Posts Tagged ‘international human rights mechanisms’

Human rights defender’s profile: Leon Dulce from the Philippines

September 30, 2020

human rights defender

On 24 September.2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published the human rights defender’s story of Leon Dulce from the Philippines. Leon Dulce is the National Coordinator for Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, an organisation that prevents environmental exploitation and protects marginalised communities from harm caused such exploitation. Working closely with different networks and alliances, his responsibilities include legislative advocacy, undertaking fact-finding investigations, facilitating grassroots dialogues, and engaging with government agencies.

Hi Leon, tell us about yourself and how you decided to defend human rights

I am Leon Dulce, a 31 year-old environmental defender from the Philippines.  Choosing the path less travelled in protecting our right to a balanced and healthful ecology was a confluence of factors throughout my life, from the formative influence of my parents, both development workers, to my exposure to student activism in the University of the Philippines.  The life-changing decision to be a full-time activist came in 2011 when I decided to join the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) to be one of its youth organisers. I haven’t turned back ever since.

How does defending rights affect your personal life?

Being an environmental defender has shaped my worldview to live with simplicity, to tap your inner humanity, to be conscientious of your work knowing the lives of people and our planet itself are at stake. I echo the words of Albert Einstein, “Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.”

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At the 2017 International Human Rights Day protest mobilisations in the Philippines. Photo credit to Kalikasan PNE

What continues to inspire you to defend human rights?

We continue to be inspired by the living, breathing victories of people power in working towards a better world. We have seen that it is possible for corporations to be shuttered down and made to pay reparations, murderous generals put in jail, and fascist dictators to be toppled and held to account, all at the hands of people power.

Businesses should realise that the whole of society benefits from a premium investment in due diligence for our rights, environment, and climate. When nobody is left behind, everyone is on board to push through with building the cogs and wheels of society.

There are no shortcuts, especially with multiple conflicting interests over natural resource-rich environments where the powerful can easily override the marginalised.

Are you encountering any threat because of your work, and if so, what could be done at national / international level to help you work in safer conditions?

We have been repeatedly tagged as enemies of the State in a worsening crackdown on human rights defenders by the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte. Our office has been constantly harassed and almost raided by the police last year. Our members on the ground have been murdered in the dead of the night.

We hope the international community joins us in urging the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines. We hope the inquiry would lead to greater action from UN experts and member States to hold the Duterte regime to account.

What is your hope for the future? 

I hope to live in that better world, a just and humane society in harmony with nature and climate, before I come to the end of my days.

What was the human rights problem you were addressing? 

We are campaigning with local indigenous Tuwali communities to close down the 10,266-hectare Didipio gold-copper mine of Australian-Canadian corporation Oceanagold. This mining project has figured in a long history of civil-political and socio-economic rights violations against the indigenous communities in the remote mountain villages of Kasibu Municipality since it acquired a contract over the mineralised lands it currently operates on in Nueva Vizcaya province in 2006.

Why did you decide to choose this UN mechanism to help you solve it? 

We decided to engage with the UN Special Procedures hoping that a communication from UN Special Rapporteurs would pressure the Duterte government to take action, even in spite of its bristling stance against the UN.

If the Special Rapporteurs respond with a country visit, whether formal or academic, it would create high-profile attention for the Tuwali people’s struggles against Oceanagold. It would be a show of solidarity that would raise the morale of the defenders on the ground.

What happened at the UN?

On 13 February 2019, a total of nine Special Procedures mandate holders sent a joint communications letter to the Duterte government echoing the human rights concerns we raised.

Later, on 30 April 2020, Special Rapporteurs would cite this communication once again in urging the Duterte government to respect indigenous people’s rights in response to an earlier violent dispersal of the Tuwali protester’s ongoing barricade against the mine.

What was the impact on the ground? 

We believe the intervention from the UN experts is a significant factor in making the Duterte government think twice from railroading then the impending renewal of Oceanagold’s contract agreement.

The UN Communication helped create the momentum that led to the provincial government’s issuance of a restraining order against the Oceanagold mine, and the community organisations’ launching of a people’s barricade enforcing this restraint through direct action.

Do you have any tips for other defenders using this mechanism? 

Crucial to our success in engaging the UN Special Procedures is in how we strategically located it within an interplay of various advocacy tactics. The UN intervention fed into the direct action of organised communities of defenders, and helped galvanise a broad support network from churches, local governments, and civil society.

The intervention was also leveraged in a communications and lobbying strategy that exposed the national government’s collaborationism with irresponsible big businesses, discouraged their usual ‘rubber-stamping’ for these mining corporations, and deterred full-on reprisals against the defenders.

The Flags of the Geneva Human Rights Platform Fly on the Mont-Blanc Bridge

June 3, 2020

Flags of the Geneva Human Rights Platform on the Mont Blanc Bridge

From today until Sunday 7 June 2020, flags with the Geneva Human Rights Platform (GHRP) logo will be flying on the Mont-Blanc Bridge. This should have coincided with the GHRP annual conference – an annual event open to all human rights actors in and outside Geneva that addresses current issues and challenges related to the work of Geneva-based human rights mechanisms. However, due to the COVID-19 situation, we postponed the conference to 15 October 2020.

As the space on the bridge was already booked in October, we decided to keep this slot to raise awareness about the platform in Geneva and beyond. This is also the occasion to announce the new date of the 2020 annual conference that will discuss the connectivity between the Geneva-based human rights system and regional human rights mechanisms’ explains Felix Kirchmeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform..

Proliferation of Human Rights Bodies’ Guidance on COVID-19

May 27, 2020

On 22 May 2020 in “Just Security” [see: https://www.justsecurity.org/about-us/) published a post ” Mapping the Proliferation of Human Rights Bodies’ Guidance on COVID-19 Mitigation “. It is in some ways rather critical of the response by intergovernmental bodies in the human rights area when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. It starts by pointing out that they have collectively put out more than 150 statements on respecting human rights during the pandemic since late February. ..To help those interested in keeping track of the many statements, the International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) has published a webpage – COVID-19 Guidance from Supranational Human Rights Bodies – listing and linking to all relevant press releases and other guidance. This article serves to provide an overview of – and initial response to – the nature, scope, and sources of human rights advice available to States in the context of the pandemic. Having myself contributed with my blog to the proliferation of policy repsonse by NGOs and IGOs, I feel that this piece deserves full citation:

Read the rest of this entry »

17 May was International Day against Homophobia: COVID-19 makes things worse

May 18, 2020

The commemoration on 17 May comes as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic which has increased the vulnerability of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. On the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT) a large group of United Nations and international human rights experts (for names see the link below) call on States and other stakeholders to urgently take into account the impact of COVID-19 on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse (LGBT) persons when designing, implementing and evaluating the measures to combat the pandemic.

…..
COVID-19, and the measures taken to address it, exacerbate inequalities and discrimination. The existence of criminalization laws, for example, makes LGBT persons more vulnerable to police abuse and arbitrary arrest and detention in the context of movement restrictions and curfews. While contributing to the fight against the pandemic by staying at home, LGBT children, youths and elders are forced to endure prolonged exposure to unaccepting family members, which exacerbates rates of domestic violence and physical and emotional abuse, as well as damage to mental health. In many jurisdictions, LGBT persons, particularly those most impoverished or without proper documentation, rely overwhelmingly on informal economies made impossible by COVID-19 restrictions. The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and the loss of income might also increase the vulnerabilities of LGBT persons to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The reallocation of health resources has also created or exacerbated shortages of antiretrovirals for those living with HIV, while also impacting the ability of trans men and women to receive hormonal therapy or gender-affirming care. Gender-based curfew laws and policies have reportedly condemned gender-diverse persons to permanent seclusion while making trans individuals targets for humiliation and violence when going out.  

The pandemic has also created a context conducive to increased persecution. Some States have enacted measures which intentionally target LGBT persons under the guise of public health, including proposing legislation to deny transgender and gender diverse persons of their legal recognition. Hate speech explicitly or implicitly inciting violence against LGBT persons has been on the rise, including discourse by prominent political or religious leaders blaming the pandemic on the existence of LGBT persons in the community. Surveillance and other digital technologies enacted to track COVID-19 carriers increase risks of infringing privacy and exacerbating stigma.

………We therefore urge States and other stakeholders, on the eve of this 17 May 2020 and in times of COVID-19, to give visibility to and protect LGBT persons in the context of the pandemic. We call on States to pursue all means necessary – including conducting research, adopting legislation, public policy, and ensuring access to justice mechanisms – to ensure that this public health emergency will neither exacerbate existing misconceptions, prejudices, inequalities or structural barriers, nor lead to increased violence and discrimination against persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. We urge all stakeholders, particularly States, to urgently implement lines of action designed to sustain and ensure the continuity of the work of civil society and human rights defenders – the capacities existing within this sector must not be put in peril. And, to effectively meet these objectives, we urge States to engage with LGBT persons, organizations and communities in the design, implementation and evaluation of the measures adopted to respond to the pandemic.The history of LGBT persons, like others subjected to discrimination and violence, has been one of suffering, endurance and hope – a vital struggle for freedom and equality in the face of singular adversity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we call upon State authorities to listen to the particular concerns of LGBT persons, respect their expertise over their own lives and communities, and accept their solidarity in the construction of new realities of freedom and equality for humankind. 

Already facing bias, attacks and murder simply for who they are or whom they love, many LGBTI people are experiencing heightened stigma as a result of the virus, as well as new obstacles when seeking health care,” added UN SG Guterres. There are also reports of COVID-19 directives being misused by police to target LGBTI individuals and organizations.”

“LGBTI people are often exposed to additional stigma, discrimination and violence, including when seeking medical services – and perhaps saddest of all, within their own families during lock-downs. They are also in some places being treated as scapegoats for the spread of the virus,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said. Referencing the theme for the international day, Ms. Bachelet urged everyone to stand up against hate and ‘break the silence’ surrounding the discrimination and violence suffered by LGBTI people.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/21/nine-things-everyone-needs-to-know-about-international-lgbti-rights/

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/covid-19-the-suffering-and-resilience-of-lgbt-persons-must-be-visible-and-inform-the-actions-of-states

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1064232

Other new UN Special Rapporteurs appointed in 2020

May 8, 2020

Having referred specially to the appointment of Mary Lawlor [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/ ], I should point out that the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed in March 12 new independent experts to its fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Currently, there are 56 mandates: 44 thematic ones and 12 mandates related to countries and territories, with a total of 80 human rights experts. The 8 May 2020 Media Guide explains who they are and how to contact them. For details go to: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25871

They are:

Ms. Claudia MAHLER (Austria) is the new Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons. This mandate gained in importance with the Corona virus pandemic.

Mr. Balakrishnan RAJAGOPAL (United States of America) is the new Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context.

Mr. Tomoya OBOKATA (Japan) is the new Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences.

Mr. Olivier DE SCHUTTER (Belgium) is the new Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Ms. Alena DOUHAN (Belarus) is the new Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

Mr. Michael FAKHRI (Lebanon) is the new Special Rapporteur on the right to food

Mr. José Francisco CALÍ TZAY (Guatemala) is the new Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Ms. Mama Fatima SINGHATEH (Gambia) is the new Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children.

Ms. Mary LAWLOR (Ireland) is the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Mr. Thomas H. ANDREWS (United States of America) is the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Ms. Isha DYFAN (Sierra Leone) is the new Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia.

 

UN Special procedures discuss human rights and Covid-19

May 2, 2020

On 30 April 2020 the UN Human Rights Council held a virtual informal conversation on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 crisis with representatives of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures mandate holders.

The special procedures of the Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts with the mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The Coordination Committee, composed of six Special Procedures mandate holders, aims to enhance coordination among mandate holders and to act as a bridge between them, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the broader United Nations human rights framework and civil society.

….Anita Ramasastry, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, noted that the Coordination Committee had helped create a dedicated COVID-19 web page, which it hoped would become over time a living repository of guidance and advice to States on good practice. The Special Procedures mandate holders had risen to the challenge and through their powerful statements, actions and innovations promoted a human rights-based approach to addressing this crisis, said Ms. Ramasastry. They attempted to help States to ensure that policies and decisions taken during the crisis were consistent with human rights.

Dainius Pûras, Special Rapporteur on the right to health said advances in biomedical sciences were very important to realize the right to health during this pandemic, but equally important were human rights. The way to the effective management of the pandemic was the application of the principles of non-discrimination, participation, empowerment and accountability to all policies. He also stressed the importance of access to reliable and accurate information and the protection of the right to privacy, including in the use of technologies to track the spread of the virus.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers welcomed the guidance provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to ensure that States’ responses complied with human rights obligations. They asked what steps had been taken to ensure the lifting of unilateral and illegal coercive measures, which violated human rights. Any measures to counter the pandemic should be necessary and proportionate, pursue legitimate purposes, and comply with international norms. Respect for human rights was vital, not only for the emergency response phase, but also during the post-crisis recovery. Speakers noted that emergency powers had been used to enact repressive measures that may have the effect of silencing dissent. They stressed the importance of upholding economic, social and cultural rights, including issues related to access to housing and food. It was hard to find a more striking example of the interconnectedness of rights than this crisis.

In conclusion, Mr. Pûras said lessons still had to be drawn from this pandemic. However, lots of lessons learned from previous public health crises could be applied today to address the current crisis. The AIDS epidemic, for instance, had shown that a human rights-based approach was most effective. It should also be noted that the current crisis had revealed the weakness of healthcare systems, including in some developed countries, which would have to be addressed.

The webcast of this informal virtual conversation is available on demand on UN Web TV, while summaries of the discussion in English and French can be found on the United Nations Office at Geneva News and Media page.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-rights-council-discusses-human-rights-implications-covid-19-crisis-its-special

US absence from UN human rights council encourages China and Russia?

February 26, 2020

Secretary of State Pompeo and Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the UN at the time, announcing the US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, June 19, 2018.

For the last decade, Western democracies and human-rights defenders have been locked in a tense struggle with authoritarian great powers at the United Nations. Since 2009, Russia and China have waged a highly successful campaign to dismantle the international human-rights system, particularly through the Human Rights Council. The two countries have made strides especially after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Council in 2018….

The campaign has been led by China, which has attacked the international human-rights system since its re-election to the Human Rights Council in 2013 for consecutive three-year terms that ended in 2019. Russia has preferred to work behind the scenes, particularly since its bid for election to the Council failed in 2016….

Both countries have also operated as part of what is called a like-minded group, a powerful international coalition that includes Algeria, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Venezuela and Vietnam. The group has challenged the UN’s human-rights mechanisms by emphasizing cooperation and dialogue over country-specific measures that name and shame abusing states, denigrating the relevance of civil and political rights while prioritizing economic and social rights and stressing the importance of sovereignty and nonintervention. Since 2013, Russia and China have played a key role in coordinating the group’s effort to undermine international human-rights protections.

In March 2018, for example, China presented a resolution to the Human Rights Council titled “Promoting Mutually Beneficial Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights,” which aimed to discard country-specific mechanisms that name and shame countries for their rights abuses.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/07/china-and-the-un-human-rights-council-really-win-win/]. No less significant was the like-minded group’s support for China during its last Universal Periodic Review session in November 2018. The review took place amid escalating human-rights violations inside China, including the death in custody of Liu Xiaobo, a prominent activist and Nobel Prize laureate, and the mass internment of more than a million ethnic Uighur Muslims in so-called political re-education camps in the remote province of Xinjiang.

…..

An important factor contributing to the success of China and Russia in undermining the international human-rights system has been the withdrawal of the US from the Human Rights Council in June 2018. By leaving the Council, the US has created a leadership void that Russia, China and their allies have exploited to consolidate their grip on power. Just weeks after the US withdrew, Russia and China successfully lobbied to slash funding for key human-rights posts in UN peacekeeping missions that protect civilians from violence in some of the most vulnerable countries in the world, including Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Worse, the like-minded group bolstered its influence over the global human-rights system when Venezuela, one of the world’s most flagrant violators of international human-rights norms, was elected to a three-year term to the Human Rights Council in October 2019. Having left the Council, the US was unable to sway the vote.

With the lack of US leadership, the European Union has struggled to push back against Russia and China’s growing influence at the UN. In July 2019, the European Union issued a joint statement with several other Western democracies, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland, condemning China’s mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. In reply, more than a dozen members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a powerful group of countries that includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Qatar, signed a declaration praising China’s policies in the region. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/20/china-coalition-anti-human-rights-un/]

Most worrisome, countries that once looked to the US for leadership in advancing human rights may now be looking to Russia, China and their allies for guidance in an international arena increasingly dominated by autocrats and aspiring despots.

https://www.passblue.com/2020/02/24/how-the-us-enabled-aggressions-by-china-and-russia-at-the-un/


As if to show thagt there is truth in the assertions above, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on 25 February 2020 decried what he terms the “double standards” employed at the U.N. Human Rights Council in favor of Western democratic values, at the expense of what he calls the legitimate sovereign rights of nations that do not fall within the Western orbit. Lavrov did not hide his disdain Tuesday at the so-called country-specific resolutions adopted by the Council, saying the resolutions had become an increasingly popular pretext to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

https://www.voanews.com/europe/russia-accuses-un-human-rights-council-pro-western-bias

 

Human Rights Defenders issues on the agenda of 43rd Human Rights Council

February 24, 2020

On 17 February 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published – as usual – its excellent “HRC43 | Key issues on agenda of March 2020 session”. Here some excerpts that relate directly to human rights defenders in the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which runs from 24 February to 20 March 2020.  If you want to stay up-to-date: with all issues follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC43 on Twitter.

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions

Protection of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders. The Council will consider a resolution, presented by Norway, to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The mandate gathers and responds to information on the situation of defenders around the world, engages constructively with governments and non-State actors and provides recommendations to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration on human rights defenders. In 2019, the Council and the General Assembly unanimously affirmed the vital work defenders play. The Council recognised the critical role of environmental human rights defenders in protecting vital ecosystems, addressing climate change, attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The General Assembly passed by consensus a resolution focusing on implementation of the Declaration and some key elements of protection policy; the resolution also attracted a record number of co-sponsors. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders will present his report on human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations on 4 March, and country visits to Colombia and Mongolia.

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system. [for some of my ealrier posts on reprisals, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]. During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/08/michel-forst-in-last-address-to-general-assembly-pleads-to-fight-reprisals/]. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

At this 43rd session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders alongside the annual report of the Secretary-General on the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights globally. These include interactive dialogues with the following:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing on her annual report and country visits reports to Nigeria and France.
  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights on her annual report on cultural rights defenders and country visit report to the Maldives and Poland.
  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on his annual report and country visits to Fiji and Norway.

The Council will discuss a range of civil and political rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture on his annual report and visit to Comoros.
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on his annual report and visits to the Netherlands and Sri Lanka.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism on her annual report and visit to Kazakhstan.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy on his annual report.

Country-specific developments

China Confronted with mounting evidence of serious human rights violations in China, specifically the mass internment, ‘re-education’, surveillance and harassment of Turkic Muslims in the western province of  Xinjiang, the view of many parts of the UN is incontrovertible. Beginning with a major UN review in August 2018, the UN High Commissioner has pressed for access, while the Special Procedures have expressed serious concerns about protection of freedom of religious belief, the impacts of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures, and the imposition of the death penalty in at least one case, that of university president Tashpolat Tiyip. In light of these concerns and the continued deterioration of the situation for human rights lawyers and defenders; the attacks on cultural rights and other freedoms in Tibet; and criminalisation of peaceful assembly and excessive use of police force in Hong Kong, it is high time for the Council to act. Member States should take concrete steps to call for independent, expert monitoring and reporting on the situation in Xinjiang, including access to the region, and urge accountability for actions by public authorities. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/joint-letter-by-22-states-to-human-rights-council-re-chinas-uighurs/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/20/china-coalition-anti-human-rights-un/]

Saudi Arabia The Council’s action on Saudi Arabia has contributed to the provisional release of at least seven women’s rights activists from detention. However, they are still facing trial and many remain in detention. Recent revelations of phone hacking, surveillance and possible blackmail and extortion of the owner of the Washington Post demonstrate the measures that the State is prepared to take to silence any form of criticism or dissent. The joint statement delivered by Australia in September sets out benchmarks for the Saudi government to take to demonstrate its willingness to improve the human rights situation. These benchmarks have not been met. States should ensure that Council scrutiny is maintained and in particular establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation. [for other posts on Saudi Arabia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/]

Egypt The lack of action by the international community has emboldened the Egyptian government to continue to violate fundamental rights of its citizens. Special Procedures have rung the alarm bell regarding the pattern of reprisals against individuals and groups who sought to or engaged with the UN. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, more than 3,000 people were arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted under counter-terrorism laws in a nationwide crackdown against all forms of peaceful expression. The Committee against Torture has found that torture in Egypt is widespread and systematic and the situation meets all of the objective criteria for situations requiring the Council’s attention. States should initiate Council action on the situation before it further deteriorates. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/ ]

India The High Commissioner expressed concern over India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) for being ‘fundamentally discriminatory’ as it fails to extend protections to Muslim asylum seekers. Nationwide demonstrations and protests have been met with police brutality and arbitrary detentions. Vigilante groups allegedly affiliated with right-wing Hindu nationalist groups close to the government have physically attacked student protestors. Human rights defenders involved in organising peaceful assemblies have been detained and faced online harassment. ISHR calls on States to raise these concerns in their national statements including during the high level segment. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/27/ngos-come-out-in-support-of-indias-lawyers-collective/]

Burundi. At the last Council session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which will present its oral briefing on 10 March at 10:00. ISHR remains highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/

Sri Lanka. Civil society groups are concerned over the backsliding on the commitments made by Sri Lanka in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. The recently elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been appointed prime minister, have been implicated in war crimes and numerous human rights violations when they were defence secretary and president respectively from 2005 to 2015. The new Government has made clear its intention to walk away from the Council process on Sri Lanka, a process that is currently the only hope for victims of human rights violations that truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence are possible. [see https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2020/feb/23/sri-lanka-details-un-case-pullout/] Meanwhile, the relatively open climate for human rights defenders and journalists of the past few years seems to be rapidly closing. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits by members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. ISHR calls on States to urge for continued cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with OHCHR and the Special Procedures. The Council should reiterate the reference in Resolution 40/1 to “the adoption of a time-bound implementation strategy” for implementation of all elements of Resolution 30/1. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/22/sri-lankan-government-accused-of-embarking-on-process-to-silence-critics/]

Other country situations:

    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Occupied Palestinian Territories
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on Libya
    • High-level interactive dialogue on the Central African Republic
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights on South Sudan
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Iran
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
    • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of Congo
    • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Mali 
    • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral report on Ukraine
    • High Commissioner briefings on the following countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Nicaragua, Yemen, Venezuela, Myanmar, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Italy, El Salvador, the Gambia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Angola, Egypt and Fiji  to to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

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

  1. Two members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (one from Asia and one from the Arctic);
  2. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia;
  3. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context;
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences;
  5. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples;
  6. Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material;
  7. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
  8. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Some resolutions werealready announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Prevention of genocide (Armenia)
  2. Special Rapporteur on Torture, mandate renewal (Denmark)
  3. Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  4. Situation of human rights in Myanmar (EU)
  5. Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mandate renewal (EU)
  6. Mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  7. Protecting the rights of human rights defenders, mandate renewal (Norway)
  8. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  9. Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC)
  10. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  11. Situation of human rights in South Sudan, mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  12. Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, mandate renewal (North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  13. Freedom of Expression, mandate renewal (Netherlands, Canada)

Officers of the Human Rights Council

Newly appointed members of the Bureau for the 14th cycle comprises of the following Ambassadors:

  • Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger (Austria), President of the Human Rights Council
  • Mr. Yackoley Kokou Johnson (Togo), Vice-President and Rapporteur
  • Mr. Nasir Ahmad Andisha (Afghanistan), Vice-President
  • Ms. Socorro Flores Liera (Mexico), Vice-President
  • Mr. Juraj Podhorský (Slovakia), Vice-President

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Four panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming titled “Thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities” will take place on 24 February at 16:00
  2. High-level panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with a particular focus on their implementation will take place on 25 February at 09:00
  3. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, titled “Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on awareness-raising”, will take place on 6 March at 16:00
  4. Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent will take place on 13 March at 16:00.

NOTE: The UN’s liquidity crisis is having a serious impact on this session and the next one (44th in June) and ISHR – jointly with 26 other NGOs – have expressed their concerns to the UNSG that in light of the special emergency measures and ongoing budget constraints, further measures may be imposed to restrict civil society participation at the Council. Despite the adoption of a number of measures by the Council over the years to address the budgetary constraints faced by the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the Director General of UNOG informed the Council’s President that the Council may not be able to carry out all its mandated activities in 2020. This is due to the special emergency measures instituted by the UNSG to respond to the UN’s liquidity crisis which prohibit all lunch-time meetings, thus making it impossible for UNOG to provide conference services to all the Council’s required meetings. The President of the Council requested the UNSG to issue an exemption of these measures to ensure that the Council can hold all its meetings. The UNSG issued an exemption for meetings during the High-level Segment and voting on resolutions, but not for other meetings in the March session. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/20/lack-of-funds-forces-lack-of-oversight-by-un/]

For more information contact: Salma El Hosseiny at s.hosseinyATishr.ch 

For a survey of the 42nd session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/02/result-of-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

See also CIVICUS advisory on this Council session: https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/4282-advocacy-priorities-at-43rd-session-of-un-human-rights-council

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc43-key-issues-agenda-march-2020-session

Daniel Ravindran; a voice of reason in India’s human rights debate

January 16, 2020

A protest in Srinagar in December 2016.

A protest in Srinagar in December 2016.

With the evolution of international law in the last 100 years, the concept of unrestricted sovereignty has weakened

The human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) following the dilution of Article 370 and the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) have brought renewed international focus on India’s human rights practice. Responding to criticism made by the United Nations agencies and others, the Indian state asserted that both J&K and CAA are entirely internal matters and there cannot be any interference in such sovereign decisions.

What is remarkable about modern international human rights law is its recognition of individuals as subjects. Classic international law governed the conduct between states and did not recognise the rights of individuals. Countries made agreements on the premise that a sovereign state had the exclusive right to take any action it thought fit to deal with its nationals. Such a notion of absolute sovereignty was challenged in 19th century with the emergence of humanitarian intervention to protect minorities living in other states. Later, in 1919, the evolution of labour standards led to the establishment of the International Labour Office (ILO). In 1926, the Slavery Convention adopted by the League of Nations prohibiting slave trade heralded the first human rights treaty based on the principle of dignity of a human being. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations, was the first comprehensive international human rights document. The Universal Declaration has acquired the force of law as part of the customary law of nations. It has provided the basis for binding human rights treaties and non-binding guidelines/principles that constitute a distinct body of law known as international human rights law.

Unsustainable claim

This progress of international law in the last 100 years makes the Indian state’s assertion of its sovereign right unsustainable. The evolution of international human rights law is also about the gradual weakening of the concept of unrestricted sovereignty. The Indian government has ratified several international human rights treaties and submits periodic reports to the respective treaty bodies. By doing so, it has acknowledged the principle that the treatment of its citizens is not entirely an internal matter, and such measures do not enjoy an absolute sovereignty.

The Indian government’s response to concerns about its human rights practice has always been that international scrutiny is unwarranted since the country is the largest democracy in the world with an independent judiciary, free media, and an active civil society. These claims sound less credible after the recent developments in J&K and the passage of the CAA.

Non–discrimination is a fundamental principle of human rights. Discrimination in various forms occurs in all societies, but what is of concern is institutionalised discrimination. Apartheid was pronounced as a crime against humanity since it institutionalised discrimination based on race. Similarly, for the first time in post–Independence India, a religious group has been excluded from the purview of a law dealing with citizenship.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which is the lead agency within the UN system on all aspects related to human rights, has expressed its concern stating that the CAA “is fundamentally discriminatory in nature”. It has also said that “although India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality.”

International human rights law includes safeguards against unwarranted foreign intervention and stresses the exhaustion of domestic remedies before an issue is considered by an international body. The Indian state always assured the international community that the judiciary, mainly its Supreme Court, would provide adequate remedies to victims of human rights violations. However, of late, the faith of the common people in the higher judiciary has been weakened. In the face of serious allegations about human rights violations in J&K, the Supreme Court has “ducked, evaded and adjourned”, as put across by advocate Gautam Bhatia.

Weakening of civil society

While responding to criticism against its human rights practices, the Indian government also refers to the role of free media and civil society in protecting the human rights of vulnerable groups. However, in the context of J&K and the ongoing struggle against the CAA, the media has not come out any better. As for civil society organisations, the government since 2014 has systematically targeted them, including by making it difficult for them to receive funds from foreign donors. Since 2014, the government has cancelled the registration of about 14,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). It has also mainly targeted its own critics.

Indian and international human rights groups are getting increasingly concerned about the actions of people associated with the ruling party who are engaged in the intimidation of critics, attacks against minorities, and restrictions on the freedoms of artistes. The brazen attack on JNU students on January 5 by armed goons and the total lack of response by the police is emblematic of free reign given to non-state actors in various parts of the country.

The international community is sympathetic to governments that are committed to upholding human rights but lack human and other resources to pursue it. In the case of India, it is not a question of resources but an unwillingness to uphold human rights. The government’s action in J&K, the passage of the CAA, and its response to protests on the CAA demonstrate that the present regime is not fully committed to upholding human rights and does not respect international human rights standards. Of course, it is possible for the Indian government, due to its diplomatic clout, to avoid robust intervention by the UN Human Rights Council and other UN human rights mechanisms. However, it would not be able to avoid scrutiny by the international community, which would complement the struggle of the Indian civil society to reclaim the Indian Constitution and advance human rights.

For transparancy reasons: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/14/who-should-be-the-new-un-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders-ravindram-is-my-choice/

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/human-rights-are-not-solely-an-internal-matter/article30537443.ece

Rescuing Human Rights – another way of re-assessing human rights

November 17, 2019

I wrote abut Hurst Hannum’s book ‘Rescuing Human Rights’ earlier [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/20/hurst-hannum-wants-a-radically-moderate-approach-to-human-rights/]. On 30 July 2019, Peter Splinter wrote for ISHR a book review “Rescuing Human Rights – Making the case for a reassessment of the scope of human rights advocacy”

 
Hurst Hannum, Rescuing Human Rights: A Radically Moderate Approach, Cambridge University Press, 2019. 223 pp.

Hannum argues the case for a hard-headed reassessment of what human rights are and what they can achieve, done with the aim of preventing unrealistic expansion or overreach that undermines their legitimacy and universal acceptance.

Hannum expresses a firm conviction in the durable value of human rights. He brings to Rescuing Human Rights a lifetime of rich and diverse experiences as an observer, teacher and practitioner of human rights in numerous capacities and settings. While conservative, Hannum’s thesis does not hark back to a golden age of human rights. He recognises that human rights law has evolved and will continue to evolve. He also accepts that “pushing the envelope of human rights norms may sometimes be a legitimate [advocacy] tactic.”

Hannum’s principal concern is with human rights ‘overreach’ – efforts to resolve contentious political issues by trying to make them into technical human rights matters that they are not. He is not a fan of a widespread inclination to advocate for human rights of the next good cause.

“Attempting to regulate ever more narrow slices of life under ever more diverse circumstances through promoting new human rights runs a serious risk of undermining both the legitimacy of human rights and their universality. The result may be to simply expand the number of rights that are routinely ignored rather than to bring real help to those whose rights, no matter how narrowly construed, are already being violated.” (p. 79)

He perceives that human rights activism based on an expansive concept of rights as the primary means to effect domestic social and political change is feeding a global backlash against human rights. He is concerned that this will undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of human rights advocacy to protect universally recognised rights, which “facilitate the development and influence of other socio-economic-political-moral change agents in ways that are likely to respond to the needs of most people of the world.” (p. 10) While acknowledging that human rights are inherently political, as they constrain government behaviour, Hannum suggests that the more that human rights advocacy approximates politics, the less rights will be able to effectively set the boundaries for the open, inclusive, democratic politics required to effectively address major contemporary social, political and economic issues by ensuring that political decision-making takes account of the needs and preferences of all relevant parts of society.

“This book is an appeal for radical moderation, which values and promotes human rights norms without distorting or deifying them. …  Underlying many of the book’s arguments is the belief that human rights cannot provide dispositive answers to all of the world’s problems, although they may be a necessary precondition for resolving many of them.” (p. 157)

Rescuing Human Rights focusses on human rights as universal legal norms embodied in public international law, particularly universal and regional treaties. Hannum assumes a universal consensus over the core content and legitimacy of most human rights. He distinguishes human rights from moral and political standards, while acknowledging their complementarity as forces that shape societies.

While Rescuing Human Rights discusses human rights primarily as they are shaped and invoked at the international level, Hannum emphasises that they are applied in national contexts where the relationship of the State and rights-holders is played out. Human rights promotion and protection are essentially a national project that is shaped and constrained by national governments’ voluntary acceptance of universal legally binding human rights standards. An important chapter is devoted to arguing for flexibility in the application and prioritisation of human rights norms on the grounds that universality is not uniformity. This recognition points to the need for further examination of Hannum’s thesis in specific national contexts. Are the dangers of human rights expansion and overreach at the international level mirrored by developments at the national level in individual countries?

Rescuing Human Rights focusses largely on what human rights are not and should not be made out to be. Hannum’s thesis would also benefit from further exploration of how human rights can be used better to contribute to efforts to address major contemporary social, economic and political issues at the international and national levels. If one accepts that human rights cannot determine the outcomes for issues such as development, climate change and corruption, then what are the contributions that specific rights make in specific contexts to political, economic, cultural, moral and technological efforts to meet those and other challenges? Any recalibrating of human rights promotion and advocacy in accordance with the approach Hannum proposes would benefit from robust exploration of the important contributions that human rights do and can make, such as ensuring that climate change policies are developed in consultation with representatives of all persons whose rights might be affected and have regard to their human rights impacts, including for the most marginalised communities and groups.

Today, while human rights are increasingly invoked in connection with efforts to address a growing range of global and national challenges, they are also increasingly flouted or questioned in many parts of the world. This includes in some countries where until recently human rights appeared largely beyond challenge. Many governments are demonstrating a renewed brazenness in violating their international human rights obligations. In many countries, there is widespread apathy, popular disillusionment and even hostility for human rights. This current state of human rights has led to calls from civil society organisations, academics, governments and inter-governmental organisations for urgent stocktaking about what is to be done to defend and reinforce the post-1945 human rights achievement. Some call into question the human rights project, and others call for its reinvention. Some appeal to humanity’s better angels, and others buckle down on business as usual. Some pursue novel organisational approaches to human rights advocacy, and others look to human rights to provide solutions for ever more matters of concern.

The way forward is not clear. However, Hannum’s lucid argument for greater focus and humility in recourse to human rights and his call for the recalibration of the scope of human rights advocacy should form part of any discussion about the future of human rights. Rescuing Human Rights merits reading and reflection by all who study, defend or promote human rights.

Peter Splinter is an international human rights consultant and was Amnesty International’s Representative in Geneva from 2004 to 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @pgsplinter.

http://www.ishr.ch/news/book-review-i-rescuing-human-rights-making-case-reassessment-scope-human-rights-advocacy