Posts Tagged ‘ISHR’

International Service for Human Rights publishes Annual Report

May 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Defending diversity | The struggle for LGBTI dignity and rights.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/supporting-defenders-achieving-change-2017-annual-report

Interview with Natasha Latiff about women’s rights in Afghanistan

April 27, 2017

On 30 October 2016 the ISHR published this video interview with Natasha Latiff who is the founder and executive director of Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights (SAHR). Following an ISHR training for human rights defenders held in Geneva in June, she spoke to ISHR about her organisation’s work on women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Sunny Maldives: Murder of human rights defender and blogger Yameen Rasheed tip of the iceberg

April 25, 2017

The Maldives normally create images in our mind of luxury holidays. This is a false image [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/maldives/]. On Sunday, 23 April 2017, a prominent blogger and social media activist, Yameen Rasheed, was found in the stairwell of his residence in the country’s capital Malé with multiple stab wounds to his head, neck and body. Mr. Rasheed died of his injuries. The UN, Front Line and others expressed deep alarmed by Mr. Rasheed’s killing and urge the authorities to ensure that the investigation into the murder is prompt, thorough and that the perpetrators are brought to justice. Mr. Rasheed had in December reported to the Maldives Police Service that he was receiving targeted death threats following the publication of his photo along with those of others on an anonymous Facebook page, but he complained that he had to follow up for three days just to get a confirmation that his complaint had been registered. Mr. Rasheed’s killing comes in the context of what appears to be an upsurge in arrests and prosecutions of the political opposition.

Yameen Rasheed [see his profile: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/yameen-rasheed]  was a prominent human rights defender and social media activist in Maldives. Through his blog The Daily Panic, he was an outspoken critic of government corruption and was vocal against impunity for crimes against journalists and attacks of freedom of expression  committed by radical Islamist groups. Yameen Rasheed was a close friend of Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, another well known Maldivian journalist, blogger and human rights advocate, who was abducted and disappeared in 2014. Since 2014, Yameen Rasheed had been working to obtain justice for Rilwan, and was recently coordinating with Rilwan’s family to file a case against the Maldives police on the investigation of Rilwan’s death. In 2015, he was arrested along with 200 other activists and imprisoned for three weeks after taking part in a pro-democracy rally in the capital.

Maldives has a troubling history of attacks targeting human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers. On 5 June 2012, blogger, LGBT activist and journalist Ismail Khilath Rasheed, also known as Hilath, was stabbed by radical Islamists. On 8 August 2014, prominent HRD Ahmed Rilwan went missing and has not been heard of since then. On 4 September 2015, human rights lawyer Mahfooz Saeed [https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-mahfooz-saeed] was brutally attacked by two unidentified men, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/09/07/mahfooz-saeed-lawyer-of-maldives-ex-president-stabbed/. 

It would seem therefore that the groundbreaking legal proceedings (October 2016), which the ISHR has brought to the UN Human Rights Committee have a lot of merit. It was requested to rule that the Maldives violated international law by restricting human rights defenders from submitting information to the UN.

In what is the first case filed with the UN on behalf of former members of a national human rights institution, ISHR has asked the UN Human Rights Committee to authoritatively rule that there is a legal right to submit information, evidence and reports to the UN and that restrictions on this right, or reprisals for exercising this right, amount to serious breaches of international law. The case could have wide-ranging implications, as a number of countries seek to criminalise or prosecute people to prevent them from exposing human rights violations at the UN.

Assisted by ISHR, Ahmed Tholal and Jeehan Mahmood, former Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), have filed a communication with the UN’s Human Rights Committee to highlight the Maldives’ failure to ensure their right to share information freely with the UN without reprisal. The HRCM was prosecuted in 2015 by the Supreme Court in the Maldives following a submission made by the HRCM on human rights in the Maldives to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review….The Court ruled that the HRCM’s report was unlawful, biased and undermined judicial independence, and ordered the HRCM to follow a set of guidelines designed to restrict the HRCM’s work and its ability to communicate with the UN.

Ahmed Tholal and Jeehan Mahmood said they were seeking a ruling from the Committee because they want the HRCM’s right to freely communicate with international human rights mechanisms to be firmly preserved in law and practice. ‘If the HRCM is not able to communicate freely with the UN, its ability to carry out its mandate is severely undermined. This case isn’t just about the HRCM of 2010. Rather it’s about the far reaching implications such reprisals will have on the independence and integrity of NHRI’s everywhere,’ they said.

‘The decision of the Supreme Court to restrict the activities and independence of the Commission is incompatible with the right of safe and unhindered communication with UN bodies, and the prohibition against reprisals for exercising that right. Such a decision by an arm of government is a clear breach of international law,’ Ms Sinclair of ISHR said. Background to the case can be found here.

A copy of the Communication can be found here.

Source: OHCHR Press Briefing Notes – South Sudan, Maldives | Scoop News

https://www.ishr.ch/news/reprisals-groundbreaking-legal-proceedings-filed-against-maldives

Video interview with Cleopatra KAMBUGU from Uganda

April 25, 2017

On 24 April 2017 the ISHR published this interview with Cleopatra KAMBUGU, grants administrator at UHAI EASHRI and transgender activist in Uganda. Cleopatra was featured in “Pearl of Africa“, a movie shown at the Geneva international Film Festival and Human Rights Forum and spoke  about the challenges she faces in her struggle to have transgender rights recognised in her country. More information on UHAI-EASHRI: http://www.uhai-eashri.org

HRCnet seeks Geneva based coordinator

April 11, 2017

The Human Rights Council Network (HRCnet) is seeking a Coordinator based at the International Service of Human Rights in Geneva. For details on the post see below:
HRCnet is a 10-year old coalition of national, regional and international NGOs engaging with the UN Human Rights Council. Its current members are:
in Africa: African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (The Gambia), DefendDefenders (East and Horn of African Human Rights Defenders Network) (Uganda), Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (Zimbabwe), West African Human Rights Defenders Network (Togo),
in Asia: Asian Legal Resource Centre (Hong Kong, China), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM ASIA) (Thailand), Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (India),
in Latin America: Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) (Argentina), Conectas Direitos Humanos (Brazil),
in the Middle East and North Africa: Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (Egypt), Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (Egypt),
and the following  International NGOs: Human Rights Watch (USA), International Service for Human Rights (Switzerland), Open Society Foundations (USA).

Read the rest of this entry »

Human rights defender profile: Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel from Mongolia

March 10, 2017

Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel has advocated for the rights of LGBT persons in Mongolia for many years. On 6 March 2017 the ISHR published the following interview with him:

I am a co-founder of LGBT Center of Mongolia and worked as Advocacy Program Manager and then Executive Director from 2009 to 2014. We conducted workshops and training on LGBTI rights to raise awareness among the general public and  law enforcement officers, health professionals, NGOs, public and private schools, etc. LGBT Center also worked hard in cooperation with other organisations to become one of the leading rights-based civil society organisations (CSOs) in Mongolia, contributing to the overall civil society development in the country and the mainstreaming of LGBTI issues into human rights issues as a whole. One of the highlights of what we have done collectively is the successful use of UN mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Committee against Torture (CAT) and Human Rights Committee to make the Government of Mongolia acknowledge its sexual minorities for the first time, express its political will to protect our rights and commit to implement the UPR and treaty bodies’ recommendations.

What motivated you to become involved in human rights work?

Having lived, studied and worked in Japan for 7 years, I felt that I needed to contribute to the development of my own country. As a young gay man who has seen the world, I was optimistically ambitious and daring enough to slip my hand into a tiger’s mouth, as the Mongolian saying goes. However, the situation for the LGBTI community was quite bleak with no rights-based NGO for the community operating. Then I joined the Mongolian Red Cross Society and where I met other co-founders of the LGBT Center. My personal desire for a better future for LGBTI Mongolians, the invincible passions of the co-founders Robyn Garner and Anaraa Nyamdorj, and the remarkable feminists and human rights defenders of vibrant, active Mongolian civil society motivated and still inspire me to work on LGBTI issues at home and abroad.   

What risks, challenges or threats do you face as a human rights defender in your country? 

Together with fellow activists I appeared on TV shows and gave interviews especially before, during and after UN and domestic advocacy efforts. Personal risks involved automatically “outing” my friends, family members and everyone around me, and in the process passively encroaching upon their right to privacy. They were so understanding and loving that they endured the negative attitudes, threats and attacks. Most of these threats come from a lack of information and misconceptions about LGBTI people and issues, as well as fear of being associated in any way with sexual minorities. I had to deactivate my Facebook account a few years ago to protect my family and what’s left of my privacy. Nevertheless, the situation is getting better after all these awareness-raising activities and LGBT Center’s work with the government and civil society, and I think now the private sector needs to join the cause for the sake of a better future for all.     

What is the legal situation for NGOs and human rights defenders in Mongolia? What changes would you like to see to create a fully enabling environment for their work?

The NGO Law of Mongolia allows many NGOs to emerge and operate. The LGBT Center struggled initially to be registered as a legal entity back in 2007-2009. Since then we have not had any issues with the authorities in terms of the NGO registration. However, there is no law that enshrines the rights of human rights defenders (HRDs). In addition to the challenges of engaging in human rights work, LGBTI activists further suffer verbal and physical abuse and intimidation, family pressure and violence, financial obstacles, housing difficulties and even terrible treatment by landlords of NGO offices. Therefore, we desperately need a state policy and legislation on human rights defenders.

Can you give some examples of how you have engaged with the UN Special Procedures?

Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, made an official visit to Mongolia in 2012. I met her towards the end of her visit and updated her on the situation of the LGBTI community. Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda observed that “the recent economic achievements made in Mongolia has not benefited the country’s poor” and highlighted vulnerable groups, including people living with HIV (PLHIV) and LGBTI persons.

In 2013, the Special Rapporteur’s report was released, concluding that “there is a high level of inequality at a time when the country is experiencing a major economic boom.” Given the pervasive inequality affecting the LGBTI community and the government’s recently expressed political will, the Center was encouraged to collect our own data on how poverty affects the LGBTI community and its root causes so that our advocacy efforts would be better informed and effectively targeted. 

What have you achieved through this engagement? 

The study – “Poverty and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community in Mongolia” – was conducted in 2014. Its main author Dr. A. Bulbul discovered that the unemployment rate of survey participants was 10.4%, higher than the official rate of 7.8% among the general population, and approximately 22% lived below the national poverty line. The study concluded that enabling a legal environment to ensure equal access to education and employment and changing public perception and attitudes was necessary. This study – inspired by the Special Rapporteur’s visit – was significant since we got to utilise the UN Special Procedures and started to gather evidence to better inform the public and the relevant officials in the government and international organisations for better advocacy.  

How do you think using the international human rights system assists in achieving domestic advocacy goals? 

International human rights norms and standards definitely guide defenders to identify gaps, to better use the mechanisms established and available for us and to network with other like-minded activists, scholars, diplomats and UN officials. I would also like to thank organisations such as ISHR, ARC International, OutRight Action International, ILGA, COC Netherlands, OSCE, Open Society Foundations and FORUM-ASIA which act as a bridge between us – local and national activists – and the international and regional human rights systems, allowing us to lobby our government and make our advocacy more effective through their financial and technical assistance and support.      

What if anything could the UN do to make the Special Procedures system easier/safer for you to engage with?

From experiences of working as an activist at the UN in Geneva and New York, I know that the UN is a political institution. However, it has been reformed to genuinely ensure the representation and participation of civil society. The UPR is a prime example because it brought LGBTI issues to the attention of our government, leading to legal reform. I would like to see those who work in the Special Procedures’ teams be present both online and offline. Country visits by Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda and meetings with diverse stakeholders were truly amazing and productive. Online presence of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association Mr. Maina Kiai, who listens to activists’ voices from the ground is absolutely impressive. And most importantly, I wish the UN work at the headquarters could be translated into the UN country offices as swiftly, effectively and efficiently as possible.  

Source: Human rights defender profile: Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel from Mongolia | ISHR

2017 (9): Business can be better allies of human rights defenders

March 9, 2017

 Just discovered that the penultimate post in my series “2017” was never published. So here comes – with delay- the missing piece “2017 (9)“:

With the USA government abandoning any leadership on human rights issues, perhaps we should turn more to the business world. So writes Sarah Brooks who works for the Geneva-based NGO, the International Service for Human Rights, in Open Democracy on 1 February 2017 (“Business can and should ally with those defending human rights”)

Business should heed the views of human rights defenders, and do more to protect their crucial work—which advances the rule of law that benefits business too. Global businesses and grassroots human rights activists may seem like strange bedfellows.  But as attacks on basic democratic freedoms and the rule of law intensify around the world, they may have more shared values and interests than one might think. We know businesses are driven by the bottom line. If they didn’t seek to increase profits, they simply wouldn’t exist. But we also know—and many business leaders are coming around to the idea—that long-term success relies on more than just profit generation and is linked to a range of external factors such as transparency, certainty, stability. And a social license to operate. Failures to understand that social license, and in particular to prevent and respond to the human rights impacts of their work, have thrust many global businesses into an unwanted spotlight. They didn’t need to find themselves there.

Because human rights defenders use public advocacy as a key tool for change, businesses often make the mistake of seeing them as additional drivers of cost. Reputational damage and operational risks for a company are expensive. Because human rights defenders—such as lawyers, trade unionists, community leaders, or NGO workers—use public advocacy as a key tool for change, businesses often make the mistake of seeing them as additional drivers of cost. However, business should see human rights defenders as priceless allies. They are the canaries in the coal mines, pointing to when governance failures become real financial, legal, and reputational risks to business. They are also the witnesses to corporate abuse of communities and the environment. Because of this, the work of defenders often makes those in power uncomfortable—both states and non-state actors. They are targeted with laws and policies to stifle their activities, and face intimidation and threats to their work and their lives. Yet without the work of defenders, whole societies and economies lose out. And that means businesses lose out, too.

[the author refers as examples to the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh and Berta Caceres in Honduras which both let business to reassess their work] 

These cases show business can make a difference. It has a unique ability to create, maintain, and defend space for civil society through three tools: leverage, leadership, and partnerships. How do these work? Take as an example a government drafting a law that aims to close down space for NGOs to operate. In addition to running counter to international law, this would also close off channels for businesses to benefit from NGOs’ work—whether implementing community projects or helping train workers. So how might businesses respond? They can use the leverage provided by access, personal relationships and market share to push back on authoritarian impulses. To take just one example, when 30 global brands and global trade unions joined together to speak out against violent dispersal of protests and detention of activists in Cambodia in 2014, not only were the activists released, but the underlying issues of minimum wage took center stage in brand discussions with the government.

Businesses, and especially progressive businesses, also need to show leadership. In 2015, Adidas released a policy statement on human rights defenders that clearly led the pack, creating a company-wide commitment to speak out in defense of fundamental freedoms in the countries where they source. It takes a lot for a business to get in front, especially when they know that NGOs will be watching carefully to see those policies implemented. But setting the bar high has consumer appeal and can drive a race to the top. [see also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/business-and-human-rights/]

Finally, businesses have resources. Partnerships directly with NGOs can be contentious, and businesses need to listen to and address the concerns of co-optation and whitewashing. But the global environment for traditional funding mechanisms is increasingly toxic. According to UN experts and leading funders, nearly a hundred governments have put limits on NGOs’ operations, including the ability to accept foreign (especially NGO) funding. For the financial survival of civil society, seeking support from businesses might be an option—if it is on equal footing and with clear redlines to maintain independence.

Civil society needs space and protection to carry out its work, and it is not just a moral imperative, but an investment opportunity for businesses to help secure that space and protection. The leadership, leverage and solidarity shown by companies who see support to civic freedoms and human right defenders as part of core business will pay long-term dividends.

Along similar lines runs the article “Davos | Global crackdown on civil society and civic freedoms warrants global business response” by the International Service of Human Rights on 20 January 2017:

Business and civil society alike thrive in open democracies. It is in their collective interest that business enterprises play an active role in responding to the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms, participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos have been told.

Human rights defenders and other civil society actors play a vital role in promoting and contributing to good governance, sustainable development and the rule of law. This is explicitly recognised in Sustainable Development Goal 16 and its associated indicators. In many cases, this work involves defenders exposing corruption, protesting environmental degradation, and demanding that the benefits of development are shared by all, including the most poor and disadvantaged. In an increasing number of jurisdictions, this work also involves defenders being subject to restrictions and attacks, with recent research demonstrating that those working on land and environment rights and in the field of business and human rights are most at risk of being killed. This week’s assassination of Mexican indigenous and environmental rights activist Isidro Baldenegro is just the most recent tragic example of the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms.

What is the role and responsibility, and what should be the response, of business enterprises to this crackdown? This was a key question at the World Economic Forum attended by ISHR representatives in Davos, Switzerland this week. Progressive business enterprises are increasingly recognising the shared values and interest of business and civil society in an open, enabling operating environment. This is an environment characterised by respect for the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, access to information, public participation, non-discrimination and the rule of law. It is in such open environments that innovation, productivity and development thrive. Progressive business enterprises are also recognising the significant costs associated with the global crackdown on human rights defenders and civic freedoms, with the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Risks Reportidentifying the ‘fraying of the rule of law and declining civic freedoms’ as a key business risk. In his statement to the Forum, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights similarly said: ‘Business cannot thrive in failing societies, where tension spikes and communities bristle with grievances and mutual contempt. Strong civil societies, due process, equality and justice: these are what enable real economic empowerment’.

Business enterprises and business leaders exercise significant influence in shaping public and political opinion and legislative and policy-making processes, not just in areas of corporate and economic policy but on social issues such as LGBTI rights. They should exercise similar influence in response to the increasing restrictions and risks faced by defenders. The conversations in Davos this week recognised the shared interest of business and civil society in the protection of human rights defenders and civic freedoms. The killing in Mexico of Isidro Baldenegro at the same time as these discussions were taking place tragically demonstrates the need for business to move beyond recognition to action.

This action could encompass a range of responses, such as:

The global crackdown on civil society and civic freedoms warrants a global business response.

Sources:

https://www.ishr.ch/news/davos-global-crackdown-civil-society-and-civic-freedoms-warrants-global-business-response

Business can and should ally with those defending human rights | openDemocracy

High-level endorsements of crucial role of human rights defenders in UN Human Rights Council

March 7, 2017

The 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council started off last week (as usual) with the so-called “high-level segment” during which important officials addressed the Council [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/28/new-secretary-general-at-human-rights-council-tells-human-rights-defenders-and-i-am-on-your-side/].

On 6 March the ISHR reported on that first week during which several dignitaries emphasised the key role that a vibrant civil society plays in promoting and protecting human rights.

 The President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, highlighted the importance of civil society by calling States, the UN and civil society to work shoulder to shoulder and advance with common purpose. Other high-level speakers expressed concern regarding increasing restrictions to civil society space, particularly against HRDs and journalists.
  • Delegates from Botswana, the Czech Republic, Costa Rica, the European Union, France, Malta, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, among others, reiterated their support to the work of HRDs and journalists and stressed the importance of guaranteeing their protection.
  • Delegates from Germany, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, among others, condemned acts of reprisals against HRDs and emphasised that HRDs must be able to participate and engage with the Council without fear of intimidation or reprisals.

The pivotal role defenders play in promoting sustainable development was also recognised. Georgia underscored the importance of strengthening the role of NGOs and safeguarding civil society’s space to ensure they are heard. ‘Without close cooperation with all stakeholders, it is impossible to secure the sustainable development of the country.

So, there is no shortage of good statements in Geneva, but the what matters most is the upcoming renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and any real action on reprisals!

Source: #HRC34 | High-level officials kick off Council session, emphasise critical role of defenders | ISHR

Plethora of side events in Geneva parallel to the UN Human Rights Council

February 27, 2017

The number of ‘side events’ in Geneva during the UN Human Rights Council is mind boggling. A full (provisional) list of 7 pages can be found at: http://www.files.ishr.ch/public/hrc34/Draft-HRC34-NGO.pdf. Some days have from 15 to 20 (parallel) events a day! I will from time to time draw attention to some that are specifically relevant to human rights defenders such as the one mentioned below:

ISHR-logo-colour-highThe ISHR, together with the permanent mission of Finland, will organise and event on Ensuring sustainable development: the role and protection of defenders. On Thursday 2 March 2017, 10:30-11:45 in room 25. Palais des Nations. This event will explore the role and challenges faced by human rights defenders in contributing to sustainable development, and the interests and obligations of States and business should play in that regard. It will feature the participation of Joe Moses, the protagonist of the award-winning documentary “The Opposition” (extracts of which will be shown) about his activism in protecting the Paga Hill community from forced eviction in the wake of a real-estate project in Papua New Guinea, as well as experts from the UN and business community. see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/04/14/showing-of-the-film-the-opposition-about-land-rights-in-papua-new-guinea-cancelled-until-further-notice/

 

34th Human Rights Council: ISHR guide to key issues for human rights defenders

February 24, 2017

A preview of what to look out for at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council from 27 February – 24 March 2017. This selection of what is most relevant to human rights defenders is based on the excellent overview provided by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR): Read the rest of this entry »