24 Sep
human rights defender

We are privileged to have met a young, passionate human rights defender - and HRDAP 2018 alumni - who works so that everyone can "live in a better world, a just and humane society in harmony with nature and climate."

21 Sep

In a statement at the UN Human Rights Council today, Sophie Luo called for the immediate release of her husband, activist Ding Jiaxi, and a clear commitment by the Council to addressing rights violations in China.

17 Sep

In a devastating report, a group of independent UN experts on Venezuela outline evidence of crimes against humanity carried out in the country at the direction of high-level State authorities, with the active participation of President Maduro and Ministers of the Interior and of Defence.  What will the Human Rights Council now do to ensure accountability for such crimes and justice for victims?

15 Sep

The right to non-discrimination and the right to life are essential to all societies. At the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, ISHR and ten Swiss-based NGOs* called today on Switzerland to ensure accountability in police violence cases.

24 Sep

As the 66th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘the Commission’) ended on 7th August, what were the main highlights of this first ever online session organised by the Commission?

Broad support for first report by UN expert on transitional justice


States in the Human Rights Council (the Council) overwhelmingly expressed support for the first report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence during a clustered interactive dialogue on 11 and 12 September 2012 at the 21st session of the Council.

The first Special Rapporteur, Mr Pablo de Greiff, commended the Council on its adoption of Resolution 18/7 establishing his mandate. Adopted by consensus, the resolution was the initiative of a cross-regional group of countries including Argentina, Morocco and Switzerland (with the support of Côte d’Ivoire, Uruguay, Peru, Maldives, France and Austria). Mr de Greiff reminded the Council that the diversity of the States establishing the mandate was appropriate given that gross violations of human rights and international law, issues to which the mandate seeks to respond, ‘know no boundaries’.

During the dialogue, States were willing to share their own experiences of conflict and transitional justice, especially Latin American States as well as Morocco, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, and welcomed the report’s comprehensive approach of strengthening the links between each of the four elements of the mandate. The Special Rapporteur highlighted that the elements are complementary and share the fundamental aims of providing recognition to victims as rights-holders, promoting trust in institutions, strengthening the rule of law, and fostering social reconciliation.

States widely approved of the Special Rapporteur’s proposal to enhance the links, not only between the four elements themselves, but also between the four elements and other areas of policy intervention, including security and development programmes. Mr de Greiff stated that the sustainable impact of his mandate depends on establishing external links of its core elements with concrete policy interventions.

The incorporation of a gender perspective to the issues in the report was supported by Switzerland, Belgium and Ecuador in particular. Most States, overwhelmingly from Latin America, warmly welcomed the adoption of a victim-centred perspective. Nevertheless, many requested practical guidance from the Special Rapporteur and a best practice model to effectively implement the approach.

Further comments from States, Sri Lanka, Paraguay and China in particular, reiterated the need to take into account the regional and historical context of a situation. States also requested further details on the Special Rapporteur’s intention to coordinate with other mandates, mechanisms and bodies in the United Nations system and other institutions and civil society organisations.

Among the few criticisms raised was Egypt’s claim that ‘some academic arguments in the report are region-specific, which falls outside the thematic mandate of the Special Rapporteur’. China noted the views of the Special Rapporteur and reiterated the need to guarantee a country’s independence and sovereignty in implementing the proposed measures.

Mr de Greiff clearly expressed that the hallmark of his mandate would be to focus on dialogue and engagement with the Council, States, and other relevant stakeholders, and to focus on establishing links with other special procedures where relevant.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur also announced that he would organise a series of regional consultations, two of which will be held by the end of 2012. This will from part of the process of translating the thematic areas described in the report into concrete activities. Such consultations will be a key opportunity for human rights defenders to engage with the mandate, and ensure the further work takes into account their specific challenges.

Human Rights Council's dialogue with COI on Syria: increasing calls for ICC referral


Eighteen months after the beginning of the uprisings in the Syrian Arab Republic, Professor Paulo Pinheiro gave his sixth report of the Commission of Inquiry (the Commission) on 17 September 2012 detailing the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

Mr Pinheiro’s remarks touched on many important issues: the indiscriminate killings of civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law and the current culture of impunity in the country were amongst the most prevalent. No Syrian delegate was present for the opening remarks, but the Ambassador came to the room later during the debate.

The dialogue was predominantly characterised by a growing consensus that the gross and systematic human rights violations in Syria by both the Government forces and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Many States recalled the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity; many of which appear to occur with frequency in the Syrian Arab Republic. Many States from all regions, including Austria, Botswana, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Honduras, Ireland, Lithuania, Maldives, Switzerland and the UK, were adamant that the situation in Syria should be referred to the ICC. There was also consensus that any peace process would necessarily require a prior cessation of hostilities by both sides.

Morocco and Qatar have also started public informal consultations on a draft resolution on Syria. There was overall support for the extension of the Commission, with the several States pushing for an extension of the mandate of the COI and an expanded mandate placing greater focus on the refugee crisis that is spilling over into neighbouring countries. A large focus of the meeting was on the access – or lack thereof – that the Syrian government has given to the Commission. A group of States called for an independent investigation to look into abuses and violation of human rights, but no States explicitly reiterated the calls for ICC referral heard in the plenary.

Other States said that the current draft ‘felt unbalanced’ as it placed too little emphasis on the responsibility of rebels in the violence and human rights abuses. Together they expressed its disagreement with labeling that the crisis has emerged because of the 'failure' of the Syrian government. Their suggested changes to the draft focused on softening the overall document and placing greater emphasis on the responsibility of all parties to the conflict.

During the dialogue in the Council plenary, Mr Pinheiro was clear that the violations committed by the FSA are not of the same scale, frequency or gravity of those committed by the government forces, and that therefore they bear the primary responsibility for the cessation of violence. This sentiment was echoed by many countries.

The Commission’s report documented a series of violations including the bombing of civilians as they queued for bread, the use of inaccurate weapons such as homemade vehicle bombs and shelling. Vicious sectarian fighting has broken out between Shi’ite and Sunni groups, and self-defence groups being organised by Jewish and Muslim communities under threat.

The report estimates that 2 million people are now in need of emergency aid, with 1.6 of those internally displaced. Half of those fleeing are children, and due to the destruction of hospitals in the region, the humanitarian situation is worsening.

Mr Pinheiro regretted that information submitted in the Report could not be entirely validated, considering the consistent refusal of the Syrian authorities to allow the Commission access to the country.

The Syrian Ambassador, upon his arrival, criticised the inaccuracy of the Report. He accused Mr Pinheiro of violating the terms of State sovereignty in the UN Charter; and China and Russia notably supported the right of Syria to non-interference. While many countries concurred that a solution to the conflict must be indigenous, there was however some consensus that more pressure must be placed on the Syrian regime to allow space for such a democratic transition.

States also repeatedly urged the Syrian authorities to allow the Commission access to its territory; most were enthusiastic in their support for the Commission’s mandate and asked Mr Pinheiro to detail how States could best facilitate the Commission’s fulfilment of its aims. He replied that the gathering of information to bolster a future criminal case was a priority, through concerted efforts to document, monitor and report, and continued financial support.

Brazil, amongst other States, made it clear that for the international community to help create an enabling space for Syrian-led democratic processes, economic, military and political agendas must be removed from all efforts.

The issue of sanctions was divisive. Australia felt that a firmer stance should be taken on the imposition of sanctions; Malaysia, on the contrary, stated that sanctions have had little positive impact on the conflict, and that they serve only to deny basic rights to the most vulnerable. Mr Pinheiro’s Report supported the view that sanctions were no longer effective.

Reprisals and intimidation against human rights defender Mohammed Al-Maskati must end immediately

Joint press statement by Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, International Service for Human Rights, and Gulf Center for Human Rights.
Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Geneva – The government of Bahrain must ensure threats against human rights defender Mohammed Al-Maskati are stopped immediately. After tweeting that he was in Geneva attending the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Mr Al-Maskati, a human rights defender and president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, received more than a dozen anonymous phone calls threatening his life and the safety of his family. Threats to Mr Al-Maskati’s life have been made following an oral intervention he delivered during a panel discussion on intimidations and reprisals, where he informed the Council of the intimidations against him.

As highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals, submitted to the current session of the Human Rights Council, attacks and intimidations against several Bahraini human rights defenders for engaging with the United Nations human rights system have increased in recent months. The report cites the cases of human rights defenders and co-founders of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab as clear recent examples of reprisals by the government of Bahrain, which include acts of harassment, intimidation, and physical attack due to their co-operation and engagement with the UN.

On 4 September 2012, the High Court of Appeal in Bahrain ruled to uphold all of the sentences against Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and 12 human rights defenders and political leaders serving time in prison, and the seven tried in absentia. All sentences against the prisoners of conscience were upheld, as well as charges such as breaching the Constitution, conspiring to overthrow the ruling regime, and having intelligence contact with foreign entities.

Until February 2011, Al-Khawaja was the Middle East and North Africa Coordinator with Front Line Defenders – the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. He is also a member of the International Advisory Network in the Business and Human Rights Resource Center chaired by Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. During all his human rights work, he has co-operated intensively with the UN system and paid a heavy price for that, tortured and imprisoned for life.

On 16 August 2012, human rights defender Nabeel Rajab was sentenced to three years in prison, for three cases relating to his national and international human rights work including cooperating with the UN system, after being abducted from his home by masked men in plain clothes. There are currently five legal proceedings against him in addition to other forms of persecution such as travel bans, tear gas attacks on his home, and harassment of his family. A Bahrain appeals court rejected on 16 September, 2012, Nabeel Rajab’s lawyers' requests to release him on bail and scheduled the next hearing for 27 September, 2012.

Mr Al-Maskati was part of a large delegation of prominent Bahraini human rights defenders and activists who attended the Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain last May. Following their return to Bahrain, the delegation was subjected to various forms of government-led intimidations, including a media smear campaign, for participating at the review.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) call on the government of Bahrain to abide by its commitments to provide security and protection for human rights defenders who co-operate with the UN. The ongoing threats and intimidation must stop and authorities in Bahrain must respect and protect the legitimate human rights work carried out by human rights defenders.

GCHR, CIHRS and ISHR also call on the member states of the Human Rights Council to encourage the government of Bahrain to end all acts of intimidation or reprisal against human rights defenders cooperating with the UN, its mechanism and representatives in the field of human rights, and to publicly inform the Council of steps taken to do so.

This press statement is also available in Arabic.

Council adopts resolution on traditional values without considering expert input


The Human Rights Council (the Council) adopted on 27 September 2012 a controversial resolution presented by the Russian Federation on traditional values and human rights.  This followed an interactive dialogue held with the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (the Committee) on 18 September that focused on the work that has been done in preparation for the 21st session of the Council and the ongoing work of the Committee. 

Mr Ziegler emphasised the Committee's role as that of a think tank and that it can only act under the mandate of the Council. He added, however, that in the absence of additional substantive requests from the Council, the Committee had taken the initiative of developing five proposed areas in which it thought it could fruitfully contribute, and requested the Council to keep these in mind as it considered further work for the Committee.

On the issue of traditional values Mr Ziegler noted the distinction between universal human rights rights and traditional values. He stressed that human rights cannot be relativised, while highlighting that within the universal human rights framework, traditional values can be used to interpret and reinforce human rights. Mr Ziegler mentioned that the submission of the report on traditional values has been delayed until the 22nd Council Session in March.

During the interactive dialogue with Mr Ziegler, several States expressed concern about the concept of traditional value, and the unchecked assumption that they further human rights. The EU noted that the latest draft of the Advisory Committee on traditional values reflects more critically on the concept, but restated its persisting concern that the concept of traditional values could be misused. Switzerland supported this position. The Russian Federation, on the other hand, stressed that it is ‘impatiently’ waiting for the final report on traditional values which it hopes will make a significant contribution to the discussion on the issue of human rights and traditional values.

Despite this affirmation of the importance of the work of the Committee, Russia reiterated its intention to present another resolution on traditional values before the Council despite the Advisory Committee not having completed its own study. During the adoption of the resolution on 27 September 2012, the Russian Federation noted that it was ‘unfortunate’ that the Committee had not been able to prepare its study in time, and pointed out that it had included ‘an instruction’ in the resolution for the Committee to complete that work.

Norway, however, calling for a vote on the resolution, strongly criticised the Russian Federation for not waiting until the study was available to the Council. This position was echoed by other speakers, including Austria (on behalf of the EU), Chile, Uruguay (who stated that since the report had not yet been presented, the Council was in violation of resolution 16/3, which had called for the Advisory Committee to prepare the study), Peru, and Guatemala. While the EU States voted against the resolution, Chile, Uruguay, Peru, and Guatemala stated that they would await the final study from the Advisory Committee, and in the meantime would abstain. Their statements were however strong on the need to protect universal human rights from any attempt to undermine them, and Chile for example commented that if the resolution came before the Council again, and concerns on universality were not fully addressed, then it would re-evaluate its position. Other Latin American States (Mexico and Costa Rica) joined the EU States, Mauritius, and Botswana in voting against, while Nigeria and Benin also abstained.

The US, despite its criticism earlier in the week of some of the work of the Committee, made a strong statement citing many passages from the Committee's report that sound warning notes about the potentially negative impact of traditional values. It criticised the Russian resolution for presenting the conclusions of the Committee's draft study in a distorted manner.

The resolution was adopted by 25 votes in favour, 15 against, and 7 abstentions.

More generally, the interactive dialogue with Mr Ziegler also showed some disagreement as to the usefulness of the role played by the Advisory Committee. The United States (US) questioned the effectiveness of the Advisory Committee noting that it was expensive and duplicative. The US was particularly blunt in noting that the Committee is not functioning properly or effectively, a point it had made during the review of the work and functioning of the Council. The European Union (EU) supported the stance of the US on the role of the Committee, though with more restrained language.

Cuba and Venezuela noted their ongoing support for the work of the Committee and commended the work it had done on the right to peace, human rights education, rights of farmers, and traditional values. They encouraged the Council to make greater use of the Committee to promote and protect human rights, and ensure it has the resources to do its work effectively.

The Russian Federation also emphasised the importance of the work of the Advisory Committee as a think tank with specialised knowledge. Russia in particular called for greater use of the Committee by the Council, which sounded hollow given the disregard paid to the study in preparation by the Advisory Committee on traditional values.

Council fails to fully respond to gravity of country situations in Somalia and Sudan


At its 21st session the Council held interactive dialogues with the Independent Experts on Somalia and on Sudan, and adopted resolutions on these country situations.

Somalia, following an twelve-year transitional period, has this year elected a new president, Mr Hassan Skeikh Mohamud. The country also has a new constitution as of 24 August. The country is however still unstable, and it was in the light of these developments that Mr Shamsul Bari, the Independent Expert on human rights in Somalia, gave his report to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 26 September 2012.

Mr Bari’s statement was highly optimistic. He described the new democratic steps as ‘a wonderful thing for any country’, and for Somalia, ‘a dream come true’. The transparency of the election would have been unimaginable a year ago, and the 30% female Parliament is a hard-won victory.

He described the new Parliament as significantly more representative than previous efforts, and praised the adoption of a prioritised work plan on human rights. The fact that the Somali diaspora is returning to participate in the new Somalia was also an encouraging sign.

There are, however, challenges to be overcome. The people of Somalia, said Mr Bari, have suffered too long under authorities working to their own agendas; he called for technical assistance in the development of a human rights ‘road map’ which would help the new Government to strengthen its own work plan, with the aim of winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people.

Mr Bari emphasised that the new Somalia should be built by Somalis; the UN and the international community must give greater ownership to the people.

The Independent Expert’s statement was echoed by the Somali Ambassador. While there is confidence in the changes, he acknowledged that the Government must work hard to make people believe that their welfare is a priority. He also stressed that ‘Somalia must fix Somalia’; too many initiatives are still UN-led, and only convince the people that the international community is serving its own political agenda in the country, although he did not comment further on what these agendas were.

State responses were mixed. While almost all countries congratulated Somalia on the achievement of its democratic aspirations, many also highlighted that there is still work to be done on many issues. The United Arab Emirates was optimistic about Somalia’s political will to effect change, but urged the UN to continue to provide technical assistance to strengthen the rule of law, as did Spain, Djibouti, the United Kingdom (UK), and Egypt.

Human rights violations on a massive scale continue to take place, however. The United States (US) voiced its concern over the continuing use of child soldiers, and urged Al-Shabaab to immediately cease the killing of civilians. Spain strongly articulated its worries over a number of issues, including violence against Journalists, and the state of detention centres.

The often violent repression of the media was brought out by a number of States, including Switzerland, Norway, and Djibouti. All States stressed the importance of a free press in the consolidation of a new, democratic Somalia. This issue was also highly prevalent in the interventions of NGOs.

Thailand noted the on-going sexual violence against women and girls, as did Slovakia, although Slovenia was encouraged by the steps the new Government has made to outlaw female genital mutilation.

Morocco and Greece were particularly vocal in asking how the international community can best support Somalia at this critical point in its history. Mr Bari concluded that while Somalia’s democratic transition and the aspirations of the people must be led from within, the country continues to need international support, in terms of both financial and technical assistance in capacity building. Mr Bari urged that the UN-driven peace initiatives have not sufficiently taken into account the needs of the Somali people. The new authorities should build a clearer understanding of the experiences of their citizens to create a new Somalia.

The Council itself should facilitate the cooperation between special procedures and the Somali democratic process; fifty per cent of mandate holders have some relevance to the situation in Somalia, noted Mr Bari, and their expertise should be utilised to its fullest extent. The resolution on Somalia, adopted by consensus at this session, expresses serious concern at the human rights and humanitarian situation in the country and condemns grave and systematic human rights abuses perpetrated against the Somali population. It calls for all special procedures to engage fully and coordinate with the Independent Expert. It calls on the Independent Expert to work with a view to maximising the provision and flow and technical assistance to Somalia, and to support the efforts of the Government.

Despite the secession of South Sudan in 2011 and the appearance of greater cooperation between the new State and the Sudan, the human rights situation in Sudan remains troubling. On-going conflicts in the Blue Nile and Kordofan regions, as well as in Darfur, have highlighted continuing human rights abuses; the latest Independent Expert on the country, Mr Masood Baderin, presented his first report to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 26 September.

Mr Baderin was critical of Sudan’s human rights record. He urged the government to more fully implement initiatives to strengthen the rule of law, judicial due process, political participation, and freedom of the press. He also asked the Government to allow him greater access to the more troubled regions. Sudan is still in a transitional phase, Mr Baderin stated. Technical and financial capacity building and aid are still necessary to allow the country to progress. He also emphasised that civil society organisations must be given the full support of both the Government and the international community, considering the important role they play in enabling accountability and democratic processes.

The Sudanese delegate’s response highlighted that the Government has progressively implemented a large proportion of the recommendations made during Sudan’s 2011 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), with new policies so far in 14 of the 17 provinces. However, Sudan strongly criticised civil society organisations; too many, the delegate felt, pursue agendas which are 'separate from the greater good of Sudan'. He claimed that their ‘refusal to cooperate’ with the Government should not be used as an excuse by the international community at large to ‘tarnish Sudan’s reputation’ or the positive steps that are being made.

The debate which followed highlighted several main concerns. The first was that the independent Expert should be give further access to the country to verify his information on the troubled border regions. States from all groups, including Canada, Bahrain, Slovakia, the UK, and Thailand, called both for a renewal of Mr Baderin’s mandate and for increased access for information-gathering. China, on the other hand, called for continued technical assistance for the Sudanese Government, but emphasised that the on-going conflicts must not be used to justify unwarranted interference in Sudanese domestic affairs.

Another important concern raised by Switzerland and Australia, as well as numerous NGOs, was the continued intimidation and harassment of both human rights defenders and journalists. Switzerland in particular was emphatic on this point, stating that threats to human rights defenders would not be tolerated, and questioned Mr Baderin on how these situations could best be stopped. Switzerland also took a strong stance against other human rights violations, such as reports of stoning, and strongly recommended not only the renewal but also the strengthening of the Independent Expert’s mandate.

Greece expressed concern over reports of repression of freedom of expression in civil society and the press. Spain too emphasised that the involvement of civil society actors and other stakeholders was essential to the support of the rule of law and the continuation of other peace processes. 

There was appreciation from all regions for the cooperation of the Sudanese authorities with the UPR process; the US, Morocco, Norway, and Nigeria congratulated Sudan on positive steps. However, Croatia warned that the outbreaks of violence could not be ignored; the situation in Syria, the delegate claimed, has made the international community profoundly aware of how quickly conflicts can explode, and urged both international and domestic mechanisms to take a strong stance on violations.

Mr Baderin’s concluding comments highlighted three main areas to be addressed by the Sudanese authorities: to provide greater access by the Independent Expert to areas experiencing violations; to improve cooperation with civil society organisations; and to immediately cease repression of the media to enable a space for civil society to work.

The resolution on Sudan, adopted by consensus later in the session, does call for more access by Independent Expert to all regions of the country. However it remains to be seen whether the Sudanese Government will grant that access. Austria, speaking on behalf of the EU at the adoption of the resolution, called for Sudan to ensure that the Independent Expert could carry out his mandate effectively by allowing him to have full access to all parts of the country, and to engage freely with all relevant stakeholders including civil society organisations. Sudan stated that it felt it had cooperated with the Council until now, and that it would continue to act in the same manner. The resolution was adopted by consensus, as was the resolution on South Sudan which calls for OHCHR to provide technical support and training, and to report on progress.

The Council also adopted a resolution on South Sudan, which focuses primarily on technical assistance, but also asks OHCHR to submit a report on South Sudan in June 2013 (23rd session of the Council). 

All resolutions adopted by the Council will be available shortly from the OHCHR Web site. 

Human Rights Council concludes 21st session


The Human Rights Council has concluded its 21st session with the adoption of a series of disappointing country resolutions, including on Sudan, South Sudan, and Mali. Action on Syria again failed to include a call for the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. 

Important thematic developments at the session included the holding of a panel on reprisals, which affirmed the unacceptability of the targetting of human rights defenders who attempt to cooperate with the international human rights system. However the session also saw a continuation in the threats and harrasment faced by defenders attending the session in Geneva. Resolutions on the safety of journalists and on freedom of association and assembly were also adopted. Finally, and disappointingly, the Russian sponsored resolution on traditional values was adopted by the Council, despite significant substantive concerns with the concept, and despite the fact that the Advisory Committee has yet to submit its own mandated study to the Council. 

See a joint NGO statement delivered by ISHR on behalf of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Human Rights Watch, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, CIVICUS, International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Human Rights House Foundation, and the International Commission of Jurists at the end of the session for more details.

Special Rapporteur on Cambodia emphasises need for political will to tackle country's challenges


Despite significant progress towards democracy in Cambodia since the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, the country still needs to make major changes to live up to its human rights obligations.  A particular issue for Cambodians and human rights defenders is the need for transparent democratic elections and the freedom for individuals to voice their political opinions. This is of particular importance because presidential elections will be held in July 2013. These issues came up particularly prominently during the interactive dialogue the Human Rights Council (the Council) held with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia on 25 September. The Special Rapporteur, Mr Surya Prasad Subedi, completed two missions in the past year as part of his mandate to assess the situation of human rights in the country. His first mission focused on the transparency of elections, while the second concerned the impact of economic land concessions on the enjoyment of human rights.

Mr Subedi expressed satisfaction with the cooperation of the Government with both of his missions and the commitment that Cambodia is showing to improve the human rights situation. He was also very pleased to find that during his reporting period, communal and local elections successfully took place. Mr Subedi believed this process is a major step forwards in order for Cambodians to exercise their right to free and democratic elections.  Mr Subedi applauded the Government’s decision, in response to concerns about the draft law on associations and non-governmental organisations, to continue consultations, even if that meant that the adoption of the law could thereby be delayed for some years.  

Mr Subedi expressed deep concern about the issue of land concessions, on which he focused during his second mission in May of this year.  Although he acknowledged the historical circumstances that have led to land concessions, he underlined the importance that these concessions should be granted in a sound legal manner. He regretted that most cases of land concession are unjustified and there are many cases of evictions as a result of land concessions.  Mr Subedi welcomed the Government’s decision, taken during his mission to the country, to temporarily suspend the granting of new economic land concessions and to review existing concession.  He called for this review to be participatory, transparent, and inclusive.  

In response, the Cambodian delegation emphasised the steps the country has taken to address the land concession issue.  Along with the suspension of new economic land concessions, it noted that the Government will revoke the economic land concession licenses of anyone breaching the existing agreements.  It has also established a programme to grant lands to those who are currently landless, particularly indigenous communities.

The interactive dialogue that followed saw many States voice their support for the advances that Cambodia has made towards becoming a democratic country.  Most of the ASEAN countries participated in the dialogue to express their full support for the efforts to ensure that the elections of July 2013 should be free and fair.

However, there were many States who were more critical of the human rights developments presented by Cambodia.  Australia expressed deep concern for the use of force against human rights defenders who peacefully protest to demand transparency in elections.  Australia highlighted the importance of allowing all voices to be heard without reprisals, which is an essential aspect of a genuine democracy.  Switzerland, France, and the European Union (EU) echoed this concern, petitioning to have stricter laws to prohibit harassment of individuals who are exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The United States (US) demonstrated the need for concrete steps to create a level electoral playing field, which provides the freedom for opposition parties to campaign.

States were also very critical on the issue of land concessions and the risks that land activists have encountered while protesting against land evictions.  The United Kingdom (UK) and the US noted that the number of land disputes has increased during the past year, highlighting the importance of establishing a mechanism that redistributes land equally and gives every citizen an equal voice.  The US recommended the creation of a dispute resolution mechanism that is independent, transparent, and fair, and treats all Cambodians equally and with respect for the rule of law.

Mr Subedi’s final remarks were in line with the support most States expressed for moves towards a stronger democracy in Cambodia that fully supports human rights. He highlighted that it is important for Cambodia to empower independent institutions to carry out the recommendations made by him in the past year.  Although he fully understands that it is a long and slow process, there are many recommendations that can be implemented immediately.  He repeated his call for Cambodia to decide on a plan of action with a concrete timeline. He added that he and OHCHR will provide any support required by the Government, but that the political will of the State is essential. 

Council renews mandate on Cambodia amidst concerns over draft NGO law


On 28 September 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue, under agenda item 10, with Professor Surya Prasad Subedi, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. Mr Subedi was generally pleased with the efforts Cambodia has made since the country began its peace process with the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991. However, Mr Subedi expressed concern about the overall state of human rights issues, including freedom of expression, and land and housing rights. Mr Subedi also expressed his concern about a draft law that would limit the activities of NGOs within the country. States commended Cambodia for its achievements but noted that much work still needed to be done to improve the human rights situation in the country. Although there was little discussion on an extension to the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, States seemed to implicitly support such an extension as indicated by their endorsement of Mr Subedi’s reservations over the NGO draft law as well as numerous other substantive human rights issues.

Despite being pleased with the social and political progress made in Cambodia since the Paris Peace Agreements, Mr Subedi cautioned that 'the peace process cannot be regarded as complete until the democratic institutions created under the Constitution are able to work effectively and independently'. Mr Subedi continued by reflecting on land rights in the country, saying that while Cambodia had made some progress last year in protecting and promoting land rights, the recent demolition of five houses in the Boeung Kak area in the capital city of Phnom Penh was a regression. Mr Subedi called on Cambodia to resist carrying out the practice of forced evictions and displacing families without notice. Mr Subedi also highlighted the decreasing space for freedom of speech, which has seen targeting of human rights defenders and activists, and a number of individuals charged, tried, and jailed for producing and sharing materials critical of the Government.

Most troubling of all to Mr Subedi was the introduction of a draft law by the Ministry of the Interior, on 15 December 2010, on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations. While Mr Subedi stated that he was encouraged by the consultations on this draft law carried out by the Ministries of Interior and of Foreign Affairs, he warned against finalising a law that would restrict the activities of NGOs, rather than enabling them to strengthen their activities. Mr Subedi urged Cambodia not to proceed with the current draft NGO law as it may impede the legitimate work of NGOs by placing burdensome requirements on them.

Finally, Mr Subedi returned to the issue of freedom of speech, saying that while the notions of pluralism and liberalism are enshrined in Cambodia’s Constitution, individual members of Parliament are unable to fully exercise freedom of speech when questioning the executive or defending the rights of their constituents. Mr Subedi said he has offered a series of recommendations to Cambodia in hopes that State implementation of those recommendations will protect freedom of speech in Parliament.

Speaking as the concerned State, Cambodia thanked the Special Rapporteur for his work and recommendations. Cambodia said it was making efforts to improve its judiciary, combat corruption, and promote democratic development, including at the grassroots level. It stated that it had a vibrant civil society, tallying nearly 2000 NGOs and other organisations that enjoy the Government’s full cooperation and that play a key role in ensuring good governance and in facilitating the provision of social services. Cambodia underscored its pledge to individual freedoms as one of the fundamental components of democracy and emphasised that it was continuing to protect and promote all human rights, including the right to freely express one’s self.

During the interactive dialogue most States[1] praised Cambodia for the progress made. This did not, however, prevent States from also claiming that Cambodia still had a long way to go. Australia shared the Special Rapporteur’s concerns on the curtailing of basic freedoms and felt the NGO draft law could hamper freedom of association and expression, a concern that was also mentioned by Japan, the US, Ireland, the UK, France, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, and Canada. Romania encouraged Cambodia to seek a comprehensive solution to the issue of property rights, and the US referred to property right violations cited in the Special Rapporteur’s report. Indonesia said that based on its own experience, it understood the development challenges experienced in Cambodia. Indonesia called on Cambodia to improve the implementation of laws already passed that were designed to advance human rights. Norway expressed concern about forced evictions, denial of the human rights of the victims of evictions, and ‘unfounded charges’ made against individuals who protested against the evictions. France said it was worried by the intimidation used against human rights defenders as well as against victims of land right disputes.

There was suprisingly little mention during the interactive dialogue of the future of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia. Viet Nam asked the Special Rapporteur for his personal advice regarding the duration of his mandate. The Philippines expressed reservations about extending the Special Rapporteur’s mandate for an additional two years because they felt this did not comply with the Institution Building text, in resolution 5/1, which states that country mandates are generally renewable for one year at a time.  Viet Nam, Indonesia, and Myanmar made similar arguments, calling on the Council to respect resolution 5/1. Switzerland and Canada explicitly supported an extension to the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, with Canada saying it wanted to see a two-year extension to the mandate. The resolution was introduced to the Council a few days later, and the Council decided by consensus to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further two years. The Russian Federation and China, while not breaking from consensus, dissociated themselves from paragraph 9 of the resolution, which sets out the two year extension.

Overall, States were generally supportive of Cambodia and commended it for its cooperation with the Special Rapporteur as well as with the international community. The Asian States were most supportive in their comments.  Viet Nam said it was happy that Cambodia was becoming a free and democratic country. The Philippines cited Cambodia’s 6% economic growth over the last year as being impressive given the current global economic climate. Thailand welcomed Cambodia’s efforts to protect and improve the human rights of its citizens. Malaysia said the international community should appreciate Cambodia’s achievements so far and it should be afforded more space to continue its reform process. China called on States to continue providing Cambodia with technical assistance. Nepal commended Cambodia for improving the standard of living in the country. Other States noted the development challenges faced in Cambodia but also felt that more could be done to further human rights protection in the country.

Mr Subedi concluded his comments by saying he was encouraged by the steps Cambodia was taking to implement his recommendations. He said a review of the NGO draft law was currently being under-taken by the Ministry of the Interior and he hoped the Ministry would consult all relevant parties to avoid drafting a law that would prevent civil society organisations from continuing to serve the Cambodian people. Mr Subedi asked Cambodia to examine his recommendations on parliamentary participation so that all Members of Parliament could exercise freedom of speech. Regarding his future, Mr Subedi was brief, and said he intended to continue working with the Government to strengthen institutions such as Parliament, to achieve rule of law, and to conclude implementation of the Paris Peace Agreements begun in 1991.


[1] The following States issued comments during the Interactive Dialogue: Australia, Japan, European Union, Viet Nam, Romania, Singapore, Philippines, Ireland, United States, Czech Republic, Thailand, Algeria, United Kingdom, Malaysia, France, Indonesia, Norway, Switzerland, China, Sweden, Myanmar, Nepal, and Canada.


Video: developments at the Human Rights Council's 21st session


If you missed our reporting on the Human Rights Council's 21st session, or want to refresh your memory of some of the main developments, see our video below.

The video outlines five of the most significant developments and discussions that took place at the session. You can also read more about the session from the news items listed at the bottom of this page.

If you have trouble viewing the video, try this link.


Call for civil society submissions for report on peaceful protests


Civil society organisations are requested to submit information for a report being prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on 'effective measures and best practices to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests'.

The deadline for these submissions is 15 November. They should be provided in electronic format to and a copy to rhusbands@ohchr.orgClick here to read a letter on this subject.

The report is being prepared prior to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council, in accordance with Resolution 19/35.



If the United Nations (UN) is to effectively monitor State compliance with human rights obligations and protect victims from abuse globally, it is crucial that human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations can access and communicate with the UN freely and safely. Unfortunately, ‘free’ and ‘safe’ are not hallmarks of the experience for many defenders and victims who seek to engage with the UN. 

Browse our articles:






ISHR commences work to develop an international Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders


ISHR publishes first Human Rights Monitor, connecting human rights defenders on the ground with international human rights systems and developments


ISHR facilitates global civil society engagement with the Second World Conference on Human Rights, which leads to the strengthening of women’s rights, the affirmation of universal rights, the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


ISHR provides training, technical assistance and support to its 1000th human rights defender


After 14 years of ISHR lobbying, advocacy and negotiation, the UN General Assembly adopts the landmark Declaration on Human Rights Defenders


UN Secretary-General appoints Hina Jilani as inaugural UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, strengthening protection of human rights advocates at risk worldwide.


ISHR leads a successful campaign for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights


ISHR co-founds and supports a range of international and regional human rights coalitions, including the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network


ISHR contributes to the establishment and institution building of a new global peak body for human rights issues, the UN Human Rights Council


ISHR leads and coordinates the development of the Yogyakarta Principles on sexual orientation and gender identity, strengthening legal recognition and protection of LGBT rights worldwide


ISHR’s sustained advocacy on the issue of reprisals and intimidation faced by human rights defenders leads to adoption of landmark UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning and strengthening protections against reprisals


Working with key NGO partners such as Amnesty International, ISHR leads civil society efforts to strengthen UN human rights treaty bodies, prevent their weakening and better connect their work with victims and human rights defenders on the ground


Working with supportive states and NGOs, ISHR advocacy leads to adoption of historic Human Rights Council resolution calling on all States to review and amend national laws to respect and protect the work of human rights defenders