Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, France, Ghana, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Tunisia
Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America & Caribbean, Middle East & North Africa

Human Rights Council: Adopt resolution on human rights defenders and reject hostile amendments

States should support a draft resolution on the protection of human rights defenders and reject hostile amendments being pushed by China, Egypt, Russia and others to restrict and de-legitimise their work, says a group of more than 150 non-governmental organisations from all over the world.

(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

Your Excellency,

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.

Yours sincerely,

  1. International Service for Human Rights
  2. Abibiman Foundation
  3. Acción Solidaria on HIV/Aids
  4. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
  5. Akhaya Women Myanmar
  6. Alkarama Foundation
  7. All India Network of Individuals and NGOs working with National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI)
  8. Alliance for Democracy in Laos
  9. Amnesty International
  10. Arc International
  11. ARTICLE 19
  12. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
  13. Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development
  14. Asian Association of Police Studies
  15. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
  16. Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA)
  17. Association for Advancement of Legal Right
  18. Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
  19. Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT)
  20. Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
  21. Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women, Peace and Security
  22. Avam NGO
  23. Boys of Bangladesh
  24. Bread for the World, Germany
  25. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
  26. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  27. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”)
  28. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  29. CELS
  30. Center for Inquiry
  31. Center for Islamic Thought
  32. Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS)
  33. Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia)
  34. Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Género – Corporación Humanas (Chile)
  35. Chiadzwa Community Development Trust (Zimbabwe)
  36. Child Rights Connect
  37. Child Rights International Network CRIN
  39. CIVILIS Derechos Humanos
  40. Coalition Against Land Grabbing (CALG) – Philippines
  41. Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CIDDH)
  42. Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL)
  43. Colombian Commission of Jurists
  44. Comité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida, Tolima-Colombia.
  45. Community Resource Centre Foundation (Thailand)
  46. Conectas Human Rights (Brazil)
  47. Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights
  48. Corporacion Reiniciar
  49. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  50. Dejusticia (Colombia)
  51. Digital Empowerment Foundation
  52. ECLT Foundation
  53. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
  54. The Honorable Justice Elizabeth Evatt AC, former member of the Human Rights Committee Equitable Cambodia
  55. EuroMed Rights – Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network
  56. European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
  57. Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie van Homoseksualiteit – COC Nederland
  58. Federation of Women and Family Planning
  59. FIAN International
  60. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  61. Fiji Women’s Rights Movement
  62. Fórum Suape Espaço Socioambiental – Brazil
  63. Foundation HELP
  64. Franciscans International
  65. Freedom House
  66. Freedom Now
  67. Freemuslim Association Inc
  68. Front Line Defenders
  69. Function 8
  70. Gender Empowerment and Development GeED
  71. Global Bersih
  72. Global Human Rights Clinic
  73. Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights
  74. Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law
  75. Globe International Center
  76. Green Advocates (Liberia)
  77. Groundation Grenada
  78. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  79. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor
  80. Human Dignity
  81. Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan
  82. Human Rights Council of Australia
  83. Human Rights Defenders Alert – India
  84. Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone
  85. Human Rights House Foundation
  86. Human Rights Intitute of South Africa
  87. Human Rights Law Centre (Australia)
  88. Human Rights Watch
  89. Humane, Koraput
  90. ICCA Consortium
  91. Inclusive Development International
  92. Institute for African studies (inštitut za Afriške študije, Cankarjeva 1, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
  93. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  94. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  95. Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
  96. International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
  97. International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
  98. International Civil Action Network (ICAN)
  99. International Commission of Jurists
  100. International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO)
  101. International Council on Social Welfare – Europe
  102. International Humanist and Ethical Union
  103. International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)
  104. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
  105. International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net)
  106. International Platform against Impunity
  107. International Women’s Development Agency
  108. International Youth Human Rights Movement (YHRM)
  109. IPEN
  110. Ivorian Observatory for Human Rights (OIDH)
  111. JASS -Just Associates-
  112. Just Associates (JASS)
  113. Justice and Peace Action Group (JPAG) Aurora, the Philippines
  114. Kvinna till Kvinna
  115. Legal Resources Centre (South Africa)
  116. LGBT Centre (Mongolia)
  117. Loretto Community
  118. Martin Ennals Foundation
  119. Mexico Group, Finnish Peace Union
  120. MiningWatch Canada
  121. Minority Rights Group International (MRG)
  122. Mitchell foundation-NGO (Mongolia)
  123. Mongolian Women’s Employment Supporting Federation
  124. Mosaiko Instituto para a Cidadania
  125. Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre
  126. Movimiento Homosexual de Lima – MHOL, Perú
  127. Narasha Community Development Group
  128. National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
  129. Nazra for Feminist Studies (Egypt)
  130. New Wind Association
  131. Nuremberg Human Rights Centre
  132. Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program
  133. OT Watch (Mongolia)
  134. Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum
  135. Paul K. Feyerabend Foundation
  136. Peace Brigades International
  137. People’s Watch – India
  138. Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc.
  139. PODER
  140. Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business
  141. POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti
  142. Professor Ben Saul, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney, Australia
  143. Project Maisha
  144. Promo-LEX Association, Moldova
  145. Protection International
  146. Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC)- México
  147. Public Interest Advocacy Centre (Australia)
  148. Public Verdict Foundation
  149. Rainforest Foundation Norway
  150. RECOFTC
  151. Rede Pantanal de ONGs e Movimentos Sociais
  152. Reporters Without Borders
  153. Réseau International des Droits Humains (RIDH)
  154. Rights and Accountability in Development
  155. Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia
  156. SAVIA – Asociación para la conservación, investigacion de la bioversidad y el desarrollo sustentable
  157. Scholars at Risk Network
  158. Sherpa
  159. Shia Rights Watch Inc
  160. Southern Africa Litigation Centre
  161. Steps Without Borders NGO
  162. Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE)
  163. SWRC
  164. Terra de Direitos (Brazil)
  165. The Gaia Foundation
  166. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People(MOSOP)
  167. The Tibet Bureau
  168. The Woodland League, Ireland
  169. Think Centre
  170. Transparency International
  171. True Heroes Films
  172. UN Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA)
  173. Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA – International Association of Lawyers)
  174. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
  175. US Human Rights Network
  176. Uthnau
  177. Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC)
  178. We Women Lanka (Sri Lanka)
  179. West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network
  180. Workplace Pride Asia
  181. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  182. World Uyghur Congress
  183. Yemen Organization for Defending Rights & Democratic Freedoms

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