Posts Tagged ‘Michelle Bachelet’

Two High Commissioners issue rare joint statement re Covid-19

March 17, 2020

On 12 March 2020 Michelle Bachelet and Filippo Grandi – the UN High Commissioners for respectively Human Rights and Refugees – issued a rare joint statement entiteled: “The coronavirus outbreak is a test of our systems, values and humanity“:

If ever we needed reminding that we live in an interconnected world, the novel coronavirus has brought that home. No country can tackle this alone, and no part of our societies can be disregarded if we are to effectively rise to this global challenge. Covid-19 is a test not only of our health-care systems and mechanisms for responding to infectious diseases, but also of our ability to work together as a community of nations in the face of a common challenge. It is a test of the extent to which the benefits of decades of social and economic progress have reached those living on the margins of our societies, farthest from the levers of power.

The coming weeks and months will challenge national crisis planning and civil protection systems – and will certainly expose shortcomings in sanitation, housing and other factors that shape health outcomes. Our response to this epidemic must encompass – and in fact, focus on – those whom society often neglects or relegates to a lesser status. Otherwise, it will fail.

The health of every person is linked to the health of the most marginalised members of the community. Preventing the spread of this virus requires outreach to all, and ensuring equitable access to treatment. This means overcoming existing barriers to affordable, accessible health care, and tackling long-ingrained differential treatment based on income, gender, geography, race and ethnicity, religion or social status. Overcoming systemic biases that overlook the rights and needs of women and girls, or – for example – limit access and participation by minority groups, will be crucial to the effective prevention and treatment of Covid-19.

People living in institutions – the elderly or those in detention – are likely to be more vulnerable to infection and must be specifically addressed in crisis planning and response. Migrants and refugees – regardless of their formal status – must be an integral part of national systems and plans for tackling the virus. Many of these women, men and children find themselves in places where health services are overstretched or inaccessible. They may be confined to camps and settlements, or living in urban slums where overcrowding, and poorly resourced sanitation, increases the risk of exposure.

International support is urgently needed to help host countries step up services – both for migrants and local communities – and include them in national surveillance, prevention and response arrangements. Failure to do so will endanger the health of all – and risk heightening hostility and stigma. It is also vital that any tightening of border controls, travel restrictions or limitations on freedom of movement do not prevent people who may be fleeing from war or persecution from accessing safety and protection.

Beyond these very immediate challenges, the path of the coronavirus will also undoubtedly test our principles, values and shared humanity. Spreading rapidly around the world, with uncertainty surrounding the number of infections and with a vaccine still many months away, the virus is stirring deep fears and anxieties in individuals and societies. Some unscrupulous people will undoubtedly seek to take advantage of this, manipulating genuine fears and heightening concerns. When fear and uncertainty kick in, scapegoats are never far away. We have already seen anger and hostility directed at some people of east Asian origin. If left unchecked, the urge to blame and exclude may soon extend to other groups – minorities, the marginalized or anyone labelled “foreigner”.

People on the move, including refugees, may be particularly targeted. Yet the coronavirus itself does not discriminate; those infected to date include holidaymakers, international business people and even national ministers, and are located in dozens of countries, spanning all continents. Panic and discrimination never solved a crisis. Political leaders must take the lead, earning trust through transparent and timely information, working together for the common good, and empowering people to participate in protecting health. Ceding space to rumour, fear mongering and hysteria will not only hamper the response but may have broader implications for human rights, the functioning of accountable, democratic institutions.

No country today can wall itself off from the impact of the coronavirus, both in the literal sense and – as falling stock markets and closed schools demonstrate – economically and socially. An international response that ensures that developing countries are equipped to diagnose, treat and prevent this disease will be crucial to safeguarding the health of billions of people. The World Health Organization is providing expertise, surveillance, systems, case investigation, contact tracing, and research and vaccine development. It is a lesson that international solidarity and multilateral systems are more vital than ever.

In the long term, we must accelerate the work of building equitable and accessible public healthcare. And how we respond to this crisis now will undoubtedly shape those efforts for decades to come.

If our response to coronavirus is grounded in the principles of public trust, transparency, respect and empathy for the most vulnerable, we will not only uphold the intrinsic rights of every human being. We will be using and building the most effective tools to ensure we can ride out this crisis and learn lessons for the future.

https://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2020/3/5e69eea54/coronavirus-outbreak-test-systems-values-humanity.html

India’s overblown notion of sovereignty: NO to UN advice for Supreme Court

March 5, 2020

The Wire (India) and other news outlets have written about the controversy ‘created’ around the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ intervention (Amicus Brief) in the Indian Supreme Court against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In response, the Indian government has claimed that no foreign party has “locus standi” on CAA as it pertains to Indian sovereignty.

In a statement on Tuesday, ministry of external affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that India’s permanent mission in Geneva was informed “yesterday evening by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that her Office had filed an Intervention Application in the Supreme Court of India in respect to the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)”. The CAA, passed by the Indian parliament in December 2019, seeks to grant fast-track citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014. The CAA had led to widespread protests in India, starting with northeastern states. The UN human rights commissioner has highlighted several times that CAA would be discriminatory and violates India’s commitments made under international law. The UN stated that the High Commissioner has “has great respect for the Indian Supreme Court’s independence and importance, and in accordance with similar interventions in domestic jurisdictions by the High Commissioner and her predecessors, the amicus curiae  will focus on providing an overview of relevant and applicable international human rights standards and norms to support the Court’s deliberations in the context of its review of the CAA”.

After India was informed about OHCHR’s intention, Kumar asserted CAA was an “internal matter of India and concerns the sovereign right of the Indian Parliament to make laws”. “We strongly believe that no foreign party has any locus standi on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty,” he added.

That reaction seems rather overblown. The Supreme Court is hearing a total of 143 petitions seeking to examine the constitutional validity of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Foreign governments and nationals have been parties to several legal cases in the Indian court system. (The Supreme Court is currently hearing a petition filed in 2017 against the Indian government’s plan to deport all Rohingya Muslims, estimated to be around 40,000, back to Myanmar. On January 10, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance E. Tendayi Achiume filed an application seeking to intervene in the ongoing case, which is being heard by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde. Earlier in the Italian marines case, the Italian ambassador had filed a petition challenging the jurisdiction of the Indian police after the arrests of the marines for the killing of Indian fishermen off the coast of India.)

In her draft application, Bachelet sought to intervene as an amicus curiae “by virtue of her mandate to inter aria protect and promote all human rights and to conduct necessary advocacy in that regard, established pursuant to the United Nations General Assembly resolution 48/141”. She noted that the office of the UN human right chief had filed amicus curiae briefs within proceedings before diverse jurisdictions, including International Criminal Court, US Supreme Court and final appeal courts in Asia and Latin America.

—–

https://thewire.in/diplomacy/un-human-rights-chief-intervention-application-supreme-court-caa

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/rights-or-wrong-the-hindu-editorial-on-un-rights-body-moving-supreme-court-against-caa/article30984751.ece

43rd session HRC: UN Secretary General launches Call to Action on human rights

February 25, 2020

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attends the High Level Segment of the 43rd Regular Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Violaine Martin
On 24 February 2020, with human rights under attack, António Guterres unveiled a blueprint for positive change. People’s basic human rights – their birth-right – are “under assault”, he said as he launched a Call to Action aimed at boosting equality and reducing suffering everywhere. “Human rights are our ultimate tool to help societies grow in freedom,” he told Member States on the opening day of the UN Human Rights Council’s 43rd session in Geneva. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/24/human-rights-defenders-issues-on-the-agenda-of-43rd-human-rights-council/]

In his speech he detailed a seven-point blueprint for positive change and issued an appeal for solidarity. “People across the world want to know we are on their side,” he said. “Whether robbed of their dignity by war, repression of poverty, or simply dreaming of a better future, they rely on their irreducible rights – and they look to us to help uphold them.” Echoing the call for change, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that although threats to human rights, development and peace were on the rise, so were the practical, actionable solutions to these issues.

In his pledge to utilize the full weight of his office and the UN family to fulfil the Call to Action, Mr. Guterres highlighted the enduring value of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Highlighting the document’s proclamation that human rights are ‘humanity’s highest aspiration’, Mr. Guterres insisted that all States had a responsibility to protect and promote people’s “dignity and worth”. National sovereignty “cannot be a pretext for violating human rights”, Mr. Guterres insisted, while also maintaining that greater equality “strengthens States and societies, thereby reinforcing sovereignty”.

Positive change is possible, the UN chief insisted, recalling his own experience living under dictatorship in Portugal, which finally gave way to a democratic movement when he was 24 years old. Other “human rights struggles and successes inspired us”, the UN chief said, noting how these had secured the end of apartheid in South Africa and colonial rule. One billion people have also been lifted out of poverty in a generation, he continued, and there have also been major advances in improving access to drinking water, along with big declines in child mortality. ..

Chief among these challenges are several protracted, unresolved conflicts that have left families trapped in war-torn enclaves, “starved and bombed in clear violation of international law”, he said.  Human trafficking also affects “every region of the world”, the UN chief noted, leaving women and girls “enslaved, exploited and abused”, unable to realise their potential.  Journalists and civil society are also under threat, with activists jailed, religious groups and minorities – including indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees and the LGBTI community – persecuted under “overly broad definitions of national security”.

Global hunger is also increasing, Mr. Guterres said, before highlighting a series of 21st century issues linked to huge problems that affect all countries: the climate crisis, population growth, urbanization and the dark underbelly of technological progress. “People are being left behind. Fears are growing. Divisions are widening,” he said. “Some leaders are exploiting anxieties to broaden those gaps to breaking point.”

Introducing his Call to Action blueprint, Mr. Guterres explained that its aim was to “transform the ambitions of the Universal Declaration into real-world change on the ground”.

Heading the seven-point protocol is a call to put human rights at the core of sustainable development – a reference to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed to by the international community in 2015 under the Agenda 2030 banner. “The vast majority of the goals and targets correspond to legally binding human rights commitments made by every Member State,” Mr. Guterres said. “When we help lift people out of abject poverty – when we ensure education for all, notably girls – when we guarantee universal healthcare…we are enabling people to claim their rights and upholding the core pledge of the 2030 Agenda to leave nobody behind.”

Among the other priorities, the UN Secretary-General highlighted that much more needs to be done to prevent violence against women. “Violence against women is the world’s most pervasive human rights abuse,” he said, in a call to “every country” to support policies that promote gender equality, repeal discriminatory laws…ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights, and strive for women’s equal representation.

Turning to 21st century challenges, Mr. Guterres reiterated that the climate crisis was “the biggest threat to our survival”. It has already threatened human rights around the world and would continue to do so in future, he noted, before underscoring people’s right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable planet that the Call to Action is designed to achieve. Young people will be empowered to participate in this process, the UN chief insisted, so that they do “not simply speak, but to participate and shape decisions that will affect their future”.

Finally, on the challenges posed to human rights by new technology, Mr. Guterres explained that progress in this field “are too often used to violate rights and privacy through surveillance, repression and online harassment and hate”. Facial recognition and robotics should never be used to deepen inequality, he insisted, while also reiterating his call for online-ready human rights norms such as the Internet Governance Forum.

Following this announcement Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director, said: “…We hope this will translate to a genuine, effective and coordinated UN response to address ongoing human rights crises around the world – from the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar, to the systematic targeting of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia and the mass internment of almost one million Uighurs in China – and to hold states to account. “We welcome any initiative that seeks to put human rights front and centre at the UN across its operations. To ensure the success of this initiative, the Secretary-General must lead by example in his willingness to speak up when abuses are taking place, and must ensure adequate funding for the protection of human rights within the UN. Mr. Guterres has described his new initiative as a call for action. Now we need to see the action.

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/02/1057961

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/02/un-action-plan-on-human-rights-bold-leadership/

Opening statement by UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet focuses very much on climate change

September 11, 2019

The Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, at the 42nd Session of the UN human Rights Council in Geneva on 9 September 2019 was widely reported in the media as having an exceptionally strong focus on climate change and human rights.

The crucial paragraph on environmental human rights defenders is quoted below:

Read the rest of this entry »

Report of the Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture 2019

July 24, 2019

Panelists at the 2019 Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture

The Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture was held at the Graduate Institute 18 July 2019 [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/nelson-mandela-human-rights-lecture-in-geneva-on-18-july-2019/]. For the lecture, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Albie Sachs, Former Judge of the South African Constitutional Court, were present to share their incredible personal experiences of fighting for human rights.

Establishing the Rule of Law in South Africa as a form of ‘Soft Vengeance’ against Apartheid

A piece of paper, a body, a voice and the dreams of millions of people, including our hope; for those of you in the audience, that’s my text for today’, began Mr Sachs, who had fought against apartheid since age 17, was appointed by Nelson Mandela to the Constitutional Court of South Africa in 1994 and played a critical role in the creation of the first draft of South Africa’s Bill of Rights, adopted in 1996 by the South African parliament as an integral part of the South African Constitution. Mr Sachs explained that his efforts to establish a rule of law in South Africa were a form of ‘soft vengeance’ against apartheid, exemplified through his own, personal tribulation. On 7 April 1988 in Mozambique, as a result of a car bomb, he lost his right arm. …Commenting on the trial of one of the accused car bombers, Mr Sachs said, ‘My vengeance will be if the person receives a fair trial, and if his guilt is not beyond doubt, will be acquitted, because this will prove that we will have established the rule of law’.

Standing Up and Acting for Change

Michelle Bachelet recounted her own experience as a human rights defender. She told of dictatorship in Chile, the torture and killing of her father and her mother’s detention. In defiance of the anger she felt at her family’s situation, she found the perseverance to stand up and act for change, becoming the first woman President of Chile (dually elected), then Executive Director of UN Women, and eventually replacing Zeid Raad Al Hussein in 2018 as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

‘[…] the world today faces complex challenges, challenges too big for one country, challenges that do not respect borders’, she said. ‘[…] And we see a pushback on human rights. And I say, let’s pushback the pushback’.

Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture Michelle Bachelet

Video of the Lecture. You can watch here the Nelson Mandela Human Rights Lecture in its entirety.

https://www.geneva-academy.ch/news/detail/247-human-rights-warriors-tell-their-stories-at-the-nelson-mandela-human-rights-lecture

 

10 December warning by Michelle Bachelet: Populist nationalism threatens UDHR

December 6, 2018

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 5, 2018.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 

Born out of the devastation of two world wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Holocaust, the seminal document is geared toward preventing similar disasters from happening. December 10 marks the 70th anniversary of the declaration, which U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said has withstood the test of time. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/18/michelle-bachelet-new-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-gives-major-interview/]

She said its fundamental principles can be applied to meet the challenges of today, such as ensuring equal rights for LGBTI people and protecting the right to life, food and health in the face of climate change. But, she warns, many of these rights are under threat from politicians pushing a nationalistic agenda. “When leaders… speak against migrants or a sort of hate speech or xenophobic speech, you are giving license to other people not to respect people’s rights,” Bachelet said. Leaders are responsible for what they say, and must lead by example, she added, dismissing the argument sometimes made by developing countries that human rights are a Western concept.

https://www.voanews.com/a/un-populist-nationalism-threatens-human-rights-declaration/4687896.html

Burundi outrageously attacks United Nations team

October 26, 2018

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. – UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferre

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said on Thursday 25 October that comments made by Burundi’s UN ambassador the previous day, were “deeply regrettable in both tone and substance” and demanded that it “immediately retracts” its threat to try and prosecute members of a UN Commission of Inquiry into rights abuses in the central African nation.

She also raised concern over the Burundian Government’s “complete failure” to address the very serious findings of the Commission of Inquiry. On Wednesday, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Burundi to the UN, Albert Shingiro, had attacked this independent international inquiry team, threatening to prosecute its members and compared Commission Chair, Doudou Diène, to a participant in the slave trade [SIC].

Amazingly Burundi is also a current member of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/08/what-is-burundi-doing-in-the-un-human-rights-council/].

I urge the Government of Burundi to issue an immediate retraction of this inflammatory statement and to offer a full apology to Mr. Diène and the other Commissioners, as well as to the Human Rights Council, which created the Commission, and its President who selected and appointed the three Commissioners,” she said.

Michelle Bachelet, new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, gives major interview

October 18, 2018

In August 2018, Michelle Bachelet, twice-elected President of Chile was confirmed as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, replacing Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. [see e.g.: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/22/change-of-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-at-the-un-optimism-warranted/]. Minutes after she was approved, UN chief Antonio Guterres told reporters he was “delighted” by the news of her official appointment, describing Ms. Bachelet, a “pioneer”, has been “as formidable a figure in her native Chile, as she has at the United Nations”. Shortly after assuming office in early September, Ms. Bachelet was in New York for the General Assembly’s high-level general debate. She spoke then with UN News on the rights situation around the world, the priorities for her tenure, and how can rights be better protected. It was published on 17 October 2018.

Bearing in mind her own personal experience of being detained and tortured in Chile, the interview started with a question on how she overcame the hardships she suffered under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (file photo) ILO/M. Creuset

Michelle Bachelet: ….there was a period of my life that I really hated what was happening – I had so much rage. But afterwards, I started thinking, “you know what, I do not want this to happen anymore in Chile or in any other country of the world. So, what can I do to contribute, that Chile will be a peaceful, democratic society?” So, I sort of put all my energies on that, and that is why I started working on defence issues to be able to speak to the militaries, because I never thought I was going to be Minister of the Defence or President of the Republic.,,I would say it permitted me to understand that, first of all, lessons learned, and if you really want some objective, and in a possible, constructive way, it can be done.

As the High Commissioner, you have come in a time when human rights are under serious attack globally. What your priorities are going to be?

Michelle Bachelet: …. first of all, of course, my priorities are to do what my mandate tells me to do, to be the voice of the voiceless. But also to engage with governments so they respect human rights, protect people from rights violations, and promote human rights.

….But one of my particular priorities from the Secretary-General is prevention. I am not saying I will succeed on that, maybe not. But I will try to design a system where we can have early warning signs and try to think on early action. …..

Right now, some countries do not want to cooperate with OHCHR or question the worth of the Human Rights Council. How do you plan on bringing everyone together?

Michelle Bachelet: In my opening statement, I spoke about, that consensus could be possible, that we should not lose ourselves in sterile disputes. Of course human rights is a very political thing and you see that here in the General Assembly, in the Security Council, so it is not in the Human Rights Council, by itself.

I mean, countries have their visions, their interests, and sometimes, they are not interested in some issues. But what I have been doing is meeting, not only with the whole council, but with groups of countries in Geneva such as the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, the African countries, the Arab countries, the Asia-Pacific countries, the West European and Other countries, the Eastern European countries, speaking but also listening. Because, sometimes, you know what you have to do, but the way you do it can be more successful than others. Sometimes you need to speak out. Sometimes you need to strategize in terms of saying, look, it will work better if we do diplomatic prevention, if we start engaging the government. But today the world is complicated, and it is very polarized in some issues………

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What progress do you think has been done in the past 70 years?

Michelle Bachelet: …..Think of 1948: how many countries allowed women to vote, for example; how many respected of freedom of speech. If you think of the different aspects of the human rights, even in more complete things that usually people do not think of as human rights, but they are human rights: on health, on education, on sanitation, on housing. The world today is better than 70 years ago. But having said that, there are a lot of threats, there are a lot of threats for multilateralism, there is a lot of threat and pushback on human rights. …We see a pushback, we see that in some documents, human rights is not mentioned, and when you ask, they say, “it is mainstream.” And if it is mainstreamed, it is fantastic, because everybody’s doing their job. But if it is invisible, mainstream, that is not a good thing. On the other hand we see human rights defenders and civil society having their space shrink. They have been under attack. Journalists have been killed.

So there is a lot of challenges. The only thing I can say is that the struggle for human rights probably will never end, because it is a process where you advance, but there will be always people who want to push back, and that could be governments or that could be armed groups. The task of the UN is to ensure and promote the whole human rights system. And I will do what I have to do about it, but it cannot be only the task of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, it has to be the task of the whole UN system….

I would like to ask you about protecting those who protect: human rights defenders are often targets of abuse and violence. How can they be better protected?

Michelle Bachelet: Well, the curious thing is that, as we are celebrating the 70th year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are celebrating 20 years of the Declaration on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. And in November 2017, a resolution on the protection of human rights defenders was approved unanimously by the General Assembly.  No country voted against it. So, the issue is: on paper things can look very good, but reality is another thing. I think we have the task of making people accountable for the things they have approved. Second, to monitor implementation of those agreements that everybody has made, and engage governments, and in the cases where things are happening, holding them accountable and responsible for the killings, the torture, the detentions of many human rights defenders.

You have been a very important defender of women’s rights. How is that going to continue, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?

Michelle Bachelet: The thing is that, people tend to see OHCHR as only concerned with civil and political rights, and that is not it. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states the rights for migrants, for children, for women; right to health, to education. It is very comprehensive. Even though I am not intending to replace any other agency, I always speak about gender issues, gender empowerment. This morning I was speaking about women who are women’s human rights defenders, who have been attacked, threatened with rape.

I will be always raising the voice for women, trying to support their capacities, and building partnership with UN Women, as we have spoken with Henrietta Fore, the head of UNICEF to see how we can create synergies. …..

One of the most pressing issues for the entire world is climate change. How are human rights linked to the environment?

Michelle Bachelet: ..There are so many concrete consequences that will be effects in people’s lives and their rights. That is why we also believe that working strongly to combat climate change is a very essential task, including of the High Commissioner. I think also that we need to be more part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and how we support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ..

And climate change is of huge importance, because I have seen places where there is no more water and people who depend agriculture, mainly women, and now have to think how they get their incomes. With climate change, we have seen, and scientists tell us … about worsening natural disasters and extreme weather, forest fires. And all of these will have a lot of consequences for the life of people. It is very important to work very closely on that, too. I completely agree with the Secretary-General when said that this is one of the major, major challenges that we have.

Full interview at: Human Rights

High Commissioner, please put human rights defenders up front

September 20, 2018

In a briefing paper for the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, ISHR has set out ten concrete and practical ways in which the High Commissioner and her Office can contribute to protecting human rights defenders and promoting a safe and enabling environment for their work at the international and national-levels.

Supporting and empowering these defenders – and protecting them against those governments, corporations and fundamentalists whose currency is prejudice, profit or privilege – should be the new High Commissioner’s highest priority. She should consult closely with defenders, speak out and pursue accountability when they are attacked, push for laws and mechanisms to protect them at the national level, and ensure that the UN human rights system is safe, accessible and effective for them,‘ ISHR Director Phil Lynch said.

The ISHR briefing paper complements a broader civil society letter supported by more than 750 civil society [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/08/civil-society-sends-letter-to-new-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-bachelet/].

Recommendations for the High Commissioner to support human rights defenders

  1. Be proactive in regularly consulting and working in partnership with human rights defenders and other independent civil society actors.
  2. Make clear and regular statements on the essential role played by human rights defenders and the need to ensure they can work in a safe and enabling environment without fear or hindrance, acknowledging the protection needs of particular groups of defenders.
  3. Speak out and demand accountability on cases of threats, attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders, including by calling for and supporting impartial investigations, prosecution of perpetrators, and effective remedies for victims.
  4. Push and work with States to fulfil the commitments laid out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, including through repealing restrictive legislation and developing specific laws, policies and mechanisms to protect defenders.
  5. Establish a comprehensive set of indicators to assess State fulfilment of human rights obligations related to human rights defenders, which could be used as an evidentiary basis for assessing compliance.
  6. Build strategic alliances with States, civil society, academics, business enterprises and other actors with a shared interest in human rights, ensuring an enabling environment for civil society and respect for the rule of law.
  7. Define an operating procedure at OHCHR to ensure that all offices establish and apply minimum standards in regard to their work on and with human rights defenders.
  8. Encourage the Secretary General to carry out a full audit of UN work on human rights defenders and to develop an organisation-wide policy on supporting and protecting defenders. More generally, work closely with the Secretary-General to ensure that all UN agencies contribute to, and coordinate on, the protection of defenders and ensuring an enabling environment for their work.
  9. Encourage the development and implementation of an effective UN-wide policy on preventing and addressing reprisals and strongly support continuation and adequate resourcing of the mandate of the UN Senior Official on reprisals.
  10. Work to ensure that UN human rights bodies and mechanisms are accessible, effective and protective for human rights defenders, in particular by ensuring that any reform efforts are informed by the full and meaningful participation of civil society. Strong leadership from the High Commissioner is essential to ensure that the process to strengthen the Treaty Bodies in 2020, and the General Assembly mandated status review of the Human Rights Council in 2021, are underpinned by these principles.

http://www.ishr.ch/news/high-commissioner-put-human-rights-defenders-front

Civil Society sends letter to new High Commissioner for human rights Bachelet

September 8, 2018

A large group of international and regional NGOs have agreed on the following letter to the new High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet; sent on 1 September 2018 [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/22/change-of-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-at-the-un-optimism-warranted/]. The tone is totally right for the difficult years ahead:

Dear High Commissioner Bachelet,

As local, national, regional, and international civil society organizations from every corner of the world, we offer warm congratulations on your appointment as United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights.
We are committed to a world in which every person enjoys human rights and dignity and in which our communities are fair, just and sustainable. We consider that a strong High Commissioner, working in strategic partnership with independent civil society, can contribute significantly to the realization of this vision.

You take up office at a time when human rights are under attack and when we risk the reversal of many of the achievements of the modern human rights movement. We look to you in these troubled times to be an unwavering voice in the defence of human rights, and of victims, rights-holders and human rights defenders around the world.

On every continent, the rights of individuals, communities and peoples are being violated and abused by governments and non-state actors, often with complete impunity. Civil society, peaceful dissidents, and the media are often brutally silenced. The role of your Office in ensuring robust monitoring of, and reporting on, such situations is essential for curbing violations and deterring further abuse, as well as for ensuring justice and accountability. Technical-assistance and capacity building by the OHCHR is also critical and, to be effective, should be approached holistically alongside a rigorous assessment of the rights challenges in the country, including through key indicators to measure progress and assess the degree of engagement and cooperation by the State.

As High Commissioner, you have a unique role to play in bringing country situations of concern to the attention of the UN Human Rights Council and other UN bodies, particularly situations that may not be on their agenda or which receive limited attention, often because of political pressure. This role should extend to providing briefings to the Security Council on situations either on its agenda or that, if left unattended, could represent a threat to international peace and security. Monitoring missions and inter-sessional briefings to the HRC can be initiated at the High Commissioner’s prerogative, on the basis of your Office’s universal mandate, bringing attention to neglected country situations and contributing towards the achievement of the Council’s mandate to prevent human rights violations.

We are aware that the position of High Commissioner comes with its own challenges. Many States will insist you avoid “naming and shaming” and push you to engage in “quiet diplomacy” and to respect national sovereignty. Often, those most intolerant of criticism and most forceful in suppressing dissent will speak the loudest in seeking to mute your voice. Survivors, victims and defenders on the front line in countries where their rights are being violated will rely on you as a human rights champion, to have the courage and conviction to call out violators clearly and publicly, even when it’s challenging or unpopular with governments.

Globally, the rights essential to civic space are being systematically undermined. Civil society and human rights defenders face severe daily risks in their struggle to defend human rights on the ground, including imprisonment, asset-freezes, defamatory campaigns, torture, enforced disappearance, and even death. Risks are also present in the UN context, where individuals frequently face intimidation, harassment or reprisals for their engagement with the UN. We urge you to be a staunch defender of the rights of defenders both on the ground and at the UN, to publicly call out violators, and to undertake or push for investigations into attacks and reprisals. We also encourage you to take full advantage of the distinct, often innovative complementary role of civil society to the work of the OHCHR, and ensure the Office works closely with civil society as a strategic partner at the national, regional, and international levels.

Currently, the human rights framework itself is under unparalleled attack. Authoritarian populists are attacking the universality of human rights, disproportionately and unlawfully restricting rights in the purported interests of “national security,” often tacitly or openly encouraging attacks by their followers or vigilantes on rights defenders as well as the vulnerable and poor, while selectively interpreting human rights and seeking to co-opt or subvert human rights mechanisms to suit their political agendas. Safeguarding and strengthening universal human rights norms and mechanisms should be a core responsibility of the High Commissioner.

The current climate highlights the need for a strong public advocacy role for your mandate in the defence of international human rights law and the international human rights system, as well as a strong role internally within the UN to mainstream respect for human rights throughout the work of UN organs and agencies, and within the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Once again, we congratulate you on your new role, and stand ready to support you and your Office in the fulfilment of your vital mandate.

With assurances of our highest consideration,