07 - 11 March 2016


ISHR co-sponsored and participated in the 14th edition of the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva. 


Realising ESC rights requires participation and protection of ESC rights defenders

By Navi Pillay, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and ISHR Board Member

Restrictions and attacks on economic, social and cultural rights defenders amount to restrictions and attacks on economic, social and cultural rights themselves. Member States at this session of the Human Rights Council have the opportunity to support a vital resolution on the protection of these defenders. We owe it to Berta Cáceres and others who risk their lives to promote and protect these rights to ensure States do, says former UN human rights chief Navi Pillay.... more


Allo awol: Human rights defender from ethiopia

During the 31st session of the Human Rights Council, Dr Allo Awol participated in a joint side event on the protection needs of human rights defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights. Dr Awol, who seeks to protect the rights of defenders in Ethiopia by being the voice of defenders on the ground, talks to ISHR about his human rights work which focuses on how legal institutions can be used to advance oppressive behaviour... more


Unpacking the legal obligation to respect, protect and facilitate the work of ESC rights defenders

By Ben Saul, Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney

Pursuant to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, States have a duty  to respect, protect and fulfil certain human rights obligations. These obligations safeguard the work of economic, social and cultural rights defenders – against whom an escalating global war is being waged – and imposes obligations on States to promote their rights and remedy human rights violations against them... more

ishr advocacy

Human Rights Council: Strengthen response to reprisals and country situations of concern

In a statement to the Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights - at a time when human rights defenders are experiencing an unprecedented global crackdown – ISHR urged Member States to take steps to address reprisals against human rights defenders and to address the deteriorating human rights situation in politically powerful States such as China, Egypt and Russia... more

UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS launch practical advice on management of protests

The Special Rapporteurs on freedom of association and assembly and on extrajudicial executions launched a report on the management of assemblies, including practical recommendations to for their management in compliance with international law. ISHR called on States to review and amend laws on the management of assemblies to bring them into line with the report’s findings... more


All these events are held at Palais des Nations, Geneva.

  • Sexual Health & Human Rights, Monday 14 March, organised by Action Canada for Population and Development. This event is scheduled for 12:00-13:30, Room XXI. 

  • Human Rights in Democratic People's Republic of Korea (the), Monday 14 March, organised by Human Rights Watch. This event is scheduled for 13:30-15:00, Room XXI. 

  • Human Rights in South Sudan, Monday 14 March, organised by Africa Culture Internationale. This event is scheduled for 15:00-16:00, Room XVIII

  • Violence against minorities in Asia, Tuesday 15 March, organised by Franciscans International. This event is scheduled for 12:00-13:00, Room XXIV.

  • Human rights in Burkina Faso, Tuesday 15 March, organised by  Action internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs. This event is scheduled for 14:00-15:00, Room XVIII

  • Human rights in West Africa, Wednesday 16 March, organised by Asian-Eurasian Human Rights Forum. This event is scheduled for 16:00-17:00, Room  XXVII

  • Human rights in Australia, Thursday 17 March, organised by Franciscans International. This event is scheduled for 11:00-12:00, Room XXVII.

  • Human Rights in Palestine, Friday 18 March, organised by Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. This event is scheduled for 13:30-15:00, Room XXI.

  • Human rights in Bahrain: Assembly, Monday 21 March, organised by CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation. This event is scheduled for 12:00-14:00, Room XXIV.

Please note – This is a selection of the events from the draft full programme of NGO parallel events (as at 19 February 2016), available here.



Human rights situations that require the HUMAN RIGHTS Council’s attention

The Human Rights Council's General Debate under item 4 'Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention’ is scheduled to take place this Tuesday.

ISHR is particularly concerned about the use of legal, regulatory, and other measures to limit the space for civil society and human rights defenders, and to justify or legalise actions that are incompatible with the respect for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. For example freedom of expression and association that comprise the benchmarks against which all Council members should be measured. Among the - sadly - many examples highlighted by UN experts, China provides the starkest case.

During this debate, ISHR intends to make a statement to the Human Rights Council that will reflect the perspectives and voices of those working on the ground, and hopefully it will resonate well beyond the walls of the Palais des Nations. 


The Human Rights Council's General Debate under item 5 'Human rights bodies and mechanisms of the Council' is scheduled to take place this Tuesday and Wednesday. During that debate, States will have an opportunity to address the issue of reprisals and intimidation against human rights defenders cooperating with the UN. 

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 contained in the Secretary-General's annual report on reprisals. The most recent report from September 2015 shows that intimidation and reprisals against persons who seek to cooperate with or testify to the UN are becoming more ‘severe and varied’, ranging from travel bans to torture, with the attacks documented representing only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. 

The debate will take place against the backdrop of Human Rights Council 24/24, which called for a UN-wide focal point to prevent and address reprisals, and which has yet to be implemented

Myanmar – Universal periodic review and interactive dialogUe with the special rapporteur

ISHR is closely following the Human Rights Council's activities related to Myanmar, and looks forward to the report of the Special Rapporteur. During the adoption of Myanmar's Universal Periodic Review, ISHR hopes to see positive responses to key recommendations related to human rights defenders and the protection of civil society space and fundamental freedoms.

Meanwhile, negotiations of the annual resolution on the country continue under Item 4, despite organised pushback both on recognition of ongoing violations and on the importance of the Special Rapporteur's critical monitoring role. With partners from the country and among international NGOs, ISHR will continue to call  for a strong resolution and for benchmarks that will aid the Government of Myanmar in its efforts to concretise reforms and push for further, structural change, since 2011.

Report of INTERGOVERNMENTAL WORKING GROUP towards binding treaty on business and human rights
The report on the first session of the open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) mandated to elaborate an international legally binding treaty on transnational corporations and other business enterprises was presented to the Council last Friday. 
Covering the discussions which took place over five days last July, the report lays out many of the opinions and arguments made by States and NGOs in regards to how both the process towards, and the outcomes of, the IGWG ought to look.
Importantly, the report reflects the fact that ‘many NGOs highlighted that the protection of human rights defenders and the creation of a safe and enabling environment for their work should be a key principle at the core of the [treaty]’ and that the IGWG process ‘must guarantee the full and safe participation of human rights defenders through practical mechanisms, the interspersing of NGO statements with those of other actors, a continued openness to [non-ECOSOC] participation… webcasting… national and regional consultations prior to sessions, and an institutional mechanism to prevent and respond to reprisals’.
Presenting the report, Ecuador, as Chair of the process, called for the ‘constructive involvement of all stakeholders in order to assist further in protecting victims of corporate abuse’. In the build-up to the second session of the IGWG this October, ISHR will be calling upon Ecuador as Chair of the process, as well as the OHCHR and all UN member States to ensure that the treaty process consults and protects human rights defenders.

UPR Outcomes

The report of the Universal Periodic Review of Australia, Nauru and Rwanda will each be adopted this week. Following which the countries' delegations of will each indicate their responses to recommendations receiving during their respective reviews. States and NGOs will then be given the opportunity to make follow-up statements.

For information on the situation of human rights defenders in each of these countries, see ISHR’s briefing papers on Australia, Nauru and Rwanda.


This dialogue provides an opportunity for States and civil society to press Australia to implement key recommendations, such as in relation to: the legal protection and enforceability of rights through a national Human Rights Act; the policy and practice of mandatory, indefinite offshore immigration detention; and the need to address indigenous disadvantage. The dialogue will also present an opportunity to highlight new areas of concern that have arisen since the review, such as in relation to proposed anti-protest laws and the need to safeguard and prevent erosion of democratic freedoms.


This dialogue provides an opportunity for States and civil society to encourage, support and press Nauru to make progress, particularly in key areas of concern such as: the independence of the judiciary and subversion of the rule of law; press freedom and access to the country for journalists; internet censorship; and conditions and ill-treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in the country, particularly in the Australian-controlled detention centre.


This dialogue provides an opportunity for States and civil society to highlight the risks, harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and unfair trials human rights defenders in Rwanda are subject to. The dialogue will also present an opportunity for States to call on the Rwandan Government to review and amend laws restricting the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, which are commonly used to restrict the activities of human rights defenders and to interfere, undermine and freeze the activities of independent human rights organisations.

China’s Second-Cycle UPR Mid-Term: A Technical Assessment from Civil Society

With China’s mid-term Universal Periodic Review report due in April, this session of the Human Rights Council provides an opportunity to reflect on the recommendations made to the State and its responses to them. It is also an occasion to consider the role of civil society in pressing for and assisting with the implementation of accepted recommendations. With this in mind, ISHR, the Tibet Advocacy Coalition, The World Uyghur Congress and others are organising a side event to discuss good practices and ongoing challenges in fulfilling the potential of the Universal Periodic Review process. More information on the event can be found here

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ISHR thanks Irish Aid for its generosity in making this publication possible.