CONTINUING ATTENTION FROM STATES TO NEED TO PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
The 23rd Session saw encouraging follow-up from States regarding the March 2013 consensus resolution on the protection of human rights defenders. Recent months have seen concerning efforts to restrict the space for civil society to carry out its work, including laws in Russia and a draft law in Egypt. Many States, including Ireland speaking for the EU, the US, and Norway, took the opportunity to recall that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action calls for NGOs to be free to carry out their activities without interference, and to express concern about the narrowing space for civil society in countries including Egypt and Russia. Ireland, speaking on behalf of the EU, reaffirmed the right to unhindered access to and communication with the UN and condemned reprisals against human rights defenders in this context.
SPECIAL PROCEDURES UNDER ATTACK
A group of 11 States (Algeria, Belarus, China, Cuba, Ecuador, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand) have criticised certain Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts for exceeding their mandates or disregarding the Code of Conduct. It is notable that many of these same States refuse to allow special procedures to undertake country missions and routinely disregard their recommendations. Allegations were made, amongst others, that special procedures fail to use reliable sources of information in drawing their conclusions, that they rely on OHCHR staff to carry out substantive work, and that press statements are released following country visits before the governments themselves have received any recommendations. These States called for OHCHR to develop specific modalities for country visits saying that this would increase the trust States have in special procedures and encourage States to pay ‘due regard’ to their recommendations.
UNCERTAINTY AROUND FUTURE ACTION ON SOGI AT COUNCIL
Under its agenda item looking at implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the Council’s attention turned in particular to the human rights of LGBT people. South Africa, who earlier in the session had announced that it would not run a follow-up resolution to its 2011 text on sexual orientation and gender identity, said that it believed in the Council promoting ‘further interaction and cooperation’ rather than adopting ‘immediate measures’. Norway, speaking on behalf of 34 States, (not including South Africa) set out its commitment to keep sexual orientation and gender identity on the agenda ‘through an appropriate decision of the Human Rights Council’. While there are different views among States and even civil society as to the specific steps the Council should take, in ISHR’s view it is imperative that the Council take concrete action to combat and condemn discrimination, violence and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.
PANEL ON CHALLENGES TO SECURE DEMOCRACY AND RULE OF LAW FROM A HUMAN RIGHTS PERSPECTIVE
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, opened the panel discussion on challenges to secure democracy and rule of law, held on 11 June 2013, saying that it was impossible to look at democracy in isolation from the rule of law and human rights. The panel discussion focused on recent events in North Africa and the Middle East and challenges these countries faced in their transitions to democracy. The panellists agreed that essential elements in the success of democratisation include the guarantee of all human rights for all citizens, establishment of respected and accountable institutions, the creation of a legal and judicial system defined by the rule of law, and a strong role for civil society and a media free from censure.