Posts Tagged ‘ISHR’

75 countries join statement on reprisals at the Third Committee but more needed

November 30, 2020

As reprisals is one of the main topics on this blog [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/] readers will forgive me to report a bit belatedly on the GA Third Committee statement which the Service for Human Rights, quite timely, on 19 October 2020, brought to our attention:

For the second year in a row, a cross-regional group of countries called on all States and the UN to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for cases of intimidation and reprisals against those who engage or seek to engage with the UN.

In a joint statement presented to the Third Committee of the General Assembly today, 75 countries (listed below) acknowledged the crucial role civil society and human rights defenders play in the work of the UN and condemned acts of intimidation and reprisal against them. This represents an increase compared to the 71 countries that joined a similar statement last year

This welcome move led by the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the UN is in line with the call made last September in resolution 42/28 at the Human Rights Council for the General Assembly to remain seized of all work in this area. 

The joint statement welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN and shared his concerns on the growing number and patterns of reprisals globally; the disproportionate impact on certain groups, including women human rights defenders and peacebuilders; and the continued attacks on journalists and media workers. 

30 years ago, the Commission on Human Rights first expressed concern about reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN and searching for a solution requested the Secretary-General to report on the issue. Yet we find ourselves three decades later grasping for anything resembling progress. This year’s report is appalling as ever’, said ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair.

The joint statement highlighted the need for more frequent reporting on reprisals, including in New York, to increase awareness and accountability. ‘At this point the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals is only considered once a year by the Human Rights Council. We are disturbed by the high number of countries cited (45 in 2020), the vast majority of which have been cited before. The increase in the number of countries cited for a pattern of intimidation and reprisals is equally alarming. For countries like Bahrain, Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Israel, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Venezuela, and for the overwhelming majority of victims cited in 30 years of reporting whose cases remain unresolved, it seems a report delivered once a year is not enough’, added Sinclair.  

‘While we welcome this statement and the leadership of the United Kingdom as a step towards enhanced dialogue on the issue of reprisals at the General Assembly, more needs to be done to protect the right of everyone to communicate with the UN. We echo previous calls for States to step up efforts to address reprisals, including by referring to  specific cases during future dialogues at the UN’, added Sinclair. 

The full statement as delivered is available here. The statement was made by the United Kingdom on behalf of Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, The Bahamas, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, Fiji, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, Palau, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, The Republic of Korea, Romania, San Marino, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Kingdom, USA, Uruguay, Vanuatu. 

New States joining this year include: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Honduras, Nauru, Palau, Paraguay; States who joined last year but not this year include: Samoa and Turkey.

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, m.sinclair@ishr.ch

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga75-75-countries-join-statement-reprisals-third-committee

75th Anniversary UN: Phil Lynch of the ISHR reflects

November 24, 2020

Our shared quest for equality, dignity and a healthy planet continues

On 20 October 2020 Phil Lynch, who as director of the International Service for Human Rights has enormous experience, reflects on the important role the UN still plays in making the world a better and fairer place:

We are all part of the one human family. We share a common humanity and strive to meet common needs – we all want to learn, to have peace and good health, to provide for our families and loved ones, and to live free and dignified lives, without discrimination on any grounds. We might not always agree on how to achieve these things, but there is far more that unites us than divides us.

That’s why it’s so important that we have places like the United Nations, where we can come together to talk, work through our differences and find solutions to our shared challenges. 

This week marks the 75th anniversary of when the UN Charter entered into effect and the United Nations officially came into being.

In the decades that have followed, the UN has played a vital role in maintaining peace and security by helping to resolve conflict and harnessing our collective knowhow to confront everything from health and humanitarian emergencies to gender inequality. The UN has also been a vital space for civil society and communities to testify against injustice, confront power, challenge impunity, demand accountability, and push for change. 

It’s by no means a perfect organisation, but without a shadow of a doubt the world today is a far better, fairer, healthier and safer one than it would be without the UN. This is due in no small part to the importance the UN places on the protection and promotion of human rights.

No matter who we are or where we live, our lives are better when we treat each other fairly and with respect. That’s what human rights are all about – making sure that values like freedom, equality and solidarity are at the heart of our decisions and are reflected in behaviours and laws around the world.

Unfortunately, sometimes  laws passed by governments are repressive or not sufficiently protecting us, in particular the most vulnerable among us. And companies may act in ways that put their profit first, at the expense of human rights. . Often it takes people and communities to hold powerful politicians and corporations to account and make sure that everyone can benefit from the human rights and freedoms that we are all meant to share.

Human rights defenders are the people that work to make this happen. 

These are the people that speak out against injustices like systemic racism, sexism or the climate crisis and who work on the frontlines with communities to find solutions and advocate for better ways of doing things. These are the people who make sure that, as humanity advances, no one is left behind.

It’s of the utmost importance that human rights defenders have a seat at the table so they can give voice to the concerns and ideas of the people impacted by the very policies, practices and objectives being discussed at the UN.

Unfortunately, some governments – concerned about facing criticism – try to lock human rights defenders out of the conversations. Worse still, in some countries, the government or groups with powerful vested interests harass or discredit people who defend human rights. In some countries, they are beaten up, imprisoned and even killed.

As the UN’s Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, recently told the General Assembly, the UN is only as strong as its members’ commitment to its ideals and each other. 

There is no way we can advance the UN’s noble aims if we continue to let members get away with human rights violations and reprisals against people who defend human rights. The duty falls to all member States and their diplomats to uphold the very principles at the heart of the UN’s mission – peace, equality, dignity and healthy planet –  and the promise that their country has made to support that mission.

At the International Service for Human Rights, we help human rights defenders access the UN system so their voices are heard. We build their capacity on the frontlines and at the UN. We work to strengthen the UN’s human rights systems and we seek justice and accountability for human rights violations.

As we celebrate 75 years of the UN, we know the world is facing many challenges, but as we’ve done so many times in the past, we can, we must and we will find our way through them – and that is always done best when we do it together acting with care and solidarity.

The pursuit of peace, equality, dignity and a healthy planet continues. Thanks for being a part of it.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/75-years-united-nations-our-shared-quest-equality-dignity-and-healthy-planet-continues

Mary Lawlor’s first report to the Third Committee of General Assembly

November 16, 2020

On 20 October 2020 (sorry for the delay) the ISHR reported on the new Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, presenting her first report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/].

The Special Rapporteur appealed to States to help stop the killing of human rights defenders, which she identified as the mandate’s core priority. Defenders, she said, are ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make all of our lives better‘ and shared her hope that all would work together to find ways to protect them. 

The Special Rapporteur’s report outlined how she intends to approach and develop the subject of her mandate in the coming years. Her priorities include: those defenders most exposed to killings and other violent attacks, with attention paid to the most marginalised and vulnerable, among them women defenders, those defending the rights of LGBTI persons, defenders who are children, defenders with disabilities, defenders working on the rights of migrants, the climate crisis, defenders working in isolated and remote areas, defenders serving long terms in prison, reprisals against defenders who cooperate with the UN, the issue of impunity for those who attack defenders, the role of businesses and financial institutions in both harming and protecting the work of defenders, and strengthening follow-up to individual cases brought to her attention. 

As the Third Committee continues to grapple with the difficulties of moving its work online, the dialogue was plagued by a number of IT issues, including not being webcast for the first 35 minutes, and several statements remained muted in the archived video made available later. 

A large number of States took the floor to welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report and echo her concerns and priorities. Many of the States that spoke touched on the need to address the worrying deterioration of civic space brought on by the COVID 19 pandemic. The UK delivered a joint statement on reprisals on behalf of 75 States, following up on its initiative last year when it delivered the first ever such statement.

The US raised a number of individual cases and country situations: Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran; China’s systematic persecution and imprisonment of human rights defenders, including those from Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, naming Ilham Tohti and Joshua Wong in particular; in Zimbabwe, opposition leader Job Sikhala, parliamentarian Joana Mamombe and activists Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova. China used its time to question the notion of a human rights defender arguing there is no accepted definition of the term and that defenders are not ‘above the law’. China also accused the US of suppressing civil society during the pandemic. 

In her concluding remarks, the Special Rapporteur touched on the need for the UN’s human rights work to be properly funded and for States to cooperate fully with Special Procedures through standing invitations and positive responses to requests for visits. She emphasised her desire to cooperate with States, to have an open dialogue, and cited recent talks with Bahrain, Burundi and Iran in that regard. She indicated she hoped these talks would result in releases of defenders soon. The Special Rapporteur also emphasised that her approach would include specifically highlighting positive changes in each of her reports.  

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga75-un-expert-urges-protection-defenders-ordinary-people-doing-extraordinary-things?fbclid=IwAR1j9EqgUZ4RKAcMH7nWp7AIAZUL3HqrAq_k8M9epUtlF_ECrNAaLCrbrJ0

Andorra should drop charges against woman human rights defender Vanessa Mendoza

November 16, 2020

It is not often that Andorra figures in this blog but on 6 November 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) refers to the case of Vanessa Mendoza, the president of Associació Stop Violències, who demands that all women in Andorra are able to enjoy their rights to sexual and reproductive health, in particular the decriminalisation of abortion. Due to her advocacy including with the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), she is facing intimidation, judicial harassment and defamation.

Vanessa Mendoza, President of Associació Stop Violències, is facing at least two judicial proceedings related to her activism. In one case where she received formal notification, she is facing charges of slander against the government, defamation against the co-princes and crimes against the State institutions due to statements she made to the media and her engagement with CEDAW. These charges carry up to four years imprisonment. In a separate case in relation to organising a protest in September 2019 calling for decriminalising abortion, she was brought before the police to testify in November 2019, but has not yet received a formal notification of the charges she is facing

During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Andorra, which took place on 5 November 2020, the State delegation of Andorra said that Mendoza ‘is not risking in any case a jail sentence’. ISHR urges Andorra to drop all charges against Mendoza, provide assurances that she will no longer face any intimidation, threats or judicial harassment, and guarantee her right to an effective remedy for the reprisals that she was subjected to.

ISHR welcomes the Netherlands’ statement at the UPR raising concerns about the reprisals against Mendoza for her engagement with CEDAW, and recommending that the Andorran government ‘stop the judicial harassment, the reprisals and intimidation against human rights defenders in relation to the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms and engagement with the UN’.

The UN Secretary-General, in his 2020 annual report on reprisals, documented that the Andorra Government is taking ‘disproportionate measures’ against Stop Violències and its President for their participation with the CEDAW.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/andorra-drop-charges-against-vanessa-mendoza-and-guarantee-safe-and-enabling-environment-women

Human Rights Defenders issues in 75th Session of the GA’s Third Committee

October 14, 2020

On 8 October 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) extended its excellent alert service to the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly which is the principal human rights committee . This year’s session will run for seven weeks from 5 October to 20 November.

This year’s Third Committee is expected to consider approximately 60 resolutions on a range of topics. ISHR will be closely monitoring the work of the Third Committee as well as relevant developments in the plenary of the General Assembly and will report on key developments relevant to human rights defenders and civil society.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Third Committee is operating in a hybrid fashion, with some sessions held in person and others virtually. All interactive dialogues with Special Procedures and UN officials will be held virtually, as will negotiations on resolutions (informals). However, general debates and voting on resolutions will take place in person. 

Covid-19 restrictions will have a significant impact on civil society’s ability to engage with States in both formal and informal settings. Given this, it is vitally important that States reach out to and engage with civil society and specifically invite NGOs to participate in informals held to negotiate Third Committee resolutions. 

Formal meetings of the Third Committee can be watched live on the UN Web TV. Follow us on Twitter at @ISHRglobal using #UNGA75 for the latest updates.

Resolutions 

This year, due to the complexities of managing multiple consultations online, main sponsors of draft resolutions have been encouraged to streamline proposals, biennialise them or implement a ‘technical’ or ‘procedural’ rollover. They’ve also been encouraged to refrain from tabling new draft resolutions not previously negotiatied. We are yet to have a good sense of how widely States will follow this advice or, critically, what impact such limitations will have on gaining human rights advances this year.  

Finally, whilst all negotiations of resolutions will happen virtually, voting will be in person with explanations of position taking place in person or submitted in writing by the relevant State and included as part of the official record of the session. With restrictions in place, some missions may have smaller delegations working at the Committee and these, as well as traditionally smaller delegations, may find covering the various sessions challenging. It has yet to be seen how this might impact upon voted resolution outcomes, including on the participation of these delegations during the in-person voting of resolutions.   

Thematic
  • Right to Privacy in the Digital Age (Lead Sponsors: Mexico and Switzerland) – The Third Committee will consider a resolution on the right to privacy. In previous years this biennial resolution expressed concern that the right to privacy of those defending human rights can be undermined. ISHR hopes to see this language maintained in the text, as well as strengthened language on surveillance technologies, encryption and internet shutdowns, as well as the gendered impact of privacy regulations.
  • Treaty bodies (Lead Sponsor: Iceland) – The Third Committee will once again consider the biennial resolution on the ‘Human rights treaty body system’ at this session. The last resolution on this topic was adopted by consensus in 2018. The text of the resolution is not expected to change much. The resolution is significant because it recalls resolution 68/268 on “Strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system”, encourages all stakeholders to continue their efforts for the full implementation of resolution 68/268, and reaffirms the formula contained in 68/268, which sets out how the allocation of meeting time and corresponding financial and human resources to the treaty bodies would be identified and requested by the Secretary-General. The negotiation of this resolution will take place in the context of the ‘2020 review’ of 68/268, which was initiated earlier this year and co-facilitated by Switzerland and Morocco. 
  • Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (Lead Sponsor: Finland) – This year  we’ll see the return of the biennial resolution on extra-judicial killings which seeks to ensure the protection of the right to life of all persons. This resolution historically includes a paragraph referring to groups that are vulnerable to extrajudicial killings. This paragraph urges States to protect against and investigate killings committed for reasons related to their activities as human rights defenders, or because of discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. ISHR together with other NGOs will be advocating to ensure this language is maintained.
  • Death Penalty (Lead Sponsor: Brazil) – The Third Committee will once again consider its biennial resolution on the death penalty. This resolution calls for States to establish a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty. In the previous two negotiations, Singapore has successfully introduced a hostile amendment to the resolution reaffirming the sovereign right of all countries to develop their own legal systems. Other delegations together with civil society groups have objected to this amendment, emphasizing that sovereignty requires compliance with international human rights commitments and the emerging customary norm that considers the death penalty as running foul of the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
  • Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls (Lead Sponsors: France and Netherlands) – The broad scope of this resolution is expected to pay much needed attention to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on all forms of violence perpetrated against women, girls, adolescents and other marginalised  groups. ISHR supports the inclusion of references to human rights defenders in the text and will be advocating alongside other NGOs to ensure this language is maintained and strengthened.
  • Human rights defenders (various) – While there is no thematic resolution focused on human rights defenders this session, a number of resolutions include or are relevant to human rights defenders. ISHR will be advocacting to ensure language referencing human rights defenders is both maintained and strengthened across these resolutions. These resolutions include the resolution on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, Women and girls and the response to COVID-19 and Rights of Indigenous Peoples.    
Country situations

For the 18th year, Canada will present a resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran spotlighting the continued dismal human rights situation and lack of progress over the last year. The European Union will again lead on a resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, similarly underlining the lack of human rights progress. Ukraine will again present a resolution condemning Russia’s activities in Crimea (Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine). A resolution on the Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar is again expected to be led by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). A resolution on the Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic will be led by the USA and Saudi Arabia. 

On 6 October, Germany delivered a joint statement on Chinaon behalf 39 States. A similar statement was delivered on behalf of 25 States last year. The statement addressed widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Tibet. The joint statement endorsed an unprecedented appeal from 50 UN Independent Experts for the creation of a UN mechanism for monitoring human rights in China. A recent global civil society appeal from over 400 organizations echoed the experts’ call.

Other key issues  

Some resolutions are expected to become battlegrounds regarding references to gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights, as has been the case in previous sessions of the Third Committee. While negotiations on some resolutions, including resolutions on Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation and Intensification of efforts to end obstetric fistula may not be re-opened. Others that will be negotiated at this session include the resolution on Child, early and forced marriage, Intensification of efforts to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls and Women and girls and the response to COVID-19.

The Third Committee will consider the Human Rights Council Report which lays out resolutions and decisions taken by the Council through the year, including those just adopted and decided upon in Geneva this week.  No challenge to any part of the report is expected. 

Human Rights Council elections will take place on 13 October. ISHR is once again disappointed that this year all regions, save for the Asia Pacific region, have presented closed slates. In addition to this, the fourth candidate for the African region—Gabon—was only announced on 6 October, just one week before the election. ISHR has published ‘scorecards’ for each of the States seeking membership. These provide a quick ‘at-a-glance’ objective comparison of the candidates, focusing on their cooperation with the Council, their support for civil society, their engagement with UN treaty bodies and Special Procedures, among others. Together with 18 other NGOs, ISHR has also issued a public call for Member States to refrain from voting for any candidates who do not meet the membership criteria of upholding high standards in the promotion and protection of human rights and cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms. See latest: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/10/13/human-rights-council-election [“Saudi Arabia failed in its attempt to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the next three-year term starting on January 1, while China, Russia and Cuba were elected on Tuesday in a vote that caused an outcry among human rights defenders.“]

The Fifth Committee will consider the UN’s annual budget during its main session (October- December. In the meantime, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Question (ACABQ) has published its report on the proposed programme budget for 2021. One concerning element is that the ACABQ has recommended that the Fifth Committee deny the majority of the Secretary-General’s resource request for additional funding for the treaty bodies on the basis that it (1) doubts that OHCHR actually requires more staff in order to prevent backlogs of reports and communications to the treaty bodies from accumulating (when backlogs of communications have been a major problem for the treaty bodies since 2017, and as the treaty bodies’ inability to meet during the pandemic has now resulted in major backlogs in both areas); and 2) that the Third Committee will be taking action on the matter of treaty body strengthening during its main session that may affect their resource needs (which ISHR understands to be incorrect). Delegations that support the work of the treaty bodies should advocate in the Fifth Committee for the full allocation requested by the Secretary-General. 

Overview of Reports and Dialogues with UN Experts

The UN Special Procedures – Special Rapporteurs, independent experts, and working groups – will report to the Third Committee and hold virtual interactive ‘dialogues’ with member States.  Several of this year’s reports reflect concerns about increased attacks on human rights defenders and emphasise the critical importance of creating and maintaining space for civil society. Click here for a list and schedule of dialogues.

  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/75/165): In her first report to the Third Committee, Mary Lawlor highlights that the global reaction to the pandemic has largely increased the threats to civic space and human rights defenders and often been characterized by ‘declarations of states of emergency that are not compliant with human rights obligations and by abuse of constitutional powers.’ Lawlor also sets out her priorities as mandate-holder which include focusing on those defenders most exposed to killings and other violent attacks, the most marginalized and vulnerable defenders such as women defenders, LGBTI defenders, and defenders working on the rights of migrants. Lawlor will also focus on reprisals against defenders cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms, the issue of impunity, the impact of businesses and financial institutions on defenders’ work and strengthening existing mechanisms of protection. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 19 October 2020.
  • Report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order (A/HRC/45/28): emphasises that effective participation by civil society is essential to the realization of people-centred sustainable development and strongly condemns acts of reprisal against critics and opponents of development projects including members of civil society organisations.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to development (A/75/167): In this report, the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, Saad Alfarargi, explores the international dimensions of financing for development policies and practices from the perspective of the right to development and notes that civil society organisations face severe barriers in participation and access to international negotiations and discussions for financing development.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (A/75/161): notes the grave risks that environmental defenders face in their work and emphasises on the need for protection for environmental defenders through effective and timely remedies.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (A/75/184): Clement N. Voule’s  report focuses on ‘Celebrating women in activism and civil society: the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association by women and girls’. The report notes that women are at the forefront of today’s most pressing global struggles and examines the gendered and intersectional barriers, reprisals and backlash faced by women to their full and equal enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Voule provides recommendations to promote an enabling environment for the rights of women to assemble and associate. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 19 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples (A/75/185): The first report to the General Assembly of the new mandate holder, José Francisco Calí Tzay, summarizes the activities of the mandate since the last report of the previous mandate holder (A/74/149) and analyses the specific impacts on indigenous people of the COVID-19 pandemic, including harassment, attacks and killings of indigenous rights defenders. A presentation of the report and interactive dialogue will take place on 12 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (A/75/144): In her report on the intersection between the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of domestic violence, Dubravka Šimonović notes the increase in domestic violence against women due to lockdowns imposed by governments to control the virus. Šimonović finds that state responses have largely been gender-blind, including funding cuts to civil society organisations and women’s organisations providing essential services such as crisis centres, helplines, shelters and safe accommodation. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 9 October 2020.
  • Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (A/75/258):  Victor Madrigal-Borloz discusses the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) and gender-diverse persons including social exclusion and violence and the interaction with institutional drivers of stigma and discrimination. A presentation of the report and an interactive dialogue will be held on 29 October 2020.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and the protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (A/75/261): focused on the freedom of opinion and expression aspects of academic freedom, highlighting the special role played by academics and academic institutions in democratic society. The Special Rapporteur finds that threats to and restrictions on academic freedom limit the sharing of information and knowledge, an integral component of the right to freedom of expression. He reveals that academics and their institutions face social harassment and State repression for their research. The Special Rapporteur concludes with a set of recommendations to States, academic institutions, international organizations and civil society. 
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy (A/75/147): proposes a preliminary evaluation of the privacy dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on two particular aspects: data protection and surveillance. Concerns arise when surveillance apparatus traditionally employed for State security purposes is proposed or hurriedly deployed for a public health purpose. Necessity, proportionality and safeguards in law consistent with international law must exist when such surveillance measures are applied.
  • The Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: to be issued. 
  • The Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: to be issued.
  • Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights: to be issued.

For more information: Contact: Tess McEvoy, t.mcevoy@ishr.ch

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/third-committee-of-un-general-assembly-2018-will-consider-human-rights-issues/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/alert-ga-75th-session-third-committee

Criminalisation of human rights defenders in Europe denounced in UN

September 30, 2020

 

In a statement delivered on 24 September 2020 in Geneva, ISHR was joined by human rights groups and other community organisations defending the rights of migrants to draw attention to the concerning trends of criminalisation of solidarity in Europe. Responding to the opening remarks of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and building on years of work by other experts in the UN system, the groups highlighted the links between protecting the rights of migrants, and the creation of a safe environment for those who seek to protect them. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/31/absurd-prosecution-of-the-crew-of-the-ship-iuventa-continues-in-italy/

ISHR human rights advocate Sarah M Brooks, pointing to research conducted by Migration Policy Group (MPG), CEPS, PICUM and other partners within the frame of the ReSOMA project, noted that in the last five years – from 2014 to 2019 – at least 60 cases of criminalisation, concerning more than 170 individuals, had been documented across the European Union.

Carmine Conte, legal policy analyst at MPG, underlines that since the emergence of the ‘refugee crisis’, there has been an escalation of judicial prosecutions and investigations against volunteers, human rights defenders, crew members of boats involved in search and rescue operations, but also ordinary citizens, journalists, mayors and religious leaders helping migrants.

The European Fundamental Rights Agency has also spoken out on this concern. In the area of migrant search and rescue (SAR) NGOs alone, in the two years between 2018 and 2020, experienced 40 cases of criminal charges, disciplining including administrative fines, de-flagging, seizure and confiscation of ships, or their crews were otherwise were prevented from leaving or docking at port. The Council of Europe Commissioner of Human Rights has recently condemned Malta and Italy using COVID-19 as yet another excuse for non-rescue:

The rights of migrants cannot be fulfilled, Brooks said, without protection of fundamental freedoms for those engaged in the defence of migrants’ rights. ‘Whether it is through humanitarian assistance and search-and-rescue, legal aid or policy advocacy, exercising the right to protest and civil disobedience – including migrants’ own strikes,’ she said, ‘these are protected acts. ‘European governments must do more to protect the right to defend rights.

Lina Vosyliute, Research Fellow at CEPS, one of the leading think-tanks on the EU affairs, has described the increasing suspicion, harrasment, disciplining and criminalisation of those who help migrants  as ‘policing humanitarianism’. At the heart of the problem are so-called  ‘crimes of facilitation of irregular migration’, which Vosyliute deems ‘the most misused criminal provision against human rights defenders in Europe’. The EU Facilitation Directive falls short of the UN Migrant Smuggling protocol, since it does not require any evidence nor suspicion of ‘financial or other material gain’. Under this provision in the EU and Schengen states introduced laws that prosecute ‘any intentional assistance’ to migrants, leaving out the question of motive and, specifically, ‘material or financial benefit’ that are central to smuggling crimes.

Vosyliute concludes, ‘The vague definition of crime is counterproductive. While some prosecutors are investigating on human traffickers or migrant smugglers, who take thousands of euros from asylum seekers and migrants to board on unseaworthy dinghies, others keep policing humanitarians and human rights defenders.’  The prosecutions of Sea Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete in Italy, Team Humanity and Proem Aid volunteers in Greece, or farmer Cedric Herrou in France [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/interview-with-cedric-herrou-migrants-rights-defender-who-is-the-central-person-in-the-film-libre/], and many others, who helped migrants out of compassion, are used by governments to rather show a strong stance against irregular migration, than to fight the crime.

But far more simple acts of solidarity are also being met with administrative, civil and even criminal penalty. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/04/new-amnesty-report-on-human-rights-defenders-helping-migrants/]

Says Marta Gionco of PICUM, a platform representing more than 160 organisations across Europe and globally that defend undocumented migrants’ human rights: ‘In recent years,  people across Europe have been put on trial for simple acts of human kindness: giving someone a ride in their car in a mountainous area so that they won’t get hypothermia; saving someone’s life who is drowning at sea; giving someone food or shelter; providing shelter and food; or lending a cell phone’.

In response to this trend, last year more than 110 organisations signed a statement asking the European Union to revise the EU Facilitation Directive and support and defend the rights of migrant rights’ defenders across the EU.

Although the majority of documented cases end in acquittal, the financial, social and psychological impact of months, and often years, of criminal proceedings has had a clear chilling effect on their work.

When courts have determined that an individual is not guilty of a crime, state prosecutors – for example, in France – have nonetheless appealed. In the case of defender Pierre Manoni, despite a court decision finding that solidarity is constitutionally protected, prosecutors have filed four separate appeals to question his acquittal on the grounds that he acted out of compassion.  Short-term detentions are also common, with police often failing to substantiate charges. These lengthy and expensive judicial proceedings put peoples’ lives on hold risk.

When these human rights defenders are migrants themselves, the consequences of criminal proceedings are often harsher, frequently resulting in loss of residence permits and threats of deportation. For instance, in 2018 asylum seekers in Moria camp protested in Sappho square after the death of an Afghan asylum seeker.  They were violently attacked by extreme right groups. However, it was not violent attackers, but the asylum seekers themselves who were prosecuted, for the ‘occupation’ of public space.

In another case, Ahmed H – a long-term resident in Cyprus – organised a protest at Hungarian border zone. He has been accused of terrorism-related crimes, for holding a megaphone, and deprived family life for four years. Time and again, asylum seekers and migrants helping each other during the journey are prosecuted as criminals. And in some cases, when they arrive in their destination country, this ‘criminal record’ alone can preclude the access to the right of asylum.

Brooks notes that the European Union, and many EU member states, have been powerful voices at the Human Rights Council and abroad in defending and supporting human rights defenders. However, when it comes to policies at home – often driven by border management mindsets and national security rationales – those same governments are engaged in judicial harassment of defenders.

As Front Line Defenders has noted, criminalisation is only one way in which migrant rights defenders are being targeted, including within Europe. They are also subjected to physical and verbal attacks, short term detention, smear campaigns and arson attacks on their property. Their experiences are largely under-reported because, the organisation notes, human rights defenders and aid workers prioritise cooperation with the authorities; even if it’s extremely fragile, it can be beneficial to the protection of migrants.

‘Judicial harassment, trumped-up charges, threats and intimidation and chilling effects are not unique to countries outside of Europe’s borders. It’s time that European governments took seriously their obligations at home’, Brooks asserts.

The right to help is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that, as the UN has emphasised, ’no one is left behind’.

Says CEPS’ Vosyliute: ‘Our newest study on civic space shows that the work of human rights defenders is ever more vital. Volunteers are sewing masks and distributing soap and hand sanitizer to stop the spread of the virus among various marginalized communities, like those in Moria refugee camp. At the same time, human rights defenders are even more at risk’.

Yet, COVID-19 restrictions are also disproportionately targeting refugees and other migrants and those who assist them. ‘For instance, in France, volunteers helping those stuck in Calais Jungle, received fines for violating social distancing rules. In Greece, some NGOs could not provide psychosocial counseling in camps due prolonged quarantine imposed on refugee camps, but not on the rest of the island. Italian and Maltese governments have  prevented SAR NGOs to disembark rescued migrants for weeks’.

Civil society actors have raised concerned over worsening legal environment. For instance, the Greek authorities have advanced additional registration requirements targeting NGOs working in the area of migration, asylum and integration.

According to the NGO law experts of the Council of Europe, those regulations are incompatible with the freedom of association – ‘onerous, complex, time-consuming and costly for NGOs’ – especially given the context and dire needs among asylum seekers and migrants.

European governments and the EU should be expected to uphold their human rights obligations to create and enabling environment for human rights defenders, as outlined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. A recent legal analysis of the so-called ‘Stop Soros’ legal package in Hungary, conducted by law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP on behalf of ISHR and the Slovenia-based Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs (PiC), found that such an obligation exists for European governments in view of international and EU law.

At the same time, clear expectations have been set out by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose human rights watchdog, ODIHR, has called out dangers for human rights defenders in similar situations. As early as 2014, their guidelines on protection of human rights defenders alerted European states that ‘[any] legal provisions that directly or indirectly lead to the criminalisation of such [human rights] activities should be immediately amended or repealed’. More recently, the Council of Europe’s NGO Expert Council came up with Guidelines that seek to prevent the misuse of criminal law provisions against NGOs that assist migrants and uphold their rights.

‘The framework is there’, the groups conclude, ‘but Europe needs to choose to do more’.

Watch the statement here: https://youtu.be/ZHat_xPd2z8

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc45-criminalisation-defenders-europe-must-end

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

September 30, 2020

human rights defender

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

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

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

How does defending rights affect your personal life?

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

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

What continues to inspire you to defend human rights?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your hope for the future? 

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

What was the human rights problem you were addressing? 

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

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

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

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

What happened at the UN?

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

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

What was the impact on the ground? 

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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