Posts Tagged ‘UN General Assembly’

General Assembly’s 3rd Committee concludes 2018 session

December 4, 2018

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

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

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

Thematic Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……

Country-specific resolutions

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

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

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

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

Report of the Human Rights Council

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

Attacks against the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

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

ISHR Third Committee side event

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

ISHR’s Conclusion: dynamics at the Third Committee

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

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

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

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

Laureates of 10th Edition of UN Human Rights Prizes just announced

October 26, 2018

On Friday 26 October 2018 the President of the UN General Assembly announced – in a rather summary and informal tweet:

“Today I announced the 2018 winners of the Human Rights Prize. I am proud to recognise the contributions of individuals & organizations that promote & protect human rights Joênia Wapichana Your work is an inspiration to us all “.

This is the tenth time that these awards were since the prize was established in 1968, coinciding this year with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. For more on this award: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/united-nations-prizes-in-the-field-of-human-rights

It is probably for that reason that one of the winners is the outstanding Ireland based NGO Front Line Defenders (regularly quoted in the blog, see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/front-line-ngo/). The Director Andrew Anderson promptly replies with: “Profoundly honoured that @FrontLineHRD has been named as one of 4 winners of the UN Human Rights Prize. We dedicate this to the courageous & dedicated human rights defenders we work to support.

Three other winners of the prize are

——–

https://www.newstalk.com/Irish-organisation-wins-United-Nations-Human-Rights-Prize

https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/high-court-tanzania-child-marriage/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joênia_Wapixana

Destruction of cultural heritage is also an attack on human rights defenders

October 31, 2016

When cultural heritage is under attack, it is also the people and their fundamental human rights that are under attack, a United Nations expert warned the UN General Assembly, issuing an urgent call to step up international action against the destruction of heritage such as monuments, historic sites and sacred places, reports Just Earth News on 28 October 2016.

Destruction of cultural heritage is an attack on people and their fundamental rights – UN expert
 Destruction of cultural heritage is an attack on people and their fundamental rights – UNESCO
Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali and Syria are all in our minds on Thursday, but many more countries are to be added to this list, where acts of intentional destruction harm all, target free thinkers and disproportionately affect people belonging to minorities,” the UN Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, stressed in her briefing to the General Assembly’s Third Committee.

According to Special Rapporteur, in order to protect cultural heritage, including precious monuments, sites and sacred places, the first step that has to be taken is protecting human rights and people. “Destruction is often accompanied by other grave assaults on human dignity and human rights. We must care not only about the destruction of heritage, but also about the destruction of the lives of human beings. They are interrelated,” Bennoune stated…

…At the end of her report, the Special Rapporteur paid tribute to all those who had sacrificed their lives to preserve world’s cultural heritage. “In many cases we must consider cultural heritage professionals on the frontlines of the struggle against destruction as human rights defenders,” Bennoune stated, adding that it is vital that we ensure their safety and security, grant them asylum, and create necessary work conditions for them.

Source: Destruction of cultural heritage is an attack on people and their fundamental rights – UN expert | Indiablooms – First Portal on Digital News Management

Preview of the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council

February 25, 2016

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 31st regular session at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 29 February to 24 March 2016 (it also marks the 10th anniversary of the Human Rights Council). The International Service for Human Rights (see link at the bottom of the post) has published an Alert full of details, but I highlight here the elements that concern human rights defenders most directly:ISHR-logo-colour-high

Human rights defenders:  The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, will present his annual report to the Council on 3 March. The report focuses on good practices to promote and protect the rights of human rights defenders. Presentation of the report will be followed by a dialogue. Of significance this session is a substantive resolution that will be presented by Norway on the situation of human rights defenders. The resolution at this session of the Council follows on the heels of the resolution on human rights defenders presented at the General Assembly in November 2015. The General Assembly resolution included a number of new, important and substantive provisions, including on the vital role of advocacy and the work of defenders in contributing to sustainable development and the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights, and the responsibilities of business enterprises with respect to engaging, consulting and protecting defenders. [see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/un-general-assembly-adopts-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders-with-increased-majority/] This latest resolution provides an opportunity to recognise the critically important work of economic, social and cultural rights defenders, and the cross-cutting challenges they face, including restrictions not only on their rights to health, food, housing, social security and work, but also on their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and life itself. Economic, social and cultural rights activists have been identified by current and previous Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders as among the most isolated and stigmatised defenders. It is integral that the resolution recognises the role of both State and non-State actors in the protection of human rights defenders, and enjoys broad State support for strong language demanding their protection.  (On 7 March, ISHR will facilitate a side event on this topic which will be the subject of a separate post) Read the rest of this entry »

Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2015 is out and makes sober reading

February 24, 2016

The Amnesty International Report 2015/16 documents the state of human rights in 160 countries and territories during 2015.

This year it expresses doubt as to the question whether the UN is still ‘fit of purpose‘.Amnesty-Internationa

The 2015/16 report also specifically refers to human rights defenders by saying that it also “celebrates those who stand up for human rights across the world, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances“. Salil Shetty , the Secretary General says: “The signs of hope that we saw in 2015 were the result of the ongoing advocacy, organizing, dissent and activism of civil society, social movements and human rights defenders. These outcomes were not borne of the benevolence of states. Governments must allow the space and freedom for human rights defenders and activists to carry out their essential work”

The report gives three examples from the past year:

  • the presence of human rights and accountability elements in the UN Sustainable Development Goals;
  • action in May to prevent forced evictions on the Regional Mombasa Port Access Road project in Kenya; and
  • the release of Filep Karma, a Papuan prisoner of conscience, as a result of 65,000 messages written on his behalf by supporters from around the world.

Amnesty International calls upon states to ensure that the resolution adopted in November by the UN General Assembly to protect the rights of human rights defenders is implemented, including the naming and shaming of states that fail to uphold these rights.

[see also my post: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/]

Source: Amnesty International Annual Report 2015/2016 | Amnesty International

Follow up on the Human Rights Defenders Resolution in the UN

December 5, 2015

Last week I wrote about how the UN Resolution on HRDs did in the 3rd Committee of the UN General Assembly [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/unfortunately-the-un-voted-on-the-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders/] and how South Africa has turned around [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/south-africa-does-about-turn-on-un-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders/]. The date of the vote in the Plenary is not yet confirmed but is likely to be 18 or 21 December. The voting record is available: http://www.un.org/en/ga/third/70/docs/voting_sheets/L.46.Rev.1.pdf

Fourteen States voted no on the resolution (China, Russia, Syria, Burundi, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, North Korea, South Africa, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan). In some of these countries civil society has expressed disappointment. e.g.

In Pakistan the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in a statement issued on Tuesday, said: “At the same time, HRCP must express alarm and great disappointment that Pakistan chose to be one of the 14 nations that voted against the resolution.“ “While regretting Pakistan’s decision to oppose the resolution, the civil society is entitled to ask what rights defenders have done to deserve this step-motherly treatment. It is unfortunate that the government wishes to see civil society as an adversary. The civil society cannot, and must not, surrender its role as a watchdog for people’s rights because that constitutes an entitlement, by virtue of citizens’ social contract with the state, and not as a concession” “The HRCP also stresses people’s right to know through an explanation in parliament the reason why the government chose to deny the need for protection for HRDs, who include, besides human rights groups, journalists, lawyers, political and social activists.Read the rest of this entry »

South Africa does ‘about-turn’ on UN resolution on human rights defenders

November 30, 2015

In relation to my post of 26 November [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/unfortunately-the-un-voted-on-the-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders/] there is an interesting development. South-African media, NGOs and human rights defenders (e.g. http://www.timeslive.co.za/thetimes/2015/11/27/We-join-the-bullies) criticized heavily the position taken by Government in voting against. Today Barry Bateman reports that the South African government appears to have done an about-turn on its position and will now support the resolution when the matter is referred to the full General Assembly in the next few days.  The Department of International Relations says the Africa group of members’ states had about 39 proposed amendments to the resolution following intense negotiations. The department raised concerns around the definition of a human rights defender, the responsibilities placed on sovereign parliaments and issues of NGO funding.  It says the resolution’s main sponsor introduced oral amendments at the last-minute without informing South Africa.  These amendments rendered the country’s concerns redundant.

India‘s Yes-vote was circumscribed by its statement that “stressed” that it does not feel it necessary to not create “any new obligations at national level”. Counterview  of 28 November takes issue with this citing examples of where human rights defenders in India are still missing protection. [see also: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/yes-minister-it-human-rights-issue/india-uk-narendra-modi-david-cameron-visit-human-rights]

In the meantime Khoo Ying Hooi writing in a post in the Malaysian Insider of 30 November welcomes the Yes-vote by Malaysia, but shares the skepticism of many local human rights defenders that it is mostly window-dressing way. (“Malaysia has in many instances not walked the talk when it comes to international commitments on human rights affairs. One glaring example is their lack of commitment to the peer-review mechanism, Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the United Nations Human Rights Council. At this point of time, Malaysia’s adoption of the UN resolution in protecting human rights defenders does not reflect the reality back home. It was obvious that it is, at least for now, nothing more than diplomatic window dressing. While a UN resolution such as this would help in many ways, human rights protection must start at home.“)

Sources: Govt does ‘about-turn’ on its human rights defenders position

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/opinion/khoo-ying-hooi/article/malaysias-vote-on-protecting-human-rights-defenders-diplomatic-window-dress

http://www.counterview.net/2015/11/india-doesnt-need-new-legal-mechanism.html

Syria: Mazen Darwish free after 3 years, but still to be acquitted

August 12, 2015

Yesterday I reported on Human Rights Watch honoring Yara Bader as the representative of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression. Now I am catching up on the release of her husband and the founder of the Centre, Mazen Darwish, after more than three years in jail.  A verdict in his case is expected later this month. Darwish was arrested, along with two colleagues, in February 2012 during a raid. Hussein Ghreir and Hani al-Zaitani were freed last month (17 July and 18 July 2015, respectively) as part of an amnesty that was to have included Darwish, but his release was delayed.

Many NGOs (i.a. Frontline, the Observatory, AI and HRW) and Governments have welcomed the release but warn that Mazen Darwish, and his colleagues Hussein Ghrer and Hani al-Zaitani, have been charged with “publicising terrorist acts” and are still to be tried before the Syrian Anti-Terrorism Court. They invariably call for all charges against them to be dropped. “Mazen, Hussein and Hani are not terrorists, they are human rights defenders,” FIDH President Karim Lahidji said “All charges against them must be dropped immediately”. “We urge the Syrian Anti-Terrorism Court to acquit them during the verdict hearing on August 31, as their judicial harassment has only been aimed at sanctioning their human rights activities”, OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock concluded.

See also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/syrian-journalist-mazen-darwish-deserved-winner-of-unescoguillermo-cano-award/

[On May 15, 2013, in its Resolution 67/262, the UN General Assembly called for the release of the three defenders. In January 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also found that the three defenders had been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty due to their human rights activities and called for their immediate release. Finally, UN Security Council Resolution 2139, adopted on February 22, 2014, also demanded the release of all arbitrarily detained people in Syria.]

Syria: Finally free, Mazen Darwish must now be acquitted.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/mazendarwish

http://tvnewsroom.org/newslines/world/syria-releases-award-winning-activist-mazen-darwish-79643/

United Nations declares again that mass surveillance threatens the right to privacy.

November 27, 2014

Several newspapers have reported on this matter but perhaps not many  in the US (see at the end). In an excellent blog post on 26 November 2014 Peter Micek and Javier Pallero give the background to this UN Declaration, for the second straight year, which states that government communications surveillance poses a threat to the right to privacy. I quote liberally from it:

Passed unanimously on Tuesday by the Third Committee, the resolution on “The right to privacy in the digital age” this time also calls for a permanent ‘office’ on the right to privacy. For that to happen, the Human Rights Council in Geneva will have to take action in March 2015 by creating a new “special rapporteur” on the right to privacy.

Background

In response to mass surveillance revelations in 2013, including news that their political leaders had been spied on, Brazil and Germany co-authored a unanimous resolution in the General Assembly. The resolution called for a report by the then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who came with a scathing critique in July 2014 that cited the need for immediate reform of surveillance laws and practices in line with international human rights norms. The report’s finding that mass surveillance inherently violates human rights spoke directly to the “five eyes” countries – the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia – who are responsible for weakening technical standards, collecting untold reams of data, and thwarting public debate over their practices.

Brazil and Germany again teamed up to lead this year’s effort, gathering more than 60 cosponsors. The resolution finds that surveillance must be “consistent with international human rights obligations and must be conducted on the basis of a legal framework, which must be publicly accessible, clear, precise, comprehensive and non-discriminatory.” It smartly calls for greater access to remedy for victims — a too-often ignored pillar of rights frameworks — and for increased attention to the role of private companies in government surveillance. In oral statements, the US and its allies in the “Five Eyes” drew attention to the resolution’s acknowledgment of “threats and harassment” that human rights defenders face along with privacy violations. And the resolution invites the Human Rights Council to “consider the possibility of establishing a special procedure” regarding the promotion and protection of the right to privacy.

Shortcomings

  • The resolution does not specifically call for governments to extend protections to users abroad.  Although expressing concern is important, governments must do much more to provide an effective solution to cross-border violations.
  • The resolutions language on restrictions is unnecessarily general (“non-arbitrary and lawful”) but it could have used findings by multiple courts and international experts more precisely defining how privacy rights should be handled – that surveillance and other privacy restrictions should only be prescribed by law, necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, and proportionate to the aim pursued. These concepts are further articulated in the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, which High Commissioner Pillay said in her report can be considered interpretive guidance of Article 17 of the ICCPR that establishes the right to privacy.
  • While the resolution notes that metadata can, when aggregated, “reveal personal information and can give an insight into an individual’s behaviour, social relationships, private preferences and identity,” it stops short of calling for an end to bulk metadata collection by governments, which the Human Rights Council has an opportunity to push for in March.

Summarizing, the authors of the post think that this resolution is a step in the right direction and “Access” will continue working to ensure the Council follows through on the General Assembly’s suggestion, and creates the Special Rapporteur.

https://www.accessnow.org/blog/2014/11/26/new-un-resolution-shifts-momentum-on-privacy-to-human-rights-council

In a related piece in ‘The Local’ one can read how Germany – at the heart of moves to limit the power of US web companies and their involvement in surveillance – is pressured by American companies and politicians.

 

http://www.thelocal.de/20141126/germany-denies-accusations-of-google-bashing

UN General Assembly votes today on Iran: Joint appeal by NGOs

November 18, 2014

Today – 18 November 2014 – the General Assembly is due to vote on a Resolution concerning Iran. Although the human rights situation in Iran has shown some slight improvements since Rouhani became president, it seems that hardliners keep firm control over the judiciary and thus over the life and well-being of human rights defenders. Also Iran continues to deny access to the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran. The Joint Letter to the Member States of the UN General Assembly signed by numerous NGOs makes the point quite clearly:

see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/iran/

Text of Letter:

Your Excellency:

We, the undersigned human rights and civil society organizations, write to urge your government to vote in favor of Resolution A/RES/69/L on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This vote will take place during the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, scheduled to take place in the Third Committee this Tuesday, 18 November 2014.

This resolution provides a crucial opportunity to reiterate ongoing human rights concerns identified by members of the international community and Iranian civil society. Sixteen months into the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, who won the election after promising to improve the human rights situation, those living in Iran continue to suffer violations at the hands of the authorities. Indeed, during last month’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Iran at the UN Human Rights Council, several UN member states expressed dismay at Iran’s lack of progress over the last four years, including on many of the recommendations Iran had accepted during the first UPR cycle in 2010.

Human rights abuses are deeply rooted in Iran’s laws and policies, both of which pose serious obstacles for much-needed rights reforms to take place. On 28 October 2014, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, reported that human rights in the country “remain of concern” and detailed violations of the rights to life, the rights to freedom from torture and discrimination based on gender, religion, and ethnicity, the rights to education, health, fair trial, freedom of expression, association, assembly, religion and belief, as well as limits on the press. Despite its 2005 standing invitation to the United Nations’ Special Procedures, Iran remains unwilling to accept their repeated requests to visit the country. Furthermore, the authorities have systematically worked to undermine the efforts of civil society in the country to promote and protect international human rights standards.

The continued attention of the international community is required if the Islamic Republic of Iran is to end this pattern of abuse and noncooperation. UN member states must continue to express their concern about these abuses. In doing so, member states provide support to civil society as well as to those in the Iranian government who wish to see improvements in the human rights situation. By voting in favour of the resolution, states will encourage Iran’s government to prioritize human rights and to advance and protect the rights of Iran’s population.

Since the beginning of 2014, Iran has executed at least 600 people. This figure includes juvenile offenders and individuals who may have been executed for peacefully exercising their rights including the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Death sentences in Iran are often imposed without any regard to internationally prescribed safeguards. Authorities executed Reyhaneh Jabbari on 25 October 2014, despite repeated calls from UN human rights mechanisms, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to stay the execution out of concern that her prosecution had failed to meet international fair trial standards. Moreover, the vast majority of executions in Iran are implemented for offenses, such as drug-related offenses, that do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes.” Iranian law maintains the death penalty for consensual sexual relations between adults, including for adultery and same-sex relations, and for financial crimes. Iran continues to execute in public despite calls by the UN Secretary-General on authorities to halt the practice.

Executions based on national security-related charges that may be politically motivated appear to be carried out disproportionately against members of Iran’s ethnic minority communities, including Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, and Baluchis. Rights groups are concerned about the situation of 33 Sunni Kurds, most of whom are held in Raha’i Shahr Prison in Karaj and face imminent risk of execution. The men were sentenced to death following grossly unfair trials during which basic safeguards, such as the right to defense, were disregarded, in contravention of international fair trial standards.

The Special Rapporteur and human rights organizations continue to express grave concerns for scores of activists, journalists, human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, trade unionists, students, and members of ethnic and religious minorities currently languishing in arbitrary detention. Iranian detainees and prisoners consistently face the risk of torture or other ill-treatment, including prolonged solitary confinement and denial of medical treatment. They are regularly denied access to legal counsel or fair trials. Many detainees are prosecuted under vaguely defined national security charges, which are regularly used to silence peaceful expression, association, assembly, and religious activity. In July 2014, for example, journalist Sajedeh Arabsorkhi began serving a one-year imprisonment sentence on the charge of “spreading propaganda against the system.” It appears that the charge is related to her open letters to her father, Feyzollah Arabsorkhi, a former deputy trade minister and a senior member of a reformist political party, during the time he was imprisoned.

Systematic discrimination against women in law and practice also merits serious concern. In the past few years, the authorities have increasingly put in place discriminatory measures aimed at restricting women’s access to higher education, including gender quotas, and have adopted new population policies resulting in women’s restricted access to sexual health and family planning programs. The authorities continue to persecute those protesting such discriminatory laws and practices, often by accusing them of vaguely worded national security offences. This month, for example, Ghoncheh Ghavami learned of her one-year prison sentence and two-year travel ban by a Tehran court on the charge of “spreading propaganda against the system”. She was arrested after she protested a ban on women watching matches at sports stadium during a game played by Iran’s national volleyball team.

This resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights in Iran of the 69th UNGA is a vital opportunity for the international community to give expression to human rights concerns. The resolution welcomes recent positive statements by Iranian officials, while effectively drawing attention to the broad range of ongoing violations. Moreover, the resolution calls on authorities to cooperate with all UN Special Procedures, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Substantive cooperation with UN mechanisms and tangible rights improvements in line with Iran’s international legal obligations are the real measures of progress. By voting in favor of this resolution on 18 November, the UN General Assembly will send a strong signal to the government and all Iranians that the world is invested in genuine human rights improvements in the country.

Letter to the Member States of the UN General Assembly.