General Assembly Monitor - 7 October - 5 November 2013

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7 October - 5 November 2013
Watch ISHR in action at our side-event last week, on the role, participation and protection of human rights defenders in the context of large-scale development projects.


Human rights financing: the UN's little pillar

Professor Michael O’Flaherty, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission & Marc Limon, Director of the Universal Rights Group

Today, the Human Council is seven years old and, despite a shaky start, is generally seen to be performing well. One might, therefore, think the vision laid down in 2005 has been realised and that the implementation gap is well on the way to being closed... more



“The human rights defenders—those people, on the ground at the front lines, in the political debates—who are increasingly under attack deserve our vigilance and support. It is incumbent upon us both to create and enforce the legal framework that can protect such defenders where they live, and to ensure their voices continue to be heard in all forums.”

Ioannis Vrailas, Deputy Head of Delegation, European Union


“Women human rights defenders are subjected to discrimination, harassment and violence. This is unacceptable. Let me assure you, Norway will spare no effort in advancing the agenda to protect the rights of every woman and girl.”

Tine Morch Smith, Norway



NGOs call on President of General Assembly to resume negotiations on treaty body strengthening swiftly 

NGOs are concerned that the President of the General Assembly (PGA) has not yet appointed co-facilitators to resume negotiations on strengthening the UN treaty body system.

In a joint letter, NGOs have called on the PGA to appoint co-facilitators without delay to ensure negotiations can recommence and the process can be brought to a conclusion by the mid-February 2014 deadline agreed to by States.

This, in turn, would ensure initiatives that enjoy broad support can be implemented for the benefit of the treaty bodies and rights holders everywhere and those proposals with budgetary implications will be decided in time for inclusion in the general UN budget for 2014-15...


States and corporations must protect human rights defenders advocating on large-scale development projects 

ISHR brought together a group of leading international human rights experts to discuss the role, protection and effective participation of human rights defenders in development.

Panelists included Pavel Sulyandziga, Chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Cristina Hardaga Fernandez of JASS Mesoamerica, and Arvind Ganesan, Human Rights Watch’s Director of Business and Human Rights.

Panelists called on governments and corporations to better respect and protect human rights defenders who work on issues related to large-scale development projects and corporate accountability... more


Cristina Hargada Fernandez

Cristina Hargada Fernandez is a Woman Human Rights Defender working for Just Associates-Mesoamerica (JASS). She was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina and moved to Mexico as a child. Hardaga Fernandez’s commitment and passion for human rights can be traced back to her early years growing up in Mexico during the Zapatista movement and reading the news about the genocide in Srebrenica.

During her university years she became familiar with a group of women in Chihuahua, in northern Mexico, who were demonstrating to raises awareness about inaction on the part of authorities in the face of increasing femicides and disappearances of women on the border.

Today she lives in Guerrero, one of the most impoverished and militarized municipalities in Mexico... more


National human rights institutions

The biennial resolution on National Institutions for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, led by Germany, contains several welcome new elements this year.

These include a recognition of the contributions that national human rights institutions (NHRIs) compliant with the Paris Principles have made to the work of UN bodies and processes in New York, and a request for the Secretary General to focus in his next report on the participation of NHRIs in the work of the General Assembly and related processes.

The text also adds new provisions to address the problem of reprisals, including one that recognises that NHRIs should not face any form of reprisal or intimidation as a result of their mandated activities, and another that underscores the role NHRIs can play in preventing and addressing cases of reprisals.


OHCHR Funding

Negotiations on the UN budget for 2014-15, which was introduced last week, are ongoing in the Fifth Committee (Finance and Budget), and are expected to continue through December. Like other Secretariat departments across the UN, OHCHR faces budget reductions of approximately 5 percent.

Since the budget sections of the Secretariat were asked to make the majority of the reductions in personnel cuts, the Office faces 11 staff post eliminations, one of which is the Head of the Civil Society Section.

ISHR will continue its advocacy to encourage the provision of adequate funding to OHCHR so it can fulfil its mandate, including by urging States to retain the crucial top-level post that supports civil society engagement with the UN human rights system.


Protecting Women Human Rights Defenders

States are entering the second week of negotiations on a Norwegian draft text on Protecting Women Human Rights Defenders. The resolution sets out the context in which women defenders live and work which hinders their ability to claim and defend rights.

It refers to the specific risks, vulnerabilities, and protection needs of women human rights defenders as well as steps States and others must take to ensure they can operate in a safe and enabling environment.

The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders dedicated an entire report on the particular human rights violations faced by women human rights defenders in 2011 (A/HRC/16/44). ISHR welcomes this important initiative – the first UN resolution focusing exclusively on women defenders – and hopes the text tabled by Norway will receive strong support from the General Assembly.


Human Rights Committee requests additional resources to address backlog of communications

If adopted, a Finnish draft text on the Human Rights Committee (HRC) would authorise a temporary extension of one week of meeting time for the committee in 2014 and 2015, to address the backlog of individual communications.

This request is complicated by the fact that a parallel request from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women did not garner enough support to progress and that it remains unclear what kind of sustained support the treaty bodies will receive through the ongoing intergovernmental process on treaty-body strengthening.


Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

The annual Danish-led draft resolution on torture this year reflects recent efforts by the UN to address reprisals and intimidation against those who engage with the UN human rights system. The draft includes important new language on reprisals, including a call to States to ensure accountability, bring perpetrators to justice, provide access to effective remedies for victims, and prevent recurrence. The text also includes a number of other new elements, including on rehabilitation.

Human Rights Council elections – 12 November

The annual Human Rights Council elections will take place on 12 November 2013 at the General Assembly. This year both the Eastern European Group (EEG) and the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) are running ‘closed slates’ (that is, they are running the same number of candidates as there are seats allocated to their regions).

Russia and Macedonia are the two candidates for the EEG seats, and France and the UK are the two candidates for the WEOG seats.

Five African States are competing for four seats: Algeria, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa, and South Sudan. Five Asia-Pacific States are also competing for four seats: China, Jordan, Maldives, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Finally, three Latin American and Caribbean States are competing for two seats: Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay. For a full list of current members and additional information on candidatures, click here


President of the Human Rights Council to present report – 13 November

The President of the Human Rights Council, Remigiusz Achilles Henczel (Poland), will present the Council’s annual report to the Third Committee on 13 November 2013 and to the plenary of the General Assembly (date TBD – on or around 13 November).



In Brief

Arrests of peaceful protesters continue in Myanmar, says UN expert

Presenting the last report of his six-year tenure as Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Mr Tomas Ojea Quintana expressed concern about the arrests of peaceful protestors, a restricted media and public space for people to express their views, and an undeveloped police force in Myanmar. He also noted with regret that impunity remains a serious concern in Rakhine State.

Myanmar accused the Special Rapporteur of portraying an unbalanced view of the situation in Rakhine State, and, backed by China and Russia, called for the end of the country-specific mandate. Albania, Australia, Canada, the EU, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Norway, South Korea, Thailand, the UK, and the US agreed that ongoing issues in Rakhine State needed to be addressed. Although Mr Quintana was unable to answer because of time limits, Argentina enquired about the UN expert's call to Parliament to not discriminate against LGBT individuals.


Country visits denied for UN experts on Belarus, DPRK, Eritrea and Iran

The governments of Belarus, DPRK, Eritrea, and Iran have all rejected the UN-appointed mandates to monitor the human rights situations in their respective countries, and have refused to allow any of the experts to conduct country visits. Despite this lack of access, the experts have continued to report on the critical human rights situations on the ground in each country. Concerns include the continued infringements of freedom of expression, opinion, assembly, and persecution of human rights defenders (Iran, Belarus); the 'shoot to kill' policy of persons trying to flee the country, and the plight of child refugees (Eritrea); and violations that amount to crimes against humanity (DPRK).

Unsurprisingly, in the interactive dialogues with the UN experts at the Third Committee over the last two weeks, all the States under scrutiny rejected the experts’ characterisations of the human rights situations in their countries, calling the reports presented unfair and impartial, and the mandates politically tainted. Several States questioned the independence of the experts, and Iran accused the Special Rapporteur on Iran of failing to comply with the Code of Conduct.

A number of other States, including Azerbaijan China, Cuba, Lao People’s Republic, Nicaragua, Russia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe, criticised the country-specific mandates as counterproductive and politicised, asserting that the UPR was the appropriate mechanism to dialogue on specific country situations. However, many States spoke in favour of continued monitoring of the countries in question, and called for the governments under review to cooperate with the UN, including by allowing UN experts to conduct country visits. Those States included Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan (in the case of DPRK), Kazakhstan (in the case of Belarus), Norway, the Maldives (in the case of Iran), South Korea (in the case of DPRK), Switzerland, and the US.


Human rights defenders and the right to information

The tension between the right to access of information and the right to truth versus the need to protect people from national security threats was a key topic of the interactive dialogue with the UN’s expert on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr Frank La Rue.

Austria, the EU, Liechtenstein, Norway, and the US requested information on how whistle-blowers, journalists and human rights defenders could be better protected at the national level while ensuring the government’s need to secrecy in certain cases. Mr La Rue described human rights defenders and journalists as part of a special category of individuals and organisations that are placed in a situation of higher risk simply by the nature of their work. States should create protection mechanisms for these individuals, including developing and implementing a normative framework at the national level to protect those who, in good faith, decide to reveal information on human rights violations, he said. Mr La Rue cautioned against using national security as a justification for restricting access to government-owned information, and suggested States refer to the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information to evaluate and improve relevant laws in this context.


UN expert draws attention to restrictions on civil society in elections

The UN expert on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Mr Maina Kiai, expressed concern that these rights are particularly susceptible to violations before, during or after elections because of the high-tension environment in which such elections often take place. He criticised States’ labelling of human rights defenders and civil society organisations as ‘political’, saying this is often used as a way to control and deter any criticism of the government or its policies. The Special Rapporteur named Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Iran, Malaysia, Russia, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe as examples of States with bad practices in the field of protecting the rights to freedom of assembly and association. As a result, the Special Rapporteur was verbally attacked by Egypt, Iran, Russia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, who questioned the objectivity of his report.

Human rights defenders and large scale development projects

The last report to the General Assembly of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Ms Margaret Sekaggya, focused on the protection of activities of human rights defenders in the context of large-scale development projects. She emphasised the need for the establishment of an enabling environment at both the national and international level, for defenders to be able to conduct their work unimpeded. Noting her concern that human rights defenders seeking judicial remedy for business-related violations at the national level often face harassment, persecution and retaliation, Ms Sekaggya called on national human rights institutions to ensure a timely and appropriate response to violations if the official justice system fails to provide one. The Special Rapporteur also highlighted that women human rights defenders and those working on access to land and environment often face acts of intimidation and reprisals when they try to engage with international human rights mechanisms.

The EU, Switzerland, the US, the Maldives, the UK, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and Indonesia took part in the interactive dialogue. Several questions focused on State obligations to create a safe and enabling environment for defenders, best practices in a rights-based approach to large-scale development projects, and the participation of marginalised groups in large-scale development projects. In her responses, the Special Rapporteur reiterated the importance of the active, free and meaningful participation of human rights defenders in the design, implementation and monitoring of projects and urged States to tackle impunity in order to establish an enabling environment.



The Norwegian sponsors of a draft text on the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have withdrawn the resolution due to lack of support from States. The resolution would have authorised an additional week of meeting time for CEDAW’s Working Group on communications as well as an increase in the Working Group’s membership by two members during that week. The resolution would also have authorised CEDAW to reinstate its practice of holding one meeting a year in New York. A number of States were reluctant to grant the request in view of the difficult budgetary situation and the anticipated conclusion of the intergovernmental process on treaty body strengthening in February 2014.

In Depth

Top UN expert defends work on SOGI, highlights new mandate to fight reprisals

Inadequate funding for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), reprisals against human rights defenders, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) were amongst the key issues presented in the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ annual report to the Third Committee. The High Commissioner, Ms Navi Pillay, also raised concerns about a lack of State cooperation with the UN’s human rights mechanisms and delays in the treaty body strengthening process. The report was presented to the Third Committee on 23 October... more 

Special procedures under attack

Several special procedures have come under attack for allegedly exceeding their mandates or disregarding the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate Holders (the Code of Conduct). Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, was admonished by Russia for expanding his interpretation of the UN Convention Against Torture. Russia criticised the Special Rapporteur for not abiding by the Code of Conduct and also drew attention ‘to the fact that the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations and comments are not legally binding’, asking Mr Mendez ‘to be careful in his statements about commitments of States’… more 


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