Posts Tagged ‘diplomacy’

Putting the ‘record straight’ on the UN Human Rights Council

June 19, 2017

Earlier this month I referred to a speech by Ms Haley about the USA considering withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/06/07/us-ambassador-nikki-haley-on-what-has-to-change-in-the-un-human-rights-council/]. A lot has been written about this but a good, concise piece was in the Economist of 3 June 2017. In particular getting the ‘facts’ right about the relative improvements in recent years:

..Yet the council is a lot better than the commission was, and is still improving. The most important difference is the system of “universal periodic reviews” that all members of the UN are subjected to, at a rate of about 40 a year. The number of special rapporteurs, most of them truly independent, has risen, too. Since 2011 there have been investigations into human-rights abuses in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Libya and North Korea, as well as Gaza. The council has steadfastly monitored the horrors in Syria and played a helpful role in Myanmar, Colombia and (after a poor start) Sri Lanka.

The disproportionate focus on Israel is lessening. From 2010 to 2016 only one special session was held on Israel/Palestine, down from six in the previous four years, says the council’s spokesman. The share of time spent on Item 7 has halved, to 8%.

The quality of members may improve, too, as regional groups are a bit less willing to shield their own. Last year Russia lost its seat, receiving 32 votes fewer than Hungary, and two fewer than Croatia. In the past few years Belarus, Iran, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Syria have failed to be elected or have withdrawn their candidacies. None of the nine worst human-rights offenders, as ranked by Freedom House, a Washington-based NGO, (Syria, Eritrea, North Korea, Uzbekistan, South Sudan, Turkmenistan, Somalia, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea) has ever been elected to the council. In a telling moment in 2014, a forcefully critical resolution on Sri Lanka was passed.

Things started to change in 2010, says Marc Limon, a British former official in the council, who now heads the Universal Rights Group, a Geneva-based think-tank, when a clutch of independent-minded countries, including Mauritius, Mexico and Morocco, began to vote more freely, often for American-backed resolutions. Before then, members of the 57-strong Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) and the African Group (whose members often overlapped and later reconfigured as the Like-Minded Group) “virtually controlled the council”, he says. Anti-Westerners have recently been defeated or forced to compromise on several issues. A resolution to exempt blasphemy from free-speech protections was fended off against the wishes of the Like-Minded. The same group failed to block a resolution to appoint an independent expert to investigate discrimination against gay and transgender people.

American diplomacy under Barack Obama was a big reason for the shift….

Source: The UN Human Rights Council will be weaker if America leaves

DiploHack 2016 Geneva: a short video report

March 1, 2016

Read the rest of this entry »

UN General Assembly adopts Resolution on human rights defenders with increased majority

December 18, 2015

For the record, the Resolution on the protection of human rights defenders was adopted by the plenary of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday 17 December 2015, with 127 States voting in favour (i.e 10 more than in the Third Committee!). See: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/05/follow-up-on-the-human-rights-defenders-resolution-in-the-un/.

127 States supported the resolution, including South Africa, which had voted against it in the Third Committee, while 14 States (Burundi, Cambodia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe) continue to vote against it. This list is not surprising (they figure regularly in this blog), although one would have hoped that Myanmar (after the elections) would have had a change of heart while Nigeria’s position remains a mystery.

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow up on the Human Rights Defenders Resolution in the UN

December 5, 2015

Last week I wrote about how the UN Resolution on HRDs did in the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/unfortunately-the-un-voted-on-the-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders/] and how South Africa has turned around [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/south-africa-does-about-turn-on-un-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders/]. The date of the vote in the Plenary is not yet confirmed but is likely to be 18 or 21 December. The voting record is available: http://www.un.org/en/ga/third/70/docs/voting_sheets/L.46.Rev.1.pdf

Fourteen States voted no on the resolution (China, Russia, Syria, Burundi, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, North Korea, South Africa, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan). In some of these countries civil society has expressed disappointment. e.g.

In Pakistan the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in a statement issued on Tuesday, said: “At the same time, HRCP must express alarm and great disappointment that Pakistan chose to be one of the 14 nations that voted against the resolution.“ “While regretting Pakistan’s decision to oppose the resolution, the civil society is entitled to ask what rights defenders have done to deserve this step-motherly treatment. It is unfortunate that the government wishes to see civil society as an adversary. The civil society cannot, and must not, surrender its role as a watchdog for people’s rights because that constitutes an entitlement, by virtue of citizens’ social contract with the state, and not as a concession” “The HRCP also stresses people’s right to know through an explanation in parliament the reason why the government chose to deny the need for protection for HRDs, who include, besides human rights groups, journalists, lawyers, political and social activists.Read the rest of this entry »

South Africa does ‘about-turn’ on UN resolution on human rights defenders

November 30, 2015

In relation to my post of 26 November [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/unfortunately-the-un-voted-on-the-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders/] there is an interesting development. South-African media, NGOs and human rights defenders (e.g. http://www.timeslive.co.za/thetimes/2015/11/27/We-join-the-bullies) criticized heavily the position taken by Government in voting against. Today Barry Bateman reports that the South African government appears to have done an about-turn on its position and will now support the resolution when the matter is referred to the full General Assembly in the next few days.  The Department of International Relations says the Africa group of members’ states had about 39 proposed amendments to the resolution following intense negotiations. The department raised concerns around the definition of a human rights defender, the responsibilities placed on sovereign parliaments and issues of NGO funding.  It says the resolution’s main sponsor introduced oral amendments at the last-minute without informing South Africa.  These amendments rendered the country’s concerns redundant.

India‘s Yes-vote was circumscribed by its statement that “stressed” that it does not feel it necessary to not create “any new obligations at national level”. Counterview  of 28 November takes issue with this citing examples of where human rights defenders in India are still missing protection. [see also: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/yes-minister-it-human-rights-issue/india-uk-narendra-modi-david-cameron-visit-human-rights]

In the meantime Khoo Ying Hooi writing in a post in the Malaysian Insider of 30 November welcomes the Yes-vote by Malaysia, but shares the skepticism of many local human rights defenders that it is mostly window-dressing way. (“Malaysia has in many instances not walked the talk when it comes to international commitments on human rights affairs. One glaring example is their lack of commitment to the peer-review mechanism, Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the United Nations Human Rights Council. At this point of time, Malaysia’s adoption of the UN resolution in protecting human rights defenders does not reflect the reality back home. It was obvious that it is, at least for now, nothing more than diplomatic window dressing. While a UN resolution such as this would help in many ways, human rights protection must start at home.“)

Sources: Govt does ‘about-turn’ on its human rights defenders position

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/opinion/khoo-ying-hooi/article/malaysias-vote-on-protecting-human-rights-defenders-diplomatic-window-dress

http://www.counterview.net/2015/11/india-doesnt-need-new-legal-mechanism.html

Will the UN today adopt the strongest possible resolution on Human Rights Defenders? – ask over 100 NGOs

November 25, 2015

In a letter addressed to Member States, well over a hundred 100 international and national NGOs urged Members States to reject amendments intended to weaken the resolution on protection of human rights defenders, which will be adopted today, Wednesday, 25 November 2015 in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee.
The resolution, as drafted, includes robust protection measures for human rights defenders, including the need to combat impunity for violence against human rights defenders and to release defenders who have been arbitrarily detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms. With the recent attacks on human rights defenders in places such as Burundi where the prominent activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa and members of his family have been systematically attacked, it is time for UN Member States to take strong action to prevent and punish reprisals. However, amendments, tabled by the African Group, China, and Iran seek to dramatically weaken the resolution on human rights defenders and delete entire paragraphs regarding the need for their protection.At a time when the work of human rights defenders has become extraordinarily dangerous and increasingly criminalized in many states, it is important for Member States to send a strong message on the need to protect human rights defenders.

The text of the draft follows in toto:

SUPPORT THE DRAFT RESOLUTION ON RECOGNIZING THE ROLE OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AND THE NEED FOR THEIR PROTECTION

Excellencies,

We write to you as a group of human rights defenders and civil society organizations located across the world working at national, regional and international levels. We write in regard to the draft resolution entitled ”Recognizing the role of human rights defenders and the need for their protection“ currently being advanced in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, and due to be adopted on Wednesday 25 November 2015.

We urge your government to support the abovementioned resolution and to reject amendments, tabled by the African Group, China and Iran, designed to weaken the text.

Among other things, the proposed amendments remove references to the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, delete or weaken language regarding the need for their protection, and delete whole paragraphs related to the need to combat impunity for violations and abuses against defenders and the need to ensure adequate procedural safeguards in judicial proceedings. A call for the release of defenders detained or imprisoned in violation of international human rights law, for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms, is also proposed for deletion. In addition, the amendments introduce notions that States should only support and enable their work ‘as appropriate’, rather than in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other obligations arising under international human rights law

Human rights defenders make a vital contribution to the promotion and respect for human rights, democratic processes, securing and maintaining peace and security, and advancing development in our countries. However, in doing this work, defenders often face a range of violations and abuses at the hands of State and non-State actors. States must acknowledge the role of defenders and the specific risks they face, and commit to ensuring their protection.

Seventeen years ago, all States agreed to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, including State obligations to protect all human rights defenders working on all human rights. This commitment has been reiterated and built upon in subsequent General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions. We are therefore extremely concerned to hear that the abovementioned delegations have objected to several core elements of the draft resolution.

Based on consultations with over 500 defenders from 111 States, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders found that in the vast majority of States the situation for human rights defenders is deteriorating in law and in practice. He concluded that a lack of awareness regarding their vital and legitimate work, combined with a lack of political commitment and weak institutional arrangements for their protection, is placing them, their organisations and families at elevated risk.

 

The resolution as drafted reflects a number of these findings and makes a series of recommendations for States and other actors. Importantly, this year’s text includes a key focus on the implementation of the resolution itself. This will hopefully prompt States and other actors to move beyond rhetoric in addressing the challenges faced by human rights defenders and take action to ensure the implementation of the calls in the resolution.

We urge all States to live up to their human rights commitments by supporting this resolution, by rejecting amendments designed to weaken it, and by taking concrete steps to protect human rights defenders.

Sincerely, (names of the NGOs)

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/reprisals-states-must-r… 

What awaits Xi Jinping in London when it comes to human rights defenders?

October 20, 2015

Today’s state visit by the Chinese President Xi Jinping to the UK has led to considerable attention to the issue of human rights defenders.

Under the nice title “Man Threatens State Banquet” former AI staff member Richard Reoch posted a blog on the Huffington Post (UK) on 19 October 2015:

The Queen will host the President of China as her guest of honour. Some 170 guests will attend in full formal attire and raise their glasses to welcome him. But the gracious decorum has been threatened by one of those who will attend. He attaches great importance to British values, and is proposing to talk about them during the banquet. The Daily Mail this week warned: “Jeremy Corbyn may embarrass the Queen by raising human rights abuses with the Chinese president at a state banquet next week“.

Human rights are no longer a “top priority” for the government, Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, told MPs just before Chancellor George Osborne visited China. Leading a trade delegation, the chancellor remained mute on the country’s human rights record. Sir Simon said that human rights no longer had the “profile” within his department that they had “in the past”.

 

It is these [Magna Carta] values that Jeremy Corbyn, now Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, is seeking to raise with the Chinese President during his state visit to London next week.

…China’s human rights record, not only in Tibet, but across its territory remains a cause for deep concern. A recent Amnesty International report cited continuing violations on freedoms of religious belief, expression, association and assembly. It also cited the the use of torture and the country’s lucrative trade in torture equipment. The death penalty remains in place; last year alone 2,400 people were executed. At particular risk were “human rights defenders” it said. They “continued to risk harassment, arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and torture and other ill-treatment for their legitimate human rights work.”

So what do those courageous Chinese citizens who are challenging their government — one of the most powerful states in the world – expect from us in Britain, the home of Magna Carta? That we would be afraid of embarrassing the Queen and her guest – their president – by using rude words like “torture” and “ill-treatment” over dinner?

Jeremy Corbyn’s answer is clear. He has been an embarrassing figure most of his life, speaking out on human rights issues worldwide, as seen below.

2015-10-16-1445018027-332881-croppedfullsizerender.jpg

“I have huge admiration for human rights defenders all over the world. I’ve met hundreds of these very brave people during my lifetime working on international issues,” Jeremy Corbyn told the recent Labour Party conference.

“I’ve been standing up for human rights, challenging oppressive regimes for 30 years as a backbench MP. Just because I’ve become the leader of this party, I’m not going to stop standing up on those issues or being that activist,” he declared.

Mr Corbyn’s office has confirmed that he is seeking a meeting with the Chinese delegation and has not ruled out bringing the issue up at the state dinner.

He may be standing up for a set of centuries’ old British values that are no longer the currency of government.

Recently, the Prime Minister agreed not to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama “in the foreseeable future” after he angered the Chinese by meeting the Tibetan leader in 2012. Last week, His Holiness was asked by The Spectator magazine what he would say to Mr Cameron if the two did meet. “Money, money, money,” said His Holiness. “That’s what this is about. Where is morality?

You can follow Richard Reoch on Twitter

The Independent refers to the open letter (signed by Amnesty International UK, the Tibet Society and Tibet Relief Fund, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Students for a Free Tibet, Uighur activists and other Tibetan and human rights organisations) sent to Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss Chinese human rights violations in a “principled, forceful, and specific way”. Downing Street have pledged that “nothing would be off the table” when Cameron welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping amid accusations that ministers are playing down worries about the Beijing government.

The Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman insisted that China’s record on human rights and claims it initiated cyber-attacks on other countries would be on the agenda during detailed talks this week. The Prime Minister has also pledged to personally raise the issue of subsidized Chinese steel during talks with the Chinese leader.

Click here for full version of the Open Letter.

A blog post written by AI staff (Two Versions of China: Repression and Resistance). The repression is represented by the government and the Party and the post metes out details on that.

The resistance aspect in the this post is represented by a human rights defender. Her name was Cao Shunli. She died in police custody on 14 March 2014.  For more on her, see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/cao-shunli/

Today, the UK is faced with two versions of China. Choosing Xi Jinping’s China, the UK will be bought and fooled on its knees. Choosing Cao Shunli’s China, the UK will stand in solidarity with the people of China, which will eventually also benefit the people of Britain.

http://www.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/countdown-china/two-versions-china-repression-and-resistance

How utterly wrong a Chinese newspaper commentary can be…

May 14, 2015

Zhu Junqing, writing in the Shanghai Daily of 13 May 2015, is the prime example of how distorted the Chinese government’s view of the international human rights regime is. Under the title: “U.S. needs to work on own human rights record first before blaming others“, the author quite rightly points to the UN Human Rights Council findings on 11 May and the comments by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, which conclude that there a lot of human right problems remain unresolved in the USA (including excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies, racial, religious and sex discrimination, Guantanamo Bay detention, migrant rights, environmental issues and counterterrorism practices). Also he recalls correctly that the United States is one of the two countries in the world that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and is reluctant on other international instruments.

But then the article draws exactly the wrong conclusion. Instead of appreciating the UN’s courage to tackle a superpower, it call the USA the “ultimate human rights judge” (why??) and concludes that this “self-proclaimed human rights watchdog, needs to examine itself critically and improve its own human rights record before [!] blaming other countries for their violations”. Since “no country is perfect in its human rights record,” as Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying put it, “any country with human rights defects should work hard to resolve its own problems and improve its own human rights record before casting the first stone”.

Yep, that it the solution! Nobody criticizes anybody and we are all happy. The more obvious and consistent solution does not even get mentioned: IF the USA can be criticized, WHY is China so fearful and retaliates regularly against human rights defenders? [e.g. https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/china-in-the-un-human-rights-council-manages-to-silence-cao-shunli-as-well-as-ngos/ ].

China’s own extraordinary sensitivity to ‘interference’ of any level into what it considers its domestic affairs is well-known. I touched upon this hot’ topic’ in my own 2011 article “The international human rights movement: not perfect, but a lot better than many governments think” in the book ‘NGOs in China and Europe’ (exceptionally also published in Chinese!): Yuwen Li (ed), Ashgate, 2011, pp 287-304 (ISBN: 978-1-4094-1959-4).

Commentary: U.S. needs to work on own human rights record first before blaming others | Shanghai Daily.

Czechs set example: an activist human rights foreign policy

January 23, 2015

Vaclav Havel. Picture: EPA

Vaclav Havel. Picture: EPA
In an opinion piece in BDLive of 22 January 2015, John Stremlau, discusses the outcome of an International Conference “Foreign Policy on Human Rights for the 21st Century” held in Prague, Czech Republic, and draws lessons for other countries , especially South Africa. Although the article implicitly overstates the human rights credentials of the BRICS nations, it makes interesting weekend reading:

“SOUTH Africans are not the only ones debating the role of human rights in foreign policy. Twenty-five years after Czechs achieved their peaceful democratic revolution, they too are debating whether their foreign policy is contrary to the ideals of Vaclav Havel and the others who risked their lives to secure freedom at home and influence abroad as a human rights leader.

To air these issues, the Czech foreign ministry recently convened an international conference, titled Foreign Policy on Human Rights for the 21st Century. Several hundred Czechs attended and there was extensive national media coverage. Eighteen foreign human rights activists and practitioners were invited as panellists, from the US, European Union, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

In his opening address, the foreign minister suggested there could be alternative and attractive ways to frame Czechs’ post-Havel human rights foreign policy — one, he said, that would be less identified with US selective use of force to secure human rights. As an alternative, he suggested closer alignment with Brics nations, which he suggested were wisely emphasising social and economic over political and civil rights.

Overall, the proceedings revealed no disagreement over the enduring universality of basic human rights, with political and civil rights as necessary preconditions for realising all other rights and frequent references to the importance of the Czech example as an inspiration to others and the basis for its international influence and leadership.

Surprisingly little was said about the advantages or dangers for human rights of Chinese autocratic capitalism. The sharpest criticisms were of the threats to Czech national security from Russia, including abetting of human rights abuses in nearby former Soviet republics.

The controversial role of human rights in US foreign policy, however, got the most attention.

Several speakers complained about US “double standards” in human rights interventions; an over-reliance on military means; the disregard for human rights in the use of torture, drones, and detention without trial in combating terrorism; and a culture of impunity that allows even those found guilty to avoid punishment.

On this, too, Czech and South African foreign policies converge.

South African participants would have likely found the final panel most relevant, especially the views of former struggle veterans, who showed dismay over the present government’s less assertive defence of human rights defenders, in China and elsewhere.

SA does not, of course, face a security threat comparable to the one the Czechs face from Russia, but the panellists still hold that a more activist human rights foreign policy is a better political defence than accommodation.

With the US absorbed with overcoming the consequences of its past misadventures in Iraq and the Middle East, the Czechs seek partners beyond Western Europe.

The Czech foreign ministry may have envisioned a different outcome, but most Czech speakers appear to be seeking, above all, compatible and reliable democratic partners, whose human rights foreign policies are more in line with those of the human rights heroes who once risked their lives to transform the then Czechoslovakia. Such partnerships would be valuable in shoring up national commitments to human rights in domestic and foreign policy. But it was argued that government policies in support of human rights lacked sufficient coherence at home and abroad.

SA and the Czech Republic may have different national interests but they do share vital values and are facing challenges in adapting them to conditions at home and abroad.

Perhaps the Department of International Relations and Co-operation should consult the Czech foreign ministry about convening in Pretoria a 2015 sequel to the international conference just held in Prague, and with a similar agenda, although instead of focusing on a dialogue between Europe and the US, SA might include a topic on the Brics in human rights dialogue.

The Czechs set a good example by adopting a broad agenda and inviting a diverse array of opinions, and allowing a free-wheeling debate, attributes South Africans appreciate and which might advance a debate here of the importance of foreign policy on human rights.”

John Stremlau is visiting professor in the Department of International Relations at Wits University.

Czechs set example for SA on human rights | Opinion & Analysis | BDlive.

Training Programme on how to work in the UN Human Rights Council: 2 – 6 February

January 14, 2015

The Graduate Institute and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights organise jointly a training course specially designed for diplomates and NGO representatives in the UN Human Rights Council. The classes are on 2 – 6 February 2015 in the evenings from 15h30 to 19h15 in the Villa Barton, Geneva (final timings to be confirmed). The fee is  CHF 950. – (excludes housing).

Excerpts from the brochure:

Multilateral diplomacy in the advancement of Human Rights (primarily through the Human Rights Council) is one of the main activities of International Geneva.  Established in March 2006, the Council is now a well-established mechanism of the United Nations and is approaching its 10th year–yet the individuals who engage at the Council sessions often change, and they often juggle a larger portfolio of responsibilities.Human Rights Council

Everyone benefits when the Council functions better, and the council functions better when individuals arrive fully prepared to contribute at their best.

This reflects the non-partisan spirit in which this training has been designed.  Preparing for high-level professional engagements requires a deep understanding the rules of the council–as well as the personal acumen to advocate and negotiate with good judgment and strong communications skills–all of which comes from familiarity, practice and individual preparation for the Council sessions.

In order for delegates and representatives to better tackle the substantive and practical challenges ahead, we are offering this training program for individuals who aspire to perform more effectively in a multilateral context.  The programme is designed to enhance personal skills in multilateral diplomacy, with a particular focus on the human rights context.

Learning Themes

While taking examples on the work of the HRC and its special procedures, the training will highlight some of the prevailing substantive issues as well as the behaviors of the Council, in order to teach participants to better navigate in their aspirant work.  The training will be organised around the following themes:

Functioning of the Human Rights Council:

The phenomenon of working within and across “groupings”:

Leadership in the Human Rights Council:

Learning outcomes & skills-building

  • Functioning and rules of the Human Rights Council
  • Chairing formal and informal multilateral meetings
  • Drafting skills (in the Human Rights context)
  • Negotiation and mediation skills & techniques
  • Oral communications skills for public speaking “on the record” in the human rights context
  • Advocacy and lobbying techniques

Methodology

The training will combine some theory, background and insights (about negotiations, the HRC and its functional history) with applied skills and techniques–including best practices and opportunities to enhance personal effectiveness.  Sessions will be designed to address cross-cutting issues and will build participant skills through simulation exercises, small group breakouts, and role-playing.

Instructors will include those from the Graduate Institute and Geneva Academy, as well as actors working with (or in the domain) of the Human Rights Council.

http://graduateinstitute.ch/fr/home/executive/training-workshops/multilateralism-winter/multilateralism_winter_programme.html.