02 Mar

La Alta Comisionada de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos sonó las campanas de alarma hoy sobre la situación de las personas defensoras en Colombia, Guatemala y Honduras. La ausencia del Estado, las restricciones legales y las prácticas inefectivas fueron destacadas como obstáculos que deben ser abordados por los estados con urgencia.


01 Mar

The recent adoption of laws that severely restrict civil society space are the latest episode in Nicaragua's steady human rights deterioration.  During its current session, the Human Rights Council must adopt a strong resolution which sets a clear series of benchmarks the government must urgently meet to reverse course and resume meaningful cooperation with the international community.

01 Mar
Chinese scholar Teng Biao speaks

In a statement at the UN Human Rights Council today, a Chinese lawyer teamed up with ISHR to call on governments and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to stand up to China and to take concrete steps to hold the Chinese authorities accountable for rights violations.

02 Mar

In a joint statement, ISHR and partners welcome the High Commissioner's recognition of the disproportionate impact of the COVID pandemic and the asssociated economic crisis on LGBTI communities, and call for national and international responses to be developed in consultation with civil society.  

22 Feb

The UN Human Rights Committee has ruled that the Supreme Court of the Maldives violated the freedom of expression of two former members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) when it carried out reprisals against the HRCM for engaging with the UN.

The Human Rights Council: recent achievements, challenges, and a look ahead


(Geneva - 27 June 2013) - The two sessions held by the Human Rights Council so far this year have seen the continuation of the improved dynamic observed at recent sessions of the Council. At these sessions the Council adopted, amongst others, resolutions on the situations in Sri Lanka, North Korea, Myanmar, Belarus, Eritrea, and three resolutions on Syria. 

Turnaround on Sri Lanka

The Sri Lanka resolution in some ways epitomises the turnaround in the effectiveness of the Council. Four years ago, in 2009, the Council held a shockingly biased emergency debate on the situation in Sri Lanka that turned into a forum to praise the government’s efforts to protect human rights and resettle internally displaced people. This debate took place immediately after the ending of the country’s 26 year civil war, with the UN estimating between 40 – 70,000 civilian deaths.

It was two years later, in 2011, that Canada made an attempt to bring a resolution on Sri Lanka, withdrawing the text in the face of strong opposition from Sri Lanka. It was not until 2012 that the US’s political clout enabled it to successfully lead a resolution to adoption by the Council. The US followed up this success with a further resolution in March 2013. The resolutions are framed around the recommendations that came from Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, that is, the text is fairly moderate. The 2013 text calls for the Sri Lankan Government to carry out an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law.

Although relatively moderate, the Council’s eventual response to the situation in Sri Lanka boosted its credibility, by finally closing the gap between what human rights defenders around the world had long been calling for, and the action the Council had, or had not, been taking.

Continued attention on Syria

A similar boost to credibility has come generally from the way the Council responded and continues to respond to the events of the so-called Arab Spring. The situation in Syria, for example, has not been off the Council’s agenda since the violence there broke out, and in June the Council adopted two resolutions on this situation – the 9th and 10th to have been adopted since 2011. The Commission of Inquiry established by the Council in 2011 reports to every session of the Council. The Council has also held 5 emergency debates on the subject, three of which were held outside its regular sessions.

Perhaps it speaks to the impotency of the Council that after so much attention the situation is worse rather than better. However it is only because of regular reporting to the Council that the world knows that 93,000 people have been killed in the fighting in Syria. The debates also provide a platform for human rights defenders from Syria to bring their own findings and cases in an international forum. At the latest session of the Council, in June, ISHR brought 5 Syrian defenders to Geneva in the context of a training course – these defenders used this opportunity to put their own findings and perspectives before States.

Acknowledgement of the work of human rights defenders

Another recent success from the Council, and one in which ISHR had a key role, was the adoption in March, by consensus, of a landmark resolution on the protection of human rights defenders that calls for an end to the use and abuse of national law to restrict and criminalise the work of human rights defenders. Again this reflects what is an increasing trend and is another sign that the Council is increasingly on the ball recently.

The final text is a good example of how strong resolutions result when States work closely to ensure that the concerns of human rights defenders are heard and reflected.

We were particularly pleased that the final text includes reference to reference to the threats faced by women human rights defenders – this reflects another of ISHR’s advocacy goals, to ensure that human rights laws and mechanisms protect women human rights defenders, aware of the specific vulnerabilities that women human rights defenders face. ISHR has worked hard to ensure that States pay due attention to this issue. At the June session similar language was included in a resolution on violence against women and another text on discrimination against women.

The resolution on human rights defenders points to the increasing acknowledgement and recognition by the Council of the importance of the work of human rights defenders.

In addition, the increased responsiveness on country situations points to a far better match between the calls from human rights defenders and the action of the Council – this speaks to a generally improved space and potential for defenders to engage with the Council.

Backlash against NGO space

Nevertheless there are challenges, not the least of which is a corresponding backlash from some States against NGO space. Seeing that NGOs are increasing their influence, these States are resorting to often desperate measures to close down that space.

One of the most evident signs that Sri Lanka really had something to hide and was desperate to keep the situation in the country off the Council’s agenda, was the way it reacted to human rights defenders who had travelled to Geneva to participate in the Council’s debates. Defenders reported being stopped in the corridors by members of the Sri Lankan delegation and they and their families threatened. At the same time a Government minister back in Colombo was reported by the BBC as saying that he would ‘break the legs’ of those he labelled ‘traitors’ who were criticising Sri Lanka in Geneva.

Similar threats were faced by human rights defenders who came from Bahrain to draw the Council’s attention to events unfolding there. At least one of these defenders received death threats on his mobile phone after making a statement in the Council, and since returning to Bahrain has faced a campaign of judicial harassment. He was again back in court last week on charges of “participation in illegal protests”. 

ISHR takes the issue of safety of defenders who cooperate with the UN human rights system extremely seriously –we see it as a fundamental threat to the space for HRDs at the UN. Further, if human rights defenders do not have the space to present their cases to the Council and in other human rights fora, the UN is deprived of the information it needs to take the informed decisions that it is starting to make more regularly.

States are now responding to concerns on this issue. Hungary led the adoption by the Council of the first resolution to address reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with the UN system – which resulted in the Council holding a debate to discuss the issue and ways forward. Hungary will bring another resolution on this issue in September and ISHR will again work closely with them to ensure the strongest text possible.

Of course this harassment is much wider spread than just in Geneva - in the June session the Special Rapporteur, or UN expert, on freedom of association and assembly, Maina Kiai, reported on restrictions faced by NGOs – he cited examples from Egypt and Russia of attempts to restrict the funding of NGOs, noting that the right to receive funding is an integral part of the right to association and assembly, and that attempts to restrict it are attempts to suppress the voice of civil society.  

The promotion of ‘traditional values’

Another challenge is the push by some States towards fundamentally regressive goals. One of these challenges is organised around the concept of so-called ‘traditional values’. The Council has adopted several resolutions on this subject, led by Russia, the thrust of which has been to attempt to establish traditional values as a legitimate way to interpret human rights. We see this as a serious and insidious attempt to undermine the universal human rights framework, and it has particular repercussions for those who challenge societal ‘norms’ particularly women and LGBT defenders, but also any group whose views or identities lie outside mainstream society.

At the March session earlier this year, the latest iteration of this push showed itself in a draft resolution tabled by Egypt on protection of the family. This text made no reference to diverse family forms, and no reference to potential violations of rights inside the family. It treated the family as a unit to be protected, without regard to the rights of those individuals within it. The protection of the family, without consideration of the rights of the individual members, is not a human rights issue.

This resolution was eventually withdrawn in the face of Latin American, and western States’ opposition, and it did not re-emerge at the June session. However in the September session Russia is again due to bring its resolution on traditional values. And with next year the 20th anniversary of the year of the family it seems certain that Egypt will find some way to capitalise on this to bring its text again at a future session.

Sexual orientation and gender identity

Looking ahead for the Council – what’s on the agenda? The rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons is one of the biggest issues due to be addressed by the Council. States adopted the first Council resolution on this issue in 2011 – a real breakthrough, all the more so because the negotiations were led by South Africa. This broke the typical dynamic on this issue whereby African States in particular criticise the imposition of ‘western values’ on their societies.

The June session marked two years after the 2011 resolution was adopted, and in Council terms it marked the point at which follow-up would naturally be expected. Unfortunately nothing was forthcoming from South Africa which announced its preference for moving extremely cautiously. States will certainly be discussing over the coming months whether South Africa’s lack of strong leadership warrants another State taking the issue over – something that needs to be carefully calculated to avoid feeding the still prevalent dynamic of the west against Africa (in particular). Looking further ahead to the possibility of bringing some moderate African States on board, States should be careful not to damage that possibility and push those States further away by having a western State take this over.

The way in which the Council handles the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity will certainly be one of the big themes to watch for in coming sessions.

Human rights defenders and business

Likewise the business and human rights agenda is gaining traction. The Council had appointed an expert, Mr John Ruggie, to develop guiding principles on business and human rights, and subsequently appointed a group of experts to push forwards on the implementation of those principles once they were developed.

This group of experts presented its second report to the Council in June – and one issue it raised was that of the targeting of human rights defenders as a result of their protesting against the activities of corporations and trying to assist the victims of violations to access remedies. If the Council really wants to promote implementation of the guiding principles, it must ensure that those who are drawing attention to the violations committed by corporations have the space to have their voices heard.

This crucial issue is one that ISHR will work to promote in the future. We have already seen a promising response in that the group of experts held a public discussion on the Rana Plaza tragedy just last week to draw out what lessons can be learnt – thereby ensuring that they take the time and create the space for human rights defenders to be heard. By working closely with Norway, the lead State on the issue of business and human rights, we envisage great potential to move this issue forwards.

Contact: Heather Collister, Program Manager at International Service for Human Rights at or +41 79 92 03 805.

President of Human Rights Council must address alleged reprisals in China


(Geneva - 5 July 2013) - In a joint letter, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) requested the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council to urgently address alleged reprisals against human rights defenders in China.

A press release issued by ‘Chinese Human Rights Defenders’ (CHRD) on 4 July alleges that human rights defenders who were staging a peaceful sit-in aimed at highlighting the importance of the State engaging civil society actors in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process were subjected to restrictions of their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression and were further subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.

‘The President of the Human Rights Council is responsible for the work of the Council and it’s subsidiary mechanisms, and is the custodian of the integrity and quality of the UPR’ said Phil Lynch, Director of the International Service for Human Rights. ‘It is therefore imperative that he acts decisively to ensure the full and safe participation of civil society in the Council’s work’, Mr Lynch said.

The Universal Periodic Review process is a critical mechanism of the Human Rights Council. The participation of civil society in the UPR process is essential to ensure that the process is based on ‘objective and reliable information’ as required by General Assembly Resolution 60/251. Civil society participation in the drafting of the national report is directly envisaged by the founding texts of the Council, and is essential to ensure that the national report reflects the actual human rights situation on the ground.

In their joint letter, HRW and ISHR also urged the President to give effect to the Human Rights Council’s resolutions condemning intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with it, and in which the Council affirms “the duty of all States to end impunity for such actions by bringing the perpetrators, including accomplices, to justice in accordance with international standards and by providing an effective remedy for their victims”.

Read the joint letter and the CHRD press release.

ISHR advocacy helps to protect NGO participation in the UN Human Rights Council


(Geneva - 5 August 2013) - Proposals to restrict the important work of non-governmental organisations in the UN Human Rights Council have won the support of just thirteen states following advocacy efforts by NGOs in Geneva.

On 31 July, the Permanent Mission of Pakistan sent letter on behalf of a group of ‘like-minded States’ to the President of the Human Rights Council regarding the participation of NGOs. The letter makes a number of proposals which would have the purpose or effect of restricting NGOs’ participation in the work of the Council, including by enabling the arbitrary or discriminatory exclusion of NGO representatives, exposing such representatives to increased risk of intimidation or reprisal, and facilitating the censorship of NGO side-events.

However, despite efforts to gather up to 60 signatories to the letter, the final letter was endorsed by just 13 States – Pakistan, China, Russia, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Uganda, North Korea, Belarus, India, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Iran. This followed outreach and lobbying by NGOs to many States that were invited to sign on to the letter, including through the distribution of a joint NGO letter circulated to those States.

‘International law recognises the important role played by non-governmental organisations in the promotion and protection of human rights, including through their advocacy at the UN,’ said Phil Lynch, Director of the International Service for Human Rights.

‘As the world’s peak, multilateral human rights body, it is imperative that NGOs are able to participate in the work of the Human Rights Council and that the Council hears directly the voices of human rights defenders.’

‘It is very pleasing that despite the best efforts of some States, only 13 of the UN’s 193 Member States were prepared to endorse proposals that are incompatible with international law and which would undermine civil society contributions to the Council.’

The critical role of NGOs is enshrined in Article 38 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, General Assembly resolution 60/251 and the Human Rights Council’s Institution Building Package. It is also reflected in Operative Paragraph 15 of Human Rights Council resolution 22/6 on human rights defenders, adopted by consensus by the Council in March 2013.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director of ISHR, on + 41 76 708 4738 or

Interview: Human Rights Counsellor, Geir Sjøberg, Norwegian Mission to the UN, Geneva


1. The Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution which some have called a landmark in furthering the protection of human rights defenders. Are you satisfied with the results?

Let me first of all thank the ISHR and other human rights organizations for the invaluable advise and support throughout the process we have had here in Geneva.

In 2011, the General Assembly expressed grave concerns about the serious nature of risks faced by human rights defenders due to threats, attacks and acts of intimidation against them. Regrettably, the situation has hardly improved since then. On the contrary, current trends are largely negative, as reported by the Special Rapporteur and others. Against this background, the Council had to respond with a clear message. The resolution ‘Protecting Human Rights Defenders’ should be seen as such, as the collective voice of the international community in 2013. On balance, we see the resolution as an appropriate response by the Human Rights Council at a very difficult time for human rights defenders in all regions of the world.

The unanimous adoption of this resolution sends an important signal of support to all the courageous people who are fighting against human rights violations all over the world. We must now work to ensure that this resolution is translated into concrete results on the ground and leads to an improvement in the situation of human rights defenders. 

2. What do you see as the main advances achieved through the resolution? The resolution places special emphasis on women human rights defenders; why did you choose to highlight their work?

The resolution provides for a collective and clear direction to States, which rallied behind the resolution when adopting it by consensus. A large number of States across all regions have also cosponsored the resolution. This is important.

The strength of the resolution lies in the broad support around a comprehensive and clear message. I believe it addresses the main issues in a principled and fairly straight forward manner. Let me mention a few aspects. A key message of the resolution is that national legislation must be consistent with international human rights law. Measures to combat terrorism and preserve national security must follow transparent and foreseeable criteria and standards. Procedural safeguards must be in place, including in criminal cases against human rights defenders. Legal provisions and their application affecting human rights defenders must be clearly defined, determinable and non-retroactive, and they cannot be used or misused to criminalize, stigmatize, impede, obstruct or otherwise restrict the work of human rights defenders contrary to international human rights law. Rather, human rights defenders must be allowed to play their important and legitimate role in the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The independence of their organizations must be respected.

Moreover, the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly - which are essential for the promotion and protection of other rights - must be ensured and provided for on a very practical level, including by avoiding discriminatory restrictions on potential sources of funding. Laws regulating civil society organizations must not hinder, but facilitate their work. New forms of communication, online and offline, and the media of one’s choice should be promoted and facilitated at all levels. Clear laws and policies must allow for a general right to request and receive information held by public authorities. Provisions must not prevent public officials from being held accountable. Penalties for defamation must be limited in order to ensure proportionality. Legislation aimed at preserving public morals must be compatible with international human rights law. Legislation must not target the activities of those defending the rights of persons belonging to minorities or espousing minority beliefs. States must ensure that dissenting views are allowed. These are some of the aspects that are laid out in the resolution.

Let me add that the resolution also sends a strong message that States must allow defenders to cooperate effectively with the UN and other international bodies without the fear of reprisals of any kind.

The emphasis on women human rights defenders is significant, both because recent events have shown the vulnerability of women in this context, and because effective, just and sustainable development will only happen with women being allowed to assume their rightful place in society. Gender equality is a fundamental and overriding priority of the Government of Norway.

3. Are there any elements that were particularly difficult to negotiate or that you feel should have been covered but were left out?

As with any UN negotiations concerning topical issues, there will be differences in view, but the extensive and transparent process that we had over the four-week Council session permitted for all views to be heard and considered, and in the end we found common ground, as expressed by the resolution.

Over all, we believe that the resolution reflects and gives justice to the important recommendations issued by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. These recommendations covers the key, pertinent issues, in our view, and they formed a solid basis for the resolution.

4. We've heard one state disassociate itself based on the paragraph on the right to access funding; how do you intend to ensure the resolution in its entirety is applied in policy making in the contexts in which it matters most?

States are under the obligation to protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons.  The resolution states clearly that no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defense of human rights on account of the origin of funding thereto. The resolution also urges states to extend support to local human rights defenders.

We will continue our dialogue with all partners, this is a process, and we will continue to play our part with a view to realizing fully the objectives of the resolution, so that human rights defenders can in fact operate free from hindrance and insecurity, a fundamental principle to which all States have agreed.

5. Why did Norway focus on the particular theme of the use of legislation to restrict the work of human rights defenders? What plans do you have for the future development of the defenders resolution? 

In light of the increased pressure on human rights defenders, in all regions of the world, and based on the report of the Special Rapporteur to the General Assembly last fall, we believed that this was the logical and appropriate theme to address. Consultations with a broad set of actors confirmed this approach.

The work in support of human rights defenders is a top and long-standing priority of the Norwegian government. The creation of a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders should be a fundamental objective of any society. We will continue to follow developments closely here, and we will continue to provide leadership in this very important area. The UN resolutions constitute an important part of this commitment. We will continue to work closely with all partners, including the ISHR and other human rights organizations, in defining the proper steps ahead.

6. Finally, the HRC is sometimes criticised for developing its work in a vacuum, and for delivering limited impact for rights holders on the ground. Have you faced or do you anticipate such criticism in relation to this particular resolution? What does Norway intend to do to ensure the resolution represents a tangible value add for human rights defenders in their day to day work?

The reactions to the resolution adopted on 21 March have – as far as I have seen – been largely welcoming of its message and of its broad support.

We will work with all partners at all levels in order to realize the important objectives of the resolution.

We will listen carefully to civil society and other stakeholders, in accordance with the spirit of paragraph 20 of the resolution, through our ongoing day to day contacts and partnerships with human rights defenders in all regions.

The doors of Norwegian embassies are always open to human rights defenders.

End restrictions on NGO access to funds for human rights advocacy


(Geneva – 29 May 2013) – Non-government organisations, particularly those that advocate on issues of human rights, are facing unprecedented restrictions on access to funding, according to a new report by a UN expert.

In his annual report to the Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, says ‘In recent years, civil society actors have been facing increased control and undue restrictions in relation to funding they received, or allegedly received.’

According to Mr Kiai, the ‘problem is not isolated and exists in all parts of the world’, with the restrictions aiming, ‘in many cases, to silence the voices of dissent and critics.’

The right of NGOs and civil society organisations to access and to receive funding is a fundamental aspect of the right to freedom of association. It is expressly guaranteed in Article 13 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which provides that ‘Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to solicit, receive and utilise resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means’.

According to ISHR Director, Phil Lynch, the Special Rapporteur’s report exposes a disturbing global trend.

‘The Special Rapporteur’s report rightly calls attention to illegitimate and disproportionate restrictions on NGO access to funds in Algeria, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Egypt, Jordan, Russia, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe. However, the problem is not limited to the Global South. Just last week, new guidelines were announced in New South Wales, Australia which effectively prohibit community legal centres from undertaking “political advocacy or political activism”.’

The NSW Legal Assistance Services Funding Principles state that this includes, but is not limited to, ‘lobbying governments and elected officials on law reform and policy issues’ and also includes ‘public campaigning and advocacy… seeking changes to government policies or laws’.

According to Mr Lynch, laws and policies such as those described in the Special Rapporteur’s report or recently adopted in Australia are incompatible with international human rights law and directly contradict a landmark resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013 and explicitly supported by Egypt and Australia. Human Rights Council resolution 22/6, entitled ‘Protecting human rights defenders’, calls upon States to ensure ‘that no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defence of human rights on account of the origin of funding thereto.’

The International Service for Human Rights warmly welcomes the Special Rapporteur’s report and calls upon States to endorse and fully implement its key recommendations, including by:

  • Enshrining the rights to rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly in law and practice,
  • Ensuring that any restriction on the rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly is strictly necessary, reasonable, proportionate and non-discriminatory; and
  • Recognising and protecting the right to NGOs and other civil society organisations to seek and receive funding – whether from domestic, foreign or international sources – and to use those funds to promote and protect human rights, including through advocacy.

An ISHR briefing paper on the right to access funding is available here (May 2009).

An opinion piece written for ISHR by Human Rights Watch Executive Director, Ken Roth, on the right of NGOs to receive foreign funding is available here (April 2013).

Opinion: NGOs Have a Right to Receive Foreign Funding


By Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch

The first lesson taught in the School for Autocrats is to keep people isolated.  When people join together to advance a political perspective, they gain confidence in their views and power in their collective voice.  But when society is atomized, fear is more likely to dominate, and individuals acting alone have a harder time making their voices heard. 

A common way for people to join together is by creating a non-governmental organization (NGO).  So when autocrats want to keep society cowed—to avoid organized pressure for change—a top priority is to handcuff the NGOs.  Because simply banning NGOs would so obviously flout the right to freedom of association, autocrats these days pursue more subtle approaches.  An increasingly common technique involves two steps: first, generating sufficient fear so few residents dare fund an NGO like a human rights group that is genuinely independent or might criticize the government; and second, citing nationalism or the alleged dangers of outside interference to ban or restrict foreign funding of NGOs. 

Ethiopia enacted a law in 2009 that prohibits human rights groups from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from abroad.  That has decimated the country’s human rights movement.  Russia adopted a law in 2012 requiring NGOs that receive foreign funds to proclaim themselves “foreign agents.”  Russian human rights groups have refused, even under threat of prosecution, because the label is so stigmatizing.  Now Egypt is debating a law that would empower the government to determine which NGOs are allowed to receive foreign funding.  That would invite the government to pick favorites, approving foreign funds for lapdogs while rejecting them for critics.

But why are foreign funds so nefarious when NGOs get them yet apparently uncontroversial when others do?  The Ethiopian government is one of the largest aid recipients in Africa; does that make it subversive?  The Russian government lives off its sale of oil and natural gas to foreign buyers; is that an act of treason?  The Egyptian government receives billions of dollars in US military assistance and is negotiating for billions more in loans from the IMF; is that an act of disloyalty?

Of course not.  So why is it wrong for NGOs to solicit financial support from foreign friends? Bolstered by foreign funds, governments routinely advance their political agendas.  Militaries and businesses do the same.  Why should NGOs be singled out for restriction? It leaves the impression that their real sin is not accepting foreign contributions but criticizing the government. 

Restricting NGOs may be the first rule of the Autocrats School, but it violates the first principles of democratic societies.  That is because elections alone provide insufficient opportunity for the public to influence the decisions of government. The mere act of voting, important as it is, is too blunt an instrument by itself for citizens to express their views.  At best people vote for a political party -- a tendency or orientation -- but that periodic vote does not mean uncritical endorsement of every decision the party might make about the broad range of issues—some foreseeable some not—that arise in day-to-day governance.

That’s where the rights of free speech and association come in.  People need the freedom to speak out on issues whenever they arise, not only on Election Day.  And the way to increase the reach of each person’s voice is through such megaphones as social media, the press, and the ability to join together with like-minded people through groups such as NGOs.  Human rights NGOs play the added role of defending those whose voices a government wants to silence. 

It should be no surprise that NGOs -- like the media -- sometimes criticize government decisions. That is not subversion.  It is the essence of democracy.  Any government effort to bar funding for critics or to steer funding only to groups that parrot official views undermines this essential democratic role.

That is not to say that anything goes for NGOs.  Like everyone else, they should refrain from criminality.  If an NGO worker really is plotting to violently overthrow the state or to commit some other legitimately proscribed act, he or she should be prosecuted under the regular criminal code.  There is no need for additional restrictions specifically for NGOs.

Any regulation of NGOs should focus on their conduct, not their source of funds.  So long as an organization is engaged in peaceful advocacy, even if that is critical dissent, it should be entitled to do so as a matter of right, regardless of who funds it.

Council called upon to take action on human rights defenders and corporate accountability


In a series of events the Human Rights Council has been called upon to better support and protect the work of human rights defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability.

In a statement during the interactive dialogue with the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, ISHR expressed concern at the harassment and reprisals faced by human rights defenders for their work investigating, protesting, and seeking access to remedies for victims of alleged abuses linked to business activities.

In a statement made to the Panel on Business and Human Rights, ISHR urged the UN and all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are interpreted and applied consistently with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. In ISHR’s submission, this requires: that States enact legislation to protect civil society organizations and human rights defenders from harassment, persecution and reprisals linked to their corporate accountability work; that corporations consult with human rights defenders about the human rights risks and impacts of their work; and that both States and corporations provide access to an effective remedy for victims of corporate human rights violations.

Finally, in a side-event on business and human rights defenders jointly sponsored by ISHR and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a group of four expert panelists (Clement Voulé, expert member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights working group on extractive industries and human rights; Sapna Malik, Partner at Leigh Day; Gerald Staberock, Secretary-General of the World Organisation Against Torture; and Lene Wendland, Adviser on Business and Human Rights in OHCHR) outlined the ‘particular risks’ that human rights defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability face. The panelists concluded that the Human Rights Council should better protect and support the work of such defenders and proposed a range of actions in this regard, including a joint study or report on the issues by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, and developing a resolution on business and human rights defenders for adoption by the Human Rights Council. All panelists agreed that there is a more pressing need for full and effective implementation of both the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders at the national level than for the elaboration of a new treaty or declaration on the issues.

New report shows need for States and business to prevent and redress corporate human rights abuses


(Geneva - 30 May 2013) – A new report by the UN’s Working Group on business and human rights highlights the need for global action to prevent and redress corporate attacks on human rights defenders, the International Service for Human Rights said today.

‘We are disturbed by the Working Group’s reports of the harassment, persecution and reprisals faced by human rights defenders for their work investigating, protesting, and seeking redress for victims of alleged corporate human rights abuses,’ said ISHR’s Director of Human Rights Council Advocacy, Michael Ineichen.

The harassment of human rights defenders working on issues of corporate accountability is expressly prohibited by the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which provide that States and corporations must not obstruct or impair the legitimate and peaceful activities of human rights defenders.

‘We urge States to investigate any alleged acts of intimidation or reprisal against human rights defenders working on issues of corporate accountability. Where such abuses occur, States must also ensure that those affected have access to an effective remedy,’ Mr Ineichen said.

In a statement to the UN’s Human Rights Council, ISHR welcomed the Working Group’s recognition as to the important and legitimate role of civil society organisations, trade unions and human rights defenders in raising awareness of the human rights impacts and risks of business enterprises and activities.

‘The recent building collapse and loss of more than 1,100 lives in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh tragically demonstrates the consequences that can flow from the failure of corporations to meaningfully consult with human rights defenders to identify, prevent and mitigate the adverse human rights impacts of business operations,’ said Mr Ineichen.

ISHR is calling on the UN Human Rights Council to ensure effective national implementation of an historic resolution adopted by consensus in March 2013 which recognises the important role of human rights defenders in promoting and protecting human rights and which calls on States to respect, protect and support their activities.

‘The work of human rights defenders – including journalists, lawyers and advocates – is crucial to uphold human rights and the rule of law. Increasingly, this involves investigating, protesting against and ensuring accountability for corporate human rights abuses,’ said Mr Ineichen.

‘It is imperative that States increase their protection and support for civil society organizations and human rights defenders that work on issues of corporate accountability.’

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

First Human Rights Monitor

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

ISHR 30 years of impact

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



Civic freedoms, including freedom of expression, association and assembly are essential to stable, profitable and sustainable businesses and investment environments in which companies thrive and economies prosper, writes Andrés Zaragoza, Programme Manager (Business and Human Rights) with ISHR. Multinationals have a role to play in protecting the “shared civic space” in Myanmar. 

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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