On 17 September 2021, the UN Secretary-General released his annual report on reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the UN on human rights. Once again, the report identifies a high number of threats and attacks aimed at retaliating against defenders and discouraging cooperation with the UN.
A law in Russia requires that an NGO receiving foreign funding and engaging in ‘political activity’ register as a ‘foreign agent’. ‘Foreign agents’ not only have to comply with cumbersome financial and reporting requirements, but the negative stigma associated with this label have been described as debilitating.
After submitting a report to the UN Committee Against Torture, Anti-Discrimination Centre (ADC) Memorial – an NGO at that time operating in Russia – was required to register as a foreign agent on the basis that submitting the report constituted ‘political activity’.
Following this, ADC Memorial brought a case against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the administrative consequences associated with being labeled a foreign agent violate the rights to freedom of expression and association protected by the European Convention of Human Rights.
‘This case raises issues regarding meaningful protection the European Convention on Human Rights provides individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression and association with international human rights bodies and mechanisms’, says ISHR’s Legal Counsel Tess McEvoy. ‘It also demonstrates a serious and systematic human rights problem of reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN.’
ISHR submitted a third party intervention in the case of ADC Memorial. ‘The intervention is designed to assist the Court by providing an extended analysis of the scope of the rights to freedom of expression and association in international law to inform the interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights’, McEvoy states.
The analysis concluded that accessing and communicating with the UN is protected under the rights to freedom of expression and association enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, and that reprisals and intimidation against those cooperating with the UN would violate those rights.
‘It is vital that human rights defenders have the ability to communicate, publish and disseminate information to international human rights institutions to effectively promote and protect human rights. We call on the European Court to ensure that right is protected’.
UPDATE (January 9, 2019): In September 2017, Russia’s Ministry of Justice responded to the allegations in this case. Russia’s response alleges that their Foreign Agents Law is similar to other laws on this matter, such as those from the United States and the European Union. It also disagreed on the level of harm NGOs suffer once branded as a ‘foreign agent’. In response, in early 2018 the Applicants provided additional evidence of restrictions and harms to their activities following being labelled a ‘foreign agent’. It also pointed to the differences between the Russian law and the laws referred to in Russia’s response, demonstrating that the Russian law seeks only to limit the activities and rights of NGOs and their employees.
Now that there have been responses from both sides, the Court is investigating the alleged violations.
ISHR calls on the European Court of Human Rights to find the Foreign Agents Law as a major violation of the Convention and to push for its repeal. Concurrently, the Court should order reparations for NGOs that have suffered from fines and burdens imposed on them under the law. This case provides the Court with an opportunity to greatly assist NGOs around the world through its determination.
Contact: Tess McEvoy, [email protected].
On 7 September 2021, the International Service for Human Rights facilitated a multi-stakeholder dialogue with United Nations experts, the International Chamber of Commerce and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to discuss about Business, Human Rights and Human Rights Defenders.
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.
At the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR along with the Informal Sector Service Center presented a joint statement in Nepal’s Universal Periodic Review expressing concern about the situation of human rights defenders in the country.
A new ISHR report maps China’s presence and influence in the UN economic and social affairs system, highlighting potential risks for civil society participation and the promotion and protection of human rights.
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.
Public servants, journalists, and indigenous defenders have suffered targeting and reprisals from an increasingly brazen government, confirming the urgent need to adopt legal mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.
As part of a response to increased human right violations in the Philippines, over 100 NGOs and individuals called on the Supreme Court for enhanced legal protections for human rights defenders.
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.
On May 8, 2021, Hassanna Abba, member of the executive board of the League for the Protection of Sahrawi Prisoners in Moroccan Prisons (LPPS) was physically attacked by Moroccan police officers. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), ACAT-France and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) strongly condemn this aggression and call on the Moroccan authorities to conduct an investigation and to immediately cease any act of harassment against Hassana Abba and all Sahrawi human rights defenders.
Germain Rukuki's right to a swift and fair appeal against his prison sentence must be upheld, says a coalition of 43 NGOs in a joint letter to Burundi authorities.
ISHR joined 64 organisations* from around the world to call on the Egyptian authorities, including President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to take immediate action to end the Egyptian authorities’ wholesale crackdown on independent organisations and peaceful dissent.