Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Defenders’

Lawyers key to the rule of law – even China agrees but only lip service

June 26, 2019

Lawyers have an essential role in upholding the Constitution and realising the rule of law – at the Human Rights Council 41st session this week, even China agreed. So why does the Chinese government continue to harass, intimidate and persecute lawyers who defend human rights ask 4 NGOs on 25 June 2019: Lawyers for Lawyers, International Bar Association, International Service for Human Rights and Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada. In a joint statement the NGOs call on the UN expert on independence of judges and lawyers, and the Council and its members, to press for accountability.

‘The Chinese delegation recognised the need for balance in regulation between lawyers’ and judges’ rights, on the one hand, and their professional responsibilities, on the other hand’, says Sarah M Brooks, Asia Advocate at ISHR. ‘But it is hard to take this claim seriously, as Chinese authorities continue to adopt  abusive laws and measures, using them as a “sledgehammer” to restrict fundamental freedoms’.

This includes in particular lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who – since his nominal release from prison on 28 February 2019 – has been subject to invasive surveillance, restrictions on his freedom of movement, and refusal of independent medical exams. Worse, he is unnecessarily and inhumanely kept from joining his family in the U.S. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/21/jiang-tianyong-chinese-defender-of-defenders-sentenced-to-2-years-jail/]

The statement draws on research conducted by Chinese Human Rights Defenders and other partners into two ‘administrative measures’ that have had far-reaching consequences for lawyers on the ground.  The Measures on the Administration of Law Firms and Administrative Measures for the Practice of Law by Lawyers of Law Firms call on lawyers, law firms and regional bar associations not only to take measures to ensure that lawyers’ freedom of speech, both online and off, in professional and personal capacities, is not critical of the government. Furthermore, language added to one of the measures in 2018 specifically states that  ‘Law firms shall adhere to guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, adhere to and strengthen the comprehensive leadership of the Party over the work of lawyers, persist in preserving the authority and uniform leadership of the Party with Comrade Xi Jinping as its core, make support for the Party’s leadership and support for socialist rule of law basic requirements for the profession, and increase the conscientiousness and resoluteness with which lawyers as a group walk the path of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics’.

As a result of making comments that were deemed critical of the Chinese Communist Party, from January 2017 to January 2019, groups have documented cases of at least 26 lawyers and three law firms that have been punished for their opinion or expression, or by association with lawyers. This includes well-known rights lawyers such as Yu Wensheng, Wang Yu, Xie Yanyi and, just last week, Liu Xiaoyuan. 

[for the massive crackdown in 2015, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/29/the-remarkable-crackdown-on-lawyers-in-china-in-july-2015/]

 

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Full statement

Joint statement under Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers and the Independent Expert on SOGI

24 June 2019

Mr. Vice President,

We thank the Special Rapporteur for his report. We wish to highlight that many of the trends of restriction he notes also apply to lawyers. For example, across China, repression of human rights lawyers and legal activists continues. They are disappeared, detained, and denied basic rule of law guarantees.

Lawyer Jiang Tianyong is one example. Although he served his sentence for ‘inciting subversion of the State’, he now lives under constant police surveillance and with a serious medical condition.

What was his so-called ‘crime’? Representing fellow lawyers in court, investigating black jails, speaking out for victims of human rights violations and meeting with UN officials.

Mr Special Rapporteur, we are concerned about Chinese government actions to imprison and disbar lawyers who do not adhere to official ideology. The Chinese delegation raised earlier the need to uphold the Constitution – we couldn’t agree more. But problematic regulations passed in 2016 allow authorities to, inter alia, shut down law firms if they refuse to dismiss lawyers who express critical views, or who advocate for clients or causes unpopular with the Communist Party of China.

China’s claims to ‘faithfully uphold the rule of law’ are true only in relation to national laws created to authorize such government action. Chairman Xi has stressed the Communist Party’s control over the legal system, and has used the law to repress and punish those mandated to uphold and protect rights.

Yu Wensheng, Sui Muqing, Zhou Shifeng, Xie Yanyi, Li Heping, Wang Yu, Liu Zhengqing and Liu Xiaoyuan are only 8 out of at least 27 documented cases of human rights lawyers whose licenses have been invalidated or revoked since 2016, simply for fulfilling their professional duties.

In her UPR follow-up letter to the government, the High Commissioner identified key areas for improvement, including ‘guaranteeing an independent judiciary, fair trials, and access to legal counsel, releasing all human rights defenders, including lawyers’.

We call on you, Mr Special Rapporteur, and on this Council, to insist that China immediately stop all forms of harassment and persecution of human rights lawyers, including through administrative means, and unconditionally release those arbitrarily deprived of their liberty.

Thank you.

41st session Human Rights Council: Opening statement by High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet

June 25, 2019

On 24 June, 2019, the 41st session of the Human Rights Council started with an opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. I refer to the guide to human rights defenders issues published earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/14/guide-to-human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-41st-human-rights-council-starting-on-24-june/

The High Commissioner’s speech contained many topics including these:

……
I regret Saudi Arabia‘s dismissal of last week’s report by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. I also reiterate my strong condemnation of the mass execution of 37 men in April. Some were children when the alleged crimes occurred.

Iran continues to sentence children to death. I was appalled that the authorities sentenced and executed two boys under the age of 18 in April. I remain particularly concerned about the high number of child offenders on death row – possibly more than 85 individuals – with some at risk of imminent execution.

I take this opportunity to note and commend global progress with respect to the death penalty in this year, which marks the 30th anniversary of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. The advances include recent ratifications by Gambia and State of Palestine; removal of the death penalty from the penal codes of Benin and Burkina Faso; and declarations of moratoria in Malaysia and the State of California.

..The inspiring and peaceful popular uprising in Sudan, with its call for democratic governance and justice, has been met with a brutal crackdown by the security forces this month. I regret that the Government has not responded to our request for access to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations by the joint security forces during the crackdown. They include reports that more than 100 protestors were killed, and many more injured, during and following the assault by security forces on a peaceful sit-in on 3 June. In addition, hospitals and clinics were reportedly raided, and medical staff assaulted. We have received allegations of rape and sexual abuse of both women and men during the crackdown, as well as information alleging that hundreds of protestors may be missing. I urge Sudan to grant access to my Office; to put an end to the repression of the people’s human rights; and to immediately end the Internet shutdown. The Sudanese people are entitled to express their opinions, and – like people everywhere – they have a right to live in freedom and at peace, enjoying the rule of law and the conditions necessary to dignity.

In Myanmar, evidence indicates continuing persecution of the remaining Rohingya people in northern Rakhine State, with little or no effort by the authorities to create conditions for the voluntary, safe and sustainable return of refugees. Although restrictions on humanitarian and media access in both Rakhine and in Chin State limit our access to information, the ongoing conflict there has included use of heavy weaponry, airstrikes and helicopter gunships by the military, with significant loss of life on all sides and severe impact on civilians. Based on allegations received, we fear that the conflict is being used as a pretext to carry out attacks against Rohingya civilians, and to cause further displacement. Some 35,000 ethnic Rakhine, Rohingya, Mro, Daignet and Khamee civilians have been internally displaced by fighting. The suspension of humanitarian aid by the government means at least 95,000 people have been cut off from life-saving assistance.

….
My Office is following the situation of human rights in the Philippines very closely. The extraordinarily high number of deaths – and persistent reports of extrajudicial killings – in the context of campaigns against drug use continue. Even the officially confirmed number of 5425 deaths would be a matter of most serious concern for any country. I welcome the recent statement by Special Rapporteurs calling for action by the Council. There should also be comprehensive and transparent information from the authorities on the circumstances around the deaths, and investigations related to allegations of violations. These could dispel any false allegations and help regain trust for the authorities.Human rights defenders, including activists for land rights and the rights of indigenous peoples; journalists; lawyers; members of the Catholic clergy; and others who have spoken out – notably the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples – have received threats, sometimes publicly, from senior Government officials. This creates a very real risk of violence against them, and undermines rule of law, as well as the right to freedom of expression.

In Portugal, where I attended an encouraging conference on drug policies and harm reduction, I also benefited from informative discussions on migration. Portugal’s open and forward-looking migrant policy aims to offer migrants easy access to social and legal assistance and encourages migrants to access the labour market. I visited a centre in Lisbon which offered free pre-school classes, alongside training courses and other support to migrant women aiming to set up their own companies. Ensuring that migrants are included and integrated brings many benefits for host communities, including net financial contributions: Portugal’s High Commissioner for Migration informed me that in 2017, migrants contributed 510 million euros more to the social security system than they took out. I invite all countries to consider learning from this example. Despite extensive disinformation campaigns regarding the supposedly damaging impact of migration on destination countries, close attention to the facts indicates that when their dignity and rights are respected, migrants can be strong drivers of successful economies and societies. We should recognize and cherish these contributions.

Instead, I observe a deeply unfortunate trend towards the criminalisation of basic human compassion for migrants, including those in situations of great vulnerability. The NGO Open Democracy reported last month that over 100 ordinary people in Europe have been arrested or prosecuted this year for acts such as feeding hungry migrants; helping them find shelter; or even assisting a pregnant woman to get to hospital to give birth. Similar prosecutions of ordinary people seeking to help individuals in distress have also taken place in the United States and elsewhere. Moreover, in several countries, new legal measures aim to penalise NGOs which rescue people drowning at sea.

Measures such as these clearly put the lives of children, women and men at risk. But they also put our societies at risk. They violate ancient and precious values that are common to us all, by penalizing compassion. Those who seek to help people in need should be honoured, not prosecuted. Caring should not be considered a crime, and this criminalisation of acts of basic human decency must be resisted. We have, all of us, a right – and even a duty – to help each other.

https://ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?LangID=E&NewsID=24724

Award for human rights defenders by PBI UK to Kenyan and Colombian defenders

June 23, 2019

Kenyan social justice activist Naomi Barasa and Colombian human rights lawyer Daniel Prado have won the first annual Henry Brooke Awards for Human Rights Defenders, created in 2018 by PBI UK and pro bono legal network the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk.

These awards are in honour of the life and legacy of Sir Henry Brooke – barrister at Fountain Court Chambers, founder of the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk and patron of PBI UK – who passed away in January 2018. They are presented annually to defenders who encapsulate the qualities Sir Henry most admired and reflected in his own life: selflessness, courage, and commitment to seeking justice for the oppressed and the marginalised. The award winners were selected by a panel of leading figures from the UK legal and human rights communities. For more on this award, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/henry-brooke-awards-for-human-rights-defenders

Naomi Barasa was selected for the award in recognition of her remarkable determination and commitment to grassroots human rights work in the most disadvantaged social circumstances. Born in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi, Naomi was a close witness to street violence, police brutality, impunity and the overwhelming inequality of the slums. Her journey as a human rights defender has embedded her in the struggle to improve living conditions for Nairobi’s 2.5 million slum dwellers. Naomi was instrumental in the campaign that led to the passage of the Sexual Offences Act in 2006, and has acted as Campaigns Manager for the Right to Adequate Housing with Amnesty International since 2009. She has contributed to the adoption of legislation such as the Housing Bill 2011, the Evictions and Resettlement Bill and the Slum Upgrading & Prevention Policy. What motivates her work, she says, is “the resilience of the suffering people and the desire to see a different world. A world that has a mathematics of justice, not of inequality.

Daniel Prado was selected as an example of a lawyer who has defied huge personal risk in order to pursue justice for the victims of human rights violations, oppose impunity and defend the rights of marginalised communities against powerful interests. He began his career by providing legal support to the family members of victims of enforced disappearance in the early 1990s and currently works with the Colombian NGO the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP). Among other emblematic cases, Daniel represents victims of paramilitarism in the case of Los Doce Apóstoles (The Twelve Apostles), in which Santiago Uribe, brother of former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe Velez, stands accused of creating paramilitary groups responsible for more than 500 murders. Daniel’s involvement in this and other high-profile cases has seen him exposed to death threats, harassment and a public campaign of defamation and slander. Speaking of his work, he has said: “The risks in Colombia are unstoppable. I have taken many cases that have had consequences for a lot of people… we live in a constant state of anxiety about what can happen to us.

PBI provides security and advocacy support to both Naomi Barasa and Daniel Prado, to help mitigate the risks they face as a result of their human rights work.

 

 

Business association amfori publishes statement in support of human rights defenders

June 21, 2019

 amfori is the leading global business association for open and sustainable trade, it brings together over 2,000 retailers, importers, brands and associations from more than 40 countries. On 20 June 2019 it announced that it had recently released a statement in support of human rights defenders. With the space for civil society to operate shrinking, and defenders of human rights increasingly under threat, amfori is taking steps to proactively advocate for the support of these actors. As a business association with a mission to support its member organisations ‘Trade with Purpose’, addressing human rights concerns linked to business operations and supply chains is a vital part of our work.

Its purpose is to express the collective support for the important work being done by human rights defenders, raise awareness on the growing challenges they face, and push both public and private authorities to protect and back human rights defenders. Amfori also continues to advance advocacy on related issues including child labour, due diligence, gender equality and climate change and build relations and engagement with state and non-state actors in this space.

See also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/21/davos-businesses-need-strong-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.amfori.org/news/supporting-human-rights-defenders

Speech by Commissioner Dunja Mijatović at RightsCon 2019, Tunis, about digital security

June 17, 2019

Council of Europe Commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatović, gave a speech at the world’s leading summit on human rights in the digital age, RightsCon 2019, in Tunis, on 11 June 2019:

…A recent article of the New York Times from the city of Kashgar showed the extent to which the Chinese authorities are using facial recognition and snooping technologies to keep a tight control of the Muslim community.  If you think that this does not concern you because it is happening far away, you would be terribly wrong. The Chinese experiment bears a great significance for all of us. It shows to what extent the cozy relations between technology companies and state security agencies can harm us. This has become particularly acute as part of states response to terrorist threats and attacks. States around the world have increased their surveillance arsenal, not always to the benefit of our safety. On the contrary, in several occasions they used it to silence criticism, restrict free assembly, snoop into our private life, or control individuals or minorities.

An illustration of this comes from human rights defenders. If in the past human rights defenders have been ahead of states in using technological progress to expose human rights abuses, now they are facing a backlash. As we speak, states and non-state actors are intercepting their communications, intrude their personal data, trace their digital footprint. States are using technologies to learn about human rights defenders’ plans or upcoming campaigns; to find or fabricate information that can help intimidate, incriminate or destroy their reputation; or to learn about their networks and sources.

This concerns us all. At stake here is the society we want to live in and bequeath to the next generations. Technology should maximise our freedoms and rights – and keep those in power accountable.

To get there we need to strengthen the connections among us and crowdsource human rights protection, promotion and engagement. An important step in that direction would be to provide more support, funding and digital literacy training to human rights defenders. It is also crucial that the private sector and state authorities uphold human rights standards in the designing and implementation of all technological tools.

Living in an increasingly digital world does not mean living artificial lives with artificial liberties. Our rights must be real, all the time.

We all must resist the current backlash and persist in demanding more human rights protection, more transparency and more accountability in the digital world.

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/2019-speech-by-dunja-mijatovic-council-of-europe-commissioner-for-human-rights-at-the-world-s-leading-summit-on-human-rights-in-the-digital-age-rights

NGO joint letter to UN Human Rights Council about Belarus

June 16, 2019

Five international human rights organisations (see below), urge the UN Human Rights Council to maintain scrutiny on the human rights situation in Belarus, including by ensuring the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and seeking preventive measures to ensure against an increase in human rights violations ahead of upcoming Parliamentary and Presidential elections in Belarus.

Guide to Human Rights Defenders issues at the 41st Human Rights Council starting on 24 June

June 14, 2019

Thanks to the – as always very complete and timely – “Alert to the Human Rights Council’s 41st session” (from 24 June to 12 July 2019) issued by the International Service for Human Rights. I am able to give a short guide to the main items that relate to human rights defenders. To Read the full Alert to the session online click here and stay up-to-date with @ISHRglobal and #HRC41 on Twitter.

Thematic areas of interest:

Sexual orientation and gender identity: The interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) will be held on Monday 24 June at 11:00. The Council will consider the new thematic report of the mandate holder as well as the report of the country visits he made to Georgia and Mozambique. The Council will also consider the renewal of the mandate.

Business and human rights: The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with and consider several reports of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises on 26 June. The Working Group will present a report on the gender dimensions of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the reports of country visits to Thailand and Kenya. The Working Group’s report on the gender dimensions of the Guiding Principles integrates clear recognition that women human rights defenders play a vital role in challenging business-related human rights abuses as well as in promoting and protecting human rights in relation to business activity, including the right to an effective remedy. As a result of this work, women human rights defenders often face gender-specific risks including sexual violence, misogynist public shaming and online harassment. Among its recommendations, the Working Group calls on business enterprises to ensure the meaningful participation of women’s organisations, women human rights defenders and gender experts in all stages of human rights due diligence.

Women human rights defenders and women’s rights: The annual full day discussion on the human rights of women will take place on 27 and  28 June. The discussions will focus this year on violence against women in the world of work, the rights of older women and their economic empowerment. A panel focused on women’s rights and climate change will also be organised, focusing on climate action, best practices and lessons learned. States should place due consideration on the role of women human rights defenders and social movements in this regard, in line with the Human Rights Council resolution focused on environmental human rights defenders adopted in March 2019…
The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice which focuses on women deprived of liberty (including women human rights defenders in detention, facing travel bans, among other situations), and will consider their reports including a report on the country visits to Honduras and Poland. The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on 27 June and will consider her report including the report of her visits to Canada and Nepal.

Reprisals:  In spite of a number of measures, reprisals not only continue, but grow. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, including specific cases, and for relevant governments to provide updates on cases to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. During the organisational meeting held on 7 June, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals. In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/13/ishr-on-reprisals-un-and-states-must-do-more-to-address-reprisals/]

Other key thematic reports: The Council will hold dedicated debates and consider reports of several mandates relating to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, and the role of human rights defenders in that work area, in some instances involving the renewal of the mandate:

  • The Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers and on the right to health (including country visits report to Canada and Kyrgyzstan) on 24 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (mandate renewal, reports include country visits to Tunisia and Armenia) on 25 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and right to education on 26 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression (including thematic report on surveillance companies and country visit report to Ecuador) on 25 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (including country visits reports to the UK and Laos) on 28 June

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

  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (and country visit report to Niger) on 24 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons on 28 June (mandate renewal)
  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons (and country visit to Nigeria) on 27 June
  • The Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members on 24 June

Country-specific developments:

China: For more than a year, the international community has had access to credible reports and first-hand testimony of the harassment, surveillance, and mass detention of more than one million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. Despite the consistent work of the UN human rights mechanisms to review China, ask questions, and make recommendations, there has been no serious or effective response. The Council should take urgent action to seek access, monitoring and reporting of the situation to inform future actions. ..ISHR urges States to act collectively to advance a resolution calling for China to allow access to the region to independent human rights experts and to end country-wide the arbitrary detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs or political opinions.

Sudan: In response to the gross and systematic human rights violations occurring in Sudan, ISHR andother NGOs have urged Council Member States to urgently hold a Special Session on the human rights situation in Sudan. The Council should urgently establish an international fact-finding mission to document violations, identify perpetrators and push for accountability, in line with calls made by a group of Special Procedures including the Independent Expert on Sudan. Since 3 June, Rapid Security Forces, riot police and national security officers violently dispersed peaceful protesters in Khartoum as well as in different cities across Sudan. The MENA Women Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition reported that at least 113 people have died including women human rights defenders. Civil society documented cases of rape, attacks on hospitals, with hundreds injured and missing.  The Transitional Military Council is enforcing a ban on communication causing an internet black out. The High Commissioner has deplored the killings and proposed ‘the rapid deployment of a UN human rights monitoring team’ to Sudan.

Saudi Arabia: The June session provides an important opportunity for the Council to follow up on the joint statement delivered on behalf of 36 States [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/08/saudi-arabia-for-first-time-openly-criticized-in-un-human-rights-council/] .. Seven women’s rights activists have been provisionally released, but they are still facing trial, and other women human rights defenders are still in detention, with the human rights situation on the ground deteriorating markedly on other fronts, including through increased use of the death penalty and the authorities’ continuing crackdown on freedom of expression.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/28/3-saudi-women-human-rights-defenders-released-but-for-how-long-and-what-about-the-others/]
The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions will present her findings of the investigation into the killing of Khashoggi. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/26/other-members-of-the-uns-khashoggi-investigation-team-named/%5D…..ISHR calls on States to advance a Human Rights Council resolution establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country and calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of all human rights defenders including the detained women human rights defenders and to drop all charges against them, including those provisionally released. ISHR considers the March joint statement as a first step towards more sustained and dedicated review by the Council in its efforts to hold its members accountable.

The Philippines: The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders. Several NGOs callied on the Council to advance accountability for human rights violations by adopting a resolution establishing an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings and this call was strongly endorsed by a group of independent UN experts who condemned a ‘sharp deterioration in the situation of human rights across the country, including sustained attacks on people and institutions defending human rights.’ [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/07/philippines-labour-rights-defender-dennis-sequena-shot-dead-while-meeting-with-workers/]

Egypt: Despite the Egyptian government’s assurances to the African Commission civil society faced restrictions, reprisals and intimidation for engaging or seeking to engage with the Commission. These restrictions and reprisals happened in a context where the Government of Egypt crushes dissent, discourages public participation in public affairs and punishes people who dare to claim basic human rights. Individuals and communities who engaged with the Special Rapporteur on the right to housing during her visit in September 2018 faced systematic reprisals. All other scheduled visits by the Special Procedures have been postponed as a result. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/07/egypt-denounced-for-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders-who-talked-to-visiting-un-delegation/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/12/reprisal-against-egyptian-human-rights-defender-mohamed-soltan/]. ISHR calls on States to condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisals for civil society engaging with the African Commission and with the Special Procedures, and recall Egypt’s obligations to prevent acts of intimidation and reprisals, investigate the allegations and provide victims with effective remedy.

Burundi: The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present its oral briefing on 2 July. The closing of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is regrettable and worrying. In addition, ISHR remains seriously concerned over the breaches to due process observed in all of human rights defender Germain Rukuki’s legal proceedings since his arrest without warrant on 13 July 2017. [See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/]. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here.

Other country situations: The High Commissioner will present her oral update to the Council on 24 June. The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus (mandate renewal) on 1 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea (mandate renewal) on 2 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar on 2 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue with the government of Sudan and OHCHR on 9 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and interactive dialogue with the team of experts on the situation in the Kasai region on 9 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation in Ukraine on 10 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic on 10 July
  • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Venezuela on 10 July
  • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar on 10 July
  • First oral update and enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Nicaragua on 11 July
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on cooperation with Georgia on 11 July

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports: During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on New Zealand, Afghanistan, Chile, Viet Nam, Uruguay, Yemen, Vanuatu, North Macedonia, Comoros, Slovakia, Eritrea, Cyprus, Dominican Republic and Cambodia.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 41st session: At the organisational meeting resolutions were announced (States sponsoring the resolution in brackets); it is possible that more resolutions could be presented at this session. These include:

  • The human rights situation in Belarus (European Union)
  • Human rights of internally displaced persons (Austria, Honduras, Uganda)
  • Human rights and climate change (Bangladesh, Philippines, Viet Nam)
  • Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Uruguay).
  • Elimination of discrimination against women and girls (Colombia, Mexico)
  • Rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (Czech Republic, Indonesia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mexico)
  • New and emerging and digital technologies and human rights (Republic of Korea, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Morocco, Singapore)
  • Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women(Canada)
  • The human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)

There wil be again many side events at the Council, on which I will report separately.

Read here the three year programme of work of the Council with supplementary information.
Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2019.

Philippines: UN rapporteurs ask for exceptional investigation, while labour rights defender shot dead

June 7, 2019

The ink on the bill for the protection of human rights defenders [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/04/philippines-human-rights-defenders-protection-bill-adopted-in-parliament/] has hardly dried and the following is reported: on 2 June 2019 union organiser Dennis Sequeña was shot dead while meeting with workers. Sequeña was vice-chairperson of labour group Partido Manggagawa; group believes he was murdered for his trade union work. Civil society organisations condemn the killing & demand immediate investigation, as well as action to stop spate of attacks against labour activists.

Also on 7 June a group of UN human rights experts collectively called on the United Nations to establish an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines, citing a sharp deterioration in the situation of human rights across the country, including sustained attacks on people and institutions defending human rights. “Given the scale and seriousness of the reported human rights violations we call on the Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into the human rights violations in the Philippines.

We have recorded a staggering number of unlawful deaths and police killings in the context of the so-called war on drugs, as well as killings of human rights defenders. Very few independent and effective investigations have taken place, independent media and journalists are threatened, the law has been weaponised to undermine press freedom, and the independence of the judiciary is undermined,” the experts said. [ndependent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council have raised their concerns with the Government of the Philippines on 33 occasions over the last three years!]

In a statement of 8 May 2019 the ISHR and other NGOs had recalled that: the Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders. They persevere under harsh conditions, fighting against repression and corruption to make a better society for all. They continue their work so the most vulnerable are protected and their voices are heard.  ISHR – along with CIVICUS, Frontline Defenders, FORUM Asia, FIDH, and the World Organisation Against Torture– released a joint statement denouncing recent death threats addressed to Karapatan Secretary General, Cristina Palabay, and urging the Philippine Government to respond to the threats against human rights defenders by taking genuine and effective measures for their protection.

See also the reactions in the media by the Government: https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2019/06/08/1924735/intellectually-challenged-palace-slams-un-experts-call-probe-staggering-philippines-killings

and https://www.bulatlat.com/2019/06/08/karapatan-to-duterte-allow-un-independent-probe-on-rights-violations-in-ph/

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http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1906/S00047/call-for-independent-probe-into-philippines-violations.htm

https://www.rappler.com/nation/232094-partido-manggagawa-dennis-sequena-killed-cavite-june-2-2019

Philippines: Union organiser Dennis Sequeña shot dead while meeting with workers

http://www.ishr.ch/news/philippines-calling-accountability-violations-against-human-rights-defenders

Philippines: Human Rights Defenders Protection bill adopted in parliament

June 4, 2019

The House of Representatives in the Philippines on 2 June 2019 passed the proposed Human Rights Defenders Protection bill that should prevent human rights violations and abuses committed against HRDs. Surprsingly all 183 congressmen present at last night’s session voted for House Bill 9199, a consolidation of bills filed by Rep. Edcel Lagman (LP, Albay) and Makabayan Reps. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Antonio Tinio, Emmi de Jesus, Arlene Brosas, Ariel Casilao, and Sarah Jane Elago. A badly needed bill as the Philippines is one of the worst places for HRDs [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/08/and-in-the-philippines-the-killing-of-human-rights-defenders-also-continues-with-benjamin-ramos/]. As always the real question is what wil happen in practice.

The bill guarantees HRD rights and freedoms; mandates the State and public authorities to respect, protect, and fulfill these rights and freedoms; and imposes appropriate sanctions to counter impunity. Lagman said Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of Human Rights recorded the killing of 697 human rights defenders in the country for the period 2001-2018 while Task Force Detainees of the Philippines documented 76 human rights violations affecting 333 HRDs from September 2013 to September 2016 alone.

IF signed into law, the bill will also create a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee chaired by a commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and six members who will be jointly nominated by concerned civil society organizations. HB 9199 is based on the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the Model National Law on the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights Defenders drafted by the International Service for Human Rights.

The bill grants the following rights and freedom to human rights defenders:

  • Right to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms
  • Right to form groups, associations, and organizations
  • Right to solicit, receive, and utilize resources
  • Right to seek, receive, and disseminate information
  • Right to develop and advocate for human rights ideas
  • Right to communicate with non-governmental, governmental, and intergovernmental organizations
  • Rights against vilification
  • Right to access, communicate, and cooperate with international and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms
  • Right to participate in public affairs
  • Right to peaceful assembly
  • Right to represent and advocate
  • Right to freedom movement
  • Right to privacy
  • Freedom from intimidation or reprisal
  • Right to establish a sanctuary for human rights victims and or their families
  • Freedom from defamation and stigmatization
  • Right to exercise cultural rights and to development of personality
  • Right to effective remedy and full reparation

The bill penalizes those who will violate the rights and freedom. Human right defender’s obligations, meanwhile, include conducting investigation; adopting human rights based governance; strengthening protection program; promoting and facilitating human rights education, among others.

http://tempo.com.ph/2019/06/03/house-oks-human-rights-defenders-bill/

https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2019/6/3/house-of-representatives-human-rights-defenders-protection-bill.html

FORUM-ASIA: human rights defenders face severe risks in Asia

June 4, 2019

The latest report by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) found that human rights defenders in Asia are at high risks. “In Asia, we are witnessing more and more human rights defenders being subjected to increasingly severe forms of violations, particularly killing, simply for defending human rights,” said Sejin Kim, Programme Manager of FORUM-ASIA.

The report titled “Defending In Numbers: Resistance in the Face of Repression exposes 688 cases of human rights violations affecting 4,854 people across 18 different countries in Asia, and analyses current and emerging trends of violations against human rights defenders, including journalists, civil society organisations, advocates and their family members, throughout 2017-2018.

Besides that, the report also reveals that “violations have become more extreme, and the safe space in which human rights defenders can work have increasingly shrunk”. State and non-state actors openly threatened these defenders, something which played a key role in creating a dangerous climate for them. In fact, according to the report, there were 164 cases where physical violence was used against human rights defenders, and 61 of these cases resulted in death. The majority of these cases occurred in the Philippines (48 per cent) and India (25 per cent). Concerningly, most of the perpetrators of these killings remain unknown, a reality which perpetuates impunity in the region…. In the period under review, a staggering 327 cases of judicial harassment were recorded across 17 countries which include the (arbitrary) arrest and detention of human rights defenders; the misuse of the law and the passage of repressive laws aimed at criminalising human rights defenders; and the denial of a fair trial.

..

Although threats and harassment endanger all defenders, but certain groups are particularly targeted like prodemocracy defenders, who are vocal critics of state repression; and land and environmental rights defenders, who are targeted by state and non-state actors competing to access natural resources and/or implement mega-development projects. Women human rights defenders, who challenge gender norms and power structures, also ranked high among the most affected groups. Gender-based violence, including online attacks and harassment, were common tactics used against women human rights defenders.

Human rights defenders face severe risks including killing in Asia, says FORUM-ASIA