Posts Tagged ‘international human rights mechanisms’

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

The ‘Van Boven Principles’: short video

July 23, 2019

This short video dates back to 17 November 2015 but is now available as UN VIDEO. It is a short version of a full-length documentary film on Theo van Boven who was head of the UN Human Rights Division in the late seventies/early eighties when in Latin America hundreds of thousands were tortured, killed and disappeared. Theo was one of the few courageous UN leaders to speak out:  “It is inexplicable and indefensible for the United Nations not to react urgently to situations of gross violations of human rights”.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/07/new-book-on-theo-van-bovens-crucial-role-in-the-development-of-the-un-human-rights-system/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/12/16/theo-van-boven-reflects-on-70-years-united-nations/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/05/theo-van-boven-honored-with-film-and-debate-in-geneva-side-event-14-march/

https://videos.un.org/en/2015/11/17/the-van-boven-principles/

Alarm bells about China’s growing coalition of the ‘unwilling’

July 20, 2019

On 18 July 2019ecturer on Human Rights, School of Law, University of Essex, wrote in The Conversation a piece that sounds alarm bells about “China is building a global coalition of human rights violators to defend its record in Xinjiang – what is its endgame? Worth taking note:

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Human rights defenders of minorities having a hard time in the UN finds UNPO

July 19, 2019

On 17 July 2019 the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) is launched a report, Compromised Space: Bullying and Blocking at the UN Human Rights Mechanisms, with its partners at the University of Oxford and Tibet Justice Centre which details how China, Russia, Iran and other repressive regimes are manipulating the United Nations Human Rights System to block and attack those seeking to hold them accountable for gross human rights violations perpetrated against minorities, indigenous communities and other unrepresented peoples…

The report is based on three years of study conducted by the UNPO and its partners at the University of Oxford and the Tibet Justice Center, supported by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. It is based largely on interviews and testimonies from 77 human rights defenders working on behalf of minorities, indigenous communities and other people living in nation states whose political systems do not create governance structures representative of all. It identifies a systemic attack on the United Nations human rights system by these governments, led largely by China, Russia and Iran, designed to shield them from accountability for human rights violations and crimes against humanity. This includes efforts to deny civil society groups participatory status at the UN (so called “ECOSOC status”), to bully and block them when they are able to access the UN, to crowd out the UN space with “GONGOs” – government-sponsored organisations posing as NGOs – and to harass, intimidate and take reprisals against activists and their families, whether at home or abroad.

Among the indicative findings of the report are the facts that:

China has regularly detained or imprisoned activists from its Southern Mongolian, Uyghur and Tibetan communities who have sought to travel to the UN, with such success that, for example, no Tibetan from Tibet who is acting independently of the Chinese government has ever managed to leave Chinese- occupied Tibet to testify at the UN in Geneva or New York, and then return safely;

Russia, in order to shield itself from accountability for its crimes in Russian-occupied Crimea, has asked for rules of participation in forums, such as the UN Minority Forum, to be changed to restrict NGO participation to groups acceptable to Russia, and its Crimea occupation authorities have attacked Crimean Tatar activists and destroyed or confiscated their passports in order to prevent their travel;

Iran regularly engages in practices designed to intimidate activists from their minority communities, even while they are operating within the United Nations buildings, and have taken out reprisals against the family members of these activists still living within the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The story of Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress and Vice President of the UNPO, is indicative of all of these actions. Mr. Isa and his organization have regularly been denied ECOSOC status at the United Nations, his access to the UN buildings and events have been restricted due to Chinese demands, he and his supporters have been followed and harassed in the UN building, his mother was held in China’s anti-Muslim concentration camps as a result of his work and for many years his ability to travel freely around the world was frustrated by Chinese efforts to involve European and other states in his persecution by falsely labelling him a “terrorist”.

Reacting to the launch of the report, UNPO’s General Secretary, Ralph Bunche, stated that “the report presents the disturbing finding that the United Nations Human Rights system, which is the only outlet for many peoples living under repressive regimes to seek accountability for crimes committed against them, is being systemically undermined by perpetrator regimes. Unfortunately, democratic states are not doing nearly enough to push back against this phenomenon and in some instances are even adopting the conduct that we see from the repressive states. The withdrawal of the USA from the UN’s Human Rights Council has certainly not helped matters, but other states are simply not doing enough to counter this problem and protect human rights defenders.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT HERE

https://unpo.org/article/21583

UN Council agrees action on Philippines in spite of vehement objection

July 11, 2019

On 11 July 2019 the United Nations Human Rights Council’s approved the resolution initiated by Iceland by a vote of 18 to 14, that requests the UN human rights office to present a comprehensive report on human rights in the Philippines to the council next June. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/07/philippines-labour-rights-defender-dennis-sequena-shot-dead-while-meeting-with-workers/]. The resolution also expresses concern about the range of rights violations in the country and calls on the government to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms and experts. The Philippine government earlier denounced the resolution as a “divisive motion” and sought to block it. The Philippines rejected the resolution, with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. calling it a “travesty” in a statement a representative read on his behalf.

(A total of 14 countries, meanwhile, voted no, including China; fifteen countries abstained, including Japan, Pakistan, and Brazil.

https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/07/11/19/un-rights-body-oks-investigation-on-ph-drug-killings-rights-situation

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/11/philippines-un-takes-critical-step-toward-accountability-0

Lack of funds forces lack of oversight by UN

May 20, 2019

wrting for IPS on 20 May 2019 relates that the “    

The Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says six of the UN’s 10 treaty bodies are being forced to cancel their sessions this year due to financial reasons. The situation has been described as “an unprecedented consequence of some UN member States delaying payments due to the Organisation.” Anna-Karin Holmlund, Senior UN Advocate at Amnesty International, told IPS: “Amnesty is deeply concerned by member states’ delay in paying their assessed contributions, which will have a direct effect on the ability of the UN to carry out its vital human rights work.” By 10 May, only 44 UN member states – out of 193 — had paid all their assessments due, with the United States owing the largest amount.

The OHCHR said last week the cancellations meant that reviews already scheduled with member states, as well as consideration of complaints by individual victims of serious human rights violations — including torture, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances -– will not take place as scheduled. “The cancellation of sessions will also have numerous other negative consequences, and will seriously undermine the system of protections which States themselves have put in place over decades,” said a statement released by the OHCHR.

The chairpersons of the 10 Committees are deeply concerned about the practical consequences of cancelling these sessions and have sent a letter to the UN Secretary General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, requesting they, together with Member States, explore ways of addressing this situation, “as a matter of urgency.”..

http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/05/uns-mandate-protect-human-rights-takes-another-hit/

ISHR on Reprisals: UN and States must do more to address reprisals

May 13, 2019

On 6 May 2019 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) submitted two reports to the UN Secretary General on the topic of reprisals against human rights defenders. The conclusion is that many defenders still face unacceptable risks and are unable to cooperate safely with the UN and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms. The reports were prepared in response to the call made by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights inviting representatives of civil society to provide information on preventing and addressing acts of intimidation and reprisals related to cooperation with the United Nations. This blog has devoted many posts to this nefarious issue, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

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