaign objectives!

  • On competitive elections and voting with integrity: See here for a model email for sending to those who get to vote, ECOSOC members.  Check here whether your State is going to vote. 
  • On candidates: Does your state have a positive record on promoting civil society but isn’t running? See here for a model email to encourage them. 

https://ishr.ch/action/campaigns/openthedoor2ngos/

Working Together

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/16/letter-members-uns-general-assembly-regarding-ecosoc-committee-ngos

The International Service for Human Rights publishes its Strategic Framework for Human Rights Defenders 2021 – 2025

January 18, 2021

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS are people who promote and protect the human rights of others, whether individually or in association with others. They are people who act with humanity, serve humanity and bring out the best in humanity. For all of these defenders, international and regional human rights mechanisms can protect and amplify their work and impact on the ground. This strategy has been developed in a context characterised by uncertainty and change, including a worsening climate emergency, a global pandemic and associated financial crisis, deepening inequalities, worsening authoritarianism and populism, as well as the erosion of multilateralism, and the rule of law. It is also a context characterised by increased awareness and action at the local, national, regional and international levels. Human rights defenders are mobilising around issues such as environmental justice, racial justice, gender equality, freedom of For many defenders working in restrictive national contexts, regional and international mechanisms may be the only platforms available. For these mechanisms to be effective, however, they need to be credible, accessible and responsive to defenders, providing them with a safe and influential platform from which to demand justice, push for accountability, and contribute to positive change. freedom of expression and association, access to information, democratic representation and participation, the redistribution of economic and political power, and state and corporate accountability for intersecting human rights violations and abuses.

On many of these issues, we are at an inflection point; a point at which the work of human rights defenders is perhaps more imperilled but more important than ever. For example:

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES, whose knowledge is vital to live more responsibly and sustainably, are being killed and displaced for their work to prevent exploitation and to protect precious forests and oceans.

STUDENTS AND WORKERS mobilising online and offline to call for democratic freedoms and protest against authoritarianism are being surveilled, harassed and criminalised under abusive counter- terrorism laws.

SOCIAL MOVEMENTS taking to the streets to demand racial justice are being met with disproportionate force from police and security forces.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS are being detained and tortured in retaliation for their work to challenge patriarchy and demand an end to discrimination and violence.

AT-RISK MIGRANT ACTIVISTS AND HUMANITARIAN WORKERS who support migrant rights are being criminalised and prosecuted as threats to national security.

The freedom, safety and work of these and many other human rights defenders is vital to build a better future for all. The purpose of this Strategic Framework is to guide the effective pursuit of ISHR’s Vision, Mission and Values, and the achievement of ISHR’s Overall Goals. It articulates Strategic Goals and a framework for identifying priorities, and maps an organisational structure and working methods that will ensure agility and sustainability in a fast changing world. The strategy was developed through a highly consultative process over a 10 month period with extensive and invaluable inputs from human rights defenders, NGOs working at the national, regional and inter-national levels, human rights experts, and diplomatic and financial partners, as well as ISHR Board and staff. It is complemented with a results framework, and implemented through an annual activity plan and budget, and reviewed and updated on a biennial basis to ensure it remains relevant, responsive, ambitious and agenda setting. The framework provides the structure for our planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning process.

Sweden’s aid to Cambodia refocuses on civil society

June 17, 2020
Sweden’s Ambassador to Cambodia Bjorn Haggmark (left) meets with Kem Sokha, leader of the dissolved main opposition CNRP, at Sokha’s home, in this photograph posted to Sokha’s Facebook page on May 19, 2020.
The Cambodia Daily

On 13 June 2020 this newspaper reported that Sweden said it would phase out bilateral development funding to Cambodia by the middle of next year in order to focus aid on promoting human rights, democracy and rule of law in the country following severe rights restrictions in recent years.

In a press statement on Friday, the Swedish Embassy in Phnom Penh said its government decided on Thursday to shift its funding away from bilateral aid to the Cambodian government and toward programs that aim to develop democracy in the Asia Pacific region, which would also aid Cambodia.

The statement said Sweden would still support civil society, human rights defenders and democracy advocates in Cambodia, though it did not clarify which organizations may qualify for assistance.

In full: https://vodenglish.news/sweden-to-refocus-cambodia-aid-due-to-rights-concerns/

https://english.cambodiadaily.com/politics/sweden-to-refocus-cambodia-aid-due-to-rights-concerns-165383/

The Human Rights House concept

May 30, 2020

Human Rights Houses are coalitions of civil society organisations working together to advance human rights at home and abroad.

The Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) works with civil society organisations to establish and support Human Rights Houses as bases for human rights activities. While member organisations are often co-located under one roof, the structure and make-up of House reflects the local needs and local context. This allows Houses to provide relevant benefits to a local human rights community as a whole and enhance the national capacity to uphold and protect human rights and independent civil society.

HRHF connects Human Rights Houses, building an international network for change and freedoms, and today, the network extends across 11 countries with 17 Houses.

Membership in Human Rights House provides solidarity, as well as opportunities for collaboration and networking. Working together, member organisations have greater opportunity to influence the human rights agenda. House members are also able to more effectively pool resources and benefit from reduced administration costs. Finally, in a time of closing space for civil society and attacks against human rights defenders, House membership offers a level of security and protection from increased threats and harassment.

HRHF’s Human Rights House concept is built around the enduring values of solidarity and partnership. It remains as important today as when the first House opened its doors in Oslo in 1989.

While each Human Rights House is unique, all houses are collaborative, independent, relevant, sustainable, effective, and united.

Human Rights Houses: collaborative, independent, relevant, sustainable, united

To find out more:

General enquiries, Human Rights House Foundation info@humanrightshouse.org

Tengku Emma – spokesperson for Rohingyas – attacked on line in Malaysia

April 28, 2020
In an open letter in the Malay Mail of 28 April 2020 over 50 civil society organisations (CSO) and human rights activists, expressed their shock and condemnation about the mounting racist and xenophobic attacks in Malaysia against the Rohingya people and especially the targeted cyber attacks against Tengku Emma Zuriana Tengku Azmi, the representative of the European Rohingya Council’s (https://www.theerc.eu/about/) in Malaysia, and other concerned individuals for expressing their opinion and support for the rights of the Rohingya people seeking refuge in Malaysia.

[On 21 April 2020, Tengku Emma had her letter regarding her concern over the pushback of the Rohingya boat to sea published in the media. Since then she has received mobbed attacks and intimidation online, especially on Facebook.  The attacks, targeted her gender, particularly, with some including calls for rape. They were also intensely racist, both specifically targeted at her as well as the Rohingya. The following forms of violence have been documented thus far: 

● Doxxing – a gross violation by targeted research into her personal information and publishing it online, including her NRIC, phone number, car number plate, personal photographs, etc.; 

● Malicious distribution of a photograph of her son, a minor, and other personal information, often accompanied by aggressive, racist or sexist comments; 

● Threat of rape and other physical harm, and; 

● Distribution of fake and sexually explicit images. 

….One Facebook post that attacked her was shared more than 18,000 times since 23 April 2020. 

….We are deeply concerned and raise the question if there is indeed a concerted effort to spread inhumane, xenophobic and widespread hate that seem be proliferating in social media spaces on the issue of Rohingya seeking refuge in Malaysia, as a tool to divert attention from the current COVID-19 crisis response and mitigation.
When the attacks were reported to Facebook by Tengku Emma, no action was taken. Facebook responded by stating that the attacks did not amount to a breach of their Community Standards. With her information being circulated, accompanied by calls of aggression and violence, Tengku Emma was forced to deactivate her Facebook account. She subsequently lodged a police report in fear for her own safety and that of her family. 

There is, to date, no clear protection measures from either the police or Facebook regarding her reports. 

It is clear that despite direct threats to her safety and the cumulative nature of the attacks, current reporting mechanisms on Facebook are inadequate to respond, whether in timely or decisive ways, to limit harm. It is also unclear to what extent the police or the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) are willing and able to respond to attacks such as this. 

It has been seven (7) days since Tengku Emma received her first attack, which has since ballooned outwards to tens of thousands. The only recourse she seems to have is deactivating her Facebook account, while the proponents of hatred and xenophobia continue to act unchallenged. This points to the systemic gaps in policy and laws in addressing xenophobia, online gender-based violence and hate speech, and even where legislation exists, implementation is far from sufficient. ]

Our demands: 

It must be stressed that the recent emergence and reiteration of xenophobic rhetoric and pushback against the Rohingya, including those already in Malaysia as well as those adrift at sea seeking asylum from Malaysia, is inhumane and against international norms and standards. The current COVID-19 pandemic is not an excuse for Malaysia to abrogate its duty as part of the international community. 

1.         The Malaysian government must, with immediate effect, engage with the United Nations, specifically the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), and civil society organisations to find a durable solution in support of the Rohingya seeking asylum in Malaysia on humanitarian grounds. 

2.         We also call on Malaysia to implement the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, through a multistakeholder framework that promotes freedom of expression based on the principles of gender equality, non-discrimination and diversity.

3. Social media platforms, meanwhile, have the obligation to review and improve their existing standards and guidelines based on the lived realities of women and marginalised communities, who are often the target of online hate speech and violence, including understanding the cumulative impact of mobbed attacks and how attacks manifest in local contexts.

4. We must end all xenophobic and racist attacks and discrimination against Rohingya who seek asylum in Malaysia; and stop online harassment, bullying and intimidation against human rights defenders working on the Rohingya crisis.

For more posts on content moderation: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/content-moderation/

https://www.malaymail.com/news/what-you-think/2020/04/28/civil-society-orgs-stand-in-solidarity-with-women-human-rights-defender-ten/1861015

International Women’s Day 2020: Council of Europe on gender equality

March 9, 2020
Let us all rise to the challenge of making a world where gender equality is a reality

For International Women’s Day 2020, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović issued the following statement: [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/09/council-of-europes-dunja-mijatovic-presents-her-first-annual-report/]

“.. it is saddening to note that most of the challenges identified 25 years ago are still present in Europe today. In some areas progress has stalled due to persistent structural obstacles and an increasing backlash, combined with the lack of a sufficient and robust state response.

Violence against women as a serious human rights violation remains a bitter reality for too many women in all Council of Europe member states. Notwithstanding the recent movements against sexual violence, huge challenges still lie along the path towards obtaining justice for women victims who have the courage to speak out. They may even face disbelief and stigmatisation by the very people who should be providing them with assistance and protection. With the rising popularity of social media platforms, sexist hate speech has acquired a worrying dimension, providing a new breeding ground for violence against women. Furthermore, the backlash against women’s rights, upheld by ultra-conservative movements, is particularly disturbing as it endangers the progress towards gender equality that has been achieved so far. This has a particularly negative impact on girls’ and women’s autonomous and informed decision-making about their bodies, health and sexuality and hinders their access to affordable, safe and good-quality reproductive health services. We have to remain vigilant to prevent any such rolling back of women’s rights. Special attention should also be given to the protection and promotion of the rights of girls and women who may experience multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination, such as women living in poverty, rural women, migrant women, Roma women, women with disabilities and LBTI women.

This dark picture is, however, brightened by the image of thousands of women of all ages and backgrounds who, regardless of the attacks, the threats and the harassment they may face, stand up against violence and for the full realisation of gender equality. Vigilance against stagnation and retrogression in women’s rights is ensured by their mobilisation as they peacefully demonstrate throughout Europe. I firmly stand by them and salute their courage and determination. In this respect, I reiterate the essential role played in the upholding of women’s rights by women human rights defenders, who are often at the core of such mobilisation. Not only do they provide assistance and shelter to victims of gender-based violence and combat discrimination against women, they also constantly monitor the situation, while holding authorities accountable for fulfilling their human rights obligations.

However, the fight for the realisation of women’s rights also relies on each of us. I invite society as a whole, from youth to the elderly, women and men, all acting together, to speak up against violence and discrimination. We all have a key role to play as agents of change.

Whilst I perceive society’s mobilisation as vital, we should not forget that citizens’ initiatives cannot in themselves remedy the continuous lack of a strong and official response by state authorities to the challenges currently affecting the full enjoyment of women’s rights. Council of Europe member states have the primary obligation to effectively uphold women’s rights. Against this background, I urge member states to support this civic mobilisation by taking concrete action. To this end they should: firstly, ensure the ratification and full and effective implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention); secondly, promote gender equality and combat sexism in all spheres of life; and thirdly, provide an enabling environment for all women human rights defenders by removing all obstacles to their work. We should all strongly advocate for the full realisation of women’s rights and rise to the challenge of making a world where gender equality is a reality. Fighting for women’s rights is fighting for everybody’s human rights and benefits society as a whole.

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/let-us-all-rise-to-the-challenge-of-making-a-world-where-gender-equality-is-a-reality

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

Annual reports 2019: CIVICUS Global Report

December 27, 2019

The end of a year usually means looking back and many human rights NGOs issue reports of this kind. Here is the first by CIVICUS, through its Monitor:

Civic space – space for civil society – is the bedrock of any open and democratic society. When civic space is open, citizens and civil society organisations (CSOs) are able to organise, participate and communicate without hindrance. When people are free to participate, they are able to claim their rights and influence the political and social structures around them. This can only happen when a state holds by its duty to protect its citizens and respectsand facilitates their fundamental rights to associate, assemble peacefully and freely express their views andopinions. These are the three key rights that civil society depends upon.

The CIVICUS Monitor analyses the extent to which these three civil society rights are being respected and upheld, and the degree to which states areprotecting civil society. In an attempt to capture these dynamics on a global scale, over 20 organisations from around the world have joined forces on the CIVICUS Monitor to provide an evidence base for action to improve civic space. In order to draw comparisons at the global level and track trends over time, the CIVICUS Monitor produces civic space ratings for 196 countries. Each country’s civic space is rated in one of five categories – open, narrowed, obstructed, repressed, or closed – based on a methodology that combines several sources of data on the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. Civic space updates from our research partners contain qualitative, narrative information related to the situation for civil society in a country. This qualitative information is directed by a set of guiding questions and the resulting data is gathered from a variety of primary and secondary sources. In many cases, country-specific updates have come directly from national civil society themselves. (Methodology: In countries where it does not have a research partner, the CIVICUS Monitor relies on a variety of other sources produced at the national, regional and international levels to arrive at country ratings. These civic space updates are then triangulated, verified and tagged by the CIVICUS team. Together, the research partners posted 536 civic space updates from 1 October 2018 to 11 November 2019 which form the basis for the analysis presented in this report. For the time period assessed, these civic space updates cover 153 countries. This report analyses trends and developments since its previous report, published in November 2018. As well as global-level trends, it analyses trends in five regions: Africa, Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia and Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Following an update of ratings in November 2019, the CIVICUS Monitor continues to tell a worrying story. The data shows that there are 24 countries with closed civic space, 38 countries with repressed space and 49 with obstructed space. Just 43 countries receive an open rating, and 42 countries are rated narrowed. Since our previous report, published in November 2018, space for activism has reduced: only three per cent of the world’s population now live in countries with open civic space. Nine countries have changed their civic space rating since our November 2018 update: two have improved their ratings, while seven have worsened. This indicates that repression of peaceful civic activism continues to be a widespread crisis for civil society in most parts of the world. Worrying signs for civic space continue to be seen in Asia, where two countries, Brunei and India, dropped their rating from obstructed to repressed. Given the size and global role of India, the decline in the quality of its civic space must be of particular concern. One country in the Pacific – Australia – dropped from an open to narrowed rating, partially due to increased restrictions on the freedom of expression and government surveillance

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/06/20-human-rights-defenders-under-attack-one-for-each-year-of-the-declaration/

Click to access GlobalReport2019.pdf