Posts Tagged ‘International Service for Human Rights’

ISHR’s Human Rights Defenders Advocacy Programme 2017 starts on Monday

May 27, 2017

ISHR‘s Human Rights Defenders Advocacy Programme begins on Monday 29 May, with 17 human rights defenders from around the globe travelling to Geneva to learn about strategic engagement with the UN mechanisms.

HRDAP 2016 Participants

The programme equips defenders with the knowledge and skills to make strategic use of the international human rights system. It also provides an opportunity for participants to directly engage in lobbying and advocacy activities at the UN level to effect change on the ground back home. ISHR’s Training and Advocacy Support Manager, Helen Nolan, explains that this year’s HRDAP participants were selected from a pool of 380 applicants – the highest number yet.

We’re incredibly excited to be collaborating with 17 committed human rights defenders working on women’s rights, business and human rights, the rights of LGBTI persons, and human rights defender protection,’ said Nolan. ‘These defenders are travelling from around the globe – including Argentina, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador, Egypt, Fiji, India, Nigeria, Peru, Russia and Sierra Leone – to spend two highly intense weeks gaining practical advocacy experience in Geneva.’

HRDAP coincides with the 35th Session of the Human Rights Council, and well as receiving training modules on all the UN human rights mechanisms from a range of experts, participants will have the opportunity to build networks in Geneva and around the world, carry out lobbying of UN member States and UN staff, and learn from peers from a range of regions working on a range of human rights issues.

Crucially, we know the programme works,’ said Nolan. ‘Last year, 100% of our participants were either very satisfied or satisfied with the programme, with 96% of them having at least partially achieved their key advocacy and learning objectives.’ In 2016, HRDAP enabled:

  • corporate accountability activist Alexandra Montgomery to provide frst hand testimony to state representatives and experts about the violence faced by land rights defenders in Brazil
  • Tehmina Zafar to sound the alarm in the UN Human Rights Council about proposed laws which could dramatically restrict the operation and independence of NGOs in Pakistan
  • Karen Mejía to inform a UN expert body about the need to defend women’s rights activists and decriminalise abortion in Honduras.
  • several participants to contribute substantially to the historic campaign to appoint the first ever UN expert on LGBTI rights

International Service for Human Rights publishes Annual Report

May 16, 2017

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) has also published its annual report on 2016 (a bit confusingly called Annual Report 2017 as it also contains plans for 2017). Several chapters contain substantive information on the excellent work done for human rights defenders:

Agents of change | Empowering defenders to achieve impact (p 10)

Model Law | Groundbreaking new tool to protect defenders  (p 14)

Strange bedfellows | The role of business in protecting civil society space (p 18)

Reprisals | Ending attacks against those who cooperate with the UN (p 21)

Defending diversity | The struggle for LGBTI dignity and rights.

Video interview with Andrea Ixchíu Hernandez, human rights defender from Guatemala

February 5, 2017

Andrea Ixchíu Hernandez  is an indigenous rights defender working for several organisations in Guatemala. She talks – in English – to ISHR (International Service for Human Rights) about her work to build up community media so the voices of indigenous people are  heard and the violations they face are publicly unveiled.

ISHR 2017 training course for human rights defenders now open for applications

November 12, 2016

 The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is calling for applications for its flagship Human Rights Defenders Advocacy Program in 2017 – the extensive training programme for human rights defenders. The training will take place in Geneva between 29 May and 9 June 2017 and provides defenders with opportunities to put their advocacy skills directly into action at the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

ISHR’s Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme (HRDAP) equips defenders with the knowledge and skills to make strategic use of the international human rights system. It also provides an opportunity for participants to directly engage in lobbying and advocacy activities at the UN level to effect change on the ground back home. As well as receiving training modules on all the UN human rights mechanisms from a range of experts, participants will also have the opportunity to build networks in Geneva and around the world, carry out lobbying of UN member States and UN staff, and learn from peers from a range of regions working on a range of human rights issues.

Participants will take part in:

  1. A short online learning component, prior to face-to-face training, to enable you to consolidate your existing knowledge and develop your advocacy objectives;
  2. Intensive training in Geneva during June, to coincide with the 35th session of the Human Rights Council. The training will focus on ways to effectively use international human rights mechanisms and to influence outcomes;
  3. Specific advocacy at Human Rights Council sessions and other relevant meetings, with regular feedback and peer education to learn from the experiences, including expert input from leading human rights advocates.

This programme is directed at experienced human rights defenders in non governmental organisations and national human rights institutions, with existing advocacy experience at the national level and some prior knowledge of the international human rights system. If you are interested in applying for ISHR’s training programme, please read the call for applications to check that you comply with the requirements. The link to the online application form can be found under point 5 of the call for applications.

The call for applicants can be found here. For more information, write to

Source: ISHR 2017 training for human rights defenders: now open for applicants! | ISHR

Online Survey on ISHR communication

November 4, 2016

As the Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is one of the most important sources of information on HRDs and the UN, I hope that many of you will be able to give them feedback on their various communications and digital publications by filling our the on-line survey in the link below. It indeed takes not more than 5 minutes to complete. ISHR-logo-colour-high


Source: ISHR Online Survey

Profile of Jacobus Witbooi, LGBTI human rights defender from Namibia

August 31, 2016

Profile of Jacobus Witbooi, human rights defender from Namibia, working at the Pan Africa International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (PAI).

In June 2016 he completed ISHR’s Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme and The Monitor of 27 June contained the following piece:
Jacobus Witbooi knows himself to be an ‘innate activist’ and says that his passion for human rights ‘comes from the inside.’ It has always been a strong part of who he is, taking up the challenge to advocate for those without a voice at a very early age. When still attending school, he recalls campaigning for education on safe sex and sexual health information and advice before it was even considered by national school policy makers.

‘Everyone knew that there were young people having unprotected sex, but they also didn’t have access to condoms, let alone information or advice from community health services about sexual health and safety, especially if they contracted a STI…They felt judged, couldn’t take steps to protect themselves or get help they needed.’

As he matured as a young professional he continued to pursue the issue and played a key role in eventually getting sex education on the national school curriculum in Namibia. He also helped to create a platform for young people to have a say in the design and evaluation of sexual and reproductive health programs, as well as assist health services to provide a caring and sympathetic environment for young people, enhancing accessibility.

Creating a network to drive change

Jacobus’ human rights advocacy journey has brought him to Pan Africa ILGA, a recently formed and rapidly expanding membership-based network for activists working to advance sexual orientation and gender identity rights. He delivers a continent-wide outreach strategy to small, grassroots LGBTI  activists and defenders, helping to develop their skills and confidence to engage with both the UN human rights mechanisms and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission), and grow their ability to achieve meaningful and lasting human rights change.

The issue is close to his heart. He remembers coming out at a time in Namibia when it was unsafe, denied and denounced by all corners of the community.

‘I didn’t feel welcome in my own country, and was told I should leave.’

Whilst Pan Africa ILGA is rapidly expanding – it now has over 100 members – Jacobus is aware of the limitations his service can provide, and the needs of local LGBTI community organisations.

‘There’s a gap between the amount of work we can do to support local human rights activists, and how far we can teach them to carry forward UN outcomes and recommendations into their country.’

But he adds that he refuses to accept that it is a gap that cannot be closed. In May, Jacobus had a key part in delivering the third PAI regional LGBTI conference in South Africa. Bringing together 184 African delegates from over 34 African States, coming together to convene and share strategies, visions and fostering opportunities to collaborate. More encouraging, was the attendance of Government representatives and members of the African Commission, as well as National Human Rights Institutions.

Highlighting this significant social and political development, Jacobus points out that there is a growing support for sexual orientation and gender identity rights on the African continent, and is optimistic for the future of the LGBTI community. However,  he knows there is a lot more work to be done.

‘I think this space we created was critical as a continent – sharing the success stories. But, how do we move this forward, and deal with the intersectionality of sexual orientation and gender identity issues?’

Expanding his human rights advocacy potential

He identified that one way forward for him was to better harness the UN international human rights mechanisms and expand his human rights advocacy potential and successfully applied to participate in the ISHR Human Rights Advocacy Programme.

‘It’s helped me a lot. I’ve broadened my understanding of available UN-mechanisms beyond the Universal Periodic Review alone. I’ve learnt that there is a wide range of approaches to doing human rights advocacy through the UN. This awareness combined with the confidence I’ve now gained will be vital for me on the ground back home.’

He has also noticed his own approach to engaging in human rights advocacy has transformed.

‘I’ve become more strategic now. Because I have a deeper understanding of the UN system, it means that I can use multiple mechanisms to get outcomes, such as the Treaty Bodies and the Special Procedures.’

Contributing to the first UN Resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

With his training coinciding with the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council, Jacobus became heavily involved in contributing to the Working Group advocating and lobbying for a strong resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity. He describes this as,

‘My first real hands on experience advocacy at the Council, working with states delegations and diplomats, trying to bring across an argument that is sensitive and difficult to move on, and coming from a region where it is very difficult to even talk about. It has given me a better understanding of how these things work, what components come into play when these decisions are made.’

Contact: or follow him on Twitter @jacobuswitbooi

Source: Defender profile: Jacobus Witbooi, human rights defender from Namibia | ISHR

2016 Annual Report of the International Service for Human Rights is out

May 15, 2016

Today the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) announced the publication of its annual report which highlights key developments during 2015 and its vision for 2016 and the years ahead.

Source: Our vision and achievements: ISHR’s 2016 Annual Report | ISHR


for more posts on the ISHR, see:

ISHR starts campaign to monitor Committee that throttles NGO access to the UN

May 4, 2016

I have written earlier about the worrying trends in the ‘obscure’ “ECOSOC Committee on NGOs”  ( which is supposed to consider applications by NGOs for ECOSOC accreditation and, as such, is a key gateway for NGOs to gain access to the UN.

The International Service of Human Rights (ISHR) – which issued earlier a guide [] -has now come out with a statement that the “practice of the Committee is wholly unacceptable and must change”.


It has addressed a letter to ECOSOC – the parent body of the Committee – and copied to all Member States, the UN Secretary General, President of the General Assembly, and the President of the Human Rights Council. The letter expresses concern regarding the practice of the Committee. It intends to signal the level of concern NGOs feel about restrictions on civil society participation at the UN. The ISHR hopes that a large number of others will sign.


In addition to the letter, on Tuesday 24 May the ISHR encourages all NGOs to join in the public gallery at the upcoming Committee session in New York. Although the sessions are public, few NGOs attend and the sessions are not webcast. It is important that Committee members are aware the sessions are being monitored and reported on.

If you have any questions, please contact the International Service for Human Rights: information@ishr.chISHR-logo-colour-high


No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and HRDs

November 11, 2015

On 19 October Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, wrote a piece for the Monitor of the ISHR under the title “No more ‘business as usual’ when it comes to business and human rights defenders”Read the rest of this entry »

Iduvina Hernandez: Human Rights Defender from Guatemala

October 8, 2015

The newsletter of the ISHR of 7 October 2015 carries an interview with Iduvina Hernandez, co-founder of Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy in Guatemala.

Iduvina Hernandez founded the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy (SEDEM), together with US citizen Rachel Garst in 2000. As journalists, Iduvina and Rachel had studied the behaviour of armed forces and intelligence services which were linked to numerous human rights abuses. The organisation initially questioned the meaning of ‘oversight’ and ‘accountability’ of security services for the public as Guatemala was having raging debate about security forces and intelligence sources. In order to expand this discussion, the organisation started building citizen networks in the provinces providing them with training so as to enable them to conduct independent oversight of State security forces actions in their region.

Guatemala’s public security is handled by the military and dominated by a national security doctrine. Extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances have been documented in a country still haunted by genocide. Civil society organisations have suggested that the militarisation of public security makes human rights abuses more probable, a fact that Iduvina’s organisation aims to change.

‘In a true democracy the military has nothing to do with citizen security.’

Iduvina believes human rights work is in her DNA since she grew up in a family where solidarity was a critical value. She remembers seeing people hidden in her home when she was a child, her father explaining that these people’s lives were in danger. At that point, Iduvina already felt like part of the framework working to protect them.

‘We can always do something for anyone, in any place, in any way.’

From an early age Iduvina was part of the student movement, working for student rights and then became  a student leader for the University Students Association from 1976 to 1981. She lost many friends along the was due to disappearances or killings. She was even forced into exile but returned to the country as soon as she got the opportunity.

Challenges and threats to human rights defenders

One of Iduvina’s major challenges is linked to personal issues. As director of her own organisation she works on a volunteer basis and is therefore forced to have several jobs in order to sustain herself.

As for security conditions in Guatemala they expose human rights defenders to serious risks throughout their work. This usually includes being targeted by various Government actors and former members of the military often linked to the Government.

Iduvina highlights that though the social movement recently overthrew the former president, disappointingly there has not been any significant change in the political sphere.

‘The new person in charge is a fascist and very old. His policies, as well as his security policies, will be the same. We are afraid because we have a Government that does not respect human rights and certainly does not defend human rights.’

Iduvina states that the dangers that human rights defenders face in Guatemala stem from: Government action; Government policies; Government tolerance towards perpetrators; perpetrators’ actions; corruption; the composition of the judicial sector; and impunity.

The legislative framework for NGOs and human rights defenders

A restrictive law against NGOs was introduced in 2003 which imposed new conditions and limitations on NGOs – especially those working for the promotion of human rights. While registering a NGO used to be a simple process (only requiring registration at the  city hall office) the 2004 amendment to the Constitution now requires NGOs to register at the Minister of Interio. This has become a real obstacle for human rights defence as NGOs now need approval to work legally and even to change their board membership. This particularly targets ngos working for the promotion of human rights. Iduvina’s organisation once had to wait  6 months to be registered, whilst another organisation not involved with human rights was registered in 10 days.

‘An organisation working against genocide was required to maintain the same board and president as they were not granted approval to change the legal representation. If you are not registered you cannot deal with the banks, you cannot receive donations, you are on standby.’

No specific law in Guatemala protects the work of human rights defender though there are a number of institutionstasked with their protection. Iduvina believes that oversight over the process of registering NGOs must be removed and thinks it necessary to have a law  to protect the work of human rights defenders. Yet she believes it would be easier and more achievable to introduce a chapter on human rights defenders into the Special Ombudsman Law. With the composition of the current political system – dominated by right-wing ideas – this is still something she knows will be difficult to strive for. Attempting to implement such changes now would likely restrict human rights defenders further.

National and International Advocacy Goals

At the national level Iduvina is currently working on a draft national policy for the protection of human rights defenders. This includes the creation of  focus groups and the use of  workshops and interviews to identify the real needs of  grassroots defenders.

At the international level, Iduvina says it is essential that the international community bears in mind that Guatemala is not a consolidated democracy and that human rights defenders continue to be at high risk.

‘It is more important today than it has ever been. The movement to overthrow the Government suggested that things were going to change in Guatemala. We need to make clear to the international community that although the demonstrations were a huge success, the root problems have not changed, not yet. We still need the international community’s eye on the country, especially as the new President is in many ways worse than the last – coming from the armed forces and involved in the genocide. He is an enemy of democracy.’

Iduvina would like the Special Rapporteurs on the situation on human rights defenders and on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, to visit Guatemala. She would also welcome visits from other special procedures and treaty bodies, in particular those working to protect the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion and expression

The Future for Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala

The future for human rights defenders in Guatemala is two sided, says Iduvina. On one hand the social movement has helped to extend their work and in some spaces of society they will now achieve more respect and understanding for their work. On the other hand if the political system does not change, human rights defenders will be confronted with new threats and new levels of risks.

Source: Iduvina Hernandez: Human Rights Defender from Guatemala | ISHR