Posts Tagged ‘Phil Lynch’

Sri Lanka reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with the UN continue

September 17, 2014

A UN Human Rights Council mandated inquiry is currently investigating alleged violations of international humanitarian law, as well as gross and systematic human rights abuses, committed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which led to estimated 40,000 civilian deaths in 2009 alone. In a joint letter dated 25 August to the President of the UN Human Rights Council and to the Ambassador of Sri Lanka, a coalition of NGOs outline an alarming trend of intimidation, threats and reprisals in Sri Lanka against people engaging with UN human rights mechanisms, including the Commission of Inquiry.

This pattern has been brought many times to the attention of the UN Human Rights Council by civil society, human rights experts and States, and even by the UN Secretary-General and High Commissioner. ‘The Government of Sri Lanka has the primary responsibility for protecting people from threats, intimidation and reprisal, and must condemn all such acts immediately and unequivocally as well as take all necessary lawful steps to affirm and uphold the right of all persons to free communication with the UN, safe from hindrance or insecurity’ said ISHR Director Phil Lynch. See also on reprisals:

Still on 13 September 2014, human rights defenders Mr Namal Rajapakshe and Mr Manjula Pathiraja in Sri Lanka were threatened with death in connection to their work as defence lawyers, reported Front Line on 15 September. Namal Rajapakshe and Manjula Pathiraja are leading human rights lawyers who have frequently appeared (often pro bono) in public interest litigation representing victims of human rights violations across Sri Lanka.

[On 13 September 2014, two unidentified men wearing jackets and helmets covering their faces entered the office of Namal Rajapakshe and threatened that he and Manjula Pathiraja would be killed should they appear in any more “unnecessary cases”.  This is not the first time that Namal Rajapakshe and Manjula Pathiraja have been targeted. On 4 August 2014, the human rights defenders were intimidated, along with another lawyer, while they were making representations on behalf of their clients. They were harassed by a group of thugs inside the Maradana Police station – in front of the local Inspector.]

via Sri Lanka: End reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN | ISHR.

New UN High Commissioner should be the “Human Rights Defender-in-Chief”

August 11, 2014

(re-issued for technical reasons)

My reference last week to an interview with the new Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders [] seemed well appreciated judging from the number of views. Therefore I now refer you to a piece by the Director of the ISHR, Phil Lynch, of 16 July, who addresses the incoming UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein as the “human rights defender-in-chief “, saying that he has a particular responsibility to protect human rights defenders, especially so when they face intimidation and reprisals for their efforts to seek accountability at the UN for human rights violations. Read the rest of this entry »

New UN High Commissioner for Human Rights should be the “human rights defender-in-chief”

August 11, 2014

My reference last week to an interview with the new Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders [] seemed well appreciated judging from the number of views. Therefore I now refer you to a piece by the Director of the ISHR, Phil Lynch, of 16 July, who addresses the incoming UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein as the “human rights defender-in-chief “, saying that he has a particular responsibility to protect human rights defenders, especially so when they face intimidation and reprisals for their efforts to seek accountability at the UN for human rights violations. Read the rest of this entry »

More on UN Process Toward Contentious Treaty on Business and Human Rights

July 11, 2014

The virtual ink on my post this morning is hardly dry when I see a case reported by Front Line on anti-mining protesters in Malaysia who were released on conditions that infringe their right to freedom of expression, while Mintpress of 10 July published a more detailed piece by Carey Biron on the intricacies of the new UN proposal to negotiate a legally binding treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations.

On 8 July 2014, six human rights defenders were released on condition a social media ban, as well as monthly reporting to the police station. Six members of the Malaysian environmentalist movement Himpunan Hijau (“Green Assembly”) were detained on charges of illegal assembly and rioting, following their participation in a protest on 22 June 2014 calling for the closure of Australian mining company, Lynas Corporation. The Lynas Advanced Materials Plant – a rare earth processing plant being set up in Kuantan – will potentially impose tonnes of toxic waste on the local community. On 22 June 2014, around 1000 activists and local residents gathered to protest Lynas Corporation’s activities at Jalan Bandaran in Gebeng. At around 4:30pm, while the demonstrators were sitting peacefully, the police moved in and reportedly started beating and arresting the protesters. Allegedly, the human rights defenders did not disperse when Kuantan police issued a directive to do so. ..The lawyer for the human rights defenders rejected the conditions, arguing that this injunction was an unconstitutional infringement of his clients’ right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, the judge in Kuantan ordered an injunction (a ‘gag order’) against the six human rights defenders not to discuss their case on social media, and they must also report to the police station once per month.

The article in Mintpress entitled “Without the US and EU on board, what might become of a UN proposal to negotiate a legally binding treaty to prevent human rights abuses by transnational corporations? is so relevant that I include the full text below:


In a landmark decision at the end of June, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to allow negotiations to begin toward a binding international treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations.

The move marked a key success for activists worldwide who have been working for decades to jumpstart such a process. Yet while the development is being lauded by many groups, others are cautioning that the treaty idea remains unworkably broad and could even divert attention from a nascent international mechanism already working toward similar goals.

That mechanism, known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, was unanimously adopted only in 2011. Formal conformance to these principles has thus far seen only stuttering, initial success. And while the same session of the Human Rights Council approved a popular second resolution to now strengthen implementation of the Guiding Principles process, some worry the new treaty push will divert energy.

Indeed, this was the rationale offered by the U.S. delegation to the council, explaining why the United States voted against the start of treaty negotiations. The U.S. now says it will not take part in the intergovernmental working group that will initiate discussions around a binding agreement. It is also urging other countries to boycott the process.

“We have not given states adequate time and space to implement the Guiding Principles … this resolution is a threat to the Guiding Principles themselves,” Stephen Townley, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said on June 26.

“The proposed Intergovernmental Working Group will create a competing initiative, which will undermine efforts to implement the Guiding Principles. The focus will turn to the new instrument, and companies, states and others are unlikely to invest significant time and money in implementing the Guiding Principles if they see divisive discussions here in Geneva.”

The European Union also voted against the treaty process in June, and had initially suggested that it, too, would not take part in the intergovernmental negotiations process. Sources tell MintPress News, however, that the EU could now be rethinking this position.

Home-state skepticism

The treaty push has come primarily from countries in the Global South, spearheaded particularly by Ecuador and backed by South Africa, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela. Ecuador floated the initial resolution in September, and others voting for the measure in June included China, India and Russia.

Perhaps reflecting this division, Townley warned in his speech that the treaty process would “unduly polarize these issues.” Certainly, any treaty on transnational corporate rights obligations would be largely meaningless if neither the U.S., nor the EU, takes part, given that the vast majority of the world’s major corporations are based in these countries.

“The development of a treaty on business and human rights is an important opportunity to strengthen corporate respect for human rights, the protection of human rights defenders working on issues of corporate accountability, and access to justice for victims of corporate human rights violations,” Phil Lynch, director of International Service for Human Rights, a Geneva-based advocacy group, told MintPress in an email.

“If a treaty is to be effective in fulfilling these purposes, however, it needs to be developed in close consultation with all relevant States, including those that headquarter many transnational corporations such as the US and EU States, together with other stakeholders such as human rights defenders and affected communities.”

Influential voices in the global business community, which have vociferously pushed against binding rights commitments for decades, have expressed broad concern over the idea of a treaty.

“While the business community continues to be fully engaged to effectively implement voluntary commitments for respecting human rights, no initiative or standard with regard to business and human rights can replace the primary role of the state and national laws in this area,” Viviane Schiavi, a senior policy manager with the International Chamber of Commerce, a prominent lobby group, said in astatement.

The chamber expressed its “deep concern” over the new treaty process. Like others, it is warning that the new aims will divert attention away from the Guiding Principles.

The U.S. delegation, meanwhile, has already laid down an important marker in this argument. Immediately following last month’s vote, Townley, the U.S. representative, noted that any treaty “would only be binding on the states that became party to it.”

Excuse for inaction

Among supporters of the new treaty process, response to the concerns and stances of the U.S. and EU has been highly critical. While nearly all such groups continue to support the Guiding Principles, their concern has always revolved around the voluntary nature of these principles. A binding treaty, on the other hand, would likely include enforcement mechanisms for recalcitrant corporations and governments alike.

“The U.S. position is misguided. The real threat to the U.N. Guiding Principles comes from the reluctance of governments to give effect to them,” Peter Frankental, director of the economic relations program at Amnesty International U.K., a watchdog group, told MintPress.

“Our main concern with the U.S. delegation’s stance on the Human Rights Council resolution is that it offers governments an excuse for inaction.”

Gauging progress on the Guiding Principles is complex, and it is undeniable that the global environment today around the idea of corporate rights obligations has seen a sea change from just a decade ago. Companies around the world have moved to conform their corporate policies with a variety of related concerns, though much more remains to be done.

At the same time, analysts have told MintPress that only around eight governments worldwide have come out with national action plans on how they will implement the Guiding Principles, as urged by the Human Rights Council in June. Despite its strong support for the Guiding Principles, the U.S. also has yet to release such a plan. (Last week, Danish and U.S. groups released a comprehensive report offering a roadmap for countries aiming to put together such a plan.)

“It has been clear from the outset that the U.N. Guiding Principles alone would not be enough,” Frankental said. “They must be complemented by effective regulatory measures, including with extra-territorial effect, to address the continuing human rights protection gaps relating to the adverse impacts of business.”

Parallel processes

Advocates say that these two processes can now proceed alongside one another — implementing the voluntary Guiding Principles while simultaneously pursuing a binding treaty, which would likely take a decade or more to complete.

“There is no reason why countries and businesses should not continue working on implementing the [Guiding Principles]. It has taken civil society, governments and companies years to agree on a set of criteria that businesses need to uphold when operating at an international level,” Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, a watchdog group, told MintPress.

“They should continue to work on this, but now there is a parallel process that ensures that if companies do not abide by international human rights obligations … they can be hold responsible.”

Global civil society groups are also preparing parallel pressure campaigns. Van Schaik says her office will begin pushing governments to step up their drafting of national action plans on implementation of the Guiding Principles, while simultaneously trying to convince countries that voted against the recent treaty resolution to honor it.

“We think this threat is another example of how the Western countries are trying to bully NGOs and other countries in order to weaken support for the Ecuador resolution,” she said.

“We have built in very short time a coalition that consists of more than 610 organizations … That shows there is huge support for this idea, and that people, organizations as well as 95 countries are fed up with transnational corporations’ cowboy style [of] producing where and how they want to. Enough is enough, and that was shown in Geneva last month.”

Overly ambitious?

Even among some of the most forceful proponents of stronger accountability around corporate rights abuses, however, there remains significant concern about the current scope and potential impact of the treaty process.

As it stands today, for instance, the language of the Ecuador resolution appears to focus solely on multinational corporations, leaving national companies accountable solely to domestic legislation and regulation.

As John Ruggie, the Harvard professor who led the drafting of the Guiding Principles as a U.N. rapporteur, wrote in a nuanced analysis published Tuesday, this would hold foreign companies involved in last year’s Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh solely responsible for the catastrophe. The treaty would place no liability on the garment factory’s local owners for the fire and building collapse, which killed more than 1,100 workers.

Ruggie, who remains a widely admired figure, also expressed concern that the treaty’s scope, as currently envisioned, is unworkably broad, warning that “neither the international political or legal order is capable of achieving [such an agreement] in practice.” Speaking also of a “resurgent polarization” seen over the past year around the issue, Ruggie warns that proponents on both sides are becoming increasingly, and unhelpfully, dogmatic.

Ultimately, observers say the ideas behind the Guiding Principles are now increasingly entrenched across the globe. But implementation remains up in the air, and it is here that the treaty’s impact is uncertain.

“What is at issue today is not whether we will have a treaty or not. What matters today are the effects of a treaty process on the politics of the corporate accountability movement and the effects of a treaty process on the likelihood of regulation by governments,” Mark Taylor, a senior researcher at the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies, a Norwegian think tank, told MintPress.

“The challenge for activists — no matter where they sit with respect to a treaty — is to identify an advocacy strategy that can pressure states to deliver actual protection and accountability. Making sure any treaty process is narrowly focused, for example, on judicial remedies, would be a step in the right direction.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s new intergovernmental working group on a treaty around business and human rights is expected to begin talks next year.

Contentious Start For UN Process Toward Business And Human Rights Treaty.

Business and Human Rights Defenders in Side Event on Friday 13 June

May 27, 2014

Under the title “From threats to opportunities: Business and Human Rights Defenders” the International Service for Human Rights [ISHR] organises a side event on Friday 13 June 2014, 12h15 – 13h45 in Room IX of Palais des Nations, Geneva. Note that it will be the first public appearance of the new Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michael Forst. ( For those unable to attend, a live webcast will be available at You may also follow the event on Twitter @ISHRGlobal, using the hashtag #HRDs.ISHR-logo-colour-high

Read the rest of this entry »

Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders breach obligations as Human Rights Council member

April 29, 2014

In a post dated 13 March 2014, I suggested the possibility of suspending the membership of countries in the Human Rights Council in case of serious reprisals against human rights defenders who coöperate with the UN. [].  The backdrop to this admittedly far-reaching proposal Read the rest of this entry »

The work of the International Service for Human Rights in the limelight

April 16, 2014

There are many international NGOs doing excellent work for human rights defenders, but I want to highlight one here in particular: the International Service for Human Rights. It has a clear mandate and niche, based in Geneva for 30 years (with a small office in New York) is the main advocate for human rights defenders in the UN. The Director, Phil Lynch, sent out an overview in April 2014 of its activities covering the recent months, especially the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council. Please read the statement in full and – if you want regular updates – subscribe to the ISHR Newsletter: Read the rest of this entry »

Defending human rights is increasingly dangerous activity in many parts of the world, states latest UN report

January 19, 2014

The most recent report by the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, has been made public and will be officially presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2014. It is the last report by this Rapporteur whose mandate will terminate. The report finds that human rights defenders – especially journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and those who work to promote women’s rights and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons – face ‘extraordinary risks’. It highlights cases of defamation, attacks, detention, torture and even killings. The report also documents an increased incidence of violations against people and communities opposed to mining, construction and development projects, with protesters attacked both by State and private security forces. Human rights defenders play a crucial role in exposing and seeking accountability for violations by both governments and corporations. Their work is crucial to transparency, good governance and justice for victims,’ commented Phil Lynch of the International Service for Human Rights in Geneva.ISHR-logo-colour-high

The report also documents the worsening ‘use of legislation in a number of countries to refrain the activities of human rights defenders and to criminalise them’, with cited examples including laws to ‘curb the promotion of homosexuality’ and to restrict NGO access to foreign funds. In the last four weeks alone, Nigeria, Russia, Uganda, Malaysia and the Ukraine have enacted or applied laws to criminalise human rights defenders and to silence their critical voice,’ Mr Lynch added.

In addition to documenting violations, the report makes a wide range of recommendations to ensure that human rights defenders are protected and can operate in a ‘safe and enabling environment.

For those too busy to read the whole new UN report [PDF]  here are the

V.    Conclusions and recommendations: Read the rest of this entry »

Malaysia should reverse ban against leading human rights coalition COMANGO

January 13, 2014

Several NGOs, including the International Service for Human Rights from which I the took the statement of 12 January, 2014, have asked the Malaysian authorities to immediately reverse a ban issued against a leading coalition of human rights organisations. On 8 January 2014 the Malaysian Home Ministry issued a statement that it had declared the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs [COMANGO] to be illegal on the basis that it deviates from the Islamic faith through its support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. The Ministry further justified the ban on the basis that members of the coalition are not registered under he Malaysian Societies Act 1966.The move to ban COMANGO is a clear violation of the rights to freedom of association and assembly, said ISHR Director Phil Lynch, adding the suspicious circumstance that the ban was issued in response to COMANGO submitting a report to the UN Human Rights Council on Malaysia’s human rights record in March 2013, which makes it look like a case of reprisals against human rights defenders. For more info contact: Phil Lynch, Director, on p.lynch[at]

via Malaysia must reverse ban against leading human rights coalition | ISHR.

Phil Lynch of ISHR expects UN Human Rights Council to enhance protection of HRDs

August 9, 2013

In a piece published in the Alaska Dispatch of 8 August 2013, Phil Lynch, the Director of the Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights, contemplates what the next session of the UN Human Rights Council could do to improve the fate of HRDs.ISHR-logo-colour-high Read the rest of this entry »