Posts Tagged ‘UN Human Rights Council’

Apply now for ISHR’s Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme 2022

December 10, 2021

If you are you a human rights defender keen to use the UN you would do well to apply to the 2022 edition of ISHR’s flagship training the Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme (HRDAP).

After two successful online editions in 2020 and 2021, ISHR has launched the call for applications for the third online edition which will take place remotely between 4 April and 24 June 2022. [for last year’s see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/07/applications-now-open-for-ishrs-2020-training-for-human-rights-defenders/]

The course equips human rights defenders with the knowledge and skills to integrate the UN human rights system into their existing work at the national level in a strategic manner, and provides an opportunity for participants to prepare for and engage in lobbying and advocacy activities at the UN with the aim to effect change back home.

Applications for HRDAP22 will remain open until Monday 3 January 2022.

The 12-week course allows defenders to continue their vital work on the ground, while diving into the inner workings of each key UN human rights mechanism, and gaining first-hand experience from advocates and UN staff on how civil society can strategically engage in the international human rights space.  

By participating in HRDAP, defenders:

  1. Gain knowledge and tools, which they can use to ensure their voice is central in international human rights decision-making
  2. Explore and compare the benefits of engagement with the Human Rights Council, the Special Procedures, the OHCHR, the UPR and the Treaty Bodies, and examine how they can use them to bolster their work at the national level
  3. Develop strategies and lobbying techniques to increase the potential of their national and regional advocacy work

During the last training, 19 human rights defenders from 17 countries took part in the programme. At the end of the training, 100% of those surveyed were satisfied with the programme, with 82% indicating they were “very satisfied”. Find out more about what they learnt here.

This programme is directed at experienced human rights defenders in non-governmental organisations, with existing advocacy experience at the national level and some prior knowledge of the international human rights system. ISHR supports, and promotes solidarity with and between, defenders working in the following areas or contexts, which we recognise as intersectional and interdependent:

  1. Equality, dignity and non-discrimination
  2. Environmental justice and sustainability
  3. International accountability for the repression of human rights defenders
  4. Transparency and rule of law

Download the HRDAP22 Programme Description to find out more and apply before Monday 3 January 2022!

What are the next steps?

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrdap-2022-apply-now-for-ishrs-training-for-human-rights-defenders/

New Right to Healthy Environment: NGOs urge action

October 11, 2021

On 11 October 2021 ReliefWeb published the open letter signed by 166 civil society organizations and individuals calling upon world leaders to put human rights at the centre of environmental policy (for signatories see link below).

“Respecting and protecting human rights and protecting the environment are inextricably linked. Yet while Heads of State from 88 countries have called to end siloed thinking in the Leaders Pledge for Nature, environmental policy-making still too often excludes or sidelines human rights.

Today we, the undersigned — a broad range of indigenous peoples’ organisations, civil society groups — including human rights, land and environmental defender organisations — academics and [UN] experts from the Global South and North — call on the world’s leaders to bring together human rights, environmental and climate in policy-making in order to secure a just, equitable and ecologically healthy world for all.

The reciprocal relationship between nature and people has existed since time immemorial, but it is now unbalanced. There are countless examples in all parts of the world of how forests, savannas, fresh water sources, oceans, and even the air itself, are being privatised, polluted and destroyed by industries such as agriculture, timber, pulp and paper, mining and oil and gas extraction. These and many other industries not only wreak destruction on Mother Earth, but they also have direct and devastating impacts on human rights. Indigenous peoples and local communities living in close proximity to the production, extraction and processing of raw materials suffer dispossession of their lands, impoverishment, deterioration of their health, and destructive impacts on their culture, among many other abuses. In turn, human rights, land and environmental defenders who seek to prevent these violations suffer threats, criminalisation and violent attacks, and increasingly, killings.

The costs of both environmental destruction and measures to address this often fall disproportionately on those already in precarious positions — such as indigenous peoples, afro-descendants, local communities, women, children and youths, and poorly-paid workers, particularly in the Global South but also in the Global North — while the profits of the largest and most environmentally-damaging industries, and the wealth of their owners and financers, continues to grow. It is unforgivable that polluting industries profit at the expense of the health and human rights of marginalised communities. And, ultimately, this environmental destruction has indirect human rights impacts on us all.

Just this month the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognising the Right to a Healthy Environment. Yet while there is evidence that the protection of human rights can lead to better environmental outcomes, calls for recognition of the holistic and indivisible nature of human rights and the environment often go unheeded in global, regional and national environmental and climate policy forums.

This must change. As a global community we face multiple, intersecting crises: increasing human rights abuses and environmental harms by companies, land grabs, the loss of food and water sovereignty, increasing poverty and inequality, increased attacks and killings of defenders, climate change-induced disasters and migration, the diminishing health of the oceans and critical biodiversity loss. Resolving these crises demands a holistic approach to environmental policy that embeds human rights and tackles systemic problems, including historically rooted social injustice, ecological destruction, state capture by corporations, corruption and impunity, as well as and social and economic inequality.

We urge world leaders to ensure that all policymaking related to the environment — including the climate and biodiversity crises, ownership and use of land, water and resources, ecosystem degradation, corporate accountability and trade, among others — address human rights and the environment in an integrated manner. This would help to catalyse the transformative action that is urgently required.

Respect for, protection, promotion and fulfilment of human rights, and the protection of those who defend them, must be an essential and non-negotiable part of measures adopted in upcoming negotiations at the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, COP15, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP26. Human rights must also be central to regional and national level climate and environmental policies, such as proposed deforestation legislation in the UK, the EU and the USA, which must be further strengthened.

The time to act is now: we call on you to unite human rights, climate and the environment once and for all. In doing so, you can help us and our future generations to thrive by living in harmony with nature. And in doing so, you can affirm that both nature and people have intrinsic worth and that governments are serious in living up to their duty both to protect Mother Earth and to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.”

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/open-letter-civil-society-world-leaders-put-human-rights-centre-environmental-policy

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2110/S00102/civil-society-calls-on-world-leaders-to-put-human-rights-at-the-centre-of-environmental-policy.htm

Documentary film Arica gets attention from United Nations Human Rights Council

September 15, 2021

On 2 June 2021 Davide Abbatescianni wrote in Cineuropa about Lars Edman and William Johansson’s film which documents the devastation caused by a Swedish mining giant in a Chilean desert town

Over 30 years after Swedish mining and smelting giant Boliden shipped almost 20,000 tons of toxic mining waste to the Chilean desert city of Arica, a group of Special Rapporteurs from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) led by Dr Marcos Orellana have made allegations of ongoing human rights abuses, as exposed in Lars Edman and William Johansson’s documentary Arica [+]. The feature was presented at last year’s IDFA and is set to continue its festival run in Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy and Belgium.

Exposure to the waste led to numerous cases of cancer, birth defects and serious diseases. Currently, the Chilean government estimates that around 12,000 people were exposed to the toxins. The UNHRC has advised the Swedish government that “urgent measures should be taken to repatriate the hazardous wastes to Sweden and/or ensure the disposal of the hazardous wastes in an environmentally sound manner”.

Particular criticism is aimed at Boliden Mining, which the body accuses of “intimidating and threatening behaviour” towards human rights defenders – namely, the legal team representing the victims in Arica. They allege that such an approach, adopted by Boliden following the decision by the Swedish court of appeal not to hear the Arica case on the grounds that Boliden’s actions took place too long ago to be tried under Swedish law, was “a deliberate attempt to produce a wider, chilling effect of silencing and intimidating other lawyers and human rights defenders”. The United Nations’ action has been welcomed by victims and campaigners, including community campaigner Rodrigo Pino Vargas, who said: “For over 30 years, we have seen our families and our neighbours suffer the consequences of this Swedish waste. We have buried our children and been forced from our homes. We will not stop until our voices are heard and the damage is repaired. Even when we win in court, we find nothing but broken promises. For the first time, the intervention of the United Nations gives us hope that our human rights will be upheld. The people of Arica demand that immediate action be taken to meet our health needs and that the toxic waste be returned to where it belongs – in Sweden.”

The acclaimed documentary, shot over the course of 15 years, sheds light on a shameful case of modern colonialism. After losing their case in 2018 with a sentence that ultimately sided with Boliden, rejecting the Chilean judges’ verdict on the firm’s responsibilities and decriminalising their misdeeds, another appeal was lost in 2019. As of today, the Swedish Supreme Court has not granted Arica’s victims the right to appeal, and Boliden is threatening to sue their lawyers to make them pay the legal costs, a sum close to $5 million.

Producer Andreas Rocksén commented: “When Lars and William began filming 15 years ago, their intention was to ensure that the voices of the people in Arica, affected by the waste that came from under the soil where they grew up, would be heard. What has happened since has surpassed any expectations: their story is being heard around the world, and yet those same people in Arica are still fighting for justice. We will continue to amplify their voices as best we can and applaud all the different initiatives aimed at seeing their human rights upheld.”

Meanwhile, political pressure in Sweden is mounting as the country prepares to host the Stockholm+50 event, marking 50 years since the first-ever UN Conference on the Human Environment.

Arica was produced by Swedish independent studio Laika Film & Television, and was co-produced by Belgium’s Clin d’Oeil Films, Chile’s Aricadoc, Norway’s Relation04 Media and the UK’s Radio Film Ltd. Its world sales are entrusted to Swiss outfit Lightdox.

https://www.cineuropa.org/en/newsdetail/405513

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

Joint statement by U.N. rapporteurs emphasizes digital rights as “top priority” to rebuild civic space

June 29, 2021

A bit belatedly, I refer to the statement made by Access Now welcoming on Tuesday, 8 June 2021, the timely new statement from U.N. Special Procedures emphasizing that digital rights are “a top priority” to rebuild civic space amid recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The nine experts are taking part in RightsCon 2021 (June 7-11), marking the third consecutive year that Special Rapporteurs have issued a statement in light of thematic discussions to be held at the global summit on human rights in the digital age.

The experts pointed to recent instances of digital repression including non-transparent content takedowns and manipulation — as the world is witnessing in Palestine, India, and Colombia — and called upon businesses to uphold their responsibility to respect human rights. They stressed that “the opacity that prevails in the ways content is moderated by Governments and companies reinforces global perceptions of discrimination, inefficiency and censorship. There is an urgent need for transparency.”

The diversity and scope of issues addressed within the mandates of the nine U.N. experts speaks to the heightened role of technology — and the need to center digital rights — in the pandemic recovery. We are thrilled to have such a robust presence of U.N. Special Rapporteurs and members of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights in this year’s RightsCon program,” said Peter Micek, U.N. Policy Manager at Access Now. “The statement decries patterns of abuse accelerating digital inequalities and discrimination against users most at risk, reminding states and the tech sector to undertake systemic efforts to reach those most affected.”

“We look forward to continuing to engage with the U.N. experts at RightsCon and beyond to address the intersection of technology within their mandates through a human rights-centered and intersectional lens,” said Laura O’Brien, U.N. Advocacy Officer at Access Now. “As we recover from the pandemic, we cannot understate the value of civil society engagement with U.N. experts.”

The experts warned particularly “against using the pandemic as an excuse to rush forward ‘digital transformation,’ as exemplified in digital vaccine certificates, without prioritising foundational digital rights safeguards” — a call that Access Now emphasizes.

The nine Special Procedures and their mandates include: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Clément Voule, the right to peaceful assembly and association; Olivier De Schutter, extreme poverty and human rights; David R. Boyd, human rights and environment; Gerard Quinn, the rights of persons with disabilities; Tlaleng Mofokeng, the right to physical and mental health; Irene Khan, freedom of expression; Mary Lawlor, the situation of human rights defenders; and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights — Dante Pesce, Surya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai, and Anita Ramasastry.

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2106/S00090/un-joint-statement-experts-call-for-centering-digital-rights-in-pandemic-recovery-on-eve-of-rightscon-2021.htm

https://www.manilatimes.net/2021/06/20/business/sunday-business-it/access-nows-digital-security-helpline/1803849

“A Seat At The Table” a guide for engaging with the UN system: 30 June 2021

June 22, 2021

The ISHR is Launching “A Seat At The Table”A guide to crafting effective narratives at the UN
about human rights and the people who defend them

The stories and narratives that are told about human rights defenders at the UN have a major impact on how they are understood and supported on the ground. Over the past 9 months, the ISHR has explored perceptions and views that diplomats working at the UN have about human rights and people who defend them. The objective was to understand the messages that best increase support for human rights defenders and to craft more effective human rights narratives, particularly as they relate to people who defend human rights. ISHR is now ready to share its findings with you and launch the new practitioners’ guide “A Seat At The Table“, meant for anyone working within or engaging with the UN system to promote and protect human rights, whether they be advocates with organisations, diplomats or frontline community activists and leaders.

This event will be held online. In order to attend the event, please RSVP here.

Welcome:    Ambassador Marc Bichler, Permanent Mission of Luxembourg

Panelists:   

Tom Clarke, human rights campaigner, communications specialist and guide co-author

Sophie Mulphin, human rights communications specialist and guide co-author

Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Ambassador Nazhat Shameen Khan, President of the Human Rights Council

Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for human rights

Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International

Thomas Coombes, human rights strategist and communications expert, founder of hope-based communications

Moderator: Marianne Bertrand, International Service for Human Rights

30 June 2021  
1:00-2:30pm CEST 
Online event Register now

https://mailchi.mp/ishr/749qlxejj6-33142?e=d1945ebb90

Mary Lawlor addresses Lawlessness in case of Berta Caceres and other HRDs

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021, Mary Lawlor – the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – wrote for Amnesty International “Five years after Berta Cáceres was murdered, states are still failing to protect human rights defenders". With the presentation of Mary Lawlor's report to the UN Human Rights Council coming up this week, the piece is worth reading in full:

It’s five years today since environmental human rights defender Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in Honduras. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2AD0CEE4-80CB-3234-04B4-F2ED7ACBE6C5]

She was one of hundreds of human rights defenders killed that year because of their peaceful work, and hundreds more defenders have been killed every year since. Those responsible are rarely brought to justice. Although some have been convicted of Berta Cáceres’ killing, others believed to have been involved have still not been brought to account. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/]

It’s a familiar and continuing story, in Honduras and across the world, where those responsible for the murder of a human rights defender often enjoy impunity. This week I am presenting my latest report to the United National Human Rights Council in Geneva, and it is on the killings of human rights defenders and the threats that often precede them.

At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020. Unless radical, immediate action is taken we can expect hundreds more murders again this year.

Since 2015, at least 1,323 defenders have been killed. While Latin America is consistently the most affected region, and environmental human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres often the most targeted, it is a worldwide issue. At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020

Between 2015 to 2019, human rights defenders were killed in at least 64 countries, that’s a third of all U.N. member states. Those collecting the data agree that underreporting is a common problem. The number of defenders killed is likely significantly higher than the figures we have.

We know that on every continent, in cities and the countryside, in democracies and dictatorships, governments and other forces threatened and killed human rights defenders. Many, like Berta Cáceres, are killed in the context of large business projects.

Why do so many governments and others kill human rights defenders working peacefully for the rights of others? Partly because they can, safe in the knowledge that there is unlikely to be the political will to punish the perpetrators.

While some states, particularly those with high numbers of such killings, have established dedicated protection mechanisms to prevent and respond to risks and attacks against human rights defenders, defenders often complain that the mechanisms are under-resourced.

And in too many cases, businesses are also shirking their responsibilities to prevent attacks on defenders or are even responsible for the attacks.

These murders are not random acts of violence that come out of nowhere. Many of the killings are preceded by threats. As Amnesty International noted, Berta Cáceres’ murder “was a tragedy waiting to happen,” and she had “repeatedly denounced aggression and death threats against her. They had increased as she campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people.”

And yet her government failed to protect her, as so many governments fail to protect their defenders. Since I took up this mandate in May last year I have spoken to hundreds of human rights defenders. Many have told me about their real fears of being murdered, and have shown me death threats made against them, often in public.

They tell me how some threats shouted in person, posted on social media, delivered in phone calls or text messages, or in written notes pushed under a door. Some are threatened by being included on published hit lists, receiving a message passed through an intermediary or having their houses graffitied. Others are sent pictures through the mail showing that they or their families have been under long-term surveillance, while others are told their family members will be killed. It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account

I’ve been told by defenders about a coffin being delivered to the office of an NGO; a bullet being left on a dining room table in their home; edited pictures of them being posted on Twitter, showing them having been attacked with axes or knives; and an animal head being tied to the door of their organization’s office.

Those advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights, and women and transgender human rights defenders, are often attacked with gendered threats, and targeted because of who they are as well as what they do. Women and LGBTI people demanding rights in a patriarchal, racist, or discriminatory contexts often suffer specific forms of attack, including sexual violence, smears and stigmatisation.

The murders of human rights defenders are not inevitable, many are signalled in advance, and yet governments fail, year after year, to provide enough resources to prevent them, and fail, year after year, to hold the murderers to account. In fact, states should not only end impunity but also publicly applaud the vital contribution that human rights make to societies.

This week I’ll again remind the U.N. that their members are failing in their moral and legal obligations to prevent the killings of human rights defenders. It’s no use for government officials to wring their hands and agree that the murder of Berta Cáceres and other defenders is a terrible problem and that someone should do something about it.

It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/asesinato-berta-caceres-estados-siguen-sin-proteger-defensores/

Sri Lanka: damning UN report deserves follow up

January 28, 2021

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) must take urgent steps to address the worsening human rights situation in Sri Lanka, said Amnesty International, on 27 January 2021 following the release of a damning UN report on the country’s efforts to ensure accountability for crimes committed during the civil conflict.

Almost twelve years on from the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, the report, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights warns that the country’s persistent failure to address historic crimes is giving way to ‘clear early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation and a significantly heightened risk of future violations.’ [see also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/30/sri-lanka-lawyers-human-rights-defenders-and-journalists-arrested-threatened-intimidated/]

In February 2020, the Sri Lankan government announced that it would no longer cooperate with the UNHRCs landmark resolution 30/1, which promotes reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in the country, and would instead pursue its own reconciliation and accountability process. This report lays bare Sri Lanka’s abject record on delivering justice and accountability and the decaying effect this has had on human rights in the country David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International

This report lays bare Sri Lanka’s abject record on delivering justice and accountability and the decaying effect this has had on human rights in the country. The seriousness of these findings highlights the urgent need for the UN Human Rights Council to step up its efforts in Sri Lanka,” said David Griffiths.

“For more than a decade, domestic processes have manifestly failed thousands of victims and their families. Given the government’s decision to walk away from resolution 30/1, and regression on the limited progress that had been made, the Human Rights Council must send a clear message that accountability will be pursued with or without the cooperation of the government.”

Amnesty International is calling on the UN Human Rights Council to implement the report’s key recommendations to put in place more stringent oversight on Sri Lanka, including more robust monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation, and the collection and preservation of evidence for future prosecutions. 

UN member states should learn from past experience, and this time heed the early warning indicators identified by the UN’s top human rights official.” said David Griffiths

The OHCHR report, published on 27 January 2021, is available to download here:.  The Human Rights Council will meet for its 46th session from 22 February to 23 March, during which Canada, Germany, Montenegro, North Macedonia and the UK – the current core group of states leading on Sri Lanka – are expected to present a resolution in follow-up to the OHCHR report.

Amnesty International published an assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka, setting out clear expectations for HRC action, earlier this month. The High Commissioner’s report supports the call for more robust monitoring and reporting on the situation, as well as the collection and preservation of evidence for future prosecutions.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/01/sri-lanka-damning-un-report-stresses-need-for-urgent-international-action-on-accountability/

Trump’s human rights diplomacy: Estrangement over Engagement.

October 15, 2020

Ryan Kaminski and Grace Anderson wrote in Just Security of 14 October 2020 a scathing assessment of US human rights policy under Trump, Here some large extracts, but it is worth reading in full:

At the launch of the first virtual session of the United Nations General Assembly last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought center stage to question one of the most historic documents put forward by the U.N. shortly after its inception: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Pompeo presented the findings of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights via videotape during a U.N. event that took place the same week [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/trump-marches-on-with-commission-on-unalienable-rights/]

Although jarring, the Commission’s conclusions should have come as no surprise: They are simply the culmination of the Trump administration’s downward trajectory on protecting human rights and engaging on these issues specifically at the U.N.

Just this month, for example, the U.S. microphone at the U.N. Human Rights Council was silent on the situation in Belarus, where massive protests have taken place against the country’s authoritarian leader. Nor did the United States take the floor when the Human Rights Council discussed combating global racism during an urgent debate requested by hundreds of U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights advocates, as well as the family of George Floyd. Moreover, the Trump administration’s recent self “report card” on human rights in the United States, posted online by the U.N. in September, is the shortest ever submitted from the United States, and it is unnecessarily combative, and conspicuously cherry-picked.

The practice of the Trump administration turning its back on rights at the U.N. goes well beyond the Human Rights Council.

Last December, the administration torpedoed a U.N. Security Council session on human rights in North Korea for a second year in a row. Its actions broke with years of precedent in which U.S. ambassadors of varying political stripes lobbied Security Council members to debate Pyongyang’s atrocious rights record. In 2019, the United States effectively kneecapped its own effort, despite having support from key allies and partners on the Security Council to move forward.

Recent budgetary moves by the Trump administration are another example of this worrying trend. In September, the State Department again served notice that it would be flouting the will of Congress by “reprogramming” $28 million for the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Over the past three years, the Trump administration has unilaterally withheld nearly $60 million in assessed contributions to OHCHR, an especially disdainful action given the bipartisan congressional support for the office.

Another area of concern is the Trump administration’s absentee track record of filling openings on U.N. human rights treaty bodies. These treaty bodies are official assemblies of international rights experts tasked with holding governments accountable for implementing the human rights accords they have ratified. They are effectively incubators and accelerators for the maintenance of international law and norms central to fundamental freedoms and human dignity. Yet, in a break with precedent from the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, Trump has not even nominated a candidate to sit on the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The absence of American presence on the Committee, as well as other unsung, yet influential, bodies, represents a sorely missed opportunity.

The Committee, for example, works to ensure compliance among its 182 State parties and has taken decisive action on issues at the heart of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy priorities, such as grilling China on atrocities committed against ethnic Uyghurs in its territory….

Worse than stonewalling special procedures and limiting visits, Trump administration officials have in certain cases even gone on the offensive against these U.N. watchdogs. After an official U.S. visit by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, originally authorized by the Obama administration, then-U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley claimed the expert’s findings were inaccurate, offensive and wasteful. This was a missed opportunity for the United States to constructively address scrutiny of its rights record like any other advanced democracy; instead the administration reflexively attacked an independent rights watchdog.

Constructive U.S. engagement with U.N. special procedures helps set a positive example and bolsters U.S. credibility, especially when the United States calls on regimes violating rights to not hide from these exact same investigations. This year, for instance, Pompeo called out Cuba, via Twitter, for not responding to communications from the U.N. special rapporteurs on combating trafficking and modern slavery.

The picture is not entirely gloomy, however.

One potential bright spot for the Trump administration’s human rights engagement at the U.N. is the State Department’s prioritization of U.N. Human Rights Council reform…butt reform is a function of engagement, not withdrawal. Thus, the administration’s 2018 decision to give up its seat on the Human Rights Council has proven ineffective, unsurprisingly, in accomplishing meaningful reform. In fact, research from the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights found active U.S. membership on the Human Rights Council was a “game-changer,” resulting in a significant drop in anti-Israel resolutions and “scrutiny of many of the world’s worst human rights violators.”

Conversely, the U.S. absence from the Council, together with attempts to strong-arm U.N. institutions through funding cuts, has abetted China’s growing assertiveness in the U.N. system. Even the Heritage Foundation has acknowledged the “concerning” trend of China’s upward trajectory in the U.N. system.

The Trump administration also acknowledged this new reality when the State Department established an unusual new envoy posting charged with countering Chinese influence at the U.N. and other international organizations. But this move falls well short of the United States adopting an overarching strategic policy on China’s growing U.N. influence. This month, the Trump administration awkwardly tweeted support for action by the U.N. Human Rights Council on China, all the while warming the bench in its ongoing boycott.

Overall, sustained pushback against human rights work at the U.N. by the United States has become yet another cornerstone of the Trump administration’s “America First” doctrine. As Pompeo stated unequivocally at the launch of the Commission on Unalienable Rights: “Many [human rights] are worth defending in light of our founding; others aren’t.”

Critics of the Commission are right to be concerned. Whether leaving critical human rights positions unfilled, undercutting U.N. human rights bodies by withholding funds, or attacking U.N. independent rights advocates, Eleanor Roosevelt’s warning more than 60 years ago is more salient than ever: “Without concerted citizen action to uphold [universal human rights] close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

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See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/29/kenneth-roth-speaks-plainly-on-international-human-rights-china-a-violator-and-us-unprincipled/

De Lima fears weak UN HRC resolution provides for impunity

October 11, 2020

The resolution recently adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) failed to take concrete action against the summary killings in the country, detained Senator Leila de Lima said Saturday 10 October 2020. On Wednesday, the UNHRC adopted a resolution asking UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to support the Philippines in fulfilling its international human rights obligations—not really an independent probe.

De Lima lamented that the resolution that could have strengthened human rights and accountability mechanisms in the country was instead “tantamount to absolving a murderous regime of its crimes against humanity.”…..

“Do we really expect this regime to stop the carnage and submit to technical cooperation and capacity building programs to promote the rights that it has been blatantly violating? No, we cannot tame a rabid mass murderer that is Duterte,” she said.

The senator reiterated the call for an independent international probe. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/11/un-council-agrees-action-on-philippines-in-spite-of-vehement-objection/]

We need to be more vigilant and well-informed in order not to be swayed by the deceptions and lies of government operators who curry favor with Duterte for selfish political interests. We vigorously assert our call for an independent international probe into the human rights crisis that continues to wreak havoc in our country,” she said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday said the Philippines would cooperate with the UNHRC resolution

https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/759319/de-lima-unhrc-resolution-absolves-gov-t-of-crimes-against-humanity/story/

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session41/Pages/ResDecStat.aspx