The 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 26 February – 5 April 2024, will consider issues including the protection of human rights defenders, freedom of religion or belief, protection and promotion of human rights while countering terrorism, the right to food and adequate housing, among others. It will also present an opportunity to address grave human rights situations in States including Sudan, Nicaragua, Venezuela, China, Syria, South Sudan, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Eritrea, occupied Palestinian territory/Israel, among many others. Here’s an overview of some of the key issues on the agenda.
On 14 November 2023, ISHR and the #Right2DefendRights coalition of 17 members sent a letter to each mission of the UN Member States in Geneva, inviting them to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by joining the Office of the High Commissioner’s campaign ‘Push for Pledges’.
The campaign invites States to commit to taking specific actions towards the realisation of human rights for all by proposing pledges for human rights. On 11 and 12 December, during the high-level event to commemorate both anniversaries, the UN will unveil the ‘Pledging Tree’, a live embodiment of all the pledges made by Member States throughout the year.
ISHR and partners are calling on UN Member States to use this occasion to recognise that the work of defenders is integral to the realisation of all human rights for all people and to celebrate defenders and their essential role in achieving freedom, peace, equality and justice. We invite States to submit pledges on the recognition and protection of human rights defenders. Here are some suggestions:
- THE STATE pledges to recognise the essential and vital role that human rights defenders play and the many contributions they have brought to our societies, to speak positively about them publicly and promote their work and achievements, and seek their input and participation in decision-making processes.
- THE STATE pledges to refrain from intimidating, criminalising, detaining or carrying out reprisals against defenders for their work, including when they engage or seek to engage with the UN and other regional mechanisms, and to take a clear and public position against intimidation and reprisals, raise and address specific cases of victims and hold other States to account.
- THE STATE pledges, following meaningful consultation with independent civil society actors, to develop and implement specific national laws, policies and mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders and to review and amend laws and policies that may restrict them, giving full force and effect to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
- THE STATE pledges to promote and protect human rights defenders through a holistic, collective and intersectional approach by: (1) acknowledging and addressing the deep inequalities taking shape around gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and gender identity etc; (2) prioritising preventative protection strategies that address the root causes of violence; and (3) creating conditions for the participation and reinforcing the leadership of defenders and their communities that have historically or systematically been subject to intersecting forms of discrimination or oppression.
- THE STATE pledges to ensure that all threats and attacks against human rights defenders are the subject of prompt, impartial and independent investigations, that perpetrators are held accountable, and that effective remedies are provided both to address the harm to the individual and their collective as well as to address any systemic or structural factors contributing to such threats or attacks.
The OHCHR campaign welcomes also civil society pledges. ISHR has submitted the following pledges:
- ISHR pledges to use its resources, access, networks and influence in Geneva and New York to support and enhance the meaningful participation of human rights defenders at the UN, particularly defenders coming from communities and groups that have historically or systematically been subject to intersecting forms of discrimination and oppression.
- When working with human rights defenders, ISHR pledges to reinforce collective power and collective protection strategies and support forms of protection developed ‘from below’. We pledge to take into account spirituality, wellbeing, collective self care and community rituals as a key element of their safety.
- ISHR pledges to take a consistent, principled, non-selective approach to all human rights situations, which recognises that the protection of human rights defenders is integral to the protection of human rights, and that promotes justice for victims of violations and abuses and accountability for perpetrators.
- By December 2024, ISHR together with 16 partners pledge to develop a civil society-led supplement to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. This supplement will take into account legal developments, emerging challenges and lived experiences of defenders over the last 25 years. It will provide an authoritative new baseline for defenders’ rights and protection, and the obligations of State and non-State actors. It will be developed in consultation with defenders all over the world, together with human rights experts.
The high-level event can be followed online.
Do you want to know more about our campaign to celebrate defenders and the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders?Download as PDF
For many rights holders, victims and human rights defenders, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) provides a vital lever increasing pressure for change at the national level, while for others it provides the last resort or only opportunity to expose violations, seek accountability, and garner support for their essential work towards a fair, equal and sustainable world. We need the HRC to be credible, effective and accessible to everyone. This is only possible if States ensure that remote and hybrid participation of civil society is maintained; that international law is upheld universally; promptly and adequately respond to HRDs’ demands for accountability; lead and support HRC action in line with objective human rights criteria; and ensure that HRC members live up to their responsibilities, including full cooperation with the HRC and its mechanisms.
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