11 May

In a context where Egyptian police routinely prosecute and arrest LGBTIQ+ people by using fabricated charges such as “immorality”, “incitement to immorality”, “misuse of social media” and “belonging to terrorist groups”, ISHR joined human rights organisations in calling on the Egyptian government to immediately stop arresting or detaining individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. No one should face discrimination, intimidation or imprisonment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity; and to ensure a safe and enabling environment for civil society organisations to work freely to serve this community.

03 May

ISHR's flagship Human Rights Defenders Advocacy Programme (HRDAP) is bringing together 19 inspiring activists from around the globe through the brand-new HRDAP Platform on the ISHR Academy.

05 May

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) held its 68th ordinary session virtually between 14 April and 4 May 2021. Once again, the session was convened in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to have an appalling impact on human rights in Africa. 

30 Apr

In a landmark decision, the UN CEDAW committee found that Libya violated the rights of a woman human rights defender and issued recommendations to better respect, protect and support the work of women defenders.

22 Apr

In order for the international human rights system to function to its fullest potential, human rights defenders must be able to share crucial information and perspectives, safely and unhindered. However, many defenders still face unacceptable risks and are unable to cooperate safely with the UN. 

Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council

The Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts, appointed to monitor and report on human rights violations and to advise and assist in promoting and protecting rights.

ISHR works closely with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and other mandates directly related to the concerns of defenders, such as the expert on freedom of assembly and association. We also advocate to ensure attention to human rights defenders by all experts, and to strengthen the overall work of the special procedures, including by advocating for the appointment of highly qualified, independent experts and by pushing States to implement their recommendations.

Photo credit: Front Line Defenders

The Human Rights Council appoints an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate Syria


On 12 September, the President of the Human Rights Council, Laura Dupuy Lasserre announced the appointment of three high-level experts as members of the Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic.  The three Experts are Ms. Yakin Erturk, Mr. Sergio Pinheiro, and Karin Abu Zeid.  Mr. Pinheiro will serve as Chair of the Commission.

The Council resolved to establish the independent, international Commission of Inquiry at the end of its seventeenth Special Session on the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic on 23 August 2011.

The Commission’s mandate is to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic, to establish the facts and circumstances that may amount to such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and, where possible, to identify those responsible with a view of ensuring that perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute crimes against humanity, are held accountable.

The same resolution requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide the full administrative, technical and logistical support needed to enable the Commission to carry out its mandate.

The Commission is due to make public its findings to the Council as soon as possible, and in any case before end of November 2011.  In addition, the commission of inquiry will present a written update to the report on the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic in an interactive dialogue with the participation of the High Commissioner at the nineteenth session of the Human Rights Council in March 2012.

The President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Laura Dupuy Lasserre underlined the importance for the Syrian authorities to fully cooperate with the Commission.

To read more about the members of the Commission of Inquiry click here for the original press release.

UN Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is the world’s peak multilateral human rights body. It is comprised of 47 Member States and meets at least three times per year in Geneva. It is mandated to strengthen the global promotion and protection of human rights, and to address human rights violations and situations of concern.

ISHR works intensively at the Human Rights Council to support the work of human rights defenders. Our strategic combination of research, capacity building, policy development, and advocacy seeks to ensure that the Council is accessible to human rights defenders, protects them against intimidation and reprisals, and is an effective mechanism for change on the ground.

We also monitor and report on States’ cooperation with the Council and advocate to ensure that States that seek membership are held to account for their commitment to ‘uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’.

Read more about our impact and vision in making progress and preventing regress for civil society at the UN.

Strengthening human rights systems

International and regional human rights laws and mechanisms can be used by human rights defenders to ensure accountability for human rights violations and to create and maintain pressure for human rights change.

Our work to strengthen human rights laws and systems focuses on four key issues:

  • Creating space for human rights defenders – Our research, policy development, advocacy and technical support help create and protect the space for human rights defenders, ensuring their voices are heard.
  • Enhanced legal recognition and protection - Our work seeks to strengthen the legal recognition and protection of human rights defenders at the international and regional levels and the implementation of relevant laws and standards at the national level.
  • Better protection from reprisals – Our work seeks to protect defenders from intimidation and reprisals, and to ensure that international and regional human rights systems have the mechanisms to prevent reprisals and ensure accountability where they occur.
  • Stronger membership and cooperation with human rights bodies – We monitor and report on States’ cooperation with UN treaty bodies, the Human Rights Council, the Universal Periodic Review, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Our research, monitoring, lobbying and advocacy also helps to ensure that UN treaty body members, together with Special Rapporteurs of the UN and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, are independent, expert and qualified.

Human rights defenders in restrictive environments

ISHR supports human rights defenders working in restrictive and dangerous environments, contributing to their protection and amplifying their work to expose violations, seek accountability and increase pressure for change.

ISHR also assists human rights defenders working in States undergoing transition to ensure accountability for past human rights violations and the creation of new laws and institutions which uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Human Rights Council opens its 19th session with focus on the situation in Syria


The escalating situation in Syria and the international community’s timid response dominated the opening of the Human Rights Council’s (the Council’s) March session in Geneva on 27 February. At the end of its first meeting, the Council decided by consensus to hold an further ‘urgent debate’ on the situation in Syria on 28 February, despite signs of dismay by the Russian Federation and Cuba.

The situation in Syria was one of the key preoccupations during the address of the President of the General Assembly (PGA), Mr Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, who pointed to the concerns expressed by ‘an overwhelming number’ of States in the General Assembly in respect to the ongoing killings and human rights violations in the country. Several other high-level speakers echoed these concerns during the first meeting of this session of the Council, including the President of the Federal Council of Switzerland, the Vice-President of Colombia, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, the Minister of State and Foreign Affairs of Qatar, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, and the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

The Council’s decision to hold an urgent debate on the situation in Syria was questioned by the Russian Federation and Cuba. They both took the floor to state that they would not object to the meeting, but expressed hopes that the debate would be ‘objective.’ The Russian Federation added that any written document resulting from the debate would be ‘counter-productive’ as a means of resolving the crisis in Syria. Cuba stressed that the debate should not be used as a pretext to endorse military action in the region, stressing the need to respect the sovereignty of States.

The PGA in turn praised the Council for the ‘effective’ efforts it had made in the case of Syria, pointing to the three special sessions that the Council has held on the State to date. However, he also encouraged the Council to consider ‘creative approaches’ for dealing with situations of conflict or opposing views, such as mediation. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navaneetham Pillay, also noted the Council's increasing responsiveness to violations of human rights on the ground. She added, however, that the Council must improve its follow-up to recommendations it makes to States and develop ways of ensuring that States cooperate with the Council and comply with those recommendations. 

A number of other notable themes were raised during the debate. The High Commissioner pointed to the greater involvement of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in monitoring the human rights situation on the ground. She particularly emphasised the role of human rights defenders in supplying field presences with the information needed to react quickly to developing situations. Unfortunately, as she went on to relate, many of these individuals continue to suffer reprisals and intimidation on the basis of their engagement with the UN, and she called for increased efforts to protect those who seek to expose human rights violations.

The High Commissioner drew the Council's attention to the report it is due to consider at this session on discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. She praised the Council's readiness to discuss all human rights issues, even those that may be controversial. The Council will hold a panel discussion on sexual orientation, gender identity, and human rights on 7 March.

Finally, the PGA referred to the recent adoption by the General Assembly of a controversial resolution on treaty body strengthening. It requests the PGA to launch an inter-governmental process to conduct negotiations on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the treaty body system. During his address to the Council the PGA welcomed this resolution, pointing to it as a useful example of dialogue between Geneva and New York. He expressed his belief that the implementation of the resolution ‘will serve as an important contribution to strengthening the international protection and promotion of human rights’. During a separate meeting with NGOs, the PGA sent a positive signal by expressing its principled support for the participation of civil society in UN processes and saying that ‘no dialogue is complete without the voice of civil society’.

The four-week session of the Council will continue with several days of ‘high-level segment’, during which a number of State dignitaries will address the body. During the actual session, a number of important thematic and country specific debates will be held, including panel discussions on freedom of expression and the Internet, and discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. See ISHR’s Council Alert for more details, and follow the session through ISHR’s email or twitter updates @ISHRglobal.

Human Rights Council to discuss sexual orientation & gender identity and Arab Spring


The Human Rights Council (the Council) will hold its 19th session from 27 February until 23 March. The detailed draft programme of work and the list of reports can be found here, while information for NGOs about how to participate is available here. During the organisational meeting for the 19th session, held on 13 February, the President of the Council, Ms Laura Dupuy Lasserre, presented the programme of work for the 19th session, highlighting the different panel discussions that will take place and allowing member states to briefly present their sponsored draft resolutions.

Key areas of interest at this session will include the Council’s continued follow-up to the events of the ‘Arab Spring’ and continuing developments in that area, with interactive dialogues with the Commissions of Inquiry into the situations in Syria and Libya. Also in response to those events, Romania will present a draft resolution on the role played by the rule of law in strengthening democracies. In addition, Sweden announced that it would co-sponsor a panel discussion on freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet, an issue that gained particular prominence due to the role played by social networking in the protests in countries such as Egypt. The panel will focus on how to protect and practically respect fundamental rights, and will include representatives of important stakeholders such as Google and Al Jazeera.

A panel discussion will be held on 7 March on the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity, co-sponsored by South Africa and Brazil. The discussion is to be based on issues raised in the study commissioned from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as requested by Council resolution 17/19, on ‘discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity’. The report recommends, amongst other things, that laws criminalising homosexuality be repealed, that comprehensive anti-discrimination laws be put in place which include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and that asylum laws do not allow return of such persons to countries where their life or freedom would be at risk because of this. At the organisational meeting, South Africa stated that it hoped for an open dialogue to promote understanding on this issue, but that the opinions of all participants would be respected. However, comments during the adoption of the resolution, as well as comments from both Libya and Pakistan during the organisational meeting on their lack of support for resolution 17/19, suggest that it will be a difficult debate. Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, 'objected strongly' to the panel, which it said had 'nothing to do with human rights'. Libya claimed that the discussion would have a negative impact on the 'survival of the human species, the economy, and the family as the basis of society', adding that if it had not been suspended from the Council at the time it would have voted against the resolution. The President responded firmly to these interventions, noting that the Council must 'deal with all questions of human rights, without exception' and underlining non-discrimination as a 'key principle of human rights'.

Following the organisational meeting, Pakistan has circulated a letter objecting to the panel, including by misrepresenting the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA). Among other things, Pakistan claims that in the VDPA the international community 'agreed that (...) national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind', which puts the original meaning of the VDPA on its head. The relevant paragraph of the VDPA affirmed that 'while the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.' It is to be hoped that despite these negative signals from a number of States, the panel itself will be held in a constructive spirit, befitting universal mandate of the Council to protect the human rights of all. 

The Council will also hold an interactive dialogue with the independent expert on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire. The dialogue will focus on assessing the progress that has been made to implement the recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry which was sent to Côte d’Ivoire to investigate the serious allegations of abuses and violations of human rights following the civil unrest after the 2010 presidential elections. The Independent Expert, Doudou Diène, has been assisting the Government of Côte d’Ivoire in its implementation of those recommendations. The dialogue will also include a briefing on the cooperation between the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the Ivorian authorities, and the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire.

The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders will present her annual report to the Council at this session. The report covers the situation of selected defenders at risk, including journalists and media workers; defenders working on land and environmental issues; and youth and students defenders.

The mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran is due for renewal at this session, with Sweden stating that it would be presenting a resolution to that effect. The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, are also up for renewal at this session. Furthermore, four new mandate holders will be appointed during the 19th session:

  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation & guarantees of non-recurrence
  • Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan
  • Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic
  • Independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order

Denmark on behalf of the European Union (EU) announced it would be sponsoring an initiative on the topic of freedom of religion and belief. Pakistan also stated that it would introduce a resolution under item 9, which is likely to be its resolution on combating intolerance and discrimination on the basis of religious belief. This resolution was first adopted at the 16th session of the Council in 2011, and replaced that State's divisive resolution on ‘combating defamation of religions’.

List of resolutions to be introduced at the 19th session as announced by States during the organisational meeting:

Costa Rica, Slovenia, Maldives, Peru, Switzerland, Uruguay

  • The link between and the impact of the environment on human rights


  • The right to food
  • Composition of the staff of the High Commissioner’s office
  • Social forum
  • Procedural resolution to renew the mandate of Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights

Egypt on behalf of NAM

  • Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights

Finland, Germany

  • The right to adequate housing in the context of natural disasters


  • Resolution on judicial personality and civil registry and its role in the protection of human rights
  • Protection of human rights in combating terrorism

New Zealand and Mexico

  • The participation in public life and political affairs of persons with disabilities.

Pakistan on behalf of the OIC

  • Resolutions under item 7 and 9 (the specific projects are to be circulated later, but the Item 7 resolution will be on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Item 9 on combating intolerance and discrimination on the basis of an person's religious belief).


  • Omnibus resolution on economic, social, and cultural rights

Romania, Norway, Peru

  • The influence of rule of law in strengthening democracy

Russian Federation

  • The integrity of judicial systems, with focus on the right to free and impartial judicial hearing, the strengthening of the judiciary organs and the prevention of human rights violations


  • Extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran


  • Umbrella resolution on the rights of the child

Below is a list of panel discussions to be held during the 19th session of the Human Rights Council, sorted by sponsors. More information is available on the HRC extranet (username: hrc extranet password: 1session).


  • Rights of minorities


  • The protection of human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS


  • Rights of the child (full-day)

Mexico and New Zealand

  • Human rights of persons with disabilities

South Africa, Brazil

  • Human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity


  • Panel on freedom of expression on the Internet


  • Enhancement of technical cooperation and capacity-building in the field of human rights

UK, Brazil

  • Promoting human rights through sport and the Olympic ideal

Responses sought to Special Rapporteur's questionnaire


The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr Maina Kiai, is seeking feedback via a questionnaire, towards his first thematic report.

Human Rights Council resolution 15/21 invites the Special Rapporteur to elaborate a framework through which to consider best practices to promote and protect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Mr Kiai's first thematic report is due by the end of February 2012, for submission to the Council in June 2012.

Responses to the questionnaire, preferably in bullet points, will then be annexed to the report for illustrative purposes. If requested, the identity of those who respond to the questionnaire can remain confidential (with only the country of origin disclosed). The questionnaire has also been shared with Member States, National Human Rights Institutions and regional human rights mechanisms.

The deadline for responding to the questionnaire is 20 January 2012. Responses may be addressed to Mr Kiai through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Email: or Fax: +41 22 917 90 06. The questionnaire is available to download in English, French and Spanish.

Once completed, Mr Kiai's report will be available on the OHCHR website.

Supporting human rights defenders

The work of human rights defenders is essential to promote and protect human rights and the rule of law. Despite this, human rights defenders are increasingly subject to harassment, restrictions and reprisals for their work.

Our work to support human rights defenders builds their capacity and expertise, strengthens their recognition and protection under international law, and seeks to protect them from threats, risks and reprisals.

Our work focuses on some of the human rights defenders who are most marginalised or at risk. We provide these human rights defenders with a comprehensive range of tools and support, including access to high quality research and analysis, tailored training and capacity building services, legal advice and strategic litigation assistance, and advocacy and networking support.

Human Rights Council: panel discussion on promotion of tolerance sees less divisive debate


On 14 June 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council), convened a panel discussion on strengthening international efforts to promote culture of tolerance and respect for human rights and diversity of religions and beliefs. In her opening statement, Navanethem Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted the panel’s aim to explore ways to enhance international efforts and promote global dialogue between States and civil society to combat intolerance, negative stereotyping and discrimination against persons based on religion or beliefs. The convening of the expert panel was initiated by Council resolution 16/18, which aimed at combating intolerance, and discrimination against religious beliefs, and promoting collaboration among States to take measures to eliminate incidents of religious intolerance. The resolution marked a move beyond an unconstructive series of resolutions on ‘defamation of religions’ (sponsored by Pakistan) and this panel was viewed as an opportunity to cement that move.

The opening statements of the panellists addressed the role of education, the media, and legislative tools in combating religious intolerance. In particular, Mr Ahmer Bilal Soofi, President of the Research Society of International Law in Pakistan, encouraged States to promote inter-faith debates, especially among scholars and jurists, rather than only among government officials. The other panellists strongly supported these proposals and also emphasised the need to deliver training and education on religious sensitivities to police officers enabling them to more effectively monitor and prevent the rise of religious intolerance.

Furthermore, the panel encouraged the international community to consider creating new joint media outlets with journalists from different cultural and religious backgrounds, as an important long-term approach in dealing with stereotyping and religious intolerance in the media. Mr Adil Akhmetov[1] also highlighted the crucial role that information mechanisms play in these debates, and the need for reliable statistical data about anti-Muslim hate crimes in order to devise robust action plans to combat hate crimes.

Overall the discussion was constructive, and revealed the important issues that need to be addressed by policy makers, government officials, civil society actors, and religious leaders. Many States taking the floor affirmed resolution 16/18 as an important stepping-stone in tackling religious intolerance and negative stereotyping.

The majority of States congratulated the panellists for their suggestions on how to combat intolerance and discrimination against individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs, and recognised the crucial role of the UN system in helping to achieve these aims. The major area of focus during the discussion was education and promotion of inter-faith forums at local, national and international levels. In particular, the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK), Austria, Australia, and Azerbaijan presented their national and regional attempts to promote educational events, such as diversity or inter-faith weeks, in schools and universities. The representatives asserted that education is critical in promoting tolerance and awareness of religious differences, and is a necessary tool in creating a dialogue between various cultures.

Some States argued that the key is a continuing lack of dialogue between the Islamic and non-Islamic world. Cuba, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, the Maldives, and Iran stressed that Muslims often face individual and institutional discrimination, mainly due to weak government support and a lack of protection against such discrimination. These States urged the Council to devise strategic national plans to tackle xenophobia and religious intolerance. The representative from the Maldives also asserted that the ‘Islamic world’ should build more awareness of what Islam truly stands for to strengthen a dialogue with the non-Islamic world.

Despite the generally constructive tone, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba continued to suggest strong recommendations in terms of limiting freedom of expression where religion is concerned, and criminalising incidents of religious hatred, continuing describe these incidents as ‘defamation of religions’.  This contrasted with the US, which advocated measures that ‘would promote more effective actions to increase religious tolerance, instead of prohibiting potentially offensive expression’. As in previous debates around the balance between freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, significant divergences emerged between States, revealing the difficulty of finding common approaches towards combating religious intolerance.

In their concluding statements, the panelists highlighted the crucial role of civil society in elaborating practical methods to combat intolerance. Additionally, the creation of local task forces to promote tolerance and understanding, and to build a dialogue between different religions was recognised as an important new approach.

Overall, the discussions were well informed and constructive and did on the whole move beyond the issue of ‘defamation of religions’ to focus on intolerance and negative stereotyping of individuals. While more work may need to be done to consolidate the rejection of ‘defamation of religions’, the panel was certainly a step in the right direction. However, it still remains to be seen if that positive momentum in the Council can be carried over to future sessions, and related discussions in the General Assembly later this year.

[1] Ambassador and Personal Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims.


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