Posts Tagged ‘Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, at the 46th session of the Human Rights Council

August 23, 2021

Courtesy of Reliefweb, here the reference to “States in denial: the long-term detention of human rights defenders – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor” (A/76/143), posted 19 Aug 2021 Originally published 19 July 2021.

Summary

In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, analyses the situation of human rights defenders in long – term detention, serving sentences of 10 years or longer. The Special Rapporteur draws attention to underlying factors that contribute to the phenomenon of detaining human rights defenders for lengthy periods as a result of their legitimate human rights activities. The report contains examples of individual cases of human rights defenders serving long-term prison sentences. She makes recommendations to relevant stakeholders to halt and reverse these trends and suggests ways to prevent this from happening in the future. [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/20/special-rapporteur-mary-lawlor-starts-new-website/]

1. Introduction

  1. In December 2015, woman human rights defender Lodkham Thammavong was 1 of some 30 people who protested outside the Lao Embassy in Bangkok to express their concern over the Lao Government’s alleged human rights violations.
  2. Three months later, when she returned to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, she and two other human rights defenders, Soukane Chaithad and Somphone Phimmasone, were arrested by Lao police.
  3. The Special Rapporteur has received credible information that they were not informed of the charges against them and no arrest warrants were presented at the time of arrest or afterward. Ms. Thammavong and the others were reportedly forced to make false confessions, paraded on national television to apologize for being traitors and denied their rights to legal representation.
  4. A year later, in March 2017, after an unfair trial, Ms. Thammavong was found guilty of “treason to the nation, propaganda against the State, and gatherings tied at causing social disorder”. She was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Mr. Chaithad and Mr. Phimmasone were also convicted on the same charges, and given 16 and 20 years, respectively.
  5. At the time of writing, Ms. Thammavong is currently being held in Tan Piao Prison, located around 60 km from Vientiane, making family visits difficult. She is said to be lacking access to water and still has had no access to legal counsel.
  6. Unfortunately, such attacks on human rights defenders are not rare. Hundreds of human rights defenders across the world are serving long prison sentences after being convicted on fabricated charges following unfair trials. Many, like Ms. Thammavong, were denied adequate legal representation.
  7. The Special Rapporteur has monitored numerous cases of defenders serving more than 10 years in prison, and of many other defenders facing charges for which they could be sentenced to similarly long terms. Many, like Ms. Thammavong, have been sentenced under vague and ill-defined charges often relating to treason, subversion or terrorism.
  8. Many are held in harsh conditions, and/or have been forced to confess to crimes they did not commit. Some suffer from ill health and are deprived of adequate medical attention. Some are also denied regular access to their families. Some are at risk of being sentenced to death, and some have died in jail while serving long sentences.
  9. In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, intends to show that the issue of the long-term detention of human rights defenders is extensive, that there are many commonalities in the methods used to unjustly jail them and that many Member States – including some who are members of the Human Rights Council, or who aim at being a member – consistently deny they are holding defenders in jail. She advises States on how to prevent further such attacks on defenders and recommends that all human rights defenders be immediately and unconditionally released from jail.
  10. The full extent of this problem is not known. Human rights defenders are serving long terms in detention on every continent, but there are very likely many more cases than those featured in the present report that have not been brought to the Special Rapporteur’s attention.
  11. The cases included here are only those where consent has been obtained directly from the defenders themselves, or from their families or representatives. Many other cases are also known to the Special Rapporteur, but are not included in the report for various reasons, including where it was not possible to obtain consent or where highlighting cases would risk making the situation of the defenders worse. Some defenders were jailed so long ago that their cases have faded from public view and no longer feature in many advocacy efforts. This can also make consent and information more difficult to obtain.
  12. There is a wide range of defenders serving long terms in detention. Some are labour leaders, some are lawyers, others are journalists. Some are jailed for defending article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which outlines the right for people to vote in elections. Others are targeted for peacefully advocating for democratic reform, or for exposing deficiencies in governance. The Special Rapporteur reiterates that peacefully defending these and other rights that States have promised to safeguard is never a crime.
  13. Some defenders have been targeted and jailed in reprisal for their engagement, or intended engagement, with United Nations mechanisms. Some are famous, winners of international awards for their work, with prominent international profiles, while others are relatively unknown, even within their country. Some hold dual nationalities and are citizens of countries other than the one in which they are jailed.
  14. Some defenders have been convicted in mass trials and some have been sentenced in absentia. Some defenders sentenced to long terms in jail are living in exile, unable to return to their country for fear of arrest. Others are kept in long periods of pretrial detention, not knowing if or when they will face charges that could send them to prison for long terms.
  15. Other defenders are seized and nothing is heard from or about them for many years. Not all are held by Governments. Some, like Syrian woman human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh, are believed to have been taken by militia groups. There has been no news of her current whereabouts for years.
  16. Other human rights defenders sentenced to long terms in jail die in custody. Human rights defender Azimjan Askarov was unjustly sentenced to prison in 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, and he was still in prison 10 years later with serious medical problems. Despite appeals from the mandate holder, the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to the authorities for his release on health grounds, he died in detention in 2020.
  17. The Special Rapporteur notes there is often a flurry of attention and activity around a case when a human rights defender is arrested or convicted, sometimes accompanied by intense international media coverage and advocacy from foreign governments and United Nations mechanisms. But even with the most prominent defenders, attention typically fades over the years as fresh cases demand the attention and resources of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), independent United Nations experts and interested Governments.
  18. Many defenders serving long sentences feel forgotten or abandoned.
  19. The effect of the long-term detention of defenders can be devastating – to themselves, to their families, to their communities and to the civil societies to which they belong. Just fighting a legal case can exhaust a defenders’ resources, and that of their NGO. Indeed, this damage to them and their work is often the motivation for their being targeted.
  20. States will recall that in her first report to the General Assembly in 2020 (A/75/165), the Special Rapporteur outlined her priorities for the mandate, which included a focus on “defenders serving long terms in prison”. She believes States should have confronted this enduring problem long ago. Some States have ignored years of appeals to stop jailing human rights defenders and still refuse to release those they currently hold in detention.
  21. The Special Rapporteur is instructed under the mandate to study developments and challenges on the right to promote and protect human rights and seek, receive and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders, and to recommend effective strategies to better protect human rights defenders.
  22. One simple piece of advice for States to better protect human rights defenders is not to put them in prison for long terms for peacefully defending the rights of others.
  23. Many States sentence human rights defenders to long terms in prison because they want to, and because they can. They want to because they are unhappy with defenders exposing corruption, pointing out human rights violations or highlighting other deficiencies in governance.
  24. Jailing defenders does not always silence them, and some continue to defend rights while in detention, but States often use this method of attack against human rights defenders to crush peaceful dissent.
  25. States can do this because they ignore international treaties they have committed to, often with negligible international consequences. They enable themselves to jail human rights defenders by passing vague laws, often in the name of national security or countering terrorism, by staging sham trials that fail meet international standards, by torturing defenders into making false confessions and by lying about the work of human rights defenders.
  26. Some States contest that those jailed are not defenders but subversives, traitors or terrorists. The Special Rapporteur knows the difference, and she respectfully reminds States that her long years of experience in identifying who is a human rights defender – and who is not – is partly why she was entrusted with this mandate. The Special Rapporteur is keen to discuss individual cases with States to better explain why those in detention referred to in the present report are human rights defenders.
  27. Despite the many detailed cases regularly presented to Member States of human rights defenders currently serving long jail terms, the Special Rapporteur notes that in response to her call to Member States for submissions to the present report, not one State acknowledged holding any human rights defender in long-term detention.
  28. Many States have for many years used this method of attack against human rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur’s predecessors in this mandate have, since the mandate was established 20 years ago, repeatedly recommended that States not use unfair trials or security legislation as a pretext for jailing, or otherwise attacking, human rights defenders.
  29. In 2001, Hina Jilani, the first mandate holder on the situation of human rights defenders, in her first report to the then Commission on Human Rights, stated that: “The situation of human rights defenders … and their sentencing after unfair trials will be a matter of serious concern for the Special Representative” (E/CN.4/2001/94, para. 89 (f)).
  30. Despite regular, detailed updates to Member States from the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders over many years about this unjust practice, defenders are still routinely subjected to unfair trials, after which many are sentenced to long terms in prison.
  31. In her most recent report to the Human Rights Council, presented earlier this year (A/HRC/46/35), the Special Rapporteur focused on the killing of human rights defenders. She identified a lack of political will from Member States to hold the perpetrators accountable as a key driver of the murders. In the case of long-term detention of defenders, it is less the absence of political will to prevent this abuse, but rather the active presence of a political will in States to target defenders.
  32. Some representatives of Member States have told the Special Rapporteur, in response to her raising the case of an unfair trial, that they cannot interfere in their countries’ independent judicial process. While the Special Rapporteur respects the principle of judicial independence, she cannot be silent when a criminal justice system falls short of international standards and is used to unjustly jail human rights defenders.
  33. In 2003, Ms. Jilani told Member States: “When human rights defenders are arrested, detained and/or prosecuted under security legislation, the process should be fully transparent. The charges on which the arrest and detention are based should be made public and explained in a sufficiently complete manner that the veracity of their substance can be independently verified” (A/58/380, para. 71).
  34. Many States are still failing this test of transparency and continue to consign human rights defenders to long years of misery in prison.
  35. While those mechanisms which enable long-term, unjust detention, including torture, unfair trials and the gross misrepresentation of the work of those peacefully defending the rights of others, should be addressed, the fundamental reason that defenders are held in long-term detention is because of the political will in States to do so.
  36. Targeting human rights defenders with long jail terms is never acceptable, and it is a red line no State should cross. It is immoral, illegal, inexcusable and dishonourable. This practice exposes States’ lack of resolution to fulfil the international standards they have committed to uphold. Consigning those who peacefully defend human rights to prison raises serious questions about States’ intentions to abide by the international agreements they have signed.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/states-denial-long-term-detention-human-rights-defenders-report-special-rapporteur

Mary Lawlor calls AGAIN on UAE to release prominent human rights defenders

June 15, 2021

On 11 June 2021 Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, called on the United Arab Emirates to immediately release five human rights campaigners detained since 2013.

Mohamed al-Mansoori [https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/074ACCD4-A327-4A21-B056-440C4C378A1A], Hassan Mohammed Al-Hammad, Hadif Rashed Abdullah al-Owais, Ali Saeed Al-Kindi and Salim Hamdoon Al-Shahhi were among a group of 94 lawyers, rights advocates and academics accused of plotting to overthrow the Emirati government. 

In July 2013, 69 of the defendants in the “UAE-94” case were sentenced, eight of them in absentia, up to 15 years in prison.  The detentions came amid Abu Dhabi’s crackdown on an Islamist association called al-Islah and other activists calling for political reform in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. 

They should have never been detained in the first place for legitimately exercising the freedoms that all people are entitled to,” said Mary Lawlor.

Lawlor called the five activists’ sentences “excessively severe” and noted that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has declared their sentences arbitrary

She noted allegations that the rights defenders have been subjected to long periods in solitary confinement, which could amount to torture. Other allegations include prison guards shutting off the air conditioning amid scathing hot temperatures and covering windows to prevent the prisoners from getting sunlight. 

The prisoners have severely limited or no access to legal counsel, Lawlor said, potentially violating their right to a fair trial. 

I call on the Emirati authorities to release these human rights defenders from detention in order to continue their meaningful and necessary human rights work,” Lawlor said.

This follows an earlier plea of 22 February: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/22/lawlor-urges-uae-to-free-ahmed-mansoor-mohamed-al-roken-and-other-hrds/

https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/06/un-expert-calls-uae-release-prominent-human-rights-defenders#ixzz6xesKipiF

Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor starts new website

May 20, 2021

Mary Lawlor: Since taking up this role just over a year ago, Covid has meant that I have worked almost entirely online. This has been an opportunity to expand the ways we promote the work of Human Rights Defenders in online spaces.

So today, I am delighted to unveil my new website, which has been in the works for some time. At srdefenders.org, you’ll find the latest news and information about Human Rights Defenders and what my mandate is doing to protect them.

Start exploring now 👇
https://lnkd.in/gw_ZHEh

srdefenders.org,

https://nhrf.no/article/2021/special-rapporteur-launches-website-for-human-rights-defenders

Three environmental rights defenders in Cambodia sentenced, but Government remains unapologetic

May 13, 2021

On 7 May 2021 Mary Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, condemned a decision by a Cambodian court to sentence three environmental human rights defenders to jail terms of up to 20 months and urged the Government to release them immediately and unconditionally.

The convicted human rights defenders – Mr. Thun Ratha, Ms. Long Kunthea and Ms. Phuon Keoraksmey – are members of Mother Nature Cambodia (MNC), a non-governmental organization that advocates for the protection and preservation of Cambodia’s natural environment and supports local communities in defending those rights.

The three, who were sentenced by the Phnom Penh Municipal court on charges of incitement to create social chaos, had been in pre-trial detention for eight months before the conviction.

“The decision of the Cambodian court sentencing the three human rights defenders to prison terms is disgraceful and only reinforces the Government’s enduring policy to diminish civic space and dissenting voices,” said Mary Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“The verdict also shows how unable and unwilling the court is to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms that the government has voluntarily accepted. I am concerned about the pattern of increasing prosecution of human rights defenders in Cambodia since July 2020,” Lawlor said. “The trial and conviction against the MNC human rights defenders clearly demonstrates a sustained intolerance and efforts to undermine the space for human rights defenders.”

“This decision is extremely worrying as States have the obligation to provide a safe and enabling environment in which environmental human rights defenders can operate free from threats, harassment, intimidation, criminalisation and violence,” emphasized the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Dr. David Boyd.

The three were arrested in September 2020 without warrants and were charged under articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code. The charges carried a custodial sentence of between six months to two years and a fine of one to four million riels (approximately USD 250 to USD 1,000).

Lawlor expressed serious concerns about the lack of factual evidence underpinning the charges. The human rights defenders were convicted based on a number of Facebook posts on environmental matters and video clips which showed them raising human rights and environmental awareness in a factual and peaceful manner. No substantial evidence was cited that would prove how their actions had in fact or could potentially lead to “social chaos”.

“While the three human rights defenders may still file an appeal, I urge the Cambodian Government to immediately and unconditionally release them. No one should be criminalised for undertaking legitimate human rights work,” she said. “As highlighted in my last statement in November, I call on the United Nations system in Cambodia to support all human rights defenders who are exposed to risk.”

The expert’s call has been endorsed by Mr. David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; and Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association.

—————

Not surprisingly the Cambodian government see it differently:

Cambodia’s permanent mission to the UN said Lawlor’s statement was false and misleading.

“Crime is crime and it cannot be justified because it is in pursuit of other aspirations,” the press release said.

The permanent mission’s statement said that Cambodia values all duly-registered NGOs that are operating within the boundaries of law and that, unfortunately, Professor Lawlor seems to be advocating the work of an unlawful organization that commits crimes in the name of environmentalism.

The mission said MNC had officially dissolved itself in 2017, but the organisation continued on illegally exploiting the environmental movement until today and that the self-proclaimed human rights defenders are not entitled to break the law with impunity.

It described Lawlor’s remarks as inappropriate and an interference in the national judicial system of a sovereign state, saying the demand for the government to arbitrarily release anyone is tantamount to an attack on the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary that are guaranteed under the Constitution.

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2105/S00111/cambodia-un-expert-condemns-conviction-of-three-environmental-rights-defenders-urges-their-release.htm

https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national-politics/kingdom-denounces-un-rapporteurs-statement-mother-nature-activists-trial

Egypt decade after Arab spring: Amnesty and UN express concern over detention

January 27, 2021

The human rights organization Amnesty International published a scathing report on 25 January 2021 decrying the inhumane conditions in Egyptian prisons. The report comes a decade after the Arab Spring uprising.

The report detailed the experiences of 67 individuals in detention, 10 of whom died in custody and two who died shortly after being released. It was carried out primarily between February 2020 and November 2020 and focused on 16 prisons. It found that:

  • Prisoners were kept in squalid conditions and received unhealthy food;
  • There was no proper access to health care, which may have resulted in death;
  • Overcrowding, poor ventilation and limited access to water and toilets led inevitably to outbreaks of coronavirus.

The report also found that some prisoners were deliberately denied access to health care due to their political affiliations. Activists, politicians and human rights defenders were denied basic treatments available to other inmates. There was also evidence of prison authorities “targeting prisoners critical of the government and denying them adequate food or family visits,” Markus Beeko, Secretary General of Amnesty International in Germany, asserted. According to UN estimates, there are 114,000 people incarcerated in the north African country.

On 22 January 2021 Mary Lawlor also deplored the arrest and prolonged pre-trial detention of  human rights defenders and bloggers, and their  accusation of being members of a terrorist organisation, continuing Egypt’s practice to intimidate and criminalise human rights defenders, journalists and their families.

I am extremely concerned by the seemingly unrelenting efforts of the Egyptian authorities to silence dissent and shrink civic space in the country, despite repeated calls from UN mechanisms and the international community,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The Special Rapporteur said she was disturbed by the detention since 2018 of human rights defender and blogger Mohamed Ibrahim Radwan, also known as ‘Mohamed Oxygen’, on charges of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “misuse of social media” in retaliation for his posts and videos reporting on human rights issues. He was granted conditional release by the Cairo Criminal Court in November last year but was attached to a new case on charges of joining a terrorist organisation and kept in detention. He remains in pre-trial detention in Al-Aqrab Prison, south of Cairo.

Lawlor said that human rights defenders such as researcher and post-graduate student Patrick Zaki, who was arrested in February last year, have endured repeated renewals of detention without trial. “Pre-trial detention should only be used as the exception to the rule, rather than the default approach,” said Lawlor.

Not only are these human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society actors unduly targeted for their legitimate and peaceful defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, they are wrongfully accused of belonging to terrorist organisations and portrayed as a national security threat under vague legal provisions,” the Special Rapporteur said. “This is an issue which I and a number of UN experts have previously communicated our concern about to the Egyptian authorities.

The Lawlor’s call has been endorsed by: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism and Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In the meantime also a tiny sparkle of good news: Egypt’s Administrative Court overturned on Thursday a 2016 decision by Cairo governorate to close El-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/25/ai-germany-award-goes-to-egypts-nadeem-center-for-torture-victims/.

Ten years after the Tahrir square protests in Cairo, Egypt’s human rights record is disastrous. On the occasion of the anniversary of the 2011 revolution, several international campaigns are calling for the release of imprisoned activists writes Sofian Philip Naceur in Qantara.de Violent, authoritarian and extremely paranoid: since his bloody takeover in 2013, Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has restored a regime whose brutality far outstrips even the reign of long-term ruler Hosni Mubarak. Hopes for real political and social change after the mass uprising that forced Mubarak out of office after 30 years in power have faded away, leaving a disillusionment that is omnipresent.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/18/arab-spring-information-technology-platforms-no-longer-support-human-rights-defenders-in-the-middle-east-and-north-africa/

Countless people who, before and after the 2011 revolt, campaigned in various ways for “bread, freedom and social justice” in Egypt, are today intimidated and politically inactive, or have fled the country to live in exile. Tens of thousands, however, remain imprisoned in Egypt for political reasons, paying a hefty price for their activism and courage.

Egyptian opposition figures are using the current media attention around the tenth anniversary of the “25 January Revolution” to highlight the fate of those currently in prison for their political engagement. Some have been sentenced to heavy jail terms, while others are subjected to pre-trial detention lasting years by the Egyptian security forces and the country’s judiciary. European opposition politicians are also participating in corresponding campaigns.

Eight politicians from Germany’s left-wing party – Die Linke – have signed a solidarity statement calling for the immediate release of all political detainees, which explicitly highlights the fate of six detained leftist activists, journalists and trade unionists. Although the campaign specifically highlights six individual cases, it expresses solidarity not only with Egyptian leftists, but with all those “who are resisting Sisi’s dictatorship”. In addition to journalist Hishem Fouad, who advocated for striking workers and independent trade unions long before 2011, the German politicians are also calling for the release of novelist Ayman Abdel Moati, lawyer and trade union activist Haitham Mohamadeen and trade unionist Khalil Rizk. All four are detained on flimsy, terrorism-related charges.

https://www.dw.com/en/egypt-amnesty-slams-inhumane-prison-conditions/a-56331626

https://en.qantara.de/content/human-rights-violations-in-egypt-demanding-president-sisi-free-his-political-prisoners

english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/1/399358/Egypt/Egypt-court-overturns-closure-of-human-rights-NGO-.aspx

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egypt-amnesty-condemns-prison-conditions

https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/1/27/the-social-media-myth-about-the-arab-spring

https://www.yenisafak.com/en/news/academic-urges-new-era-for-political-prisoners-in-egypt-3559752

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

Mary Lawlor condemns ‘criminalization’ of those saving lives in the Mediterranean

October 9, 2020

Carola Rackete, the former captain of the rescue vessel Sea-Watch 3, and the ‘Iuventa 10’ crew members are human rights defenders and not criminals,” said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on 8 October 2020.

“I regret that the criminal proceedings against them are still open and they continue to face stigmatization in connection with their human rights work protecting the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers at risk in the Mediterranean Sea.

In September 2016, a criminal investigation was opened against some crew members of the Iuventa rescue ship. Charges against them included aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime of illegal immigration, an offence that carries a jail term of between five and 20 years, and a fine of 15,000 euros. On 18 June 2019, a motion for the dismissal of the preliminary criminal investigation against the ‘Iuventa 10’ crew members was filed, but a formal decision is still pending. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/31/absurd-prosecution-of-the-crew-of-the-ship-iuventa-continues-in-italy/

Ms. Rackete was arrested by Italian authorities on 29 June 2019 for docking her rescue ship, with 53 migrants on board, without permission. At the beginning of this year, acting upon appeal, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that she should not have been arrested. Despite this, Ms. Rackete continues to face charges, including aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime of illegal immigration. She risks up to 20 years of imprisonment , and various fines of up to 50,000 euros.

Since 2014, at least 16,000 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean, according to the IOM’s ‘Missing Migrants’ project. “The Italian Government must publicly recognise the important role of human rights defenders in protecting the right to life of migrants and asylum seekers at risk in the Mediterranean and must end the criminalization of those who defend their human rights,” Lawlor said.

The expert’s call has been endorsed by: Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Mr. Obiora Okafor, Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Dubravka Šimonovic, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Elizabeth Broderick, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls.

Ms Mary Lawlor, (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/05/07/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/

The same day Human Rights Watch came out with an initial assessment by civil society of the legislative and non-legislative proposals contained in European Commission’s Pact on Migration and Asylum.: The commitment to a more human approach to protection and the emphasis on the fact that migration is needed and positive for Europe with which the European Commission launched the Pact on Migration and Asylum is welcome. However, this rhetoric is reflected only sparsely in the related proposals. Instead of breaking with the fallacies of the EU’s previous approach and offering a fresh start, the Pact risks exacerbating the focus on externalisation, deterrence, containment and return.


https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/08/pact-migration-and-asylum

Mary Lawlor takes up post as UN special rapporteur for human rights defenders

May 7, 2020

Mary Lawlor

Mary Lawlor

Mary Lawlor takes up her post as UN special rapporteur for human rights defenders, reportes the Irish Legal on 6 May 2020 [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/03/16/good-breaking-news-mary-lawlor-the-new-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders/].  In spite of all the (sometimes understandable) criticism of the UN and its procedures, I would like to put on record that in my view the UN has made excellent appointments when it comes the big majority of special rapporteurs and espescially with regard to this mandate for human rights defenders which originated in 2000.

Mary Lawlor

Ms Lawlor has decades of experience in human rights, having helped to grow Irish-based NGOs as a previous director of Amnesty International in Ireland and a founder of Front Line Defenders (FLD). She led FLD from 2001 until her retirement in 2016, overseeing its growth to become a global organisation providing resources for the protection and security of human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk. Ms Lawlor helped spearhead civil society efforts to bring the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders into effect and became a recognised leader in focusing on attention on the unique protection needs of HRDs. Congratulating Ms Lawlor on her appointment, Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said: “Mary has been a tireless advocate for human rights for over 40 years both in Ireland and overseas. “This appointment is deserving recognition of her work and that of the organisation she founded – Front Line Defenders – supporting human rights defenders at risk around the world.

 

https://www.irishlegal.com/article/mary-lawlor-takes-up-post-as-un-special-rapporteur-for-human-rights-defenders

Michel Forst in his latest and last report to the Council focuses on HRDs in conflict zones

March 5, 2020

 Human rights defenders working in conflict and post-conflict situations should enjoy greater recognition, protection and support for their work, said Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, in his latest report presented to the Human Rights Council on 4 March 2020. It is also his last report since he is leaving the position [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/08/michel-forst-in-last-address-to-general-assembly-pleads-to-fight-reprisals/]

Defenders in conflict settings are courageous men and women who provide emergency relief, ensure access to civilians and document civilian casualties and violations of international law,” he sais, “In post-conflict settings, they may help claiming back the homes of displaced people and challenge impunity. Some are children calling for peace and equal access to education.” “In too many cases their contributions go unnoticed, while they face multiple threats to their safety due to conflict related insecurity or the very nature of their work, for example when they denounce violations committed by warring parties. Women defenders are particularly exposed to gender based violence, including sexual violence”.

According to his report, defenders in conflict and post-conflict situation face serious restrictions on their freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Their activities are restricted in the name of national security, public order and counter-terrorism; or through obstacles such as NGO registration, access to funding, suspension of online communications and cyber-attacks. Journalist and NGO staff members face arrest and criminal charges for denouncing human rights violations.

More countries have recently experienced violent conflict than at any point in the last thirty years. Human rights defenders operating in these situations of intense pressure are too often solely responsible for their own protection,” the UN expert said.

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25654&LangID=E

Renewal of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders crucial

February 29, 2020

At the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council, States will consider a resolution extending for three years the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders. Civil society organisations from across the world are calling on all States to support the consensus renewal of the mandate, and to resist any attempt to undermine the mandate and States’ obligations. This is a key opportunity for States and the Council to demonstrate their support and recognition for the indispensable role defenders play to ensure that all people enjoy freedom, dignity, justice and equality. Despite their vital contribution, both some governments and non-State actors are still seeking to silence defenders as they expose injustices and demand accountability for all.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders is integral to their protection and recognition, globally. It gathers and responds to information on the situation of defenders around the world, engages constructively with governments and non-State actors and provides expert recommendations to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration on human rights defenders (‘the Declaration’).  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/11/what-should-michael-forsts-successor-as-rapporteur-on-hrds-look-like/

In 2019, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly supported the vital work of defenders. The Human Rights Council recognised the critical role of environmental human rights defenders in protecting natural ecosystems, addressing climate change, attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The General Assembly passed by consensus a resolution focusing on implementation of the Declaration and some key elements of protection policy; the resolution also attracted a record number of co-sponsors.

More than 50 Civil society organisations from across the world are calling on all States to support the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur by:

  • Participating positively in the negotiations on the resolution,
  • Presenting early co-sponsorship of the text,
  • Resisting any attempts to dilute the mandate or State obligations, and
  • Supporting consensus renewal of the mandate.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc43-support-consensus-renewal-un-special-rapporteur-human-rights-defenders