Posts Tagged ‘Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’

Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

March 12, 2022

The Human Rights Council on 11 March held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. With thanks to Reliefweb, here an extract:

Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said last year she had presented a report detailing the shocking scale of killings of human rights defenders across the world – in almost a third of the Member States of the United Nations. Words of support had been heard from States at her presentation, saying they would work with her to stop this scourge – to date, she had received no invitations from any States as to ways to discuss how to stop these killings, and she had received more communications on killings. Human rights defenders who worked against corruption were often attacked for exposing or researching abuse of power, graft, bribery, fraud and other related malpractices, and these attacks took many forms. Governments and business targeted anti-corruption fighters as they feared exposure. Corruption was deeply rooted in some societies and could not be rooted out overnight, but States needed to publicly recognise the work of human rights defenders, and openly combat attacks against them.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers said the international community should work to better support human rights defenders and protect them from retaliation. Human rights defenders played a vital role all across the globe. States should end impunity for those seeking to stifle the voices of human rights defenders, and work better to protect them, amplifying their voices in the United Nations system. Human rights defenders protected and fought for the core values of the international community; they should be given an enabling environment. Corruption was, as the Special Rapporteur’s report said, a human rights issue, and national legislators were obliged to defend those investigating it. Work needed to continue to create an environment where human rights defenders and all civil society workers could operate without fear of violence and reprisals, which would further reinforce democratic and legislative institutions.

Speaking in the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders were European Union, Lithuania (on behalf of a group of countries), Australia (on behalf of a group of countries), Liechtenstein, Germany, Paraguay, Philippines, Egypt, UN Women, Norway (on behalf of a group of countries), Sierra Leone, Montenegro, Slovenia, Iraq, Cuba, France, Venezuela, Luxembourg, China, Burkina Faso, India, Namibia, Marshall Islands, Lesotho, Armenia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Russian Federation, Cambodia, Indonesia, Peru, Morocco, Algeria, Togo, Ireland, Belarus and Uruguay. Tunisia, United States, Belgium, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Côte d’Ivoire, United Kingdom, Niger, Czech Republic, Albania, Botswana, Malta, Vanuatu, Italy, Georgia, Mauritania, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Republic of Moldova, Saudi Arabia, Viet Nam, Iran and Pakistan.

Also speaking were SUHAKAM, Morocco National Human Rights Institution, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, American Association of Jurists, Sociedade Maranhense de Direitos Humanos, International Service for Human Rights, Dominicans for Justice and Peace – Order of Preachers, World Organisation Against Torture, Oidhaco, Bureau International des Droits Humains – Action Colombie, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), Peace Brigades International, and Il Cenacolo.

Speaking in right of reply were Armenia, Israel, Lithuania, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Cuba, Azerbaijan and Bahrain.

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-rights-council-holds-interactive-dialogue-special-rapporteur-situation-human

Animated video clip on work of UN Special rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

March 8, 2022

On 7 February 2022, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders released an animated video explaining how to raise concerns about threats to HRDs and human rights abuses by governments and businesses.

Communications are the main tool used to addressed attacks, such as criminalization, smear campaign, threats and killings. Communications will remain confidential for up to 60 days, giving governments and businesses the time to respond to the allegations. The SR also makes two official country visit every year, and writes two thematic reports.

The UN Special Rapporteur has a mission to promote and protect the work of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). Find out how she does this, and how you can send information about a Human Rights Defender at risk.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/20/special-rapporteur-mary-lawlor-starts-new-website/

Visit: https://srdefenders.org/

Follow: https://twitter.com/MaryLawlorhrds

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

February 21, 2022

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

Protection of human rights defenders

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

Reprisals

Reports of cases of intimidation and reprisal against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with the UN not only continue, but grow. Intimidation and reprisals violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they constitute violations of international human rights law and undermine the UN human rights system.

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

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

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

During the 48th session, the Council adopted a resolution on reprisals. The text was adopted by consensus for the first time since 2009 and invites the UN Secretary General to submit his annual report on reprisals and intimidation to the UN General Assembly. Once again the resolution listed key trends including that acts of intimidation and reprisals can signal patterns, increasing self-censorship, and the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and ensuring accountability for all acts of intimidation or reprisal, both online and offline, by condemning all such acts publicly, providing access to effective remedies for victims, and preventing any recurrence.

Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about specific cases of reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out. The President should also update the Council on actions taken by the President and Bureau to follow up on cases and promote accountability under this item.

Other thematic debates

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

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

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

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

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

Country-specific developments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The High Commissioner will provide an oral update to the Council on 7 March. The Council will consider updates, reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

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

Appointment of mandate holders

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

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

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

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

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

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

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. 7 panel discussions and 1 thematic meeting are scheduled for this upcoming session:

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

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

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

Human Rights Defenders and the EU’s mandatory due diligence initiative

February 21, 2022

Since Mary Lawlor took up her mandate of Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, she has been paying close attention to the EU’s legislative initiative on sustainable corporate governance, and in particular to the proposed creation of binding obligations for companies to carry out due diligence to identify and address human rights and environmental risks linked to their activities. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/07/un-experts-urge-eu-to-take-the-lead-on-protecting-human-rights-defenders-in-context-of-business/

The reason is that defenders who draw attention to the human rights and environmental risks associated with business projects, including of EU companies, and who seek accountability where violations and harms actually occur, are often at high risk of retaliation for their actions, in particular where they themselves are from the communities directly affected.

With this in mind, in September 2021, she issued the public statement referred to above calling on the EU Commission to seize the moment and craft a powerful, progressive proposal which would include safeguards for Human Rights Defenders highlighting corporate harms. She followed this up in November with a series of meetings with key EU Commissioners and their teams in Brussels, during which she outlined what she believes to be the key provisions to include in their proposal on due diligence for it to empower human rights defenders. This position has now become public through the paper below:

Lawlor calls on Kyrgyzstan to stop harassment of human rights defender Kamilzhan Ruziev

November 12, 2021

Kyrgyzstan must investigate death threats against human rights defender Kamilzhan Ruziev instead of harassing him for making complaints against the police, said Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders “It is extremely disturbing that authorities began laying criminal charges against Mr. Ruziev after he exposed police torture and ineffectiveness, when they should actually be investigating the death threats made against him,”

As director of the non-governmental human rights organisation Ventus, Ruziev defends victims of torture, domestic violence, and discrimination. In 2019, a police investigator, whom Ruziev exposed for committing torture, reportedly threatened to kill him. When the State Committee for National Security and the Prosecutor’s Office failed to investigate the threats, Ruziev took them to court, only to find himself facing seven criminal charges.

“Kyrgyz authorities must give Mr. Ruziev a fair trial and effectively investigate all allegations of threats and ill-treatment against him and other human rights defenders,” she said. The next hearing on Mr. Ruziev’s case will be on 11 November 2021.

Lawlor said she was also disturbed by reports that Mr. Ruziev was ill-treated while held in detention for 48 hours in May 2020, and denied access to his lawyer.

“Now I hear that his health is deteriorating, and complaints to the authorities about violations committed against him continue to fall on deaf ears,” she added.

In a report to the Human Rights Council earlier this year on threats and killings of human rights defenders, Lawlor warned: “when a human rights defender receives death threats, swift action must be taken to prevent the threats from escalating. Impunity fuels more murders.”

Lawlor is in contact with the authorities of Kyrgyzstan on this issue, and stressed that “Kyrgyzstan must do better to safeguard the environment for human rights defenders to carry out their work.”

Her call was endorsed by: Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.

https://www.miragenews.com/investigate-death-threats-against-human-rights-664761/

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