Posts Tagged ‘UN procedures’

Procedural wrangling by dicatorships does not stop Human Rights Council adopting resolution in Belarus

September 19, 2020

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya speaks via video message to an urgent debate of the UN Human Rights Council / © AFP
AFP reports from Geneva on 19 September how Belarus and several allies tried Friday to block a video message from opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya at the UN Human Rights Council, where she urged “the strongest” international response to Minsk’s abuses. Her short video message, in a rare urgent debate at the council, had barely begun before Belarus Ambassador Yuri Ambrazevich demanded it be switched off. He repeatedly interrupted the screening, raising procedural objections and insisting her words had “no relevance on the substance… on the events that are taking place today.”

He was overruled by council president Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger. The debate on the rights situation in Belarus, requested by the European Union, focused on violations and the crackdown on the unprecedented demonstrations which broke out after disputed August 9 elections. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/27/16-ngos-call-on-un-to-convene-special-session-on-crackdown-in-belarus/]

Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet state for 26 years and on Thursday warned of a possible “war” with some neighbouring countries, has turned to Russia for support.

Tikhanovskaya’s message was repeatedly interrupted by objections from Belarus Ambassador Yuri Ambrazevich / © AFP

We have witnessed a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests,” said German ambassador Michael Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg on behalf of the EU. He raised concerns at “reports of attacks on — and torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of — peaceful protesters as well as harassment, intimidation and detentions of opposition leaders.”

Minsk’s envoy Ambrazevich meanwhile slammed the “lopsided picture of reality presented by the losers in the election,” rejecting allegations of abuse by authorities. He insisted that protesters had been violent and had injured numerous police officers. Ambrazevich and his counterparts from Russia, Venezuela and China also voiced multiple objections to statements by the UN deputy rights chief Nada Al-Nashif and Anais Marin, the UN special rapporteur on the rights situation in Belarus, saying they had no place in the debate.

Marin told the council that more than 10,000 people had been “abusively arrested for taking part in peaceful protests”, and lamented that “over 500 cases of torture, committed by state agents, have been reported to us.” “I have been informed of allegations of rape, electrocution, and other forms of physical and psychological torture,” she told the council via video link, adding that the perpetrators appeared to be acting with “impunity“.

Friday’s debate ended with a vote approving a resolution submitted by the EU insisting that the vast array of serious abuses urgently require “independent investigation.”

The voting process was slowed down by Russia, which proposed 17 amendments to the text, all of which were rejected, and in the end the resolution was adopted unchanged by the 47-member council, with 23 in favour, 22 abstentions and only Venezuela and Eritrea voting against. The text calls on Belarusian authorities to “enable independent, transparent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations in the context of the election.” It also calls on Minsk to “guarantee access to justice and redress for victims as well as full accountability of the perpetrators.” And it calls on the office of UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to closely monitor the situation in the country and to present her conclusions in a report during the next council session in March 2021.

The discussions mark only the sixth time in the council’s 14-year history that it has agreed to hold an “urgent debate” — a special debate within a regular session of the council.

https://today.rtl.lu/news/world/a/1582022.html

ISHR: new report on reprisals and restrictions against NGO participation in the UN

June 8, 2018

There are many different approaches States employ to keep critical voices out of multilateral spaces. ISHR’s new report of 30 May 2018 [The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations] outlines what these are and provides a road map for States and UN representatives to prevent and counter reprisals and restrictions on civil society participation in UN processes.

Civil society has the right to ‘unhindered access to and communication with international bodies’. However, that right is not being respected.  ISHR’s new report, ‘The Backlash Against Civil Society Access and Participation at the United Nations‘ documents a broad range of obstacles faced by human rights defenders, from opaque bureaucracies and procedures to physical threats and attacks.

States decide who gets through the door,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.  ‘States that fear calls for accountability and justice do what they can to prevent civil society access to and participation in UN spaces’. Opaque practices and procedures provide covers for States seeking to block NGO entry.  An NGO seeking to participate in a UN high-level event can be a victim of the ‘no-objection’ procedure.  This is the means by which any State can veto their participation without being named or providing any justification. ‘The no-objection procedure is poorly defined, and provides no formal criteria for objections to NGO participation,’ said ISHR’s John Indergaard. ‘It’s carte blanche to exclude legitimate NGOs for illegitimate reasons.

Even when civil society representatives make it into an actual UN building, they have been thrown out without explanation or asked to leave while events were ongoing. At some high-level events and committee meetings, NGO representatives have been barred from giving statements or bringing in documents related to their work. Physical attacks and intimidation against those seeking to coöperate with the UN are well documented.

These restrictions and reprisals are all aimed at dissuading civil society participation,’ said Openshaw. ‘They need to be challenged in each and every case.’

I have published many posts on the issue of reprisals [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/reprisals/] starting with https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/

Click on the video below to get an insight into the report:

Iftikhar Mubarik, discusses his work addressing child exploitation in Pakistan

September 26, 2016

 

Human right defender, Iftikhar Mubarik, discusses his work addressing child exploitation in Pakistan and how he seeks to utilise the UN Human Rights system.

 

https://www.ishr.ch/news/human-rights-defender-profile-iftikhar-mubarik-pakistan

On Assange: there is more to the decision than knee-jerk reactions

February 7, 2016

The recent ruling by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has created quite a storm in and outside the human rights world. At first sight it would indeed seem almost ridiculous to maintain that Julian Assange, who is in ‘sel-imposed’ exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy, is being arbitrary detained. But a bit of reflection (which is not what the UK, Sweden practiced) would in order, especially as the countries involved still have a chance to comment the decision.

The General Council of the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch, Dinah PoKempner, wrote a clarifying piece on 5 February 2016 under the title: “On Assange, Following the Rules or Flouting Them?“. It does certainly help to see the decision in this context, in particular the consideration that Assange (whether one likes it or not) was recognized as a refugee by Ecuador and thus should be free to move.

It should not have been terribly surprising to Sweden or the United Kingdom that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the various forms of confinement suffered by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange violate his human rights. The Working Group has many times warned that it is unlawful to force someone to choose between liberty and a fundamental right, such as asylum, which Assange now enjoys only so long as he stays inside the walls of the Ecuadorean embassy.

What is news are the deplorable rhetorical parries from the UK and Swedish governments, who both stated not just disagreement, but that the Working Group opinion would have absolutely no effect on their actions. This is not what one expects from democratic governments who usually support the UN mechanisms and international law.

“This changes nothing,” declared the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The foreign secretary diplomatically called the ruling “frankly ridiculous,” disparaging the Working Group as “a group of laypeople, not lawyers” (in fact, many of the experts are professors of law or human rights or both – see below). Sweden managed to avoid imprecation, but was no less unreceptive. The Foreign Ministry declared that the Working Group had no right to “interfere in an ongoing case handled by a Swedish public authority” and continued to insist that “Mr. Assange is free to leave the Embassy at any point.” As for the Prosecutor’s Office, it declared the UN body’s opinion “has no formal impact on the ongoing investigation, according to Swedish law.”

While the Working Group does not have the authority to force governments to heed its decisions, it is the authoritative voice of the UN on the issue of arbitrary detention, and its opinions are given great weight as interpretations of binding international law obligations. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights today attempted to remind Sweden and the UK of that in a discrete Note to Editors, saying the opinions should be taken into consideration as they are based on international human rights law that binds the relevant states.

Not much consideration appears to be happening. The UK has said that it will arrest Assange if he leaves the shelter of the embassy, either because of the European arrest warrant the Swedish prosecutor issued to investigate allegations of sexual offenses, or because he violated the conditions of his house arrest by going directly from his last UK court appearance to the Ecuadorean embassy in London to apply for asylum.

The Working Group found that Assange’s confinement – first in a UK prison, then under house arrest, and now in the embassy – violated his human rights. Given that Assange has claimed political asylum, a claim Ecuador recognizes but the UK and Sweden have not taken into account, the Working Group said his freedom of movement and security as a refugee should be respected, and compensation awarded.

Both Sweden and the UK are parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the treaty on which much of the decision rests, and are bound by other customary international law against returning refugees to locations where they risk persecution. Their failure to give due consideration to these international rights and obligations is what drove the conclusion that Assange’s confinement is “arbitrary.”

Let’s be clear: the issue is not Assange fleeing Swedish justice; he has continually expressed his willingness to be investigated by Sweden. What he won’t do is risk eventual extradition to the United States, which would like to prosecute him under the Espionage Act.

That is because WikiLeaks revealed the embarrassing diplomatic cables that Chelsea Manning leaked. And if you look at Manning’s fate, Assange has plenty to fear. Manning was abused in pretrial detention, denied the defense that the public interest justified her disclosures, and sentenced to 35 years. A secret US grand jury has been investigatingAssange on related Espionage Act charges for close to five years. Neither Sweden nor the UK will promise Assange he won’t be extradited, and both are close US allies in national security and intelligence affairs.

So who are the losers? Assange, who has already been confined longer than the maximum term he would serve in a Swedish prison were he found guilty, and the Swedish women who made the original allegations, and whose government won’t pursue the matter if it means protecting Assange from extradition to the US.

And now the UK and Sweden are big losers as well. Their fatuous dismissal of the Working Group won’t impugn this necessary and neutral body that was established by the world’s governments to uphold rights. But both have severely damaged their own reputation for being so ready to dismiss upholding inconvenient human rights obligations and their credibility as global advocates for rights by refusing to respect the institution of asylum.

Source: On Assange, Following the Rules or Flouting Them? | Human Rights Watch

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/02/06/un-arbitrary-detention-panel-opinionated-toothless.html

Human Rights Council in throwback to muzzling NGOs

September 24, 2014

Phil Lynch, Director of the International Service for Human Rights, wrote an insightful post on URG Insights that is a must. It describes with concrete examples how the current Human Rights Council – and especially its Bureau – is failing to uphold the acquired right of NGOs to speak freely in the UN and – when necessary – mention names of offending countries. It seems like a complete throwback to the early 80’s when in the then Commission on Human Rights NGOs were restricted in mentioning countries by name. This let to untenable and even comical situations where NGOs would describe in detail atrocities and then say that they were talking about a big country in the south of Latin America, only to be asked by the Chair to say which country they had in mind. When the obvious answer came: “Argentina”, the NGO was ruled out of order! That States now feel that the time is right to try again to muzzle NGO criticism became already clear last year with China’s elaborate efforts to silence the ‘one minute silence’ for Cao Shunli [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/china-in-the-un-human-rights-council-manages-to-silence-cao-shunli-as-well-as-ngos/] and the worryingly broad support it got for its procedural wrangling. Thus it would be crucial that the whole NGO movement and the States that support them take a clear stand. In meantime Lynch’s Human Rights Council President, Bureau and Member States must respect the role and rights of NGOs” is giving the right background and follows here in toto:

“The right, and indeed the responsibility, of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to critique governments, expose and pursue accountability for human rights violations, and advocate for changes in law, policy and practice should be uncontroversial and uncontested. This is particularly the case at the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s apex body for human rights debate and dialogue, the mandate of which includes promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression.

Read the rest of this entry »

Criteria to ensure quality successor as Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

September 28, 2013

As this is a weekend post I have chosen one that requires a bit of reflection: Several UN Rapporteurs are coming to the end of their term in 2014, including – unfortunately – also the mandate of the Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekaggya. A number of NGOs – in this case Amnesty International and the International Service for Human Rights – have given thought to the kind of kind of criteria that should ensure that a good successor in chosen, or at least that high-quality and independent candidates to come forward for nomination.

What follows are the key parts of the “Proposed criteria for selection & appointment of a new mandate holder on the situation of human rights defenders: Amnesty International, International Service for Human Rights and others;  joint written statement to the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council (9 – 27 September 2013)

 In March 2014, the President of the UN Human Rights Council (the Council) will appoint a new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

 This UN expert on the situation of human rights defenders will serve two terms of three years each.

Candidates and nominating entities shall submit an application with personal data and a motivation letter no longer than 600 words. OHCHR will prepare a public list of candidates.

 Applications open in early September, and the deadline now set for 31 October 2013.

Background

The signatory organisations call on Governments, NGOs and others, including relevant professional networks, to use this checklist to identify eligible candidates for the upcoming vacancy for the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. We urge Governments to consult civil society and to disseminate the vacancy widely, eg. through media advertisement, so as to encourage candidates to apply for this vacancy. Prospective mandate holders should be aware that this is a voluntary, unpaid role. They would not receive salary or other financial compensation, except for travel expenses and daily subsistence allowance of ‘experts on mission’. It will require a substantial time commitment from the individual, including readiness to travel and respond to urgent situations, as explained in the checklist.

Checklist for selection of candidates for mandate of Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders:

FORMAL CRITERIA

According to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1, Annex, the following general criteria will be of paramount importance while nominating, selecting and appointing mandate-holders: (a) Expertise; (b) Experience in the field of the mandate; (c) Independence; (d) Impartiality; (e) Personal integrity; (f) Objectivity. Due consideration should be given to gender balance and equitable geographic representation, and to an appropriate representation of different legal systems. Eligible candidates should be highly qualified individuals who possess established competence, relevant expertise and extensive professional experience in the field of human rights (paras. 39-41).

INDEPENDENCE

According to Council Resolution 5/1, ‘individuals holding decision-making positions in Government or in any other organization or entity which may give rise to a conflict of interest with the responsibilities inherent to the mandate shall be excluded.’ At a minimum, this requires independence of prospective mandate holders from the executive of governments or from intergovernmental organisations, which may be the subject of a communication or mission within the terms of the mandate. The conflict of interest provision has also been interpreted to mean that candidates are expected to clarify how, if appointed, they would deal with any perceived or actual conflict of interest in relation to governments, inter-governmental organisations, or non-governmental organisations.

QUALIFICATIONS & EXPERTISE

In its Decision 6/102 of 27 September 2007, the Council approved technical and objective requirements for candidates eligible for special procedures mandates. The following checklist is intended as an interpretive aid for those requirements:

1. Qualifications (and skills): relevant educational qualifications or equivalent professional experience in the field of human rights.

[Checklist:  A post-graduate university degree or equivalent in law, social sciences or in a discipline directly related to the mandate, preferably with a focus on international human rights law, would be highly desirable;  Academic publications or other published material (articles, studies, reports, research papers or any similar written material demonstrating in-depth knowledge) addressing issues relevant to the mandate, from a human rights perspective;  Excellent oral and written communication skills in at least one of the UN working languages (English, French and Spanish – knowledge of other widely-used or official UN languages, such as Arabic, Chinese or Russian, would be an asset);  Extensive experience in public speaking (for example in expert seminars) and in communicating at senior levels with governments, UN officials, the business community, the media and other relevant stakeholders.]

2. Relevant expertise: knowledge of international human rights instruments and standards; knowledge of institutional mandates related to the United Nations or other international or regional organisations’ work in the area of human rights; proven work experience in the field of human rights.

[Checklist:  Extensive knowledge of international human rights law and standards; Several years of progressively responsible work experience in the field of human rights or as a human rights defender, including in human rights research, monitoring, reporting, investigating and advocacy; Excellent knowledge of the international and regional legal frameworks and case law relevant to the promotion and protection of the rights of human rights defenders, including on freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, torture, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and enforced or involuntary disappearances; Excellent knowledge of institutional mandates of the United Nations or other international or regional organisations in the area of human rights.]

3. Established competence: nationally, regionally or internationally recognised competence related to human rights.

[Checklist:  A demonstrated commitment to universal human rights law, standards and values; Excellent knowledge and expertise of the work of human rights defenders, and the recent trends, developments and challenges they face; Experience at national, regional and/or international level in developing legislation and policy for the protection of human rights defenders and in creating an enabling environment for their work; Extensive experience with and proven commitment to working and/or interacting with civil society and in interacting with individuals whose human rights may have been violated or restricted as a result of their work of defending rights; Proven awareness of the particular risks faced by and particular protection needs of specific groups of human rights defenders, such as women human rights defenders, defenders working on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, ethnic and religious minorities, non-nationals, members of political opposition groups, people in a disadvantaged socio-economic situation, journalists and media workers and youth/children human rights defenders; Experience in interacting with actors impacting the work of human rights defenders, such as: Security forces Armed groups; and Transnational corporations and other business enterprises; Experience in the development and delivery of human rights and rule of law assistance/capacity building, including the training of law enforcement and legal professionals and other officials responsible for the protection of human rights defenders; the ability to conduct both academic and field research required, and experience in carrying out fact-finding missions.

4. Flexibility/readiness and availability of time to perform effectively the functions of the mandate and to respond to its requirements, including conducting visits, preparing reports and attending Human Rights Council and General Assembly sessions.

[Checklist: Willingness and ability to conduct in-country investigations, in all regions of the world, into government policies, legislation and practices affecting human rights defenders and their work; Energy, determination and vision to promote the effective and comprehensive implementation of the Declaration on human rights defenders;  A commitment to uphold the integrity, independence and impartiality of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and the special procedures system as a whole;  Willingness and ability to devote a substantial proportion of working hours to fulfilling the mandate, which includes undertaking two to three country missions per year, preparing and presenting reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly (such as the annual thematic report, and country mission and follow-up reports), attending seminars and other UN meetings and acting on individual cases of violations of the rights of human rights defenders; Willingness and ability to act urgently when cases or situations so require.

APPOINTMENT PROCEDURE

Details and formalities about the nomination, selection and appointment of mandate holders are explained on the OHCHR Web site at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Nominations.aspx. Applications have to be submitted through an online system.

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/IOR42/002/2013/en/973e4b4a-a517-46ef-8080-59b3384e05d4/ior42022013en.pdf

 

new film shows rampant and systematic use of torture by Sri Lankan police

May 11, 2012

This recent film is not directly about Human Rights Defenders (although they are certainly victims of it) nor  about the treatment of ethnic minorities. Rather is demonstrates. through a large variety of interviews with victims, lawyers – including Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission – and experts, how a lack of investigative skills and high-level condoning have led the Sri Lankan policy to use torture routinely. Most shockingly a former police officers confirms that this is what is expected from the police by the system. It has become a mindset at all levels, including most of the  judiciary. It is a long film but worth it. The Danish film maker, Josefina Bergsten, manages to demonstrate the disconnect between international procedures (which are based on functioning institutions that have to address a few bad apples) and the reality on the ground in Sri Lanka where the good apples are the exception. See it and forward it:  https://vimeo.com/41898677