The Space for Human Rights Defenders is Visibly Shrinking Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
Defending human rights remains a dangerous activity. Indeed, during my six years as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders I have seen the space available for human rights defenders visibly shrink.
I believe that this disturbing development is a direct threat to the promotion and protection of all human rights. The intimidation and silencing of defenders robs society of the voice of accountability, and undermines democracy and the rule of law… more
CHINA MUST BE HELD TO ACCOUNT FOR ACTIVIST's DEATH
The International Service for Human Rights is deeply saddened by the death of Chinese human rights defender Cao Shunli, on Friday 14 March. Ms Cao was detained by Chinese authorities on 14 September 2013 and was transferred to hospital in a critical condition on 20 February 2014 after being denied access to proper medical care in prison. She had been detained in connection with her advocacy on the Universal Periodic Review of China… more
KEY DEVELOPMENTS AT THE COUNCIL
PERSISTENT ATTEMPTS TO UNDERMINE HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AS THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR PRESENTS HER FINAL REPORT
The presentation of the final report of Ms Margaret Sekaggya as Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders was marked by strong support by many States, but seriously worrying attempts from others to undermine her work and the work of human rights defenders… more
COUNCIL HOLDS FIRST DEDICATED DISCUSSION ON CIVIL SOCIETY SPACE
“It is vital that governments see civil society as an asset, not a threat”, said Ireland, at the Human Rights Council’s first dedicated discussion on civil society space, moderated by ISHR Board member Hina Jilani. The Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, outlined the challenges that civil society faces, including limitations on access to public information and the internet, limitations on the ability of civil society to raise funds, and the criminalisation of peaceful demonstrations. Many States emphasised the duty of governments to adopt national laws and policies supportive of and conducive to civil society’s work and to guard against impunity in cases of violations against human rights defenders. Other States, such as China, South Africa, and India on behalf of the ‘Like Minded Group’ of States emphasised that civil society should respect domestic law, without noting that domestic law should be in line with international human rights standards.
GROUP OF STATES PRESENT JOIN STATEMENT ON ‘PROTECTION OF THE FAMILY’
In a worrying move, a cross-regional group of States including Bangladesh, Egypt, Russia, Sierra Leone, and many others has presented a joint statement in the Human Rights Council calling for increased support to protect the family. The statement is carefully framed and avoids many of the red flags that resulted in an attempted Egyptian resolution on the subject being withdrawn last year, in the face of strong opposition. The careful framing enabled the cross-regional group of States to garner 98 signatures, however the initiative opens very worrying avenues that could be exploited to undermine human rights, including women’s rights, in the future.
Next on the Agenda
NORTH KOREA MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has for decades been committing ‘crimes that shock the conscience of humanity’, according to the findings of a report on the DPRK to be presented to the Council on 17 March. The report criticises the international community’s response as ‘inadequate’ and calls for the UN to ensure that those most responsible for the ‘crimes against humanity’ in the DPRK are held accountable, including by a possible referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.
DEBATE ON COUNCIL’S MECHANISMS OFFERS OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND ON REPRISALS
A debate on 19 March on the Human Rights Council’s mechanisms will provide an opportunity for States to address the issue of how the Council and the UN should respond on reprisals. Following the General Assembly’s deferral of a resolution on reprisals adopted by the Council in September last year and calling for the Secretary-General to appoint a focal point, the debate this week is an opportunity for States to reaffirm their commitment to ensuring that the UN addresses reprisals in a holistic manner.
COUNCIL TO ADOPT UPR OUTCOMES OF CHINA AND NIGERIA
Following the death on Friday (14 March) of Cao Shunli in China, NGOs will have the opportunity to comment on the outcome of China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) when it is adopted by the Council later this week. China accepted a recommendation to ensure that individuals can engage freely in the UPR process, adding that it encourages the activities of individuals who promote human rights, but those ‘engaging in illegal activities in the name of safeguarding human rights…will be duly prosecuted’. The UPR of Nigeria will also be adopted at this session. Nigeria rejected a series of recommendations relating to the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and following the review signed the ‘Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill’ into force.
27 STATES TAKE UP NGO CALL FOR ACTION AND ACCOUNTABILITY ON EGYPT
A cross-regional group of 27 States responded to an NGO call for action by delivering a joint statement to the Human Rights Council on the situation in Egypt on 7 March. The statement was welcomed by NGOs. ‘For the first time UN member states have used the forum of the Human Rights Council to spotlight the abuses going on in Egypt,’ said Human Rights Watch's Geneva Director, Julie de Rivero. ‘Egyptian authorities are now on notice that the international community will not ignore their crackdown on dissent and impunity for repeated, unlawful killings of protesters.’… more
ISHR TO SUPPORT VICTIMS OF GROSS VIOLATIONS IN NORTH KOREA TO TESTIFY TO COUNCIL
With the Commission of Inquiry on North Korea to present its report on 17 March, ISHR is working to ensure that victims of the gross human rights violations perpetrated in that country are heard in the Human Rights Council. Be sure to tune in to http://webtv.un.org/ from 9am Geneva time on 17 March to hear Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known escapee of the notorious Camp 14, testify to the Council on behalf of ISHR and tune in to http://www.ishr.ch/webcast from 6.15pm Geneva time to hear more victim testimony from our joint event with Human Rights Watch.
PROMOTING GOOD PRACTICE IN THE PROTECTION OF CIVIL SOCIETY SPACE
Promoting and protecting civil society space, including by guaranteeing the safety and freedom of journalists and human rights defenders, is crucial to democracy and the rule of law, said the International Service for Human Rights in a joint statement on behalf of 12 NGOs to the UN Human Rights Council … more and video
NGOS HIGHLIGHT ESSENTIAL CRITERIA FOR EXPERT ON FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
ISHR together with a coalition of NGOs has developed a list of criteria that should be met by prospective candidates for the position of UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression. The position will open up in July 2014 at the end of Frank La Rue’s six years of service to the mandate… more
STATES MUST ENSURE A SAFE AND ENABLING ENVIRONMENT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
States must ensure that human rights defenders are able to operate in a safe and enabling environment, free from restrictions and attacks, ISHR has said in a statement to the Human Rights Council… more and video
ISHR HOSTS MAJOR EVENT ON THE PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
It was standing room only as ISHR co-hosted an event the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes, Amnesty International and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on the risks faced by human rights defenders and the steps and measures necessary to protect their work… more
20 Years of Human Rights and Human Wrongs in the Balkans, Caucasus and Eastern Europe
17 March, 10:00, room 21
Intersectionality and Impunity: locating SOGI in the human rights discourse
19 March, 10:00, room 24
Sri Lanka: accountability for international crimes?
19 March, 12:00, room 21
Universal Periodic Review for Newcomers
19 March, 11:30, room 26
Mexico before the Universal Periodic Review
19 March, 15:00, room 24
All events take place in the Palais des Nations, Geneva