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?

Open letter to candidates to the Human Rights Council on membership standards


In advance of the elections to the Human Rights Council on 12 November 2012, thirty-five NGOs from around the world have called on candidates to 'uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights' and 'fully cooperate with the Council', in accordance with the General Assembly resolution that created the Council. 

NGOs are concerned about the failure of some candidates to comply with these criteria. Non- compliance by Council members undermines the credibility of the Council as a body that promotes and protects human rights and its authority to call for cooperation with its mechanisms. NGOs have called on the candidates to uphold these criteria, particularly with regard to cooperation with Special Procedures and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN human rights system.

Click here to read the full letter


Council's new President pledges support for human rights defenders at organisational session


The incoming President of the Human Rights Council (the Council) – Polish Ambassador Mr Remigiusz Henczel – pledged to continue the efforts of his predecessors in ensuring full participation of civil society and human rights defenders in the work of the UN’s main human rights body. He added that to make human rights a reality, the work of human rights defenders must be fully supported by the work of the Council.

These positive remarks were made during the Council’s 7th organisational session (10 December) for the next cycle, which will start on 1 January 2013. The organisational session was the first meeting with the Council members newly elected by the General Assembly on 11 November 2012.

The new members are (by region):

  • Africa: Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Sierra Leone
  • Asia: Japan, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates
  • Eastern Europe: Estonia, Montenegro
  • Latin America and Caribbean: Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela
  • Western Europe and Others: USA, Germany, Ireland

The members leaving at the end of 2012 are (by region):

  • Africa: Cameroun, Djibouti, Mauritius, Nigeria, Senegal
  • Asia: Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia
  • Eastern Europe: Hungary, Russian Federation
  • Latin America and Caribbean: Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay
  • Western Europe and Others: Belgium, Norway, USA

In her closing remarks as the outgoing President, Ambassador Dupuy Lasserre of Uruguay highlighted some of the successes and challenges of her 18-month term. She underscored the need for the Council to drive important ‘unpoliticised messages’ while involving a wide range of actors to promote and protect human rights. The President also highlighted the importance of strengthening the stance taken by the Council on reprisals to prevent intimidation against human rights defenders.

In terms of institutional strengthening, she made reference to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which enjoyed 100% attendance in its 1st cycle. This was a clear reference to the President’s recent letter to Israel, inviting the country to participate in the second cycle of the UPR, which is uncertain following Israel’s decision of May 2012 to ‘suspend its relationship with the Human Rights Council’.

In addition to the incoming President, Ambassador Henczel, representing the Eastern European Group, the Council also elected its new Bureau, composed of Vice-Presidents from the other four regional groups. They are:

  • Mr. Luis Gallegos Chiriboga, Ambassador of Ecuador (Rapporteur)
  • Mr. Cheikh Ahmed Ould Zahaf, Ambassador of Mauritania
  • Ms. Iruthisham Adam, Ambassador of the Maldives
  • Mr. Alexandre Fasel , Ambassador of Switzerland

It was notable that the Deputy High Commissioner used the organisational session to congratulate President Dupuy Lasserre – the first woman President of the Council – reflecting the important contribution she made during her term.

Though many States were complimentary in their statements, Belarus expressed concern about the election of a Polish diplomat as the next President of the Council and the ‘overrepresentation’ of EU members in important mandates. This discontent was clearly influenced by Poland’s leading role in the creation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus earlier this year.

ISHR delivered a statement requesting the incoming President to build on the efforts of President Dupuy Lasserre in ensuring the Council remains a forum where all voices can be heard, and in particular, in combating reprisals against those who cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms.

The Council’s draft annual programme of work was circulated, and will be adopted on 14 January 2013 at the organizational meeting for the 15th session of the UPR. The draft programme of work of the Council’s 22nd session in March 2013 is available on the OHCHR extranet and here.

Concern surrounds Israel’s potential non-participation in UPR


Israel’s potential non-participation in its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was the key concern at an organisational meeting held by the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 14 January 2013. The purpose of the meeting was to select the troikas (the groups of States that facilitate each review) for next week's UPR.

Last May Israel sent a letter to the President of the Council, declaring that it formally suspended its relationship with the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Since then Israel has not attended Council sessions, it has not submitted a national report for its UPR, and it did not appear for the selection of its UPR troika. The worry is that it will also not appear for its UPR, due to be held on 29 January. If it does not, it will be the first time a State has not presented itself as scheduled for its UPR, setting a dangerous precedent.

At the meeting on 14 January States discussed how to handle this situation. States agreed that the drawing of the troika could still take place even if the State under review was not present. The President proposed that the organisational meeting then be suspended until 29 January, the scheduled date of Israel’s review. If Israel’s representative is not present on 29 January, the organisational meeting will be resumed so that the Council can decide how to proceed.

The President asked States for input. All States that spoke (Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Ireland on behalf of the EU, Gabon, and the United States) supported the proposal to suspend the organisational meeting until 29 January. However, Pakistan also emphasised that the Council should ensure that it has made a decision before 29 January about what to do should Israel not appear.

The 15th session of the UPR will take place from 21 January to 1 February. The timetable of reviews is available here.

Troikas for the 15th session of the UPR


States selected: Congo, Kuwait, Italy


States selected: Angola, Pakistan, Costa Rica


States selected: Kenya, Qatar, Czech Republic


States selected: Angola, United Arab Emirates, Montenegro


States selected: Uganda, Austria, Poland


States selected: Pakistan, Costa Rica, Gabon


States selected: India, Benin, Republic of Moldova


States selected: Japan, Peru, Romania


States selected: Mauritania, United States, Estonia

United Arab Emirates

States selected: Ethiopia, Thailand, Germany


States selected: Sierra Leone, Maldives, Venezuela


States selected: Libya, Brazil, Spain


States selected: Malaysia, Cote d’Ivoire, Argentina


States selected: Republic of Korea, Chile, Switzerland

Russia: Scrap draft “homosexual propaganda” law which would contravene human rights and target human rights defenders


A draft law to criminalise “homosexual propaganda”, currently being considered by the Russian parliament, flagrantly violates international human rights laws and standards, says the International Service for Human Rights.

“International law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. It also enshrines the fundamental rights of freedom of association and expression,” said Heather Collister of ISHR.

ISHR is particularly concerned that the law will be used to target, intimidate or harass human rights defenders and those who speak out on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

“States have an obligation not only to respect and protect human rights, but also to respect and protect those who stand up and speak out for human rights. Russia’s draft law is manifestly incompatible with this obligation,” said Ms Collister.

“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, together with the international Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, make clear that all persons have the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to advocate the acceptance of human rights and freedoms.”

According to Ms Collister, the draft law reflects a concerning international trend towards restricting human rights in the name of protecting so-called “traditional values”.

“The notion of ‘traditional values’ is completely illegitimate so far as it is invoked in any way to restrict the enjoyment of rights guaranteed under international human rights law or standards, or to criminalise or impede activities in defense of them,” she said.

ISHR’s statement comes as three United Nations Independent human rights experts have also called on Russian parliament to scrap the draft Bill.

In a joint statement issued by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, the experts said, “The draft legislation could further contribute to the already difficult environment in which these defenders operate, stigmatizing their work and making them the target of acts of intimidation and violence, as has recently happened in Moscow.”

The UN experts further urged Russian parliamentarians to “exercise leadership by scrapping the bill to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia.”

For further comment, contact Heather Collister, International Service for Human Rights, on + 41 79 920 3805 or

Join an online conversation on Engaging the United Nations Human Rights Council


February 11 to 15, 2013

Join the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the New Tactics online community for an online conversation on Engaging the United Nations Human Rights Council from February 11 to 15, 2013.

The Human Rights Council (HRC) is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. When utilized strategically, the HRC can be a powerful force for change.

This online conversation will be an opportunity to exchange experiences, lessons-learned and ideas among practitioners who have successfully engaged the HRC.  The HRC starts its main session on February 25 so this is a great opportunity to reflect on your strategy and tactics for engaging this UN body. Join us for this important exchange of tactics and ideas!

Link to conversation:

How can you participate?

This online conversation is open to anyone interested in sharing their experiences and ideas on this topic. All you need to do is join the New Tactics online community by going to and add your comments to the dialogue.

For more information about our online conversations, visit these FAQs:

What is a New Tactics online conversation?

How to participate in an online conversation?

If you have trouble, contact Kristin Antin, the New Tactics Online Community Builder, at

Council Alert: Human Rights Council to negotiate landmark resolution on laws affecting human rights defenders


The UN Human Rights Council’s 22nd session will be held from 25 February to 22 March 2013 and consider a range of significant thematic and country-specific human rights issues and actions.

The purpose of this Alert is to provide timely and expert information as to some of the issues and actions likely to arise during the course of the Session.

Human rights defenders

For human rights defenders there are several relevant initiatives. Norway will lead negotiations on a resolution focusing on legislation that affects human rights defenders with the goal of improving the protection of human rights defenders and eliminating laws which impair their work. ISHR has watched the development of this resolution closely and will continue to engage in line with our mandate to support and strengthen human rights defenders. The resolution will build on the report of the Special Rapporteur, Ms Margaret Sekaggya, to the UN General Assembly in 2012. This report considered the issue of the ‘criminalisation’ of human rights defenders through laws which are used or misused to hinder, obstruct or render unlawful actions to promote and protect human rights.

ISHR will organise a side event with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders on 5 March (from 12pm – 2pm) which will provide an interactive space for further discussion of the issue of criminalisation and the specific impacts this has on human rights defenders around the world.

The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders will also present her latest report to the Human Rights Council, the subject of which is the role of national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights. She will also report on country visits made to HondurasTunisia, and Ireland (report not yet available).

Based on the thematic calendar of resolutions, a resolution on peaceful protests is also likely to be negotiated at this session.

Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Another relevant and significant initiative will be the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA).

The VDPA reaffirmed many of the tenets that underlie the work of human rights defenders including the universality, interdependence, and indivisibility of human rights, as well as recognising the crucial and legitimate role played by NGOs in protecting human rights, and their need for ‘protection in national law.’ Austria is organising a panel discussion to commemorate this anniversary, giving space for States and civil society to offer their own perspectives on the main achievements of the VDPA and the challenges ahead for implementation. ISHR board member Mr Gustavo Gallon from the Colombian Commission of Jurists will be amongst the panellists. The panel discussion will take place on 25 February.

Panel discussions

There will also be panels held on the following themes during the session:

  • Human rights mainstreaming, with the aim of promoting a human rights based approach to the post-2015 development agenda, and in particular ensuring that human rights education is integrated into that agenda
  • Human rights and persons with disabilities, focusing on work and employment
  • Rights of the child, discussing the challenges to the realisation the right of children to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health
  • Impact of corruption on human rights, with a view to producing recommendations on how to protect human rights in the fight against corruption, and how to strengthen anti-corruption efforts through a human rights-based approach
  • Promoting technical cooperation, including sharing best practices and challenges, to strengthen the judiciary and the administration of justice in order to ensure human rights and the rule of law

Provisional dates for all these discussions are included in the programme of work for the session.

High-level segment

The session is particularly busy with 17 special procedures presenting reports to the session. The four-week session also includes the ‘high-level segment’ where dignitaries from States will address the Council. The general segment of this part of the Council’s programme gives space to four representatives from civil society to address the Council, to highlight concerns of victims of human rights violations and offer their own perspective on what the Council could bring to the promotion and protection of human rights.

While the high level segment does not offer space for dialogue and does not contribute directly to the debates ongoing at the Council, it provides an opportunity, on the sidelines, for discussion of human rights issues between States at the highest level. The readiness of States to send dignitaries to address the Council also attests to the significance that States attach to the Council. This year Germany’s President will address the Council, the first time a sitting president has done so.

Country situations

Other potential highlights of the session include a resolution on Sri Lanka, announced by the United States. The resolution will focus on the promotion of reconciliation and accountability in the country. Sri Lanka was reviewed by fellow States on its human rights record last September, at the 14th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The outcome of that review will be considered for adoption by the Human Rights Council at this session, along with the outcomes of the reviews of the 13 other countries considered at the 14th session of the UPR. 

The Commission of Inquiry into the situation in Syria will present its latest report for discussion at this session. The Chair of the Commission, Mr Pablo de Grieff will participate in an interactive dialogue with States on the findings of the report. The report is not yet available. The fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements will also report to the session.

Human rights and ‘traditional values’

The Advisory Committee will submit its report on traditional values to this session of the Council. The report emphasises the universality of human rights and notes that traditional values can play a role in the promotion and protection of international human rights standards through human rights education and training. At the same time, the report concludes that States also have a responsibility to take action against stereotypes and negative, harmful and discriminatory practices justified by traditional values. The presentation of the report to the Council is an opportunity for States and civil society to reflect on these conclusions and to reach an understanding as to where traditional values fit within the universal human rights framework that was reaffirmed in the VDPA.

Renewal of special procedure mandates

The following special procedure mandates also need to be renewed by States at this session, through the negotiation and adoption of a resolution:

  • Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism
  • Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
  • Special Rapporteur on the right to food

Useful documents for the session

List of resolutions to be introduced at the 22nd session as announced by States during the organisational meeting


  • Prevention of genocide


  • Rights of persons belonging to minorities


  • Rights of children whose parents have been sentenced to death, calling for a panel on the 24th session of the Council


  • Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, with focus on education as a tool to address this problem


  • Right to food, including extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food
  • Composition of the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


  • Torture and other cruel and degrading treatment and punishment, focusing on rehabilitation and redress


  • Synergies between the Human Rights Council and the Universal Periodic Review, and the role of parliamentarians, requesting a panel at a later session of the Council


  • Freedom of religion and belief, including extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

Iran (NAM)

  • Enhancement of international cooperation and human rights


  • Protection of human rights in the fight against terrorism, including extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on promoting and protecting human rights while countering terrorism

New Zealand, Mexico

  • Right to work and employment of persons with disabilities


  • Protection of human rights defenders

Pakistan (OIC)

  • The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
  • Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance


  • Education as a tool to prevent racism


  • Iran, extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation in the country


  • Birth registration and the right of everyone to recognition as a person before the law

Uruguay (GRULAC), EU

  • Right of the child to enjoy the highest possible level of health


  • Human rights and humanitarian activities post-conflict and post-natural disaster, requesting a study from the Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee

United States

  • Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka

UN must protect human rights defenders and ensure accountability for human rights violations


The UN Human Rights Council must act to protect human rights defenders and ensure accountability for human rights violations, the International Service for Human Rights will tell a high-level meeting of senior officials from around the world today.

The officials are gathered in Geneva to reflect on achievements in the protection of human rights since the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) in 1993 and to commit to actions in the years ahead.

‘Twenty years ago the VDPA set out that the “promotion and protection of human rights is a matter of priority for the international community” and that the realisation of human rights must be “the first responsibility of governments”,’ said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

‘This session of the Human Rights Council the strength of the international community’s action on country situations such as those in Sri Lanka, Syria, North Korea, Mali, Burma and Iran will help determine whether, two decades on, this statement remains rhetoric or becomes reality.’

‘The Council must support the UN High Commissioner’s call for “an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of human rights and humanitarian law” in Sri Lanka.’

According to Mr Lynch, the Human Rights Council will also be called on to take action on a number of thematic priorities identified by the VDPA.

‘The VDPA made a crucial contribution to the development of human rights laws and institutions. It affirmed that human rights are universal and highlighted the links between human rights, democracy and development. It also re-affirmed the rights of equality and non-discrimination, and the inalienable rights of women and girls.’

Mr Lynch said that, in accordance with these principles, the Human Rights Council should be careful to ensure that human rights – particularly women’s rights and LGBT rights – are not restricted in the name of protecting so-called ‘traditional values’.

‘The notion of “traditional values” is completely illegitimate so far as it is invoked to restrict the enjoyment of rights guaranteed under international human rights law, or to criminalise or impede activities in defense of them,’ said Mr Lynch.

ISHR will also call on the Council to take concrete steps and measures to support non-government organisations and protect human rights defenders from attacks, intimidation and reprisals

‘Twenty years ago, the VDPA recognised the “important role of non-governmental organizations in the promotion of all human rights.” Two decades on it is imperative that the Council and other UN human rights mechanisms ensure that they are open and accessible to non-government voices. They must also hold states accountable for all forms of harassment and attacks against human rights defenders.’

ISHR’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council is available here.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights, on

UN must act to strengthen human rights treaty body system


(New York) – The UN must act to strengthen the human rights treaty body system and ensure that reforms lead to greater human rights protection on the ground, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

The UN General Assembly is meeting this session to discuss ways to strengthen the UN human rights treaty body system. The process is a crucial one, as reform is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of a system that is continually growing in size and complexity and is in many ways the victim of its own success.

The UN treaty bodies - such as the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture - are made up of leading independent human rights experts from around the world. Their mandate is to hold governments to account for their international human rights obligations. They do this by periodically conducting expert reviews of states' human rights records and also by hearing complaints from individuals who have been subject to human rights violations.

Several issues are on the agenda for discussion – including the accessibility and visibility of the treaty bodies to all stakeholders, the nomination and election of treaty body experts, and measures to increase the effectiveness of the reporting processes.

Regrettably, some States have sought to shut out crucial stakeholders from the process – including non-governmental organizations (NGOs). “As rights holders and representatives of rights holders, NGOs are key stakeholders in the treaty bodies’ work and must therefore remain part of the discussions on treaty body strengthening”, said Madeleine Sinclair of the International Service for Human Rights. The treaty body experts are another group of key stakeholders who have been marginalized in the process. “This is highly problematic as treaty bodies are actually self-governed institutions with the sole competence to deal with issues relating to their working methods”, said Ms. Sinclair.

At a hearing on February 26, NGOs, including ISHR will make a series of joint statements calling for reforms that would help develop the treaty body system into one capable of enabling individuals to better enjoy their rights under the international human rights treaties.

These calls for reform include asking States to make modest, yet significant, changes to encourage the selection of treaty body members who are truly independent and expert. “The need to improve the membership of the treaty bodies has been a recurring theme of past reform discussions and must remain central, given how integral the quality of the membership is to the credibility of the system,” said Ms. Sinclair.

NGOs are also calling for increased accessibility and visibility of the treaty bodies, including through the use of modern technology such as webcasting and videoconferencing. “Proper communication with, and visibility of, the treaty bodies is crucial to ensuring that their work goes beyond a technical discussion in Geneva and has real impact in the countries under review”, said Ms. Sinclair.

NGOs also note the need to address reprisals against human rights defenders who engage with the treaty bodies, stating that “[f]ear of reprisal can hinder participation, effectively rendering the treaty bodies inaccessible, and depriving treaty body experts of the knowledge and experience they depend on to carry out their mandates effectively”.

The joint NGO Statements are available here:


Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, Human Rights Officer, International Service for Human Rights, on

UN Human Rights Council must act against discrimination and homophobia


(Geneva, 28 February 2013) – The UN Human Rights Council should take a strong stand against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

A report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to be debated by the Council today found that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity remains widespread and persistent throughout the world.

‘The time has come for the Human Rights Council to take a strong and principled stand in favour of equality and against homophobia and intolerance,’ said ISHR Director Phil Lynch.

Mr Lynch said that the timing of the High Commissioner’s report is opportune, with Russia’s parliament considering legislation to criminalise ‘homosexual propaganda’, and a bill to make homosexual activity an offence punishable by death – the so-called ‘Kill the Gays’ bill – back on the agenda in Uganda. ‘Such laws flagrantly violate international human rights standards,’ said Mr Lynch.

While Russia and Uganda may be extreme examples, they are far from isolated. ‘Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people remains widespread in both law and practice,’ said Mr Lynch.

‘Around the world, laws continue to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, from laws which criminalise homosexual activity to those which fail to recognise marriage equality. ISHR strongly supports the High Commissioner’s call for states to ensure the “repeal of discriminatory laws, the prohibition of discriminatory practices and action to counter violence”.’

In its statement to the Human Rights Council, ISHR also said that the UN and all member states should take action to support human rights defenders and protect them from intimidation, attacks and reprisals.

‘ISHR warmly welcomes Norway’s announcement that it will propose a landmark resolution to the Human Rights Council this session, calling for the elimination of laws which restrict the work of human rights defenders and the passage of laws which ensure that they are able to fully exercise their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and peaceful protest,’ said Mr Lynch. ‘The Council should show its support for human rights defenders by adopting this important resolution by consensus’.

ISHR also welcomed the High Commissioner’s appeal to all states to commit additional resources to sustain and strengthen the UN human rights system. ‘Respecting and protecting human rights is never more important than in times of austerity. Increased investment in human rights promotes security, peace and prosperity, making it not only the right thing morally and economically, but a wise exercise of enlightened self-interest,’ said Mr Lynch.

ISHR’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council is available here.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights, on

High Commissioner attacked by States in carrying out her mandate


On Thursday, the High Commissioner presented her annual report, outlining a number of thematic priorities, including tackling discrimination on all grounds, ensuring accountability for human rights violations, and strengthening human rights mechanisms. 

Following the presentation of the report a number of States took the floor to respond. The High Commissioner faced criticism from States unhappy with her highlighting of particular country and thematic situations of concern during her annual update to the Human Rights Council.

Her call on States to ensure that no individual faces discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, was met once again with categorical denial by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that any such responsibility exists in international human rights law.  The OIC reproached the High Commissioner for promoting a notion that is ‘outside the framework of international human rights law’. The OIC has expressed this position many times previously, but it is increasingly anachronistic given the mounting acceptance at the Council that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity as shown by its adoption of a resolution on this subject in June 2011 and subsequent holding of a panel discussion.

In its statement, Botswana acknowledged that violence against women remains one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world and that such violence is rooted in negative cultural values and practices. Botswana further acknowledged that ‘traditional values must never be relied on to undermine universal human rights’.

Germany reacted strongly to what it described as ‘unjustified criticism’ of the High Commissioner, disapproving in particular of a statement made earlier in the session, by the Sri Lanka Special Envoy on Human Rights, that attacked the High Commissioner’s report on the situation in the country as ‘based on unsubstantiated evidence founded on conjecture’ and as ‘counter to the detachment, objectivity, and impartiality expected from the holder of such an exalted office’. Similar criticism was made by Syria, which described the approach of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to the situation in the country as partial and selective.

Also during the discussion, 44 states joined together to express concern on the situation in Bahrain, urging the country to improve its cooperation with OHCHR, and criticising in particular the continuing imprisonment of human rights defenders. Support for the statement increased from the 27 States that signed on at the 20thsession last June, with new backing from States including the United States, the United Kingdom, Botswana, Uruguay, and the Republic of Korea. While this is the strongest response yet from the Council, it still falls far short of reflecting the situation on the ground.

The financial constraints facing OHCHR’s activities are another threat to the ability of the Office to do its work effectively and independently.  Cuba took the opportunity to call yet again for the Council hold a debate on the High Commissioner’s programme and budgetary priorities. Cuba has for many years been attempting to establish the Council in an oversight position over the High Commissioner and her Office:  a move that would likely politicise and substantially diminish the independence of the High Commissioner.

The High Commissioner noted that she would hold an informal dialogue on her Office’s next two-year strategic plan, in the spirit of transparency.

Countering Cuba’s position, 41 States from all regions came together to affirm the fundamental need to maintain the independence of OHCHR in the face of these financial constraints, answerable only to the General Assembly and UN Secretary General. These States committed to continuing to support the High Commissioner’s office through providing voluntary contributions, with Germany pledging a 5 million euro contribution for 2013 to match its 2012 donation.

A number of States spoke to the process of treaty body reform. While some States, including Sri Lanka, emphasised that treaty body reviews should be ‘intergovernmental’ (in other words that there should be no, or substantially reduced, input from NGOs), other States, including the UK and Australia emphasised the need to strengthen the independence, accessibility, visibility, and effectiveness of treaty bodies.



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. 

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