Posts Tagged ‘Just Security’

Trump’s human rights diplomacy: Estrangement over Engagement.

October 15, 2020

Ryan Kaminski and Grace Anderson wrote in Just Security of 14 October 2020 a scathing assessment of US human rights policy under Trump, Here some large extracts, but it is worth reading in full:

At the launch of the first virtual session of the United Nations General Assembly last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought center stage to question one of the most historic documents put forward by the U.N. shortly after its inception: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Pompeo presented the findings of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights via videotape during a U.N. event that took place the same week [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/trump-marches-on-with-commission-on-unalienable-rights/]

Although jarring, the Commission’s conclusions should have come as no surprise: They are simply the culmination of the Trump administration’s downward trajectory on protecting human rights and engaging on these issues specifically at the U.N.

Just this month, for example, the U.S. microphone at the U.N. Human Rights Council was silent on the situation in Belarus, where massive protests have taken place against the country’s authoritarian leader. Nor did the United States take the floor when the Human Rights Council discussed combating global racism during an urgent debate requested by hundreds of U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights advocates, as well as the family of George Floyd. Moreover, the Trump administration’s recent self “report card” on human rights in the United States, posted online by the U.N. in September, is the shortest ever submitted from the United States, and it is unnecessarily combative, and conspicuously cherry-picked.

The practice of the Trump administration turning its back on rights at the U.N. goes well beyond the Human Rights Council.

Last December, the administration torpedoed a U.N. Security Council session on human rights in North Korea for a second year in a row. Its actions broke with years of precedent in which U.S. ambassadors of varying political stripes lobbied Security Council members to debate Pyongyang’s atrocious rights record. In 2019, the United States effectively kneecapped its own effort, despite having support from key allies and partners on the Security Council to move forward.

Recent budgetary moves by the Trump administration are another example of this worrying trend. In September, the State Department again served notice that it would be flouting the will of Congress by “reprogramming” $28 million for the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Over the past three years, the Trump administration has unilaterally withheld nearly $60 million in assessed contributions to OHCHR, an especially disdainful action given the bipartisan congressional support for the office.

Another area of concern is the Trump administration’s absentee track record of filling openings on U.N. human rights treaty bodies. These treaty bodies are official assemblies of international rights experts tasked with holding governments accountable for implementing the human rights accords they have ratified. They are effectively incubators and accelerators for the maintenance of international law and norms central to fundamental freedoms and human dignity. Yet, in a break with precedent from the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, Trump has not even nominated a candidate to sit on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The absence of American presence on the Committee, as well as other unsung, yet influential, bodies, represents a sorely missed opportunity.

The Committee, for example, works to ensure compliance among its 182 State parties and has taken decisive action on issues at the heart of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy priorities, such as grilling China on atrocities committed against ethnic Uyghurs in its territory….

Worse than stonewalling special procedures and limiting visits, Trump administration officials have in certain cases even gone on the offensive against these U.N. watchdogs. After an official U.S. visit by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, originally authorized by the Obama administration, then-U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley claimed the expert’s findings were inaccurate, offensive and wasteful. This was a missed opportunity for the United States to constructively address scrutiny of its rights record like any other advanced democracy; instead the administration reflexively attacked an independent rights watchdog.

Constructive U.S. engagement with U.N. special procedures helps set a positive example and bolsters U.S. credibility, especially when the United States calls on regimes violating rights to not hide from these exact same investigations. This year, for instance, Pompeo called out Cuba, via Twitter, for not responding to communications from the U.N. special rapporteurs on combating trafficking and modern slavery.

The picture is not entirely gloomy, however.

One potential bright spot for the Trump administration’s human rights engagement at the U.N. is the State Department’s prioritization of U.N. Human Rights Council reform…butt reform is a function of engagement, not withdrawal. Thus, the administration’s 2018 decision to give up its seat on the Human Rights Council has proven ineffective, unsurprisingly, in accomplishing meaningful reform. In fact, research from the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights found active U.S. membership on the Human Rights Council was a “game-changer,” resulting in a significant drop in anti-Israel resolutions and “scrutiny of many of the world’s worst human rights violators.”

Conversely, the U.S. absence from the Council, together with attempts to strong-arm U.N. institutions through funding cuts, has abetted China’s growing assertiveness in the U.N. system. Even the Heritage Foundation has acknowledged the “concerning” trend of China’s upward trajectory in the U.N. system.

The Trump administration also acknowledged this new reality when the State Department established an unusual new envoy posting charged with countering Chinese influence at the U.N. and other international organizations. But this move falls well short of the United States adopting an overarching strategic policy on China’s growing U.N. influence. This month, the Trump administration awkwardly tweeted support for action by the U.N. Human Rights Council on China, all the while warming the bench in its ongoing boycott.

Overall, sustained pushback against human rights work at the U.N. by the United States has become yet another cornerstone of the Trump administration’s “America First” doctrine. As Pompeo stated unequivocally at the launch of the Commission on Unalienable Rights: “Many [human rights] are worth defending in light of our founding; others aren’t.”

Critics of the Commission are right to be concerned. Whether leaving critical human rights positions unfilled, undercutting U.N. human rights bodies by withholding funds, or attacking U.N. independent rights advocates, Eleanor Roosevelt’s warning more than 60 years ago is more salient than ever: “Without concerted citizen action to uphold [universal human rights] close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

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See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/kenneth-roth-speaks-plainly-on-international-human-rights-china-a-violator-and-us-unprincipled/

Christof Heyns discusses new UN Comment on Right of Peaceful Assembly

July 30, 2020

On 29 July, 2020 Just Security published a lengthy interview of World Justice Project Executive Director Elizabeth Andersen with Christof Heyns, Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria and member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This is particularly important as a new new General Comment was issued just this week by the United Nations Human Rights Committee providing guidance on this topic at a critical moment, with protest movements on the rise across the globe, and many countries grappling with the appropriate response—something that has become even more complicated with the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions on large gatherings.

The audio podcast is available at WJP. For those who pefere to read there is text version in the link below. Here a teaser:

Christof Heyns [00:13:17] I think the main idea is that peaceful assemblies are a legitimate use of the public and other spaces. If one thinks on a very sort of practical level, streets are used for vehicles, but they also are used for marathons and for markets and so forth. And they’re closed off on a Saturday or whatever the case may be for that purpose. And peaceful assemblies, like these other social gatherings, are a legitimate use of space. So a number of domestic courts–Spain and Israel and others–have said the public space “is not only for circulation but it’s also for participation”. And I like that quote; even in the translation it comes across. So that’s the underlying idea. It is, as you say, part of democracy.

It is also part of the message of the General Comment that peaceful assembly is an individual right. So one should not in the first place think about the entire assembly exercising the right — and is it violent or is it not, or does it cause damage, and as a result that everybody’s responsible — the focus is on the individual. And even if there are some individuals in a larger group who are, in an isolated way, engaged in violence, this cannot be attributed to the group as a whole. Every individual has that right. As far as possible, they should be treated as individuals.

I think also the underlying philosophy is to say that the right of peaceful assembly should be dealt with by the authorities in a “content neutral” way. As you will know, this idea is strongly present in the US jurisprudence, for example. So the idea is, even if those who are engaging in assemblies are your political opponents or you don’t like their particular message for whatever reason, they are still allowed to do so. There may be some exceptions and maybe we can talk about that. But in principle, the approach should be content neutral.

People should be allowed also to exercise the right “within sight and sound” of their target. So by doing that, they can demonstrate to others that they feel strongly enough about this to gather around this. But they can also, for themselves, see what is the support that they have. So if you organize an assembly, if you think you’re going to have a million people and it’s only yourself who shows up, that’s a message to yourself about the popularity and the support for your idea. In fact, Gandhi had this idea that what he did were “experiments with truth”. And I think to some extent that’s true for peaceful assemblies today. It’s a way of testing ideas and then seeing what is the response. Putting your toe in the water, putting up a trial balloon. And in many cases, this can diffuse a situation. So the society as a whole can take note and they can internalize the fact that there are people who feel very strongly about a certain cause and then they can do something about it. So it’s almost the idea of precaution. Even if I’m not persuaded, now, I know that these people feel like that, and I can do something about it instead of it blowing up into a massive problem.

….

Elizabeth Andersen [00:21:06] Well, it’s certainly an ambitious project you undertook and covers a lot of ground, with lots of standards and recommendations detailed. I think it’s interesting to think about how that all plays out in a concrete setting. And so you mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement and current protests, particularly here in the United States where I’m from. I’d be interested if you can share with our listeners how you see the Committee’s guidance helping us evaluate the response to that protest movement here in the United States. What’s appropriate? What’s not?

Christof Heyns [00:21:53] Well, I think a number of the themes of the General Comment are relevant in the United States and in other societies now as well. So the starting point is that this is an individual right. If there are members of a particular group of an assembly who are engaging in violence, this cannot be attributed to all members. In some cases, interventions are needed, not only permitted but actually required, if there is danger to the lives of people, for example, or to property. The state has a duty to protect, but that should be targeted as far as possible to the individuals concerned. These should be targeted interventions

I think the other overriding issue is the one of de-escalation. There are two approaches. One is to escalate the situation and to show superior force, so to speak. And, of course, if that’s done by the state, the other side also tries to show superior force, and it escalates. But the police themselves, and also the politicians, have a duty of de-escalation and to accommodate, to tolerate, some level of disruption, and to work towards preventing the situation from getting out of hand.

Perhaps more particularly, the General Comment also focuses on the use of military staff to do law enforcement – and I think much of that applies to paramilitaries as well. We don’t say this can never be done. But if it’s done, it is under exceptional circumstances, if there is no other way of doing it, and it should be on a temporary basis. And those who are involved must have the necessary training, including the human rights training, because, of course, the training of police and military staff differs very much. And then in the last place, they are bound by human rights standards. So the same standards that apply to the police also apply to military and paramilitary staff.

There’s also the issue of plainclothes police officers and the question of wearing identification. The General Comment emphasizes that law enforcement officials must wear clear identification. This is important for accountability purposes. If plainclothes police are used — and again, it’s not completely excluded, it may be the only way to have a positive intervention — before they use any force or arrest anybody, they have to identify themselves…..

https://www.justsecurity.org/71736/interview-with-christof-heyns-unhrc-general-comment-37-on-the-right-of-peaceful-assembly/

Proliferation of Human Rights Bodies’ Guidance on COVID-19

May 27, 2020

On 22 May 2020 in “Just Security” [see: https://www.justsecurity.org/about-us/) published a post ” Mapping the Proliferation of Human Rights Bodies’ Guidance on COVID-19 Mitigation “. It is in some ways rather critical of the response by intergovernmental bodies in the human rights area when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. It starts by pointing out that they have collectively put out more than 150 statements on respecting human rights during the pandemic since late February. ..To help those interested in keeping track of the many statements, the International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) has published a webpage – COVID-19 Guidance from Supranational Human Rights Bodies – listing and linking to all relevant press releases and other guidance. This article serves to provide an overview of – and initial response to – the nature, scope, and sources of human rights advice available to States in the context of the pandemic. Having myself contributed with my blog to the proliferation of policy repsonse by NGOs and IGOs, I feel that this piece deserves full citation:

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