Posts Tagged ‘UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid’

Preview of Human Rights Defenders issues at the 2018 session of the UN Human Rights Council starting Monday

February 24, 2018

Thanks to the International Service for Human Rights I am able to give you a short overview of what issues directly relevant to human rights defenders are coming up in the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council starting on Monday 26 February 2018. For the broader human rights view please follow the link at the end of this post.

Thematic

Protection of human rights defenders working in the context of people on the move

A few days ago I posted https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/20/michel-forst-empowering-defenders-on-the-move-is-crucial-to-the-prevention-of-further-tragedy/ which refers to:

– the Global Compact for Migration which States will negotiate (in an open letter sent on 21 February, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid urged States to develop a compact that ‘explicitly recognizes and fully conforms to the existing international human rights framework as the authoritative protection agenda for all migrants’)

–  a thematic report on the situation of defenders of the rights of people on the move by the Special Rapporteur Michel Forst (read  ISHR’s detailed analysis)

– the OHCHR Principles and Practical Guidance for the protection of the Human Rights of Migrants in Vulnerable Situations (Principle 18 which states that States should ‘respect and support the activities of human rights defenders who promote and protect the human rights of migrants’)

– the Special Rapporteur on Torture’s report which is expected to focus on torture and other forms of ill-treatment in the context of migration.

Reprisals

During its last session, the Council adopted a resolution on reprisals. The resolution established a dedicated dialogue to address acts of intimidation and reprisals at each September Council session. Through the resolution, the Council also affirmed the particular responsibilities of its Members, President and Vice-Presidents to investigate and promote accountability for reprisals and intimidation.Reports of cases of reprisals not only continue, but grow in spite of the passage of this resolution, and the appointment of the UN Assistant Secretary General as the Senior Official on addressing Reprisals. As requested by Council Resolution 12/2, the General Debate under Item 5 of the Council is a key moment for States and civil society to raise and follow up cases of reprisals, and to push for accountability for such acts. [one of my favorite topics: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/]

Other key thematic report will be the one by the body working on developing a treaty on business and human rights. The open-ended inter-governmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises (known as IGWG), will present its third report to the Council. ISHR is concerned about the limited protection for human rights defenders in the current elements discussed at the last session. Any process towards drafting a business and human rights treaty should effectively prevent and respond to cases of reprisals.

Country-specific developments relating specially to HRDs:

Burundi. During the 36th session, the Council passed two resolutions on Burundi; one led by the European Union extending the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry and a second resolution by the African Group that requested OHCHR to urgently dispatch a team of three experts to engage with the Burundian authorities and all other stakeholders. Read here ISHR’s analysis of the two resolutions. At the 37th session, the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi will present an oral briefing to the Council. In addition, the High Commissioner will give an oral briefing of the Council on the mission of the OHCHR. Furthermore, the Secretary-General’s report on Burundi noted that OHCHR continued to receive allegations of serious human rights violations and abuses, primarily by the State and affiliated actors, including killings, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, more than 1,000 arbitrary arrests and detentions and restrictions on the freedoms of association, expression and movement. Burundi’s vice president criticised the report, suggesting that the Secretary-General has been transformed into an opposition member. ISHR and other NGOs continues to remain highly concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and its refusal to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms, which both clearly warrant an invitation to the General Assembly to consider the suspension of Burundi as a member of the Council. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/08/what-is-burundi-doing-in-the-un-human-rights-council/] For more information on the situation of human rights defenders in Burundi, check ISHR Briefing Paper for the UPR here.

China. Since Xi Jinping’s assumption of power in 2013, the situation for human rights defenders in China has gone from bad to worse. Five current cases illustrate the sense of impunity with which Chinese authorities trample on the rights of civil society actors. ISHR has discussed many of them in detail, but in short they include:

  • the baseless house arrest since 2010 of Liu Xia, a poet and the widow of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo;
  • the prolonged detention of rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who has been held incommunicado, and without charge or access to lawyers since July 9, 2015;
  • the seizure and disappearance in January 2018 of bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen previously forcibly disappeared from Thailand in October 2015;
  • the detention and prosecution for inciting separatism of Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan cultural rights and education advocate; and
  • the punitive disbarment in January 2018 and, later that month, arbitrary detention of Yu Wensheng, a prominent human rights lawyer.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/10/more-on-residential-surveillance-in-a-designated-location-rsdl-in-china/

Other country situations:

The Council will hear reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in many instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates and the situation of human rights defenders. They include:

  • The High Commissioner will present his reports on Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia, Afghanistan and give oral updates on the situation of human rights in Haiti, Yemen, Ukraine, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congoand Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
  • OHCHR will present its report on Cyprus and an oral update on Eritrea.
  • The Council will consider the written update of OHCHR on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.
  • The Council will consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and renew its mandate.
  • The Council will consider the report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
  • The fact-finding mission on the situation of human rights in Myanmar will present an oral update to the Council and the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar will also present her report to the Council.
  • The Council will consider the interim report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Iran and Cambodia.
  • The Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic.
  • The Independent Expert on Mali will present his report to the Council, who will also hold an interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Mali.
  • The Council was intending to consider the report of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, Asma Jahangir, however due to her death, it is currently unclear whether and how the report will be considered. {see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/02/11/asma-jahangir-one-of-the-worlds-most-outstanding-human-rights-defenders-dies-at-age-66/]

The High Commissioner will present his annual report in the last interactive dialogue of his term. Read here ISHR and other regional and international human rights organisations’ open letter to the Secretary General on the selection process of the next High Commissioner. [see also https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/]

Universal Periodic Review (UPR): States to be reviewed

During this session the Council will adopt the UPR reports which list the recommendations the State under review is expected to implement of the following 14 countries: Czechia, Argentina, Gabon, Ghana, Peru, Guatemala, Benin, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Pakistan, Zambia, Japan, Ukraine and Sri Lanka. ISHR submits briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocates for the UPR to be used as mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground.

Appointment of mandate holders

The President of the Human Rights Council has proposed candidates for the following a number of vacancies of mandate holders to be filled at this session, including:

  • Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence
  • Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali

 

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. All panel discussions will be broadcast live and archived on http://webtv.un.org. Seven panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session, including:

  • The annual high-level panel discussion on human rights mainstreaming will take place on 26 February 2018 from 16:00 to 18:00. This panel will discuss the challenges and opportunities of the promotion and protection of human rights in the light of the UPR mechanism. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • High-level panel discussion on the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action will take place on 28 February 2018 at 16:00 to 18:00. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child will take place on 5 March 2018 from 09:00 to 11:00 and from 16:00 to 18:00. This panel will discuss the protection of the rights of the child in humanitarian situations. The concept note of the panel is available here.
  • Debate on promoting tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity in the context of combating racial discrimination will take place on 16 March 2018 at 09:00 to 11:00. This panel will be held in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The concept note will soon be made available here.

Side events. States and NGOs are holding a series of events. You can download the list of State events here and NGO events here. I will post on some of these separately.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc37-key-issues-agenda-march-2018-session

Another one bites the dust…the future of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

February 13, 2018

David Petrasek, Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa, wrote on 8 February 2018 an interesting piece under the title: “Another one bites the dust—what future for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?” (Openglobalrights.org) and wondered whether the early departure—yet again—of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights doesn’t suggests it’s time to re-think the office’s priorities and strengthen its mandate (rather than more activism).

After the announcement in December 2017 by Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan that he would not seek a second term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I wrote that “while most high level United Nations officials serve as long as their mandate allows, no single Human Rights Commissioner has served a full four-year second term” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/].

The piece is worth reading and poses well the difficult dilemma:

Petrasek states: Zeid’s untimely departure therefore begs the question—is the job do-able? In fulfilling the mandate, must the UN’s top human rights official so annoy governments that they cut short her or his tenure? Is that a price worth paying? It would certainly strengthen the High Commissioner’s position if they were given a single six or seven-year term, getting out from under the Damoclean sword of renewal at four years.

Zeid has been a prominent and eloquent spokesperson in defense of human rights,..Clearly, this won him few friends among powerful countries, the US included. But it’s less clear that his outspokenness made much difference. It’s worth asking: should the High Commissioner prioritize speaking out even if the cost of doing so is to lose the political support necessary to fulfil her or his full mandate? The High Commissioner is not only the UN’s human rights conscience. She or he is also tasked with co-ordinating the UN’s myriad human rights activities, pursuing an active—and perhaps less public—human rights diplomacy, and leading efforts to reform often overlapping, outdated and cumbersome UN procedures.

The idea for a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was put forward by civil society in the lead up to the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. Many functions were suggested for inclusion in the High Commissioner’s mandate, but the non-negotiable core demand was simple—the High Commissioner must have an overarching duty to promote and protect human rights anywhere.The High Commissioner was, therefore, a giant leap forward—personified in the post was the UN’s general human rights mandate, grounded in the UN Charter. She or he was now able to act whenever and wherever rights were at risk.

This general protection mandate has produced real results: High Commissioners have put neglected crises on the global agenda; there’s been a much-needed shift to the field of human rights staff, and the High Commissioner has amplified the voices of local human rights defenders.

Yet, today the High Commissioner’s voice is often only one amongst many. There are almost 60 independent human rights monitors (“Special Rapporteurs”) .. in 1993, there were barely a dozen. Similarly, today UN human rights inquiries are investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes in five countries, and eight investigations have concluded in the past decade. The Council regularly meets in emergency session, there is an International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council often (if inconsistently) includes human rights concerns in its resolutions, a rare occurrence in 1993. The Security Council has also authorized the deployment of over 1,000 human rights staff to UN peacekeeping missions. They too issue reports and statements of concern, as increasingly does the UN Secretary-General.

In short, the gap identified in 1993 has narrowed considerably, at least as concerns the UN pointing a finger at human rights abusers.

But other gaps remain and widen. The growth in UN human rights mechanisms has not been accompanied by an obvious growth in their efficiency or effectiveness. Indeed, multiple and overlapping procedures are weighing down what should be a nimble and responsive system. Further, although at least since the late 1990s High Commissioners have prioritized putting staff in the field, more than half remain in Geneva and New York; in contrast, the UN Refugee Agency has 87% of its staff in the field. This imbalance seriously undermines the Office’s ability to pursue an effective human rights diplomacy. And the relative weakness and underfunding of the High Commissioner’s Office means it is hard-pressed to co-ordinate UN system-wide approaches. It has been over a decade since it has proposed any significant reforms.

The conclusion might seem obvious—the High Commissioner should spend less time speaking out and more time strengthening and reforming both his Office and the UN human rights system. A less public profile, in this view, might produce less resistance to much-needed reform—diplomacy succeeding where activism fails.

Flickr/UN Geneva (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0-Some Rights Reserved)


Of course, it’s not that simple. Many states are reluctant to see the UN’s human rights efforts strengthened, regardless of what the High Commissioner is saying or not. And though a more ‘diplomatic’ approach might suit some states, it will at the same time alarm civil society and activists who look to the High Commissioner for leadership. Even if states might ignore denunciations from Geneva or New York, an activist High Commissioner undoubtedly gives comfort and support to beleaguered human rights defenders.

There are no easy answers to the question posed. Perhaps it’s simply unfortunate but necessary that the High Commissioner’s mandate is a poisoned chalice—do the job well, and you’re unlikely to be re-appointed. However, given the many changes since 1993, it is worth reflecting more deeply on how this mandate might be credibly pursued so that High Commissioners depart when the job is done, not when states determine their time is up.

A single, lengthier term is one proposal, but others might be considered, including better co-ordination between the High Commissioner and the Council’s independent experts to leverage more diplomatic space. The current High Commissioner will depart in August and the key players are already politicking to appoint a successor. If she or he is not to meet a familiar fate, then now is the time to re-think priorities and strengthen the mandate.

 

(David Petrasek was formerly Senior Policy Director and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of Amnesty International. David has worked on human rights and conflict resolution issues with the UN, foundations and NGOs for over 25 years.)

https://www.openglobalrights.org/another-one-bites-the-dust-what-future-for-the-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights/?lang=English

The weekly program Just Asia, full of news

February 10, 2018

This week’s ‘television programme’ Just Asia (9 February 20018) covers a number of important issues:
Burma: the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner warning that the government’s persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority has the potential to spark regional conflict. “It is sometimes said that today’s human rights violations will become tomorrow’s conflicts.”  Also this week, the Associated Press confirmed at least five mass graves found in Rakhine, through multiple interviews and time-stamped cell phone videos. The graves are the newest piece of evidence suggesting genocide.
Indonesia: the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, ended 7 February. Among the Commissioner’s various meetings, two important ones were the civil society meeting hosted by Indonesia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the meeting with victims of human rights violations hosted by the National Commission on Human Rights. Local groups are hopeful that the high profile visit will significantly influence human rights development in Indonesia. Moreover, Mr. Zeid ended his visit with the announcement that his office would soon send a mission to West Papua to learn about the human rights situation there. (with an interview with Mr. Bedjo Untung, a Survivor of the 1965-1966 massacre)
The Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte’s political allies are proposing to amend the Constitution, to change the country’s presidential form of government to a federal one. While focusing on political changes, the current constitutional debate is silent on constitutional rights. Philippines’1987 Constitution includes the Bill of Rights and many provisions relating to social justice. These are the culmination of a people’s aspirations after suffering for years under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Any debate on constitutional change must therefore include discussion on the protection of constitutional rights.
Nepal, Plain clothes police arrested 14 year old Sandip Prasai on 1 February, and accused him of being a thief and a drug addict. Sandip was admitted to a hospital on February 4, where the doctors said there are no visible signs of injuries on his body, but he has suffered from panic attacks. Activists are calling on the government to investigate the incident and suitably punish the officers involved in beating a juvenile.
The bulletin can be watched online at www.alrc.asia/justasia and AHRC TV YouTube.
see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/21/just-asia-just-continues-with-its-human-rights-television/
https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/16/amila-sampath-the-man-behind-the-video-service-of-just-asia/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDPQ5KwOu0o&feature=youtu.be

Bound to happen but still…High Commissioner Zeid announces he will not seek second term

December 22, 2017

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, left, is not seeking a second term. CreditSalvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone, via Associated Press

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has made the unusual decision to not seek a second four-year term. The decision was conveyed in a short statement that was emailed to his staff early this Wednesday and shared with some media. “Next year will be the last of my mandate”..  “After reflection, I have decided not to seek a second four-year term. To do so, in the current geopolitical context, might involve bending a knee in supplication; muting a statement of advocacy; lessening the independence and integrity of my voice — which is your voice.” “There are many months ahead of us: months of struggle, perhaps, and even grief — because although the past year has been arduous for us, it has been appalling for many of the people we serve” .

This is very much in line with his courageous statements and actions over the years often referred to in this blog [e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]. Still, a blow to the international human rights movement.

While most high level United Nations officials serve as long as their mandate allows, no single Human Rights Commissioner has served a full four-year second term. Zeid’s four-year term expires next September. It has been clear for months that some of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations Security Council would use their influence to block it. Mr. Zeid al-Hussein – to his credit – has been critical of all of them.

He has been outspoken about the Russian-backed government of Syria. He has warned of the prospects of genocide by the Chinese-backed government of Myanmar. And he has called out the Trump administration several times, most pointedly on the travel ban against citizens of Muslim-majority countries and after the demonstrations by white supremacists in Charlottesville. Mr. al-Hussein’s willingness to take on the powerful by name, along with what he has described as the “eye-watering stupidity” of abusive governments, made him few friends. Mr. al-Hussein proved confounding to many by defying classification: the first human rights chief from the Middle East but a sharp critic of violations by Arab governments; a Muslim who condemned Islamic militants; and a Jordanian prince who discarded his title to take the job and become an advocate for victims.

[see also e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/15/martin-ennals-award-2016-relive-the-ceremony-in-13-minutes-or-in-full/]

——–

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/12/21/2017-the-year-even-the-u-n-human-rights-commissioner-gave-up-on-human-rights/?utm_term=.00b8792d71f7

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/12/20/world/un-human-rights-al-hussein.html

 

Last straw?: U.N. Human Rights Rapporteur Barred By Myanmar

December 21, 2017

 Yanghee Lee, U.N. human rights special rapporteur to Myanmar, talks to journalists during a news briefing in Yangon, Myanmar, in July 2017.

Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur on Myanmar, says she has been told that the Myanmar government will neither cooperate with her nor grant her access to the country for the remainder of her tenure. Lee was scheduled to visit Myanmar in January to assess human rights in the country, particularly in western Rakhine state, where the Rohingya are concentrated.

I am puzzled and disappointed by this decision by the Myanmar Government,she said in a statement.This declaration of non-cooperation with my mandate can only be viewed as a strong indication that there must be something terribly awful happening in Rakhine, as well as in the rest of the country.” “Only two weeks ago, Myanmar’s Permanent Representative informed the Human Rights Council of its continuing cooperation with the UN, referencing the relationship with my role as Special Rapporteur,” Lee said. Amnesty International called Myanmar’s decision to bar Ms Lee “outrageous”. James Gomez, the group’s director for Asia and the Pacific, said: “It is a further indication that authorities will do anything they can to avoid international scrutiny of their human rights record.”  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/02/01/murder-of-human-rights-defender-ko-ni-in-myanmar/]

The U.N. says more than 630,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since ongoing military attacks that began in August. Doctors Without Borders estimates that 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of the crackdown. Refugees streaming into neighboring Bangladesh have brought with them tales of rape and murder at the hands of Myanmar’s soldiers.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain told the BBC this week that Myanmar’s nominal leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the head of the country’s armed forces could potentially face charges of genocide for their role in the crackdown. “Given the scale of the military operation, clearly these would have to be decisions taken at a high enough level,” he told the BBC. “And then there’s the crime of omission. That if it came to your knowledge that this was being committed, and you did nothing to stop it, then you could be culpable as well for that.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/09/03/myanmar-time-for-aung-san-suu-kyi-to-return-at-least-some-of-her-many-human-rights-awards/]

Myanmar’s refusal to cooperate with the U.N. comes as the country set up a joint working committee for the return of Rohingya refugees with Bangladesh — where hundreds of thousands are housed in squalid border camps. Under an agreement signed last month in Dhaka, a 30-member working group is to be set up for the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya.

The authorities last week arrested Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Reuters journalists who have been covering the Rohingya crisis, and the men are being held incommunicado at an undisclosed location. They were arrested after being invited to dine with police officers on the outskirts of Yangon, the commercial capital.  After the arrests, the ministry of information released a picture of the men in handcuffs and alleged they had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media”.

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/20/572197324/u-n-human-rights-investigator-barred-by-myanmar

https://www.ft.com/content/6f0674ec-e57d-11e7-97e2-916d4fbac0da

2017 (10): need to ‘reset’ for human rights movement

February 24, 2017

This is the last post in my “2017 series“.

Amnesty International (AI) on Tuesday 21 February 2017 released its Annual Report 2016/17. It contains a summary of an international human rights survey that discusses the role “rhetoric of fear, blame and hate” have played in rolling back human rights around the world. AI analyzed major political leaders that identify as anti-establishment, such as US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, arguing that their rhetoric has led to dangerous impacts on policy. AI’s conclusion is for individuals to come together and push governments to respect human rights, stating, “we cannot rely on governments to protect our freedoms, and so we have to stand up ourselves.” AI said that inspiration should be found in the “civil rights activists in the USA, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa,” or things as recent as the International Women’s March and pro-democracy protests in Gambia. Beyond localized efforts, AI said that “global solidarity is crucial if we are to protect each other from those governments quick to portray dissent as a threat to national security and economic development.”

Last month the 2017 World Report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that a surge in populist leaders in Europe and the US threatens human rights while inviting autocratic abuse in other nations [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/20/2017-3-hrw-reminds-world-of-continuing-repression-of-minorities-and-their-defenders/].

In September UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein unleashed a scathing criticism of Western “demagogues,” accusing them of spreading populist xenophobia and racism.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/26/2017-6-predictions-on-trump-and-the-un-prophets-or-cassandras/

Source: JURIST – Amnesty: global politics threatening human rights

2017 (6): predictions on Trump and the UN – prophets or Cassandras?

January 26, 2017

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump

Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Already on 22 November 2016 Colum Lynch posted in “Foreign Policy” an insightful piece entitled: “The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump”.  It records the thinking of senior UN staff and NGO leaders who are going to confront a Donald Trump with a hard-line national security team. They fear that a Trump presidency could spur a global retreat from international human rights principles, marking the dawn of American leadership (see long extracts from the piece below) on green. Now – on 26 January 2017 – Daniel Warner in his weekly blog in the Tribune de Geneve wrote a post entitled: “The U.N., Trump and Cassandra” in which he reports that a bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 3 calling for the total disengagement of the United States from the United Nations. The bill, H.R. 193 – known as American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 – has been referred for deliberations to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill – tried before in 2015 – may not pass, but the writer fears it reflects the tenor of the current Trump administration. See his words below marked in blue.

—-

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, informed his staff in the weeks following the U.S. election that they will have to serve as the front line in an international effort to check any excesses on the human rights front. A chief concern, officials say, is that if the U.N. doesn’t call out its most powerful member for straying from universally accepted human rights norms, the rest of the world will be emboldened to ditch them. “We are going to speak up,” one U.N. official told Foreign Policy. “It’ll be rough, but if [Trump] puts any of those ghastly campaign pledges into action we will condemn.”

…..Still, Trump’s campaign pledged to restore waterboarding, deport millions of undocumented migrants, and ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. …

The U.N.’s approach to human rights is particularly tricky for the incoming U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who headed the U.N. refugee agency for nearly 10 years. Guterres has been an outspoken champion of refugees, pressing European governments, as well as the United States, to resettle far larger numbers of refugees. Two weeks after Trump called for his ban on Muslims last December, Guterres admonished the Security Council, saying, “Those that reject Syrian refugees because they are Muslims are the best allies in the recruitment propaganda of extremist groups.” But Guterres may be constrained as the leader of the United Nations, a job that requires a close relationship with the United States and other big powers. ……

That makes it likely that Zeid will take the lead on human rights. Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, Zeid, a Muslim prince from the Jordanian royal family, has repeatedly excoriated Trump, telling reporters in December that his threat to ban Muslim travel to the United States is “grossly irresponsible.” In September, Zeid included Trump, along with France’s Marine Le Pen and Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, on a list of “populists, demagogues, and political fantasists” who promoted their arguments grounded in “half truths and oversimplification.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]

Some U.N. officials say Zeid’s criticism of the U.N.’s most powerful country could strengthen his hand in disputes with other U.N. members, particularly those from the developing world who have long accused the United Nations of applying greater pressure on small powers for breaching human rights norms, while letting the United States and other big powers off the hook. Other U.N. officials fear that Zeid may be exposing the organization to a battle with the U.N.’s most powerful players that he can’t win. In September, Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin formally protested Zeid’s public denunciations of Trump and other European nationalists. “Prince Zeid is overstepping his limits from time to time, and we’re unhappy about it,” Churkin told The Associated Press.

More recently, Zeid tangled with China over his attendance at a ceremony for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which honored a Uighur economist, Ilham Tohti, who is serving a life sentence on charges of fomenting separatism and violence. A senior Chinese official appealed to Zeid not to attend the event, according to a U.N. official. But Zeid refused, insisting that he had an independent mandate to shed light on human rights violations wherever they occur, including China.

Even before Trump’s election, U.N. officials believed that human rights were under threat from authoritarian governments, including China, Egypt, Russia, and Turkey, which have been engaged in major crackdowns on civil liberties at home. “They are backsliding on human rights, but from a position of weakness,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York City-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch. “Both [Vladimir] Putin and Xi Jinping are engaging in the worst crackdowns in their countries in two decades, each driven by the terror as to how their countries will react to a weakening economy; they’re trying to snuff out in advance opposition they anticipate.”

Roth said there is a real danger that Trump and other populist leaders will accelerate the curtailment of human rights. “The entire human rights movement is weary about Trump,” he said. “It’s not clear what his values are. That is why his initial appointees are so important.” Dimitris Christopoulos, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, fears Trump’s controversial positions, including torture and deportation, would embolden smaller countries. When big powers, particularly the United States, tread on human rights the world tends to follow. If smaller countries, such as Burundi and Kenya, hear Trump threatening to cast out foreign refugees they may choose to act in kind, Christopoulos said. Saudi Arabia threatened this year to cut funding to U.N. relief programs and to lead a walkout by Muslim states from the United Nations if the U.N. didn’t lift its name from a list of countries that killed or maimed children in armed conflict, according to a senior U.N. official. In its defense, Saudi officials noted that the United States had shielded its closest Middle East ally, Israel, from being included on the same list in 2015. It was only fair, therefore, that Riyadh be spared the shame of being included on the list...

Rights advocates say the rising tide of nationalism and populism in Europe and the United States represents a potentially existential threat to the human rights movement, as governments that once championed the cause on the international stage head into retreat. Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, has railed against “left-wing human rights lawyers” who are seeking the prosecution of British soldiers alleged to have committed war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. She has proposed that London withdraw from key provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights that potentially expose British troops to prosecution. A generation of European nationalist leaders, including Le Pen and Wilders, who had been on the fringe of the European political spectrum, have seen their electoral prospects grow in the face of spreading anti-immigrant sentiment. That has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel as one of the “only outspoken leaders on human rights,” Roth said. In her first statement following Trump’s election, Merkel said she would work closely with Trump, but only on the basis of “democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law, and the dignity of men regardless of origin, skin color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.”

———-

Daniel Warner further wrote: Fervent supporter of H.R. 193 and prominent Republican Rand Paul (Rep-KY) said in 2015: “I dislike paying for something that two-bit Third World countries with no freedom attack us and complain about the United States… There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t like the U.N., and I think I’d be happy to dissolve it,” added the Kentucky senator. Or, as John Bolton, once U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and now being considered for the number two spot in the State Department famously said: “There’s no such thing as the United Nations. The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
This time, following the election of Donald Trump and the U.S. abstention on a Security Council resolution to condemn the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, the bill has a better chance. The mood in Washington of “America First” will try to repeal all multilateral agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as weakening multilateral organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Does the introduction of the bill matter? For International Geneva, it certainly does. While the United States might not withdraw from the U.N., the negative attitude of the current administration towards multilateralism and multilateral organizations will have obvious negative consequences for Geneva, sometimes called “The Rome of Multilateralism.” Even with U.S. participation, the international system will lack United States leadership during the Trump presidency. The visit of the Chinese President to the U.N. Office in Geneva and his speech at Davos were clear signs of shifting multilateral leadership.
I heard a comment from someone within the Washington bureaucracy that gives some hope.  Her feeling was that career civil servants will slow down if not block radical changes in U.S. foreign policy. The slow wheels of government will crush any unilateral attempts by the Trump leadership. The ship of state will carry on with deep divisions between the political appointments and career civil servants. This would be an indirect check on the incoming politicians.
On January 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration, millions marched against the Trump presidency throughout the United States. Millions more marched around the world for women’s dignity and many against Donald Trump as well. Will anyone march to save multilateralism and the U.N?

——

Sources:

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump | Foreign Policy

The U.N., Trump and Cassandra : Le blog de Daniel Warner

see also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/23/2017-4-canadas-year-of-real-human-rights-action/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/24/2017-5-with-trump-us-president-sweden-must-stand-up-for-human-rights/

Pakistani human rights defender Hina Jilani is the new President of OMCT

November 30, 2016

On 29 November 2016 OMCT announced that Hina Jilani, a prominent Pakistani human rights defender, is the newly elected President of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).hina-jilani-biography-1_940x430

Ms. Jilani was elected to a four-year term on Saturday 26 November at the organization’s General Assembly meeting held every four years. Addressing OMCT partners and members of its SOS-Torture network of more than 200 non-governmental organizations around the world, she said she would focus on boosting its cohesion to make its voice louder. “We can’t just condemn points of view; we have to convince people,” she said. “We have to show them that these values did not come out of nothing, that they are worth being preserved.  We have to show that undermining these values is not in the best interest of humanity.

Hina Jilani created Pakistan’s first all-women law firm and co-founded Pakistan’s first legal aid centre in 1986. In 1991 helped set up a shelter for women fleeing violence and abuse and presented one of the first cases of domestic violence in the country. Ms. Jilani was also one of the founders of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an NGO promoting human rights in Pakistan. She also created Pakistan’s Women Action Forum, a prominent women’s rights group whose campaigns have been at the heart of the democracy movement in the country. Ms. Jilani has been a lawyer at the Supreme Court of Pakistan since 1992.

At the international level, she was the first United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of Human Rights Defenders from 2000 to 2008. She was appointed in 2006 and 2009, respectively, to the UN International Fact-Finding Commissions on Darfur and on the Gaza Conflict.

Her expertise and lifelong dedication to human rights has earned her international recognition. In 2013, she joined The Elders, a group of statesmen, peace activists and human rights advocates, brought together by Nelson Mandela.  In 2000 she was honoured with the Amnesty International Ginetta Sagan Award for Women’s Rights, just a year after she was awarded the Human Rights Award by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. In 2008 she received the human rights award of the American Bar Association.

For more posts on Hina see: (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/hina-jilani/OMCT-LOGO

She spoke after a two-day forum organized on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of OMCT and its SOS-Torture network, along with UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, who shared concern that many countries were “returning to authoritarianism”, human rights defenders around the world were under “enormous pressure”, and that reprisals and arbitrary detentions were increasingly done under the pretext of fighting terrorist activities. The High Commissioner said he feared that declarations such as United States President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign declarations (condoning ill treatment such as “waterboarding”, for instance) might inspire other Governments to resume resorting to torture, hence exacerbating the practice around the world.

She also seemed undeterred by the consequent risks of wavering support of multilateral institutions, since the US election and the British “Brexit” vote triggered a wave of speculation as to a possible shift in funding priorities away from international aid, and since the withdrawal by several States such as South AfricaBurundiGambia and Russia from the International Criminal Court, triggered concerns over the deconstruction of a system built up to protect victims of serious human rights violations. “This is not an easy time for human rights defenders, but when has it been for us? We keep our determination despite all the challenges,” she told activists. “The global donors must understand that if there is hesitation in supporting these human rights defenders and their networks it will only reduce our outreach. But we did it before we had money. We have no reason to believe that this is a favour to any one organization or community.”

Ms. Jilani said that OMCT was one of the organizations best placed to uphold human rights and combat torture, adding: “It has the experience, the capacity, and the knowledge to take this challenge forward.”

Source: Prominent Pakistani human rights defender Hina Jilani becomes new OMCT President / November 29, 2016 / Statements / OMCT

Ethiopia: High Commissioner, Marathon runner and MEA Jury agree

September 16, 2016

Last week I reported that a number of NGOs had written to the UN Human Rights Council [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/un-human-rights-council-urged-to-address-situation-in-ethiopia/]. Speaking at the opening session of the Council, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “While Ethiopia has made impressive gains in terms of economic development, we are deeply concerned about repeated allegations of excessive and lethal use of force against protestors, enforced disappearances, and mass detentions, including of children, as well as by worrying restrictions on civil society, the media and opposition.” The High Commissioner said it was “mystifying” that the Ethiopian government refused to allow his office access to parts of the country where human rights abuses – including the recent shooting of protestors – have been alleged.[https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]. The UN High Commissioner used the occasion to criticise Ethiopia for a recent crackdown on opposition which has included the kidnapping and sentencing to death of a British man, Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege.

The Voice of America reported that Feyisa Lilesa, the Ethiopian silver medalist in the marathon at last month’s Rio Olympics, was in Washington this week, calling on the U.S. Congress to take action in solidarity with Ethiopians protesting their government. Lilesa gained worldwide attention when he crossed his wrists as a sign of protest as he approached the finish line during the Rio men’s marathon. He is Oromo and made the gesture in solidarity with Oromo protests that have occurred in Ethiopia since last November over issues including land rights and fair representation in the government. He met with Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, in New York to discuss human rights issues in Ethiopia.

FILE - Silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia crosses his writsts as he celebrates on the podium after the men's marathon at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 21, 2016. He had made the same gesture of protest as he approached the finish line of the race.

Silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia crosses his writsts as he celebrates on the podium after the men’s marathon at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro,

The Martin Ennals Award has in the meantime published a short video with comments by its Jury members about the Final Nominee from Ethiopia: Zone 9 Bloggers:

 

sources:

http://www.voanews.com/a/ethiopian-runner-calls-united-states-push-human-rights/3509965.html

http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2016/09/13/un-human-rights-chief-deeply-concerned-over-ethiopia-abuses

Important and wide-ranging statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 10 March 2016

March 11, 2016

There is a lot happening in Geneva (where I am for a few days) in relation to human rights defenders. The best I can do for the moment is to provide in full the very rich text of the UN High Commissioner’s statement in the debate in the UN Human Rights Council on 10 March: Read the rest of this entry »