Posts Tagged ‘reprisals’

HRD issues on agenda of 46th Session of the council

February 22, 2021

Although I have decided to focus this blog mostly on human rights defenders and their awards, I will make an exception for the regular sessions of the UN Human Rights Council of which the 46th session has started on 22 February and which will last until to 23 March 2021. This post is based on the as always excellent general overview published by the International Service for Human rights: “HRC46 | Key issues on agenda of March 2021 session”. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda which affect HRDs directly:

Modalities for NGOs this year: According to the Bureau minutes of 4 February 2021: “Concerning the participation of NGOs in the 46th session, the President clarified that under the proposed extraordinary modalities, NGOs in consultative status with the ECOSOC would be invited to submit pre-recorded video statements for a maximum of three general debates in addition to the interactive dialogues, panel discussions and UPR adoptions as they had been able to do during the 45th session. In addition, “the Bureau agreed that events organised virtually by NGOs in consultative status with the ECOSOC could be listed on the HRC Extranet for information purposes.”

Human Rights implications of COVID-19

The pandemic – and States’ response to it – has presented various new challenges and threats for those defending human rights. The pandemic has exposed and deepened existing discrimination, violence and other violations. Governments have used COVID as a pretext for further restricting fundamental rights, including through the enactment of legislation, and specific groups of defenders – including WHRDs and LGBTI rights defenders – have lost their livelihoods, access to health services have reduced and they have been excluded from participating in pandemic responses. Action to address the pandemic must be comprehensive and systemic, it must apply a feminist, human rights-based, and intersectional lens, centred on non-discrimination, participation and empowerment of vulnerable communities. Last March ISHR joined a coalition of 187 organisations to draw the Council’s attention to the situation of LGBTI persons and defenders in the context of the pandemic.

#HRC46| Thematic areas of interest

Protection of human rights defenders

On March 3rd and 4th, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on her annual report “Final warning: death threats and killings of human rights defenders”, and the country visit report of her predecessor to Peru.

Reprisals

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisals 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. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/

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

  • Establishing a dedicated dialogue under item 5 to take place every September;
  • Affirmation by the Council of the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation; and
  • Appointment of the UN Assistant Secretary General on Human Rights as the Senior Official on addressing reprisals.

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.

During its 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 8 February, 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.

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 insist 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 46th session, the Council will discuss a range of economic, social and cultural rights in depth through dedicated debates with mandate holders, and consider the annual report of the Secretary-General on the question of the realization in all countries of economic, social and cultural rights. The debates with mandate holders include:

  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, annual report on COVID-19, culture and culture rights and country visit to Tuvalu 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, annual report on twenty years on the right to adequate housing: taking stock – moving ahead and country visit to New Zealand 

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

  • The Special Rapporteur on torture, annual report and country visit to Maldives
  • The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, annual report on combating anti-Muslim hatred
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, annual report on artificial intelligence and privacy, and children’s privacy, and country visit reports to the United Kingdom, France, Germany, United States of America, Argentina, and Republic of Korea.  

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

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

  • The Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, annual report on human rights and the global water crisis: water pollution, water scarcity and water-related disasters 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, annual report on human rights impact of counter-terrorism and countering (violent) extremism policies and practices on the rights of women, girls and the family

Country-specific developments

China 

A pile of evidence continues to mount, including the assessment from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, about policies of the Chinese government targeting ethnic and religious minorities, including Uyghurs, Tibetans and Mongolians. The rule of law is being further eroded in Hong Kong, as deeply-respected principles of due process and pluralistic democracy are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Human rights defenders and ordinary citizens confront ongoing crackdowns on civic freedoms, pervasive censorship and lightning-fast recourse to administrative sanction, enforced disappearance and trumped-up national security charges to silence critics.  – In the face of this, inaction has become indefensible.

The UN Special Procedures issued a sweeping statement in June 2020, calling for the international community to take ‘decisive action’ on the human rights situation in the country. At the March session, ISHR urges States to convey at the highest level the incompatibility of China’s actions domestically with its obligations as a new Council member, and to continue to press for transparency, actionable reporting and monitoring of the situation. Statements throughout the Council are key moments to show solidarity with individual defenders – by name – , their families, and communities struggling to survive. And finally, States should take every opportunity to support efforts by China that meaningfully seek to advance human rights – while resolutely refuting, at all stages of the process, initiatives that seek to distort principles of human rights and universality; upend the Council’s impressive work to hold States up to scrutiny; and weaken the effectiveness and impact of the Council for victims of violations and human rights defenders. Furthermore, other Council members should step up their commitments to the body’s mandate and purpose, and reject efforts by China and its partners and proxies. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/china/

Egypt

The Egyptian authorities continue to systematically carry out patterns of reprisals against human rights defenders for their legitimate work, including for engagement with UN Special Procedures. These have included arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearance, torture, unlawful surveillance, threats and summons for questioning by security agencies. The government’s refusal to address key concerns raised by States in its response to the UPR in March 2020 demonstrated its lack of political will to address its deep challenges 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 Egypt. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/egypt/

Saudi Arabia

In 2020, the Council continued its scrutiny over the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Yet, the Saudi government has failed the litmus test to immediately and unconditionally release the women’s rights activists and human rights defenders, instead they continued to prosecute and harshly sentence them for their peaceful activism. On 10 February 2021, it was reported that WHRDs Loujain Al-Hathloul, and Nouf Abdulaziz have been released conditionally from prison after spending over two and a half years in detention solely for advocating for women’s rights, including the right to drive and the dismantling of the male guardianship system. ALQST reported that WHRDs Nassima al-Sadah and Samar Badawi remain in detention and that “in a worrying development, the Public Prosecution has appealed the initial sentence issued on 25 November 2020 by the Criminal Court against al-Sadah of five years and eight months in prison, half of it suspended, seemingly with the aim of securing an even harsher sentence”. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/1a6d84c0-b494-11ea-b00d-9db077762c6c

The government’s refusal to address this key concern raised in the three joint statements demonstrates 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.

Nicaragua 

On 24 February, the Council will hold an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Nicaragua. Despite the renewal of Resolution 43/2, the human rights situation in Nicaragua has steadily deteriorated over the last months. Civil society space has sharply shrank, due to new restrictive laws on foreign agents and counter-terrorism, while attacks against journalists and human rights defenders -the last remaining independent human rights observers – continue. The lack of an independent judiciary or NHRI further deprives victims of the possibility to seek justice and redress. Whilst the repression deepens, State inaction in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and the passage of hurricanes have also exacerbated the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights. In light of upcoming elections in Nicaragua, ISHR urges the Council to renew and strengthen its resolution on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, laying down a clear benchmark of key steps the State should take to demonstrate its willingness to cooperate in good faith, while clearly signaling the intention to move towards international investigation and accountability should such cooperation steps not be met within the year. States should also increase support to targeted defenders and CSOs by raising in their statements the cases of student Kevin Solís, Aníbal Toruño and Radio Darío journalists, trans activist Celia Cruz, as well as the CENIDH and seven other CSOs subject to cancellation of their legal status.

Venezuela

Venezuela will come under the spotlight several times with oral updates from OHCHR on the situation of human rights in the country (25 February, 11 March) and an update from the international fact-finding mission on Venezuela (10 March). OHCHR is mandated to report on the implementation of the recommendations made to Venezuela, including in reports (here and here) presented last June.  The fact-finding mission has started work on its renewed and strengthened 2-year mandate, despite delays in the disbursement of funds and is due to outline its plans to the Council. Intensifying threats and attacks on civil society in Venezuela since November 2020, provide a bleak context to these discussions. States should engage actively in dialogue on Venezuela, urging that recommendations be implemented – including facilitating visits from Special Rapporteurs; that the fact-finding mission be granted access to the country and that civil society be promoted and safeguarded in its essential work.

Burundi

On 2 February 2021, the Supreme Court of Burundi announced its decision allegedly adopted on 23 June 2020 to sentence 12 defenders to life in prison. The date of the adoption of this decision was announced after the Court decided to defer it further to 30 June 2020 and again after that. The Court never assigned or informed the 12 concerned of the proceedings. This case was investigated and judged in the absence of all those concerned and the sentence only made public seven months after the alleged proceedings took place. Among the victims of this arbitrary procedure are renown lawyers such as Me Armel Niyongere, Vital Nshimirimana and Dieudonné Bashirahishize, who are being targeted for their engagement in the defense of victims of the 2015 repression in Burundi and for filing complaints for victims to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.  A group of civil society organisations denounced the dysfunctioning and lack of independence of judicial proceedings in the country. After confirming the 32 years sentence of defender Germain Rukuki, Burundi continues its crackdown against civil society. In addition to ensuring the continued work of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, members of the Council need to call on Burundi to uphold its international obligations and stop reprisals against defenders for engaging with any international mechanisms. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/ The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi on 10 March.

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 25 February. 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
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka
  • Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Belarus
  • Oral update and interactive dialogue with the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen
  • Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on ensuring accountability and justice in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine
  • Oral updates and enhanced interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai
  • High-level Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali 

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 46th session held on 8 February, the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes seven panel discussions. States also announced at least 28 proposed resolutions. Read here the reports presented this session

Appointment of mandate holders

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

  1. Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (member from Africa) 
  2. Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (member from North America)
  3. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 
  4. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia
  5. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (member from African States)
  6. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (member from Asia-Pacific States).

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 46th session

At the organisational meeting on 8 February the following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  • Promotion of the enjoyment of the cultural rights of everyone and respect for cultural diversity (Cuba)
  • Human rights and the environment, mandate renewal  (Costa Rica, Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia, Switzerland)
  • Prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Denmark)
  • Question of the realization in all countries of economic, social and cultural rights (Portugal)
  • Guarantee of the right to the health through equitable and universal access to vaccines in response to pandemics and other health emergencies (Ecuador)
  • Negative impacts of unilateral coercive measures (Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement-NAM)
  • Human rights, democracy and the rule of law (Morocco, Norway, Peru, Romania, Republic of Korea, Tunisia)
  • Freedom of religion or belief (EU)
  • Situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, mandate renewal (EU)
  • Situation of human rights in Myanmar, mandate renewal (EU)
  • Combating intolerance based on religion or belief (OIC)
  • Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (OIC)
  • Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination (OIC)
  • Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (OIC)
  • Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan (OIC)
  • Technical assistance and capacity-building for Mali in the field of human rights (African Group)
  • Persons with albinism (African Group)
  • Impact of non-repatriation of funds of illicit origin to countries of origin (African Group)
  •  The situation of human rights in Iran, mandate renewal (Moldova, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Iceland)
  • The right to privacy in the digital age, mandate renewal (Austria, Brazil, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico)
  • The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, mandate renewal (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  • Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka (Canada, Germany, Montenegro, North Macedonia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) 
  • Situation of human rights in South Sudan, mandate renewal (Albania, Norway, UK) 
  • Read the calendar here.

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Belarus, Liberia, Malawi, Panama, Mongolia, Maldives, Andorra, Honduras, Bulgaria, the Marshall Islands, the United States of America, Croatia, Libya and Jamaica. ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. It publishes and submits 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. Panel discussions scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. Annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming. Theme: The state of play in the fight against racism and discrimination 20 years after the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action and the exacerbating effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on these efforts
  2. Biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty. Theme: Human rights violations related to the use of the death penalty, in particular with respect to whether the use of the death penalty has a deterrent effect on crime rate
  3. Meeting on the role of poverty alleviation in promoting and protecting human rights
  4. Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child [two accessible panels]. Theme: Rights of the child and the Sustainable Development Goals
  5. Annual interactive debate on the rights of persons with disabilities [accessible panel]. Theme: Participation in sport under article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  6. Debate on the midterm review of the International Decade for People of African Descent. (Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination)

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.

To stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC46 on Twitter, and look out for the Human Rights Council Monitor. During the session, follow the live-updated programme of work on Sched

To compare: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/06/hrc45-key-issues-for-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc46-key-issues-agenda-march-2021-session

A human rights defender’s story: Alicia Wallace from the Bahamas

February 17, 2021

On 15 January 2021 The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) published a long interview with Alicia Wallace, a human rights defender from the Bahamas. Here it is in full:

“I remember to be hopeful, not because it feels good or because I am waiting for something to happen on its own, but because I believe in my own power and the magic we create when queer people, Black people, women come together to channel our rage, righteous and raw, into sustained action.”

The year is 2050. What does the world look like – in particular for women, Black people, LGBTI people?

We are making strides toward equality and we are centered in all decision-making processes. We are protected and respected. It is a norm for us to be in positions of leadership. Diversity is expected. We are as safe at night as anyone is during the day. We have access to education, healthcare, food, and housing. All of our needs are met. Redistribution of wealth is in progress. Our survival is not dependent on or propping up the capitalist system. We are defining justice for ourselves. We recognise ourselves as the source of our own healing.

How did your work help achieve the vision you just described?

My work provoked conversation. It made information, from academic theory to changemaking methodologies, accessible to everyone. I created spaces where people have been comfortable to question, critique, challenge, learn, share, and create. I developed tools for all of us to be able to think outside of the reality we used to know. We knew we were not bound to it because I put significant emphasis on imagination and future-making. I found a way to fight the injustice we faced and facilitate collaborative visioning, imagining, and creating. We channeled our rage, weaponised hope (inspired by the work of artist Angelika Wallace-Whitfield), and we came together to co-create the futures. I helped to create tools and systems to enable that practice.

Was there a defining moment in your life that motivated you to defend human rights?

I am a queer Black woman. I have student loan debt. I am unwaged. I am a survivor of violence. My life is a collection of moments that make it necessary for me to defend and promote human rights if I am to survive and leave the world better than I met it. Perhaps what prompts me to action is recognition of another important fact—I have privilege. I have had experiences I may never speak of, and I know that my circumstances could be a lot worse. It is important for me to use what I have to help us all get what we ought to have had a long time ago. For me, the defining moment happens over and over again, when I feel rage threatens to control my body, and I remember to be hopeful, not because it feels good or because I am waiting for something to happen on its own, but because I believe in my own power and the magic we create when queer people, Black people, women come together to turn channel our rage, righteous and raw, into sustained action.

Do you face any threats and attacks because of your work? 

I’ve been experiencing rape and death threats for the past six years. Most of it has been online. The most troubling threats come following participation in direct action or agitation from people in positions of influence. In 2018, when I participated in the 71st session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva, a radio personality made dangerous statements about me on the air. The same person incited the first threats of violence against me in 2014, so I knew I needed to take it seriously. I made a report to the CEDAW focal point on reprisals, but the outcome was not favorable. A government representative called me to suggest I report the incident to the police, but did not offer support in doing so and could not cite an offense, according to Bahamian law, that I would be reporting. It was a ridiculous suggestion that gave me no help. The government, of course, reported its “action” to the UN, even claiming that I said I no longer felt unsafe. I told the focal point that this was untrue and that, at the very least, the government should have been instructed to publicly state its support for human rights defenders, enact hate speech and hate crime legislation, and direct the radio personality to cease and desist all reference to me and any other human rights defenders. It would have cost the UN nothing to support me and other human rights defenders by making these recommendations to the government. Instead, I am left to fend for myself in a place where I continue to live and work without protection, legal or otherwise.

On this see what was stated by Andrew Gilmour in December 2019: “The Bahamas responded to the allegations of intimidation and reprisals against woman human rights defender Alicia Wallace after she engaged with the Committee on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She and her colleagues were subjected to hate speech by a well-known radio personality, the effect of which was to create an unsafe environment for Ms. Wallace and other women human rights defenders. The Bahamas affirmed its commitment to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can engage freely with the UN. The delegation told the Council that authorities proactively provided assistance to Ms. Wallace to guarantee her safety.”[from: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/23/andrew-gilmours-2019-report-on-reprisals-it-gets-worse-but-response-remains-mostly-rhetoric/]

What could be done for you to be able to work safely and effectively?

Institutions and people in positions of power need to rebuke violence, harassment, and threats of violence. The State needs to enact legislation against hate crimes and hate speech. It needs to publicly state its support of human rights defenders, make it clear that the relationship between itself and advocates is complementary, not adversarial, and assert that it will protect us. The United Nations and other bodies in control of international mechanisms and reporting processes need to take responsibility for the safety and security of the human rights defenders it depends on to monitor and evaluate State action. These organisations need to raise the bar, calling States to higher standards. They have to make it clear to States and the general public that the safety and security of human rights defenders are a matter of priority before we are detained, disappeared, or murdered.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your work? 

It has, as predicted, increased the volume of work. People, especially vulnerable people, are suffering. The pandemic has created crisis after crisis, from domestic violence and unpaid care work to unemployment and disruption of education. In anticipation of the effects of COVID-19 and State actions in response to it, Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR)—where I am a steering committee member—produced guidelines for feminist policymaking during this time. This is one of the most critical pieces of work I have contributed to this year. In addition, I have been engaged in rapid response, working on policy recommendations to end gender-based violence, and continuing the regular programming of Equality Bahamas. It has been a busy year, but one of learning and where I have been able to see and strengthen my own agility. Human rights defenders have to be able to anticipate, prepare, respond, pivot, assess, and revise at all times, and especially during the crisis. The work has intensified and been taxing, but I believe that we have learned more this year than we have in years gone by, people are more aware of inequalities, and in addition to getting more people on our team, we can get institutions to make substantive change.

You are the producer of a monthly newsletter called The Culture RUSH. How does fusing pop culture with social justice help achieve your vision?

I want people to understand the movement for justice and equality. I want to see a broader understanding of feminism, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ people’s rights, and the importance of  centering vulnerable people in decision-making processes, programmes, and activities. We need more people on our team. That requires two main actions: communicating in clear, accessible ways, and meeting them where they are in order to deliver the message. Academic text, feminist theory, and the language of institutions and advocacy are not as appealing or accessible as pop culture. People know what’s going on in Cardi B’s marriage, Megan Thee Stallion’s friend group, and the lives of real housewives. If WAP gets us talking about women’s pleasure, let’s talk about  women in rap, lyrics, and music videos. In The Culture RUSH, I make connections between pop culture and social justice. In January 2021, I am starting Scorch, a paid subscription newsletter breaking feminist theory and academic text down into digestible bites (similar to Blinkist). I’m excited about making human rights and social justice accessible and interesting to wider audiences. When people are interested, they’re more likely to get invested, and when they’re invested, we can convince them to take action with us. People power is how we win.

Thank you, Alicia! 


Alicia A. Wallace is a queer Black feminist, gender expert, and research consultant. She is the Director of Equality Bahamas which promotes women’s and LGBTQ+ rights as human rights through public education, community programming, and advocacy. Her work has included a two-year educational campaign ahead of a national referendum on gender and citizenship, the design and coordination of  Women’s Wednesdays—a month event series bringing women together to share knowledge and ideas—and management of a disaster relief donation and distribution center. Alicia is also a steering committee member of Feminist Alliance for Rights (FAR). She has a weekly column on social and political issues in the Bahamian daily newspaper The Tribune and has published academic papers. 

Photo credits in order of appearance: Blair J. Meadows, Equality and Justice Alliance, Equality Bahamas

http://ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defenders-story-alicia-wallace-bahamas

75 countries join statement on reprisals at the Third Committee but more needed

November 30, 2020

As reprisals is one of the main topics on this blog [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/] readers will forgive me to report a bit belatedly on the GA Third Committee statement which the Service for Human Rights, quite timely, on 19 October 2020, brought to our attention:

For the second year in a row, a cross-regional group of countries called on all States and the UN to prevent, respond to, and ensure accountability for cases of intimidation and reprisals against those who engage or seek to engage with the UN.

In a joint statement presented to the Third Committee of the General Assembly today, 75 countries (listed below) acknowledged the crucial role civil society and human rights defenders play in the work of the UN and condemned acts of intimidation and reprisal against them. This represents an increase compared to the 71 countries that joined a similar statement last year

This welcome move led by the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the UN is in line with the call made last September in resolution 42/28 at the Human Rights Council for the General Assembly to remain seized of all work in this area. 

The joint statement welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN and shared his concerns on the growing number and patterns of reprisals globally; the disproportionate impact on certain groups, including women human rights defenders and peacebuilders; and the continued attacks on journalists and media workers. 

30 years ago, the Commission on Human Rights first expressed concern about reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN and searching for a solution requested the Secretary-General to report on the issue. Yet we find ourselves three decades later grasping for anything resembling progress. This year’s report is appalling as ever’, said ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair.

The joint statement highlighted the need for more frequent reporting on reprisals, including in New York, to increase awareness and accountability. ‘At this point the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals is only considered once a year by the Human Rights Council. We are disturbed by the high number of countries cited (45 in 2020), the vast majority of which have been cited before. The increase in the number of countries cited for a pattern of intimidation and reprisals is equally alarming. For countries like Bahrain, Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Israel, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Venezuela, and for the overwhelming majority of victims cited in 30 years of reporting whose cases remain unresolved, it seems a report delivered once a year is not enough’, added Sinclair.  

‘While we welcome this statement and the leadership of the United Kingdom as a step towards enhanced dialogue on the issue of reprisals at the General Assembly, more needs to be done to protect the right of everyone to communicate with the UN. We echo previous calls for States to step up efforts to address reprisals, including by referring to  specific cases during future dialogues at the UN’, added Sinclair. 

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

New States joining this year include: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Honduras, Nauru, Palau, Paraguay; States who joined last year but not this year include: Samoa and Turkey.

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, m.sinclair@ishr.ch

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga75-75-countries-join-statement-reprisals-third-committee

In reprisal for talking to diplomats Egypt arrests human rights defender Mohamed Basheern

November 18, 2020

On 16 November 2020, Amnesty International denounces the arbitrary arrest of Mohamed Basheer, the Administrative Manager at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), over bogus charges.

By arresting Mohamed Basheer, a member of staff at one of Egypt’s most prominent independent human rights organizations, the Egyptian authorities have yet again shown their intolerance of any scrutiny of their abysmal human rights record, sending a chilling message to the embattled human rights community in Egypt that they remain at risk.” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.

Amnesty International strongly condemns Basheer’s arrest and detention and believes he is being targeted solely for his organization’s legitimate human rights work, including for meeting with Western diplomats. Members of the international community, and especially the states whose representatives were part of that visit, must now show that they won’t accept this reprisal and urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Basheer, drop all charges against him, and end the persecution of Egyptian civil society and human rights defenders. ” 

EIPR is an independent human rights organization whose work covers a variety of political, civil, economic and social rights in Egypt. According to Gasser Abdel-Razek, the Executive Director of EIPR, plainclothes security forces raided Basheer’s home in the early hours of 15 November. They took him to a National Security Agency building, where they detained him for more than 12 hours and questioned him without a lawyer present about the visit on 3 November by Western ambassadors and diplomats to the EIPR’s office. He was then taken to the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP), where a lawyer who attended his questioning by prosecutors there, said the questions had focused on EIPR’s publications and legal assistance to victims of human rights violations.

Mohamed Basheer was added to Case No. 855/2020 Supreme State Security, which involves investigations over unfounded terrorism-related charges against prominent detained human rights defenders and journalists, including Mahienour el-Masry, Mohamed el-Baqer, Solafa Magdy and Esraa Abdelfattah. Amnesty International has extensively documented how the SSSP use prolonged pre-trial detention over unfounded terrorism related charges to imprison opponents, critics and human rights defenders for months and years without trial. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/09/un-expresses-deep-concern-over-egypt-using-special-terror-courts-to-silence-human-rights-defenders/]

EIPR researcher Patrick George Zaki remains detained pending investigations by the SSSP over unfounded “terrorism”-related charges since his arrest in February 2020. 

See also: https://www.egyptindependent.com/egypt-rebuffs-frances-concerns-over-arrest-of-egyptian-activist-mohamed-bashir/

And on 18 November the authorities arrested another staff member of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Karim Ennarah, director of criminal justice initiatives Mada Masr reported [https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/11/egypt-arrest-rights-group-karim-ennarah.html]


Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/11/egypt-arrest-rights-group-karim-ennarah.html#ixzz6eHaFxm3G

and https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/11/egypt-arrest-human-rights-condemn-eu-un.html

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/11/egypt-authorities-arrest-staff-member-of-prominent-rights-group-in-reprisal-for-a-meeting-with-diplomats/

Mary Lawlor’s first report to the Third Committee of General Assembly

November 16, 2020

On 20 October 2020 (sorry for the delay) the ISHR reported on the new Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor, presenting her first report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/].

The Special Rapporteur appealed to States to help stop the killing of human rights defenders, which she identified as the mandate’s core priority. Defenders, she said, are ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make all of our lives better‘ and shared her hope that all would work together to find ways to protect them. 

The Special Rapporteur’s report outlined how she intends to approach and develop the subject of her mandate in the coming years. Her priorities include: those defenders most exposed to killings and other violent attacks, with attention paid to the most marginalised and vulnerable, among them women defenders, those defending the rights of LGBTI persons, defenders who are children, defenders with disabilities, defenders working on the rights of migrants, the climate crisis, defenders working in isolated and remote areas, defenders serving long terms in prison, reprisals against defenders who cooperate with the UN, the issue of impunity for those who attack defenders, the role of businesses and financial institutions in both harming and protecting the work of defenders, and strengthening follow-up to individual cases brought to her attention. 

As the Third Committee continues to grapple with the difficulties of moving its work online, the dialogue was plagued by a number of IT issues, including not being webcast for the first 35 minutes, and several statements remained muted in the archived video made available later. 

A large number of States took the floor to welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report and echo her concerns and priorities. Many of the States that spoke touched on the need to address the worrying deterioration of civic space brought on by the COVID 19 pandemic. The UK delivered a joint statement on reprisals on behalf of 75 States, following up on its initiative last year when it delivered the first ever such statement.

The US raised a number of individual cases and country situations: Nasrin Sotoudeh in Iran; China’s systematic persecution and imprisonment of human rights defenders, including those from Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, naming Ilham Tohti and Joshua Wong in particular; in Zimbabwe, opposition leader Job Sikhala, parliamentarian Joana Mamombe and activists Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova. China used its time to question the notion of a human rights defender arguing there is no accepted definition of the term and that defenders are not ‘above the law’. China also accused the US of suppressing civil society during the pandemic. 

In her concluding remarks, the Special Rapporteur touched on the need for the UN’s human rights work to be properly funded and for States to cooperate fully with Special Procedures through standing invitations and positive responses to requests for visits. She emphasised her desire to cooperate with States, to have an open dialogue, and cited recent talks with Bahrain, Burundi and Iran in that regard. She indicated she hoped these talks would result in releases of defenders soon. The Special Rapporteur also emphasised that her approach would include specifically highlighting positive changes in each of her reports.  

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga75-un-expert-urges-protection-defenders-ordinary-people-doing-extraordinary-things?fbclid=IwAR1j9EqgUZ4RKAcMH7nWp7AIAZUL3HqrAq_k8M9epUtlF_ECrNAaLCrbrJ0

New Assistant Secretary General wants to improve civil society participation in the General Assembly

November 16, 2020

In her first interaction with the Third Committee of the General Assembly, Ilze Brands Kehris, the new Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York,  emphasised the importance of  civil society participation as well as preventing reprisals and attacks against human rights defenders who engage with the UN.

On 5 November 2020 the ISHR reported on her participation in an interactive dialogue with the Third Committee of the General Assembly on 2 November. In light of what the EU called a ‘disconcerting trend’ of increasing reprisals, attacks and killings of human rights defenders, it welcomed the Secretary General’s Report on Reprisals (A/HRC/45/36) as well as the UN’s commitment to a system wide strategy to protect civil society space. The EU also condemned the practice by some States in the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs of blocking accreditation for NGOs without justification. Furthermore, the EU asked the ASG how civil society participation in key UN meetings could be improved, including the Third Committee. 

In her responses, the ASG reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to enhance civil society participation at all levels including in New York at the Third Committee, and encouraged discussions on this. She emphasised that furthering the inclusion of civil society participation is a specific priority in the Secretary General’s “Call to action for Human Rights” and that the UN has followed this with endorsement at a UN-wide level with a particular focus on the 3 ‘Ps’ – Protection, Promotion and Participation of civil society. She indicated that there was a plan to implement this focus with specific guidance in the future. 

In response to a question by Latvia on challenges that her office faces, the ASG emphasised the challenges surrounding the looming budgetary discussions. While reiterating that human rights is one of the three key pillars, the ASG lamented that only 3.7% of the overall budget is devoted to human rights. She urged support for human rights in the budget  so that the crucial functions could continue to be performed.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/unga75-assistant-secretary-general-encourages-discussions-improving-civil-society-participation

https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/profiles/ilze-brands-kehris

Loujain al-Hathloul and her health singled out by CEDAW

November 6, 2020

On 5 November 2020 the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern at the deteriorating health condition of detained Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul.

Al-Hathloul, 31, has been on a hunger strike since Oct. 26 against Al-Hair prison authorities. The prison approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Riyadh is Saudi Arabia’s largest detention center. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/23/saudi-arabia-uses-women-to-spruce-up-its-image-2-efforts/]

The committee is seriously concerned by recent information concerning the conditions of Ms. Al-Hathloul’s prolonged detention, including reports that she is not allowed regular contact with her family,” read the statement.

Her case was singled out in a call by the CEDAW to release all detained women human rights defenders ahead of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day to be observed on Nov. 29.

Al-Hathloul was involved in promoting women’s rights in her country, including campaigns to allow women to drive and end male guardianship laws. She met the CEDAW in Feb. 2018 to speak on the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

On May 15, 2018, she was arrested on the pretext of national security, which allows arbitrary arrest and detention. “In February 2020, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia assured the committee that Ms. Al-Hathloul’s trial would take place in March 2020. However, it has been postponed several times since then,” said the CEDAW.

The committee said it “is alarmed” by the recent information concerning Al-Hathloul’s prolonged detention conditions, which have prompted her to start a hunger strike.

Unlike other detainees, and contrary to UN Rules 26 and 42 that stipulates the treatment of women prisoners and non-custodial measures for women offenders, Ms. Al-Hathloul is neither allowed to have regular contact with her family nor to exercise activities, according to reports received,” CEDAW said.

Human rights defenders are entitled to “free and unhindered access” to communication without “fear or retribution”, CEDAW recalled. The Committee called these women “key partners in the dissemination, implementation and follow up of its recommendations”, and expressed concern over the situation of those facing reprisals in many parts of the world. MW 

In the meantime Lewis Hamilton has been urged to speak out against Saudi Arabia’s “appalling” human rights record after it was announced that the country will stage its first Formula One race in 2021.

Exactly because 13 women’s rights defenders are currently on trial in Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International thinks that the sports washing efforts of Saudi Arabia should be countered. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/15/dakar-rally-sports-washing-par-excellence/]

Ahead of the last race in Italy, six-time world champion Hamilton wore a T-shirt with the message: “Women’s rights are human rights.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/latest-on-coronavirus-outbreak/un-group-concerned-at-saudi-rights-activists-health/2033523#

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/11/1076942

https://www.romseyadvertiser.co.uk/sport/national_sport/18850770.lewis-hamilton-urged-take-stand-formula-one-heads-saudi-arabia/

HRC45: key issues for human rights defenders

September 6, 2020

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

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

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

Modalities for civil society participation in HRC45

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

Thematic areas of interest

Reprisals

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

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

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

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

Other thematic issues

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

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

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

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

Country-specific developments

China (Hong Kong and Uyghur regions)

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

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

USA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saudi Arabia

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

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

Venezuela

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

Philippines

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

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

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

Burundi

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

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

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

Egypt

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

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

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

Other country situations

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

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

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

Appointment of mandate holders

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

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

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

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

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

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

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

Panel discussions

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

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

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

 

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

August 31, 2020

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

Photo: FlickR / Looking4poetry

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

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

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

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

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

Links: 

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

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

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

 

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

August 6, 2020

Human Rights Activist, Adama K. Dempster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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