By Madeleine Sinclair, ISHR Programme Manager (Reprisals) and Legal Counsel
States must confront the reality that people who have the courage to engage with the UN are suffering reprisals and intimidation. In calling on States to take six key steps to address this deplorable situation, Madeleine Sinclair calls on the Secretary-General to appoint a focal point on the issue of reprisals... more
Human rights defender profile
Attila Mraz: HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER FROM HUNGARY
Attila Mraz talks to ISHR about his work advocating for political participatory rights in Hungary where the rule of law is systematically deteriorating ... more
Honduras commits to better protect human rights defenders
Following a breadth recommendations for the protection of human rights defenders in Honduras, where defenders face physical attacks and even murder, the Honduran Government has committed to the protection of defenders before the Human Rights Council... more
Maldives: remove restrictions on abilIty of nhri to engage with the UN
ISHR highlights the blatant incompatibility between limitations imposed on the Maldivian National Human Rights Commission’s ability to communicate with the UN and recommendations accepted by the Maldivian Government to ensure the Commission can carry out its activities without being subject to reprisals... more
Mongolia: Implement UPR recommendations to uphold LGBTI rights and protect civil society
At its UPR adoption, the Government of Mongolia reaffirmed its commitment to constructive engagement in implementing UPR recommendations. While ISHR is encouraged by this commitment, in light of Mongolia's Human Rights Council candidacy it urged quick action on issues of LGBTI discrimination, corporate accountability, and civil society space... more
Reprisals: States, Human Rights Council and UN must discharge legal duty to protect civil society
As 56 Member States acknowledge the Council’s legal obligation to address reprisals in a statement to the Human Rights Council, 16 leading NGOs highlight the failure of Council Member States to protect human rights defenders who cooperate with the UN from reprisals... more
Human Rights Council convenes first country panel on the Democratic people's republic of korea
In the first dedicated panel discussion on a country situation, experts including the Hon Michael Kirby and Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country, discussed issues of enforced disappearances, executions, abductions and arbitrary detention in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea... more
General Assembly: Take action to support human rights defenders
Following seven regional consultations with over 500 human rights defenders from 111 States, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, concludes that defending rights is an ‘extraordinarily dangerous activity’ in many countries and produced a raft of recommendations for Member States and other stakeholders to better protect their work... more
Promotion of right to the highest attainable standard of health
According to the Chinese chair, the aim for this Presidential Statement is to position the Human Rights Council in support of the Ebola response. The process of negotiating, which began in March and continued through June, seems to be having trouble reaching consensus because of a lack of clarity on definitions, technical terminology, and scope.
While everyone agreed that the statement should be short and focused, this cannot exclude the critical role played by civil society in the response to public health crises, as articulated most recently by the SR on the Right to Health, Dainius Püras. The meaningful inclusion of issues like civil society, access to information, and respect for fundamental freedoms, and others taken up by the Council, further cement the Statement’s relevance.
UPCOMING SIDE EVENTS
All these events are held at Palais des Nations, Geneva.
Human Rights in Mexico, 29 September, 15:30 – 17:30, Room XXII. Organised by Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, Asociación Civil and ISHR. More information here.
Human rights in Sudan, 28 September, 15:00 – 16:30, Room XXIV. Organised by Society Studies Centre.
Human rights in South Sudan, 28 September, 15:30 – 17:00, Room XXII. Organised by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project.
Please note – this is a selection of the events from the full programme of NGO parallel events (as at 11 September 2015) which can be found here.
On 28 September, Colombia, Uruguay, Greece, Switzerland and others will lead a panel on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights. The concept note for the panel can be downloaded here.
This panel provides a critical opportunity to examine and condemn the threats and risks faced by human rights defenders as a result of the currently dominant policy response to drugs. As highlighted in a Submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, co-written by ISHR and Peace Brigades International, Latin American human rights defenders have played a fundamental role in exposing abuses by State and non-State actors in the context of the ‘war on drugs’. In return, their important role has put activists at heightened risk of attacks, from both actors, ranging from public defamation to life-threatening violence.
With time limited, the discussion will face the challenge of covering the breadth of human rights issues linked to drugs policy. In this light, many States are preparing joint statements, including a general intervention by the core group and one on the right to health, lead by Switzerland. ISHR is using the panel as an opportunity to engage States on the importance of consulting and protecting human rights defenders working on these issues.
INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON CAMBODIA
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, concluded her first visit to the country on 24 September as the Human Rights Council considers a draft resolution to extend her mandate by two years. In her end of trip press release, Dr Smith summarised her meetings with Government officials, legislators, and civil society and emphasised the need for further development of rule of law, inclusive policymaking, and the critical importance of the OHCHR office in Phnom Penh.
During the Interactive Dialogue scheduled for 29 September, Member States and civil society should continue to encourage the Cambodian Government to step up cooperation with the OHCHR and the Special Rapporteur and take meaningful steps to review and revise laws that concern defenders on the ground, including but not limited to, the Law on NGOs and Associations adopted last month.
INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE WITH THE INDEPENDENT EXPERT ON SUDAN
The Human Rights Council will consider the human right situation in Sudan this week during an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the country. The Indepdendent Expert's report to be presented to the Council on 29 September will emphasise the continuing human rights challenges – in terms of ‘securing basic fundamental rights, in particular the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of the press, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and freedom of religion’.
While recognising the efforts made by Sudan on legislative reform, the report highlights the serious human rights violations and the large-scale displacement of civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile as a result of the recent Government military operations and inter-tribal clashes. In the report, the Independent Expert called the Sudanese authorities to acknowledge the persistence of human rights violations and abuses in the country and to continue and deepen its efforts to combat impunity by prosecuting all perpetrators of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.
REPORT OF THE HIGH COMMISSIONER ON SRI LANKA
The presentation of the High Commissioner's report by the Assistant Secretary General and the discussion to follow were mandated by HRC resolution 25/1 and offer an opportunity for the OHCHR and Member States to respond specifically to the recommendations included in the report of the High Commissioner on Sri Lanka and the findings of OHCHR’s Investigation. As the report makes clear, despite a changed political environment based on a platform prioritising rule of law and human rights, the work of transitional justice is nowhere near completed. Some key defender-related conclusions and recommendations in the report include:
The Government should ensure that consultations on transitional justice, including whatever mechanisms are consequently established, should involve all stakeholders, including defenders and civil society.
The Government should issue clear orders to security forces, including an order ot end all surveillance, harassment and reprisals against human rights defenders.
The Government should review the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) with an eye to its repeal; review and either release, or bring to trial, current detainees; and review past convictions, especially where torture was involved.
RESOLUTIONS TO BE ADOPTED
RESOLUTION ON EQUAL POLITICAL PARTICIPATION
The Czech Republic, together with Botswana, Indonesia, Peru, and the Netherlands has presented a resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs, which if adopted would mandate an OHCHR-led expert workshop before the June 2016 session of the Council. Importantly, the resolution identifies the key role of human rights defenders and civil society in promoting and protecting the right to equal political participation, and calls on States to provide a safe and enabling environment for their work. Along with highlighting some of the opportunities inherent in new forms of participation, including through social media and the Internet, the resolution calls on States to include civil society and minority groups in designing, evaluating and reviewing legislation and policy on participation in political and public affairs.
RESOLUTION ON NATIONAL FOLLOW-UP SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES
A new resolution presented by Brazil and Paraguay seeks to organise a half-day panel during the 26th session of the UPR to discuss best practices in terms national follow-up systems to recommendations by international human rights mechanisms. Disappointingly, the resolution only inadequately reflects the role of civil society and human rights defenders in contributing to the design, implementation and evaluation of such processes, and it will be critical that there is a more prominent role for civil society in the further development of this issue including the panel discussion.
RESOLUTION ON NATIONAL POLICIES AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Algeria, Italy, Ecuador, Peru, Romania and Thailand have presented a resolution calling on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to organise an expert workshop to discuss effective mechanisms to mainstream human rights into public policies and prepare a summary report of that workshop to be presented at the 33rd session of the Council. Disappointingly the resolution only inadequately refers to the role of civil society, in recommending that States integrate into their national policies a human rights perspective - taking into consideration civil society views on the process when doing so. It is crucial that human rights defenders are at the core of the development of any national policy for it to effectively protect human rights on the ground.
RESOLUTION ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN SRI LANKA
After somewhat contentious negotiations, including strong objections from some States that the ‘negative’ tone of the text was unproductive or ‘unfair’, a text was tabled on 24 September. The document referenced as HRC/30/L.29, notes with appreciation the report of the High Commissioner on Sri Lanka, and the findings of OHCHR’s Investigation and addresses some of the key recommendations. These reports will be the subject of this week’s discussion scheduled for 30 September.
Of particular interest for defenders, the resolution encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to strengthen protection for those seeking justice and accountability by ‘making specific accommodation to protect witnesses and victims, investigators, prosecutors, and judges’ who are involved in the transitional justice process. It further encourages investigation and accountability for attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and other members of civil society.
RESOLUTION ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN SUDAN
In parallel to the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, a resolution has been tabled expressing concern at reports of the closure of NGOs; restrictions on the media; pre- and post-publication censorship; seizure of newspapers; banning of journalists; and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly. The resolution urges Sudanese authorities to further their efforts for the promotion and protection of human rights, in particular to ensure protection from arbitrary arrest and detention, and to respect the human rights of all individuals, including human rights defenders and members of civil society organisations.
The resolution suggest the renew of the mandate of the Independent Expert for one year under item 10.