Posts Tagged ‘sovereignty’

General Assembly’s 3rd Committee concludes 2018 session

December 4, 2018

The General Assembly‘s human rights committee – the Third Committee – has concluded its seven week session by adopting 57 resolutions, several of which focus on critical human rights challenges and reassert the importance of fundamental freedoms.  The ISHR – as usual – provides an excellent account of key highlights and outlines how these texts will finally be signed off on by the General Assembly Plenary.

This has been an intense session, where sovereignty has been much cited in clashes between States; where divergences in traditional State groupings have been exposed, and important statements and resolutions have been passed reaffirming fundamental freedoms,‘ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. [ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/05/third-committee-of-un-general-assembly-2018-will-consider-human-rights-issues/]

Several key resolution negotiations and outcomes are outlined below.  This is not the end of the road for these resolutions, however.  Costs of any activities and staffing included in these resolutions will now be considered by the General Assembly’s finance committee – the Fifth Committee –  before all resolutions are finally signed off by the General Assembly Plenary in the third week of December.  States have the opportunity to change their mind on resolutions ahead of final decision-making by the Plenary.  

Thematic Resolutions

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association –  Introduced by the US as a one off, this Third Committee resolution is essentially an ‘omnibus’ text, drawing on language agreed in relevant General Assembly and Human Rights resolutions – including those related to  human rights defenders and the safety of journalists.  The new resolution speaks of the need to protect journalists and media workers, including when covering demonstrations, both online and offline.  It condemns violations and abuses against peaceful protestors on the basis of their political opinion or affiliation.  The resolution does not specifically reference the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association – a given in most such thematic resolutions. This, in the context of the US’ withdrawal from the Human Rights Council – the body that creates such rapporteurships.  

During negotiations, the US withstood pressure to include a greater number of references to sovereignty and the importance of national laws, amongst other suggestions.  A vote was called on the draft resolution by China, Russia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Iran, Belarus, Nicaragua and Syria.  The text received strong cross-regional support however, with a final tally of 140 in favour, 0 against and 38 abstentions.  ISHR calls on States that voted against the resolution on freedom of peaceful assembly and association or abstained, to give this key resolution its support at the GA Plenary stage.  Whilst the negotiation process during the Third Committee session could have allowed for greater input from interested parties, the final resolution is strong, and the thematic focus is an important one, in particular in an era of undue restrictions on the exercise and defence of the freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

Extrajudicial and arbitrary executions –  A listing of those most vulnerable to extrajudicial and arbitrary execution in this resolution, became the focus of heated exchanges between States.  This year, divisions between members of a State grouping resulted in a fracturing of the group position.  The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) introduced an amendment to delete the listing. When Albania – an OIC member – made clear the amendment was not being presented in their name and, therefore, there was no group position, other States were able to break rank.  This included Tunisia, Lebanon and Turkey.  The amendment was defeated by a vote of 86 -50 with 25 abstentions.

ISHR’s Tess McEvoy welcomed the defence of the inclusion of the listing, which references people targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and human rights defenders.  ‘By listing those most targeted by extrajudicial executions, you increase attention on the need for their protection,’ said McEvoy. ‘You also hope that impunity – all too common in regard to attacks against particular groups – is effectively challenged.”  A vote was then called on the overall text, to the dismay of lead negotiator Finland.  ‘This resolution is about the right to life,’ said the Finnish Ambassador.  The resolution was adopted, with the listing of those most vulnerable to extrajudicial executions included, 111-0 with 66 abstentions…

..Protecting children from bullying –  Bullying ‘includes a gender dimension’ and is ‘associated with gender-based violence and stereotyping’,  concluded the Third Committee through this consensus text.  The resolution includes strong language on the need to protect all children from and includes agreed language of the most recent CSW on the family.

Violence against women and girls –  With a focus on the experience of women human rights defenders, States are called on to prevent violations and abuses against all women defenders with specific condemnation of gender-based violence, harassment and threats (both online and offline).  US amendments related to the references to sexual and reproductive health and sexual education were defeated on the basis that these would change agreed language. The US ultimately disassociated itself with those paragraphs.

Child, early and forced marriage – Last-minute amendments to include sovereignty language into a resolution focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights, introduced by the US, were voted down.  

……

Country-specific resolutions

Myanmar –  Key decisions by the Human Rights Council are echoed by the Third Committee in their resolution, including in regard to the establishment of an investigative mechanism to facilitate criminal proceedings in regard to allegations of violations of international law. This said, several elements are missing in the Third Committee text, including references to the ICC and to journalists detained by the Myanmar government.  This year’s resolution gained 20 more votes than last year, passing 142 – 10 with 26 abstentions.   Critics included Russia, China and Laos, who spoke to what they considered the ‘illegitimacy’ or ‘irrelevance’ of country resolutions. Japan explained its abstention on the basis that Myanmar should carry out its own investigations (albeit with international community support).   Myanmar noted that it was the most scrutinised country-  citing ‘at least seven mechanisms’ with a monitoring role- at a cost of 28.6 million USD per year to the UN. Myanmar is a ‘struggling democracy facing many challenges’, noted the representative, comparing Myanmar’s treatment to that of Yemen which, it claimed, didn’t receive the attention it should.  

Iran –  In this resolution introduced by Canada, Iran is urged to end its harassment, intimidation and persecution of human rights defenders, including minority, students’ rights and environmental defenders as well as journalists, lawyers, bloggers, media workers and social media users, and to halt reprisals against them. ISHR, along with several national, regional and international NGOs called on States to vote for these (and other) calls.  

Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine –  Ensuring and maintaining a safe and enabling environment for journalists, media workers, human rights defenders and defence lawyers in Crimea, is a key call in this resolution which passed 67-26, with 82 abstentions.  

Syria –   Recalling resolutions adopted by key mechanisms and bodies across the UN system from 2011 onwards, this latest Third Committee resolutions references concern about a range of issues including chemical weapons attacks, rapes, enforced disappearances, the crackdown on journalists and media and other human rights violations. The resolution, introduced by Saudi Arabia, passed with much support with 106 votes in favour, 16 votes against and 58 abstentions. 

Report of the Human Rights Council

The Human  Rights Council in Geneva sends a report to the General Assembly outlining decisions taken in the previous twelve months.  Controversially, this report is considered first by the Third Committee and a resolution on the report drawn up by the African Group.  This year a vote was called on the resolution by Israel to signal their opposition to the standing item on the Council agenda on Israel.  Ultimately, the resolution passed by 111 – 3, with 65 abstentions.

Attacks against the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

Burundi made several attempts to stop the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi from presenting its report to the Third Committee. When these were foiled, in a repeat of what happened last year, the Burundian Ambassador took the floor to abuse Commission members.  Too few States defended the Commission from these attacks, and the Chair of the Third Committee said nothing.  Swift in condemning the verbal attacks, however, was the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who called on Burundi ‘to issue an immediate retraction of this inflammatory statement’.  The President of the Human Rights Council also spoke up for UN independent experts and denounced the vilification.   ‘The defence of UN experts from any attack or intimidation must be swift and unambiguous,’ said Openshaw. ‘The lack of response from the heads of key UN bodies in NY – including the President of the General Assembly and Chair of the Third Committee – is really regretful.’  

ISHR Third Committee side event

ISHR hosted a Third Committee side event in coordination with Amnesty International on Tuesday, 23 October titled ‘Protecting human rights defenders: Reflections on the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration.’ Featured on the panel were Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; Julia Cruz, a lawyer from the NGO Conectas Human Rights, Brazil and Eleanor Openshaw, New York Director at ISHR. Coming directly from presenting his annual report to the Third Committee, the Special Rapporteur and other panel members addressed contextual questions from electoral violence to good practices in protection policies and legislation as well as implementation of the UN Declaration more broadly. During the event, Forst spoke of the importance of the UN Declaration, which he calls ‘a manifesto for the human rights movement’.  It speaks of the ‘central role of everyone within society in the realisation of human rights for all,’ Forst noted.

ISHR’s Conclusion: dynamics at the Third Committee

1/  The tactic of disassociation from paragraphs of resolutions that a particular State dislikes, has continued this session.  The US called a vote on a paragraph in the draft resolution on violence against women and then – when the vote went against them – disassociated themselves from the paragraph anyway.  It could be argued that this approach avoids calls for votes on entire texts, instead isolating areas of contention from those around which consensus has been reached.  However, it does undermine the value of the text and overall efforts to move human rights consensus forward. It is highly dispiriting to see this tactic being increasingly employed.

2/  The confirmation that draft resolutions can only be introduced in the name of individual States rather than a grouping – as emerged during the back and forth on the text on extrajudicial executions – should provide dissenters within a State grouping with more leeway to resist pressure to conform with positions they disagree with.  

3/   Sovereignty arguments were presented by several States during the negotiations of a fair number of draft resolutions. These were successful in some negotiations, such as in regard to the death penalty, and were successfully rejected in others. The drive to foreground and repeatedly reference sovereignty in texts is likely to continue, and efforts to contest it need to be well-coordinated and arguments refined.  

https://www.ishr.ch/news/ga73-third-committee-human-rights-wrap

The Sovereignty of Human Rights – Food for thought on New year’s eve

December 31, 2015

For those who want to spend New Year’s even with a more general reflection on “What are human rights?” I think that Patrick Macklem‘s “The Sovereignty of Human Rights” could be interesting reading”. Patrick Macklem is the William C. Graham Professor of Law at the University of Toronto and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. The Sovereignty of Human Rights, was published by Oxford University Press in 2015.

On this anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is worth reflecting on the nature of human rights and what functions they perform in moral, political and legal discourse and practice.

For moral theorists, the dominant approach to the normative foundations of international human rights conceives of human rights as moral entitlements that all human beings possess by virtue of our common humanity. What constitutes a human right, according to this approach, isn’t determined by a positive legal instrument or institution. Human rights are prior to and independent of positive international human rights law. Just because a legal order declares something to be a human right doesn’t make it so. Conversely, the fact that a human right doesn’t receive international legal protection doesn’t mean that it isn’t a human right. The existence or non-existence of a human right rests on abstract features of what it means to be human and the obligations to which these features give rise. The mission of the field is to secure international legal protection of universal features of what it means to be a human being.

On moral accounts such as these, human rights protect essential characteristics or features that all of us share despite the innumerable historical, geographical, cultural, communal, and other contingencies that shape our lives and our relations with others in unique ways. They give rise to specifiable duties that we all owe each other in ethical recognition of what it means to be human. Rights and obligations can also arise from the bonds of history, community, religion, culture, or nation. But if such rights relate simply to contingent features of human existence, they don’t constitute human rights and don’t merit a place on the international legal register. And if we owe each other duties for reasons other than our common humanity – say, because of friendship, kinship, or citizenship – then these duties don’t correspond to human rights and shouldn’t be identified as such by international legal instruments.

In recent years, political theorists have generated a distinctive account of the nature and role of human rights. Unlike most moral approaches, which focus on universal features of our common humanity, political conceptions define the nature of human rights in terms of their discursive function in global politics. Human rights, according to political conceptions, don’t necessarily correlate to the requirements of moral theory. Global human rights practice, for several political theorists, is a social practice whose participants invoke or rely on human rights as reasons for certain kinds of actions in certain circumstances. They represent reasons that social, political, and legal actors rely on in international arenas to advocate interfering in the internal affairs of a state and to provide assistance to states to promote their protection. What this practice reveals is that human rights protect urgent individual interests against certain predictable dangers associated with the exercise of sovereign power. States have a primary obligation to protect urgent interests of individuals over whom they exercise sovereign power, but external actors, such as other states and international institutions, have secondary obligations to secure protection when a state fails to live up to its responsibility.

Legal theorists of human rights, in contrast, typically start from the premise that international law, not moral theory or political practice, determines their existence. An international human right to food, for example, exists because the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights enshrines such a right. Its international legal status as a human right derives from the fact that international law, according to the principle pacta sunt servanda, provides that a treaty in force between two or more sovereign states is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith. Similarly, the right to development is a human right in international law because the UN General Assembly has declared its legal existence. The international legal validity of a norm – what makes it part of international law – rests on a relatively straightforward exercise in legal positivism; a norm possesses international legal validity if its enactment, promulgation, or specification is in accordance with more general rules that international law lays down for the creation of specific legal rights and obligations.

Determining the legal validity of an international human right is a relatively simple legal task. But legal validity doesn’t determine the normative purpose of a human right, and legal conceptions of human rights that seek to explain their purpose in terms that go beyond positivistic accounts of their legal production threaten to reintroduce moral and political considerations into the picture, which undermines the possibility that human rights can be understood in distinctly legal terms.

For example, human rights in international law are legal outcomes of deep political contestation over the international legal validity of the exercise of certain forms of power. Such contestation doesn’t cease upon the enactment of an international instrument that enshrines a human right in international law. Contestation continues over its nature and scope in particular contexts as diverse as individual or collective disputes requiring international legal resolution, opinions offered by international legal actors on state compliance with treaty obligations, juridical determinations of the boundaries between domestic and international legal spheres, and negotiations among state actors that yield binding or non-binding articulations of international legal obligations. Once transformed from political claim into legal right, and as subsequently as a result of interpretive acts that elaborate their nature and purpose, human rights in turn empower new political projects based on the rules they establish to govern the distribution and exercise of power. How to separate the legal dimensions of human rights from their political origins and outcomes is a challenge to those who seek to ascribe legitimacy to human rights in distinctively legal terms.

In my work, I seek to meet this challenge by defining the nature and purpose of human rights in terms of their capacity to promote a just international legal order. On this account, the mission of international human rights law is to mitigate the adverse effects of how international law deploys sovereignty as a legal entitlement to structure global political and economic realities into an international legal order. It contrasts this legal conception of international human rights with dominant moral conceptions that treat human rights as protecting universal features of what it means to be a human being. This account also takes issue with dominant political conceptions of international human rights, which focus on the function or role that human rights play in global political discourse. It demonstrates that human rights traditionally thought to lie at the margins of international human rights law – minority rights, indigenous rights, the right of self-determination, social rights, labour rights, and the right to development – are central to the normative architecture of the field.

Louis Joinet (“Luis le Juste”) finally and rightly honored in France

March 26, 2014

It is with great pleasure that I am able to announce that a great human rights defender from France, Louis Joinet, is honored with a colloque on the topic “Is sovereignty still the basis of international law?”. It coincides with the publication of his book: “Mes raisons d’Etat” [‘My reasons of state’ or better ‘How I saw the national interest].

Had he been fluent in English (he picked it up too late in life) he would have been probably one of the most famous human rights experts in the world. His nicknames range from “Louis le Juste” to “the Obstinate”. He played a major role within the French state apparatus as from the 1960s. One of the founders of the ‘Syndicat de la magistrature‘ in 1968 (sometimes called the ‘red judges’), he became the first director of the National Commission on Informatics and Freedoms [Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés]. He served five different Prime Ministers during the 1980s as advisor. It was during those days that I met him regularly to set up and run a number of Committees dealing with the military regimes in the Southern Cone of Latin America (e.g. SIJAU, SIJADEP). We travelled often to the region and on many occasions I saw returned refugees come up to Louis to embrace and thank him for the support he gave them in exile.

In the meantime during 33 years he was an expert in various UN bodies, travelling all over the world. Most pronounced was his leading role in the Sub-commission for Human Rights and the Protection of Minorities (now renamed and relegated to a research role for the new Council), where he spearheaded a great many and daring innovations, concerning many  issue including disappearances, torture, international crimes and amnesty. His popularity with (certain) States suffered, but most NGOs considered him to be a hero.

Together with his late and much-beloved wife Germaine he had a less-known but rewarding social life that includes assisting young street criminals and a passion for circus and street theater. His musical talent is illustrated in the picture below from my private collection, where he is seen playing the accordion with Argentinian Leandro Despouy watching (August 1988).

1988 Aug Subcommission party in Prevessin Louis Joinet Leandro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The colloque in Louis honor is taking place on 27  Mars  2014, 18h30, at  Université  Panthéon-‐Assas, Centre  Panthéon,  Salle  des  Conseils, in the series of lectures under Professor Olivier de Frouville.

The book “Mes raisons d’Etat. Mémoires d’un épris de justice” is published by La Découverte: http://www.editionsladecouverte.fr/catalogue/index-Mes_raisons_d_etat-9782707178459.html

 

The (eternal) humanitarian intervention debate moves to Reykjavik in April

March 7, 2013

The Institute for Cultural Diplomacy and the Ministry of Interior of Iceland organise the Reykjavík Congress on the topic: “Human Rights: Human Rights Protection & International Law: The Multifaceted Dilemma of Restraining and Promoting International Interventions”, in Reykjavik, Iceland from 10 to 13 April 2013.

It aims to argue and debate the notion of the responsibility to protect from a human rights perspective, taking into account the divergent dimensions in restraining or promoting international intervention. It plans to consider the current most vehement cases of human rights violations, and further comprehend the varied issues and approaches to these mass atrocities and crimes against humanity from a theoretical perspective, analyzing the complex layers and structures, and taking into account the ethical dilemma surrounding the responsibility to protect and international intervention. For more information please visit: www.reykjavikcongress.org

I would add that this is a most interesting and of course always ‘hot’ topic. I touched upon it in my own article “The international human rights movement: not perfect, but a lot better than many governments think” in the book ‘NGOs in China and Europe’. That the book was published also in Chinese makes it more interesting in view of the strong anti-intervention position taken by the Chinese Government: “Clearly, sovereignty is and remains one of the central organising principles of the international system as we know it. At the same time, there can be no doubt that the very idea and doctrine of internationally protected human rights is a powerful limitation. There is a clear tension between human rights law and general international law. The concept of the sovereignty of States and the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs is laid down in Art 2(7) of the UN Charter, but the qualifying word ‘essentially’ should be noted. Moreover, the Security Council may use the existence of a threat to international peace and security to take action, which overrides sovereignty. From the beginning of the 20th century, international human rights NGOs played a major role in this process of norm shifting, from the Dumbarton Oaks Conference up to the recent debates on the ‘right to inference’ (droit d’ingerence ). After decades of slow but steady development, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action in 1993 confirmed that human rights are a ‘legitimate international concern’. Of course, this short chapter cannot settle the complex debate surrounding the issue of sovereignty and intervention, but it demonstrates that it is far from static and that the international human rights movement is an active ingredient in its development.” (from: Yuwen Li (ed), NGOs in China and Europe, Ashgate, 2011, pp 287-304 (ISBN: 978-1-4094-1959-4).

The state of the States: understanding fragile states

February 22, 2013

On 22 February 2013 Dan Smith published a post on his blog on the ‘state of States’. While not directly touching on human rights defenders, it gives in few words an excellent overview of the formation and deformation of States which provide much of the power and abuse that human rights defenders struggle against. I summarize some of the  main issues here, but urge you to read the full text:

First he points out that most states are relatively new. By 1900 there were just 48 states in our modern sense of the term. In the years either side of World War I, with the break-up of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires, there was considerable state-making. Even so, the UN was founded by just 51 states. Today, 193 states make up the UN, the newest being South Sudan in July 2011.

From 48 to 193 (recognised states, that is) - from The State of the World atlas

From 48 to 193 (recognised states, that is) – from The State of the World atlas Read the rest of this entry »