By Rachel Ball, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre
There’s a game that you sometimes find at amusement arcades called whack-a-mole. Toy moles rise out of their holes at random and the player uses a large mallet to whack them on the head and force them back into their holes. A successful player needs vigilance, composure and a quick eye.
For human rights defenders, the protection of civil society space is a lot like a game of whack-a-mole. Threats arise without warning, and valuable time, resources and energy are spent opposing them... more
Human rights defender profile
LIRA ISMAILOVA, HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER FROM KYRGYSTAN
Lira Ismailova talks to ISHR about her work protecting human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan, where new restrictive legislation and Russian influence is shrinking civil society space... more
National policies must be informed by and protect human rights defenders
States should enact specific laws for the protection of human rights defenders and consult and engage defenders in the development and implementation of all national policies with human rights implications, a cross-regional coalition of 15 NGOs told the UN Human Rights Council... more
end enforced disappearances of Economic, Social and Cultural rights defenders
The Human Rights Council should address the worsening incidence of enforced disappearances and other attacks against human rights defenders advocating in relation to land-grabbing, corporate accountability, indigenous rights, labour rights, and other economic, social and cultural rights issues, particularly those advocating or protesting against major business projects and investments, ISHR said in a statement to the Human Rights Council... more
Accountability needed for arbitrary detentions in China
Arbitrary detention continues to be used not only to target individual defenders, but to create a chilling effect on the practice of rights defence and the independence of civil society. Speaking at the Human Rights Council, ISHR highlighted the case of China as illustrative of this trend... more
The Human Rights Council should Speak up on China and act against reprisals
ISHR called on States to use the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council to address worsening legislative and physical attacks on human rights defenders in China, Cambodia and Bahrain and ensure that human rights defenders, victims and witnesses who engage with the Council are protected from intimidation and reprisals... more
UPCOMING SIDE EVENTS
All these events are held at Palais des Nations, Geneva.
Human Rights in Mexico, 29 September, 15:30 – 17:30, Room XXII. Organised by Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, Asociación Civil and ISHR.
Human rights in Burundi, 21 September, 14:00 – 16:00, Room XXI. Organised by Action internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs.
Human rights in Democratic Republic People’s Republic of Korea, 21 September, 16:00 – 18:00, Room XXI. Organised by Human Rights Watch.
Sexual rights: protective gaps, 22 September, 14:30 – 16:00, Room XXIII. Organised by Action Canada for Population and Development.
STATES AND UN MUST ACT ON SECRETARY GENERAL’S DAMNING REPORT ON REPRISALS
In an alarming new report to be presented to the Human Rights Council this week, the UN Secretary-General reveals that intimidation and reprisals against individuals and organisations seeking to cooperate with the UN to promote and protect human rights are worsening. It shows that reprisals are increasingly targeting not only those who cooperate with the UN but also their organisations, families and lawyers. Disturbingly, the report also concludes that, in the vast majority of cases, there has been no action or inadequate action to investigate and ensure accountability.
The report is scheduled to be presented and debated on 22 September under Item 5. States are urged to act on the Secretary-General’s recommendation to use the Item 5 General Debate to demand an end to reprisals and answers to outstanding cases.
In the course of the debate, it is anticipated that a cross-regional group – led by Hungary, Ghana, Ireland, Tunisia and Uruguay – will present a joint statement calling on States to prevent and desist from all forms of intimidation and reprisals and on the Secretary-General to appoint a high-level UN focal point to combat reprisals. Further information and analysis can be found here.
The adoption of the Working Group report of Honduras’ Universal Periodic Review, on September 25, provides the Honduran authorities with an opportunity to make firm commitments to the protection of human rights defenders, who face massive risks in the country.
Many States responded to the concerns of ISHR and local civil society organisations, making a range of important recommendations relating to the safety of defenders and the effective regulation and implementation of a recent law passed for their protection. Local and international civil society have expressed their concern at gaps in the law, and hope to hear a clear articulation by State delegates regarding just how they intend to consult human rights defenders on how to guarantee strong regulations for the law’s implementation.
A starting point would be for the delegation to accept all relevant recommendations when they come to Geneva later this week. More than 26 States raised the issue during Honduras’ review, with 12 recommendations pertaining to implementation of the law. Six States asked Honduras to guarantee an end to impunity for attacks against activists, with others demanding recognition and other steps towards a safe and enabling environment. It was pleasing to see recommendations on defender protection being made by Honduras’ Latin American peers including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
It is also crucial that the Honduras State and the Human Rights Council take steps to guarantee the safety of those defenders interacting with the UPR process, after several members of civil society were subject to reprisals following the Working Group stage earlier this year.
Last week, ISHR – together with the Platform Against Impunity and the Global Initiative on Economic Social and Cultural Rights – launched a new report documenting the heightened and particular risks faced by defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights in Honduras.
The UPR Working Group's report on the Maldives is due to be considered and adopted on Thursday 24 September. In its last periodic review the government committed to taking measures to ensure full respect for freedom of expression and to continue to consult with civil society in the follow-up to the review. These commitments, however, have not yet been fulfilled, as reflected in ISHR’s briefing paper on the Maldives.
Mongolia's UPR adoption will take place on 24 September. During the adoption ISHR, along with OT Watch, plans to highlight the need to take action on discrimination against women and Lesbian Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Inter-sex individuals, to develop and advance the role of the National Human Rights Commission, and to ensure that efforts to improve transparency, including in the area of the extractives sector, do not have a negative impact on the operations of civil society organisations.
Jamaica, Liberia, Libya and the United States
The UPR Working Group's report on the United States, Jamaica, Libya and Liberia are due to be considered and adopted on Thursday 24 and Friday 25 September.
ISHR prepared briefing papers on the situation of human rights defenders in these countries to assist States and other stakeholders to formulate questions and recommendations for the reviews, including that:
briefing paper on Jamaica: the Government should make necessary legislative changes to legalise the defence of the rights of the LGBTI population
briefing paper on Liberia: the Government should repeal outdated defamation and libel laws and develop and enact specific laws and policies to recognise and protect the work of human rights defenders
briefing paper on Libya: the Government should reform restrictive laws on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which unduly limit the rights and activities of journalists
Panel on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
On 21 September, the Human Rights Council will hold a panel event dedicated to the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), in follow up to the 2014 report of the Commission of Inquiry. Although opportunities for civil society engagement will be limited by the modalities of the panel, it is a critical step in the continued quest for justice and accountability for human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, by the DPRK Government.