Posts Tagged ‘joint statement’

Iranian dissident Poet Baktash Abtin dies of Covid in arbitrary detention

January 10, 2022

On 8 January 2022 the Iranian poet Baktash Abtin died in Tehran after contracting COVID-19 in Evin Prison. Abtin, who died after being put into an induced coma while hospitalized, is the second known political prisoner to die in Iran in the first week of 2022. On January 1, Kian Adelpour died after going on hunger strike to protest being imprisoned without a fair trial.

This is a preventable tragedy and more prisoners’ deaths are inevitable because there is no accountability in the Iranian government,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “Abtin was imprisoned in Iran because the government wanted to muzzle him with a jail cell; the state killed him.” Abtin had been serving a five-year prison sentence on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.

A group of main NGOs had addressed a joint letter to Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei on 7 January repeating their call that Abtin be given access to the best possible medical care as he battles for his life. In addition, we urge that: he and all those unjustly detained for their writing or expression be immediately and unconditionally released; that authorities refrain from summoning political prisoners to serve their sentences while the conditions inside Evin and other Iranian prisons remain unsafe; and that any who do contract COVID-19 or other serious illnesses while in jail be granted speedy access to all needed medical care or a medical parole on humanitarian grounds.

While offering condolences to Abtin’s family and friends, the Iranian Writers Association (IWA) where Abtin, 48, was a board member, released a statement on January 8 on the “injustice that was committed against Abtin”: “Baktash Abtin is alive because the spirit of freedom-seeking and the fight against tyranny and injustice is alive,” said the statement.

Fellow IWA board member Reza Khandan Mahabadi was also sentenced to five years in prison and Keyvan Bajan to three years and six months. An international chorus has condemned the IWA writers’ imprisonment, with dozens of high-profile writers and artistic figures including Nobel laureates calling for the writers’ acquittal.

At least 11 writers are known to be either currently imprisoned or living with an unserved prison sentence hanging over their heads in Iran as they await an appeal or to be summoned to jail, according to a list compiled by CHRI.

In an interview with CHRI in May 2019 after his trial, Abtin forcefully said the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security” was for statements published by the IWA, articles in the organization’s internal newsletter, and holding memorial ceremonies for IWA members Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, who were murdered in 1998 as part of a concerted state policy to eliminate political and cultural dissidents inside and outside of Iran.

“Nowhere in the world is it necessary to get a permit to gather around someone’s grave,” Abtin told CHRI. “But that’s what we’ve been charged with.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/07/joint-ngo-letter-khamenei-baktash-abtins-condition

Harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and other Human Rights Defenders in Bangladesh

December 21, 2021

On 14 December 2021 a Statement Bangladesh: Stop Harassment of Human Rights Defenders” was published by Forum Asia, FIDH and other NGOs: “Bangladesh authorities must end the harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, respectively Secretary and Director of the human rights group Odhikar, who have been targeted through the misuse of the criminal justice system”, eleven rights groups said.

On December 15, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka will continue the examination of prosecution witnesses in the case brought against Adilur Rahman Khan, also a member of OMCT General Assembly and FIDH Secretary-General, and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, for charges brought against them in Case No. 1 of 2013 under the notorious Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, 2006 (amended in 2009), in relation to a fact-finding report issued by Odhikar on the killing of at least 61 people by security forces and law-enforcement agencies in May 2013. Khan and Elan face up to ten years in prison. See also; https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/88F17E2F-F919-580F-2FDA-59B8E24ACBF6

The government should stop using vague laws to silence human rights defenders and start holding perpetrators of abuses to account, ” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Odhikar’s findings not only should have led to investigations and reforms, but also should have been welcomed by the government as an opportunity to strengthen their commitment to upholding human rights.

Following Odhikar’s 2013 report, Khan and Elan were arbitrarily detained for respectively 62 and 25 days until they were both released on bail. On February 14, 2021, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh rejected Odhikar’s appeal to quash the case on its legal merits. On September 12, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka resumed the trial in the case against the two while their review petition is still pending hearing before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, contravening the right to a fair trial. On October 5, November 9, and November 24, 2021, the Cyber Tribunal of Dhaka started to examine prosecution witnesses in the case.

We express our deepest concern over the ongoing harassment of Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, which is manifestly a form of reprisals against Odhikar for their legitimate human rights work, including for cooperating with UN human rights mechanisms in documenting enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and torture in Bangladesh.

It is further a matter of great concern that since 2013, attacks, unlawful surveillance, smear campaigns and harassment against Odhikar and its staff and management have been incessant. Odhikar is also facing serious difficulties to conduct its work due to violations of the right to freedom of association, since its registration has not been renewed by the NGO Affairs Bureau of the Government of Bangladesh and is still pending since 2015. Moreover, all of its bank accounts have been frozen and the organization has been forbidden from receiving funding from foreign or international sources, impacting its operations considerably.

The trial against Khan and Elan resumes in a context where human rights in Bangladesh are under attack from all sides. Human rights violations committed by security forces, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture remain pervasive throughout the country, with absolute impunity. Authorities regularly crackdown on human rights defenders and journalists who speak out against these violations, including through the use of the Digital Security Act – 2018, the Special Powers Act – 1974, and other draconian laws. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/12/02/adilur-rahman-khan-speaks-out-against-torture/

Cases such as these question the Bangladeshi government’s commitment to protecting human rights. The international community, including the United Nations and the diplomatic corps in Bangladesh, should monitor the case against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan and take a clear stand to ensure that the government of Bangladesh respects the rights of the two defenders to a fair and public trial and, more generally, guarantees the right to defend human rights and puts an end to all acts of harassment against all human rights defenders in Bangladesh.

Our organisations call on the authorities of Bangladesh to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan, and to ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Bangladesh are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

This trial is in reality an indictment of the authorities and a crucial test case for the country’s judiciary to be closely watched by the international community,” said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General, speaking on behalf of the Observatory. “The true culprits are those responsible for extra-judicial killings not those who report on it. Prosecuting human rights activists will not stifle dissent but will isolate Bangladesh from the international community.

The NGOs:

Amnesty International

Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN),

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC),

Asian Network for Free Elections

Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation,

Eleos Justice, Monash University, Associate Professor

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, i

FORUM-ASIA

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/bangladesh/bangladesh-government-must-act-to-address-rule-of-law-crisis

TODAY: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women,

November 25, 2021

Women and girls everywhere continue to be subjected to multiple forms of gender-based violence, including femicide, online violence and domestic violence, UN and regional experts (for impressive list see below) said today. They call on States to exercise due diligence and to fight pushbacks on gender equality.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, they issue the following statement: [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/19/16-days-of-activism-against-gender-based-violence-start-on-25-november-2019/]

“Although they represent more than half the world’s population, women and girls the world over are still at risk of being killed and subject to violence, intimidation and harassment when they speak out – for the simple fact of being women and girls. Violence against women and girls is the result of intersectional forms of social, political, economic, racial, caste and cultural discrimination perpetrated daily against women and girls in all of their diversity, including in the context of armed conflict, and States and the international community have the obligation mandated by international human rights law and standards to address this violence. Together, these forms of discrimination not only aggravate the intensity and frequency of violence but also sharpen the impunity that exists against it and increase societal and individual readiness to allow it.

Of particular concern is the fact that not only women and girls continue to be subjected to multiple manifestations of violence but that the spaces where this violence takes place have also multiplied. Nowhere is this more apparent than within online spaces, including social media. Governments, private companies and others may seek to hide their responsibilities behind the seemingly “borderless” nature of the internet. But human rights are universal and, as such, there is one human rights regime that protects the rights of women and girls offline as well as online, and that demands zero tolerance for violence against women and girls in the digital space. Violence against women and girls flourishes because those who seek to silence women and girls and facilitate their exploitation, abuse, maiming and killing are not firmly prevented from and held accountable for their actions.

It is unacceptable that in today’s world where humanity and life on this planet faces the existential threats of climate change and toxic pollution amidst a proliferation of conflict; the COVID-19 pandemic has killed at least 5 million people and infected at least 250 million worldwide in less than two years, also causing an increase in domestic violence against women, that women and girls are unable to participate fully in responding to these threats or in the search for solutions because they are discriminated, abused and continue to suffer violence, including sexual violence, exploitation and death on the basis of their sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. These global crises interact with and further deepen pre-existing inequalities as well as legal, institutional and policy gaps to eliminate gender-based violence against women and girls, which in many cases, worsen them. Indigenous women, internally displaced women, women with disabilities, lesbian and transgender women and women belonging to other vulnerable or marginalized groups are particularly affected by the failure of these policies to prevent such violence, as well as protect and assist survivors.

While a number of States, non-state actors and other stakeholders have stepped up their interventions and resource allocations to prevent and respond to gender-based violence against women and girls, more effort in terms of both financial and non-financial interventions is needed to make these approaches truly transformative, particularly with regards to prevention, to avoid that policies remain ‘gender blind’, ‘gender exploitative’ or ‘race neutral’. Many of these policies do not disaggregate data based on social and racial constructs which discriminate, marginalize, exclude, and violate women and girls. These policies need to transform the prevailing social, economic and political systems that produce, nurture, and maintain gender inequality and drive violence against women and girls everywhere, through increased investment in their education and skills development, access to information, social services and financial resources, and support for positive representation and images in public discourse and social media. Collectively, they need to do more to challenge the patriarchal social norms and constructs of masculinity, femininity, racism and casteism that are based on extremely harmful stereotypes and which can cause psychological, physical, emotional and economical harm, including for women of colour, including those of African descent. These stereotypes pervade state institutions as evidenced by the lack of accountability for many cases before law enforcement and justice systems. States must also ensure access to comprehensive physical and mental care for survivors of gender-based violence, as part of the full range of quality sexual and reproductive health care that must be available for all.

Collective effort is required to stop the reversal of progress made in ending violence against women across the world and to counter the backlash against gender equality and the tenets of human rights-based legislation and governance. Those responsible for these regressive steps often begin by attempts to co-opt the justice system, change or issue new legislation and curtail fundamental rights and freedoms for women and girls, such as their freedom of thought, expression and association, their right to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of thought and, in particular, their sexual and reproductive rights. All human rights are inalienable, interdependent and exist without a hierarchy, despite the efforts of some actors to sacrifice some of these rights at the expense of others, often in the name of their own cultural or religious norms and their particular perception of societal harmony.

Women and girls around the world need to be heard; their voices should not be silenced nor their experiences go unnoticed. Women will never gain their dignity until their human rights are protected. Women’s rights are human rights. Women and girls’ agency and participation in all processes that affect their rights and lives need to be promoted and protected at all costs. States should ensure and create an enabling environment for women to exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly and public participation free from intimidation and attacks. States must exercise their due diligence obligation and protect women human rights defenders, activists and women’s organizations who are regularly harassed, intimidated and subjected to violence for defending their rights and promoting equality. The level and frequency of violence against them should raise alarm bells everywhere. It is, and should be, a public policy and a human rights priority.

If we want to gauge the underlying health, security and prosperity of a society, we all need to address our duty to play a part in the respect and furtherance of women and girls’ rights. There will be no prosperity without ending violence against women and girls in the public as well as in the private sphere.

There will be no ending of violence against women and girls if we don’t recognize and protect the dignity, rights and security of women and girls everywhere and at all times.” ENDS

*The experts:

Platform of independent expert mechanisms on the elimination of discrimination and violence against women (EDVAW Platform): Reem Alsalem*, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; ****Melissa Upreti ****(Chair), **Dorothy Estrada Tanck **(Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Ivana Radačić, and **Meskerem Geset Techane, ***Working Group on discrimination against women and girls*; ****Gladys Acosta Vargas, ***Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women;* Margarette May Macaulay******, ****Rapporteur on the Rights of Women of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights**; Iris Luarasi, President of the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence of the Council of Europe; Tatiana Rein Venegas**, President of the* Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém do Pará Convention*; Maria Teresa Manuela, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa.*

Obiora Okafor*, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Marcos A. Orellana, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Francisco Cali Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Vitit Muntarbhorn,*Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia*; Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; **Victor Madrigal-Borloz, ***Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity*; ****Alioune Tine****, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali; **Sorcha MacLeod (Chair-Rapporteur), Jelena Aparac, Ravindran Daniel, Chris Kwaja, ***Working Group on the use of mercenaries*; Gerard Quinn****, ****Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities*; Livingstone Sewanyana*, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; ****Fionnuala Ní Aoláin****, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons;** Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; **Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Fernand de Varennes****, Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Yao Agbetse, Independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic; **Nils Melzer, ***Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment*; Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to health; Attiya Waris, Independent Expert on debt, other international financial obligations and human rights; Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation;****Elina Steinerte**** (Chair-Rapporteur), ****Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo**** (Vice-Chair), ****Ms. Leigh Toomey****, ****Mr. Mumba Malila****, ****Ms. Priya Gopalan****, Working Group on arbitrary detention;** Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Muluka Anne Miti-Drummond,Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association**; **Isha Dyfan, ***Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia* ; ****Luciano Hazan (****Chair-Rapporteur),**** Aua Balde ****(Vice-Chair),**** Gabriella Citroni, Henrikas Mickevicius**** and ****Tae-Ung Baik, ***Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances*; ****Alexandra Xanthaki, ***Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights;* **Morris Tidball-Binz ***Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions*; Anais Marin, Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Surya Deva (Chairperson), Elżbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Githu Muigai, Fernanda Hopenhaym, and Anita Ramasastry, Working Group on Business and Human Rights; David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Ms. Dominique Day (Chair), Ms. **Catherine S. Namakula (Vice-Chair), Ms. Miriam Ekiudoko,** Mr. Sushil Raj, Ms. Barbara G. Reynolds Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent; **Irene Khan, ***Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

See also:

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/combating-violence-against-women-in-a-digital-age-utilising-the-istanbul-convention-grevio-general-recommendation-no-1-on-the-digital-dimension-of-vio

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/11/619e0ae14/refugee-women-lead-combating-gender-based-violence.html

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/violence-targeting-women-politics-trends-targets-types-and-perpetrators-political

Joint Statement on the Sentencing of Two Members of Human Rights Group Viasna in Belarus

November 5, 2021
The head of Viasna’s Homieĺ office Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna’s volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa.
The head of Viasna’s Homieĺ office Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna’s volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa. © 2021 Human Rights Centre Viasna

On Wednesday, November 3, the Centraĺny District Court in Homieĺ delivered the verdict in the politically motivated criminal case against two human rights defenders with the Homieĺ branch of Viasna, a leading Belarusian human rights group. The court sentenced the head of Viasna’s Homieĺ office Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna’s volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa to three and two and a half years in prison, respectively.

18 international and Belarusian organizations call on Belarusian authorities to immediately annul the outrageous verdict and drop all charges against Sudalenka and Lasitsa, as well as five other members of Viasna who are currently in jail on politically motivated charges.

“Politically motivated prosecutions of Viasna members and volunteers are part of the ‘purge’ of Belarusian civil society declared by Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his government. Belarusian authorities’ targeting of Viasna in particular is no doubt designed to punish the organization for its outstanding and courageous human rights work over the course of 25 years.”

On October 14, the prosecutor’s office requested three years’ imprisonment for Sudalenka and Lasitsa on charges of “organizing, financing, training, and preparation of actions grossly violating public order and financing such activities.” The charges were backed by absurd “evidence,” such as Sudalenka’s Facebook post offering to buy firewood for the family of someone accused of “mass rioting” in connection with the peaceful protests of 2020.

Sudalenka and Lasitsa have been in pretrial detention for over nine months, having been arrested on January 18 and 21, respectively. Their trial began in early September and was held behind closed doors.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/27/crackdown-on-human-rights-lawyers-in-belarus-continues/

On January 18, authorities also detained Viasna’s volunteer Maryia Tarasenka in connection to Sudalenka and Lasitsa’s case. She was released under her own recognizance three days after the arrest. Tarasenka left Belarus after prosecutor’s office requested two and a half years imprisonment for her in October.

The other five Viasna members currently behind bars on politically motivated criminal charges are Ales Bialiatski, the founder and chairman of Viasna, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Viasna deputy chairman, Uladzimir Labkovich, a lawyer and coordinator of the group’s campaign “Human rights defenders for free elections,” Marfa Rabkova, coordinator of Viasna’s network of volunteers, and Andrei Chapyuk, a volunteer for Viasna in Minsk.

The human rights defenders’ conditions of detention raise serious concerns: reports indicate they have been subjected to degrading and cruel treatment and their correspondence is often blocked. On October 13, Marfa Rabkova’s husband was allowed to see her for the first time in 13 months and reported she had been asking for but was denied medical care.

Around 100 Viasna human rights defenders and volunteers, as well as their family members, have also been interrogated and designated witnesses in criminal cases against their colleagues. At least seven have been designated suspects.

Belarusian law enforcement continues regular interrogations in connection with the criminal cases against Viasna employees, including activists of other civil groups and initiatives.

On September 17, 23 international and Belarusian human rights groups launched a campaign #FreeViasna, demanding the immediate release of the jailed Viasna human rights defenders. We continue calling on the Belarusian authorities to:

  • Fully abide by their international human rights obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expression of all people in Belarus.
  • Fully respect the work of human rights defenders and lawyers and ensure that everyone can complain without fear of retaliation about actions and policies of individual officials and governmental agencies.
  • In line with these obligations, release Tatsiana Lasitsa, Leanid Sudalenka, Ales Bialatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova and Andrei Chapyuk immediately, drop all charges against Viasna staff and volunteers, including Maryia Tarasenka, and other human rights defenders, and ensure their right to a remedy for arbitrary detention and malicious prosecution.

Also woth mentioning is that on 4 November 2021 in response to the Belarusian authorities’ failure to respond satisfactorily to the 5 November 2020 Moscow Mechanism report, 35 OSCE states invoked the Vienna (Human Dimension) Mechanism and Belarus’ commitments under that Mechanism.

Signed:

Amnesty International

Article 19

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Center for Civil Liberties

Civil Rights Defenders

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Front Line Defenders

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Human Rights Center Viasna

Human Rights House Foundation       

Human Rights Watch

International Partnership for Human Rights                    

Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights                

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Östgruppen – Swedish Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights               

Right Livelihood                         

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/03/joint-statement-sentencing-two-members-human-rights-group-viasna-belarus#

https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-lawyer-sudalenka-jailed/31544089.html

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/human-rights-in-belarus-35-osce-states-invoke-vienna-mechanism

48th session of the Human Rights Council: outcomes

October 19, 2021

On 11 October 2021 14 NGOs shared reflections on the key outcomes of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/human-rights-defenders-issues-in-the-48th-session-of-he-un-human-rights-council/]:

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on the establishment of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change, who will focus on the interdependence between human rights, a healthy environment, and combating climate change and we welcome the Council’s historic recognition of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. These are vital steps towards addressing the climate crisis and achieving environmental justice.

Ensuring a safe and enabling environment for civil society participation at the national and international levels is essential.

We welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on cooperation with the UN in the field of human rights, in particular the invitation to the Secretary-General to submit his annual reprisals report to the General Assembly, which will ensure greater attention to the issue and contribute to a more coherent system-wide response across the UN.

We express concern over the reclassification of NGO written statements submitted to the 48th session of the HRC from Agenda Item 4 to Agenda Item 3 without informing or consulting with the submitting organizations, and without transparency for the reasons or scope of this reclassification.

We welcome that the resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs puts an important focus on the context of elections and on the impact of COVID-19, underscoring the importance of protecting civil society participation at every level  as part of an effective response to the pandemic, in post-pandemic recovery and as a vital component of democratic electoral processes. We regret that, in this and other resolutions, there has been systematic pushbacks against the inclusion of references to children’s right to participate in public affairs, in particular girls, in contravention of international human rights standards.

We also welcome the resolution on privacy in the digital age. Among other issues, the resolution responds to recent Pegasus revelations and includes new commitments on the use of privately-developed surveillance tools against journalists and human rights defenders. It is now essential that the Council goes further and champions the call made by various UN human rights experts to implement a global moratorium on the sale, export, transfer, and use of private surveillance technology without proper human rights safeguards. We also welcome new language in the text on privacy violations and abuses arising from new and emerging technologies, including biometric identification and recognition technologies. In future iterations of the text, we encourage the core group to go further in calling for a ban on technologies that cannot be operated in compliance with international human rights obligations.

With the withdrawal of the resolution on the realisation of a ‘better life’, we are glad to see that the Council’s mandate and resources will not be diverted to efforts that would distract from its core work or dilute human rights standards.

We regret that it was not possible to schedule the briefing by the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) as per resolution 45/31 – and look forward to future opportunities for exchanges between the HRC and the PBC to learn from one another in efforts to address common contemporary challenges.

We deplore the abandonment of the Yemeni people by the HRC member States who did not support the renewal of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen. This failure of the HRC gives the green light to all parties to the conflict to continue their campaign of death and destruction in Yemen. We demand an international criminal investigative mechanism. Anything less is unacceptable.

We regret that the HRC has not responded to the calls of civil society and the evidence of widespread violations in countries including China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia where the situations manifestly warrant the establishment of international investigation and accountability mechanisms.

The establishment of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan supported by additional and dedicated expertise in OHCHR should bring much needed scrutiny. While we are disappointed that the Council did not establish the full-fledged investigative and monitoring mechanism that the situation warrants, we hope this decision represents a first step towards a stronger response to ensure accountability for human rights violations and crimes under international law in Afghanistan.

While the extension of international scrutiny in Burundi, including through ongoing documentation of violations, is welcome, we regret the absence of a clear strategy post-Commission of Inquiry. As the Burundian government continues to reject cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms and to deny violations, and given that the newly-created Special Rapporteur will not have access to the country for the foreseeable future, it is vital for the Council to rely on benchmarks to design the next steps of its action on, and engagement with, Burundi. We thank the COI for its important work since 2016. It has set the bar high for investigative mechanisms.

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia with a mandate to provide an additional oral update to the Council. However, the resolution falls short of the minimum action required to credibly address the increasing regression in democratic space and civil and political rights and to put in place necessary measures to create an environment conducive for free, fair and inclusive elections in 2022 and 2023, including mandating enhanced monitoring and reporting by the High Commissioner.

More than four years after the beginning of the conflict in the North-West and South-West regions in Cameroon, we deeply regret States’ failure, once again, to collectively address the country’s human rights crisis. As other international and regional bodies remain silent, the Council has a responsibility to act, including through the creation of an investigative and accountability mechanism. 

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Libya but regret that the mandate has only been extended for a 9-month period. The severity of ongoing and past violations and abuses in Libya, including war crimes, requires an FFM with a sustained and properly resourced mandate.

We welcome a second joint statement on Nicaragua, and urge concerned States to step up collective action in light of increasing repression ahead of the November 7 elections. Should the Government not revert course, it is fundamental that the Council takes stock and provides an adequate, strong response, including the establishment of an international mechanism at its 49th session.

We welcome the High Commissioner’s oral updates on the Philippines.  While the UN Joint Program on Human Rights (UNJP) might provide a framework for improvements, we remain concerned that the UN Joint Programme on Human Rights is instrumentalized by the Government only to please the international community. The national accountability mechanism fails to show meaningful progress. We continue to urge the Council to consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry on the Philippines, to eventually start the long-overdue independent and transparent investigation into the human rights violation in the country.

We welcome the robust resolution that extends the mandate of the Independent Expert on Somalia for a further year. 

While human rights advancements since 2019 in Sudan should be recognized, Sudan still faces significant human rights challenges including threats of the militarization of the State which is also the most challenging peril for women’s rights and WHRDs in Sudan. The transition is not complete, and political uncertainty remains. Against this backdrop, the Council’s decision to discontinue its formal monitoring of and reporting on Sudan is premature as the military establishment continues to pose a threat to democracy and stability in Sudan. We urge the Sudanese authorities to fully cooperate with the UN human rights system to address ongoing violations including sexual and gender based violence and the legacy of 30 years of dictatorship, including impunity for crimes under international law.

Signatories: International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project); Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI); FIDH; ARTICLE 19; International Commission of Jurists; FORUM ASIA; International Bar Association; Franciscans International; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation; Association of Progressive Communications – APC; child rights connect; Gulf Center for Human Rights

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc48-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

New Right to Healthy Environment: NGOs urge action

October 11, 2021

On 11 October 2021 ReliefWeb published the open letter signed by 166 civil society organizations and individuals calling upon world leaders to put human rights at the centre of environmental policy (for signatories see link below).

“Respecting and protecting human rights and protecting the environment are inextricably linked. Yet while Heads of State from 88 countries have called to end siloed thinking in the Leaders Pledge for Nature, environmental policy-making still too often excludes or sidelines human rights.

Today we, the undersigned — a broad range of indigenous peoples’ organisations, civil society groups — including human rights, land and environmental defender organisations — academics and [UN] experts from the Global South and North — call on the world’s leaders to bring together human rights, environmental and climate in policy-making in order to secure a just, equitable and ecologically healthy world for all.

The reciprocal relationship between nature and people has existed since time immemorial, but it is now unbalanced. There are countless examples in all parts of the world of how forests, savannas, fresh water sources, oceans, and even the air itself, are being privatised, polluted and destroyed by industries such as agriculture, timber, pulp and paper, mining and oil and gas extraction. These and many other industries not only wreak destruction on Mother Earth, but they also have direct and devastating impacts on human rights. Indigenous peoples and local communities living in close proximity to the production, extraction and processing of raw materials suffer dispossession of their lands, impoverishment, deterioration of their health, and destructive impacts on their culture, among many other abuses. In turn, human rights, land and environmental defenders who seek to prevent these violations suffer threats, criminalisation and violent attacks, and increasingly, killings.

The costs of both environmental destruction and measures to address this often fall disproportionately on those already in precarious positions — such as indigenous peoples, afro-descendants, local communities, women, children and youths, and poorly-paid workers, particularly in the Global South but also in the Global North — while the profits of the largest and most environmentally-damaging industries, and the wealth of their owners and financers, continues to grow. It is unforgivable that polluting industries profit at the expense of the health and human rights of marginalised communities. And, ultimately, this environmental destruction has indirect human rights impacts on us all.

Just this month the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognising the Right to a Healthy Environment. Yet while there is evidence that the protection of human rights can lead to better environmental outcomes, calls for recognition of the holistic and indivisible nature of human rights and the environment often go unheeded in global, regional and national environmental and climate policy forums.

This must change. As a global community we face multiple, intersecting crises: increasing human rights abuses and environmental harms by companies, land grabs, the loss of food and water sovereignty, increasing poverty and inequality, increased attacks and killings of defenders, climate change-induced disasters and migration, the diminishing health of the oceans and critical biodiversity loss. Resolving these crises demands a holistic approach to environmental policy that embeds human rights and tackles systemic problems, including historically rooted social injustice, ecological destruction, state capture by corporations, corruption and impunity, as well as and social and economic inequality.

We urge world leaders to ensure that all policymaking related to the environment — including the climate and biodiversity crises, ownership and use of land, water and resources, ecosystem degradation, corporate accountability and trade, among others — address human rights and the environment in an integrated manner. This would help to catalyse the transformative action that is urgently required.

Respect for, protection, promotion and fulfilment of human rights, and the protection of those who defend them, must be an essential and non-negotiable part of measures adopted in upcoming negotiations at the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, COP15, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP26. Human rights must also be central to regional and national level climate and environmental policies, such as proposed deforestation legislation in the UK, the EU and the USA, which must be further strengthened.

The time to act is now: we call on you to unite human rights, climate and the environment once and for all. In doing so, you can help us and our future generations to thrive by living in harmony with nature. And in doing so, you can affirm that both nature and people have intrinsic worth and that governments are serious in living up to their duty both to protect Mother Earth and to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/open-letter-civil-society-world-leaders-put-human-rights-centre-environmental-policy

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2110/S00102/civil-society-calls-on-world-leaders-to-put-human-rights-at-the-centre-of-environmental-policy.htm

Big Coalition urges UN to denounce abuses facilitated by spyware technologies

October 4, 2021

During the 28th U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) Access Now joined 94 other civil society organizations and independent experts in urging member states to denounce abuses facilitated by spyware technologies.

The Pegasus Project revealed a long list of journalists, activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, world leaders, and civil society actors that were a target of NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware. The U.N. HRC should mandate comprehensive measures to investigate and prevent further violations linked to the sale, export, and use of Pegasus spyware and cases of targeted surveillance. For earlier post on this hot topic, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/pegasus/

Member States must urgently act to address the perpetual human rights abuses by States facilitated by NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware,” said Laura O’Brien, UN Advocacy Officer at Access Now. “The clandestine surveillance industry must be held accountable.

The recent revelations showcased the unprecedented scale of human rights violations by States facilitated by the use of Pegasus with Budapest-based photojournalist Dániel Németh being the latest victim targeted by the spyware.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), governments continue to use digital surveillance tools to target journalists and activists. In 2016, a Citizen Lab investigation revealed that the UAE spied on human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who is now serving 10 years in prison under inhumane conditions. The Pegasus Project revealed that friends and family of slain Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, were also targets of Pegasus spyware with the iPhone of Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, targeted and successfully infected. Last June, Access Now and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights launched the MENA Surveillance Coalition, convening civil society organizations working to defend freedom of expression, privacy, and fundamental rights, to call for an end to the sales of digital surveillance tools to repressive governments in the region.

“Invasive surveillance invades and corrodes the lives and work of human rights defenders, journalists, and activists across the globe,” said Kassem Mnejja, MENA Campaigner at Access Now. “Companies like NSO have been given free rein to proliferate the market with the dangerous Pegasus spyware used to facilitate these dehumanising and unsafe actions — this must end now.”

Despite the mounting evidence of its human rights abuses, the NSO Group continues to repeat its false claim that its spyware is only used for legitimate purposes like investigating crime and terror. This cannot continue.

U.N. human rights experts and civil society groups have previously called on governments to immediately implement a global moratorium on the sale, export, transfer, and use of private surveillance technology. Supporting this call, civil society organizations and independent experts are today requesting member states of the U.N. HRC to urgently denounce and mandate independent investigations into the human rights violations facilitated by this technology.

Read the full letter.

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2110/S00016/act-now-against-spyware-coalition-tells-un-human-rights-council.htm

UN Experts urge EU to take the lead on protecting human rights defenders in context of business

September 7, 2021

The European Union has a chance to set an example for the entire world by protecting people who risk their lives standing up for human rights in the context of business activities, said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, joined by the UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises known as the Working Group on Business and Human Rights), Mr. Surya Deva (Chairperson), Ms. Elzbieta Karska (Vice-Chairperson), Mr. Githu Muigai, Mr. Dante Pesce, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry; and Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues.

The European Union legislative initiative on mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence “must include safeguards for human rights defenders,” they stated on 6 September 2021.

The European Union, as the world’s largest single market, has a golden opportunity to advance the safety and security of human rights defenders who are working around the globe to build more just societies, often at great personal risk,” Lawlor said. “A robust, binding regime in the EU covering companies of all sizes would provide a powerful model for other parts of the world.”

Human rights defenders often risk their lives confronting violations along supply chains, Lawlor said. “Parent companies must carry out human rights and environmental due diligence throughout their supply chains to ensure human rights defenders are not subjected to reprisals from their subsidiaries, sub-contractors and suppliers,” she said. “The EU must ensure that where such retaliation happens, these companies can be held accountable.”

In the 10 years since the Human Rights Council adopted the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, business compliance has remained extremely low. In the same period, increasing numbers of human rights defenders have been killed for their work. The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has recently developed guidance setting forth expectations that businesses address risks to defenders and that States address this as part of their own mandatory human rights due diligence regulations.

People who stand up for human rights related to environmental protection, community land rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, poverty, minorities and business accountability – often intertwining issues – are most at risk of being attacked or killed.

Where human rights defenders come under attack in the context of business activities it is a clear sign of other underlying human rights issues.” Lawlor said. Potential risks for human rights defenders should be seen as a key component of companies’ due diligence duty to identify and assess human rights risks connected to their projects, and must be specifically included in the expected EU proposal.

Business enterprises must also be obliged to consult with defenders under the EU initiative, and the door should be kept open for defenders to bring issues to companies’ attention at every stage within business projects,” Lawlor said. “

“Now is the time for the EU to give new life to its founding principles by delivering a strong law that could help reduce the number of lives lost in defence of human rights,” Lawlor said.

https://www.miragenews.com/golden-opportunity-for-eu-to-take-global-lead-626609/

Results of 47th session of the Human Rights Council

August 7, 2021

The ISHR and 17 other organisations (see below for their names) share reflections on the key outcomes of the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/key-issues-affecting-hrds-in-47th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-june-2021/

CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION

We deplore the systemic underfunding of the UN human rights system and the drive for so-called efficiency, including the cancellation of general debates in June, which are a vital part of the agenda by which NGOs can address the Council without restrictions. We call for the reinstatement of general debates at all sessions, with the option of civil society participation through video statements.  We welcome the focus of the civil society space resolution on the critical role played by civil society in the COVID-19 response, and the existential threats to civil society engendered or exacerbated by the pandemic. For the resolution to fulfil its goal, States must now take action to address these threats; while we welcome the broad support indicated by a consensus text, this cannot come at the cost of initiatives that will protect and support civil society.

HUMAN RIGHTS ONLINE

We welcome a resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and its thematic focus on bridging digital divides, an issue which has become ever-important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge all States to implement the resolution by taking concrete measures to enhance Internet accessibility and affordability and by ceasing Internet shutdowns and other disruptions, such as website blocking and filtering and network throttling. In future iterations of the text, we encourage the core group to go further in mentioning concrete examples that could be explored by States in adopting alternative models for expanding accessibility, such as the sharing of infrastructure and community networks.  We welcome the resolution on new and emerging digital technologies and human rights, which aims to promote a greater role for human rights in technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies, and in the policies of States and businesses. While aspects of the resolution risk perpetuating “technology solutionism”, we welcome that it places a stronger focus on the human rights impacts of new and emerging digital technologies since the previous version of the resolution, such as introducing new language reiterating the importance of respecting and promoting human rights in the conception, design, use, development, further deployment and impact assessments of such technologies.

GENDER EQUALITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION

We are concerned by the increasing number of amendments and attempts to weaken the texts. We are particularly concerned by the continued resistance of many States to previously adopted texts and States’ willful misinterpretation of key concepts related in resolutions on human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS, accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities and preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights on maternal morbidities. We deplore the instrumentalising of women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We encourage States to center the rights of people most affected and adopt strong texts on these resolutions. We welcome the resolution on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality as the first step in addressing deep-rooted stigma and discrimination. We urge all States to address the root causes for the discrimination and stigma on menstruation and its impact.

RACIAL JUSTICE AND EQUALITY

The High Commissioner’s report highlighted the long-overdue need to confront legacies of slavery, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism and to seek reparatory justice. We welcome the historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally. We deplore efforts by some Western States, particularly former colonial powers, to weaken the text and urge them to now cooperate fully with the mechanism to dismantle systemic racism, ensure accountability and reparations for past and present gross human rights violations against Black people, end impunity for racialized State violence and address the root causes, especially the legacies of enslavement, colonialism, and the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans.

MIGRANTS RIGHTS

Whilst we welcome the return of a resolution on human rights of migrants, we deplore the continued failure of the Council to respond meaningfully to the severity and global scale of human rights violations at international borders including connected to pushbacks. International borders are not and must not be treated as places outside of international human rights law. Migrants are not and must not be treated as people outside of international human rights law. Expressions of deep concern in interactive dialogues must be translated into action on independent monitoring and accountability.

ARMS TRANSFERS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

We welcome the resolution on the impact of arms transfers on human rights and its focus on children and youth. However, we note with concern the resistance of the Council to meaningfully focus on legal arms transfers beyond those diverted, unregulated or illicitly transferred. The Council should be concerned with all negative human rights impacts of arms transfers, without focusing only on those stemming from diversion and unregulated or illicit trade.

CLIMATE CHANGE

We are disappointed that the resolution on human rights and climate change fails to establish a new Special Rapporteur. However, we welcome the increasing cross regional support for a new mandate. It is a matter of urgent priority for the Council to establish it this year.

COUNTRY SPECIFIC SITUATIONS

ALGERIA

While special procedures, the OHCHR and multiple States have recognized the intensifying Algerian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of association and expression, the Council failed to act to protect Algerians striving to advance human rights and democracy.

BELARUS

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Given the ongoing human rights crisis in Belarus, the mandate complements the OHCHR Examination in ensuring continuous monitoring of the situation, and the mandate remains an accessible and safe channel for Belarusian civil society to deliver diverse and up-to-date information from within the country.

CHINA

The Council has once again failed to respond meaningfully to grave human rights violations committed by Chinese authorities. We reiterate our call on the High Commissioner and member States to take decisive action toward accountability.

COLOMBIA

We are disappointed that few States made mention of the use of excessive force against protestors in a context of serious human rights violations, including systemic racism, and urge greater resolve in support of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country and globally

ETHIOPIA

The resolution on Ethiopia’s Tigray region, albeit modest in its scope and language, ensures much-needed international scrutiny and public discussions on one of Africa’s worst human rights crises. We urge the Ethiopian government to engage ahead of HRC48.

ERITREA

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, as scrutiny for violations committed at home and in Tigray is vital.

NICARAGUA

We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Canada on behalf of 59 States, on harassment and detention of journalists, human rights defenders, and presidential pre-candidates, urging Nicaragua to engage with the international community and take meaningful steps for free and fair elections. States should closely monitor the implementation of resolution 46/2, and send a strong collective message to Nicaragua at the 48th session of the Council, as the Council should ‘urgently consider all measures within its power’ to strengthen human rights protection in the country.

PALESTINE

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report that “Israeli settlements are the engine of this forever occupation, and amount to a war crime,” emphasizing that settler colonialism infringes on “the right of the indigenous population […] to be free from racial and ethnic discrimination and apartheid.” We also reiterate his recommendation to the High Commissioner “to regularly update the database of businesses involved in settlements, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 31/36.”

THE PHILIPPINES

While acknowledging the signing of the Joint Human Rights Programme with the UN OHCHR, the Government of the Philippines fails to address the long-standing issues on law enforcement and accountability institutions, including in the context of war on drugs. We continue to urge the Council to launch the long-overdue independent and transparent investigation on the on-going human rights violations.

SYRIA

We welcome mounting recognition for the need to establish a mechanism to reveal the fate and whereabouts of the missing in Syria, including by UN member states during the interactive dialogue on Syria, and the adoption of the resolution on Syria addressing the issue of the missing and emphasizing the centrality of victim participation, building on the momentum created by the Syrian Charter for Truth and Justice.

VENEZUELA

In the context of the recent arbitrary detention of 3 defenders from NGO Fundaredes, we welcome the denunciation by several States of persistent restrictions on civil society and again for visits of Special Rapporteurs to be accepted and accelerated.

*American Civil Liberties Union, Association for Progressive Communications, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Center for Reproductive Rights, Child Rights Connect, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, FIDH, Franciscans International, Human Rights House Foundation, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, International Commission of Jurists, International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Service for Human Rights, US Human Rights Network

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc47-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

Joint NGO-call for UN to protect civilians caught in armed conflict

May 12, 2021

On 12 May 2021 the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and 25 other civil society organizations have issued a joint statement ahead of the May 25th UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. The joint statement calls for the UN Secretary General, UN Security Council, Member States, and armed actors to take urgent and ambitious action to shift mindsets and invest in robust policies, strategies, and practices, to protect civilians caught in armed conflict.

Civil Society Statement on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (2021)

Over the past year, anniversaries of the conflicts in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and new outbreaks of violence elsewhere, have served as grim reminders of the international community’s lack of meaningful progress to uphold their commitments to protect civilians in armed conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic has interacted with new, ongoing, and protracted conflicts, exacerbating existing inequalities and protection concerns, and contributing to dramatically escalating humanitarian needs including displacement, famine and food insecurity, and desperate medical shortfalls. Civilians living in conflict-zones continue to experience the devastating impacts of conflict-related environmental damage and an increased vulnerability to climate and environmental risks with wide-ranging effects on health and human suffering.

Meanwhile, States continue to use the pandemic and other pretexts to shrink civic space. Dialogue essential to the development of policies, strategies, and plans for protection of civilians too often fails to be adequately representative and inclusive of civil society, despite their voices being essential. This is especially true for vulnerable or marginalized communities and for human rights defenders.

Parties to conflict continue to be blind to the gendered, age-specific, and intersectional vulnerabilities of civilians. In particular, conflicts continue to undermine the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities and minorities, especially when it comes to participating in decisions that impact their lives and communities. Conflict often leads to the widespread use of gender-based violence, undermining of women’s freedom of movement and access to education, health and livelihoods. The deliberate targeting and collateral impact of conflicts on women and girls continues to result in specific gendered harms that must be redressed, requiring the humanitarian system to ensure that there is gender equity in the decision-making structures at all levels. Attacks on educational institutions and their military use result in death, destruction, and loss of education, creating long-term negative consequences for whole communities.

Moreover, the absence of genuine political will to realize accountability for war crimes and other serious violations has deepened a culture of impunity.  As a result, parties to conflict continue to directly violate international humanitarian law (IHL) or enable violations by others and fail to take meaningful practical steps to minimize and respond to civilian harm in conflict.  Parties, including some States who profess to support the protection of civilians agenda are also fueling protection crises around the world, including through the supply of weapons and other forms of military and security assistance. Rather than enhancing the protection of civilians, millions have been forced to flee bombing and fighting and face hunger, starvation and disease as their access to life-saving humanitarian assistance is denied or otherwise impeded.

At the same time, protecting civilians has too often been understood through the prism of compliance with international humanitarian law. This is an incomplete view: compliance with the law is the bare minimum, but current patterns of harm and long-term effects of hostilities highlight the need for policies and practices to effectively prevent, minimize, and respond to civilian harm. The full protection of civilians must become a strategic imperative across scenarios from direct involvement in hostilities to support provided to parties to conflict, and through the full spectrum of UN and other international and regional peace operations. This should entail prioritizing the health and wellbeing of people, supporting political and social structures that ensure justice and dignity, and protecting the environment, and be understood as a wider goal of conflict prevention and response.

Ambitious action to shift mindsets and invest in robust policies, strategies and practices is urgently required to adequately protect civilians caught in armed conflict:

Member States, the UN System, and the international community must recommit to a United Nations of ‘We the Peoples’, and engage conflict-affected communities and local, national, and international civil society in a direct, robust, inclusive, and sustained dialogue on the protection of civilians and measures to minimize civilian harm. Effective protection of civilians can only be conceived and implemented through safe and inclusive dialogue with conflict-affected communities and civil society at all levels. Additionally, the UN, States, and other stakeholders should support nonviolent and community-based protection mechanisms where possible such as political mediation, early warning/early response activities, and unarmed civilian

The UN Security Council, Member States, and the UN System must fulfill their commitment to the full protection of civilians, including by promoting and implementing the relevant and applicable legal and policy frameworks. Member States should partner with civil society to develop national policy frameworks that include mechanisms to systematically record casualties, track, analyze, prevent, mitigate, and respond to civilian harm from the actions of their own and those of security partners, including the indirect and reverberating effects of hostilities on critical civilian objects, critical infrastructure and essential services, including health and education, and that ensure principled and sustained dialogue with humanitarian organizations in conflict contexts.

The UN Security Council, Member States and all parties to conflict must operate in a manner that preserves and protects space for principled humanitarian action, including by ensuring compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, as a critical aspect of strengthening the protection of civilians. As conflicts are increasingly defined as protection crises, disproportionately affecting women, girls, and boys, and are compounded by the gendered and age-specific impacts of COVID-19, States must take actions to reinforce the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups, and the localization of principled humanitarian response. States and all other parties to conflict must facilitate unhindered access to affected populations, respecting humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence. Sanctions and counterterrorism measures must include effective humanitarian exceptions and not limit principled humanitarian action. All actors must redouble efforts to protect humanitarian, education and health workers, and cease attacks on them, particularly in light of COVID-19’s effects and vaccine rollout.

The UN Secretary-General, the Security Council, and Member States must redouble efforts to ensure accountability for violations, including by publicly condemning actors who violate international humanitarian law, international human rights law and other applicable legal frameworks. The UN Security Council and Member States must strengthen the implementation of accountability mechanisms. The Secretary-General should reinforce transparent mechanisms, including at the field level, to track, analyze, and publicly report on violations caused by parties to armed conflicts, and make practical recommendations to enhance the protection of civilians and prevent further violations. Critical mechanisms established to help strengthen accountability, such as the list of perpetrators of grave violations of children’s rights included in the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, must be credible and accurate, free from politicization.

Member States should engage constructively in the process to develop a political declaration that would strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects. Such a declaration should commit States to avoid the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas. It should include inclusive humanitarian provisions to assist victims and affected communities including from damage and destruction to infrastructure – including schools and hospitals – and the resulting reverberating effects. This should recognize the particular vulnerability of and specific impacts of explosive weapons on children, the gendered impacts, and particular impacts on persons with disabilities.

The UN Secretary-General must work together with the UN Security Council to ensure protection is at the heart of UN peace operations.  Configurations and operations of UN peace operations must prioritize and be driven by analysis of threats against civilians, including threats of sexual and gender-based violence and threats of grave violations against children. The Secretary-General and Member States should ensure a coherent and adequately resourced approach to the protection of civilians, including that distinct capacities for protection, human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and child protection are defined and provided across the spectrum of peace operations and in UN Country Teams, and sustained throughout transitions. Peacekeeping operations should continue to strengthen implementation of the UN Department of Peace Operations PoC Policy, mitigate potential harm from their presence or operations, and incorporate local perspectives into protection strategies.

As civil society, we believe in the comprehensive protection of civilians: the protection of civilians from conflict, the protection of civilians during conflict, and the protection of civilians in the devastating and often long aftermath of conflict. Over the past year, the pandemic has further forced the world to confront the protection implications of a global health crisis. Especially in the context of conflict, States and the international community must meaningfully advance the protection of civilians, starting with a recommitment to the critical dictum of “do no harm.”

Read the full statement below and click here for the PDF.