Posts Tagged ‘ISHR’

HRC45: key issues for human rights defenders

September 6, 2020

Based on the as usual excellent preview by the ISHR: “HRC45 | Key issues on the agenda of September 2020 session”,  I am able to provide an overview of issues that are specially relevant for human rights defenders:

Summary: The Human Rights Council’s 45th session will take place from 14 September to 6 October 2020. The Council will consider issues including reprisals, rights of indigenous peoples and people of African descent, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances, among others. It will present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Yemen, China, the United States of America, Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Philippines, Venezuela, Burundi and Myanmar, among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

If you want to stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC45 on Twitter, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

Modalities for civil society participation in HRC45

NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC, with active designations in Geneva, will be given the opportunity to deliver video-statement insofar as interactive dialogues are concerned, pending further decision from the Council at the opening of HRC45 on 14 September, and additionally for panels and the adoptions of UPR outcomes as set out in HRC decision 19/119. It won’t be possible to hold “official” side events during the 45th session (online or in-person). Any events happening on the sidelines of the session will be considered independent events and won’t be publicised in the Bulletin of Informal meetings by the Secretariat. Read here the information note by the Secretariat which is updated according to the latest information, and an additional explainer by HRC-net.

Thematic areas of interest

Reprisals

On 25 September, the new Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, will present the Secretary General’s annual report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (also known as ‘the Reprisals Report’) to the Council in her capacity as UN senior official on reprisals. The presentation of the report will be followed by a dedicated interactive dialogue, as mandated by the September 2017 resolution on reprisals.

ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who engage or seek to engage with UN bodies mechanisms. We call for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/31/ishrs-2020-report-on-reprisals-to-the-un-secretary-general/]

The dedicated dialogue provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals, and demand that Governments provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. An increasing number of States have raised concerns in recent sessions about individual cases of reprisals, including in Egypt, Nicaragua, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Yemen, Burundi, China and Venezuela.

During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends, such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, and 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.

Other thematic issues

At this 45th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates with Special Procedure mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with the:

  1. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  2. Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  3. Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes 
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences
  5. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

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

  1. Special Rapporteur  on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  2. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
  3. Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons 

Country-specific developments

China (Hong Kong and Uyghur regions)

In light of worsening restrictions in Hong Kong and ongoing repression against Uyghur, Tibetan and other ethnic groups and those defending them, ISHR welcomes the joint statement from July and urges countries to step up action at HRC45 to improve the UN’s monitoring and reporting on China. This echoes the unprecedented press release by over 50 Special Procedures experts calling for urgent and ‘decisive measures’. ISHR expects opportunities for States to increase scrutiny, and for civil society who seek to keep the UN informed, to include:

  • interventions in dialogue with the UN WGAD and UN WGEID
  • responses to the Secretary General’s reprisals report, where China is regularly a ‘top violator’
  • reactions to the findings of the UN Independent Expert on Older Persons, following her December 2019 country visit

USA

The High Commissioner will present her first oral update to the Council on the preparation of the report on systemic racism and police brutality, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and of other Africans and people of African descent, as well as government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests. The High Commissioner will also provide an update on police brutality against Africans and people of African Descent.

ISHR joined 144 families of victims of police violence and over 360 civil society organisations to endorse this letter sent on 3 August to the UN High Commissioner, detailing expectations from the report and the process for its preparation, including an “inclusive outreach to communities of colour and the creation of meaningful, safe, and accessible opportunities for consultation”. On 19 August 2020, the High Commissioner responded to the letter. Read the response here.

ISHR urges all States to support the five recommendations presented by families of victims of police violence and civil society to the High Commissioner, in their national and joint statements at the Council under General Debate Item 9.

Background information: The report was mandated by the resolution adopted following the urgent debate at the Council in June 2020 on current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests in the US and elsewhere. Though the urgent debate prompted by the African group initially called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry on the US and other countries, due to acute diplomatic pressure from the US and its allies, the Council finally decided to instead mandate the High Commissioner with preparing the report, and to include updates on police brutality against Africans and people of African descent in all her oral updates to the Council.

In June 2020, ISHR joined the calls made by the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and Michael Brown and over six hundred human rights organisations from over 60 countries in requesting the Council to mandate a commission of inquiry for the situation of racism and police brutality in the United States. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the UN Working Group on Experts on People of African Descent had also voiced their support for the international commission of inquiry. They have urged the Council to ensure the following outcomes from the debate:

  1. the creation of an international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States; and
  2. the creation of a thematic international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, with a focus on systemic racism rooted in legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

They stressed that “both measures described above are necessary and cannot be substituted for one another”. The experts “expressed serious concern that extreme pressure by certain powerful and influential countries—including countries that publicly voiced support for the need to take action in the face of systemic racism—has operated to dilute the strength of the planned consensus resolution of the Urgent Debate.”

Saudi Arabia

Women human rights defenders have been in prison for over two years, only because they demanded that women be treated equally as men. No one has been held accountable for their torture. While the Council has sustained pressure on Saudi Arabia in 2019, it is essential that this scrutiny continues as the situation on the ground has not improved. ISHR calls on all States to jointly call on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release the WHRDs and drop the charges against them; and implement the bench-marks set out in the two joint statements delivered by Iceland and Australia in 2019, underlining that should these benchmarks not be met, more formal Council action would follow.

Saudi Arabia is running for Human Rights Council elections in October 2020 and hosting the G20 in November 2020. These all provide windows of opportunity to push for the immediate and unconditional release of the women human rights defenders and all those detained for exercising their rights. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/02/vloggers-selling-their-souls-to-boost-image-of-arab-regimes/]

Venezuela

The time has come for the fact-finding mission on Venezuela, created by the Human Rights Council last September, to report to the Council. ISHR has joined 85 national, regional and international organisations calling for the renewal and strengthening of the mandate, to keep the pressure on Venezuela. National NGOs have highlighted the ongoing human rights violations in the country as evidence that the new mandate should include an exploration of the root causes of these violations; a preservation of evidence to allow for processes to hold individual perpetrators to account, and a focus on gender-based violence. Oral statements from OHCHR will also be presented this session as will – potentially – a second resolution focusing on technical cooperation. The fact-finding mission’s report is due to be published on 15 September, with the interactive dialogue with States due the following week.

Philippines

The Anti-Terrorism Law passed earlier this month complements the Duterte Administration’s arsenal of tools, giving it the ability to label, detain and eliminate government critics using a vague definition of ‘terrorism’. In the prevailing climate of impunity and attacks against human rights defenders, this law granting the government excessive and unchecked powers will further jeopardise the safety of defenders.

This law passed in the context of ongoing violations against defenders in the country, with recent instances of judicial harassment of defenders and targeting defenders with smear campaigns. It is the most recent example of the government’s worsening human rights record. The recent report of the UN High Commissioner highlights widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, silencing of independent media and critics, and stark and persistent impunity.

ISHR joined the calls by civil society and UN Special Procedures for an independent investigation mechanism into the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Burundi

ISHR joined more than 40 partners in a civil society call made public ahead of the 45th session, urging States to support the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi.

Burundi is in a period of potential transition, following the 20 May 2020 presidential, legislative and local elections resulting in the election of a new President, Évariste Ndayishimiye and after the death of former President Nkurunziza. At this moment and in this context, there are signs of promise as well as of significant concern. Despite promising remarks by President Ndayishimiyeduring at his inauguration, as well as the authorities’ new, more transparent approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, observers also raised concerns, notably over the fact that several newly appointed members of the Ndayishimiye administration are subject to international individual sanctions for their alleged responsibility in human rights violations. Nonetheless, the political transition represents an opportunity to open a new chapter for the Burundian people and for Burundi’s relationship with the UN human rights system.

As of today, the Commission of Inquiry remains the only independent mechanism mandated to monitor and document human rights violations and abuses, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi, with sufficient resources and experience to do so. At its 45th session, the Council should avoid sending the Government of Burundi signals that would disincentivise domestic human rights reforms, such as terminating the CoI’s mandate in the absence of measurable progress. It should avoid a scenario where re-establishing the CoI’s mandate would be necessary after a premature discontinuation, because of a renewed escalation of human rights violations and abuses. The Council should rather ensure continued investigations, monitoring, public reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation.

Egypt

The ‘Terrorism Circuit courts’ in Egypt are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. All of the individuals that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner have written about since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention by these courts.

ISHR urges States to call on Egypt to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their human rights, to stop using pre-trial detention as a punishment, and to take immediate measures to guarantee their rights to contact their families on a regular and continuous basis and to ease sending and receiving letters, food and medical supplies to them.

Background information: Seven UN experts have expressed concern about the collective and corrosive effects of Egypt’s counter-terrorism laws and practices on the promotion and protection of human rights. They stated that “Despite [] repeated communications by UN experts over arbitrary detention of individuals, human rights defenders and activists, the Egyptian Government has not changed its laws of practice”. The government’s response to the UPR in March 2020 demonstrated its lack of political will to address key concerns raised by States and to engage constructively with the Council. For example, the government refused to acknowledge the systematic and widespread attacks against defenders, the practice of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres, and to receive visits by Special Rapporteurs on torture and human rights defenders. The government claimed that no one is detained for exercising their rights, despite the fact that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt and could constitute a crime against humanity.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/27/egypt-15-year-term-for-human-rights-defender-bahey-el-din-hassan/]

Other country situations

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 14 September 2020. The Council will consider updates, reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Nicaragua 
  • Oral updates by the High Commissioner, and an Interactive Dialogue on the report of the independent international fact-finding mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the HC on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, including of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, an interactive dialogue on the report of on the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar, and an Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive dialogue with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the final report of the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Libya
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic 
  • Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia 

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

Appointment of mandate holders

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

  1. Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities 
  2. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, member from African States and member from Latin American and Caribbean States
  3. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, member form Latin American and Caribbean States
  4. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, member from African States
  5. Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, member from Asia-Pacific States
  6. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan (if renewed).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 45th session

At the organisational meeting on 31 August the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Special Rapporteur on hazardous waste mandate renewal (African Group)
  2. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent mandate renewal (African Group)
  3. From rhetoric to reality – a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (African Group)
  4. Technical assistance and capacity building in Sudan (African Group)
  5. Human rights and indigenous peoples (Mexico, Guatemala)
  6. Human rights and terrorism (Egypt, Mexico)
  7. The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation (Germany, Spain)
  8. Technical assistance and capacity building in Yemen ((Yemen)
  9. Local government and human rights (Chile, Egypt, South Korea, Romania)
  10. The human rights situation in Yemen (the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg)
  11. Independent expert on the human rights situation in Somalia (Somalia and the United Kingdom)
  12. Technical cooperation and capacity building in the field of human rights (Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey)
  13. Accountability for ensuring women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights in humanitarian settings (Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay, Sweden)
  14. Human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms (Ecuador, Peru)
  15. Rights of the Child (EU, GRULAC)
  16. Human rights situations in Burundi (EU)
  17. IGWG Private military and security companies mandate renewal TBC (South Africa)
  18. Elimination of discrmination against women and girls in sport (South Africa)
  19. Inequalities in and amongst States in the realization of human rights (South Africa)
  20. National human rights institutions (Australia)
  21. Contribution of Human Rights Council to prevention of human rights violations (Norway, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Uruguay)
  22. Safety of journalists (Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia)
  23. Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence mandate renewal (Switzerland, Argentina, Morocco)
  24. Enforced disappearances mandate renewal (France, Argentina, Morocco, Japan)
  25. Women, peace and security (Spain, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Namibia, Tunisia, Finland)

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Kyrgyzstan, Guinea, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Kenya, Armenia , Guinea-Bissau, Sweden, Grenada, Turkey, Kiribati and Guyana. ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR and publishes briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Turkey and Guinea to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

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. Three panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual half-day discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples. Theme: Protection of indigenous human rights defenders
  2. Biennial panel discussion on the right to development. Theme: COVID-19 and the right to development: we are all in this together
  3. Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms. Theme: Gender and diversity: strengthening the intersectional perspective in the work of the Human Rights Council

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc45-key-issues-agenda-september-2020-session

 

ISHR’s 2020 report on reprisals to the UN Secretary-General

August 31, 2020

In order for the international human rights system to function to its fullest potential, human rights defenders must be able to share crucial information and perspectives regarding situations on the ground. However, many defenders still face unacceptable risks and are unable to cooperate safely with the UN. Although this study by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) dates back to 3 may 2020 , I still want to refer to it because reprisals is one of the most importatnt topics covered regularly in this blog [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/%5D

Photo: FlickR / Looking4poetry

ISHR’s new report to the UN Secretary-General demonstrates the need for the UN and States to do more to prevent and ensure accountability for intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the UN. The report was prepared in response to the call for submissions to the annual report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with the UN in the field of human rights, aka the ‘Reprisals Report’. ISHR’s report outlines developments in the international and regional systems, and documents a number of cases.

ISHR’s submission presents a disturbing pattern of intimidation and reprisals. Cases of reprisals featured in the submission range from States dangerously maligning defenders to killing them. In Venezuela, increased monitoring of the situation by the UN has been met with increased risk, stigmatization and harassment of defenders working with the mechanisms. In the Philippines, human rights defenders continue to be vilified by the government and accused of being terrorists. Defenders in Honduras, India, Thailand, Cuba, and Yemen continue to be threatened and harassed. In Russia and Cameroon, defenders who engaged with the UN have been refused entry to the country. Defenders working on China continue to be smeared and discredited and there continues to be no investigation into the death of Cao Shunli, who was jailed and died in custody for trying to provide information to the UN. Defenders in Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, remain in jail because they dared engage in international advocacy.  Other countries cited in the report include The Bahamas, Brazil, Burundi, Mexico, Morocco, and the United States.

The report includes follow-up information on a large number of cases, demonstrating that incidents of reprisals and intimidation are very rarely, if ever, adequately resolved. ‘One only needs to look at the cases that remain unresolved year after year, to know that something more must be done by the UN on follow-up. Otherwise, reprisals ‘work’ to dissuade engagement, and perpetrators are emboldened’, said Madeleine Sinclair, New York Office Co-Director and Legal Counsel.

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States—who must do more to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for reprisals. ‘States must use the opportunity of the interactive dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report in September, as well as Item 5 debates, to raise specific cases and hold their peers accountable’, said Sinclair.

The submission also highlights ISHR’s new study, ‘Intimidation and its Impact on Engagement with the UN Human Rights System: Methodological challenges and opportunities’The study responds to the challenge of severe intimidation leading to ‘self-censorship’ and proposes methodological approaches to strengthen the future capacity to measure and understand how intimidation tactics – both blunt and subtle – effectively inhibit human rights reporting and action, thus reinforcing impunity for States’ abuses. Among these is the dire need for better data. ‘As a starting point, the UN needs to harness its vast data collecting power to systematically track cooperation with its diverse human rights mechanisms so as to be able to track deterioration or improvements from year to year,’ said Sinclair. The study proposes that this, combined with data on human rights abuses, would enable the identification of countries where there is high abuse and low cooperation as well as those with high abuse and high cooperation. Best practice research can then extract lessons learned from countries with high levels of abuse and high levels of cooperation that may assist countries where intimidation has been more successful in sustaining inhibition.

Links: 

Ending intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN in the field of human rights, Submission to the UN Secretary-General on recent developments, cases and recommendations, May 2020.

Intimidation and its Impact on Engagement with the UN Human Rights System: Methodological challenges and opportunities, March 2020.

——

https://www.ishr.ch/news/reprisals-un-and-states-can-and-must-do-more-prevent-and-address-reprisals-0

 

Human rights defender’s story: Maryam Al-Khawaja from Bahrain

August 3, 2020

On 17 July 2020 ISHR published this video of Maryam Al-Khawaja, who is a human rights defender from Bahrain/Denmark. She is the Vice-Chair of the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, a board member at ISHR, and a board member at CIVICUS.

see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/maryam-al-khawaja/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-maryam-al-khawaja-bahrain

On-line Discussion of candidate States’ visions for membership Human Rights Council

July 20, 2020

On Wednesday 9 September 9am-12pm (New York time) Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights will hold – as usual – an online pledging event for candidate States in advance of the Human Rights Council elections that will take place this autumn for the membership term 2021-2023,. State representatives and civil society are invited to participate actively in the events and pose questions to candidate States.

The link to attend the event will be shared closer to the date.

Have a question? Follow the event on Twitter and submit questions to candidates via:  @ISHRglobal #HRCpledging  #HRCelections2020

https://mailchi.mp/ishr/human-rights-council-elections-discussions-of-candidates-aspirations-and-visions-in-new-york-and-geneva-32806?e=d1945ebb90

Human Rights Defenders and the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council

June 25, 2020

The ISHR published on 24 June its usual and irreplacable “HRC44 – Key issues on agenda of June 2020 session”

As usual I have lifted out of this the issues that would seem to affect most directly Human Rights Defenders. To stay up-to-date on all issues: follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC44 on Twitter, and look out for its Human Rights Council Monitor.

The UN Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 44th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 30 June to 21 July 2020.

Modalities for participation in HRC44

State delegations not wishing to enter the plenary room physically will be able to deliver their statements by pre-recorded video-message, as provided for under HRC decision 19/119. Similarly, NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC will be given the opportunity to do the same insofar as interactive dialogues, panels and UPR adoptions are concerned. It won’t be possible to hold “official” side events during the 44th session (online or in-person). Any events happening on the sidelines of the session will be considered independent events and won’t be publicised in the Bulletin of Informal meetings by the Secretariat. Read here the information note by the Secretariat which is updated according to the latest information, and an additional explainer by HRC-net.  

Human Rights implications of COVID-19

The High Commissioner will present an oral update on the human rights impact of COVID-19 at the 44th session, as mandated by the presidential statement adopted by the Council in May 2020. The presidential statement also calls on the High Commissioner to produce a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the enjoyment of human rights around the world to be presented at the 46th session in March 2021. In addition to their previously mandated reports, some mandateholders will present additional reports to address the impact of COVID-19 as related to their mandate, including the Special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye.  [for some of my earlier posts on covid and human rights see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/covid-19/]

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions:

Business and human rights

At this session, the Working Group on Business and Human Rights is expected to present reports on their activities over 2019, including a country visit to Honduras and on the theme of anti-corruption and the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs). They are also meant to present groundbreaking guidance on human rights defenders and the role of business. ISHR expects that such guidance should provide companies with concrete suggestions for how to engage human rights defenders in the development and implementation of their human rights policies. It is important that the guidance explains why this is not simply good practice, but is also aligned with the Guiding Principles’ word and spirit – and thus should be widely mainstreamed for any company committed to the UNGPs.  There will tentatively be a resolution presented to renew the mandate of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, as well as to welcome the thematic reporting.

Sexual orientation and gender identity 

ISHR joined a coalition of 187 organisations to draw the attention of the Human Rights Council to the situation of LGBTI persons and those who defend their rights in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. In line with the call to action signed by 96 human rights experts, organisations working for the protection of the human rights of persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) globally urged States and stakeholders to ensure that this public health emergency will neither exacerbate existing prejudices, inequalities or structural barriers, nor lead to increased violence and discrimination [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/11/coalition-of-187-global-organisations-issues-joint-statement-re-the-impact-of-covid-19-pandemic-on-lgbti/]

Reprisals

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. [agains for earlier posts 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, as well as the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution 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.

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.

Other thematic reports :

At this 44th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with:

The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises  (includes recommendations from 2019 visit to Peru)

The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance 

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association 

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression 

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

  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants 
  • The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons 
  • The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences 
  • The Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity 

#HRC44 | Country-specific developments

China (Hong Kong and Uyghur regions)

Violations in China, especially those linked to freedom of association, were made even more clear during the government’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic. …..States should ensure continued calls for access to UN human rights experts, in line with last year’s joint letter condemning China’s suppression of minorities. Finally, following nearly a year of protests – largely of peaceful civilians –  the central government in Beijing launched an initiative to draft and pass National Security Legislation in Hong Kong. This alarming development was foreshadowed by increasing police violence and use of chemical weapons; the arrest and political prosecution of more than a dozen pro-democracy leaders; and further restrictions on the free press. Many activists, and the European Parliament, are calling for UN Secretary-General António Guterres to appoint an envoy, rightly recognising that China’s actions violate international agreements aimed at ensuring peace and security.

United States of America

Last week, the Council held an urgent debate and adopted a resolution in reaction to systemic racism and police violence in the US and elsewhere. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism and the UN Working Group on Experts on People of African Descent had also voiced their support for an international commission of inquiry. They have urged the Human Rights Council to ensure the following outcomes from the debate: (1) the creation of an international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States; and (2) the creation of a thematic international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, with a focus on systemic racism rooted in legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery. They stressed that “both measures described above are necessary and cannot be substituted for one another”.

Saudi Arabia

Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) have been in prison for over two years, only because they demanded that women be treated equally as men, and no one has been held accountable for their torture. While the Council has sustained pressure on Saudi Arabia in 2019, it is essential that this scrutiny continues as the situation on the ground has not improved. ISHR calls on all States to jointly call on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release the WHRDs and drop the charges against them; and implement the bench-marks set out in the two joint statements delivered by Iceland and Australia in 2019, underlining that should these benchmarks not be met, more formal Council action would follow.

Saudi Arabia is running for Human Rights Council election in October 2020 and hosting the G20 in November 2020. These all provide windows of opportunity to push for the immediate and unconditional release of the women human rights defenders and all those detained for exercising their rights. 

Nicaragua

The COVID-19 crisis has not prevented the Nicaraguan government from making further use of repressive methods to continue targeting released political prisoners, human rights defenders, as well as indigenous people and other social groups, and their relatives. In a rapidly-deteriorating human rights situation, the authorities’ dangerous denial and inaction in the face of the pandemic have additionally fueled an alarming health crisis.

It is in this context that Council Members renewed a resolution on Nicaragua this week at the resumed 43rd session of the Human Rights Council. ISHR joined Race and Equality and a number of national and international organisations in urging the Council to ensure strong support for the resolution on the human rights situation in Nicaragua. To ensure the international community is fully informed of the worsening national situation, the resolution requests the High Commissioner to prepare a report and two oral updates, the first of which should be presented at the Council’s 44th session.

Honduras

The Working Group on Business and Human Rights will present the report on its official visit to Honduras (carried out between the 19 and 28 August 2019). …According to the end of mission statement, a significant number of human rights defenders who work for the respect and protection of human rights in the context of business activity have been arbitrarily arrested, intimidated, stigmatised, criminalised, threatened and some killed.

This was particularly evident in reference to those working in the field of extractive and hydro-electric industries.  The murder of leading land,environment and indigenous peoples´ rights defender Berta Cáceres, who had been campaigning against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, is one case cited where impunity is ongoing.  Individuals responsible for the killing have been tried and jailed. However, those suspected of planning the crime, including senior management from the company building the dam (DESA) according to the independent mission of experts GAIPE, have not been investigated or prosecuted. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/]. Another Special Procedure expert – the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers – will also be presenting a report on its official visit to Honduras in August 2019. After completion of the visit, he called on Honduras to take urgent action to end corruption and guarantee an independent judiciary, stressing that ‘the justice system, as well as the political class’ are being ‘called strongly into question by the citizens’.

Burundi

The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present its oral briefing during the 44th session of the HRC. ISHR continues to remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms.

Egypt

Seven UN experts have expressed concern about the collective and corrosive effects of Egypt’s counter-terrorism laws and practices on the promotion and protection of human rights. They stated that “Despite repeated communications by UN experts over arbitrary detention of individuals, human rights defenders and activists, the Egyptian Government has not changed its laws of practice”. The ‘Terrorism Circuit courts’ in Egypt, are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. All of the individuals that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner have written about since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention by these courts. Once the terrorism courts resumed after they were suspended due to COVID-19, they renewed their detention retroactively.

The government’s response to the UPR in March 2020 demonstrated its lack of political will to address key concerns raised by States and to engage constructively with the Council. For example, the government refused to acknowledge the systematic and widespread attacks against defenders, the practice of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres, and to receive visits by Special Rapporteurs on torture and human rights defenders. The government claimed that no one is detained for exercising their rights, despite the fact that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt and could constitute a crime against humanity.

ISHR urges States to call on Egypt to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their human rights, to stop using pre-trial detention as a punishment, and to take immediate measures to guarantee their rights to contact their families on a regular and continuous basis and to ease sending and receiving letters, food and medical supplies to them.

Philippines 

The OHCHR issued its report (A/HRC/44/22) on the human rights situation in the Philippines, drawing on extensive engagement with and information provided by civil society in the country, the region and globally. The report refers to the killing of 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, between January 2015 and December 2019. Confirming practices of vilification, criminalisation, restrictions of fundamental rights, as well as the continuing attacks including ‘red-tagging,’ the report notes existing impunity and the failure of domestic mechanisms to ensure accountability. The presentation of this report provides an important opportunity for debate on the key findings, and to consider options for how to advance recommendations to address the government’s violations of human rights overall, and restrictions on human rights defenders in particular.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/05/how-a-philipines-website-does-the-reporting-on-the-un-findings-on-human-rights-violations/

Other country situations:

The Council will hold an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s annual report on 2 July 2020. The Council will consider reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the human rights situation of Rohingya people 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Philippines 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Eritrea
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Belarus 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Myanmar 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967 
  • Enhanced ID on the oral reports of the Government of the Sudan and OHCHR on progress towards the opening of a country office 
  • Oral update of the High Commissioner on cooperation with Georgia 

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Armenia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey.

ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. We publish and submit briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as a mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Turkey, Kuwait and Guinea  to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

#HRC44 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 44th session held on 12 and 15 June 2020, the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes five panels of discussion and 81 reports. States also announced at least 17 resolutions. 

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for inter alia the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 44th session

At the organisational meeting the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets) especially relevant:

  1. Elimination of discrimination against women (Colombia, Mexico)
  2. Human rights situation in Eritrea (Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands) mandate renewal 
  3. Business and human rights (Norway, Russian Federation, Ghana, Argentina) Working Group + Accountability and Remedy project mandate renewals
  4. Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (Sweden) mandate renewal
  5. Human rights and climate change (Bangladesh, Philippines, Viet Nam)
  6. Independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers  (Hungary, Australia, Botswana, Maldives, Mexico, Thailand) + mandate renewal
  7. Trafficking in persons, especially women and children (Germany, Argentina, Philippines) + mandate renewal 
  8. Freedom of opinion and expression: access to information (Canada, Namibia, Brazil, Fiji, Netherlands, Sweden) 
  9. Rights of persons with disabilities (Mexico, New Zealand) mandate renewal 
  10. The human rights situation in Belarus (EU) 
  11. The right to peaceful protest (Switzerland, Costa Rica)

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 are broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Five panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child (two panels, theme: “Realizing the rights of the child through a healthy environment”) 
  2. Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women 
  3. Panel discussion on the impacts, opportunities and challenges of new and emerging digital technologies with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights; including an oral update of the Advisory Committee on its report on new and emerging digital technologies 
  4. Panel discussion on promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change 
  5. Annual thematic panel discussion on technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights (theme: “Upholding the human rights of prisoners, including women prisoners and offenders: enhancing technical cooperation and capacity-building in the implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules and the Bangkok Rules”)

For the latest session see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/24/human-rights-defenders-issues-on-the-agenda-of-43rd-human-rights-council/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc44-key-issues-agenda-june-2020-session

New Report ISHR: Reprisals in the African human rights system

June 16, 2020

On 12 May 2020 ISHR published a new report to the Focal Point on Reprisals of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It demonstrates the need for the ACHPR and States to do more to prevent and ensure accountability for intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the African human rights system. (ISHR’s report was prepared in response to the call for submissions to the first annual report of the Focal Point on Reprisals, Commissioner Remy Ngoy Lumbu.)

ISHR’s report documents a disturbing pattern of intimidation and reprisals that must be addressed. Cases of intimidation and reprisals featured in the submission range from States maligning and stigmatising defenders to banning them from travel and detaining them.  ‘Such reprisals violate human rights and fundamental freedoms that regional and international systems are obliged to promote and protect. Moreover, they also seriously impede bodies and mechanisms’ abilities to discharge their mandates effectively, threaten their integrity, and undermine the credibility of their work in the field of human rights’, said Adelaïde Etong Kame, ISHR Africa Programme Manager.  

In Malawi and Cameroon, defenders engaging with the ACHPR are threatened, stigmatised, harassed and attacked. In Burundi, increased monitoring by regional and international human rights mechanisms has been met with increased risk, stigmatisation and harassment of defenders working with the mechanisms. In Mauritania, human rights defenders continue to be vilified by the government and accused of being terrorists. In Egypt, defenders engaging with the African human rights system have been maligned, intimidated, and detained. 

The report also documents how recent hosts of ACHPR sessions, in particular Mauritania and Egypt, have hindered and restricted access to the sessions, through visa denials, intimidation, harassment, and undue restrictions at the sessions themselves. ..

ISHR’s submission also documents undue restrictions on accreditation, namely the case of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), who have had their observer status to the ACHPR withdrawn, in violation of the rights of freedom of expression, association, and unhindered access to and communication with international bodies of CAL and its members, on discriminatory bases.

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States—who must do more to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for reprisals. ‘In that regard, the task for the Focal Point and the ACHPR is now to take up these cases and ensure they are addressed with the perpetrating governments. Otherwise, reprisals ‘work’ to dissuade engagement, and perpetrators will be emboldened’, said Etong Kame.  

Ending intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the African human rights system, Submission to the Focal Point on Reprisals of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, May 2020.  

https://www.ishr.ch/news/reprisals-new-ishr-report-reprisals-related-engagement-african-human-rights-system-must-be

Good practice examples abound in new UN report on civil society

June 15, 2020

Participation, promotion and protection are the three watchwords that should guide the UN’s work on and with civil society, says a newly-released UN report.  Offering examples of good practice within the UN system -which provide a baseline for a new UN strategy on civil society- and a range of  recommendations, the report is timed to inform decision-making at the 44th session of the UN’s Human Rights Council. 

On 31 May 2020 the ISHR discussed the new report of the UN on civil society: with countless recent examples of restrictive and repressive measures taken to silence or discredit civil society actors, the UN’s new report drawing together examples of some good practices across the UN, is timely. Re-stating the vital contribution of civil society actors, the report goes on to cite examples of good practices of UN entities engaging with and protecting civil society. The report recommendations – aimed at encouraging improvement across the UN system as well as by States – echo several which ISHR has consistently voiced .

ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw said that good practice examples to inspire reform by the UN and States were valuable: ‘In days where we’ve seen journalists being arrested in Minneapolis and an increasing number of defenders murdered in Colombia – as just two such examples – we need States and UN bodies to revise and strengthen their practice to ensure the voice of civil society is heard and safeguarded.’…

The report contains examples where discussion between different stakeholders has been formalized and where their input is part of the process from policy inception to implementation,’ noted Openshaw.

One such example is the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), created by the UN General Assembly which styles itself as ‘a unique inter-agency forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners’. ‘This example of civil society having a seat at the table in recognition of the experience and expertise they bring to the issue makes more evident the lack of such opportunities in other spaces, particularly in human rights bodies,’ said Openshaw.

The report also highlights clear gaps. One of the key findings is the absence in 2/3 of UN mechanisms of means to contest restrictions on civil society participation or access to information. Whilst the report makes no explicit reference to Covid-19, having sought input prior to the onset of the pandemic, it does contain recommendations that speak to shifts in practice the pandemic has engendered.It notes how the impact of any modifications should be assessed to ensure civil society is not disadvantaged or disproportionately affected. This is one of several recommendations ISHR and other civil society have been making over time.

It’s great to see that the UN has reflected the recommendations of civil society groups such as ISHR, who have experience working with defenders and engaging with UN and regional organisations,’ noted Openshaw. ‘It’s but one example of civil society expertise adding value.’

The need for the UN to improve and make more consistent its work to promote, engage with and safeguard civil society has been a long-term call. The Secretary General made such a recommendation in his 2018 report on the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and again in his recent Call to Action for Human Rights. This new UN report was as a result of the request made by the Human Rights Council in 2018

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc44-three-key-principles-should-guide-uns-work-civil-society-says-new-report

Along with the full report, the UN has produced a one-pager summarizing key report recommendations.

15 June: the 44th UN Human Rights Council goes ahead in a special way

June 15, 2020

Overview of the session of the Human Rights Council during the speech of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle…

Lisa Schlein reported on 14 June 2020 that the U.N. Human Rights Council will be faced with many important issues left hanging when its 43rd session was suspended in March because of COVID-19. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/24/human-rights-defenders-issues-on-the-agenda-of-43rd-human-rights-council/]  The 44th session, which opens today, will employ a so-called hybrid approach, with a mix of both real and virtual presentations. To ensure the safety of participants during this time of coronavirus, U.N. officials say social distancing measures will be strictly enforced.  Delegations will have a reduced number of representatives attending the session and hundreds of side events by nongovernmental organizations will not take place on U.N. premises.

Presentation of reports and interactive dialogues on human rights issues will involve experts who are either physically present or speaking by video conference.  Countries that will come under review include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Ukraine, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Central African Republic.

One of the highlights of the weeklong meeting will be an urgent debate on institutionalized racism in the United States underlined by the killing of African American George Floyd while in police custody.

The ISHR states on this topic that it is committed to highlighting how the voices of the families of those killed by police in the U.S., including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Michael Brown, and the organisations supporting them are driving the UN to call for action to stop the killings and address deep-seated racism and inequality. This is necessary but not sufficient; we echo the call of the UN independent human rights experts and the Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that ‘this is a time for action and not just talk’.

This is why we’ve joined more than 600 organisations, from the U.S. and around the world, in calling on the UN Human Rights Council to hold a Special Session on the situation of human rights in the U.S.

The international community has a critical role to play in advancing independent, expert inquiry into systemic racism in law enforcement in the U.S., starting with the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, and the concerns of excessive use of force against protestors and journalists since George Floyd’s murder.

Geneva director of Human Rights Watch John Fisher calls this a moment of reckoning for the United States.  He said the event will likely be used by some countries to advance their own agendas. “We are also very concerned that China is seeking to exploit this moment of global chaos and the disarray within the U.S. to crack down on rights and freedoms in Hong Kong … And, we are calling upon states to take this moment to bring more attention to Hong Kong, as I mentioned.  We feel this is a time when China will be watching the international response, and, if that response is muted, will feel emboldened to go even further down the track,” he said.

At the end of the week, the council will take action on decisions and the adoption of more than 40 resolutions.  They include recommendations on improving human rights in countries such as Libya, Iran, Nicaragua, South Sudan, and Myanmar. 

https://www.ishr.ch/news/ishr-stands-solidarity-all-those-calling-racial-justice-and-radical-reform

https://www.voanews.com/europe/racism-conflict-country-violations-top-un-rights-council-agenda
https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/press/taxonomy/term/175/60215/human-rights-council-holds-urgent-debate-current-racially

https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/equality/503204-george-floyds-brother-asks-un-for-investigation-into-us

https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/06/17/world/asia/ap-human-rights-us-racism.html  

Michael Ineichen leaves ISHR and a legacy

May 9, 2020

Michael Ineichen – ISHR programme director  – leaves the International Serivce for Human Rights and on 30 April 2020 he wrote a farewell note: “Leaving ISHR: thanks for 14 years of purpose, inspiration and learning”. He was often mentioned in this blog, see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/michael-ineichen/. But fortunately he stays in Switzerland and in the human rights world: AI Switzerland.
 
Today, almost 14 years after joining “the service” I’m saying farewell to the International Service for Human Rights……I joined ISHR as an intern in 2006. Fresh off university, with a baby underway while fellow interns were spending their non-existent salaries on drinks by the lake. I was expecting to find a job, but found a purpose, a second family, and inspiration for a lifetime.

With my academic notion of “international human rights”, I knew very little of the reality experienced by the human rights defenders who struggle every day for more just, rights-respecting and equal societies. Back then, I was yet to be inspired by the courage, dedication, pain, doubt, joy and laughter of the many human rights activists I had the privilege of meeting over the years. I was yet to be appalled by the human rights violations and abuses of governments and unscrupulous companies, and the brazen efforts of some diplomats and governments to hide the truth from the eyes of the world, or somewhat reassured by the equally sustained efforts of others to create space for civil society and push for accountability.

In the last 14 years, there was not one week when I did not draw inspiration from one or more of the many human rights defenders ISHR works with. You are the reason this organisation exists. Among the stories which marked me the most, and which illustrates both the tremendous solidarity and deep frustration of engaging with international human rights mechanisms, is that of Chinese defender Cao Shunli.

She campaigned for something that most of us take for granted: independent civil society input into her government’s human rights report to the UN. As a result of her activism, she was blocked from travelling to Geneva, and – having been denied medical treatment – passed away in detention. Together with many civil society activists, I wanted to observe a moment of silence at the Human Rights Council in her memory. But the Chinese delegation was outraged, and interrupted the meeting for more than an hour. To this day, Cao Shunli’s death remains unaccounted for, and six successive Human Rights Council Presidents have failed to fully resolve this most emblematic case of reprisals. So much for the deep frustration. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/03/27/china-or-the-un-must-ensure-independent-investigation-into-death-of-cao-shunli/]

However, there’s also solidarity. Instead of stifling opposing views, with its heavy handed response even in the HRC, the Chinese delegation attracted massive attention to Cao Shunli and her struggle, and triggered an intense moment of global solidarity. Every member of civil society in the room was standing up – with Cao Shunli, and the human rights movement as a whole. Afterwards, every diplomat in Geneva knew Cao Shunli, and her story contributed significantly to the creation of a stronger UN response to reprisals. And, years later, Chinese human rights activists whom I’ve never met in my life look at me with a hint of recognition, saying “I know you. You’re the guy who stood up to our government, and made the UPR meaningful. We all watched behind the firewall.”

Hers is but one of the many stories I take with me, as I open a new chapter in my professional life. There are many others, happy and sad, of human rights defenders who have extended their trust to ISHR and myself. From Alphonsus to Ziad, I will always be grateful for the chance to reflect together on using the opportunities of international advocacy towards our common human rights struggle.  


I’ve seen times when donors trust in the track record, dedication and commitment of a civil society organisation like ISHR, or conversely when they insist on wasteful and narrow-minded administrative processes…..And I’ve seen how a strong focus on solidarity, well-being and passion can bring teams and an entire organisation to punch well above their weight. And finally, the last 14 years have been a period of immense personal growth – not always easy and smooth, but  I’ve grown as a father, husband and person. And I thank ISHR for being 100% supportive along the way.

As I look forward to opening a new chapter in my professional life by joining Amnesty Switzerland, I wish ISHR – Phil, the amazing team of staff, its dedicated board and the human rights defenders community it works with and supports – all the best for navigating these challenging times. You have and will continue to profoundly shape the human rights world, and I am proud and grateful to have been a part of the team.

Merci

https://www.ishr.ch/news/leaving-ishr-thanks-14-years-purpose-inspiration-and-learning

Policy response from Human Rights NGOs to COVID-19: ISHR

April 3, 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, many human rights organisations have been formulating a policy response. While I cannot be complete or undertake comparisons, I will try and give some examples in the course of the coming weeks. If there are special ones you would like to draw my attention to, please do not hesitate. Here is one from Phil Lynch, the Director of the International Service for Human Rights:

 

Staying true to our values is never more important than during times of hardship or crisis. At ISHR, there are five values driving our response to the COVID-19 global pandemic: solidarity, dynamism, alertness, wellbeing and hope.

Solidarity

…Solidarity is an essential value at this time. At ISHR this means showing solidarity with colleagues – with a number of staff volunteering to help and alleviate the workload of others who may have reduced capacity – as well as solidarity with human rights defenders, with our programme staff reaching out to national and regional-level partners to discuss their wellbeing, situation, priorities and needs. Please do reach out to us if there are any ways we can provide support to you at this vital time. In addition to showing solidarity, we’ve also greatly appreciated receiving solidarity. I’ve personally benefited from the wisdom, insights and advice of other NGO directors in terms of their response to this crisis, and discovered the musical talents of neighbours as we’ve gathered on our balconies every evening to clap and sing our gratitude to the doctors, health care professionals and sanitation workers on the frontlines of this crisis.

Dynamism

This crisis has highlighted the importance of dynamism, adaptability and planning for uncertainty, as well as the limitations of log frames, tightly earmarked funds, and donor restrictions on building organisational reserves.

At ISHR we are determined to use this crisis as an opportunity to innovate and to test and expand new ways of working. Last year, thanks to the support of several donors – including the United Kingdom, Canada, Switzerland and the Netherlands – we launched the ISHR Academy – an interactive, online platform to build the capacity and skills of human rights defenders to leverage the UN human rights system to contribute to national level change. With a significantly increased demand for online training and strategic advocacy support, we’re currently working on new modules for the Academy, as well as translation into Spanish. With further financial support we’d love to develop even more modules and in additional languages. This would increase access to resources, strategic advice and tailored advocacy support for human rights defenders from all regions. The suspension, postponement and cancellation of a significant number of meetings and sessions of international and regional human rights mechanisms has starkly exposed the need for such bodies to develop means by which human rights defenders can more effectively engage and participate remotely. This is relevant not only now in response to the COVID-19 crisis, but in the longer term in response to the climate crisis and the imperative of reducing travel-related emissions. Effective means of virtual participation are also critical for defenders who lack the resources to travel to Geneva or New York, as well as those for whom travel may be restricted or banned by repressive governments. ISHR programme staff are actively engaged on these issues – leading and participating in strategic discussions and the formulation of practical recommendations as to how to use this crisis as an opportunity to make human rights mechanisms more accessible, effective and protective for defenders worldwide.

Alertness

ISHR is not the only body looking at ways to use this crisis as an opportunity. Unfortunately, some governments will use this emergency as a subterfuge to more permanently increase surveillance, as well as restrict fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, protest and movement. Alertness is therefore a critical value at this time. We must be vigilant to ensure that any laws or regulations enacted in response to COVID-19 are for the legitimate purpose of protecting public health, and that any restrictions they impose are reasonable, proportionate and strictly time bound….With persons in detention at particular risk, ISHR staff are also using the opportunity to push for the release of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders, including several with underlying health conditions in States including China, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Wellbeing

..All ISHR staff have worked remotely since at least 13 March, with exceptions only for staff that need to attend the Geneva office for short periods for essential functions. Staff are working from various locations and states of confinement in Switzerland, France, New York, London, Brussels, Abidjan and Jakarta. We have agreed a complete restriction on work-related travel, with both this restriction and the work from home arrangements remaining in place for the indefinite future.

….Financial security is imperative at this time and I am so impressed and thankful for the initiative of major donors such as the Sigrid Rausing Trust and the Open Society Foundations to proactively reaffirm their funding commitment, to indicate that they will be highly flexible in the use of funds and reporting requirements, and to invite us to reach out if we need further support. Best practice at this time of unprecedented uncertainty is to enable the conversion of project or earmarked funds to core or unrestricted funds. I am working with the Board to evaluate and prepare for a range of scenarios, ensuring the long term sustainability of ISHR. Your contributions as private donors will be vital in this regard – every donation helps!

Hope

The final value motivating ISHR at this time is that of hope, which we draw from many places.

We take hope from the doctors, health care professionals and sanitation workers who bravely and tirelessly provide vital care and support.

….

I wish you, your families, your loved ones and your colleagues are and remain healthy, safe and well.

—-

See also my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/27/covid-19-spread-leads-to-reactions-and-messages-of-solidarity/

http://www.ishr.ch/news/covid-19-focusing-wellbeing-solidarity-dynamism-alertness-and-hope