General Assembly Monitor: October - November 2015
GENERAL ASSEMBLY MONITOR
6 October - 3 November 2015

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The General Assembly’s Third Committee started its work on 6 October, under the Chairmanship of Morocco.

Read about the key resolutions, interactive dialogues and other issues relating to the protection of civil society space and human rights defenders to be addressed during the Third Committee. 
 

Civil society participation

‘Don’t enact vengeance’ on civil society, declares UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has called for an ‘all-inclusive discussion’ on human rights, including with the participation of those that represent the most discriminated against and most marginalised in society.

He said reprisals against individuals and groups that cooperate with the UN, or seek to do so, effectively prevents this from happening, by denying these voices a platform....more

ishr advocacy

WILL NEWLY ELECTED MEMBERS OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL FACE UP TO MEMBERSHIP STANDARDS?

In a secret ballot held this week, the UN General Assembly has elected 18 members to the Human Rights Council, for the 2016 – 2018 period. Among them are many States with a history of egregious human rights violations – and who have so far not proven themselves fit for membership in the world’s principal human rights body... more

ISHR has led a group of NGOs calling for candidate States to comply with membership criteria by upholding ‘the highest standards’ of human rights, cooperating fully with the Council and its mechanisms, and preventing and ensuring accountability for reprisals. ... more

Together with 35 international and Latin American human rights organisations, ISHR has also expressed a strong belief that Venezuela’s human rights record, including whilst as a member of the Council, should preclude it from serving another term... more

End global crackdown on human rights defenders and enact laws for their protection

The work of human rights defenders is extraordinarily dangerous and increasingly criminalised in many States, a panel of experts has said at an event organised by Amnesty International, FIDH and the ISHR.


The panelists spoke of the current ‘global crackdown’ on human rights defenders, with laws being used and abused to silence dissent, restrict the independence and resources of NGOs, criminalise protest, and detain defenders contrary to international standards... more

States express strong support for participation of national institutions at the un

States from all regions of the globe expressed strong support for the participation of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in the work of the UN, during a side event at the UN. The impressive display of backing comes as the UN’s Third Committee considers the question of extending NHRI participation at the UN during negotiations for the upcoming NHRI resolution...more 

ISHR has been advocating for the General Assembly to extend the participaton rights of NHRIs, which has included the launch of a major new report on NHRI participation... more

States and UN must act on Secretary General’s damning report

An alarming new report by the UN Secretary-General documents a significant number of cases in which people have been threatened, stigmatised, censored, restricted from travelling, detained, beaten, held in solitary confinement, disappeared, and tortured for their work to expose and pursue accountability for human rights violations at the United Nations. In many of the cases the threats and attacks have not been properly investigated nor have perpetrators been held to account.

The Secretary-General has urged States to adopt national laws and policies to combat reprisals, and to work at the international level to prevent them and ensure accountability by other States...more

Meanwhile, Civil society and many States are continuing to push for the Secretary-General to finally appoint a 'focal point' on reprisals. A focal point is viewed by a range of stakeholders as the best way forward because a high level appointment would increase the political cost for offending States...more

Country developments

Experts on human rights in Belarus and North Korea present reports to the General Assembly

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Mr Miklós Haraszti, focused his report to the General Assembly on restrictions of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the country. This included highlighting limitations on both the traditional media and the internet. 

Belarus rejected the existence of the mandate, as did other traditional opponents of the continuation of country specific mandates (their position being that such mandates are unnecessary given the operation of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism). However, several States such as the US, Switzerland and the Czech Republic voiced clear support of the mandate and the findings of the Special Rapporteur. 

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Mr Marzuki Darusman, made clear that there has been no human rights improvement in the country. He said the possible crimes against humanity established by the Commission of Inquiry on the DPRK were a matter for the International Criminal Court, and urged the Security Council to refer the matter to the Court. This call was explicitly supported by the Czech Republic and Switzerland.    


Thousands fleeing Eritrea indicates a grave human rights situation, says Special Rapporteur
 
More than 5000 people, including a high proportion of minors, flee Eritrea on a monthly basis. It is hard to imagine a clearer indication of a grave human rights situation, said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Ms. Sheila Keetharuth, presenting her third annual report to the General Assembly. The main reason for fleeing remains the national military service, characterised by disproportionate punishments for insignificant mistakes and fears by conscripts of being trapped in the service for their whole lives, despite a legal limitation of 18 months.
 
Regrettably, the Special Rapporteur has to date not been granted access to the country. Her latest letter, dated 24 August 2015, remains unanswered, like all those before it.
 
Responding to criticism from the floor, Ms Keetharuth clarified that she obtained her information from various sources, including scholars, academics, refugees and migrants, whose names she could not reveal because of the fear of reprisals. She once again urged Eritrea to allow her to visit the country to enable her to see for herself the situation on the ground.
 
Reforms lead to progress but many concerns remain, says un expert on Myanmar

While four years of reforms have improved the human rights situation in Myanmar, there are still many problems, said the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Ms Yanghee Lee in her report to the General Assembly.

For the upcoming elections, for example, set to take place on November 2015, there remain a low number of women candidates and there has been an excessive use of force against protesters. Further, in order to exclude some independent voices ahead of the elections, human rights defenders and other civil society actors are subject to monitoring and surveillance. They have been followed, photographed or threatened. Women human rights defenders especially have also been subject to sexual harassment. Recently two people have been arrested over facebook posts, adding to the over 50 persons detained for criminal action under defamation procedures.
 
Myanmar extended its commitment to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. However, it noted its disappointment about the report, which it considers to be inaccurate, distorted and containing misleading allegations. It stressed the need to compare the current situation in Myanmar to that of four years ago, and to note the massive improvements in democracy, including greater political and media freedom, aspects it said were not sufficiently mentioned in the report.
 
The Special Rapporteur countered this by saying that the reform process must be accompanied by a change in mindset. Myanmar should reconsider its fear of opposition and critical and independent voices. Additionally, the divisions and tensions should not be manipulated for political purposes. The UN and regional mechanisms must remain constructively and critically engaged in the human rights situation on the ground and hold Myanmar accountable to its international commitments, including through policy dialogue, she said.
 
UN expert on Iran sees no progress on human rights
 
Despite a 'historic agreement' on nuclear weapons made in July of this year, the human rights situation in Iran remains deeply troubling, said the UN's expert on Iran, Mr Ahmed Shaheed. Speaking to the General Assembly as he presented his annual report, the Special Rapporteur said the government of Iran executes more people per capita than any other country in the world, with the number of executions set to exceed 1000 by the end of the year. Mr Shaheed further expressed his concerns about Iran's deeply flawed justice system, the discrimination of women and the persecution of religious minorities, such as the Baha’i.
 
He welcomed having been able to meet with Iranian officials in Geneva, where Iran had signalled an intention to more actively engage with his mandate. Nevertheless, he lamented that he has not yet been granted access to the country. The Special Rapporteur concluded by saying the human rights situation had not changed during the reporting period, and that it is time to focus on the human rights situation in Iran and not only on its nuclear program.
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Thematic developments

BUSINESSES AFFORDED MORE FREEDOMS THAN CIVIL SOCIETY, SAYS SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR

The latest report of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association compares the favourable environments for businesses around the world with the restrictive environments and threats too frequently faced by civil society.   
 
The Special Rapporteur, Mr Maina Kiai noted in his report that whilst non-profit organisations fight for basic rights of association and expression, for-profit entities' work is facilitated through favourable entry processes and regulations, and greater access to resources, power and political influence.   
 
He has said restrictions on NGOs are frequently excused on the basis of civil society organisations being seen as a threat to security and/or to national sovereignty. Businesses on the other hand, are presented as contributors to a prosperous economy. This discourse feeds restrictions and attacks against civil society in multilateral arenas, as evidenced by reprisals against those cooperating with human rights systems. 

Mr Kiai noted that such practices would never be permitted against businesses; on the contrary, they are increasingly invited, welcomed and their participation is facilitated at the highest levels of multilateral engagement. 

 
However, positive economic development depends on a robust and critical society, Mr Kiai said. When civil society is doing well, the economy is usually doing well too. Mr Kiai said there is no valid reason for civil society to operate in a hostile environment; rather, transforming that environment into one that is enabling of human rights defenders' work is a matter of political will. States including Iran, Malaysia and Russia criticised the Rapporteur's report, indicating that its focus was outside of the limits of the mandate. 

SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR HIGHLIGHTS 'EXTRAORDINARilY DANGEROUS' WORK OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mr Michel Forst, has described defending rights as an ‘extraordinarily dangerous activity’ in many countries in his annual report A/70/217 to the General Assembly. Mr Forst’s conclusions and his recommendations to States are drawn from analysis and first-hand defender accounts from a series of consultations held over the last year. 

During the presentation of his report at the General Assembly, Mr Forst spoke of the wide spectrum of attacks and threats defenders can face at the hands of both State and non‑State actors, such as religious and armed groups or transnational companies. He highlighted criminalisation of defenders as one of the most worrying developing threats globally. 

He also expressed grave concern about the ongoing intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating or seeking to cooperate with human rights systems but highlighted welcome developments such as a joint-statement by 56 States at the Human Rights Council in September. Noting that the UN’s work is impossible without the cooperation of a free civil society, he reiterated his support for the appointment of a UN focal point on the issue. This position was warmly endorsed by Liechenstein during the dialogue. 


Mr Forst welcomed the adoption of laws by some countries on the protection of human rights defenders, encouraged their implementation, and expressed his intention to include these positive practices in an upcoming report. The report focus was welcomed by Russia. 
 
Despite the importance of country visits to enable him to fulfil his mandate, the Special Rapporteur has not been able to carry out any country visit this year due to lack of cooperation by Member States. He has made repeated requests to Bahrain, Belarus, China and Venezuela, but none have responded to arrange such visits.  During the dialogue, the Maldives said it would be working with the Special Rapporteur to arrange a visit in 2016.
 
With a General Assembly resolution on human rights defenders currently under negotiation, States must translate their expressed condemnation of violations against defenders into concrete commitments and action to protect them.

In the dialogue that followed his presentation, all States that intervened voiced support both for his mandate and his report.

Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression calls for protection of whistle-blowers 
 
The report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Mr David Kaye, addresses the protection of sources of information and whistle-blowers. ISHR welcomes in particular the report recommendation that disclosure of human rights violations should never be the basis of penalties of any kind. This report follows a statement by the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders at the Human Rights Council in March in which he included whistle-blowers in his conception of the most at-risk defenders.
 
ISHR reiterates its call on States to enact or expand whistle-blower legislation to protect human rights related disclosures. In this regard, ISHR calls on States currently negotiating a resolution on Recognizing the role of human rights defenders and the need for their protection to urge States to adopt and implement laws protecting whistle-blowers, in particular where the disclosure relates to violation of human rights, or is likely to expose or promote accountability for such violations.
 
Special Rapporteur calls for greater attention to attacks on lawyers

Ms Mónica Pinto, the new Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, presented the final report of her predecessor, Ms Gabriela Knaul, to the General Assembly, in which Ms Knaul reviews the range of issues addressed in her six-year tenure. In particular, she highlighted her ongoing concern about the general situation of lawyers around the world, noting that she has recorded an ‘enormous number’ of allegations of attacks, harassment, intimidation, criminal prosecution and killings of lawyers; restrictions on their freedom of opinion and expression; arbitrary disbarments; and instances of attempts at limiting the independence of lawyers by way of legislative projects and amendments.

ISHR welcomes the call for Ms Knaul's successor to commit to looking into the situation of lawyers in more detail and to bring renewed attention to the serious risks they face as a result of defending the rights of their clients. This is particularly relevant given recent calls by NGOs, including ISHR, for UN human rights mechanisms to do more in the face of attacks on human rights lawyers, including cases of detention and disappearance.
 
Report of the Working Group on human rights and business

On October 27, the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises presented its report on measuring the implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

ISHR welcomes the emphasis placed by the Working Group on the critical role NGOs play in assessing and reporting human rights abuses by companies and therefore should play in any attempt to systematically monitor the implementation of the Guiding Principles.

ISHR calls on States and companies to address the significant gaps identified by the Working Group in existing measurement initiatives on impacts on specific human rights, such as land-related rights or freedom of expression. ISHR further calls on States and companies to address the Working Group’s finding that most existing measurement initiatives by States and companies pay little attention to impacts on affected communities (such as indigenous and minority communities) and on human rights defenders.

RESOLUTIONS TO BE ADOPTED

RESOLUTION RECOGNISING THE ROLE OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AND THE NEED FOR THEIR PROTECTION

A draft resolution on recognizing the role of human rights defenders and the need for their protection has been tabled by Norway.

The resolution tabled includes calls for States to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment for defenders, such as by acknowledging the important and legitimate role of defenders through statements, policies or laws. It also draws attention to violations against human rights defenders by non-State actors, and calls on them to refrain from such attacks and threats, which undermine the work of defenders.

 The resolution importantly condemns intimidation and reprisals against defenders, and also their legal representatives, associates and family members. Unfortunately, the text does not include explicit language on whistle-blowers, despite recent attention to their protection needs by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

ISHR welcomes the text's focus on implementation, which includes a request that the Secretary-General compile and regularly share information on national experiences and good practices, tracking the progress of implementation of the present resolution. Such a focus would be a means to address the woeful lack of implementation of commitments made in previous resolutions. 

RESOLUTION ON NATIONAL INSTITUTIONS FOR THE PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
 
Germany has tabled a draft resolution on national human rights institutions (NHRIs): National institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights. The resolution builds on the text of a resolution agreed on two years ago. Language regarding the issue of reprisals is stronger than in the last resolution, calling on States to investigate cases of alleged reprisals against members or staff of NHRIs or those cooperating with them or seeking to do so.
 
On the issue of extending the participation of NHRIs that hold 'A-status' (i.e. are in compliance with the Paris Principles) within the UN, the resolution takes a limited approach, encouraging a handful of mechanisms and processes where an ad-hoc practice is in place to ‘further develop modalities’. These include the Commission on the Status of Women, the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Open Ended Working Group on Ageing and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including its High-Level Political Forum. 
 
Whilst this is a step forward, it falls far short of the recommendation made by the Secretary General in his report to the General Assembly this year. The report makes the case for States to consider NHRI participation in the General Assembly and in the Economic and Social Council, as well as their respective subsidiary bodies and working groups. 
 
A-Status NHRIs are unique, independent and authoritative bodies set up by the State. They are required to cooperate with the UN and have contributed to development of global human rights policy and its implementation. Creating clear procedures to enable their participation in UN human rights debates is a means of strengthening the effort to promote and protect rights.


ISHR urges States to support the Secretary General's recommendation on expanding participation of NHRIs and welcome his findings and recommendations. 

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