COUNCIL MONITOR - 16 - 20 March 2015
16 - 20 March 2015


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Why a UN Special Rapporteur on privacy matters

By Eileen Donahoe, Director of Global Affairs, Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Council members will have an opportunity at this session to put a much-needed focus on the increasingly imperiled right to privacy by creating a mandate for a UN special rapporteur on privacy. With the leadership of Brazil and Germany, and support from a broad coalition of other delegations, the prospects for creating a new mandate on the right to privacy are strong.  Here is why it matters to human rights defenders... more 

ISHR statements at the
Human Rights Council

View the full video playlist to date of ISHR's statements at the 28th session of the Council - from the welcome enactment of a law to protect human rights defenders in Côte d'Ivoire, to the imperative of releasing women human rights defenders from arbitrary detention in Egypt.


ishr advocacy

China Must Ensure independent investigation into death of Cao Shunli

China must ensure a full, independent and impartial investigation into the death of Chinese human rights defender Cao Shunli, a coalition of leading human rights organisations has said in a statement to the Human Rights Council. If Chinese authorities are unable or unwilling to conduct such an investigation in accordance with international standards, the Human Rights Council must take appropriate action... more

Human rights groups express grave concern as imprisoned activist in Bahrain goes public with hunger strike

More than twenty leading human rights organisations have issued a public statement calling on Bahraini officials to ensure adequate health care and other fundamental rights and freedoms are accorded to detained human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, as he enters the 17th day of a hunger strike. The statement calls on the Government of Bahrain to immediately and unconditionally address Al-Khawaja’s legitimate demands... more

UPR: Rise in defender-related recommendations welcome, but more to be done to ensure impact on ground

As the Human Rights Council adopted the outcomes of the 20th session of the Universal Periodic Review, ISHR saluted commitments to protect the work of human rights defenders, but asked that more be done to protect the most vulnerable and to translate recommendations into real change. In a statement to the Council, ISHR's Ben Leather argued that ‘If defenders are safe and active, States have a better chance of implementing their other UPR recommendations’... more

National policies protecting human rights defenders should be enacted

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should support States in undertaking legislative and policy reforms to establish national laws and policies in line with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, ISHR said in a statement during the Council's panel discussion on national policies and human rights. Legislation in line with the Declaration is necessary to bridge the gap between international standards accepted by States and the domestic realities faced by defenders... more

Myanmar SHOULD End criminalisation of the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression

States must not miss a significant opportunity at both the Council and through the forthcoming UPR to push for greater respect and protection for human rights defenders and civil society actors in Myanmar. ISHR has launched a major Briefing Paper on the situation of human rights defenders in Myanmar, which highlights concerns over laws that unreasonably restrict the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and which are increasingly employed to criminalise human rights defenders and censor journalists... more

Protect Assyrian Christians and release arbitrarily detained human rights defenders in Syria

Syria must release all arbitrarily detained persons, protect Assyrian Christians and take a firm stand against impunity for international crimes committed against Assyrian Christians, the Director of the Assyrian Human Rights Network told the Human Rights Council on Wednesday, in a statement on behalf of ISHR... more

rights groups condemn crackdown on human rights activities in Egypt

Egypt must end and ensure accountability for restrictions and attacks, including sexual violence, against women human rights defenders, ISHR has told the Human Rights Council. ISHR joined its civil society partners in voicing its solidarity with Egyptian human rights defenders, journalists and NGOs by addressing grave concerns over extreme restrictions and repression of the freedoms of expression, association and assembly in the country... more

key Developments


The Human Rights Council has considered reports on the human rights situations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Myanmar and the Syrian Arab Republic.

Each report referred to attacks against human rights defenders and restrictions imposed on civil society space, including harassment and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders; the use of unwarranted force against peaceful protesters; the significant number of political prisoners; and the persistent lack of cooperation with special procedures... more

Council President meets with Civil Society

On Thursday 18 March, the President of the Human Rights Council, Joachim Rücker, held an in-session meeting with members of civil society. The President reflected on the increased respect displayed by member States for the spaces allocated to civil society at the 28th Council session, as shown by reduced points of order interrupting NGO speakers. Many of those present attributed this positive result in large part to the President and Bureau’s focused and vocal leadership in securing and defending space for NGO participation.
Participants also widely expressed their concern, and sought guidance from the President, about past and ongoing instances of reprisals perpetrated against human rights defenders who have sought to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms. The President confirmed his intention to use all mandated tools at his disposal to ensure allegations of intimidation or reprisals are followed up effectively, and impunity for past cases is ended.

In this regard he highlighted the publication of the communications to South Sudan expressing concern about reprisals and demanding a substantive response from the government. He also referenced the unprecedented clear condemnation of reprisals made in the opening remarks of the Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures when presenting the report of the 21st Annual Meeting of Special Procedures.



Resolutions to be adopted

The draft resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar (L.21) extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further year. The resolution has been negotiated at the Human Rights Council against the backdrop of heightened crackdowns against peaceful protesters in the country.

While the resolution calls upon the government of Myanmar to ensure that the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as the operating space for civil society, are fully protected in the context of upcoming elections, civil society has expressed disappointment that the resolution does not go far enough to condemn the criminalisation of human rights defenders, journalists and other activists.

At the same time, while the resolution identifies the role of business enterprise in promoting and protecting human rights, it falls short of calling for investigations and accountability in connection with their role in the intimidation, harassment and violence against community members and activists opposing large-scale land-grabs and development projects. 

This resolution aims to guarantee that a human rights perspective is contemplated at the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, scheduled for April 2016.
The draft resolution, tabled by principal sponsors Colombia, Guatemala and Switzerland, calls for a two-pronged human rights feed-in to UNGASS, calling for a report from the High Commissioner for Human Rights and a Panel during the 30th session of the Human Rights Council on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights.

This approach would ensure that all stakeholders - including affected States, independent experts and civil society - could feed into the process and ensure that UNGASS receives a comprehensive human rights study with concrete recommendations. The production of an OHCHR report would form an independent yet expert basis on which the panel could focus discussions.

Whilst such an approach has been welcomed by a broad range of civil society organisations, including Conectas and Human Rights Watch, as well as States such as Australia, Ireland and Tunisia, it is under threat from States including Canada, Egypt, France, India and the USA who argue that only one of the two initiatives is necessary.
ISHR is in favour of the resolution as tabled, having heard - in consultations with 75 human rights defenders from 21 countries across Latin America this January - the devastating impact which the world drug problem is having not only on human rights, but on human rights defenders. Defenders hope to be consulted regarding the anti-narcotics strategy which has left them exposed to armed State and non-State actors and faced by increasing threats, particularly when exposing abuses by drug gangs or security forces.

Given the extreme levels of violence and violations connected with drugs trafficking and the current anti-drugs strategy in Latin America, it is no surprise that the majority of GRULAC States are co-sponsors of the tabled resolution. Their push to ensure full civil society input via both a report and a panel will be crucial to ensure that UNGASS tackles the human rights dimension of drugs.

Democracy, human rights and the rule of law

This resolution, presented by Romania, Morocco, Norway and others, seeks to establish a forum on the relationship between democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The forum would take place every two years and serve as a platform for dialogue.

While the general idea of the resolution was largely welcomed, some States expressed concern about the potential ‘political’ nature of the discussions in the forum, and about language recognising the role of civil society and human rights defenders in promoting good governance. The resolution remains vague on the recognition it provides to human rights defenders and, as such, fails to build on the clear language of its predecessor resolution two years ago.  

The draft resolution on 'The right to privacy in a digital age', introduced by Austria, Brazil, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland (L.27), creates a Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy and recognises the need for systematic monitoring, reporting and guidance based on international human rights law on the scope and content of the right to privacy. 

A joint statement by 92 human rights NGOs from across the world have supported this, stating that such a mandate would 'make an essential contribution to the development of a coherent and complementary approach to the interaction between privacy, freedom of expression and other human rights'.


A procedural resolution will be presented to the Council this week seeking the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran for another year. The resolution also calls on Iranian authorities to cooperate with the mandate, including by allowing access to the country (which has been denied since the creation of the mandate in 2011).

Given that the circumstances in Iran are dominated by discussions about Iran’s nuclear programme almost two years after Hassan Rouhani was sworn in as president, hopes for reform remain unfulfilled. In response 36 civil society organisations have called on member States to support the renewal of the mandate and ensure that human rights in Iran remain a globally priority.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur addresses the chronic situation of serious violations of human rights in Iran perpetrated by the authorities, particularly Iran's security, intelligence and judiciary authorities. This year, the resolution coincides with the Council’s adoption of the outcomes of the UPR of Iran, which saw the international community largely reiterate recommendations made during the first UPR cycle. This clearly indicates Iran’s failure to domestically implement pledges made before the Council and the need for continuous and sustained monitoring of the situation.



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