Posts Tagged ‘reprisals’

HRC45: key issues for human rights defenders

September 6, 2020

Based on the as usual excellent preview by the ISHR: “HRC45 | Key issues on the agenda of September 2020 session”,  I am able to provide an overview of issues that are specially relevant for human rights defenders:

Summary: The Human Rights Council’s 45th session will take place from 14 September to 6 October 2020. The Council will consider issues including reprisals, rights of indigenous peoples and people of African descent, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances, among others. It will present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Yemen, China, the United States of America, Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Philippines, Venezuela, Burundi and Myanmar, among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.

If you want to stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC45 on Twitter, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

Modalities for civil society participation in HRC45

NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC, with active designations in Geneva, will be given the opportunity to deliver video-statement insofar as interactive dialogues are concerned, pending further decision from the Council at the opening of HRC45 on 14 September, and additionally for panels and the adoptions of UPR outcomes as set out in HRC decision 19/119. It won’t be possible to hold “official” side events during the 45th session (online or in-person). Any events happening on the sidelines of the session will be considered independent events and won’t be publicised in the Bulletin of Informal meetings by the Secretariat. Read here the information note by the Secretariat which is updated according to the latest information, and an additional explainer by HRC-net.

Thematic areas of interest

Reprisals

On 25 September, the new Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris, will present the Secretary General’s annual report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (also known as ‘the Reprisals Report’) to the Council in her capacity as UN senior official on reprisals. The presentation of the report will be followed by a dedicated interactive dialogue, as mandated by the September 2017 resolution on reprisals.

ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who engage or seek to engage with UN bodies mechanisms. We call for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/31/ishrs-2020-report-on-reprisals-to-the-un-secretary-general/]

The dedicated dialogue provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals, and demand that Governments provide an update on any investigation or action taken toward accountability. An increasing number of States have raised concerns in recent sessions about individual cases of reprisals, including in Egypt, Nicaragua, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Yemen, Burundi, China and Venezuela.

During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends, such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, and the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline.

Other thematic issues

At this 45th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates with Special Procedure mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with the:

  1. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  2. Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  3. Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes 
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences
  5. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including with the:

  1. Special Rapporteur  on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  2. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent
  3. Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons 

Country-specific developments

China (Hong Kong and Uyghur regions)

In light of worsening restrictions in Hong Kong and ongoing repression against Uyghur, Tibetan and other ethnic groups and those defending them, ISHR welcomes the joint statement from July and urges countries to step up action at HRC45 to improve the UN’s monitoring and reporting on China. This echoes the unprecedented press release by over 50 Special Procedures experts calling for urgent and ‘decisive measures’. ISHR expects opportunities for States to increase scrutiny, and for civil society who seek to keep the UN informed, to include:

  • interventions in dialogue with the UN WGAD and UN WGEID
  • responses to the Secretary General’s reprisals report, where China is regularly a ‘top violator’
  • reactions to the findings of the UN Independent Expert on Older Persons, following her December 2019 country visit

USA

The High Commissioner will present her first oral update to the Council on the preparation of the report on systemic racism and police brutality, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and of other Africans and people of African descent, as well as government responses to anti-racism peaceful protests. The High Commissioner will also provide an update on police brutality against Africans and people of African Descent.

ISHR joined 144 families of victims of police violence and over 360 civil society organisations to endorse this letter sent on 3 August to the UN High Commissioner, detailing expectations from the report and the process for its preparation, including an “inclusive outreach to communities of colour and the creation of meaningful, safe, and accessible opportunities for consultation”. On 19 August 2020, the High Commissioner responded to the letter. Read the response here.

ISHR urges all States to support the five recommendations presented by families of victims of police violence and civil society to the High Commissioner, in their national and joint statements at the Council under General Debate Item 9.

Background information: The report was mandated by the resolution adopted following the urgent debate at the Council in June 2020 on current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests in the US and elsewhere. Though the urgent debate prompted by the African group initially called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry on the US and other countries, due to acute diplomatic pressure from the US and its allies, the Council finally decided to instead mandate the High Commissioner with preparing the report, and to include updates on police brutality against Africans and people of African descent in all her oral updates to the Council.

In June 2020, ISHR joined the calls made by the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and Michael Brown and over six hundred human rights organisations from over 60 countries in requesting the Council to mandate a commission of inquiry for the situation of racism and police brutality in the United States. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the UN Working Group on Experts on People of African Descent had also voiced their support for the international commission of inquiry. They have urged the Council to ensure the following outcomes from the debate:

  1. the creation of an international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States; and
  2. the creation of a thematic international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, with a focus on systemic racism rooted in legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

They stressed that “both measures described above are necessary and cannot be substituted for one another”. The experts “expressed serious concern that extreme pressure by certain powerful and influential countries—including countries that publicly voiced support for the need to take action in the face of systemic racism—has operated to dilute the strength of the planned consensus resolution of the Urgent Debate.”

Saudi Arabia

Women human rights defenders have been in prison for over two years, only because they demanded that women be treated equally as men. No one has been held accountable for their torture. While the Council has sustained pressure on Saudi Arabia in 2019, it is essential that this scrutiny continues as the situation on the ground has not improved. ISHR calls on all States to jointly call on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release the WHRDs and drop the charges against them; and implement the bench-marks set out in the two joint statements delivered by Iceland and Australia in 2019, underlining that should these benchmarks not be met, more formal Council action would follow.

Saudi Arabia is running for Human Rights Council elections in October 2020 and hosting the G20 in November 2020. These all provide windows of opportunity to push for the immediate and unconditional release of the women human rights defenders and all those detained for exercising their rights. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/02/vloggers-selling-their-souls-to-boost-image-of-arab-regimes/]

Venezuela

The time has come for the fact-finding mission on Venezuela, created by the Human Rights Council last September, to report to the Council. ISHR has joined 85 national, regional and international organisations calling for the renewal and strengthening of the mandate, to keep the pressure on Venezuela. National NGOs have highlighted the ongoing human rights violations in the country as evidence that the new mandate should include an exploration of the root causes of these violations; a preservation of evidence to allow for processes to hold individual perpetrators to account, and a focus on gender-based violence. Oral statements from OHCHR will also be presented this session as will – potentially – a second resolution focusing on technical cooperation. The fact-finding mission’s report is due to be published on 15 September, with the interactive dialogue with States due the following week.

Philippines

The Anti-Terrorism Law passed earlier this month complements the Duterte Administration’s arsenal of tools, giving it the ability to label, detain and eliminate government critics using a vague definition of ‘terrorism’. In the prevailing climate of impunity and attacks against human rights defenders, this law granting the government excessive and unchecked powers will further jeopardise the safety of defenders.

This law passed in the context of ongoing violations against defenders in the country, with recent instances of judicial harassment of defenders and targeting defenders with smear campaigns. It is the most recent example of the government’s worsening human rights record. The recent report of the UN High Commissioner highlights widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, silencing of independent media and critics, and stark and persistent impunity.

ISHR joined the calls by civil society and UN Special Procedures for an independent investigation mechanism into the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Burundi

ISHR joined more than 40 partners in a civil society call made public ahead of the 45th session, urging States to support the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi.

Burundi is in a period of potential transition, following the 20 May 2020 presidential, legislative and local elections resulting in the election of a new President, Évariste Ndayishimiye and after the death of former President Nkurunziza. At this moment and in this context, there are signs of promise as well as of significant concern. Despite promising remarks by President Ndayishimiyeduring at his inauguration, as well as the authorities’ new, more transparent approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, observers also raised concerns, notably over the fact that several newly appointed members of the Ndayishimiye administration are subject to international individual sanctions for their alleged responsibility in human rights violations. Nonetheless, the political transition represents an opportunity to open a new chapter for the Burundian people and for Burundi’s relationship with the UN human rights system.

As of today, the Commission of Inquiry remains the only independent mechanism mandated to monitor and document human rights violations and abuses, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi, with sufficient resources and experience to do so. At its 45th session, the Council should avoid sending the Government of Burundi signals that would disincentivise domestic human rights reforms, such as terminating the CoI’s mandate in the absence of measurable progress. It should avoid a scenario where re-establishing the CoI’s mandate would be necessary after a premature discontinuation, because of a renewed escalation of human rights violations and abuses. The Council should rather ensure continued investigations, monitoring, public reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights situation.

Egypt

The ‘Terrorism Circuit courts’ in Egypt are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. All of the individuals that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner have written about since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention by these courts.

ISHR urges States to call on Egypt to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their human rights, to stop using pre-trial detention as a punishment, and to take immediate measures to guarantee their rights to contact their families on a regular and continuous basis and to ease sending and receiving letters, food and medical supplies to them.

Background information: Seven UN experts have expressed concern about the collective and corrosive effects of Egypt’s counter-terrorism laws and practices on the promotion and protection of human rights. They stated that “Despite [] repeated communications by UN experts over arbitrary detention of individuals, human rights defenders and activists, the Egyptian Government has not changed its laws of practice”. The government’s response to the UPR in March 2020 demonstrated its lack of political will to address key concerns raised by States and to engage constructively with the Council. For example, the government refused to acknowledge the systematic and widespread attacks against defenders, the practice of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres, and to receive visits by Special Rapporteurs on torture and human rights defenders. The government claimed that no one is detained for exercising their rights, despite the fact that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt and could constitute a crime against humanity.[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/27/egypt-15-year-term-for-human-rights-defender-bahey-el-din-hassan/]

Other country situations

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 14 September 2020. The Council will consider updates, reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Nicaragua 
  • Oral updates by the High Commissioner, and an Interactive Dialogue on the report of the independent international fact-finding mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the HC on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, including of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, an interactive dialogue on the report of on the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar, and an Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive dialogue with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the final report of the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Libya
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic 
  • Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia 

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for the following mandates:

  1. Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities 
  2. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, member from African States and member from Latin American and Caribbean States
  3. Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, member form Latin American and Caribbean States
  4. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, member from African States
  5. Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, member from Asia-Pacific States
  6. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan (if renewed).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 45th session

At the organisational meeting on 31 August the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Special Rapporteur on hazardous waste mandate renewal (African Group)
  2. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent mandate renewal (African Group)
  3. From rhetoric to reality – a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (African Group)
  4. Technical assistance and capacity building in Sudan (African Group)
  5. Human rights and indigenous peoples (Mexico, Guatemala)
  6. Human rights and terrorism (Egypt, Mexico)
  7. The human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation (Germany, Spain)
  8. Technical assistance and capacity building in Yemen ((Yemen)
  9. Local government and human rights (Chile, Egypt, South Korea, Romania)
  10. The human rights situation in Yemen (the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg)
  11. Independent expert on the human rights situation in Somalia (Somalia and the United Kingdom)
  12. Technical cooperation and capacity building in the field of human rights (Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey)
  13. Accountability for ensuring women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights in humanitarian settings (Canada, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay, Sweden)
  14. Human rights and the regulation of civilian acquisition, possession and use of firearms (Ecuador, Peru)
  15. Rights of the Child (EU, GRULAC)
  16. Human rights situations in Burundi (EU)
  17. IGWG Private military and security companies mandate renewal TBC (South Africa)
  18. Elimination of discrmination against women and girls in sport (South Africa)
  19. Inequalities in and amongst States in the realization of human rights (South Africa)
  20. National human rights institutions (Australia)
  21. Contribution of Human Rights Council to prevention of human rights violations (Norway, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Uruguay)
  22. Safety of journalists (Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia)
  23. Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence mandate renewal (Switzerland, Argentina, Morocco)
  24. Enforced disappearances mandate renewal (France, Argentina, Morocco, Japan)
  25. Women, peace and security (Spain, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Namibia, Tunisia, Finland)

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Kyrgyzstan, Guinea, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Kenya, Armenia , Guinea-Bissau, Sweden, Grenada, Turkey, Kiribati and Guyana. ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR and publishes briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Turkey and Guinea to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Three panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual half-day discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples. Theme: Protection of indigenous human rights defenders
  2. Biennial panel discussion on the right to development. Theme: COVID-19 and the right to development: we are all in this together
  3. Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms. Theme: Gender and diversity: strengthening the intersectional perspective in the work of the Human Rights Council

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc45-key-issues-agenda-september-2020-session

 

ISHR’s 2020 report on reprisals to the UN Secretary-General

August 31, 2020

In order for the international human rights system to function to its fullest potential, human rights defenders must be able to share crucial information and perspectives regarding situations on the ground. However, many defenders still face unacceptable risks and are unable to cooperate safely with the UN. Although this study by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) dates back to 3 may 2020 , I still want to refer to it because reprisals is one of the most importatnt topics covered regularly in this blog [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/%5D

Photo: FlickR / Looking4poetry

ISHR’s new report to the UN Secretary-General demonstrates the need for the UN and States to do more to prevent and ensure accountability for intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the UN. The report was prepared in response to the call for submissions to the annual report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with the UN in the field of human rights, aka the ‘Reprisals Report’. ISHR’s report outlines developments in the international and regional systems, and documents a number of cases.

ISHR’s submission presents a disturbing pattern of intimidation and reprisals. Cases of reprisals featured in the submission range from States dangerously maligning defenders to killing them. In Venezuela, increased monitoring of the situation by the UN has been met with increased risk, stigmatization and harassment of defenders working with the mechanisms. In the Philippines, human rights defenders continue to be vilified by the government and accused of being terrorists. Defenders in Honduras, India, Thailand, Cuba, and Yemen continue to be threatened and harassed. In Russia and Cameroon, defenders who engaged with the UN have been refused entry to the country. Defenders working on China continue to be smeared and discredited and there continues to be no investigation into the death of Cao Shunli, who was jailed and died in custody for trying to provide information to the UN. Defenders in Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, remain in jail because they dared engage in international advocacy.  Other countries cited in the report include The Bahamas, Brazil, Burundi, Mexico, Morocco, and the United States.

The report includes follow-up information on a large number of cases, demonstrating that incidents of reprisals and intimidation are very rarely, if ever, adequately resolved. ‘One only needs to look at the cases that remain unresolved year after year, to know that something more must be done by the UN on follow-up. Otherwise, reprisals ‘work’ to dissuade engagement, and perpetrators are emboldened’, said Madeleine Sinclair, New York Office Co-Director and Legal Counsel.

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States—who must do more to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for reprisals. ‘States must use the opportunity of the interactive dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report in September, as well as Item 5 debates, to raise specific cases and hold their peers accountable’, said Sinclair.

The submission also highlights ISHR’s new study, ‘Intimidation and its Impact on Engagement with the UN Human Rights System: Methodological challenges and opportunities’The study responds to the challenge of severe intimidation leading to ‘self-censorship’ and proposes methodological approaches to strengthen the future capacity to measure and understand how intimidation tactics – both blunt and subtle – effectively inhibit human rights reporting and action, thus reinforcing impunity for States’ abuses. Among these is the dire need for better data. ‘As a starting point, the UN needs to harness its vast data collecting power to systematically track cooperation with its diverse human rights mechanisms so as to be able to track deterioration or improvements from year to year,’ said Sinclair. The study proposes that this, combined with data on human rights abuses, would enable the identification of countries where there is high abuse and low cooperation as well as those with high abuse and high cooperation. Best practice research can then extract lessons learned from countries with high levels of abuse and high levels of cooperation that may assist countries where intimidation has been more successful in sustaining inhibition.

Links: 

Ending intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN in the field of human rights, Submission to the UN Secretary-General on recent developments, cases and recommendations, May 2020.

Intimidation and its Impact on Engagement with the UN Human Rights System: Methodological challenges and opportunities, March 2020.

——

https://www.ishr.ch/news/reprisals-un-and-states-can-and-must-do-more-prevent-and-address-reprisals-0

 

Nine human rights groups express fear over threats from security officers of the Liberian Government.

August 6, 2020

Human Rights Activist, Adama K. Dempster

In a statement issued in Monrovia on August 5, 2020, the groups in a collective letter noted that “Credible threats” have been made against a staff of the Global Justice and Research project (GJRP), Hassan Bility, as well as witnesses of alleged crimes by a recent defendant of a war crimes unit in the United Kingdom.

The human rights organizations that include CIVITAS MAXIMA, Center for Justice and Accountability, Center for Civil and Political Rights, Civil Society Human Rights Platform, Human Rights Watch and the Advocates for Human Rights amongst others also indicated in the release that “Credible threats have been made against Adama Dempster, Secretary-General of the Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia, in connection to his human rights work and advocacy for a war crimes court.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/23/human-rights-defenders-to-president-weah-the-ball-is-in-your-camp/]

The groups said that Dempster, who led the civil society delegation that traveled to Geneva to report to the United Nations on Liberia’s human rights record, has also received credible information that he is being “targeted for elimination.”

These threats come from certain leading figures within the Liberian government’s security services, and confidential sources state that they are related to Dempster’s work delivering human rights reports to the International Community and the United Nations against the current Government, as well as his advocacy for a war crimes court,” said the human rights groups.

Bility’s GJRP has been actively involved in researching and identifying some key perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity during Liberia’s civil war, and some based on the work of GJRP have been prosecuted in the United States while others are detained in Europe awaiting trial for their roles. Among those prosecuted in the United States under this effort is Mohammed Jabateh (alas Jungle Jabbah).  In Europe, Martina Johnson of the defunct National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) with some former fighters of the United Liberation Movement (ULIMO-K) of warlord Alhaji G.V. Kromah has been arrested.

The recently announced threats against human rights advocates come following the release and subsequent coming to Liberia Agnes Reeves Taylor, former wife of jailed Liberian President Charles Taylor.

There are still more warlords and war crimes perpetrators in Liberia who were identified in Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation report, and some are currently serving in the National Security Agency (NSA).

The human rights organization state in their statement that: “The intimidation and threats against GJRP staff and witnesses started immediately after Agnes Reeves Taylor, who was indicted in 2017 in the United Kingdom for torture, returned to Liberia in July 2020. They included multiple threatening phone calls to GJRP staff, including the director, Hassan Bility, as well as against witnesses of her alleged crimes.”

According to the human rights groups, several witnesses have said that people claiming to be Reeves Taylor supporters have threatened their lives — including in person, and claiming also that certain public statements about Bility and the GJRP by Reeves Taylor, who was not acquitted, but whose case in the UK did not go to trial based on a point of law, also raise concerns.

The groups also reminded the Government of Liberia of the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations, issued in 2018.

The UN body said that the Government of Liberian should make certain that “all alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes are impartially prosecuted and, if found guilty, convicted and punished in accordance with the gravity of the acts committed.”

The Human Rights Committee’s Observations required Liberia to report by 27 July 2020 on the implementation of the recommendations regarding accountability for past crimes. Liberia has not met this deadline. “We sincerely hope that Liberia will take its international treaty obligations seriously by implementing the recommendations and submitting its follow-up report to the Committee,” said the groups.

The groups called on the Government of Liberia to ensure that human rights defenders in Liberia are protected from harassment and threats by individuals within the Government security services.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/05/protect-human-rights-defenders-liberia

https://www.liberianobserver.com/news/ranking-state-security-officers-linked-to-threats-against-human-rights-advocates/

Human Rights Organizations in Liberia Alarm Over Being Targeted by Government’s Security, Call for Protection

Human Rights Defenders and the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council

June 25, 2020

The ISHR published on 24 June its usual and irreplacable “HRC44 – Key issues on agenda of June 2020 session”

As usual I have lifted out of this the issues that would seem to affect most directly Human Rights Defenders. To stay up-to-date on all issues: follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC44 on Twitter, and look out for its Human Rights Council Monitor.

The UN Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 44th regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 30 June to 21 July 2020.

Modalities for participation in HRC44

State delegations not wishing to enter the plenary room physically will be able to deliver their statements by pre-recorded video-message, as provided for under HRC decision 19/119. Similarly, NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC will be given the opportunity to do the same insofar as interactive dialogues, panels and UPR adoptions are concerned. It won’t be possible to hold “official” side events during the 44th session (online or in-person). Any events happening on the sidelines of the session will be considered independent events and won’t be publicised in the Bulletin of Informal meetings by the Secretariat. Read here the information note by the Secretariat which is updated according to the latest information, and an additional explainer by HRC-net.  

Human Rights implications of COVID-19

The High Commissioner will present an oral update on the human rights impact of COVID-19 at the 44th session, as mandated by the presidential statement adopted by the Council in May 2020. The presidential statement also calls on the High Commissioner to produce a report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the enjoyment of human rights around the world to be presented at the 46th session in March 2021. In addition to their previously mandated reports, some mandateholders will present additional reports to address the impact of COVID-19 as related to their mandate, including the Special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye.  [for some of my earlier posts on covid and human rights see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/covid-19/]

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions:

Business and human rights

At this session, the Working Group on Business and Human Rights is expected to present reports on their activities over 2019, including a country visit to Honduras and on the theme of anti-corruption and the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs). They are also meant to present groundbreaking guidance on human rights defenders and the role of business. ISHR expects that such guidance should provide companies with concrete suggestions for how to engage human rights defenders in the development and implementation of their human rights policies. It is important that the guidance explains why this is not simply good practice, but is also aligned with the Guiding Principles’ word and spirit – and thus should be widely mainstreamed for any company committed to the UNGPs.  There will tentatively be a resolution presented to renew the mandate of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, as well as to welcome the thematic reporting.

Sexual orientation and gender identity 

ISHR joined a coalition of 187 organisations to draw the attention of the Human Rights Council to the situation of LGBTI persons and those who defend their rights in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. In line with the call to action signed by 96 human rights experts, organisations working for the protection of the human rights of persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) globally urged States and stakeholders to ensure that this public health emergency will neither exacerbate existing prejudices, inequalities or structural barriers, nor lead to increased violence and discrimination [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/11/coalition-of-187-global-organisations-issues-joint-statement-re-the-impact-of-covid-19-pandemic-on-lgbti/]

Reprisals

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law, and undermine the UN human rights system. [agains for earlier posts see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, as well as the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline.

Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

Other thematic reports :

At this 44th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with:

The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises  (includes recommendations from 2019 visit to Peru)

The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance 

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association 

The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression 

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including:

  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants 
  • The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons 
  • The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences 
  • The Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity 

#HRC44 | Country-specific developments

China (Hong Kong and Uyghur regions)

Violations in China, especially those linked to freedom of association, were made even more clear during the government’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic. …..States should ensure continued calls for access to UN human rights experts, in line with last year’s joint letter condemning China’s suppression of minorities. Finally, following nearly a year of protests – largely of peaceful civilians –  the central government in Beijing launched an initiative to draft and pass National Security Legislation in Hong Kong. This alarming development was foreshadowed by increasing police violence and use of chemical weapons; the arrest and political prosecution of more than a dozen pro-democracy leaders; and further restrictions on the free press. Many activists, and the European Parliament, are calling for UN Secretary-General António Guterres to appoint an envoy, rightly recognising that China’s actions violate international agreements aimed at ensuring peace and security.

United States of America

Last week, the Council held an urgent debate and adopted a resolution in reaction to systemic racism and police violence in the US and elsewhere. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism and the UN Working Group on Experts on People of African Descent had also voiced their support for an international commission of inquiry. They have urged the Human Rights Council to ensure the following outcomes from the debate: (1) the creation of an international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States; and (2) the creation of a thematic international commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, with a focus on systemic racism rooted in legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery. They stressed that “both measures described above are necessary and cannot be substituted for one another”.

Saudi Arabia

Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) have been in prison for over two years, only because they demanded that women be treated equally as men, and no one has been held accountable for their torture. While the Council has sustained pressure on Saudi Arabia in 2019, it is essential that this scrutiny continues as the situation on the ground has not improved. ISHR calls on all States to jointly call on Saudi Arabia to immediately and unconditionally release the WHRDs and drop the charges against them; and implement the bench-marks set out in the two joint statements delivered by Iceland and Australia in 2019, underlining that should these benchmarks not be met, more formal Council action would follow.

Saudi Arabia is running for Human Rights Council election in October 2020 and hosting the G20 in November 2020. These all provide windows of opportunity to push for the immediate and unconditional release of the women human rights defenders and all those detained for exercising their rights. 

Nicaragua

The COVID-19 crisis has not prevented the Nicaraguan government from making further use of repressive methods to continue targeting released political prisoners, human rights defenders, as well as indigenous people and other social groups, and their relatives. In a rapidly-deteriorating human rights situation, the authorities’ dangerous denial and inaction in the face of the pandemic have additionally fueled an alarming health crisis.

It is in this context that Council Members renewed a resolution on Nicaragua this week at the resumed 43rd session of the Human Rights Council. ISHR joined Race and Equality and a number of national and international organisations in urging the Council to ensure strong support for the resolution on the human rights situation in Nicaragua. To ensure the international community is fully informed of the worsening national situation, the resolution requests the High Commissioner to prepare a report and two oral updates, the first of which should be presented at the Council’s 44th session.

Honduras

The Working Group on Business and Human Rights will present the report on its official visit to Honduras (carried out between the 19 and 28 August 2019). …According to the end of mission statement, a significant number of human rights defenders who work for the respect and protection of human rights in the context of business activity have been arbitrarily arrested, intimidated, stigmatised, criminalised, threatened and some killed.

This was particularly evident in reference to those working in the field of extractive and hydro-electric industries.  The murder of leading land,environment and indigenous peoples´ rights defender Berta Cáceres, who had been campaigning against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, is one case cited where impunity is ongoing.  Individuals responsible for the killing have been tried and jailed. However, those suspected of planning the crime, including senior management from the company building the dam (DESA) according to the independent mission of experts GAIPE, have not been investigated or prosecuted. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/]. Another Special Procedure expert – the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers – will also be presenting a report on its official visit to Honduras in August 2019. After completion of the visit, he called on Honduras to take urgent action to end corruption and guarantee an independent judiciary, stressing that ‘the justice system, as well as the political class’ are being ‘called strongly into question by the citizens’.

Burundi

The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present its oral briefing during the 44th session of the HRC. ISHR continues to remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms.

Egypt

Seven UN experts have expressed concern about the collective and corrosive effects of Egypt’s counter-terrorism laws and practices on the promotion and protection of human rights. They stated that “Despite repeated communications by UN experts over arbitrary detention of individuals, human rights defenders and activists, the Egyptian Government has not changed its laws of practice”. The ‘Terrorism Circuit courts’ in Egypt, are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. All of the individuals that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner have written about since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention by these courts. Once the terrorism courts resumed after they were suspended due to COVID-19, they renewed their detention retroactively.

The government’s response to the UPR in March 2020 demonstrated its lack of political will to address key concerns raised by States and to engage constructively with the Council. For example, the government refused to acknowledge the systematic and widespread attacks against defenders, the practice of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres, and to receive visits by Special Rapporteurs on torture and human rights defenders. The government claimed that no one is detained for exercising their rights, despite the fact that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt and could constitute a crime against humanity.

ISHR urges States to call on Egypt to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for exercising their human rights, to stop using pre-trial detention as a punishment, and to take immediate measures to guarantee their rights to contact their families on a regular and continuous basis and to ease sending and receiving letters, food and medical supplies to them.

Philippines 

The OHCHR issued its report (A/HRC/44/22) on the human rights situation in the Philippines, drawing on extensive engagement with and information provided by civil society in the country, the region and globally. The report refers to the killing of 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, between January 2015 and December 2019. Confirming practices of vilification, criminalisation, restrictions of fundamental rights, as well as the continuing attacks including ‘red-tagging,’ the report notes existing impunity and the failure of domestic mechanisms to ensure accountability. The presentation of this report provides an important opportunity for debate on the key findings, and to consider options for how to advance recommendations to address the government’s violations of human rights overall, and restrictions on human rights defenders in particular.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/05/how-a-philipines-website-does-the-reporting-on-the-un-findings-on-human-rights-violations/

Other country situations:

The Council will hold an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s annual report on 2 July 2020. The Council will consider reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the human rights situation of Rohingya people 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Philippines 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Eritrea
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Belarus 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Myanmar 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967 
  • Enhanced ID on the oral reports of the Government of the Sudan and OHCHR on progress towards the opening of a country office 
  • Oral update of the High Commissioner on cooperation with Georgia 

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Armenia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey.

ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. We publish and submit briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as a mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Turkey, Kuwait and Guinea  to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

#HRC44 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 44th session held on 12 and 15 June 2020, the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes five panels of discussion and 81 reports. States also announced at least 17 resolutions. 

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for inter alia the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 44th session

At the organisational meeting the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets) especially relevant:

  1. Elimination of discrimination against women (Colombia, Mexico)
  2. Human rights situation in Eritrea (Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands) mandate renewal 
  3. Business and human rights (Norway, Russian Federation, Ghana, Argentina) Working Group + Accountability and Remedy project mandate renewals
  4. Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (Sweden) mandate renewal
  5. Human rights and climate change (Bangladesh, Philippines, Viet Nam)
  6. Independence and impartiality of the judiciary, jurors and assessors, and the independence of lawyers  (Hungary, Australia, Botswana, Maldives, Mexico, Thailand) + mandate renewal
  7. Trafficking in persons, especially women and children (Germany, Argentina, Philippines) + mandate renewal 
  8. Freedom of opinion and expression: access to information (Canada, Namibia, Brazil, Fiji, Netherlands, Sweden) 
  9. Rights of persons with disabilities (Mexico, New Zealand) mandate renewal 
  10. The human rights situation in Belarus (EU) 
  11. The right to peaceful protest (Switzerland, Costa Rica)

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions are broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Five panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child (two panels, theme: “Realizing the rights of the child through a healthy environment”) 
  2. Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women 
  3. Panel discussion on the impacts, opportunities and challenges of new and emerging digital technologies with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights; including an oral update of the Advisory Committee on its report on new and emerging digital technologies 
  4. Panel discussion on promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change 
  5. Annual thematic panel discussion on technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights (theme: “Upholding the human rights of prisoners, including women prisoners and offenders: enhancing technical cooperation and capacity-building in the implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules and the Bangkok Rules”)

For the latest session see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/24/human-rights-defenders-issues-on-the-agenda-of-43rd-human-rights-council/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc44-key-issues-agenda-june-2020-session

New Report ISHR: Reprisals in the African human rights system

June 16, 2020

On 12 May 2020 ISHR published a new report to the Focal Point on Reprisals of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It demonstrates the need for the ACHPR and States to do more to prevent and ensure accountability for intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the African human rights system. (ISHR’s report was prepared in response to the call for submissions to the first annual report of the Focal Point on Reprisals, Commissioner Remy Ngoy Lumbu.)

ISHR’s report documents a disturbing pattern of intimidation and reprisals that must be addressed. Cases of intimidation and reprisals featured in the submission range from States maligning and stigmatising defenders to banning them from travel and detaining them.  ‘Such reprisals violate human rights and fundamental freedoms that regional and international systems are obliged to promote and protect. Moreover, they also seriously impede bodies and mechanisms’ abilities to discharge their mandates effectively, threaten their integrity, and undermine the credibility of their work in the field of human rights’, said Adelaïde Etong Kame, ISHR Africa Programme Manager.  

In Malawi and Cameroon, defenders engaging with the ACHPR are threatened, stigmatised, harassed and attacked. In Burundi, increased monitoring by regional and international human rights mechanisms has been met with increased risk, stigmatisation and harassment of defenders working with the mechanisms. In Mauritania, human rights defenders continue to be vilified by the government and accused of being terrorists. In Egypt, defenders engaging with the African human rights system have been maligned, intimidated, and detained. 

The report also documents how recent hosts of ACHPR sessions, in particular Mauritania and Egypt, have hindered and restricted access to the sessions, through visa denials, intimidation, harassment, and undue restrictions at the sessions themselves. ..

ISHR’s submission also documents undue restrictions on accreditation, namely the case of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), who have had their observer status to the ACHPR withdrawn, in violation of the rights of freedom of expression, association, and unhindered access to and communication with international bodies of CAL and its members, on discriminatory bases.

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States—who must do more to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for reprisals. ‘In that regard, the task for the Focal Point and the ACHPR is now to take up these cases and ensure they are addressed with the perpetrating governments. Otherwise, reprisals ‘work’ to dissuade engagement, and perpetrators will be emboldened’, said Etong Kame.  

Ending intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the African human rights system, Submission to the Focal Point on Reprisals of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, May 2020.  

https://www.ishr.ch/news/reprisals-new-ishr-report-reprisals-related-engagement-african-human-rights-system-must-be

Human Rights Defenders issues on the agenda of 43rd Human Rights Council

February 24, 2020

On 17 February 2020 the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published – as usual – its excellent “HRC43 | Key issues on agenda of March 2020 session”. Here some excerpts that relate directly to human rights defenders in the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which runs from 24 February to 20 March 2020.  If you want to stay up-to-date: with all issues follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC43 on Twitter.

Here are some highlights of the session’s thematic discussions

Protection of human rights defenders including women human rights defenders. The Council will consider a resolution, presented by Norway, to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The mandate gathers and responds to information on the situation of defenders around the world, engages constructively with governments and non-State actors and provides recommendations to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration on human rights defenders. In 2019, the Council and the General Assembly unanimously affirmed the vital work defenders play. The Council recognised the critical role of environmental human rights defenders in protecting vital ecosystems, addressing climate change, attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The General Assembly passed by consensus a resolution focusing on implementation of the Declaration and some key elements of protection policy; the resolution also attracted a record number of co-sponsors. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders will present his report on human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations on 4 March, and country visits to Colombia and Mongolia.

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system. [for some of my ealrier posts on reprisals, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]. During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/08/michel-forst-in-last-address-to-general-assembly-pleads-to-fight-reprisals/]. Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

At this 43rd session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders alongside the annual report of the Secretary-General on the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights globally. These include interactive dialogues with the following:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing on her annual report and country visits reports to Nigeria and France.
  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights on her annual report on cultural rights defenders and country visit report to the Maldives and Poland.
  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment on his annual report and country visits to Fiji and Norway.

The Council will discuss a range of civil and political rights through dedicated debates with the mandate holders, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture on his annual report and visit to Comoros.
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief on his annual report and visits to the Netherlands and Sri Lanka.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism on her annual report and visit to Kazakhstan.
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy on his annual report.

Country-specific developments

China Confronted with mounting evidence of serious human rights violations in China, specifically the mass internment, ‘re-education’, surveillance and harassment of Turkic Muslims in the western province of  Xinjiang, the view of many parts of the UN is incontrovertible. Beginning with a major UN review in August 2018, the UN High Commissioner has pressed for access, while the Special Procedures have expressed serious concerns about protection of freedom of religious belief, the impacts of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism measures, and the imposition of the death penalty in at least one case, that of university president Tashpolat Tiyip. In light of these concerns and the continued deterioration of the situation for human rights lawyers and defenders; the attacks on cultural rights and other freedoms in Tibet; and criminalisation of peaceful assembly and excessive use of police force in Hong Kong, it is high time for the Council to act. Member States should take concrete steps to call for independent, expert monitoring and reporting on the situation in Xinjiang, including access to the region, and urge accountability for actions by public authorities. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/12/joint-letter-by-22-states-to-human-rights-council-re-chinas-uighurs/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/20/china-coalition-anti-human-rights-un/]

Saudi Arabia The Council’s action on Saudi Arabia has contributed to the provisional release of at least seven women’s rights activists from detention. However, they are still facing trial and many remain in detention. Recent revelations of phone hacking, surveillance and possible blackmail and extortion of the owner of the Washington Post demonstrate the measures that the State is prepared to take to silence any form of criticism or dissent. The joint statement delivered by Australia in September sets out benchmarks for the Saudi government to take to demonstrate its willingness to improve the human rights situation. These benchmarks have not been met. States should ensure that Council scrutiny is maintained and in particular establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism over the situation. [for other posts on Saudi Arabia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/]

Egypt The lack of action by the international community has emboldened the Egyptian government to continue to violate fundamental rights of its citizens. Special Procedures have rung the alarm bell regarding the pattern of reprisals against individuals and groups who sought to or engaged with the UN. In the last quarter of 2019 alone, more than 3,000 people were arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted under counter-terrorism laws in a nationwide crackdown against all forms of peaceful expression. The Committee against Torture has found that torture in Egypt is widespread and systematic and the situation meets all of the objective criteria for situations requiring the Council’s attention. States should initiate Council action on the situation before it further deteriorates. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/ ]

India The High Commissioner expressed concern over India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) for being ‘fundamentally discriminatory’ as it fails to extend protections to Muslim asylum seekers. Nationwide demonstrations and protests have been met with police brutality and arbitrary detentions. Vigilante groups allegedly affiliated with right-wing Hindu nationalist groups close to the government have physically attacked student protestors. Human rights defenders involved in organising peaceful assemblies have been detained and faced online harassment. ISHR calls on States to raise these concerns in their national statements including during the high level segment. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/27/ngos-come-out-in-support-of-indias-lawyers-collective/]

Burundi. At the last Council session, the Council renewed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which will present its oral briefing on 10 March at 10:00. ISHR remains highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/

Sri Lanka. Civil society groups are concerned over the backsliding on the commitments made by Sri Lanka in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. The recently elected president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, along with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been appointed prime minister, have been implicated in war crimes and numerous human rights violations when they were defence secretary and president respectively from 2005 to 2015. The new Government has made clear its intention to walk away from the Council process on Sri Lanka, a process that is currently the only hope for victims of human rights violations that truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence are possible. [see https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2020/feb/23/sri-lanka-details-un-case-pullout/] Meanwhile, the relatively open climate for human rights defenders and journalists of the past few years seems to be rapidly closing. More than a dozen human rights and media organisations have received intimidating visits by members of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while death threats against journalists have resumed. ISHR calls on States to urge for continued cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with OHCHR and the Special Procedures. The Council should reiterate the reference in Resolution 40/1 to “the adoption of a time-bound implementation strategy” for implementation of all elements of Resolution 30/1. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/22/sri-lankan-government-accused-of-embarking-on-process-to-silence-critics/]

Other country situations:

    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Occupied Palestinian Territories
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
    • Interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on Libya
    • High-level interactive dialogue on the Central African Republic
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission on human rights on South Sudan
    • Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Iran
    • Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria
    • Enhanced interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on the Democratic Republic of Congo
    • Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Mali 
    • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral report on Ukraine
    • High Commissioner briefings on the following countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Nicaragua, Yemen, Venezuela, Myanmar, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Italy, El Salvador, the Gambia, Bolivia, Fiji, San Marino, Kazakhstan, Angola, Iran, Madagascar, Iraq, Slovenia, Egypt and Bosnia and Herzegovina. This session of the Council will provide an opportunity for Angola, Egypt and Fiji  to to accept recommendations made in relation to human rights defenders, as proposed in ISHR’s briefing papers.

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose candidates for the following mandates:

  1. Two members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (one from Asia and one from the Arctic);
  2. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia;
  3. Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context;
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and its consequences;
  5. Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples;
  6. Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material;
  7. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
  8. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Some resolutions werealready announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Prevention of genocide (Armenia)
  2. Special Rapporteur on Torture, mandate renewal (Denmark)
  3. Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  4. Situation of human rights in Myanmar (EU)
  5. Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mandate renewal (EU)
  6. Mandate renewal of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  7. Protecting the rights of human rights defenders, mandate renewal (Norway)
  8. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  9. Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against persons based on religion or belief (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC)
  10. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  11. Situation of human rights in South Sudan, mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  12. Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, mandate renewal (North Macedonia, Republic of Moldova, Sweden, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  13. Freedom of Expression, mandate renewal (Netherlands, Canada)

Officers of the Human Rights Council

Newly appointed members of the Bureau for the 14th cycle comprises of the following Ambassadors:

  • Ms. Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger (Austria), President of the Human Rights Council
  • Mr. Yackoley Kokou Johnson (Togo), Vice-President and Rapporteur
  • Mr. Nasir Ahmad Andisha (Afghanistan), Vice-President
  • Ms. Socorro Flores Liera (Mexico), Vice-President
  • Mr. Juraj Podhorský (Slovakia), Vice-President

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Four panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming titled “Thirty years of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: challenges and opportunities” will take place on 24 February at 16:00
  2. High-level panel discussion commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with a particular focus on their implementation will take place on 25 February at 09:00
  3. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities, titled “Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on awareness-raising”, will take place on 6 March at 16:00
  4. Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent will take place on 13 March at 16:00.

NOTE: The UN’s liquidity crisis is having a serious impact on this session and the next one (44th in June) and ISHR – jointly with 26 other NGOs – have expressed their concerns to the UNSG that in light of the special emergency measures and ongoing budget constraints, further measures may be imposed to restrict civil society participation at the Council. Despite the adoption of a number of measures by the Council over the years to address the budgetary constraints faced by the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the Director General of UNOG informed the Council’s President that the Council may not be able to carry out all its mandated activities in 2020. This is due to the special emergency measures instituted by the UNSG to respond to the UN’s liquidity crisis which prohibit all lunch-time meetings, thus making it impossible for UNOG to provide conference services to all the Council’s required meetings. The President of the Council requested the UNSG to issue an exemption of these measures to ensure that the Council can hold all its meetings. The UNSG issued an exemption for meetings during the High-level Segment and voting on resolutions, but not for other meetings in the March session. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/20/lack-of-funds-forces-lack-of-oversight-by-un/]

For more information contact: Salma El Hosseiny at s.hosseinyATishr.ch 

For a survey of the 42nd session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/02/result-of-the-42nd-session-of-the-un-human-rights-council/

See also CIVICUS advisory on this Council session: https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/4282-advocacy-priorities-at-43rd-session-of-un-human-rights-council

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc43-key-issues-agenda-march-2020-session

Sad end of year message by Andrew Gilmour as he leaves his UN post

December 29, 2019

His assesment of the human rights situation – as laid down in the article ofThe past decade has seen a backlash against human rights on every front, especially the rights of women and the LGBT communities. Andrew Gilmour said the regression of the past 10 years hasn’t equaled the advances that began in the late 1970s — but it is serious, widespread and regrettable. He pointed to “populist authoritarian nationalists” in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, who he said are taking aim at the most vulnerable groups of society, including Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, Roma, and Mexican immigrants, as well as gays and women. He cited leaders who justify torture, the arrests and killing of journalists, the brutal repressions of demonstrations and “a whole closing of civil society space.”

I never thought that we would start hearing the terms ‘concentration camps’ again,” Gilmour told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. “And yet, in two countries of the world there’s a real question.” He didn’t name them but appeared to be referring to China’s internment camps in western Xinjiang province, where an estimated 1 million members of the country’s predominantly Muslim Uighur minority are being held; and detention centers on the United States’ southern border, where mostly Central American migrants are being held while waiting to apply for asylum. Both countries strongly deny that concentration camp-like conditions exist.

….Despite his dim view of the past decade, Gilmour — a Briton who previously worked in politics and journalism — said he didn’t want to appear “relentlessly negative.” “The progress of human rights is certainly not a linear progression, and we have seen that,” he said. “There was definite progression from the late ’70s until the early years of this century. And we’ve now seen very much the counter-tendency of the last few years.”

He pointed to the fact that in the past eight years or so, many countries have adopted laws designed to restrict the funding and activities of nongovernmental organizations, especially human rights NGOs. And he alleged that powerful U.N. member states stop human rights officials from speaking in the Security Council, while China and some other members “go to extraordinary lengths to prevent human rights defenders (from) entering the (U.N.) building even, let alone participate in the meetings.”…..

The rights of women and gays are also at stake, Gilmour said. He said nationalist authoritarian populist leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have made “derogatory comments” about both groups. He said the U.S. is “aggressively pushing” back against women’s reproductive rights both at home and abroad. The result, he said, is that countries fearful of losing U.S. aid are cutting back their work on women’s rights. Gilmour also pointed out a report issued in September that cited 48 countries for punishing human rights defenders who have cooperated with the U.N. [See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/10/andrew-gilmour-in-the-financial-times-about-reprisals/]

I feel that we really need to do more — everybody … to defend those courageous defenders,” he said. Gilmour said the U.N. should also stand up when it comes to major violations of international law and major violations of human rights, but “I have found it extremely difficult to do so in all circumstances.

..Gilmour said that after his departure from the U.N, he will take a fellowship at Oxford’s All Souls College, where he will focus on the importance of uniting human rights and environmental rights groups. “The human rights impact of climate change — it’s going to be so monumental,” he said.

What gives me hope as we start a new decade is that there will be a surge in youth activism that will help people to get courage, and to stand up for what they believe in,” he said.

https://apnews.com/1d7e80128857308743224aaaf28cd5f8

Andrew Gilmour in the Financial Times about reprisals

December 10, 2019

On the occasion of International Human Rights Day 2019, Andrew Gilmour – the UN assistant secretary-general for human rights – wrote an opinion piece in the Financial Times stressing that the UN must protect human rights defenders from government reprisals against them….

Within the global movement, it’s widely accepted that the onslaught on the human rights agenda is more ferocious now than ever before. ……..We estimate that, around the world, several hundred people have been punished for co-operating with the UN since 2016 when I was assigned responsibility for dealing with this issue. Reprisals can take many forms — I’ve been presented with countless stories of travel restriction, threats from security agents, internet abuse, arrest, imprisonment and even torture, rape, disappearance and killing. The aim is punishment and/or deterrence. And it often works. Despite the staggering courage of many human rights defenders, who persist in exposing violations notwithstanding their knowledge of the likely consequences, others understandably self-censor their actions and words.

For his annual report see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/23/andrew-gilmours-2019-report-on-reprisals-it-gets-worse-but-response-remains-mostly-rhetoric/

…..Even though reprisals appear to be on the rise, however, there are grounds for optimism. More countries now take the issue seriously. They condemn such acts and warn against the scope of the problem, which many recognise has an impact on the global discourse on any matter related to human rights — development, the environment, protection of civilians in conflict settings and even preventing terrorism. When people are cowed into silence, governments and inter-governmental organisations are deprived of the full picture, and that makes their actions in any of these spheres less effective. Increased awareness that there is a growing problem with intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders is vital. But so is the courage to speak out on behalf of the victims of such actions, even if the perpetrators are hugely powerful, such as the Chinese authorities, whose efforts to silence almost anyone from speaking out are often draconian and can extend even into UN headquarters. There are many brave people who are ready to withstand the threats of their own governments and provide information to the UN, even when the price for doing so can be horrific. Surely everyone at the world body, starting with its member states, has a moral obligation to show at least a fraction of that courage and speak up in defence of those beleaguered front-line defenders. Such is the nature of the governments that carry out most reprisals that only a firm international response of solidarity can have any chance of halting this ominous trend.

For some of my other posts on reprisals see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

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https://www.ft.com/content/e339fe22-1a66-11ea-81f0-0c253907d3e0

71 countries make first joint statement on reprisals at the Third Committee

November 14, 2019

which followed the GA, reported this unprecedented move: a cross-regional group of countries called on all States and the UN to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for cases of intimidation and reprisals against those who engage or seek to engage with the UN. In this joint statement presented to the Third Committee of the General Assembly in Octber 2019, 71 countries (listed below) highlighted that the UN must ensure that civil society organisations and human rights defenders who wish to engage with the UN are able to do so without fear of reprisal or intimidation. That same week the Assistant Secretary-General in his mandate as the senior official on reprisals held an event to discuss the annual reprisals report of the Secretary General.

This welcome move led by the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the UN is in line with the call made, just last month, in resolution 42/28 at the Human Rights Council for the General Assembly to remain seized of all work in this area. ‘The statement highlighted that beyond the immediate impact on victims, these acts of intimidation and reprisals undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the UN as a whole, including the human rights system,’ said ISHR’s Tess McEvoy.

The integral role played by civil society and human rights defenders in encouraging openness, transparency and dialogue between people and those in power was also acknowledged. While highlighting positive steps that have been taken by the UN, including the Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals and the work done by the Assistant Secretary-General in his mandate as the senior official on reprisals, the 71 countries strongly condemned any act of intimidation and reprisal, whether online or offline, against individuals and groups who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the UN, and expressed alarm about the growing number of cases.

‘While positive responses by some States to cases of reprisals were acknowledged, critically, the statement acknowledged the primary obligation of States to prevent and address reprisals. Moreover, all States were called on to prevent and ensure adequate protection against such acts by raising awareness, investigating and ensuring accountability and effective remedy by both State or non-State actors,’ added McEvoy. The statement also made clear the duty of the UN to address reprisals and called on the UN to strengthen the collective response to reprisals.

While we welcome this statement and the leadership of the United Kingdom as a step towards enhanced dialogue on the issue of reprisals at the General Assembly, more needs to be done to protect the right of everyone to communicate with the UN. We echo previous calls for States to step up efforts to address reprisals, including by referring to  specific cases during future dialogues at the UN. [see also my ‘old’: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/]

The full statement as delivered is available here. The statement was made by the United Kingdom on behalf of Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, the United States, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga74-71-countries-make-first-joint-statement-reprisals-third-committee

Michel Forst in last address to General Assembly pleads to fight reprisals

November 8, 2019

On 18 October 2019 the International Service on Human Rights (ISHR) reported on Special Rapporteur, Michel Forst, last appearnace before the UN General Assembly  making key recommendations to State and non-State actors and called for human rights defenders to be protected, and for authors of attacks and reprisals to be brought before justice.

On 15 October 2019, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst presented his report (A/74/159) to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on the issue of impunity for attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders. This was followed by an interactive dialogue with States. This is the last time Forst will address the Third Committee in the capacity of Special Rapporteur. Forst voiced specific concern about digital attacks against youth and women human rights defenders, and expressed the need to protect them. He also expressed concern at specific attacks on human rights defenders living in isolated environments, as well as those working on sexual and reproductive rights and on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

Impunity is used as a weapon by those who wish to undermine the rule of law and silence those struggling to uphold human rights. I echo Forst’s comment that impunity is a political choice, otherwise how do we explain that around 98 percent of killings of human rights defenders in certain countries remains unpunished?’ asked ISHR’s Tess McEvoy.

The Special Rapporteur – and the United States – highlighted individuals and groups from various countries who are victims of reprisals. These included:

The Special Rapporteur’s report made recommendations to States on ways to effectively combat impunity. These included:

  • Strengthening mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders;
  • Criminalising acts of violence against human rights defenders; and
  • Adopting policies that protect the right to defend human rights whilst also recognising the obstacles that certain groups such as women human rights defenders and those protecting the rights of LGBTI and indigenous persons face.

These recommendations were echoed in a side event organised by ISHR and Amnesty International on 16 October, where women human rights defenders from Yemen and Myanmar provided harrowing accounts of attacks they face in their respective contexts.

Several States voiced their support for the report and the mandate, including Norway who called on all States to support this year’s resolution on Human Rights Defenders currently being negotiated. Notwithstanding the adoption by consensus of a definition of human rights defenders in the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the usual detractors – including Russia and China – sought to delegitimise the work of human rights defenders by questioning whether the term is universally recognised. China went further to suggest that individuals were using the ‘flag of defending human rights’ to violate the law.

Notwithstanding the primary responsibility of States to combat impunity for attacks against defenders, the Special Rapporteur again emphasised his call for non-State actors to protect human rights defenders, and concluded by referencing his 2017 report on Business and Human Rights (A/72/170).

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga-74-states-must-put-end-impunity-reprisals-against-defenders