General Assembly Monthly - October - November 2014
GENERAL ASSEMBLY MONITOR
OCTOBER 7 - NOVEMBER 7 2014

Side Event calls upon UN to hold DPRK accountable

Recent efforts by North Korea to engage with the international community are welcome steps but nothing on the ground has changed, said Michael Kirby, reiterating his call for the case to be referred to the ICC.

OPINION

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AS A BARRIER TO THE EFFECTIVE EXERCISE OF ALL HUMAN RIGHTS

Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. Thus it provides an opportunity to reflect on global developments towards the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, and to also identify new and remaining gaps and challenges.

Violence against women and girls is a pervasive and widespread human rights violation that is experienced by women across the globe. It has reached epidemic proportions in some parts of the world and no country is succeeding in eliminating this human rights violation... more

Welcome to ISHR's GA Monitor

The Third Committee of the General Assembly is meeting at UN Headquarters in New York from 7 October to 26 November 2014. The General Assembly delegates most of its human rights-related work to its Third Committee, including consideration of the annual report of the Human Rights Council, interactive dialogues with invited special procedures and treaty body chairpersons, and the negotiation of some 50 human rights resolutions.
 



KEY DEVELOPMENTS AT THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY

HIGH COMMISSIONER CALLS UPON GENERAL ASSEMBLY TO 'DEAL WITH THE MESSAGE NOT THE MESSENGER

‘Deal with the message not the messenger,’ the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights urged States in his inaugural address to the UN General Assembly, condemning attempts to silence the human rights defenders he called ‘critical players in the promotion and protection of human rights'.

He also criticised the financial constraints which currently cripple the UN’s human rights work. ‘The General Assembly has been warned of the effect of the drastic under-resourcing of OHCHR before’, said ISHR’s Michelle Evans, ‘Mr. Zeid has placed the issue centre stage, highlighting the absurdity of keeping OHCHR on such a limited budget at a time of so many global human rights challenges'... more

GENERAL ASSEMBLY ELECTS 15 NEW MEMBERS TO HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

On 21 October, the General Assembly elected the following 15 countries to the 47-member Human Rights Council for a period of three years beginning on 1 January 2015: Albania, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Ghana, Latvia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Paraguay, Portugal, Qatar, Bolivia, Botswana, Congo, India and Indonesia.

ISHR called upon these States – in line with the GA’s mandate to Council members – to uphold the highest of human rights standards and collaborate fully with all UN human rights mechanisms. ‘It is regrettable that several of the newly-elected States have not shown respect and support for the work of human rights defenders at home or on the international stage,’ said ISHR's Michelle Evans.... more

THEMATIC SPECIAL PROCEDURES AT THE GA

STATES MUST ENSURE DESIGNATION OF UN-WIDE FOCAL POINT ON REPRISALS, SAYS SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON HRDs
 

Presenting his inaugural report to the General Assembly, the new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst, provided Member States with a vision for the mandate and proposed new working methods to maximize his effectiveness. In reflecting upon the UN’s role in protecting defenders, Mr Forst noted that ‘the UN depends entirely on free and safe cooperation with civil society for its effective functioning,‘ without which it loses legitimacy.  A coordinated and unified response to prevent and address reprisals would be a cornerstone in ensuring that cooperation… more
 
UN SYSTEM FOR ACCREDITATION OF NGOs MUST BE REFORMED, SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON FoAA TELLS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
 
Member States working within multilateral institutions are legally obliged to ensure the full and effective participation of civil society in UN fora, including by guaranteeing a fair accreditation process for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) seeking to participate at the Human Rights Council. This was the call of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association during the annual presentation of his report to the UN General Assembly… more
 
UN EXPERT CALLS FOR GLOBAL TREATY ON ELIMINATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
 
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the mandate of Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. The current Special Rapporteur, Ms Rashida Manjoo, focused her final report to the General Assembly on how pervasive violence against women acts as a barrier to the realisation of all human rights, including citizenship rights.  She noted that citizenship rights are important in themselves but also are the basis for claiming, defending and ultimately realising rights. Cameroon acknowledged that women’s ability to participate with dignity as full citizens was key to combating violence against women.
 
Reflecting on some of the challenges to preventing and effectively addressing violence against women, Ms Manjoo concluded that it was time for a legally binding global treaty for the elimination of violence against women to fill a normative gap and allow for the creation of a specific international monitoring body.
 
States responded cautiously to the idea, with the US asking what an additional treaty would add to those that already contain a related provision. Switzerland rejected the idea of a new treaty, calling on States instead to ratify and implement existing instruments. Ms Manjoo ended by referring to ‘vested interests’ in some regions, where concerns about the dilution of regional instruments, which themselves encourage accession from States beyond their borders, undermine efforts to promote corresponding human rights protections within the United Nations.
 
UN EXPERT DRAWS ATTENTION TO RIGHTS AND PROTECTIONS FOR JOURNALISTS
 
In his first address to the General Assembly, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye, raised concerns about widespread impunity for attacks on journalists. Mr. Kaye highlighted journalists' right to seek and receive information and the need for a better appreciation by some police and security forces of the legitimate and crucial role played by journalists.
 
The Rapporteur stressed the need to end attempts to undermine the credibility of journalistic sources, as well as other means used to restrict media freedom, government transparency and access to information.
 
On the right to freedom of expression and opinion online, the Special Rapporeur noted that being disconnected from the internet today is tantamount to being silenced. He underlined the need to address internet regulation at the national level and international level to secure individuals’ rights to express themselves freely and to acquire information, as well as the roles and responsibilities of non-state actors.
 
RAPPORTEUR FOR JUDGES AND LAWYERS SPEAKS OUT AGAINST TORTURE OF HRD AS REPRISAL FOR UN ENGAGEMENT
 
During her dialogue with Member State the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Ms Gabriela Knaul spoke passionately about the detention, interrogation and torture of UAE human rights defender Osama Al Najjar, who was arrested shortly after having met with the Rapporteur during her official visit to the country.
 
Calling for his immediate release and investigation into his detention and alleged torture, she added her voice to the call for the timely appointment of a UN system-side focal point for reprisals. ‘Osama and others around the world do not have the luxury of time’, she said, referring to Mr Al Najjar’s reported continued detention.
 
UN EXPERT SEES UPR AS TOOL TO ENCOURAGE MORATORIUM ON DEALTH PENALTY
 
In dialogue with the GA, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary of Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, noted that a resumption of the death penalty after an extended period of suspension might constitute a violation of the right to life.
 
The Rapporteur welcomed the continuation of an overall, worldwide trend towards abolition. He noted that a lengthy de facto moratorium creates a legitimate expectation of not receiving a death sentence.
 
‘In exceptional cases where States resume executions, questions can be asked that, even if it is done in accordance with domestic law, is it not arbitrary if it appears like a bolt of lightning out of blue skies’, said the Special Rapporteur.
 
The ensuing interactive dialogue focused on the question of arbitrariness, with States such as Singapore and Kuwait categorically rejecting the Rapporteur’s assertions. Singapore, reacting to the perceived unfairness of being singled out, admonished the Rapporteur for basing his report on the false premise that international law necessitates a total abolition, and that the death penalty is by definition arbitrary or extrajudicial.
 
Supportive States, including Switzerland and Norway, echoed the Rapporteur’s calls for remaining member States to transform their de facto moratorium on executions into a de jure moratorium.  Adding to that, Mr.Heyns urged these States to use the UPR process to encourage those remaining to formalize a moratorium.
 
USE OF INTERNATIONAL MECHANISMS AVOIDED DUE TO FEAR OF REPRISALS, SAY UN EXPERTS
 
The Chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, Ariel Dulitzky, and the Chair of the Committee on enforced disappearances, Emmanuel Decaux, voiced serious concern over the increasing number of reprisals against human rights defenders and their families, underlining their detrimental impact on the effective functioning of the UN.
 
Mr. Dulitzky urged Member States to take specific preventative measures to protect individuals against reprisals and to hold the perpetrators of the attacks fully accountable. Warning that reprisals not only exist but also appear to be increasing, the UN expert called on the General Assembly to ensure a systemic response to counter this trend.
 
Mr. Decaux called on the international community to utilise effectively the available tools to respond to reprisals, including the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The independent expert also highlighted the need for a comprehensive vision and greater coordination between UN bodies, and underscored the value of public statements against reprisals, including those from the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

NEXT ON THE AGENDA

THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA

The draft text on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), led by the EU and Japan, includes the recommendation by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the DPRK (A/HRC/25/63) to refer the case to the International Criminal Court. The resolution also references the COI's findings of systematic, widespread and grave human rights violations occurring in the country. Unlike previous years, the DPRK is fully engaged in lobbying against the EU-led resolution. Although this engagement is welcomed, the international community wants to see that DPRK is taking meaningful steps to end the deplorable human rights situation in its country.

THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN MYANMAR

Despite some positive political developments in Myanmar, there is widespread agreement that the human rights situation on the ground has not improved enough for the resolution on Myanmar, led by the EU, to be discontinued. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee, in her first report to the General Assembly underscored the risks of backtracking, despite important advances in the human rights landscape in Myanmar over the last three years. In addition, the OHCHR country office has yet to be established, even though last year's resolution called for a speeding up this process. 

KEY LANGUAGE AT RISK IN RESOLUTION ON EXTRAJUDICIAL EXECUTIONS 

The biennial resolution on extrajudicial executions, summary or arbitrary executions (run by Finland, on behalf of the Nordic States) is a crucial initiative to bring international attention to some of the most serious human rights violations: those resulting in loss of life. In the 67th session, a major gain was made when ‘gender identity’ was added to the list of vulnerable groups that States were specifically urged to protect.  

Negotiations on this year’s text are difficult due to some States’ questioning the need for listing of vulnerable groups. However, to be effective, the resolution must address actual situations of extrajudicial killings targeted against particular groups, and retain the key paragraph noting the number of groups and situations in which extrajudicial executions are particularly prevalent.  Another related concern on this text is anticipated amendments by some States to try to delete language that refers specifically to sexual orientation and gender identity. 

WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS HIGHLIGHTED IN VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN RESOLUTION

The biannual resolution on the elimination of all forms of violence against women, led by France and the Netherlands, this year focuses on accountability for violence against women and girls.  New language in the text is drawn from the Agreed Conclusions negotiated at the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), when the priority theme was the elimination of violence against women and girls.  A welcome new paragraph on ‘the legitimate role of women human rights defenders’ is based on language from the landmark General Assembly resolution on women human rights defenders (A/RES/68/181) adopted in 2013.

MEXICAN INITIATIVE SEEKS TO END BULLYING AGAINST CHILDREN

A new initiative seeks to raise awareness on bullying against children. The draft resolution, led by Mexico, requests the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children to draft a study analysing the causes of bullying and identifying good practices on combating bullying. It is hoped that the text will acknowledge bullying against LGBTI youth, a recognition that UNESCO underscores in its 2012 booklet on homophobic bullying.

PUSH TO END DEATH PENALTY CONTINUES

The General Assembly is considering its fifth resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty.  In June 2014, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution on this issue, in which for the first time, the UN deplores the human rights violations experienced by those facing the death penalty and other affected persons. Supportive States of the General Assembly resolution continue to build consensus around the moratorium on the use of the death penalty as part of the drive toward abolition. 

PRESIDENT OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL TO PRESENT REPORT – 17 NOVEMBER
 
The President of the Human Rights Council, Baudelaire Ndong Ella (Gabon), will present the Council’s annual report to the Third Committee on 17 November 2014 and to the plenary of the General Assembly (date TBD – on or around 17 November).

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COUNTRY SPECIAL PROCEDURES AT THE GA

SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR WARNS OF BACKTRACKING IN MYANMAR

Important advances have been made in the political, economic, social and human rights landscape in Myanmar over the last three years, yet there are risks of possible backtracking, warned the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee, in her first report to the General Assembly.
 
The Special Rapporteur enumerated persistent violations, speaking of ongoing impunity, particularly in relation to gender-based violence and continuing recruitment of child soldiers. In relation to political prisoners, the Rapporteur welcomed the recent release of some, while expressing alarm at the large number of those who remain detained. Ms Lee emphasised the importance of freedom of expression and media freedom, particularly in light of restrictive laws. She highlighted how these have been used to criminalize and impede the activities of human rights defenders and journalists.
 
Ms Lee highlighted several areas of improvement, including steps to reform the judiciary. She noted the appointment of new Commissioners to the National Human Rights Institution, but noted that the Institution must reform to operate in line with the Paris Principles and gain civil society’s trust.
 
Myanmar welcomed the Rapporteur’s comments on reforms in the country, but defended the country’s treatment of journalists. Myanmar noted it was now time to discontinue the mandate and remove Myanmar from the agenda of the GA. Other Member States commended Myanmar’s ongoing progress, while expressing serious concerns about the situation of the Rohingya Muslim people. States also called on Myanmar to establish a UN Office of the UN HCHR.
 
The Special Rapporteur will next be visiting Burma in January 2015.
 
UN EXPERT SAYS VIOLATIONS ARE PROMPTING EXODUS OF THOUSANDS EACH MONTH FROM ERITREA
 
Speaking on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Special Rapporteur Sheila Keetharuth spoke of systematic and widespread violations in the country which are currently prompting 4,000 people to leave the country each month.

The Rapporteur highlighted grave concerns over arbitrary arrest and detention, incommunicado detention, inhumane prison conditions, extrajudicial executions and assassinations. Adding to that, Ms Keetharuth highlighted the deteriorating economic situation, alarming levels of hunger, and regularity of power-cuts, fuel and water shortages.
 
During the dialogue many States called on the government of Eritrea to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. Eritrea however, noted that it did not recognize the mandate of the Special Rapporteur or the newly created Commission of Inquiry, on the grounds that their establishment had been ‘politically motivated’. Eritrea noted that as the Special Rapporteur is a member of the Commission of Inquiry, the two bodies will inevitably produce similar findings, negating the argument that they are independent.  Eritrea continues to deny the Special Rapporteur entry to the country.
 
SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN IRAN IS PRECARIOUS, SAYS UN EXPERT
 
Whilst acknowledging some signs of improvement in terms of Iran’s human rights record, the Special Rapporteur on Iran, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, spoke of a continuing ‘deeply disturbing’ human rights situation in the country.
 
Mr Shaheed voiced serious concerns at the alarming spike in executions, including political prisoners and juveniles, as well as the precarious situation of human rights defenders and journalists, minorities and women. The Rapporteur noted that arbitrary arrest and continued detention occur with disturbing regularity, further identifying the misuse of broad and vaguely worded laws to restrict and criminalise individuals exercising their rights to freedom of religion and belief, expression and assembly.
 
Stressing the need for cooperation, Mr. Shaheed insisted that, ‘if the government expresses its determination to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights for all Iranians, it will find in me and the human rights community willing and determined partners’.
 
Despite this, the Rapporteur was lambasted by Iran in the subsequent interactive dialogue, where he was accused of propagating ‘Iranophobia’ and ‘Islamophobia’, based in information from ‘unreliable sources and unverified institutions.’ The Iranian said that, as a woman in Iran, she has never experienced any such discrimination as alleged by the UN official.
 
The work of the Rapporteur was supported strongly by Canada, the US, the UK, Switzerland, Israel, Norway, Germany, EU and the Czech Republic.  Canada, main sponsor of a tabled country resolution on Iran, described the mandate as a ‘cornerstone for the international community to support the human rights of people’ and expressed deep concerns at Iran’s continued refusal to grant the Rapporteur access to the country.
 
UN EXPERT DEMANDS ACCOUNTABILITY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN DPRK

 
During his presentation to the General Assembly, Mr. Marzuki Darusman, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, appealed to the international community to send an unequivocal signal that it is determined to follow up on the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights detailed in the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report of 17 February 2014. These violations amount to crimes against humanity and must be addressed.
 
The Special Rapporteur acknowledged new signs on the part of DPRK to cooperate and engage with the international community. Urging the international community to seize the opportunity, the Special Rapporteur called on all UN mechanisms to adopt a comprehensive and effective strategy to alleviate the plight of the people of DPRK. He also welcomed the establishment of an OHCHR office in DPRK, while stressing the importance of the Office's independence and that it not be subject to reprisals or threats.
 
In the dialogue, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Czech Republic, Japan, United Kingdom, United States, Liechtenstein, Norway, Lithuania, Republic of Korea and the EU delegation endorsed the Commission of Inquiry's call for accountability. This week an important side event on the situation in the DPRK was also held in New York.
 
HARASSMENT & INTIMIDATION OF LGBTI DEFENDERS CONTINUE IN BELARUS, SAYS UN EXPERT
 
Miklos Haraszti, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, reported to the GA that, among others, the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression remain severely restricted despite small glimpses of legislative reforms.
 
Although Belarus continued to deny the Rapporteur access to the country, the UN expert reported on the situation, albeit remotely, noting that different restrictive measures are used to crackdown on civil society organisations and human rights defenders. The Rapporteur identified 3 main stumbling blocks impeding the growth and work of civil society, namely restrictive, permission-based registration regulations, a widespread refusal of registration and the criminalisation of all unauthorised civil activities and funding, especially foreign funding.
 
The Special Rapporteur expressed alarm at the increasing number of reported short-term preventive arrests, arbitrary detentions and torture. He noted in particular that LGBTI defenders face particular challenges, including public defamation by State-run media. The UN expert appealed to the government of Belarus to repeal restrictive laws and provide an enabling environment for people to operate without fear of intimidation or reprisals.
 
Norway, Germany, Czech Republic, Canada, Switzerland and the European Union Delegation echoed the Rapporteur's appeal for Belarus to cooperate with the mandate, in addition to voicing deep concerns over restrictions on civil society and political activity.
 
Unsurprisingly, Belarus publicly rejected the mandate of the Rapporteur as being informed by foreign sources.

   

HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER PROFILES

Fahma Mohamed: British Anti-FGM Defender

17 year-old British human rights defender, Fahma Mohamed, is committed to freeing the world of female genital mutilation (FGM), starting with her own community in Bristol, UK.
 
From when she first heard about the practice of FGM from a teacher at the age of 14, Fahma Mohamed started to challenge its practice, one that studies estimate affects up to 137,000 women and girls in the UK.
 
‘I remember being in complete shock. I’m from an FGM affected community. Why didn’t anyone talk about it? Why isn’t anyone doing anything to stop it? Then I tried to put myself in their position. I couldn’t'... more

Wai Wai Nu: Women Peace Network Arakan, Burma

At this year’s General Assembly, a country resolution will once against focus on Myanmar This country resolution provides member States with the opportunity to press for the implementation of human rights obligations including the effective protection and promotion of the work of human rights defenders in and on these countries.

Through a profile of a human rights defender from Myanmar, ISHR aims to highlight the threats defenders face in carrying out their work and why the General Assembly must continue to demand their protection.

Ms Wai Wai Nu is a Burmese human rights defender committed to working for peace and justice in her country.  She is the Director the Women Peace Network Arakan, which she founded in 2012 upon her and her family’s release from prison after seven years of detention.

‘When I was released, I saw some positive changes in cities but not in rural areas:  not in areas where ethnic minorities lived.  It was then I took responsibility to work for my people'... more
 

CELEBRATE 30 YEARS OF ISHR!

Over the last 30 years, ISHR has worked to support human rights defenders and to build and strengthen human rights laws and systems for their protection. We're delighted to invite you to two exciting events in honour of our important anniversary.

On November 20 in the Palais des Nations, Geneva, ISHR wll host a high level  legal briefing, followed by a celebratory reception, to which you are all invited.

CLICK HERE
for more information the events, to RSVP, or to find out how you can help us celebrate even if you can't attend!

For more information, please visit our website: www.ishr.ch
or contact us: information@ishr.ch

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


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