23 Mar

ISHR welcomes ongoing attention by the UN to human rights issues in China, after experts publicly noted concerns about enforced disappearances and their impact on those promoting human rights and democracy in the country.

27 Mar

Following a seven year legal battle, the  Guatemalan Criminal Court acquitted Pascual and recognised that the defense of human rights should not be criminalised. 

26 Mar

Le Comité des droits économiques, sociaux et culturels (CDESC) a tenu sa soixante-septième session du 17 février au 6 mars 2020 à Genève au cours de laquelle il a examiné le tout premier rapport de la Guinée en attente depuis 1990. Le Comité a notamment fait part de ses préoccupations quant à l’environnement dans lequel travaillent les dé des droits humains dans le pays et la nécessité de garantir leur protection.

23 Mar

At its 43rd session, the Human Rights Council considered Angola's report resulting from its last Universal Periodic Review, during which Angola received 272 recommendations and accepted 259 of them.

19 Mar

ISHR has filed a legal complaint against Burundi with the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT). The case seeks justice and reparation for four Burundian lawyers who were disbarred or suspended and threatened by State representatives after sharing information with the CAT about the human rights situation in their country. 

CESCR reviews Israel: No mention of Bill on NGOs’ Foreign Funding


On 17 November 2011, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Committee) finished reviewing the third periodic report of Israel. The Committee experts addressed a number of issues, including those presented in NGO reports. The Committee paid special attention to the cultural rights of the Bedouins, which is considered an indigenous population by the Committee but not by Israel. The experts and the Israeli delegation also found themselves in disagreement on the State party’s responsibility to report on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). According to the delegation, the OPT fall under the responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority as a result of the 2005 Interim Agreement. The Committee, on the other hand, reminded Israel that it is legally bound by international law to report on such matters, despite denying having effective control on the area.

Surprisingly, the Committee members made no mention of the two recent bills passed early in the same week by the Israeli Ministerial Committee for Legislation on NGOs in Israel. The two bills limit foreign donations to NGOs and human rights groups to approximately 3’900 Euro per year, with an imposed tax of 45 percent. The bills come with the support of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who stated that they are a necessity in light of ‘acts of incitement by many organisations operating in the guise of human rights organisations that seek to influence political discourse, the character, and policy of the State of Israel’. The bills have faced national and international opposition. Six Government ministries voted against them, arguing that the documents represent an infringement on Israel’s democratic values. The bills would de facto weaken NGOs critical of the coalition government, many of whom receive funds from the European Union and its member States. The EU itself, along with the US, has pressured Prime Minister Netanyahu to reconsider the bills, stating they would harm freedom of association, freedom of speech, and Israel’s image as a democracy.

CESCR’s review of Israel ended on a note of disagreement, as the Chairperson, Mr Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay, restated that Israel is under legal obligation to report on the human rights situation in the OPT. In addition, the Committee’s general affirmation that it saw no improvement since Israel’s last review in 2003 emphasises the need for more attention by treaty bodies to following up their own work. The concluding observations will be published on the OHCHR Web site.

CAT questions Belarus on allegations of reprisals against human rights defenders


On 9 and 10 November 2011, Belarus was examined by the Committee Against Torture (the Committee) in relation to its compliance to its responsibilities and obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention). Belarus ratified the Convention in March 1987.

The Committee raised numerous concerns with Belarus, including its treatment of human rights defenders and lawyers. Specifically, in the List of Issues,[1] the committee asked Belarus to comment on allegations of widespread harassment of human rights defenders and journalists by law enforcement officials. The Committee referred to specific cases where human rights defenders and journalists had been allegedly arrested including the arrest and detention of the Chair of a human rights NGO, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC). In its written reply, Belarus did not address the allegations regarding the Chair of the BHC, however in relation to the allegations concerning the journalists, Belarus claimed that the journalists had been afforded due process.

During the examination, the Vice-Chairperson of the Committee and Rapporteur on Belarus, Ms Gaer, noted the absence of a full reply in relation to the above allegations and requested Belarus to comment. The second country Rapporteur, Ms Sveaass, stated that there was a general sentiment of danger associated with being a human rights defender in Belarus and noted examples of human rights defenders being detained in psychiatric hospitals and arrests of journalists to support her statement. In reply to Ms Gaer and Ms Sveaass, the Belarusian delegation stated that it did not agree in principle with the use of the phrase ‘human rights defenders’. Ms Gaer took issue with this point and referred to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders[2] to point out that everyone has the right to promote and protect human rights and that the definition of ‘human rights defenders’ is not a closed category of individuals. The delegation commented that for the purposes of justice, ‘it doesn’t matter who the State is dealing with when the law is being violated’ and cautioned against the presumption that human rights defenders are always ‘good guys’, demonstrating a fairly limited understanding of the concept of human rights defenders.

The List of Issues on Belarus had also raised concerns relating to allegations of intimidation of the BHC by State officials including allegations that KGB officers had searched the BHC offices and that official warnings had been sent to BHC for spreading false information. During the examination, Belarus replied to these allegations and claimed that BHC itself had recognised its own wrongdoing in relation to the activities for which the warnings were issued – namely, use of official stamps for which it did not have permission.

The Committee also raised concerns regarding a number of lawyers who had been harassed, detained, and expelled from their bar associations. Some of the lawyers at the centre of the allegations had been representing high profile individuals, including presidential candidates and journalists, and others had been representing individuals who took part in protests in December 2010. Belarus addressed this concern during the examination and stated that the Ministry of Justice had carried out investigations of the Bar of Lawyers in December 2010 and had expelled 89 lawyers from the Bar Association for violations of the legislation relating to the legal profession. It stated further that only 5 of the 89 lawyers expelled had given assistance to individuals involved in the December protests. In relation to one of the specific cases raised by the Committee, the expulsion of Pavel Sapelka from the Minsk Bar Association, Belarus commented that the Ministry of Justice had terminated his license but his license had been rendered ineffective in any event as Sapelka had been expelled at the decision of the Minsk Bar Association itself. The Minsk Bar Association had expelled Mr Sapelka due to his ‘negative attitude’ which Belarus stated had been determined following his departure from Belarus at a time when he was required to provide assistance to a client.

In the Committee’s advanced unedited version of its concluding observations, the Committee notes that it remains ‘deeply concerned about numerous and consistent allegations of serious acts of intimidation, reprisals and threats against human rights defenders and journalists, as well as the lack of information provided on any investigations into such allegations’.[3]  


[1] Committee Against Torture, List of issues to be considered during the examination of the fourth periodic report of BELARUS, UN Doc. CAT/C/BLR/Q/4.

[2] Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, UNGA Res 53/144, UN Doc A/RES/53/144, 8 March 1999.

[3] At para 25, document available at


Joint statement on NGO participation in the GA intergovernmental treaty body strengthening process


Joint NGO Statement: Four recommendations to ensure the effective participation of NGOs in the Intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system

Twenty-four NGOs, including ISHR, have recently presented their recommendations on ensuring the effective participation of NGOs in the intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening the treaty body system.

The joint NGO submission was developed in response to a recent resolution passed by the General Assembly that mandates the President of the GA to establish an open-ended inter-governmental process to conduct open, transparent and inclusive discussions on strengthening the treaty body system. The resolution stipulates that the inter-governmental process shall be open to all Member States and Observer States of the UN, and to inter-governmental organizations and UN bodies.

It also requests the President of the GA to work out “separate informal arrangements...that would allow the open-ended inter-governmental process to benefit from the inputs and expertise of the human rights treaty bodies, national human rights institutions and relevant non-governmental organizations”. The resolution makes poor provision for engagement of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with the process and it will be important that the President of the GA and his two co-facilitators ensure that arrangements are put in place to ensure effective NGO participation.

To read the joint NGO recommendations, click here for englishspanish, and french.

Joint NGO Contribution - Treaty Body Strengthening Process


Issues for the Inter-Governmental Process on Strengthening the Effective Functioning of the Human Rights Treaty Body System, a Joint NGO Contribution

Thirty-two NGOs, including ISHR, recently presented a joint contribution on issues related to the Inter-Governmental Process on Strengthening the Effective Functioning of the Human Rights Treaty Body System.

The joint NGO contribution was developed in response to a recent resolution passed by the General Assembly. The resolution recognizes the important, valuable and unique role and contribution of the treaty bodies to the promotion and protection of human rights. It mandates the President of the GA to launch an open-ended inter-governmental process to conduct open, transparent and inclusive negotiations on how to strengthen and enhance the effective functioning of the treaty body system. The inter-governmental process shall not start earlier than April 2012 and the President of the GA is to present a report to the GA on the deliberations and recommendations of the process by the end of its 66th session (17 September 2012) for further consideration, including a possible extension of the process. The President of the General Assembly recently appointed Iceland and Indonesia as co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process.

This document has been prepared by NGOs that regularly contribute to the work of the treaty bodies and that firmly believe that the treaty body system requires strengthening to improve its effectiveness. Efforts to enhance the treaty bodies and the system should aim to improve the fulfilment of States Parties’ obligations and strengthen the capacity of rights holders to enjoy their human rights. To meet this aim, the following issues should be addressed in the inter-governmental process: 1. universal ratification of the core international human rights treaties and their optional protocols; 2. compliance with reporting obligations; 3. implementation of recommendations and views; 4. annual meetings of states parties and reports to the GA; 5. enhancing the membership of the treaty bodies; and 6. providing adequate resources to the treaty body system. Click here to read the full paper in English, French and Spanish.

An earlier paper, endorsed by 24 international and regional NGOs, outlines four recommendations to enable the effective participation of NGOs in the intergovernmental process. To read the joint NGO recommendations, click here for English, Spanish, and French.

Important civil society forum on treaty body reform: deadline for participation 20 August


A civil society forum on strengthening and enhancing the functioning of the human rights treaty body system will take place on Tuesday 4 September. The deadline for confirming participation in this event is Monday 20 August.

Follow this link to read an invitation from the Permanent Representatives of Indonesia and Iceland, the co-facilitators of the human rights treaty body strengthening process, to the civil society forum.

The forum will take place on Tuesday 4 September, simultaneously in Geneva and New York:

  • New York - 10am to 1pm, Room 4, North Lawn Building, UN Secretariat
  • Geneva (by video conference) - 4pm to 7pm, Room XXIV, Palais des Nations

All times are local. The meeting will be conducted in English.

According to the draft agenda, the plenary discussion will cover a range of topics including the proposed 'master calendar', methods of work, reporting process, and capacity to implement. More detail regarding the agenda items, including a 'non-paper' on the themes for discussion, can be found here.

In order to participate, your organisation must complete and return the last page of the document mentioned above to The deadline for confirming participation is 20 August.

General Assembly extends intergovernmental process on treaty body strengthening


In the final hours of the 66th session of the General Assembly on 17 September 2012, Member States adopted a consensus resolution extending the intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system (66/295).

The intergovernmental process began with General Assembly resolution 66/254 on 23 February 2012. That Russian-led resolution and the intergovernmental process it created were marred with controversy and 66 States abstained from the vote. Click here for an earlier ISHR news story on the adoption of that resolution.

Part of the controversy stemmed from the fact that the intergovernmental process began as the OHCHR-initiated ‘Dublin process’ on treaty body strengthening was still ongoing. The Dublin process involved a series of multi-stakeholder consultations since late 2009 and was to culminate in a report by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in early 2012. The report, which was to provide a basis for decisions by all stakeholders on which proposals to implement and how, was delayed to allow for further consultations with States.[1] In the meantime, the intergovernmental process was launched, leaving its relationship with the Dublin process and the High Commissioner’s report unclear. Ultimately the High Commissioner’s report was released at the end of June, following which the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process (Iceland and Indonesia) held consultations with States on 2 July and again from 16-18 July 2012.

The July 2012 consultations

While States continued to argue about the relevance of the High Commissioner’s report,[2] the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process essentially used it as the basis for drawing up a list of issues for discussion during the State consultations. The discussions amongst States covered four broad areas: the proposal for a comprehensive reporting calendar;[3] methods of work; the reporting process; and capacity to implement.

Several states supported the idea of a comprehensive reporting calendar in principle but voiced concerns that the proposed cycle of reporting would be unsustainable and very costly. A number of states also supported the High Commissioner’s suggestions to increase the visibility and accessibility of the treaty bodies through webcasting and videoconferencing.[4] Several NGOs, including ISHR, voiced their concerns with the suggestion in the High Commissioner’s report that formal sessions between treaty bodies and NGOs be public, as this would heighten the risk of reprisals against those cooperating with the treaty bodies. In that regard, many NGOs and States[5] welcomed the focus on reprisals in the High Commissioner’s report, in particular the suggestion to establish treaty body focal points on reprisals as a first step.

Several hard-lined States also put forward negative proposals. A group of States calling themselves “the cross-regional group” or “CRG”[6] presented a unified front in the consultations. Among other things, the CRG called for a code of conduct and accountability mechanism for treaty body experts, equitable geographical representation in the treaty bodies, and increased transparency of interaction between the treaty bodies and non-state stakeholders. Though States supportive of the independence and strengthening of the system were vocal in their opposition to such measures as a code of conduct, they were in general less coordinated in their response.

NGO participation

Another troubling aspect of the intergovernmental process from the start was the inadequate provision for the participation of key non-state stakeholders, in stark contrast to the broad consultations facilitated by OHCHR in the context of the Dublin process. Resolution 66/254 requested the President of the General Assembly (PGA) to work out “separate informal arrangements, after consultation with Member States” that would allow treaty bodies, NHRIs and “relevant” non-governmental organizations to provide input and expertise, “bearing in mind the intergovernmental nature of the process”. Several states who abstained from resolution 66/254 continued throughout the consultations to call for greater participation of other stakeholders.[7]

In the end, two NGO representatives were invited by the co-facilitators to participate in panels during the State consultations in mid-July[8] and NGOs were able to observe the discussions amongst States and take the floor during side events. Separate NGO consultations were also held on 4 September 2012. NGOs without ECOSOC accreditation[9] were subjected to a procedure whereby States could object anonymously to their participation without providing a reason or any recourse to the concerned NGO.[10] This was particularly controversial as language limiting participation to ECOSOC accredited NGOs was negotiated out of resolution 66/254 and NGO engagement with the treaty bodies has never been limited in such a way.[11]Alkarama, an NGO that regularly contributes to the work of the treaty bodies, was prohibited from participating because of an objection from Algeria. During the NGO consultations, USA, Canada, Switzerland, Israel and the EU challenged the ‘non-objection’ procedure, stating that there was no agreement on its use, while China, Russia and Algeria argued that the rule is well established for non-accredited NGOs in General Assembly proceedings.

Statements at the adoption of the resolution extending the intergovernmental process indicated that States were still divided on NGO participation. Russia on behalf of the CRG called for strict compliance with resolution 66/254 and the intergovernmental nature of the process while the USA stated that NGOs must continue to be included in all aspects of the discussion.

The way forward

The co-facilitators concluded their work in the 66th session with a non-substantive progress report to the PGA that describes the State and NGO consultations. In that report, the co-facilitators’ recommend that a comprehensive cost review of the treaty system be provided by the end of 2012.

Regarding the timeline, States were divided in the negotiations about whether the resolution should prescribe a fixed end to the process within the 67th session[12] or should not be constrained.[13] Reflecting the different State positions, the resolution rather vaguely “decides to extend the intergovernmental process … with a view to identifying” concrete and sustainable measures in the next session.

As the General Assembly is now gearing up for its intense Committee work during the autumn, the intergovernmental process has been put on hold until early 2013. In the meantime, the Third Committee of the General Assembly will be confronted by requests from several treaty bodies for temporary additional funding to deal with their backlogs. Language to the effect that the continuation of the intergovernmental process would not prejudice such temporary measures was negotiated out of the resolution, leaving the prospects for those requests uncertain.

[1] OHCHR held consultations with States in New York on 2 and 3 April in an effort to satisfy those that that felt States had not been sufficiently consulted in the Dublin process.

[2] In particular, hard-lined States responsible for creating the intergovernmental process argued that the High Commissioner’s report should be just one aspect of the basis for discussions.

[3] This proposal would organize the current reporting deadlines into a single comprehensive reporting calendar, based on a periodic five-year cycle. Within this five-year period, there would be a maximum of two reports per annum due for a State that is a party to all the treaties.

[4] Canada, Costa Rica, Ireland, El Salvador, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Thailand, Switzerland, USA, Liechtenstein, Colombia, the African group and CARICOM. States in the CRG were supportive of webcasting and videoconferencing only with the consent of the State Party concerned and suggested that all meetings, including those with non-state stakeholders be webcasted.

[5] Including the EU, Australia, Israel, USA, Thailand, and the African group.

[6] Belarus, Russia, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Cuba, Pakistan, Syria, and Venezuela.

[7] Including Switzerland, USA, Mexico, Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, Canada, the EU, New Zealand, Australia.

[8] ISHR participated in a side event on “The role of the UN system and civil society in supporting Member States and their capacity to implement” and Amnesty International participated in a panel discussion on the “Capacity to Implement”.

[9] ECOSOC status provides NGOs with access to a range of fora at the UN and is granted by ECOSOC on the recommendation of the Committee on NGOs. The Committee has come under criticism in recent years as the Committee is known for excessive politicization and the balance of the Committee’s membership tends towards States that do not support a vibrant civil society at the UN. Click here for an earlier ISHR article about the ECOSOC NGO Committee.

[10] This procedure, whereby decisions to allow NGOs to participate are taken on a ‘non-objection’ basis has become prevalent in a range of meetings at UN headquarters in recent years.

[11] This also resulted in the co-facilitators having to reschedule the meeting from its original date on 31 July because the three working days’ notice they provided was insufficient for Member States to ‘vet’ the non-ECOSOC accredited NGOs wanting to participate.

[12] Including Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Canada, EU, New Zealand, USA, Australia, South Africa.

[13] Including China, the African group, Russia on behalf of the CRG, the Philippines.


66 States abstain on GA resolution creating treaty body strengthening process


Following two months of negotiations, on 23 February 2012 the General Assembly passed a resolution creating the Intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body systemThe resolution was tabled by Russia and co-sponsored by Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Syria, Sudan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Venezuela, Viet Nam, and Zimbabwe.

The resolution requests the President of the General Assembly (PGA) to launch an intergovernmental process to conduct negotiations on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the treaty body system. The resolution requests the PGA to appoint two co-facilitators to assist him in that regard. The process will commence “no earlier than April 2012” and the PGA will report on the “deliberations and recommendations” by the end of the 66th session of the General Assembly,[1] with a possible extension of the process at that point.

Though the resolution was passed with 85 votes in favour, 66 States made their procedural and substantive concerns with the resolution known by abstaining from the vote. No State voted against the resolution. Regional divisions were clear, with the vast majority of votes in favour coming from the African, Asian, as well as Latin American and Caribbean (GRULAC) groups. The Western European and Others (WEOG) and Eastern European (CEIT) groups abstained for the most part. Forty-two states were absent. Click here for the voting record and a breakdown of votes by region.

The initial draft resolution called for the creation of a working group, an idea originally raised by China in the General Assembly Third Committee in November 2011. However, several States were caught off guard when a resolution calling for the creation of such a working group was circulated by Russia in late December 2011. Negotiations on the text proved difficult from the beginning, with States deeply divided on key issues such as the mandate, participation and timing of an intergovernmental process.

Many were troubled by the fact that the initial draft completely ignored the ongoing treaty body strengthening process, known as the Dublin process,[2] and the upcoming report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), which would compile the various proposals made during that process. Though the Dublin process is not Geneva-based, many States, particularly those without representation in Geneva, welcomed the opportunity an intergovernmental process in the General Assembly would provide for all States to consider the issue of treaty body strengthening. Though the resolution now decides to take into consideration the upcoming HCHR’s report (expected in June 2012), the timing of the intergovernmental process (set to start no earlier than April 2012) leaves the timing and relationship between the two processes unclear.

Other troubling aspects of the initial draft included inadequate provisions on the participation of key non-state stakeholders in the process. The paragraph on participation in the initial draft[3] left out National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and treaty body members entirely, and left the PGA to “work out arrangements” for the input of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The draft also limited the participation of NGOs to those in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), despite the fact that NGO engagement with the treaty bodies has never been limited in such a way.

Though the final language on non-state stakeholder participation was improved by the fact that NHRIs and treaty body experts were included and NGO participation is no longer limited to those with ECOSOC status, in other respects the final draft is worse. The resolution now requests the President of the General Assembly to work out “separate informal” arrangements, “after consultation with Member States” that would allow treaty bodies, NHRIs and “relevant” non-governmental organizations to provide input and expertise, “bearing in mind the intergovernmental nature of the process”. Ahead of the vote, five international human rights organizations issued a statement calling on Member States to ensure that the treaty body strengthening process continue to provide for the direct contributions of non-governmental organizations. At the adoption, several states, including some who voted in favour of the resolution, affirmed the importance of ensuring the active participation of non-state stakeholders in the intergovernmental process.[4]

In addition to the issues outlined above, the initial draft of the resolution also suffered from a lack of clarity on the mandate and scope of work to be undertaken, as well as on the respective legal competence of the General Assembly, treaty bodies and States parties to the treaties to address issues related to treaty body reform. All of the States abstaining,[5] as well as some voting in favour[6] addressed the legal competence question, underlining the role of States parties to decide matters related to the treaties themselves, the treaty bodies to decide matters related to their working methods, and the General Assembly to decide matters related to funding.

In addition to Russia, 17 states spoke at the adoption of the resolution.[7] A number of States abstaining from the resolution regretted that greater efforts had not been made to achieve consensus. Co-sponsors rejected amendments put forward by a large, cross-regional group of states[8] the day before the vote. These amendments included revisions to address the participation of non-state stakeholders and the legal competence issue.

Only China, Indonesia and Belarus spoke out unequivocally in favour of the resolution. China’s statement seemed to validate the fear on the part of NGOs and some States that the independence of the treaty body members would be at stake in the coming discussions. Indicating that it was ready with proposals, China noted that “reforms should ensure that treaty bodies comply with the principles of objectivity and fairness, carry out their work in strict observance with existing mandates, promote constructive dialogue and collaboration between treaty bodies and States parties, avoid overlapping duplicating mandates, instances of encroachment, as well as tendencies towards politicization and selectivity.” In that regard, several statements made by other States[9] specifically emphasized the need to respect the independence of the treaty body members throughout the process.

Looking ahead, it is unclear when the intergovernmental process will begin its work, as the resolution stipulates that it is due to begin “no earlier than April 2012” but the HCHR is only expected to release her report compiling the various proposals from the Dublin process in June 2012. In the meantime, OHCHR has arranged a consultation for States parties on 2-3 April 2012 in New York. The PGA is expected to appoint the two co-facilitators in the coming weeks.

[1] September 2012

[2] The Dublin process began in 2009 when the HCHR called on States parties to human rights treaties and other stakeholders to initiate a process of reflection on how to streamline and strengthen the treaty body system. The process has been open to all relevant stakeholders, including treaty body members, National Human Rights Institutions, non-governmental organizations, academics and States parties.  It has involved formal meetings, including the annual inter-committee meetings of human rights treaty bodies and meetings of chairpersons, consultations within the treaty bodies, informal meetings and consultations held around the world, and written submissions. Thus far, a non-exhaustive list of emerging proposals has been compiled and the process was designed to culminate with the report by the HCHR compiling the various proposals.

[3] “Requests also the President of the General Assembly to work out arrangements that would allow the Working Group to benefit from the input and expertise of non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council”.

[4] Switzerland, USA, Denmark, Mexico, Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina, Norway, Chile, and El Salvador.

[5] Switzerland, the USA, Denmark (for the EU), Mexico, Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, Canada, Norway, Chile and Guatemala.

[6] Uruguay, and Argentina.

[7] Switzerland, USA, Denmark, Suriname, Mexico, El Salvador, Lichtenstein, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Argentina, Canada, Norway, Chile, Guatemala, China, Indonesia, and Belarus.

[8] Mostly from WEOG, CEIT and GRULAC

[9] Switzerland, USA, Lichtenstein, Costa Rica, Argentina


United Nations experts on torture gravely concerned about reprisals against Russian NGOs


(Geneva – 7 June, 2013) – The UN Committee Against Torture, a body of independent experts tasked with holding governments to account for their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture, has voiced grave concern about alleged reprisals against two Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provided information to the Committee in November 2012.

The Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial in St Petersburg and the Public Verdict Foundation in Moscow have recently been charged by Russian prosecutors with violating controversial new legislation that requires NGOs involved in advocacy activities to register as ‘foreign agents’ if they receive foreign funding. The cases cited information submitted to the Committee Against Torture as the basis for the charges.

“Unfortunately these charges reflect a broader trend in Russia in which freedoms of assembly, association and expression are being increasingly restricted and human rights defenders targeted and harassed for their work”, said Madeleine Sinclair of the International Service for Human Rights.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch Report, human rights defenders and NGOs are facing a crackdown in Russia that is unprecedented since Soviet times.

“The charges in the present case are a clear violation of Russia’s obligation under the Convention Against Torture to ensure that witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of a complaint or any evidence given”, said Ms Sinclair.  

ISHR applauds the Committee Against Torture for addressing these allegations and seeking assurances that the NGOs will not face any reprisals as a result of their legitimate activities and cooperation with the Committee.

ISHR continues to call for the UN to consistently and effectively address reprisals.

“Human rights defenders must be able to communicate their concerns to the UN without fearing for their safety,” said Ms Sinclair “Fear of reprisal can hinder participation, depriving the UN of the information and experience it relies on to carry out its work and rendering the human rights mechanisms of the UN essentially inaccessible.”

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, Legal Counsel, International Service for Human Rights, or + 1 212 490 2199.

Full text of the letters from the Committee Against Torture: 17 May 2013 and 28 May 2013

ISHR statement on the global trend towards restricting access to funds for human rights advocacy.
ISHR Manual on preventing and redressing reprisals against human rights defenders.

Committee on Enforced Disappearances must protect NGOs from reprisals


(Geneva, 15 July,  2013) - The UN's expert Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) should ensure that its working methods protect NGOs and victims from intimidation and reprisals, said the International Service for Human Rights today. In a joint submission to the CED, together with Child Rights Connect, Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), FIACAT, International Movement Against all forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), and Al-Karama, ISHR presented a series of suggestions to the Committee.

In a draft document outlining its relationship with civil society, the Committee recognised that civil society has a key role to play in assisting it in discharging its mandate effectively. 'This is a welcome acknowledgement of the importance of the contribution of civil society to the work of the treaty bodies,' said Heather Collister of the International Service for Human Rights.

The draft document identifies a series of areas in which civil society is strongly encouraged to participate in the Committee’s work, including assisting victims of enforced disappearance to submit complaints, submitting alternative reports for State reviews, translating the Committee’s documents into local languages, and organising trainings to raise awareness of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. While this range of activities demonstrates that the Committee recognises the potential of civil society to assist it in carrying out its mandate, the purpose of the document is set out as to clarify and further develop the Committee’s relationship with civil society actors and to enhance their contribution in the implementation of the Convention at the domestic level. 'Enhancing the contribution of civil society demands Committee facilitate the contribution of civil society, and protect those that engage with it ', Ms Collister said.

The draft does include some steps that the Committee plans to undertake to facilitate the participation of civil society. ISHR, Al-Karama, Child Rights Connect, FIACAT, IMADR, and CELS welcome also the Committee’s recognition of the need for civil society to have advance notice of reporting schedules, in order that it can plan its input [paragraph 9], the encouragement of the use of technology to facilitate participation [paragraph 24], and the note that Committee members are ready to consider participating in awareness-raising activities organised by civil society [paragraph 27].

The joint NGO contribution sets out additional efforts that the Committee could undertake to do to facilitate civil society’s engagement and participation, and develop a mutually reinforcing and sustainable relationship. The submission is available here.

Special Rapporteur on violence against women calls on States to address socio-cultural factors


The annual reports submitted by the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women, and on independence of judges and lawyers, Ms Rashida Manjoo and Ms Gabriela Knaul, were presented to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 25 June, in a clustered interactive dialogue. Knaul’s report studied the professional independence of judges and lawyers - in particular prosecutors - whilst Manjoo’s report analysed the phenomenon of violence against women.[1]

Special Rapporteur Knaul opened the session by giving a brief presentation of her report. The report’s focus is on prosecutors and the safeguards required to ensure an objective and impartial functioning of prosecution services. It also examined the line between the need for accountability in the discharge of a prosecutor’s functions, which include protecting human rights, and how to ensure his or her independence and freedom from fear, pressure, threats, or favour. She highlighted the obligation of States to provide these necessary safeguards to enable prosecutors to perform their functions in an objective, impartial, and independent manner.

Ms Knaul also noted more generally her concern about reprisals against judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other actors from the judicial system who cooperate, or seek to cooperate, with UN and regional human rights mechanisms, including through their role in implementing decisions taken by those mechanisms. She offered the President of the Council her full support in calling for all acts of reprisals to be investigated, prosecuted, and perpetrators punished, in particular when those acts are aimed at actors from the judicial system.

Rashida Manjoo’s report pays special attention to the rising number of gender-related killings of women worldwide. The Special Rapporteur noted that the terms ‘femicide’ and ‘feminicide’, as opposed to more neutral words such as homicide, capture not only the killing itself, but also the impunity and institutional violence aspects of such crimes. She described femicide as ‘a State crime tolerated by public institutions and officials – due to the inability to prevent, protect, and guarantee the lives of women’. She noted several different kinds of gender-related killings, including honour-related killings dowry-related killings, and sexual orientation and gender identity-related killings. She added that it was important to disaggregate data about killings by factors including sexual orientation, race, and economic status, in order to establish systemic patterns behind the violence.

The Special Rapporteur also referred to a previous report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, on women defenders, noting that this group is perceived as challenging cultural and social norms, including about femininity and sexual orientation, as a result of which they are at risk of suffering violence and other violations. Several ways of modifying gender norms, such as increasing the number of women in education and in public institutions, were then elaborated upon by the Special Rapporteur.

The dialogue, whilst genial and constructive, tended to concentrate on States’ national strategies. There were, however, a few States that raised challenges to the mandate holders. The Egyptian delegation in particular categorically rejected the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, claiming this notion falls outside of international human rights law. The delegate warned that inclusion of this concept could create division, and hinder the creation of the consensus required to end violence against women. While the State added that combating violence against women requires challenging ‘the persisting misinterpretation of cultural, religious and societal norm and traditions which may result in sustained discrimination against women and by inference may lead to violence’ it rejected the direct link made by the Special Rapporteur between discrimination against women and girls, and killings.

Brazil, the Holy See, and the United States (US) brought up the subject of women human rights defenders. The Holy See began by stressing the ‘importance of women’s roles in the family’, and women, ‘as spouses and mothers, as fundamental to the preservation of the institution of family and therefore society’. It added, however, that women needed to be protected from violence in particular in unstable, violent situations, and noted its special concern in these contexts for women human rights defenders. Further it stated that ‘judicial impunity, cultural and social norms that tolerate discrimination and fail to address violent acts…must be addressed and rejected’. The US noted the important role that civil society organisations have to play in changing social perceptions of women. Brazil divulged its own efforts to protect women human rights defenders with its federal protection programme. Since February this year two human rights defenders had been taken into protective care.

Almost every State voiced their deep concern at the increasing trend of violence against women. Jordan, on behalf of the Arab Group, informed the Council about best practices enacted by the Arab Group’s member States. The Organisation of Arab Women and the Arab League have contrived a strategy to fight violence against women, which involves helping Arab States to establish their own national action plans. The initiative - designed to reform legal, administrative, and cultural institutions - would provide preventative protection,[2] data collection, as well as follow-up to cases and evaluation for the women involved. Jordan, also responding to the visit of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women to the country, further described its creation of both a Minister of State for Women and the establishment of a national strategy for women. These initiatives were set up in response to the nation’s culture of honour killings. On average each year 25 females are killed as a result of ‘honour’ attacks in Jordan.

Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, which had each received visits from the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, praised Knaul’s reports, before mentioning some of the recommendations which they had already implemented. Bulgaria’s creation of a special office for organised crime and Romania’s extensive judicial reform both stood out as examples of implemented recommendations.

[1] Manjoo’s report analysed the causal link between violence against women, and the killing of women. She suggests that there is a direct correlation between the two.
[2] These include shelters and free legal assistance



Lire cet article en français                                                                                                                         Lea este artículo en español aquí

By Alexandre Skander Galand, postdoctoral researcher at the Hertie School, and Başak Çalı, Professor of International Law at the Hertie School and Director of the School's Centre for Fundamental Rights

UN human rights treaties allow individuals to launch complaints when their rights are violated—but the system for dealing with them needs urgent reform.

This article was first published on OpenGlobalRights on 20 March 2020.

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