This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
On 29 January, the Chinese government targeted for closure a renowned women’s legal aid center in Beijing. Not only does this action undermine the government’s own efforts to advance women’s rights and gender equality, it runs in direct opposition to the government’s stated priorities and its international obligations. The Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRDIC), of which ISHR is a member, denounces these efforts to curb space for civil society, and urges respect for those who do the critical work of defending human rights and accountability when they face reprisals.
The Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Centre (the Centre) was a widely acclaimed civil society organisation, both nationally and internationally, which made significant contributions to the promotion and advancement of women’s rights. Its staff and researchers conducted important work to improve rural women’s access to justice, to fight domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, and remedy to women victims.
In 2007, the media outlet of the Chinese Ministry of Justice voted the Centre’s director, Guo Jianmei, one of the ‘top ten Annual Legal Persons of Note’ and in 2011, popular press outlet Nanfang Daily called the Centre one of China’s ‘top public service organisations’. In 2014, it collaborated with Chinese Women’s University and other established organizations to submit reports ahead of the periodic review of China by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The WHRDIC is concerned at escalating threats for women human rights defenders, and the wider civil society in China. The forced closure of the Centre comes at a time of unprecedented hardship for those calling for more respect for human rights in the country, whether lawyers, bloggers, NGO workers, religious practitioners, or even ordinary citizens.
The Centre – which is in its second iteration, after the shutdown of its predecessor at Peking University – is also a direct legacy of the 1995 UN World Conference on Women. Attacking that legacy seems a counter-narrative to the Chinese government’s celebrations in September 2015 of the 20th anniversary of the conference. Co-hosted by UN Women, these festivities included an opening statement by President Xi Jinping where he urged the international community to make ‘greater efforts to promote gender equality’ and pledged that China would ‘enhance gender equality as basic state policy’.
By shutting down the Zhongze Centre the Chinese government, rather than promoting the status of women, implementing the Beijing Platform of Action, or even meeting minimum obligations to implement recommendations from UN experts on women’s rights, has acted in contradiction to its own laws and policies, and its international human rights obligations.
The recent national security law and the draft charity and foreign NGO management laws (under review) have deeply affected the way civil society operates because of the restrictions they impose, their vague definitions, and the questions linked to their implementation. This is concerning to the human rights movement (and other sectors) and is part of the government’s attempt to provide more obstacles to curtail activities among civil society actors.
The WHRDIC reiterates its call for the government to halt its harassment of human rights defenders and to facilitate an enabling environment for women defenders and civil society. The WHRDIC also urges the government of China to fully respect the right of individuals and organizations to engage with the UN mechanisms, and to refrain from and promptly investigate any reprisals against those who do. As the WHRDIC, we recognise the committed work of inspiring Chinese WHRDs, and are in solidarity with them at a time arbitrary restrictions are put forward by the Chinese government to curb their legitimate human rights work.
Photo: Courtesy NY Times
Faced with the appropriation of their name, Peruvian NGO Madres en Acción is pushing back, filing a legal action to recover it. In an amicus brief in support of the action, ISHR argues that trademark law is being used to attack defenders and this must stop.
In the first case on violence against trans people heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court held Honduras responsible for the transfemicide of human rights defender Vicky Hernández.
ISHR joined 74 civil society organisations from across the world in urging Egypt to release researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy, and to ensure that, pending his release, he is granted immediate and regular access to his family and lawyers, provided with adequate healthcare, and protected from torture and other ill-treatment.
Beyond the discrimination and indignation that ordinary women suffer, indigenous women in Africa continue to be marginalised and denied the full recognition and protection of their rights. Decisively, the long-awaited National Human Rights Institutions’ (NHRIs) Forum organised by the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) convened on 8 and 9 April 2021 to discuss the role of NHRIs in promoting the realisation of indigenous women’s rights in Africa. The Forum was convened ahead of the 68th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The result of the deliberations was a final draft Statement on the “Rights of indigenous women in Africa” that will be submitted to the ACHPR.
The Martin Ennals Foundation has granted Yu Wensheng, a leading Chinese human rights lawyer, the 2021 Martin Ennals Award. Lawyer Yu was among the three finalists to the Award selected by a jury of ten global human rights organisations - among which ISHR -, along with Loujain AlHathloul from Saudi Arabia and Soltan Achilova from Turkmenistan.
It's difficult to encapsulate such a complex year in a word, but "interconnected" is one that comes to mind when reflecting on 2020. We are proud to have remained deeply interconnected with defenders and to have supported, protected and amplified their work at the national, regional and international levels. With them, the "essential workers" of our times, we strive for a 2021 full of freedom, equality, dignity and justice.
In an online discussion organised by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), Uyghur camp survivor Gülbahar Jalilova shared her story of long-term arbitrary detention. Her testimony echoes mounting evidence of human rights violations that call for systematic UN monitoring and public reporting.
Operating in a context of persistent insecurity and aggravated by the Covid19 crisis, human rights defenders in Burkina Faso are exposed to many risks. The law on the protection of defenders and its implementing decree were adopted in 2018, but its implementation and use remain a challenge for defenders.
Members of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights met in March 2021 to prepare two ‘Lists of Issues’ to guide their respective reviews of the People’s Republic of China.
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.
According to Articles 23 (3) and 72 of the Rules of Procedure of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, each Commissioner must present an activity report detailing activities undertaken in relation to their mandates. Following the presentation of the report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa, ISHR delivered a statement highlighting the violations and reprisals faced by human rights defenders on the continent.