General Assembly Monitor: November - December 2014
GENERAL ASSEMBLY MONITOR
10 November - 10 December 2014

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OPINION

Protection from arbitrary killing should be a minimum standard not an aspiration
 
By Marianne Møllmann, Director of Programs at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

The right not to be arbitrarily killed ought to be the absolute floor for any understanding of human rights.

However, for many of our colleagues and the people they work with, basic safety and security seems more like an aspirational goal than a minimum standard. The offices of our partners are broken into. Private work meetings are cancelled by authorities. Our colleagues are arrested or harassed by police. A number are severely beaten, whether by public officers or by private individuals, often acting in groups... more
Killings of ANY human beings cannot be justified

By Pasi Pöysäri, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN and lead negotiator for Finland on the General Assembly resolution on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

The Nordic Resolution on the prevention and investigation of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions was adopted with the growing support of member states in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on 19 November 2014. The 63 co-sponsors of the resolution together with other like-minded countries blocked with a clear margin a proposed change that would have removed individuals in a vulnerable position from the resolution... more

 

ishr advocacy

RIGHTS GROUPS WELCOME CONDEMNATION OF KILLING OF LGBT PERSONS 

The adoption of a resolution on extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions by the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee shows the growing support for the recognition that governments must investigate and prosecute those responsible for extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, no matter what group is a target.

Significantly, the resolution calls upon States to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds, including killings that target people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, their race, their immigration status and other aspects of identity, such as migrant status. The support came after a concerted effort by ISHR and other non-governmental organisations to ensure the successful adoption of the resolution, culminating in a joint letter by 30 NGOs to all States... more

ISHR WELCOMES ADOPTION BY UN OF RESOLUTION ON IRAN

In a recent open letter to GA Member States, ISHR and other leading civil society organisations called on States to support a resolution on the situation of human rights in Iran. The resolution was finally adopted by 78 votes in favour, 35 against and 69 abstentions.
 
The main sponsor of the resolution, Canada, voiced serious concerns over recent troubling developments in the landscape of human rights in Iran. Accordingly, the resolution calls on Iran to end public executions, all discriminatory measures towards women and girls, and early and forced marriage. It underlines the need to ensure accountability for human rights violations, ensure freedom of expression and end the harassment and continued persecution of journalists and media personnel. The resolution also calls for the protection of human rights defenders, including women defenders, and the condemnation of reprisals against those cooperating with the human rights system.

Country developments

SECURITY COUNCIL SHOULD CONSIDER REFERRAL OF DPRK TO THE ICC, SAYS UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY THIRD COMMITTEE

In a landmark resolution, the General Assembly's Third Committee recommended that the Security Council consider referring the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the International Criminal Court (ICC), in line with calls contained in the recent UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on the country. 

The recommended referral to the ICC proved to be a major sticking point in the debate on the resolution, with Cuba proposing an amendment that would remove accountability language, replacing it with a call for a new cooperative approach.

Cuba argued against the perceived undue targeting of developing countries. This position was supported by several States who speak of their ‘principled objection’ to country-specific resolutions, including China, Belarus (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), the Russian Federation, South Africa, Iran and Ecuador. 

The amendment was strongly opposed by the main sponsors, the EU and Japan, in addition to Albania, Switzerland and the US. Whilst welcoming the DPRK’s recent overtures for dialogue and participation in human rights processes such as the UPR, the US urged the government to move beyond rhetoric and stop committing human rights violations.

The amendment was ultimately rejected by a vote of 77 to 40 with 50 abstentions. The resolution, however, was adopted by a wide margin with 111 ‘yes’ votes, 19 ‘no’ and 55 abstentions. This broke the consensus on this resolution achieved in the last couple of years. China and Russia, members of  the Security Council and holders of veto power, voted against the resolution.

DPRK characterised the resolution as unreasonable and confrontational and criticised the COI report as being based on ‘fabricated testimonies of a handful of defectors who abandoned their loved ones.’

THIRD COMMITTEE ADOPTS RESOLUTIONS ON MYANMAR  AND SYRIA

In addition to the text on the human rights situations in the DPRK and Iran, the General Assembly spotlighted two other countries where violations and abuses of human rights are prevalent: Myanmar and Syria. The text on Syria went to a vote as has been common in recent years. The Myanmar draft was adopted by consensus.
 
Italy led negotiations on the resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar on behalf of the EU. It said that, though there were some positive developments in Myanmar, the resolution was necessary to encourage the Government to make further progress and deal with outstanding issues, such as political reform, human rights violations, accountability and impunity.

While Myanmar did not call for a vote on the draft text, it urged that the resolution would not be necessary in upcoming years. An end to the resolution could potentially also end the mandates of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar and of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, as these posts are renewed through the resolution.
 
The resolution on the human rights situation in Syria was endorsed by a vote of 123 States in favour, 13 against and 47 abstentions. Describing the sponsorship of the resolution by Saudi Arabia and Qatar as ‘jihadi theatre’, Syria rejected the resolution. Brazil, Chile and Argentina underscored the need for the resolution, but expressed concerns over the unbalanced, one-sided nature of the text, as well as its over-simplification of the conflict. 

human rights defender interviews

Next week the UN General Assembly will vote on Third Committee resolutions on the human rights situations in four countries including Iran and Syria. By profiling the experience and analysis of a human rights defender from each country, ISHR aims to highlight the grave risks defenders face in carrying out their work, and why the General Assembly must continue to demand and act to secure their protection. ISHR has also previously profiled defenders from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Myanmar, the other two countries that are the subject of a GA resolution.

GISSOU NIA: THE INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAN 

'The situation for human rights defenders in Iran continues to be a stark one...President Hassan Rouhani pledged to usher in badly needed social and cultural reforms after taking office in August 2013. While initially there were some promising signs, unfortunately, more than one year into Rouhani’s presidency, the reality has fallen far short of expectations. Human rights lawyers such as Abdolfattah Soltani and Mohammad Seifzadeh, student activists like Bahareh Hedayat, Majid Tavakoli and Zia Nabavi, and dozens of other civil society leaders remain behind bars for nothing more than peaceful activities.'... more

BASSAM AL-AHMAD: THE VIOLATIONS DOCUMENTATION CENTER IN SYRIA 

‘When the revolution broke out three years ago, the government started targeting activists, human rights defenders, and citizen journalists with even more brutality. Now people are victims of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, and torture at the hands of State forces and other fighting groups including the extremists who abduct and arbitrarily detain human rights defenders, activists and civilians.’... more

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Thematic developments

PRESIDENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL CALLS ON STATES TO IMPLEMENT RESOLUTION ON REPRISALS 

The President of the Human Rights Council (the Council), Mr Baudelaire Ngong Ella, defended the Council’s recent resolution 24/24 to strengthen the UN response to reprisals, stating that ‘we cannot go back on our deals’ when the Council reports to the General Assembly. In presenting this year's Council report to the General Assembly's Third Committee, Mr Ngong Ella noted the need for greater visibility of the work of the Council, and for greater cohesion and cooperation between New York and Geneva.

Focusing on the role of civil society in UN processes, Mr Ndong Ella vowed that his office would work to ensure greater participation for civil society at the Council. He noted that his office closely follows cases of intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the Council.

The institutional relationship between the General Assembly and Council was the focus of South Africa’s intervention during the dialogue with Mr Ndong Ella. South Africa characterised Resolution 24/24 as being ‘in total defiance of the UN General Assembly’, with the Council aiming at appropriating powers from the General Assembly which, in South Africa’s view, would ultimately undermine efforts to achieve system-wide coherence of the UN system.

States such as China, Cuba and Egypt all voiced their concerns about the politicisation of both the Council and the General Assembly. China criticised NGOs for abusing their Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) status and ‘damaging’ the sovereignty of States. These were balanced by voices, such as Japan and Norway, expressing keen concern about intimidation and reprisals experienced by human rights defenders cooperating with the UN. 

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL REPORT HOTLY DEBATED 
 
The Third Committee adopted a hotly-debated resolution that takes note of the report of the Human Rights Council.  
 
Disagreements centered on the suitability of the Third Committee considering the issue, with the EU, which abstained on the resolution, arguing that the report should be taken up by the General Assembly plenary.
 
Nigeria and Libya denounced the paragraph in the report relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. Iran, Bangladesh and Sudan all similarly disassociated themselves from the text for promoting issues that they said had not been universally agreed upon.
 
Ultimately, the draft resolution was approved by a recorded vote of 115 in favour, 3 against (Belarus, Israel and Tuvalu), with 56 abstentions. 

STATES EXPRESS ALARM ABOUT IMPUNITY FOR ABUSES AGAINST WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS 
 
ISHR welcomes the adoption of a resolution, co-sponsored by the Netherlands and France, on violence against women and girls (VAW) that includes multiple references to women human rights defenders. The text acknowledges the important role of women human rights defenders and the particular risks they face. Significantly, the resolution expresses States' concern that impunity for violations and abuses against women defenders persists, owing to such factors as a lack of reporting, documentation, investigation and access to justice, as well as constraints around reporting and addressing sexual violence.
 
The text restates the responsibility of State parties to ensure the promotion and protection of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights of all women, which includes a need to make universally accessible safe and effective methods of contraception. The draft resolution also notes the undertakings of the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to strengthen efforts to combat impunity for sexual and gender-based violence.
 
While the resolution was adopted without a vote, a number of delegates, such as representatives of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See and Malta, expressed reservations at new references to 'emergency contraception' and 'safe abortion'. The Russian Federation and Sudan expressed their disapproval of references to sexual and reproductive health for girls.
                          
SUPPORT FOR DEATH PENALTY MORATORIUM GROWS
 
A record number of 114 States voted in the Third Committee in favour of a resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. This was an increase in four affirmative votes from the last time a similar vote took place on a death penalty text, in 2012.
 
Some States, however, argued that the resolution was an encroachment on their national sovereignty. Saudi Arabia proposed an amendment supported by 19 co-sponsors that would reaffirm the sovereign rights of Member States to determine their own legal system. Chile, Argentina, Benin, Uruguay and Albania maintained that the text did not create a legal obligation but rather remained recommendations and therefore did not interfere with States’ sovereign rights. The proposed amendment was ultimately rejected and the resolution was adopted in a vote of 114 in favour to 36 against, with 34 abstentions. 
 
UN APPROVES RESOLUTION ON RIGHT TO PRIVACY IN THE DIGITAL AGE
 
Following the adoption of last year’s landmark resolution on the right to privacy, the Third Committee adopted by consensus a follow-up text calling on States to respect international human rights obligations regarding the right to privacy, particularly in conducting surveillance of digital communications. While the draft, which was sponsored by Brazil and Germany, remains largely the same as the previous year’s resolution, notable additions include a concern about the collection of certain types of metadata and a call on States to conduct surveillance of digital communications on the basis of a legal framework.
 
There were 10 more co-sponsors than last year (totaling 65 in comparison to 55). Some States, such as South Africa, distanced themselves from the text over concerns about the potential establishment of a mandate of a Special Rapporteur. Others, including Switzerland, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, the US and the UK, voiced their support for the initiative. Importantly, the US called for greater discussion on the use of arbitrary surveillance against human rights defenders, adding that it was imperative defenders be able to make use of the Internet freely.
                                                                                                      
STATES CONDEMN IMPUNITY FOR VIOLENCE AGAINST JOURNALISTS 
 
The Third Committee adopted by consensus a resolution that underscores the risks of intimidation, harassment and violence that journalists increasingly face, and strongly condemns the prevailing impunity for attacks and violence against them. States expressed grave concern that the vast majority of crimes against journalists go unpunished, which contributes to the recurrence of such crimes.
 
The resolution also recognises that journalists can be considered human rights defenders and, in that respect, notes the good practices in certain countries designed for the protection of human rights defenders that might apply to journalists. The resolution was sponsored by Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar and Tunisia.
 
STATES ENDORSE GLOBAL EFFORTS TO ELIMINATE FGM

The Third Committee adopted a follow-up text to the milestone resolution on the elimination of female genital mutilations (FGMs). Despite being a consensus resolution, the text fails to characterise FGMs as human rights violations in themselves, despite UN bodies such as OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNECA, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM and WHO having done so in recent reports. Instead, the text reuses the same terminology as the previous resolution, which only recognises that FGMs are "an irreparable, irreversible abuse that impact negatively on the human rights worldwide of women and girls."

NEW INITIATIVE SEEKS TO HELP PROTECT CHILDREN FROM BULLYING 
 
The Mexican-led resolution, which was adopted by consensus by the General Assembly's Third Committee, recognises that bullying, including cyber-bullying, can have a negative impact on the rights of children. The resolution urges States to prevent and protect children through education to promote tolerance, and by collating data, raising public awareness and sharing best practices.
 
Disappointment was voiced by many States at the text’s failure to reflect the heightened risk LGBTI children face of being bullied. The EU, Chile, Australia and the United States all expressed regret at this shortfall, while welcoming the request for a comprehensive report from the UN Secretary General.
 
The representative of Djibouti, on behalf of the African Group, called the resolution ‘premature’, particularly in the absence of a common understanding of the problem in itself. Saudi Arabia additionally warned for a need to respect different cultural and religious values. 

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