During each ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘The African Commission’), Commissioners present their activity reports which provides an overview of the work done in between two sessions. On 23 November 2021, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and Focal point on reprisals presented his report.
(Geneva) – Member States of the UN Human Rights Council should support the adoption of a vital draft resolution on the protection of human rights defenders and vote down over 30 hostile amendments proposed by China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia to substantially weaken the text.
In an open letter to governments, a group of more than 180 non-governmental organisations from all regions of the world have said that the resolution – which focuses on the situation and protection needs of those working to promote economic, social and cultural rights – is a timely, balanced and important response to the worsening crackdown on human rights defenders. States from all regions, including Australia, Brazil, France, Ghana, Japan and Tunisia, among others, have already pledged their support for the Norwegian-led text.
The countries sponsoring the hostile amendments are among the worst perpetrators in this regard, with China detaining or disappearing more than 300 journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders since July 2015 and Egypt moving rapidly to shut down the remaining credible, independent human rights organisations in the country.
The draft resolution, which has been developed, through open and transparent negotiations, will be voted upon by 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council on 24 March 2016. Leading human rights experts from around the world, including South African jurist and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, have also publicly called on States to support the draft text.
‘Human rights defenders play a vital role in promoting transparency, good government and the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights for all. Their work is essential for sustainable development and the maintenance of the rule of law. States that support these principles should stand with civil society and co-sponsor and support the draft text,’ said ISHR Human Rights Council Advocacy Director Michael Ineichen.
‘By contrast, a vote in favour of the amendments is, and will be seen to be, a vote against the important and legitimate work of human rights defenders and in favour of attacks and restrictions on their work. It will also be seen as a vote against ESC rights and the right to development,’ Mr Ineichen said.
The amendments being pushed by China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia include proposals to remove any reference in the text to the term ‘human rights defenders’, to deny the legitimacy of their work, and to weaken their protection against attacks and reprisals.
‘If States support the protection and realisation of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development for all, including the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, they should equally support the protection of human rights defenders who work tirelessly and courageously to achieve these rights,’ Mr Ineichen said.
Letter to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council
Re: Support resolution on the protection of human rights defenders addressing economic, social and cultural rights
24 March 2016
The undersigned 150 civil society organisations, coming from all regions, urge your delegation to support the adoption of the resolution on the protection of human rights defenders working to promote economic, social and cultural rights as tabled. We urge you to resist efforts to undermine and weaken this resolution.
The draft resolution entitled ‘Protecting human rights defenders addressing economic, social and cultural rights (A/HRC/31/L.28) is being considered by the 31st session of the Human Rights Council. It will be presented for adoption today, 24 March.
South African jurist and former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has articulated the importance of such a resolution in the following terms:
As a South African, I have seen and experienced first-hand the role of ESC rights defenders in combating poverty and injustice and in promoting universal human rights for all, even the most powerless and disadvantaged. I have seen how the work of those who defend ESC rights benefits entire communities; just as attacks against those who defend ESC rights harm entire communities. That is why it is so important and timely that the UN Human Rights Council is currently negotiating a resolution on the protection of ESC rights defenders.
The draft resolution has been developed through a number of open and transparent informal negotiations.
The text, as tabled, is balanced and appropriate, in recognising the vital contribution of human rights defenders to the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development. It is currently cosponsored by a broad group of States from all regions of the world.
The text also identifies the threats, attacks and challenges facing this group of defenders and the obligations, duties and interests of State and non-State actors in terms of supporting and safeguarding this work. It provides good practice guidance to both State and non-State actors in this regard.
Despite the importance of the resolution – so tragically illustrated at the commencement of the 31st session with the murder of Honduran woman human rights defender Berta Caceres – a small group of States, led by the Russian Federation, China, Egypt, Cuba and Pakistan are seeking to seriously undermine the text. A large number of adverse amendments being pushed by these States include proposals, which have the purpose or would have the effect of:
- Removing any reference to the term ‘human rights defenders’;
- Denying the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders;
- Weakening protection against, and accountability for, intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and others who cooperate with the United Nations;
- Failing to acknowledge the specific risks and violations faced by women, indigenous, and land and environment human rights defenders, their families and communities;
- Diluting and regressing from consensus language and terminology from past human rights defenders resolutions; and
- Seeking to justify limitations on human rights that are impermissible under international human rights law.
The amendments being advocated by the Russian Federation, China, Egypt, Cuba and Pakistan should be seen in the context of the systematic efforts currently underway in several of these States to restrict and criminalise the important and legitimate work of human rights defenders and independent civil society organisations in violation of international human rights law. The proposal to weaken language on reprisals should similarly be understood in the context of several of the proposing States being the subject of allegations of intimidation or reprisals in both the Secretary-General’s report and the joint communications report of Special Procedures.
We urge you not to associate with such positions. Instead, we respectfully urge your delegation to co-sponsor resolution L.28 as tabled, vote against the amendments presented, and vote in favor of the resolution as drafted.
Civil society and human rights defenders around the world look to the HRC and its Member States for support and protection, and we hope your delegation will stand with us.
- International Service for Human Rights
- Abibiman Foundation
- Acción Solidaria on HIV/Aids
- Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
- Akhaya Women Myanmar
- Alkarama Foundation
- All India Network of Individuals and NGOs working with National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI)
- Alliance for Democracy in Laos
- Amnesty International
- Arc International
- ARTICLE 19
- Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
- Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development
- Asian Association of Police Studies
- Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
- Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA)
- Association for Advancement of Legal Right
- Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
- Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT)
- Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
- Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women, Peace and Security
- Avam NGO
- Boys of Bangladesh
- Bread for the World, Germany
- Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
- Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”)
- Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
- Center for Inquiry
- Center for Islamic Thought
- Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS)
- Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia)
- Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Género – Corporación Humanas (Chile)
- Chiadzwa Community Development Trust (Zimbabwe)
- Child Rights Connect
- Child Rights International Network CRIN
- CIVILIS Derechos Humanos
- Coalition Against Land Grabbing (CALG) – Philippines
- Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CIDDH)
- Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL)
- Colombian Commission of Jurists
- Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida, Tolima-Colombia.
- Community Resource Centre Foundation (Thailand)
- Conectas Human Rights (Brazil)
- Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights
- Corporacion Reiniciar
- DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
- Dejusticia (Colombia)
- Digital Empowerment Foundation
- ECLT Foundation
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
- The Honorable Justice Elizabeth Evatt AC, former member of the Human Rights Committee Equitable Cambodia
- EuroMed Rights – Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network
- European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
- Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie van Homoseksualiteit – COC Nederland
- Federation of Women and Family Planning
- FIAN International
- FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- Fiji Women’s Rights Movement
- Fórum Suape Espaço Socioambiental – Brazil
- Foundation HELP
- Franciscans International
- Freedom House
- Freedom Now
- Freemuslim Association Inc
- Front Line Defenders
- Function 8
- Gender Empowerment and Development GeED
- Global Bersih
- Global Human Rights Clinic
- Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights
- Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law
- Globe International Center
- Green Advocates (Liberia)
- Groundation Grenada
- Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
- Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor
- Human Dignity
- Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan
- Human Rights Council of Australia
- Human Rights Defenders Alert – India
- Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone
- Human Rights House Foundation
- Human Rights Intitute of South Africa
- Human Rights Law Centre (Australia)
- Human Rights Watch
- Humane, Koraput
- ICCA Consortium
- Inclusive Development International
- Institute for African studies (inštitut za Afriške študije, Cankarjeva 1, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
- Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
- International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
- International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
- International Civil Action Network (ICAN)
- International Commission of Jurists
- International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO)
- International Council on Social Welfare – Europe
- International Humanist and Ethical Union
- International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)
- International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
- International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net)
- International Platform against Impunity
- International Women’s Development Agency
- International Youth Human Rights Movement (YHRM)
- Ivorian Observatory for Human Rights (OIDH)
- JASS -Just Associates-
- Just Associates (JASS)
- Justice and Peace Action Group (JPAG) Aurora, the Philippines
- Kvinna till Kvinna
- Legal Resources Centre (South Africa)
- LGBT Centre (Mongolia)
- Loretto Community
- Martin Ennals Foundation
- Mexico Group, Finnish Peace Union
- MiningWatch Canada
- Minority Rights Group International (MRG)
- Mitchell foundation-NGO (Mongolia)
- Mongolian Women’s Employment Supporting Federation
- Mosaiko Instituto para a Cidadania
- Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre
- Movimiento Homosexual de Lima – MHOL, Perú
- Narasha Community Development Group
- National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
- Nazra for Feminist Studies (Egypt)
- New Wind Association
- Nuremberg Human Rights Centre
- Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program
- OT Watch (Mongolia)
- Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum
- Paul K. Feyerabend Foundation
- Peace Brigades International
- People’s Watch – India
- Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc.
- Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business
- POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti
- Professor Ben Saul, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney, Australia
- Project Maisha
- Promo-LEX Association, Moldova
- Protection International
- Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC)- México
- Public Interest Advocacy Centre (Australia)
- Public Verdict Foundation
- Rainforest Foundation Norway
- Rede Pantanal de ONGs e Movimentos Sociais
- Reporters Without Borders
- Réseau International des Droits Humains (RIDH)
- Rights and Accountability in Development
- Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia
- SAVIA – Asociación para la conservación, investigacion de la bioversidad y el desarrollo sustentable
- Scholars at Risk Network
- Shia Rights Watch Inc
- Southern Africa Litigation Centre
- Steps Without Borders NGO
- Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE)
- Terra de Direitos (Brazil)
- The Gaia Foundation
- The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People(MOSOP)
- The Tibet Bureau
- The Woodland League, Ireland
- Think Centre
- Transparency International
- True Heroes Films
- UN Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA)
- Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA – International Association of Lawyers)
- Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
- US Human Rights Network
- Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC)
- We Women Lanka (Sri Lanka)
- West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network
- Workplace Pride Asia
- World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- World Uyghur Congress
- Yemen Organization for Defending Rights & Democratic Freedoms
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