COUNCIL MONITOR - 15 - 19 September 2014
15 - 19 September 2014

Civil society space and reprisals

ISHR side event highlightS AND PHOTOS



The shared struggle of ending violence and discrimination

Marta Maurás, Ambassador of Chile

The new UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, opened this 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council with significant words: ‘There is no justification ever, for the degrading, the debasing or the exploitation of other human beings – on whatever basis: nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or caste’. 

Yet, there continue to be disturbing trends of systematic, ongoing and widespread violence and discrimination, notably against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people throughout the world... more

Council must act to end impunity for attacks on journalists


While journalists and media workers operating in conflict zones face high risks, the dangerous situation for those reporting in contexts considered ‘peaceful’ has often escaped international attention. During 2013 alone, four journalists have been killed in Mexico, four in Brazil, five in Pakistan, three in the Philippines, and one in Russia - just some of the countries ARTICLE 19 monitors.

The rate of impunity for such attacks remains staggeringly high. This points to a failure to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression in non-conflict situations, which must urgently be addressed... more


States must protect the voices of their people

janet love, legal resources centre south africa
The South African experience has clearly shown that the development of a fully democratic and equal society cannot be achieved by government alone, or even by enshrining human rights into law. Not only did civil society play an important role in the demise of apartheid and South Africa’s transition to democracy, but today civil society continues to work tirelessly to protect our hard-won democracy.

It is crucial that the resolution on the protection of civil society space currently being debated at the UN Human Rights Council reflects the vital role of civil society in advocating and agitating for change, and condemns the imposition of restrictions on this work... more



High level side event identifies developments and next steps in protecting civil society space and PREVENTING reprisals

The enactment of specific laws and policies to protect human rights defenders at the national level, together with the appointment of a senior UN official to combat intimidation and reprisals at the international level, are crucial if civil society is to operate in a safe and enabling environment free from repression, according to panelists at a Human Rights Council side-event hosted jointly by ISHR, FIDH, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and Russian NGO ADC Memorial... more


Human Rights Council member States should respond promptly and substantively to allegations of human rights violations, ISHR has said. In a new report presented to Council, the United Nations' human rights experts have documented a worsening trend of threats and attacks against civil society actors and human rights defenders.

ISHR has deeply deplored the documented violations, and called on the Council to address them. To date, many of the allegations in the UN’s report have not received a response by the concerned governments, or have not received a substantive response... more


Côte d’Ivoire should be applauded for enacting the first law in Africa on the recognition and protection of human rights defenders but must now commit to its effective implementation and to other steps to protect civil society space both at home and at the UN, ISHR has told the Human Rights Council. The Council met to adopt a report and recommendations on Côte d’Ivoire following its Universal Periodic Review.

‘ISHR welcomes the adoption of Côte d’Ivoire’s second UPR report and, in particular, Côte d’Ivoire’s acceptance of recommendations made by Djibouti and Italy in relation to steps and measures to enlarge and protect civil society space,’ said Clément Voulé, who leads ISHR’s Africa programme.

‘The recent adoption of a law protecting human rights defenders, together with Côte d’Ivoire’s constructive engagement with the UPR, are encouraging signs of a firm political commitment to preserve and expand democratic space in the country.’... more


While the Constitution of India prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex and place of birth, a Human Rights Council side event, co-sponsored by ISHR, explored the current challenges of violence between different religious groups and communities in the country. 

Mr Heiner Beilefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, joined panelists from India who work to address targeted violence in the country. Panelists expressed that, within growing concerns over shrinking civil society space in India, those human rights defenders, academics, lawyers and journalists seeking accountability for targeted violence become themselves victims of violations.

Key developments

States call for recognition of family diversity 

The Council held a Panel Discussion on The Protection of the Family and its Members on September 15. The panel was mandated by the controversial Human Rights Council resolution 26/11 which failed to comply with international human rights law, having put the family unit as the rights holder rather than its individual members.

ISHR and other like-minded civil society actors nonetheless engaged with the discussion to explore the correlation between strengthened support for the family and the promotion and protection of human rights, in areas such as poverty eradication, eradication of violence against women, protecting the rights of the child, protection and promotion of human rights of all family members, and improving access to education.
The panel received many questions from States regarding the diversity of families. Australia, Guatemala, Mexico, the UK, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Namibia, the EU and Germany were among those that called for a nuanced discussion. In particular, Chile noted the rise of same sex families in its country and urged the Council to therefore tackle the issue from a diverse perspective. The EU said it ‘acknowledges that families have changed with time due to societal and development trends. Programmes and policies need to reflect this’.
ISHR endorsed a statement read by Allied Rainbow Communities International which stressed the need to acknowledge ‘that the family comes in a diversity of forms. This is not a matter of political debate, just a matter of social fact’. The statement explained that the family unit is a realm where values are transmitted and stressed the need for a rights-based approach to protect family members, especially the vulnerable and marginalised. 

discussion on the Integration of a Gender Perspective throughout the Council's work and Mechanisms

This annual panel discussion was focused on the integration of a gender perspective into the country-focused work of the Council, including country-specific Special Procedures, plus the establishment and reports of Commissions of Inquiries and Fact-Finding Missions.
As moderator Christine Chinkin summed up: discriminatory State practices and a lack of political will, together with a gap between rhetoric and implementation, constitute some of the many obstacles to the introduction of a genuine gender perspective within the international human rights system.
Several important needs were identified, including the need to introduce a more accurate definition of gender perspective, the systematic gathering of sex disaggregated data, a consistent engagement by all mandate holders with women’s civil society organisations, the employment of personnel specialised in gender issues, and an increased involvement of women in conflict and post-conflict scenarios.
‘The Council's record on integrating gender into its country-specific work is uneven’ noted OHCHR ‘s Jane Connor, ‘Reports on country situations are not consistent when it comes to gender integration’. Bineta Diop, African Union Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, stressed that ‘civil society groups, women’s organisations and human rights defenders, need to be included in the work of the Council, and fully collaborate with Special Procedures’.
ISHR delivered a joint statement on behalf of the Women Human Rights Defender International Coalition. ‘As the Council strengthens its work on women generally’, Cynthia Rothschild, of the Center for Women's Global Leadership said, ‘we note the critical need to integrate analysis and reporting on women human rights defenders who demand protection, respect and fulfilment of all human rights’.


Commission of Inquiry on SYRIA
‘If you want to know the effect this war has had, you must listen to its victims. The voices shine a piercing light upon the brutal crimes being committed daily’, said Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, in a dialogue with the Council.
Mr Pinheiro addressed the responsibilities of all parties to the conflict - terrorist groups, militias and Assad’s regime itself - calling upon them to end all forms of human rights violations including murder, enforced disappearance, torture, rape, sexual violence, targeting of civilians, indiscriminate bombing and arbitrary detention. In particular he put an accent on the dangers faced, now more than ever due to ISIS’s merciless practices, by human rights defenders and journalists.
State responses were predictable. Syria reiterated accusations of the Commission being 'biased and politicised', whilst its supporters suggested all responsibility for violations lay with terrorists groups. Meanwhile, others condemned violence from all sides, calling for accountability no matter the affiliation of perpetrators. In this regard, many delegations demanded for referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court. No consensus appeared possible regarding how to ensure a concerted International approach to tackle the situation in Syria.
Mr Pinheiro asked: ‘what they want, these people - who disappear, who are tortured, who starve - what they want is to return to what is left of their lives, in peace, in their country. How much longer will we deny them this?’

Council discusses the rights of Indigenous Peoples

The World Conference on Indigenous Peoples that will take place this week in New York is an opportunity to take effective measures to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said Deputy High Commissioner Flavia Pansieri, during a Human Rights Council discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples on September 17.

She highlighted that, due to their close relationship with the environment and its resources, indigenous communities were especially vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. For this reason, she said, there must be adequate consultations to include their participation in decisions related to risk management.
The importance of an inclusive approach when dealing with issues that affect indigenous peoples was also stressed by both the Special Rapporteur and the Expert Mechanism on the rights of indigenous peoples during the interactive dialogue that followed. Both exposed the remaining challenges to full implementation of the political, economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous peoples. These include the need for reconciliation and reparation for past violations of their human rights, an improvement in access to justice - with a special focus in women and children - and the elimination of violence and marginalisation.

Some delegations denounced the inaction or even cooperation of governments with private companies and extractive industries that dismiss the rights of local communities.

Resolutions to be adopted

Civil Society Space
Among the critical resolutions negotiated at this session is that on the protection of civil society space, led by a core group of Ireland, Tunisia, Japan, Sierra Leone and Chile.
The resolution has a particular focus on the role of artistic expression and creativity within civil society space, and requests the High Commissioner to compile good practices for the creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for civil society.
The negotiations have been fairly protracted, with two rounds barely finished before the core group tabled the text. While the current draft makes significant concessions, it retains some of the elements that were most controversial during negotiations. This includes clear references to existing legal obligations under international law to uphold freedom of expression, assembly and association including by guaranteeing access to funding, as well as a reaffirmation of the right of civil society actors to access and communicate with international bodies.
Not surprisingly given their existing restrictions imposed on civil society, among the most vocal opponents of the resolution were the Russian Federation, China and Egypt. However they were strongly supported by India and South Africa, both of which have a rich history of active civil society and could thus be expected to be supportive of creating a safe space for them. Several Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, joined this group, specifically in its opposition to reaffirming the right of civil society to receive funding. 

The Safety of Journalists
The tabled resolution condemns the prevailing impunity for attacks and violence against journalists and calls upon States to develop and implement strategies for combating such cases, including by using good practices identified during the Human Rights Council panel discussion held this year and in the OHCHR report published last year on the subject.
The inclusion of concrete suggestions for combatting impunity represents a positive and practical step taken by the core group of Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar and Tunisia.
The draft insists on accountability for those who command attacks, as well as material perpetrators, and recommends the establishment of early warning and rapid response mechanisms to give threatened journalists immediate access to protective measures. Furthermore, the draft recognises that protective mechanisms designed for the protection of human rights defenders can be relevant to the protection of journalists.
Nevertheless, due to the strong opposition from Egypt, China, Russia, South Africa and Cuba, it falls short of demanding accountability for the abusive use of the legal framework against communicators and failed to explicitly condemn the widespread criminalisation seen globally, which could have strengthened the resolution’s impact.

The draft resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity initiated by Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay is a timely response to mounting concerns over increased discrimination and violence against LGBTI people in all regions of the world.
A look back at the Communications reports of the Special Procedures has shown that the violations are grave, widespread and ongoing. ISHR supports an institutional response by the UN to address violence and discrimination faced by the LGBTI population.
The resolution calls for an update to the High Commissioner's report on sexual orientation and gender identity, with a report presented to the Council every two years. Regular reports to the Council will allow for discussion to build consensus around the issue. The timeframe of every two years would also enable national debates to have the space they need. 

National Human Rights Institutions

Australia has tabled a resolution encouraging States to establish National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and recognising the crucial role of such bodies in promoting and protecting human rights and in preventing abuses and violations, including through advocacy and education. The resolution stresses the need for such bodies to be financially and administratively independent of government. It also encourages NHRIs to play an active role in holding governments to account for their international human rights obligations and to promote and contribute to the implementation of recommendations made by the UN human rights mechanisms.
Regrettably, the resolution does not incorporate language - suggested by Norway, Ireland and others - which would have encouraged NHRIs to establish focal points for the protection of human rights defenders. For the first time, however, it does include language condemning and calling for the investigation of reprisals against those who engage with NHRIs, together with language recognising the role of NHRIs in addressing cases of reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN. This important language was included in the tabled draft despite objections from States such as South Africa, Egypt, Pakistan and India.


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