Posts Tagged ‘reprisals’

Sudan: providing information against sexual violence to the UN equals “leaking state secrets”

April 26, 2022

Mat Nashed in Al-Jazeera of 18 April 2022 reports how Sulima Ishaq’s work against sexual violence is now being used against her.

On March 28, Volker Perthes told the United Nations’ Security Council that Sudanese government forces had raped 16 female protesters since last December’s anti-coup protests. He added that as UN envoy for Sudan, he was working with the Combating Violence Against Women (CVAW) Unit under the Ministry of Social Affairs and civil society to mitigate sexual violence in the country.

The next week, Sulima Ishaq, head of the unit, was interrogated by security services. Her lawyers say she is being investigated for accusations of “leaking state secrets” to the UN envoy under Article 47 of the country’s criminal act.

The information I gave to the [UN] had already been broadcasted on television channels and media outlets,” Ishaq, who is now worried that she’ll go to prison on trumped-up charges, told Al Jazeera over the phone. “But because the information was presented to the Security Council and the [coup forces] are afraid of getting sanctioned, they are [targeting] me now.”

In March, a Khartoum office – belonging to a commission investigating a June 3, 2019 incident in which security forces reportedly murdered at least 120 people to break up a sit-in – was raided by security forces.

According to Emma DiNapoli, a legal officer focusing on Sudan for Redress, a London-based non-profit advocating an end to torture worldwide, activists cooperating with the organisation have recently reported more security officers stalking them outside their homes. In some cases, this has resulted in unlawful arrests.

None of our partners has had arrest warrants issued against them, but I think there is a general sentiment that there is higher surveillance,” DiNapoli told Al Jazeera. “Even if they are not really being surveilled, [the arrests] are having a chilling effect.”

However, experts and rights groups say Ishaq’s case represents an escalation of a broader campaign to intimidate activists and put human rights defenders on high alert.

Kholood Khair, manager of Khartoum-based think-tank Insight Strategy Partners, told Al Jazeera that the coup government is trying to make an example out of Ishaq. The authorities, she said, are particularly irked since Ishaq is a civil servant, which gives her allegations more credibility in the eyes of the international community.

In Sudan, rape victims are traditionally harassed by the public and even punished by the police, so the number of people coming forward to Ishaq was seen as a big deal, Khair explained.

“Sulima was trying to highlight that rape is a weapon of war and a weapon of repression and the number of cases [documented] shows that it is a state tactic … not a case of just individual rapists,” she said.

Mohamed Osman, Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said activists have always feared that they could be targeted for documenting human rights violations against protesters. He cited the recent arrests of journalists, lawyers and doctors who appear to have been targeted for tracking unlawful arrests and killings in the country.

But the targeting of a high-profile person like Ishaq suggests that security forces are even more sensitive to scrutiny following the United States’ decision to impose sanctions on the Central Reserve Police last month, said Osman. The US cited the unit’s excessive force against protesters – including the use of live ammunition – as the reason for the decision.

Ishaq told Al Jazeera that she wished the UN envoy had been more subtle by not mentioning her unit at the Security Council meeting, given the level of repression in Sudan. “I feel that the way [the information] was stated was a little bit insensitive,” she said.

In response, Fadi Al Qadi, the spokesperson for the UN envoy, told Al Jazeera that “the special representative to the secretary-general did not name any individual in the Security Council as a source”.

And now, an atmosphere of fear is slowly enveloping the country, causing dissidents, activists and civil society to beef up personal security and take more precautions to protect themselves and sources from the eye of the authorities.

One of them is Nabil Adeeb, the septuagenarian human rights lawyer heading the investigation into the June 2019 massacre.

After government forces stormed the tribunal’s office, there were fears that evidence could be compromised and that the names of witnesses – who provided testimonies that possibly implicated specific security branches in the massacre – could be exposed.

“Our records are secure and we know that nobody would be able to access them, but we are concerned that if we resume our activities in the same place then we might expose the investigation to unwanted people since the office could be bugged,” he said.

Adeeb  – who is also Ishaq’s lawyer – told Al Jazeera that she is currently being charged for defaming the security forces under Sudan’s cybercrime law, an accusation he believes has little merit.

He is concerned that Ishaq could still face more harassment and graver accusations for simply doing her job from the state, which should naturally be helping her instead. Ishaq too fears that the worst is yet to come.

”I think that I will be scapegoated to kick out Volker [from Sudan],” she said.  “I will then be charged for jeopardising national security for providing [him] with sensitive information.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2022/4/18/sudan-investigates-social-worker-fo-leaking-state-secrets-to-un

Clean energy will not automatically be good for indigenous land defenders

April 7, 2022

Emily Pontecorvo a reporter for GRIST published on 6 April 2022 a piece about a new report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre which states that the renewable energy sector is unprepared for the protection of land rights defenders.

In April of last year, José de Jesús Robledo Cruz and his wife Maria de Jesús Gomez Vega were found dead in the desert in Sonora, Mexico. In July, Fernando Vela, a doctor in Coqueta, Columbia, was shot to death by two men on a motorcycle while he was in his truck. In September, Juan Macababbad, an attorney in the Philippines was shot dead outside his home.

In each case, the victims were prominent human rights defenders, known in particular for defending their communities’ natural resources from mining, deforestation, water contamination, and other threats. These were just three of at least 76 such murders that occured in 2021. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/02/human-rights-high-commissioner-bachelet-urges-support-for-environmental-defenders/]

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre tracks attacks on people who protest or otherwise raise concerns about business-related human rights abuses. It has documented more than 3,800 attacks, including killings, death threats, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detention, and lawsuits, since January 2015, with 615 occurring in 2021 alone.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/ as well as: https://news.mongabay.com/2022/04/more-than-half-of-activists-killed-in-2021-were-land-environment-defenders/]

Our data shows almost the tip of the iceberg,” Christen Dobson, senior program manager for the BHRRC and an author of the new report. “Many attacks are not publicly reported. And so we know the problem is much more severe than these figures indicate.”

According to the report, human rights defenders who spoke out against mining projects consistently experienced the greatest number of attacks over the past seven years. The authors say this is especially concerning considering the expansion of mineral production required by a transition to clean energy. All those batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines are going to require a lot of cobalt, nickel, zinc, lithium, and other minerals.

We’re already seeing this level of attack, and we’re not seeing major producers of transition minerals have strong policies or practices in place about protecting defenders,” said Dobson. “There’s a real risk there and I think it’s an area that we’re very concerned about.

The report urges investors to publish a human rights policy and require that companies begin disclosing human rights and environmental-related risks. But Dobson said that voluntary actions from companies and investors was not enough. She said there was some momentum building behind mandating that companies report on measures they are taking to respect human rights, including legislation proposed in the European Union and Canada.

“It is concerning to see a vast majority of companies and investors, including major renewable energy companies, do not have policies expressing zero-tolerance against reprisals in their operations, supply chains and business relationships,” said Dobson in a statement. “It’s time for companies and investors to recognise the energy transition cannot be effective if it is not also rights-respecting.”

https://grist.org/international/land-defenders-face-violence-and-repression-clean-energy-could-make-it-worse

UN experts urge Bangladesh to end reprisals against human rights defenders

March 17, 2022

On 14 March 2022 a group of UN human rights experts today called on Bangladesh to immediately cease reprisals against human rights defenders and relatives of forcibly disappeared persons for their activism and co-operation with international human rights bodies and UN mechanisms.

Following the announcement of sanctions imposed by the United States of America against top Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officials on 10 December 2021, Bangladeshi authorities have reportedly launched a campaign of threats, intimidation and harassment against relatives of forcibly disappeared persons, human rights defenders, and civil society actors. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/05/12/bangladesh-chains-of-corruption-strangle-nation-asian-human-rights-commission/

In the period between December 2021 and February 2022, the homes of at least 10 relatives of forcibly disappeared individuals were reported to have been raided late at night.

During the raids, relatives were intimidated, threatened and forced to either sign blank sheets of paper or pre-written statements indicating that their family member was not forcibly disappeared and that they had deliberately misled the police. This is unacceptable,” the experts observed.

The experts noted with concern the increasingly challenging situation relatives, human rights defenders and civil society are facing in Bangladesh. Repeated accusations by senior Government officials against some civil society organizations of providing “false information” to the UN mechanisms risk undermining the civil society’s key role.

Bangladesh must ensure that relatives and human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment without fear of threats, intimidation or reprisals of any kind,” the experts stressed. They expressed their concern that the reported reprisals may have a chilling effect and deter others from reporting on issues of public interest, including human rights, and from cooperating with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms.

Since 2009, the RAB has reportedly been involved in the perpetration of the majority of cases of enforced disappearance in the country, as noted in several reports by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.**

“Bangladeshi authorities are obliged under international law to promptly launch ex officio, independent, impartial and thorough investigations into these serious allegations, complemented by a thorough and comprehensive search for disappeared persons. At the same time, the RAB and other security agencies should not be shielded from scrutiny and criminal responsibility.”

The experts also reiterated their request to the Government of Bangladesh to take effective steps to protect and uphold the rights of victims and their families to truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence.

On 17 March HRW stated that the Bangladesh government should meaningfully respond to United Nations concerns regarding grave allegations of torture, enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial killings in the country.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/17/bangladesh-stop-flouting-un-rights-concerns

Draft Resolution on Human Rights Defenders in 49th session of Human Rights Council gets support from civil society

March 4, 2022

On 4 March 2022 Forum Asia published an Open Letter to States on the Draft Resolution on Human Rights Defenders, which has been signed by an impressive number of NGOs:

“At its current session, the UN Human Rights Council will be discussing a draft resolution on human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations.  This is a useful and timely focus providing a means to give effect to a range of recommendations including those contained in the report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in 2020.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/21/guide-to-49th-session-of-human-rights-council-with-human-rights-defenders-focus/]

It is important for the Council to adopt a resolution that reflects the gravity and the reality of the situation defenders face every day and is tailored to addressing the specific protection needs they face. Our organisations call on members of the UN Human Rights Council to ensure that the resolution adopted by the Council clearly:

  • Acknowledges the critical role of human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict situations, including those who report on gross and systematic human rights violations or systematic targeted violations against particular populations and communities as these can serve to provide an early warning of escalating conflict;
  • Acknowledges the precariousness that human rights defenders can experience working in conflict and post-conflict situations due to the disruption to basic supplies and services and increased security risks, all of which compound the risks associated with defending human rights;
  • Recognises the intersectional dimensions of discrimination, violations and abuses against specific groups of human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, people of African descent, children, people belonging to minorities, defenders working on issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, older persons and rural and marginalized communities, and calls on States to pay particular attention to the protection needs of different groups in conflict and post-conflict situations integrating an age and gender responsive approach;
  • Outlines the elements that constitute a safe and enabling environment and restates that States have the obligation to create and safeguard such an environment including in conflict and post-conflict situations;
  • Includes in that overview the need to urgently lift all undue restrictions on the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, peaceful assembly and expression, including restrictive ‘NGO Laws’, foreign agent and foreign funding laws, counter-terrorism laws, ‘fake news’ laws and those specifically targeting women and LGBTQ+ organizations and defenders;
  • Expresses deep concern at the invocation of countering terrorism and extremism as a justification to target, threaten, or limit the activities and access to funding sources of human rights defenders operating in conflict or post-conflict areas, both online and offline;
  • Stresses that the use of digital surveillance tools must be regulated to ensure they are not used for violating human rights, including by targeting human rights defenders or journalists, and that mobile networks and internet access must not be shut down;
  • Calls for the development of protection mechanisms and support for human rights defenders in such contexts in line with the best practice identified by the Special Rapporteur. These should address the fact that, in some cases, state and non-state actors orchestrate ways  to make defenders appear to be supporting hostilities, and that attacks against defenders constitute “collateral damage” during hostilities;
  • Recognises that impunity and failure to protect and provide effective remedy prevails in several conflict and post-conflict situations, including in regard to attacks against human rights defenders, all of which can fuel further conflict;
  • Acknowledges the role of women human rights defenders and women peacebuilders in the prevention, in mediation and the resolution of conflicts, and recognizes the link between their involvement and the effectiveness and long-term sustainability of those efforts;
  • Recognizes that women human rights defenders are targeted for violence and subjected to intimidation and retaliation because of their efforts to ensure women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive health rights and for their demanding accountability for pervasive sexual violence and feminicides;
  • Calls on States to reaffirm the positive, important, and legitimate role played by child human rights defenders for the promotion of human rights in conflict and post-conflict situations, and the role of organisations advocating for the protection of the rights of older persons in these contexts;
  • Calls on States to act on their responsibility to protect against human rights abuses by non-State actors, including businesses, including in times of conflict when oversight of the operations of businesses can be weaker and human rights defenders can stand unprotected as they resist corporate abuse;
  • Calls on States to monitor and report on the implementation of this resolution in a comprehensive and systematic way and share updates on challenges faced and progress made during relevant UN dialogues and debates.

We ask States to actively support the drafting of a resolution that recognizes the essential work of human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations, outlines means to ensure their work is enabled despite the situation of conflict and uncertainty that may prevail, and formulates concrete asks of States, companies and all other actors with the power to protect and promote the right to defend rights. We also call on States to resist efforts that undermine and weaken the resolution.”

Signed,

  • Access Now
  • African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  • Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights
  • Al-Haq – Law in the Service of Man
  • Amnesty International
  • Amnesty International Norway
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  • Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • Center for Reproductive Rights
  • Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
  • Centro de Justicia y Paz – Cepaz
  • Centro para los Defensores y la Justicia (CDJ)
  • CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  • DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  • Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
  • Freedom House
  • FRI – The Norwegian Organisation for Sexual and Gender Diversity
  • Gulf Centre for Human Rights
  • Human Rights House Foundation
  • Human Rights Watch
  • IFEX
  • International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  • International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  • KIOS Foundation
  • Mwatana for Human Rights
  • Norwegian Helsinki Foundation
  • Peace Brigades International
  • Protection International
  • Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
  • Rainforest Foundation Norway
  • Save the Children
  • Sexual Rights Initiative
  • UN Association of Norway
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Guide to 49th session of Human Rights Council – with human rights defenders focus

February 21, 2022

The 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 28 February – 1 April 2022, will consider issues including the protection of human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, protection and promotion of human rights while countering terrorism, the right to food and adequate housing, among others. It will also present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Nicaragua, Venezuela, China, Syria, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Eritrea, among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda. The ISHR has issued again its excellent Guide to the upcoming session and I have extracted from it the issues most directly related to human rights defenders:

Protection of human rights defenders

On 11 March 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur will present her report on the work of human rights defenders to address corruption. At the 49th session of the HRC, Norway will present a thematic resolution on human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict situations. A group of NGOs have produced a list of 25 recommendations related to key concerns that should be addressed in the resolution. These include recommendations related to the removal of legislation that impinges upon the ability of defenders to do their work, including counter-terrorism legislation; the development of protection measures that take into account the specific needs of particular groups of defenders and the precarious nature of their situation in conflict and post-conflict contexts, and specific measures to support human rights defenders in such contexts, including in regard to the provision of cloud-based solutions for storage of documentation, flexible and reliable funding and swift responses in the case of the need for relocation of human rights defenders and their families. ISHR joins these calls and to impress upon the Council the need for a strong commitment to acknowledging and taking action to protect human rights defenders working in such contexts.  In addition, we call on all UN members to monitor and report on their implementation of the resolution in a comprehensive way, sharing updates on challenges faced and progress made during relevant UN dialogues and debates.   

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.

The UN has taken some action towards addressing this critical issue including:

  • an annual report by the Secretary General;
  • a dedicated dialogue under item 5 to take place every September;
  • The appointment of the UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights as the Senior Official on addressing reprisals.

Despite this, ISHR remains deeply concerned about reprisals against civil society actors who try to engage with UN mechanisms, and consistent in its calls for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

During the 48th session, the Council adopted a resolution on reprisals. The text was adopted by consensus for the first time since 2009 and invites the UN Secretary General to submit his annual report on reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly. Once again the resolution listed key trends including that acts of intimidation and reprisals can signal patterns, 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 by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and ensuring accountability for all acts of intimidation or reprisal, both online and offline, by condemning all such acts publicly, providing access to effective remedies for victims, and preventing any recurrence.

Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of 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. The President should also update the Council on actions taken by the President and Bureau to follow up on cases and promote accountability under this item.

Other thematic debates

At this 49th session, the Council will discuss a range of topics in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders. The debates with mandate holders include: 

  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights 
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
  • The Special Rapporteur on torture
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including the Special Rapporteur on minority issues

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on interrelation of human rights and human rights thematic issues including:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism
  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment

Country-specific developments

China: High Commissioner Bachelet has still not released her Office’s report on grave human rights violations in the Uyghur region, six months after announcing its upcoming publication, and three months since her spokesperson indicated it would only be a matter of ‘weeks’. Further delays risk entrenching the Chinese government’s sense of impunity, and will harm the credibility of, and confidence in her Office’s capacity to address grave violations, some of which could amount to atrocity crimes. States should urge the High Commissioner to promptly publish her report, and present it to the Human Rights Council as a matter of utmost priority.  This includes ensuring sustained pressure around China’s abuse of national security in discourse and law, and on the widespread and systematic use of enforced disappearance under ‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location’ (RSDL). See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/05/chinas-residential-surveillance-at-a-designated-location-needs-to-disappear/

Burundi: The Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (CoI) concluded its work at the 48th HRC session in October 2021 while a new resolution establishing a mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi was adopted, resolution 48/16. The resolution tasks the mandate with monitoring the human rights situation in the country, making recommendations for its imp­ro­ve­ment, and re­por­ting to the Human Rights Council. While the Spe­cial Rapporteur will be unable to continue the entirety of the investigative work carried out by the CoI, they will “collect, examine and assess” information on human rights deve­lop­ments. Ahead of HRC48 more than 40 organisations, including ISHR, urged the Council to continue its scrutiny and further work towards justice and accountability in Burundi. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/07/03/germain-rukuki-burundi-human-rights-defender-out-of-jail/

The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) will ensure that evidence col­lec­ted by the CoI is “consolidated, preserved, accessible and usable in support of ongoing and future accountability efforts” including efforts to hold Bu­rundian officials responsible for atrocities in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Burundian government should resume its engagement with the Council and grant the Special Rap­porteur, who will be appointed in March 2022, access to the country for an official visit.

France: Following an urgent call by ISHR and the Comité Adama, UN experts sent two communications to the French government on 15 and 26 November 2021 asking for measures to ensure that human rights defenders, including people of African descent, enjoy a safe environment in which to carry out their legitimate work for human rights and justice. The lack of investigation in the case of Adama Traoré’s death and the judicial harassment against his sister Assa Traoré for her activism is a sign of broader systemic racism against Black people in policing and criminal justice in France. 

ISHR urges the HRC to continue its scrutiny and calls on France to ensure a prompt, transparent, and impartial investigation into the case of Adama Traoré; end the judicial harassment of Assa Traoré for her activism; accept the requests of the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism and the Working Group on People of African Descent to visit the country; end impunity for police violence; and ensure truly free and impartial investigations into the death or injury of anyone at the hands of the police, especially people of African descent.

Egypt: The joint statement delivered by States in March 2021 at the 46th session of the HRC played a critical role in securing the conditional release of several human rights defenders and journalists arbitrarily detained throughout 2021 and 2022. Regrettably, these releases do not reflect any significant change in Egypt’s systematic attacks on civic space and human rights defenders, including arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and criminalisation of the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly or public participation. On 3 February 2022, 175 parliamentarians from across Europe urged the HRC to establish a “long overdue monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt”. ISHR joined more than 100 NGOs from around the world in urging the HRC to create a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the ever-deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. Continued, sustained and coordinated action on Egypt at the HRC is more necessary than ever. The HRC should follow up on the 2021 State joint statement and heed the calls of civil society and parliamentarians. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/01/11/the-arabic-network-for-human-rights-information-has-shut-down/

Nicaragua: A year after Council resolution 46/2, civil society reporting indicates no meaningful action has been taken by Nicaragua to implement any of the Council’s recommendations to the government. Instead, it has deepened its crackdown on human rights defenders and any form of dissent, and further closed civil society space ahead of the November 2021 electoral process. The government’s absolute disregard for cooperation with international and regional mechanisms, including the treaty bodies, is an additional sign that the government does not intend to revert course on the country’s human rights crisis. ISHR, jointly with the Colectivo 18/2, urges the Human Rights Council to establish an independent mechanism to investigate grave human rights violations since April 2018 in Nicaragua, as well as their root causes. The mechanism should verify alleged grave violations, identify perpetrators, and preserve evidence, with a view to long-term accountability processesSee also my post of today: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/21/nicaragua-death-in-detention-and-sham-trial/

Saudi Arabia: According to ALQST’s 2021 annual report, for a short time in early 2021, intense global pressure on Saudi Arabia’s leaders to improve their dismal human rights record resulted in some minor reforms and concessions, yet, when the pressure eased, the Saudi authorities resumed their habitual pattern of abuses with renewed intensity. A number of high-profile women human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience were conditionally released, but they remain under severe restrictions which means that while they are released, they are not yet free. Saudi authorities continue to crackdown on freedom of expression and hand down lengthy prison sentences to human rights defenders. Saudi Arabia is sensitive regarding its reputation and susceptible to international pressure.

Sudan: On 5 November 2021, the Human Rights Council held a special session to address the ongoing situation in the Republic of Sudan and mandated an Expert on human rights in Sudan to monitor and report on the situation until the restoration of its civilian-led Government. The HRC must extend the reporting mandate of the Expert as the human rights situation is deteriorating. The military is closing the civic space for women’s rights groups and women human rights defenders, including by stigmatising women’s rights groups as terrorists or drug abusers. The recent arrests of women human rights defenders are part of a systemic attack against WHRDs in Sudan. The military and security forces are using social media and traditional media to defame women protesters. Women’s rights groups and WHRDs are facing a new wave of attacks that include framing charges to prolong the detention of WHRDs and defame the women’s rights movement. The military reinstated the authorities of the former regime’s security forces in December 2021 in the emergency order number 3. The new emergency order gave Sudanese security complete impunity and protection from accountability for any form of violations on duty.  Sudanese security forces have a well-documented history of sexual abuse and torture of women detainees. WHRDs in detention are at risk of maltreatment, torture, and sexual violence. 

Venezuela is back under the microscope with updates from the Office of the High Commissioner and from the Council’s fact-finding mission on the country both scheduled for 17th March. Attention on the human rights situation in the country follows hot on the heels of the Universal Periodic Review of Venezuela that took place at the end of January.  The Council session is taking place at a time that Venezuelan civil society continues facing restrictions and attacks on their work. The head of human rights organisation, Fundaredes, has now been arbitrarily detained for 224 days. The Council session is an opportunity for States to express concern about the restrictions on civil society, and to enquire about the implementation of prior recommendations made to Venezuela by both OHCHR and the Mission. Despite being a Council member, Venezuela has yet to allow the Council’s own fact-finding mission access to the country, something the Council as a whole should denounce. 

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 7 March. 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 and interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
  • Oral update and interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Tigray region of Ethiopia 
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s written update on Sri Lanka
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on  Nicaragua
  • Interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Afghanistan
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on ensuring accountability and justice in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Oral updates and interactive dialogues with the High Commissioner and fact-finding mission on Venezuela 
  • Oral update bv the High Commissioner and interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the OHCHR’s report on Belarus
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report, enhanced interactive dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report, and interactive dialogue on the Special Rapporteur’s report on Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue on the Special Rapporteur’s report on Iran
  • Interactive Dialogue on the Commission of Inquiry’s report on Syria 
  • Interactive Dialogue on the Special Rapporteur’s report on the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967
  • Interactive Dialogues on the High Commissioner’s report and Commission on Human Rights’ report on South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Ukraine
  • High-level Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Central African Republic
  • Oral updates and enhanced interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner and the team of international experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Oral update by the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia 
  • Interactive Dialogue on the Independent Expert’s report on Mali 
  • Interactive Dialogue on the fact-finding mission’s report on Libya

Appointment of mandate holders

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

  1. Three members of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (one from the Pacific, one from Central and South America and the Caribbean, and one from Central and Eastern Europe, the Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasia); 
  2. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change; 
  3. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan; 
  4. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi; 
  5. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967; 
  6. A member of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, from Western European and other States; 
  7. A member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, from Asia-Pacific States; 
  8. A member of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, from Asia-Pacific States;
  9. A member of the 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, from Latin American and Caribbean States (an unforeseen vacancy that has arisen due to a resignation).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 49th session

At the organisational meeting on 14 February the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Human rights of persons belonging to minorities (Austria, Mexico, Slovenia)
  2. 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) 
  3. Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the obligation to ensure accountability and justice (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC) 
  4. Cultural rights (Cuba)
  5. The negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights (Azerbaijan on behalf of NAM)
  6. Right to work (Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Mexico, Romania)
  7.  Situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran – mandate renewal (Iceland, Moldova, North Macedonia, UK) 
  8. Rights of the child (GRULAC and EU)
  9. Human rights defenders (Norway)
  10. Adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to non-discrimination in this context (Germany, Brazil, Finland, Namibia)
  11. Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic – mandate renewal (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, UK, USA)
  12. Situation of human rights in South Sudan – mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, USA, UK)
  13. Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism – mandate renewal (Mexico)
  14. Prevention of genocide (Armenia)
  15. Situation of human rights in Belarus – mandate renewal (EU)
  16. Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)- mandate renewal (EU) 
  17. Situation of human rights in Myanmar – mandate renewal (EU)
  18. Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  19. Technical assistance and capacity-building for Mali in the field of human rights (Africa Group)
  20. Technical assistance and capacity-building for South Sudan (Africa Group) 
  21. Role of states in countering the negative impact of disinformation on human rights (Ukraine)

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Myanmar, Greece, Suriname, Samoa, Hungary, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Papua New Guinea, Tajikistan, United Republic of Tanzania, Eswatini, Antigua and Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand and Ireland.

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. 7 panel discussions and 1 thematic meeting are scheduled for this upcoming session:

To stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC49 on Twitter, and look out for our Human Rights Council Monitor.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/19/48th-session-of-the-human-rights-council-outcomes/

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc49-key-issues-on-agenda-of-march-2022-session/

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

December 21, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The NGOs:

Amnesty International

Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN),

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC),

Asian Network for Free Elections

Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP)

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation,

Eleos Justice, Monash University, Associate Professor

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

FORUM-ASIA

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

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

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

9 November Webinar on reprisals in the European diaspora

November 5, 2021

On 9 November 2021 at 2pm CET, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) will be co-organizing with MEPs an event in the European Parliament presenting its report on third country reprisals against human rights defenders in Europe. With growing threats from China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan on European soil, UNPO wants greater action taken against their reprisals on minority rights diaspora in Europe. Our report can be found here. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/22/unpo-reprisals-on-the-rise/]

Event information :

Format : Webinar, with Presentation of report and testimonies

Date : Tueday, November 9

Time : 14.00 CET

Stream link : https://youtu.be/_WPgpYCuNrI

Event description :

UNPO has been working hard to expose the difficulties activists for self-determination and minority rights face due to reprisals by state actors. These can range from intimidation and threats to murder. As part of our broad Compromised Spaces campaign we wanted

Schedule and Panelists :

Moderator : Shima Silavi, Program Officer, UNPO

Hosts as MEPs : Jordi Sole MEP, Heidi Hautala MEP, Ignazio Castaldo MEP, David Lega MEP.

14.00 Opening Remarks

14.20-14.40 Presenting the Report : “Compromised Space: Foreign State Reprisals against Unrepresented Diplomats in Europe” Shima Silavi.

14:40 – 14:55 Ahwazi Arab Witness – Iran. Hawra Nissi, Daughter of Ahmad Mola Nissi, an Ahwazi Arab political activist who was shot dead in front of his home in the Hague in 2017

14:50 – 15:10 Uyghur Witness – China, Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress

15:10 – 15:25 Crimean Tatar Witness- Russia. Ayla Bakkalli, Representative of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, Mejlis of Crimean Tatars People – UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

15: 25 – 15:40 Expert – Oxford University Dr. Fiona McConnell, Associate Professor in Human Geography. Fellow and Tutor at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, recipient of the Philip Leverhulme Prize for Geography in 2019.

https://unpo.org/article/22170

Reprisals on the agenda of the UN and the new ISHR campaign to #EndReprisals!

September 30, 2021

On 29 September 2021 took place – in the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council – the Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the Secretary-General on Cooperation with the United Nations, its Representatives and Mechanisms in the Field of Human Rights.

Allegations of reprisals and intimidation were documented against some 240 civil society members, activists and journalists, across 45 countries in the year up to 31 April, simply because they had been cooperating with the United Nations.  

That’s according to data from a new report presented on Wednesday to the Human Rights Council by the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ilze Brands Kehris.  

Many cases were reported anonymously, because of fear of reprisal.  There were also around 50 individuals who experienced detention, while others were subjected to house arrest. 

Despite some push-back, Ms. Brands Kehris said the report “makes clear” that “the scope and severity of cases of intimidation and reprisal persist and in unacceptably high numbers.” 

The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, presenting the report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, drew attention to four key trends that emerged from the report. First, in close to half of the countries mentioned in the report, she said that the United Nations had received allegations of monitoring and surveillance, both online and offline, of individuals and groups who cooperated, or attempted to cooperate, with the United Nations. Numerous cases included hacking of accounts, travel bans and other movement restrictions. Second, the United Nations saw signs of a possible pattern in several countries: China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Viet Nam, as well as India, Israel, Myanmar, Philippines and Venezuela. In the first five, the United Nations had identified serious issues with the detention of victims of reprisals and intimidation.

Third, some cases concerned the use of restrictive legislation that prevented or punished cooperation with the United Nations, notably on grounds of national security, including counter-terrorism measures, or based on laws governing activities of civil society organizations. Fourth, the increasingly challenging, or even at times repressive, environments for victims, human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society actors were indicated by the fact that many were deterred from providing specific details about a case, or declined to draw the United Nations’ attention altogether.

Victims of acts of reprisal and intimidation for cooperation with the United Nations continued to be subjected to serious human rights violations – in particular, arbitrary arrests and detention, but also torture and ill-treatment and, even death in custody, killing and enforced disappearances. In the digital sphere, activists and journalists had been attacked on social media after speaking at United Nations meetings and victims had been targeted for submitting information to or communicating electronically with the United Nations. While the report noted that more women were increasingly cooperating with the United Nations, including by using on-line opportunities, the price of such interactions for some included arrests and detention, harassment and intimidation, as well as stigmatisation and vilification. The United Nations could not tolerate that those who brought critical perspectives to the United Nations were silenced. More and better needed to be done to provide safe and open spaces for interaction, where those who spoke up could be heard, and could do so without fear of any sort of retribution.

Speakers regretted that the number of reprisals remained high and that the cases mentioned reflected solely the tip of the iceberg. They were worried about the continued trend of using justifications of any kind for blocking access to the United Nations as well as measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to stifle civil society space. Concerns were expressed about cases of intimidation and reprisals committed by Human Right Council Members, since they should uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human right, especially against women. Some speakers praised the important and vital role played by civil society in promoting and advancing the global human rights agenda, including through meaningful engagement with the United Nations human rights machinery. They deplored any act of reprisal aiming to restrict or hinder the ability of individuals to access and communicate with international bodies, in particular the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights. Some speakers said that reprisals and intimidation against those who cooperated with the United Nations were an attack against the very essence and proper functioning of the United Nations system itself. They condemned any form of intimidation, harassment and reprisals, both offline and online, and called on all States to respect and protect persons cooperating with the United Nations system.

Some speakers stressed the importance of having a constructive and meaningful dialogue on any alleged cases of reprisal and called upon all to pay special attention to fulfil their responsibilities in providing credible and reliable information that should be thoroughly checked and corroborated in order to avoid reaching any false conclusions. They believed it was the mutual responsibility and duty of all stakeholders to collaborate together in order to preserve the efficiency and credibility of the United Nations human rights machinery. One speaker regretted the unfounded mentions contained in the report presented by the Assistant Secretary-General on alleged cases of reprisals. They invited the Assistant Secretary-General to address with objectivity, transparency and impartiality alleged reprisals, which could not be taken a priori as true, as they were not.

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) which is following this topic most keenly says: People who defend human rights must be able to access and communicate with the UN freely & safely. It started a campaign to Call on States at the UN to #EndReprisals!

Help us to #EndReprisals at the UN

Human rights defenders work to make a fairer, more sustainable and just world by promoting and protecting human rights. In considering human rights situations around the world, the UN system is profoundly dependent on the information and testimonies provided by human rights defenders who document situations, abuses and violations. They are essential voices from our communities that need to be part of the conversations at the United Nations.

This important role is a key reason why some States seek to systematically prevent defenders from engaging with UN bodies and mechanisms, and to reprimand and punish those who do engage. They do so through repressive tactics that range from administrative hurdles and travel restrictions to intimidation, imprisonment and killings. 

This is not right. Everyone has the right to access and safely communicate with the UN.

Human rights defenders must be able to share crucial information and perspectives with the UN, safely and unhindered.

Do you agree ? Then send a tweet to States at the UN and ask them to support a resolution to #EndReprisals.

Click to tweet!

We want human rights defenders to have a ‘seat at the UN table’ and be able to effectively and safely engage with UN human rights mechanisms and bodies. We want States and non-State actors to refrain from intimidating or carrying out reprisals against defenders when they engage or seek to engage with the UN. When intimidation and reprisals do occur, we want  the UN to effectively address these cases, support the victims and push for accountability and redress. 

How do we achieve this? 

The countries on the Human Rights Council have the opportunity to take a clear stand on reprisals and intimidation against those who engage with the UN.  During the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, between the 17 September and 4 October 2021, States will negotiate a resolution that aims to strengthen the response by the UN and States to intimidation and reprisals. The resolution invites the UN Secretary General to submit his annual report on reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly.  Until now, the report has only been presented to the Human Rights Council. The General Assembly is the main policy-making forum of the UN and all 193 States are represented there. Reprisals and intimidation related to cooperating with the UN is a serious system-wide issue and having it discussed at the General Assembly amongst all Member States is crucial to effectively preventing and addressing it. We are calling on States, through meetings, letters and on social media to support the resolution and resist any efforts to undermine and weaken it.

States must take a clear and public position at the UN against intimidation and reprisals and hold their peers to account. Every year the UN Secretary-General publishes a report on incidents of reprisals and intimidation. That report will be discussed at the Human Rights Council on 29 September 2021. We therefore also call on governments States to take a stand during the discussion, publicly condemn reprisals and intimidation against those who engage with the UN, and raise specific cases of victims. 

What you can do? 

Together we can make sure a strong resolution on reprisals is adopted and push for everyone at the UN to take this issue seriously. This is a crucial step to #EndReprisals. Click on the image below before 4 October to send a tweet to States on the Human Rights Council who have not been supportive of this issue in the past and call on them to support the resolution. 

Click to tweet!

If you prefer to write or engage directly with States representatives, here you can find an advocacy kit with a draft email, as well as their addresses and twitter contacts

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/high-commissioner-human-rights-council-has-given-disturbing-diagnosis-human-rights

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1101722

https://ishr.ch/action/campaigns/endreprisals/

Human Rights Defenders issues in the 48th session of he UN Human Rights Council

September 13, 2021

The International Service for Human Rights (HRC) published again it – as usual – very useful Guide to the next (48th) Session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 13 September to 8 October 2021. Here is an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda directly affecting human rights defenders. Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC48 on Twitter, and look out for their Human Rights Council Monitor and during the session. [for last year’s, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/key-issues-affecting-hrds-in-47th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-june-2021/

Thematic areas of interest

Reprisals

On 29 September, the Assistant Secretary General Ilze Brands Kehris for Human Rights 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 continue to call for all States and the Council to do more to address the situation. 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, Egypt, Burundi, Lao and China,  

During the 48th session, Ghana, Fiji, Hungary, Ireland and Uruguay will present a draft resolution on cooperation with the UN. The draft resolution aims to strengthen the responses by the UN and States to put an end to acts of intimidation and reprisals. ISHR urges all delegations to support the adoption of the draft resolution and resist any efforts to undermine and weaken it.

ISHR recently launched a study analysing 709 reprisals cases and situations documented by the UN Secretary-General between 2010 and 2020. The study examines trends and patterns in the kinds of cases documented by the UNSG, how these cases have been followed up on over time, and whether reprisal victims consider the UN’s response effective. Among other things, the study found that nearly half the countries serving on the Council have been cited for perpetrating reprisals. The study found that public advocacy and statements by high level actors condemning reprisals can be one of the most effective tools to prevent and promote accountability for reprisals, particularly when public pressure is sustained over time. The study also found that, overall, the HRC Presidency appears to have been conspicuously inactive on intimidation and reprisals, despite the overall growing numbers of cases that are reported by the UNSG – including in relation to retaliation against individuals or groups in connection with their engagement with the HRC – and despite the Presidency’s legal obligation to address such violations. The study found that the HRC Presidency took publicly reported action in only 6 percent of cases or situations where individuals or organisations had engaged with the HRC. Not only is this a particularly poor record in its own right, it also compares badly with other UN actors. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/06/un-action-on-reprisals-towards-greater-impact/]

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence with States involved, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Environmental Justice

It’s high time the Council responds at this session to the repeated calls by diverse States and civil society to recognize the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and establish a new mandate for a Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. ISHR joins a broad civil society coalition in calling on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group of the resolution on human rights and environment (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland) as they work towards UN recognition of the right to environment so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, can live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment. Furthermore, ISHR also joins a broad civil society coalition in calling on States to establish a new Special Rapporteur on climate change at this session. This new mandate is essential to strengthen a human rights-based approach to climate change, engage in country visits, undertake normative work and capacity-building, and further address the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. [see also the recent Global witness report: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

Other thematic reports

At this 48th session, the Council will discuss a range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and issues through dedicated debates, including interactive dialogues with the:

  1. Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation
  2. Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights 
  3. Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  4. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences 
  5. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  6. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  7. Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes 
  8. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance

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

  1. High Commissioner on the current state of play of the mainstreaming of the human rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations
  2. Special Rapporteur  on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  3. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent 

Country-specific developments

Afghanistan

ISHR has joined 50 civil society organisations to urge UN Member States to ensure the adoption of a robust resolution to establish a Fact-Finding Mission or similar independent investigative mechanism on Afghanistan as a matter of priority at the upcoming 48th regular session of the HRC.  We expressed profound regret at the failure of the recent HRC special session on Afghanistan to deliver a credible response to the escalating human rights crisis gripping the country, falling short of the consistent calls of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures and civil society organisations, and does not live up to the mandate of the HRC to effectively address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations. The Council must establish a Fact-Finding Mission, or similar independent investigative mechanism, with a gender-responsive and multi-year mandate and resources to monitor and regularly report on, and to collect evidence of, human rights violations and abuses committed across the country by all parties. 

China 

It has now been three years since High Commissioner Bachelet announced concerns about the treatment of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims – including mass arbitrary detention, surveillance and discrimination – in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. During the intervening three years, further substantial and incontrovertible evidence has been presented indicating crimes against humanity in the region. ISHR joins a 300+ strong coalition of global civil society that continues to call for accountability for these and other violations, including in Tibet and Hong Kong, by the Chinese authorities. At this session, ISHR highlights that arbitrary detention is – as has been noted by the Special Procedures – a systemic issue in China. Chinese authorities are long overdue in taking any meaningful action in response to the experts’ concerns, such as ceasing the abuse of ‘residential surveillance in a designated location’, or RSDL. ISHR reiterates its calls from the 46th and 47th sessions for a clearly articulated plan from OHCHR to ensure public monitoring and reporting of the situation, in line with their mandate and with full engagement of civil society, regardless of the outcome of long-stalled negotiations for High Commissioner access to the country. This would be a critical first step for future, more concrete actions that would respond to demands of victims, their families and communities, and others defending human rights in the People’s Republic of China. 

Burundi

We request the Council to continue its scrutiny and pursue its work towards justice and accountability in Burundi. The Council should adopt a resolution that acknowledges that despite some improvements over the past year, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way, as all the structural issues identified by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (CoI) and other human rights actors have identified since 2015 remain in place. The Council should adopt an approach that focuses on continued independent documentation on the situation of human rights in Burundi which should be carried out by the CoI, or a similarly independent mechanism or team of experts, who are solely focused on Burundi. The Council’s approach should also ensure that there is follow up to the work and recommendations of the CoI, in particular, on justice and accountability. See joint letter released ahead of the UN Human Rights Council’s 48th session.

Egypt

Despite Egypt’s assurances during the UPR Working Group in 2019 that reprisals are unacceptable, since 2017, Egypt has been consistently cited in the UN Secretary General’s annual reprisals reports. The Assistant Secretary-General raised the patterns of intimidation and reprisal in the country in the 2020 reprisals report, as well as UN Special Procedures documenting violations including detention, torture and ill-treatment of defenders. In her latest communication to the Government, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders highlighted the arbitrary detention of 12 defenders, including three targeted for their engagement with the UN: Mohamed Al-Baqer, human rights lawyer and Director of the Adalah Centre for Rights and Freedoms, arbitrarily detained since 29 September 2019; Ibrahim Metwally, coordinator for the Association of the Families of the Disappeared in Egypt, arbitrarily detained since 10 September 2017; and Ramy Kamel, Copitic rights activist, arbitrarily detained since 23 November 2019. Both States and the HRC Presidency should publicly follow up on these cases. Furthermore, in light of Egypt’s failure to address concerns expressed by States, the High Commissioner and Special Procedures, ISHR reiterates our joint call with over 100 NGOs on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt and will continue to do so until there is meaningful and sustained improvement in the country’s human rights situation. 

Nicaragua

The human rights crisis in Nicaragua has steadily deteriorated since May 2021. Given the reported lack of implementation of resolution 46/2 and the absence of meaningful engagement with the UN and regional mechanisms by the Government, stepping up collective pressure has become vital. We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Costa Rica on behalf of a cross-regional group of 59 States on 21 June 2021. This is a positive first step in escalating multilateral pressure. Further collective action should build on this initiative and seek to demonstrate global, cross-regional concern for the human rights situation in the country. In her oral update, the High Commissioner stressed ‘as set out in [the Council’s] latest resolution, I call on this Council to urgently consider all measures within its power to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua. This includes accountability for the serious violations committed since April 2018.’ We call on all States to support a joint statement at the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, urging the Government to implement priority recommendations with a view to revert course on the ongoing human rights crisis, and indicating clear intention to escalate action should the Nicaraguan Government not take meaningful action.

Saudi Arabia

While many of the WHRDs mentioned in previous joint statements at the Council have been released from detention, severe restrictions have been imposed including travel bans, or making public statements of any kind. Most of the defenders have no social media presence. Furthermore, COVID-19 restrictions and the G20 Summit in November 2020 coincided with a slow down in prosecutions of those expressing peaceful opinions and a decline in the use of the death penalty. However, throughout 2021 the pace of violations has resumed. This has included fresh new waves of arrests of bloggers and ordinary citizens, often followed by periods of enforced disappearance, lengthy prison terms issued against human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience, and abuse in prison, including deliberate medical neglect. In addition, despite announcing the halt of the death penalty against minors, the Saudi government recently executed someone who may have been 17 at the time of the alleged offense, and the number of executions in 2021 is already more than double the total figure for 2020. Saudi Arabia has refused to address the repeated calls by UN Special Procedures and over 40 States at the Council in March 2019, September 2019 and September 2020, further demonstrating its lack of political will to genuinely improve the human rights situation and to engage constructively with the Council. ISHR reiterates its call on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Venezuela 

With the environment becoming all the more hostile for civil society organisations in Venezuela, the Council will once again focus attention on the human rights situation in the country at the upcoming session. On 24 September, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission will provide its second report to the Council building on its findings of likely crimes against humanity committed in the country. ISHR looks forward to making an oral statement during the dialogue with the Mission. In addition, the High Commissioner will provide an oral update on the situation in the country and the work of her office in-country, on 13 September. The Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures will present her report following her in-person visit to the country in February 2021. Finally, it’s expected that the report of the Secretary General on reprisals will include cases related to Venezuela. During all these opportunities to engage, States should remind Venezuela of the need to implement UN recommendations; engage with UN human rights mechanisms, including the Mission; and organise visits for Special Rapporteurs already identified for prioritisation by OHCHR. 

Yemen

ISHR joined over 60 civil society organisations to use the upcoming session of the HRC to establish an international criminally-focused investigation body for Yemen, and simultaneously ensure the continuity of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE) through an ongoing or multi-year mandate. In their last report, “A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land”, the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE) underscored Yemen’s “acute accountability gap”, concluding that the international community “can and should” do more to “help bridge” this gap in Yemen. They recommended that the international community take measures to support criminal accountability for those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and egregious human rights abuses. In particular, they supported the “establishment of a criminally focused investigation body” (similar to the mechanisms established for Syria and Myanmar) and “stressed the need to realize victims’ rights to an effective remedy (including reparations)”.  Such a mechanism would facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings, in accordance with international law standards, and lay the groundwork for effective redress, including reparations for victims. 

Other country situations:

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 13 September 2021. The Council will consider updates, reports 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 on the High Commissioner’s written update on Myanmar, including of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, an interactive dialogue on the report of on the Independent Investigative Mechanism, and an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur 
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner and enhanced interactive dialogue on the Tigray region of Ethiopia
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and oral update by OHCHR on the extent of civilian casualties
  • Oral update by OHCHR and interactive dialogue on Belarus
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the progress made in the implementation of the Council’s 30th Special Session resolution on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel, and presentation of the High Commissiner’s report on allocation of water resources in Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Ukraine 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the final report of the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner on South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia and presentation of the Secretary-General’s report 
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Fact-finding mission on Libya
  • Presentation of the High Commissioner’s report on cooperation with Georgia 
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the Philippines

#HRC48 | Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 48th session held on 30 August the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes six panel discussions. States also announced at least 20 proposed resolutions. Read here the 87 reports presented this session. 

Appointment of mandate holders

  1. The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights
  2. a member of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises from Latin American and Caribbean States; 
  3. a member of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, also from Latin American and Caribbean States (an unforeseen vacancy that has arisen due to the resignation of a current member).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 48th session

At the organisational meeting on 30 August the following resolutions inter alia were announced (States or groups leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Human rights situation in Burundi (EU)
  2. Human rights and environment (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland) 
  3. Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights  (Fiji, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, Uruguay) 
  4. Human rights situation in Yemen (Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands) 
  5. Elimination of child, early and forced marriage (Argentina, Canada  Italy, Honduras, Montenegro, Poland, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay, Zambia, Netherlands) 
  6. Technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (African Group) 
  7. Technical assistance and capacity-building to improve human rights in Libya (African Group)
  8. From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (African Group)
  9. Human rights and indigenous peoples (Mexico, Guatemala)
  10. Human rights situation in Syria (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, UK, USA)
  11. Advisory services and technical assistance for Cambodia – mandate renewal (Japan) 
  12. Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights (Thailand, Brazil, Honduras, Indonesia, Morocco, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Turkey)
  13. Technical assistance and capacity building to Yemen (Arab Group)
  14. Equal participation in political and public affairs (Czech Republic, Botswana, indonesia, Peru, Netherlands)
  15. Right of privacy in the digital age (Germany, Brazil, Liechtenstein, Austria, Mexico) 
  16. The question of the death penalty (Belgium, Benin, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, Mongolia, Moldova, Switzerland) 

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Myanmar, Namibia, the Niger, Mozambique, Estonia, Belgium, Paraguay, Denmark, Somalia, Palau, Solomon Islands, Seychelles, Latvia, Singapore and Sierra Leone.

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. Six panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Biennial panel discussion on the issue of unilateral coercive measures and human rights
  2. Annual discussion on the integration of a gender perspective throughout the work of the Human Rights Council and that of its mechanisms
  3. Annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples on the theme “Situation of human rights of indigenous peoples facing the COVID-19 pandemic, with a special focus on the right to participation” (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  4. Half-day panel discussion on deepening inequalities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and their implications for the realization of human rights (accessible to persons with disabilities)
  5. High-level panel discussion on the theme “The tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training: good practices, challenges and the way forward” (accessible to persons with disabilities
  6. Panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, with a particular focus on achievements and contemporary challenges (accessible to persons with disabilities)

Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2021.

https://ishr.ch/

Key issues affecting HRDs in 47th session of UN Human Rights Council (June 2021)

June 22, 2021

The 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council will take place from 21 June to 15 July 2021. The ISHR has again issued its very helpful overview of key issues and below is an extract of those affecting human rights defenders most directly. For a wrap-up of the previous session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/29/wrap-up-46th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-with-key-resolutions-on-belarus-and-myanmar-and-more/

Modalities of participation in HRC47

According to the Bureau minutes of 2 and 4 June 2021, the extraordinary modalities for the 47th session should be similar to the modalities applied during the 46th session.

Thematic areas of interest:

Sexual orientation and gender identity

The Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will present his report, followed by an interactive dialogue on 24 June. The report seeks to document how particular narratives on gender are being used to fuel violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In the report, the Expert examines how the incorporation of comprehensive gender theory enables more accurate and appropriate consideration of dynamics of negation and stigma, and the key role of law, public policy and access to justice in promoting either continuity of injustice or social change.

The report highlights the mandate’s position in relation to current narratives and constructions through which the application of gender frameworks, especially its promise for gender equality across diverse persons, is challenged; and build on gender concepts and feminist analysis to further substantiate the mandate’s understanding of root causes and dynamics of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This report will be presented in the context of high levels of violence against trans and gender nonconforming people and those defending their rights. Beyond this, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted trans and gender nonconforming people and those defending their rights worldwide, especially those most marginalised.

Systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests in the United States and globally

The High Commissioner will present the comprehensive report of Resolution 43/1 to the Council on 12 July followed by an interactive dialogue. ISHR previously joined 171 families of victims of police violence in the United States and over 270 civil society organisations from more than 40 countries in calling on the Council to establish an independent commission of inquiry into police killings of Black men and women, as well as violent law enforcement responses to protests in the United States….

The Council should ensure the establishment of robust international accountability mechanisms which would further support and complement, not undermine, efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States and globally, especially in the context of police violence against Black people.

Business and human rights

June 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of the unanimous endorsement by the Council of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The Guiding Principles have become one of the key frameworks for private business to carry out their responsibility to respect human rights, for States to discharge their obligations under international law in relation to business activities, and for civil society and human rights defenders to utilise the UNGPs to demand structural changes in the way companies operate internationally. Human rights need to be an essential element of how businesses design their operations. After 10 years, we have the chance to look back and into the future with a critical eye. In that regard, a ‘Roadmap for the Next Decade’ will be presented by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights this month. ISHR continues to work with the UN, civil society and progressive companies to protect and promote the work of human rights defenders.

In tandem with its annual report, the UN Working Group will also present in June a long-awaited guidance document on business and human rights defenders based on the UNGPs. The ‘United Nations Guidance on the role of the Guiding Principles for engaging with, safeguarding and ensuring respect for the rights of human rights defenders’ was supported and informed by ISHR and partners, and builds on the experiences gathered through the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, an initiative ISHR co-founded with the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. This document will become a key instrument for civil society, businesses and States in ensuring that human rights defenders are protected and recognised as essential actors in maintaining rule of law and a functioning shared civic space. 

The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises will present its reports, followed by an interactive dialogue, on 29 June. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/30/business-and-human-rights-updated-list-of-companies-supporting-hrds/]

Reprisals

On this topic see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/06/un-action-on-reprisals-towards-greater-impact/

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.

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.

During the organisational meeting held on 7 June, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals.

ISHR recently launched a study analysing 709 reprisals cases and situations documented by the UN Secretary-General between 2010 and 2020 and looked at trends and patterns in the kinds of cases documented by the UNSG, how these cases have been followed up on over time, and whether reprisal victims consider the UN’s response effective. Among other things, the study found that nearly half the countries serving on the Council have been cited for perpetrating reprisals. The study also found that the HRC Presidency appears to have been conspicuously inactive on intimidation and reprisals, despite the overall growing numbers of cases that are reported by the UNSG – including on individuals’ or groups’ engagement with the HRC – and despite the Presidency’s legal obligation to address such violations. The study found that the HRC Presidency took publicly reported action in only 6 percent of cases or situations where individuals or organisations had engaged with the HRC. Not only is this a particularly poor record in its own right, it also compares badly with other UN actors.

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Other thematic reports

At this 47th session, the Council will have dedicated debates with the mandate holders and the High Commissioner, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The High Commissioner on State response to pandemics 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to housing
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health 
  • The Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to education 
  • The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights 
  • 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 
  • The Working Group on arbitrary detention on its study on drug policies
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy 

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

  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons 
  • The Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide 
  • The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls 
  • The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences 
  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
  • The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers 
  • The Special Rapporetur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members 

Country-specific developments

China 

One year after the UN Special Procedures issued a sweeping statement  calling for the international community to take ‘decisive action’ on the human rights situation in China, much more remains to be done. Calls are growing for more clear and timely reporting from the UN, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office, on the repressive policies and practices targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. At the same time, worrying news continues about violations of cultural rights of Tibetans, while Hong Kong’s democratic institutions – and its people – have suffered a series of blows from legislative, policy and legal decision targeting pro-democracy leaders. For the first time since 1989, peaceful public demonstrations to commemorate the massacre on Tiananmen Square were prohibited. 

Against this context, ISHR urges States to speak out firmly against the lack of accountability for the Chinese government in light of substantial evidence of violations, including crimes against humanity. In so doing, it is essential to recognise the systemic and structural nature of these violations: to highlight the dire situation for Uyghurs, Tibetans and other minority groups; pro-democracy civil society leaders, lawyers and legislators in Hong Kong; and human rights defenders like lawyer and Martin Ennals Award winner Yu Wensheng [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/69fc7057-b583-40c3-b6fa-b8603531248e] and anti-discrimination activists like the Changsha 3. No matter its position or influence, China must be held to the same high standards as any other Council member. See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/18/chinas-continuing-crackdown-on-human-rights-lawyers-shocking-say-un-experts/

Egypt

At the 46th session of the Council, over 30 States led by Finland urged Egypt to end its repression of human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers under the guise of countering-terrorism. The joint State statement ended years of a lack of collective action at the Council on Egypt, despite the sharply deteriorating human rights situation in the country. Egypt must answers these calls, starting by releasing the thousands arbitrarily detained, protecting those in custody from torture and other ill-treatment, and ending the crackdown on peaceful activists. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has previously concluded that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt and the Committee against Torture has concluded that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt. To date, Egypt has failed to address all the concerns expressed by States, the High Commissioner and Special Procedures, despite repeated calls on the government, including most recently by over 60 NGOs. ISHR joined over 100 NGOs from across the world in urging the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt and will continue to do so until there is meaningful and sustained improvement in the country’s human rights situation.

Saudi Arabia

This session will mark two years since the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions presented to the Council the investigation into the unlawful death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and yet no meaningful steps towards accountability have been taken by the Saudi authorities. The Special Rapporteur called on Saudi Arabia to “demonstrate non-repetition by: releasing all individuals imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their opinion and belief; independently investigating all allegations of torture and lethal use of force in formal and informal places of detention; and independently investigating all allegations of enforced disappearances and making public the whereabouts of individuals disappeared”. To date, Saudi Arabia has refused to address these key concerns, which were also raised by over 40 States at the Council in March 2019, September 2019 and September 2020, further demonstrating its lack of political will to genuinely improve the human rights situation and to engage constructively with the Council. The sentencing and subsequent release of several women’s rights activists highlights the importance of the Council’s scrutiny which must be sustained in order to secure meaningful, concrete, and systematic gains. We recall that the Special Rapporteur also called on Member States to support resolutions that seek to ensure or strengthen accountability for the execution of Khashoggi. ISHR reiterates its call on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Colombia  

After more than a month of strikes and street protests in Colombia, which have seen protestors killed at the hands of law enforcement officers and civilians, and human rights defenders covering the events threatened and attacked, the Council session provides States with the opportunity to take action. States must call on Colombia to respect the human rights of its people – including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly – and address the underlying causes of the protests, including violations of economic, social and cultural rights, inequality and racial discrimination. This situation of violence and non-compliance with all standards of the use of force has had a particular impact on the Afro-descendant population. Specific calls from Colombian civil society include for OHCHR to investigate and report on the protests in the country including gather statistical data on the facts that threaten the human rights of Afro-Colombian people; for the High Commissioner to visit Colombia when possible; and for Colombia to open its doors to a range of Special Rapporteurs to allow for ongoing monitoring and reporting. The High Commissioner, who has made a statement on the situation in the country, will present her annual report at the start of the session and it is hoped and expected that Colombia will feature as a country of concern. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/colombia-21-january-2020-civil-society-begins-a-much-needed-patriotic-march/]

Nicaragua 

Last March, the Council renewed its resolution on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, which strengthened the High Commissioner’s office monitoring and reporting mandate, by including an interim oral update with recommendations in the context of upcoming national elections. Despite the resolution’s clear calls on the Government to repeal recently adopted laws that harshly restrict civic space, stop targeting human rights defenders and journalists, and urgently implement reforms to ensure free and credible elections, the Nicaraguan authorities have acted in the opposite direction. While UN experts ‘deplore spate of attacks and arrests of human rights defenders’, the OHCHR publicly expressed their deep concern that ‘Nicaragua’s chances of holding free and genuine elections on 7 November are diminishing as a result of measures taken by authorities against political parties, candidates and independent journalists, which further restrict the civic and democratic space’. As the High Commissioner will present her oral update on Nicaragua on 22 June, States should call on Nicaragua to urgently reverse course and implement the recommendations from resolution 46/2, in particular to guarantee the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of information, expression, association and assembly, and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs; and to swiftly put an end to the harassment (including the judicial harassment) and detention of journalists and ex-members of the Violeta Chamorro Foundation and Confidencial media outlet. 

Venezuela

Venezuela will be back on the Council’s agenda with OHCHR providing an update on the situation of human rights in the country, including in regard to UN recommendations (5 July).  Recent positive developments in the country, including the nomination to the National Electoral Council of individuals supported by a broad swathe of civil society, are offset by continuing human rights and humanitarian crises. The UN’s recommendations to Venezuela are numerous, wide-ranging and largely ignored. States must use opportunities at the Council to press home the importance of those recommendations being heeded. ISHR looks forward to making a statement during the dialogue, focusing in on levels of implementation of recommendations. Given that reprisals against Venezuelan defenders have been common over recent years – with cases cited in eight of the Secretary General’s reports on cooperation with the UN since 2010 – it is essential that States speak out in support of civil society engagement and that the UN define a preventative strategy to ensure defenders’ protection. 

Burundi

On 30 June 2020, the Supreme Court of Burundi set aside the ruling by the Appeals Court to uphold the 32-year sentence in Rukuki’s case and ordered a second appeal hearing, citing violations to his right to a fair trial. This second appeal hearing took place 8 months later on 24 March 2021 in Ngozi prison, where he is currently detained. According to the Burundian Code of Criminal Procedure, following the hearing the Court has 30 days to return a verdict on the case, but this verdict is still pending nearly 60 days later. This delay clearly demonstrates a lack of due process in the case of the internationally recognised human rights defender and political prisoner. In an open letter, a group of civil society organisations denounced the dysfunctioning of judicial proceedings in the country. After confirming the 32 years sentence of defender Germain Rukuki, Burundi continues its crackdown against civil society. Germain Rukuki has now spent nearly 4 years in prison. He has already waited an additional 30 days for this final verdict to be announced without any legal reason; he should not have to wait any longer. In addition to ensuring the continued work of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, members of the Council need to call on Burundi to demonstrate their commitment to respect the independence of the judiciary and comply fully with the fair trial obligations of Burundi under international law and announce the verdict in this case without any further delay.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/]

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 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 Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the human rights situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar and Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Myanmar 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Ukraine  and interim report of the Secretary-General on human rights in Crimea 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 47th session held on 7 June the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes seven panel discussions. States also announced at least 22 proposed resolutions. Read here the reports presented this session. 

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

  1. The Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; 
  2. The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy;
  3. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; 
  4. Two members of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (one from Asia-Pacific States and one from Eastern European States); 
  5. A member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, from Western European and other States; 
  6. The Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights 

As of 8 June, however, the recommended candidates list was only available for four of the above positions, due to challenges among the Consultative Group, the five individuals appointed from each UN region to interview and shortlist candidates. It is critical that the process overcome such delays, so as to avoid any protection gaps arising from a failure to appoint a new mandate holder.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 47th session

The following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Menstrual hygiene, human rights and gender equality (Africa Group)
  2. Elimination of harmful practices (Africa Group)
  3. Cooperation with and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights (Ukraine) 
  4. Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar (OIC) 
  5. The protection of human rights in the context of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) (Brazil, Colombia, Mozambique, Portugal, Thailand)
  6. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, on missing persons and enforced disappearances (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America)
  7. The human rights situation in Belarus, mandate renewal (EU)
  8. The human rights situation in Eritrea, mandate renewal (EU) 
  9. Negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights ( Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, Poland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  10. Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights (Azerbaijan on behalf of NAM)
  11. New and emerging digital technologies and human rights (Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Morocco, Republic of Korea, Singapore)
  12. Human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  13. Impact of arms transfers on human rights (Ecuador, Peru)
  14. Civil society space (Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone, Tunisia)
  15. Realizing the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl (UAE, UK)
  16. Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity (Colombia, New Zealand, Estonia) 
  17. The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet (Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, United States of America)
  18. Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women (Canada)
  19. Right to education (Portugal)

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Federated States of Micronesia, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Australia, Saint Lucia, Nepal, Oman, Austria, Myanmar, Rwanda, Georgia, Sao Tome and Principe and Nauru.

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. 

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. Seven panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. High-level panel discussion on the multisectoral prevention of and response to female genital mutilation
  2. Panel discussion on the tenth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  3. Panel discussion on the human rights of older persons in the context of climate change [accessible panel]
  4. Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women, one on violence against women and girls with disabilities, and another on gender-equal socioeconomic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic
  5. Quadrennial panel discussion on promoting human rights through sport and the Olympic ideal [accessible panel]. Theme: The potential of leveraging sport and the Olympic ideal for promoting human rights for young people
  6. ​Annual thematic panel discussion on technical cooperation and capacity-building. Theme: Technical cooperation to advance the right to education and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all

Read here the three year programme of work of the Council with supplementary information.

Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2021.

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC47 on Twitter, and look out for the Human Rights Council Monitor.

During the session, follow the live-updated programme of work on Sched

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc47-key-issues-agenda-june-2021-session

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/myanmar-debate-dominates-human-rights-council-opening-session

https://observatoryihr.org/news/47th-session-of-the-human-rights-council-opens-on-the-longest-day/